A vampire, a werewolf and a ghost walk into a TV series…
"Being Human: The Complete First Season (U.S.)" (eOne) is the American incarnation of the original British series about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost who become roommates in a Boston house.
Yeah, I know it sounds like the set-up for a joke, but it's really another entry in horror TV in the post-"Buffy" era, and it's one of the better ones. The original British series started strong, telling the story of "monsters" trying to live human lives while resisting the pull of their new supernatural instincts and communities. Which, of course, is complicated when you sprout fangs at the promise of fresh blood, turn into a hairy, feral killer at the full moon or have a tendency to unleash an earthquake in the home whenever your emotions get out control. That's exactly when you can use a little help from your friends.
I liked the first season of the original British series but thought it lost its way in the second season. The debut season of the American series, which at 13 episodes is almost as long as the first two British seasons combined, turns out to be a sturdier construct than the original.
It's remarkably faithful to the storylines of the original while adding new threads of its own and it makes good use of the extended season to slow down the pace and explore their journeys and their struggles. Sam Witwer has that bad-boy edge and malevolent smile thing down as Aidan the reformed (but still tempted) vampire, Meaghan Rath is as cute as her excitable British counterpart as the ghost Sally, and I really like Sam Huntington as the nerdy sad-sack werewolf Josh, who has an even greater conflict than his British counterpart when he gets a human pregnant. That's gonna be a difficult during the full moon.
SyFy originals are a spotty lot, I confess, but this one doesn't shy away from the more feral qualities of the original -- it's not just about bloodlust and temptation, it's about giving in and dealing with remorse and guilt, the human part of the monster mash -- and it offers up characters that we can invest ourselves in. But I wonder if Boston is starting to get a complex, since the show is actually shot in Montreal. With "Leverage" doubling Portland, Oregon, for Boston, you figure someone in the state has got be thinking of extending those film subsidies.
13 episodes on four discs in a three-panel digipak, with two discs stacked in each tray, plus supplements: the featurettes "The Making of Being Human" and "What Would You Choose?," bonus interviews with stars Sam Witwer, Meaghan Rath and Sam Huntington, and footage from their appearance at Comic Con. The second season begins on SyFy in January.
Here's a clip from the first episode.
An American Indie drama of fathers, sons, lovers and starting all over again
"Beginners" (Universal) stars Ewan McGregor as an artist challenged to open up his life after his newly widowed 75-year-old father (Christopher Plummer) comes out of the closet at age 75 and embraces the identity he had hidden all his life. Loving himself and living out his true nature allows the father, who spent his life guarding himself physically and emotionally, to open up to his son in ways he had shrouded in the past, as memories attest: Dad is absent from his past but for the back of a head always leaving with a perfunctory show of guarded affection.
Mills, inspired by his own experience with his father, gives the film a celebratory passion in the quiet closeness of father and son and the playful first-person storytelling, where gentle eccentricities and anxious memories and fears of commitment and loss swirl together. Mélanie Laurent co-stars as the woman who challenges McGregor to follow his father's lead and follow his heart. Plummer's performance is superb and already Hollywood is talking Oscar.
"There's no resisting Plummer as a sweet septuagenarian who revels through his few out-and-proud years, then soldiers through terminal lung cancer," concurs MSN film critic Kat Murphy, but she's less sold on the rest of the film than I am. "Folks will either embrace the "real"... or recoil from the reek of indie twee. Though drawn from the director's life-altering personal experiences, this amiable dramedy seems oddly lightweight and remote."
On DVD and Blu-ray with commentary by writer/director Mike Mills, the featurette "A Short Film About Making Beginners" and a promo. The Blu-ray also features the usual interactive BD-Live functions. Also available on Digital Download and On-Demand.
