The fourth feature by the great director gets the lavish Criterion treatment
In his first films, the acclaimed "Pather Panchali" and "Aparajito," the great East Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray eschewed the song and dance interludes that were part of the conventions of domestic Indian cinema. "The Music Room" (Criterion) features both song and dance but not in the way of popular cinema. They are integral parts of the film, both spectacle and defining illustration of the threadbare aristocrat Biswambhar Roy (Chhabi Biswas), once a powerful feudal lord, or zamindar, now a threadbare remnant of the old world, alone in his crumbling palace as the modern world passes him by.
His great love is music and he considers himself a connoisseur and a patron of the arts, indulging in his hobby to the neglect of his fortune and his lands, which are slowly being swallowed up by the river. It's a matter of social currency and vanity as much as aesthetics and his obsession becomes his downfall. Vain and impotent, he's a remnant of a culture of refinement and respect in a world of commerce and modernity, as exemplified in the film by the merchant Ganguly (Gangapada Basu), a garish nouveau riche who gracelessly flaunts his fortune while courting the approval of Roy, still the symbolic elder of the social world.
If Ray is unimpressed with the crude manner of Ganguly, he's far more critical of Roy, the once mighty lord who has slipped into isolation and irrelevance by his own doing. Yet the film has is a grudging affection for Roy, who though foolish is a loving husband and father, which gives his fall a tinge of tragedy.
And then there is there are the three performances showcased here are recitals presented by Roy in his lavish music room. Both part of the drama and apart from it, they are presented as a calculated show of Roy's rarified taste and refinement, and at the same time become a preservation of the classical arts, a far cry from the pop entertainments of Bollywood filmmaking. These performances are as lovely and elegant as the film surrounding them.
Graceful, melancholy, directed with a reserved elegance, "The Music Room" observes the old-world feudal life of the 1920s fading into irrelevance with both sympathy and disparagement. That balance, as well as Ray's more confident mastery of cinematic expression, makes this one of his masterpieces
Criterion presents the DVD and Blu-ray debut "The Music Room," remastered from a 35mm print restored in 1995 and featuring a terrific collection of supplements. Shyam Bengal's 1984 feature-length documentary "Satyajit Ray," a generous career retrospective highlighted by lengthy interview sequences with Ray, film clips and footage of Ray on the set of "The Home and The World," is the highlight of the extras. In addition there is ten-minute 1981 roundtable discussion from French television with director Claude Sautet and film critic Michel Ciment and new video interviews with Ray biographer Andrew Robinson (running 17 minutes) and filmmaker Mira Nair (15 minutes). Also features a booklet with an original essay by critic Philip Kemp and reprints of a 1963 essay by Ray and a 1986 interview with the director about the film’s music. You can read Philip Kemp's essay on the Criterion website here.
Plus "Reggie Perrin" and more "Melrose Place," "The Girls Next Door" and "Smurfs"
"Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series" (BBC) boxes up all 31 episodes of the BBC episodes of the "Doctor Who" spin-off just as Captain Jack Harkness heads stateside for a new American incarnation of the show. It's an entertaining show with clever twists but it really comes into its own in the final episodes of its British run: "Children of Earth," a mini-epic that plays out like a novel. It's essential viewing for any fan of SF TV. Videodrone's review is here.
And speaking of The Doctor, "Doctor Who: Season Six, Part One" (BBC) features seven episodes of the most recent season starring Matt Smith and produced by Steven Moffat. This run opens with a trip to the American southwest, the moonwalk and the return of River Song (Alex Kingston) in one of the most ingenious invasion stories I've ever seen (their method of camouflage is brilliant!) and features an episode written by Neil Gaiman that turns the TARDIS into a flesh and blood character with her own story ("I wanted to see the universe, so I stole a Time Lord and I ran away. And you were the only one mad enough."). Red-headed spark plug Karen Gillan and plucky everyman Arthur Darvill are along for the ride as the only married team of companions the series has ever seen, and they are a cute and entertaining couple. The season concludes on BBC America later this summer. Seven episodes on two discs on DVD and Blu-ray, plus two "Monster Files" featurettes.