The challenges of shooting a fantasy mini-series on videotape
Never heard of "Neverwhere," the 1996 urban fantasy mini-series that Neil Gaiman (fresh from his groundbreaking comic book series "Sandman") created for the BBC? That's perhaps all too familiar here in the states, where the unconventional show never received any real exposure. In fact, the novel (which he wrote simultaneously with the script) is more well known than this series.
"Neverwhere: 15th Anniversary Edition" (BBC), developed by Gaiman with actor/comedian Lenny Henry and scripted by Gaiman, should help bring a little attention to the first screen project by the author of "American Gods" and "Coraline" and the screenwriter of "MirrorMask" and "Beowulf."
Like the original "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," is was shot on video on a limited budget and shown in six 30-minute episodes, not the usual format for adventure fantasy. Then again this story, about a hapless, happily oblivious young guy (Gary Bakewell) whose normal life is all but erased when he becomes inadvertently involved with a power struggle in the magical world of London Below, is not your usual screen fantasy.
See an exclusive clip from with Neil Gaiman and his collaborators below
Given the limitations of budget and video technology in 1996, it is still quite an engaging series. Think a flamboyant mix of "Doctor Who" imagery with a medieval sensibility, classical chivalry and modern urban fantasy, all with a dark edge and a comic bounce. Paterson Joseph really capture the spirit of the project as our sly guide Marquis de Carabas, a mercenary but principled cross between a supernatural spy and "Alice In Wonderland"’s White Rabbit.
The new single-disc edition remasters the series and features a new introduction and commentary by Gaiman, co-creator Lenny Henry and producer Clive Brill, plus an interview with and select commentary by Gaiman from the 2003 DVD release.
Neil Gaiman talks about the production compromises in making the film on videotape and a sitcom budget, with co-writer Lenny Henry and producer Clive Brill in this exclusive clip from the introduction to the DVD.
A romantic comedy of downsizing, second chances and making friends at community college
"Larry Crowne" (Universal), directed and co-written by and starring Tom Hanks, just wants to be liked. Hanks plays a department store salesman who gets downsized in the economic climate and enrolls in community college to get a degree and a new start and he's as sweet and unassuming and genuine a fellow as you'll see in a film this year. Of course he's just the guy to pull his speech teacher (Julia Roberts) out of the funk of career burnout and a miserable marriage (Bryan Cranston, a procrastinating writer who spends his days searching vintage porn).
Hanks wants to tap into the zeitgeist of the era -- Larry is just another hard working citizen upended in the culture of economic instability and career turmoil -- but the script (co-written with Nia Vardalos, who has a way of softening any material to inoffensive mush) lacks any sense of gravity. Hanks has too much moxie to let little things like unemployment and an underwater mortgage get him down and good old Larry lets go of everything with so little anxiety that it's like he was never invested in the first place.
What the film has going for it mostly is the company. Larry is so unthreatening that the cutest girl in school (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) makes him her new BFF, much to the frustration of her would-be boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama), and he ends up charming the entire motor-scooter club. That's right, it's community college and these guys buzz around on buzzing little scooters. That's how this film rolls.
"The script is often treacle and silly, and it's filled with little bits and conceits that are neither well-justified nor satisfactorily followed up, but it is kind of an exemplary structure," defends MSN film critic Glenn Kenny, who was more charmed than I was by the not-to-be-dismissed auras of Hanks and Roberts. "The picture appears to be very generous in doling out to its characters ample and ostensibly entertaining bits to execute. And since said characters' parts are being filled with really lively and appealing and sometimes unexpected performers (it's rather delightful to see Julia Roberts bantering with Pam Grier, still beauteous and formidable, playing an academic colleague), the bits really are entertaining."
Add to that George Takei having a ball as an economics professor with a flair for theatrics and Holmes Osborne as the glad-handing college dean, and you've got a pretty likable group of folks to spend time with. (There's also Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson, but he's just doing Cedric shtick and she's simply not given much of anything to do). The problem is, it doesn't feel like a movie as much as highlights from a season of TV: "Community" as a gentle, heartwarming tale of a man rediscovering his potential. It's only Hanks and company that make it work as well as it does.
On DVD and Blu-ray, with a featurette, deleted scenes a "Fun on the Set" montage of behind-the-scene footage. And yeah, I have no doubt that this was a fun set to be on.
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week.
Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts carry "Larry Crowne" (Universal), a romantic comedy of downsizing, second chances and making friends at community college. It has all the grit of double mocha but then it's not really about economic anxiety. Hanks has too much moxie to let little things like unemployment and an underwater mortgage get him down. Videodrone's review is here.
Speaking of second chances, "Beginners" (Universal) stars Ewan McGregor as an artist challenged to open up his life after his father (Christopher Plummer) comes out of the closet at age 75 and engages fully for the first time in his life. Plummer's performance is superb and already Hollywood is talking Oscar. Videodrone's review is here.
"The Tree" (Zeitgeist), directed by Julie Bertuccelli, was the closing night film at Cannes 2010. Charlotte Gainsbourg stars as French widow in Australia whose youngest daughter thinks her dead father is speaking to her through the fig tree in their yard.
"Bellflower" (Oscilloscope) is a scruffy American indie about cars, friendship, romance and building the perfect flame thrower. "Griff the Invisible" (Vivendi) , from Australia, stars Ryan Kwanten (of "True Blood") as a sad sack by day turned self-made superhero at night.
"Main Street" (Magnolia) stars Colin Firth, Ellen Burstyn, Patricia Clarkson, Amber Tamblyn and Orlando Bloom in the final screenplay by Horton Foote and Jonathon Nossiter directs Charlotte Rampling, Bill Pullman, Irene Jacob and Fisher Stevens in "Rio Sex Comedy" (FilmBuff). From China comes a remake of "What Women Want" (China Lion) starring Andy Lau and Gong Li in roles created by Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt.
On the non-fiction front is "The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls" (Disinformation), about the New Zealand lesbian twin sister music-and-comedy duo, and portraits of the counterculture clown "The Wavy Gravy Movie: Saint Misbehaving" (Docurama) and the real life citizen "Superheroes" (Docurama) patrolling city streets today.
TV on DVD:
"Being Human: The Complete First Season (U.S.)" (eOne) is the American incarnation of the original British series about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost who become roommates and try to live like regular folk. Which, of course, is complicated when you sprout fangs at the promise of fresh blood or turn into a hairy, feral killer at the full moon. Videodrone's review is here.
"It Takes a Thief: The Complete Series" (eOne) features the entire three-season run of the sixties international espionage series starring Robert Wagner as a career criminal turned playboy agent: 66 episodes on 18 discs, plus bonus interviews and a set of coasters. Videodrone's review is here.
"Neverwhere: 15th Anniversary Edition" (BBC) remasters the 1996 British mini-series adapted by Neil Gaiman from his own novel (reviewed here, with an exclusive clip), and "Crime Story: The Complete Series" (Image) collects the two seasons of Michael Mann’s sixties-era gangster series in bargain-priced edition (reviewed here).
Flip through the TV on DVD Channel Guide here
Cool, Classic and Cult:
Criterion has a reputation for presenting the greatest film of world cinema in superb editions, but with week they top even their own high standards. "Three Colors: Blue White Red" (Criterion) offers newly remastered editions of the Krzysztof Kieslowski films, a sublime trilogy given a magnificent treatment. And Jean Renoir's "The Rules Of The Game" (Criterion) is rereleased in a new, improved high-definition master with additional supplements. Videodrone's review is here.
Alex Cox went south of the border to make "Highway Patrolman" (Microcinema) in 1992 and came up with a superb low-budget crime thriller of morality and corruption. And "Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis" (Kino) is the 1984 reconstruction of Fritz Lang's silent classic with newly-discovered footage, lavish tints and a rock soundtrack, all but displaced by recent restorations but influential in its day.