"Hey Dude: Season One" (Shout! Factory) is the nostalgia release of the week: Nickelodeon's first live-action sitcom, set on an Arizona dude ranch, debuts on DVD. Shot on a tight budget in Arizona with a small cast acting out situations familiar from decades of sitcoms past and hamming up the corny scripts with tired physical comedy, it looks and feels more like the cheap syndicated sitcoms that proliferated in the 1980s than Nickelodeon's later original shows and has dated considerably in the twenty years since its debut, but it launch one career, sort of: Christine Taylor, who played the girl next door swimming instructor and went on to pop culture fame as Marcia in "The Brady Bunch Movie." The first season of 13 episodes debuts on DVD in a two-disc set, which also features an enlightening and entertaining interview with Taylor, who talks about the experience of doing a series, her first major role, while also finishing high school, and looks back at the show from the perspective of a mother with her own children. It's actually, at least for this adult, much more interesting than any of the episodes.
Martin Clunes takes the lead in "Reggie Perrin: Set 1" (Acorn), the 2009 revival of the classic British black comedy series of the mad mid-life crisis of an alienated middle management executive. "Bill Moyers: God and Politics" (Athena) presents the complete three-episode 1987 series, plus bonus programs from other related Bill Moyers programs, on a two-disc set.
"Melrose Place: The Sixth Season, Volume Two" (Paramount) offers 12 episodes (on three discs) of the steamy late-night soap headlined by Heather Locklear. "The Girls Next Door: Season Six" (MPI) ushers three new favorites into the Hugh Hefner's quarters in the Playboy Mansion. Ten episodes on two discs. "The Smurfs: A Magical Smurf Adventure" (Warner) features ten episodes from the second season of the animated series, circa 1982. Just in time for their big screen 3D debut!
And the rest:
"Brave New Voices 2010" (HBO) is an hour-long HBO special of slam poetry competition, hosted by rap superstar common and acclaimed actress Rosario Dawson. "The i<3 iCarly Collection" (Paramount) is a box-set of three previously released discs, collecting 15 episodes from the teens and tweens hit series from Nickelodeon.
One of the strangest Hollywood misfires every made
One of the strangest attempts by an independent-minded establishment director to embrace the youth culture in his filmmaking, Otto Preminger's 1968 "Skidoo" (Olive) stars Jackie Gleason as a former mob hitman named Tough Tony ordered to whack an informer in protective custody in prison.
Don't expect "The Sopranos" here. This is more like Keystone Mobsters, with career criminals and fun-loving hippies colliding in a comedy of flower power, slapstick and psychedelia, the latter courtesy of a mass LSD trip in a maximum security prison. Groucho Marx is the wiseguy mob boss named God who has a germ phobia while Carol Channing bridges the cultural gap with a go-go dance and a strip-tease.
It's quite a cartoonish comedy of goofy goodfellas and hippie stereotypes in long hair, love beads and body paint, not necessarily a good film but a truly strange time capsule of Hollywood in 1968 trying to bring social satire and counterculture attitude to its style of comedy. And it does entertain if only by virtue of its misguided portrait of the drug culture and the counterculture, garish slapstick and bizarre plot, all of which has made it a minor cult item. The cast also includes Frankie Avalon, John Phillip Law, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, George Raft, Cesar Romero and Mickey Rooney. Harry Nilsson provides the original songs, a mix of sixties pop and bouncy tin pan alley style, and sings the closing credits.
Plus "Small Town Murder Songs," "My Own Love Songs" and "Peep World"
Bradley Cooper is a golden boy on a drug that makes him more perceptive, more creative, and just plain more in "Limitless" (Fox), a cerebral thriller with science fiction elements and the irresistible premise that genius and awareness is the ultimate high. The story isn't always clear but Cooper's performance is sharp and savvy and the film is a rush. Videodrone's review is here, along with an exclusive clip from the DVD/Blu-ray supplements.