A pair of classic, Oscar-winning musicals go Blu this week: "West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition" (Fox) is released in two editions, including a deluxe four-disc set filled with supplements and featuring a bonus tribute CD and a booklet (reviewed here, with an exclusive clip), and "My Fair Lady" (Paramount) features the wealth of extras originally presented on the DVD special edition.
"Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 1" (Warner) presents the HD debut of 50 of the greatest Looney Tunes cartoons in a three-disc set with commentaries, featurettes and hours of bonus documentaries. Videodrone's review is here.
"Farscape: The Complete Series" (A&E) features all four seasons of the wild made-for-cable science fiction series (but not the mini-series finale) along with all the commentary tracks, featurettes and other supplements from the DVD incarnations.
"Evil Dead II: 25th Anniversary Edition" (Lionsgate) is simply the latest excuse to rerelease this cult classic, while "Mysterious Island" (Twilight Time) is the debut Blu-ray release from the boutique label Twilight Time. Plus there's "Infernal Affairs" (Lionsgate), the film that inspired Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," and "Despair" (Olive), Rainer Werner Fassbinder's English language debut.
The complete calendar of releases this week is after the jump:
|Tags:||Week in review|
Is describing Ayn Rand's philosophy as 'self-sacrifice' a mistake, or just test to see if anyone is paying attention?
It's a self-sacrifice recall!
The DVD release of "Atlas Shrugged Part One" describes the film as such: "Ayn Rand's timeless novel of courage and self-sacrifice comes to life for a new millennium." That's right, "courage and self-sacrifice." Which, as anyone familiar with the objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand knows, is the complete opposite of everything she stands for. Self-sacrifice? Are you kidding? Or could this be a kinder, gentler Ayn Rand?
Naaah, it's just another misstep in the film's awkward stumble to insignificance and anonymity. In fact, it's supposed to read "Ayn Rand's timeless novel of rational self-interest," because as we all know, nothing is more courageous or rational than self-interest. Copies of the DVD and Blu-ray sold through the film official website have the correct text but retail editions are all about the self-sacrifice.
So copies of DVDs and Blu-rays on the shelves are being recalled and corrected, and a website has been set up for anyone who already purchased a copy. Because surely SOMEONE bought a copy of the DVD, right?
My question: why would you want to replace it? Not because Harmon Kaslow, CEO of Atlas Productions and producer of the film, thinks that "You’ve inadvertently got yourself a real collector’s item there." I just think that if you're going to leave the "comes to life" part on the case, then why quibble about the rest of inaccuracies?
Here's the complete press release (from the Atlas Shrugged Movie website), after the jump.
Films from two of MGM's brightest stars roll out from the Warner Archive – and MSN has an exclusive clip
Known as "The Platinum Blonde" and "The Blonde Bombshell," Jean Harlow was a natural sex symbol for the thirties: gorgeous and shapely, yes, and her fondness for skipping undergarments and wearing low-cut gowns didn't hurt either, but she was also street smart and savvy.
Though never a greatest of actresses (she didn't hold a candle to Carole Lombard, for one), she could hold her own opposite the best of them and MGM paired her up with their top actors: William Powell (her great love), Spencer Tracey and especially Clark Gable, with whom she starred in six film. Even in her most glamorous roles, there was a little of the girl who grew up scrapping her way to success, and her death in 1937 at the age of 24 (from kidney failure) kept her image frozen in place: the all-American sex bomb, both glamorous and down-to-earth.
See below for a clip of Harlow from "Reckless"
Most of her greatest films have already been released on DVD—"The Public Enemy," "Platinum Blonde," "Red Dust," "Dinner at Eight," "Libeled Lady"—but not all of them. The Warner Archive box set "Jean Harlow 100" (Warner Archive) features seven films from her prime including one of her best ever, the snappy screwball showbiz satire "Bombshell" (1933).
Harlow plays Hollywood superstar Lola Burns, a not-so-thinly veiled riff in her own persona (in one scene, she's called in for retakes on the "Red Dust" rain barrel scene, certainly one of the real-life Harlow's most famous screen moments), and Lee Tracy is pure mercenary drive as an unscrupulous publicist who actually enjoys the torment he puts her through as he manufactures scandals and breaks up romances with his con-man shenanigans. The script was reportedly inspired by the real-life ordeals of Harlow and Clara Bow and Harlow is clearly in on the gag and having fun with it, playing the public role of the big screen glamour girl while her private life is all chaos and frustration. Victor Fleming, one of the sturdiest of MGM's house directors, and a solid cast of supporting players (Frank Morgan as her fraud of a father, Una Merkel as her sassy assistant, Pat O'Brien as her exasperated director) keep the film running in top gear.
It's the only out-and-out comedy in the collection, but all of these films are smorgasboards of Hollywood entertainment: romance, melodrama, comedy and even a musical number or two in most films and right up front in "The Girl From Missouri" (1934) and "Reckless" (1935). Both of these films feature Harlow as a showgirl, though she's dubbed in the singing scenes and even body doubled for some dancing sequences (see the clip below and you can hear and see for yourself) and co-star Franchot Tone, who in these early years made a specialty of the inebriated society playboy with a penchant for grand gestures. But William Powell is the real romantic lead in the latter as a sports promoter who took Harlow out of the carnival and into the big time and still carries a torch for the dazzling girl. Also directed by Fleming, the film is a romantic drama with screwball attitude, show-biz color and a melodramatic streak, an alchemy that isn't always smooth but seems just right for the era.
The first Hoover tell-all was made almost 35 years before Eastwood's film
J. Edgar Hoover was as much a publicist as he was a lawman over his career, making himself the face of the FBI as far as the media was concerned. He was credited as consultant on numerous films, TV and radio shows and even books, seen in newsreels and portrayed as a figure of paternal authority whenever seen or referred to in classic movies. So it's kind of surprising that no biopic ever surfaced until after his death. You'd think he would have nurtured quite the big screen hagiography in his lifetime.
Instead, the first Hoover bio-pic hardly makes him out to be an American hero. And it wasn't by Clint Eastwood, either. "The Private Files Of J. Edgar Hoover" (1977) was a labor of love project from exploitation legend Larry Cohen, an independent director (and writer and producer) if there ever was one, and it was the closest that he ever got to an all-star cast.
Oscar winner Broderick Crawford is Hoover, the once-dedicated agent who cleans up the bureau out of moral indignation over abuses and then builds it into his own private duchy of power and control, using information and blackmail to maintain his position and authority through every successive administration. Rip Torn is the young agent who becomes disillusioned by Hoover's abuses and a guest cast of historical figures is incarnated by a great collection of character actors and class acts: Howard Da Silva as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Michael Parks as Robert Kennedy (who is actually far more convincing than "J. Edgar"'s Jeffrey Donovan), Raymond St. Jacques as Martin Luther King, Andrew Duggan as Lyndon Johnson, Jack Cassidy as Damon Runyon and Lloyd Gough as Walter Winchell. José Ferrer, Celeste Holm, Ronee Blakley, John Marley, June Havoc, Lloyd Nolan and George Plimpton also costar.
Dan Dailey (once a comic lead and song-and-dance man) is his trusted "friend" Clyde Tolson, the man whispered to be his gay lover, but Cohen doesn't give in to rumor of Hoover's cross-dressing and closeted identity. His Hoover is a highly sexually repressed man (possible impotent), anxious when it comes to sexual contact with women, aroused only when listening to secret recordings made of the sexual activities of other people (including his own agents). Eastwood revisits all these in his film, but Cohen was there 35 years earlier. There are plenty of contradictions in this Hoover, all of them designed to create Cohen's portrait of a man who isn't really aware of his contradictions.