"Take Me Home Tonight" (Fox) goes for nostalgia with Topher Grace and friends (Anna Faris, Dan Fogler and Teresa Palmer) saying goodbye to their days of being wild with an all-night party. MSN film critic Glenn Kenny describes as "an amiable enough pastiche in which "That '70s Show" star Grace, who co-executive-produced and co-concocted the story, such as it is, does the '80s thing…" But Kenny is not charmed by the film or the nostalgia, complaining that "the comic tone is both strained and straining, Grace himself too smooth, handsome and ingratiating to make his character's dissembling-because-he's-genuinely-awkward-and-lost routine register. In less fancy terms, he's too cute to be a convincing near-loser."
The film was actually made four years ago and the DVD and Blu-ray offer a "Cast Get Together" reunion featurette, with the cast back together after all those years to reminisce about the production. Also features deleted scenes and jukebox access to songs in the film (called "Boombox" here, to carry on the eighties theme). The Blu-ray also features a digital copy.
Catherine Deneuve stars in François Ozon’s seventies satire "Potiche" (Music Box). The title is French slang for "trophy wife," but Deneuve's character doesn't remain so for long; when her philandering industrialist husband (Fabrice Luchini) is kidnapped by striking workers, she take the reigns of the company and finds herself more than capable to right the foundering ship. "You don't need to know the original material or French politics to enjoy Ozon's latest," explains MSN film critic James Rocchi. "You just need an appreciation for human folly, and an understanding that, in love and politics, the battle is often the fun." Gérard Depardieu co-stars as a leftist politician who gets involved in the negotiations and Karin Viard, Judith Godreche and Jeremie Renier co-star.
The DVD and Blu-ray releases both include a feature-length documentary on the production (in French with English subtitles, like the film), costume tests and the film's seventies-style trailer.
Sleeper of the week is "Small Town Murder Songs" (Monterey Video), an indie drama about a small town sheriff (Peter Stormare) struggling with the ghosts of his own past while investigating a murder. "Ed Gass-Donnelly, who wrote, directed, and edited, knows that roads and streets become beautiful and auspicious if you put your widescreen camera in the right place and honor the power of the frame," writes Richard T. Jameson at Parallax View. "There’s nothing in this nowhere community that could be called scenic or even picturesque, yet Gass-Donnelly allows us to soak in the ambience and become haunted by it." Features deleted scenes.
Renée Zellweger and Forest Whitaker star in "My Own Love Song" (Inception), the English-language debut of French director Olivier Dahan ("La Vie en Rose"), which features an original soundtrack by Bob Dylan and, in the words of IFC.com film critic Stephen Saito, "scenes of animated flamingos and kingfishers, a batshit Forest Whitaker and Elias Koteas, and Nick Nolte serving up slices of a psychedelic chocolate cake. Sadly, these things overshadow Renee Zellweger's first genuine performance in years."
"Peep World" (IFC) is a satire of family relations that unravels at a reunion after the youngest son publishes a novel that is a thinly veiled portrait of his clan. MSN film critic James Rocchi finds it disappointing, given the potential: "Its cast is exemplary -- Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Ron Rifkin, Kate Mara, Taraji P. Henson and the always-great Stephen Tobolowsky -- but Barry Blaustein's direction of Peter Himmelstein's script never gives its cast the room or resources to truly swing for the fences like you know they can." Features deleted scenes.
John Carney follows up his indie hit musical drama "Once" with the comedy "Zonad" (FilmBuff/MPI), about an escaped rehab patient who somehow convinces the locals that he's really an alien from outer space. Eva Green and Juno Temple headline the boarding school psychodrama "Cracks" (IFC).
"The Sound of Insects" (Kino Lorber) recreates the true story of a man who recorded his thoughts as he starved himself to death in the Austrian wilderness. "Dive! Living Off America's Waste" (First Run) looks into the enormous scale of food waste in the country and the culture of dumpster diving to reclaim some of it. Doug Block ("51 Birch Street") again turns the camera on his family in "The Kids Grow Up" (Docurama), this time focusing on his daughter. "Dumbstruck" (Magnolia) profiles ventriloquists and "Card Subject to Change" (Cinema Libre) looks at the professional wrestling underground.
And the rest:
"House of the Rising Sun" (Lionsgate) is an action film built around WWE fighter Dave Bautista, with Amy Smart, Dominic Purcell and Danny Trejo brought in to give him some kind of screen cred. Lea Thompson in "Mayor Cupcake" (Phase 4) in the PG-rated family comedy. "The Way of the West" (aka "The Mountie") (Lionsgate) is a Canadian western with Andrew Walker and Jessica Paré. "The Reef" (Image) is an Australian thriller about a family on a sinking yacht surrounded by Great White Sharks.
Captain Jack Harkness and his team save the world for three seasons on BBC
"Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series" (BBC) began life as a spin-off of the Russell T. Davies "Doctor Who" reboot (note the title is an anagram of the original series) for a more adult science fiction audience. Former Doctor Who confederate Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) takes the lead in what begins as a high-energy goof on "X-Files" featuring a British special cases squad of energetic young agents with more energy than experience and a high-tech equipment locker that has everything but an instructions booklet. And there's a nod to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" with the idea that their Cardiff HQ is located on the "Rift," sort of a cosmic Hellmouth of converging lines of dimensional energy that brings bout space travelers and dimensional warps.
This group is making it up as they go along, as beat cop Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) discovers when she stumbles upon their activities and exhibits enough spunk to get recruited into the crew, and the show takes its time finding its footing and its sensibility. The rubber-mask aliens and techno-toys are right out of the "Doctor Who" playfulness while the show adds a darker tone (a lot of people die, some quite violently, through the course of the shows) to its brightly colored adventures. And give the show credit for offering TV's first out-and-proud bisexual action hero, a revelation that neither defines nor redefines him as much as it simply adds another piece to his mystery. The guy is eternal and, as we come to know, as tortured and tormented a guy as we'll meet.
But it's fair to say that show really came into its own with "Torchwood: Children of Earth," a five-part mini-series within a series (which originally played over five consecutive nights on British TV and BBC America) with a scope that recalls the "Quatermass" shows and a creepiness that echoes "Children of the Damned." It opens with every child on the face of the Earth pointing to the sky and chanting in unison "We are coming" while the government immediately sends a hit squad to kill the Torchwood team, and it gets darker from there. While he and his team fight to save the children of earth from a truly horrific fate, we discover just how much Captain Jack has suffered and sacrificed through his gift/curse of eternal life: he's an immortal with the trials of Job and the torments of Prometheus. Creator/writer Russell T Davies doesn't take any prisoners in this production.
"Torchwood" has returned to TV with a new mini-series: "Miracle Day," a co-production between the BBC and the American cable network Starz that sends Captain Jack and Gwen Cooper stateside, and the BBC has taken the opportunity to release the complete original series on both DVD and Blu-ray. It's 31 episodes all together, on 14 DVDs or 12 Blu-rays, and it includes all of the original supplements (but offers no new ones): Commentary on all 13 episodes of Season One, all of the "Torchwood Declassified" ten-minute featurettes plus additional featurettes on the characters, creatures and technology. Comes in a nice, sturdy bookleaf digipak in a slipsleeve.
Bradley Cooper is a golden boy on a drug that makes him more perceptive, more creative and just plain more
See an MSN exclusive featurette from the DVD/Blu-ray release below
Which is just what happens when would-be novelist Eddie (Bradley Cooper) takes a sample of an experimental drug from a freelance pharmaceutical rep (think high-concept pusher) and (quite literally) cleans up his act before knocking out a good chunk of that novel he's been putting off for months.
Bradley Cooper developed the property (based on a novel by Alan Glynn) as a vehicle to show off his leading man chops and he's perfect in the role of the slacker in a creative funk and motivational spiral who takes a hit of NZT and taps into all of his unused potential. His entire look, demeanor, body language changes when he's on, a man suddenly in charge of himself and his world, and director Neil Burger offers a slick shorthand for the rush of perception with a few simple tricks, enough to kick the film into overdrive for Eddie's flights of uber-cognition. He's confident, magnetic, engaged, and his eyes glow an incandescent blue that recalls the spice-laced Fremen of "Dune." At one point he channels the Kennedys, a golden boy ready to take on the world with a smile. And when he comes down he crashes, becoming sloppy and stupid and depressed, which is a bad place to be when there are killers looking for this wonder drug that he's managed to stash away.
It starts off as an addiction metaphor—the first dose is free and the addiction is both a matter of chasing the high of an experience junkie and of physical survival (withdrawal is a killer)—but also taps into dreams lost in the long haul of life and youthful ambition and energy stirred back to life. And it shifts into a quasi-Philip K. Dick future-shock of corporate control through science with the drug coming at a price.
The biggest price appears to be selling out for the basest of power grabs, though even that is a means to an end. It's the endgame that's a little vague. Well, a few things are vague, from basic story points to technical details, but it doesn't unduly harm this head trip. It's not the science that's important, it's the momentum, the conceptual journey, the dynamism of the head games and chemically-enhanced battle of wits, and the laser-sharp performance by Cooper. Robert De Niro and Abbie Cornish co-star.
"Neil Burger ("The Illusionist") deploys this genre mishmash with all the aplomb of a director on speed, while Bradley Cooper puts pedal to the metal in a performance that fast-forwards from schlub to über-Gordon Gekko to Bruce Lee action hero to Teflon politico," aggress MSN film critic Kat Murphy. "Yes, you wish "Limitless" was smarter and sharper about its tantalizing premise (drawn from Alan Glynn's 2001 novel "The Dark Fields"), but… "Limitless" delivers some pleasurable punch -- and rarely makes you feel small."
The film arrives on video in both the original theatrical cut and an unrated extended cut, accompanied by the featurettes "A Man Without Limits" and "Taking it to the Limit: The Making of Limitless" and an alternate ending. The Blu-ray also features a bonus digital copy.
'Limitless' Exclusive Featurette: "A Man Without Limits"
This exclusive featurette showcases the changes of Eddie (Bradley Cooper) after taking the top-secret pill, NZT. 'Limitless' is out on Blu-ray/DVD, July 19.
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week.
Bradley Cooper is a golden boy on a drug that makes him more perceptive, more creative, and just plain more in "Limitless" (Fox), a cerebral thriller with science fiction elements and the irresistible premise that genius and awareness is the ultimate high. The story isn't always clear but Cooper's performance is sharp and savvy and the film is a rush. Videodrone's review is here.
"Take Me Home Tonight" (Fox) goes for nostalgia with Topher Grace and friends saying goodbye to their days of being wild (and to the 1980s) with an all-night party in what MSN critic Glenn Kenny describes as "an amiable enough pastiche." Renée Zellweger and Forest Whitaker star in "My Own Love Song" (Inception), the English-language debut of French director Olivier Dahan ("La Vie en Rose") and Eva Green and Juno Temple headline the boarding school psychodrama "Cracks" (IFC).
Sleeper of the week is "Small Town Murder Songs" (Monterey Video), an indie drama about a small town sheriff (Peter Stormare) struggling with the ghosts of his own past while investigating a murder. And Catherine Deneuve stars in François Ozon’s seventies satire "Potiche" (Music Box).
TV on DVD:
"Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series" (BBC) boxes up all 31 episodes of the BBC episodes of the "Doctor Who" spin-off just as Captain Jack Harkness heads stateside for a new American incarnation of the show. It's an entertaining show with clever twists but it really comes into its own in the final episodes of its British run. Videodrone's review is here.
And speaking of The Doctor, "Doctor Who: Season Six, Part One" (BBC) features seven episodes of the most recent season starring Matt Smith and produced by Steven Moffat. And it features an episode written by Neil Gaiman. Cool! The season concludes on BBC America later this summer. More on Videodrone here.
"Hey Dude: Season One" (Shout! Factory) is the nostalgia release of the week: Nickelodeon's first live-action sitcom debuts on DVD. Which is not a recommendation, merely a heads up to all you Christine Taylor fans.
Cool, Classic and Cult:
Satyajit Ray arrived on the international film scene with a pair of powerful dramas in the poetic realist vein. "The Music Room" (Criterion), his fourth feature, struck out in a new direction. Graceful, melancholy, directed with a reserved elegance, it observes the old-world feudal life of the 1920s fading into irrelevance with both sympathy and disparagement. That balance, as well as Ray's more confident mastery of cinematic expression, makes this one of his masterpieces, and the Criterion release (on DVD and Blu-ray) features a rich collection of supplements. Videodrone's review is here.
Otto Preminger's "Skidoo" (Olive) is a truly strange time capsule of Hollywood in 1968 trying to bring social satire and counterculture hipness to garish comedy: career criminals and fun-loving hippies colliding in a comedy of flower power, slapstick, psychedelia and Groucho Marx as an absurdist Godfather. I can't say it's good butt it surely is unique. More on Videodrone here.
The CinemaScope pre-Biblical epic "The Egyptian" debuts on DVD and Blu-ray (see more on Videodrone here). "Tekken" (Anchor Bay), a live-action film based on the popular videogame, is an America/Japanese co-production with low-rent actors and fighting superstars, and "Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill A Mockingbird" (First Run) is a documentary about the influential novel and its author.
Blu-ray Debuts:One the most loved films of all time and the most eerily beautiful fairy tale ever brought to life on film, Jean Cocteau’s "Beauty and the Beast" (1946) (Criterion) is the quintessential fairy tale for grown-ups. It's been remastered for Blu-ray and is packed with marvelous supplements. Videodrone's review is here.
John Singleton became the youngest director ever nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award in his accomplished debut feature "Boyz 'N The Hood" (Sony). And it's a double feature of French delights with "Amélie" (Lionsgate) and "Chocolat" (Lionsgate).
Build Your Library Essential of the Week:
Jean Cocteau’s "Beauty and the Beast" (1946) (Criterion). The Beast is truly a beautiful creation, the B&W photography by Henri Alekan shimmers, and the eerie imagery of the living statuary and animated objects of the castle creates a texture of visual poetry and cinema magic never been equaled in the years of fairy tale cinema since. And there is nothing like black-and-white on Blu-ray.
The complete calendar of releases this week is after the jump:
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Your guide to our coverage of the new DVD/Blu-ray releases
Here's what's new on DVD and Blu-ray this week as featured on Videodrone
"Rango" – A Lizard in the Old West
The New Release Rack: "The Lincoln Lawyer" defends "Uncle Boonmee," plus "Arthur," "Miral" and "Insidious"
TV on DVD:
"Damages: The Complete Third Season" – Patty Hewes takes on Bernie Madoff
TV on DVD Channel Guide: More from "MI-5," "Entourage" and "Robot Chicken," plus more from the BBC
The Cool and the Collectible:
Buster Keaton Begins: "Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection (1920-1923)"
Cult Watch: "Battle Beyond the Stars"
Cool, Classic and Collectible: Keaton and Corman and Shameless Exploitation
Blu-ray Debuts:Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" and Mike Leigh's "Naked"
Buster Keaton Begins: "Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection (1920-1923)"
Cult Watch: "Battle Beyond the Stars"
Samuel Fuller's "Park Row"
Coming up next week:
"Take Me Home Tonight" (Fox)
"Potiche" (Music Box)
"The Music Room" (Criterion)
"Doctor Who: Season Six, Part One" (Warner)
"Young Justice: Season 1 Volume 1" (Warner)
"Beauty and the Beast" (Blu-ray) (Criterion)
"Boyz N The Hood" (Blu-ray) (Sony)
"Amélie" (Blu-ray) (Lionsgate)
"Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series" (Blu-ray) (BBC)
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