'Totoro' and 'Howl's Moving Castle debut of Blu-ray
Director, artist, producer, and animation visionary Hayao Miyaziki is much more than Japan’s Walt Disney. Miyazaki is an original with an epic vision, an animist mythology, an environmentally-conscious subtext, and a dedication to the art of hand-drawn animation maintained in the face of the digital revolution. As both director and producer (through his Studio Ghibli), Miyazaki believed that children deserved stories with depth and emotional complexity as well as imagination and excitement, and that's what he delivered in film after film. Two of his greatest films debut on Blu-ray this week: "My Neighbor Totoro" (1988) and "Howl's Moving Castle" (2004).
"My Neighbor Totoro" (Disney), a gentle film of magic and imagination in a time of childhood anxiety, is Miyazaki's first genuine masterpiece. Released in 1988, it's a darling story of two young sisters befriended by a forest spirits (among them a friendly, perhaps imaginary, giant blue hedgehog who introduces them to the wonders of nature) one magical summer. While the fantasy and whimsy captures the playful imagination of children, a powerful undercurrent of emotional crisis grounds their experience: their infirm mother is recuperating from some unexplained illness in a local hospital. Rarely has there been such a tender and respectful exploration of the emotions and fears of children, and never in such a delightful flight of fantastical adventure and wonder. A masterpiece of modern animated fantasy made for children and adults alike.
HBO's vampires are top disc sellers, but MTV's wolves deliver a better show
"True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season" (HBO), HBO's gothic pulp vampire melodrama, goes for broke with the most extreme season yet: more blood, more conspiracies, more transformations, and way more internal wars within and between the species.
Bill and Eric (Stephen Moyer and Alexander Skarsgård) get called before the Vampire Authority, a cult-like vampire cabal (led by guest star Christopher Meloni) with an insidious plot that involves the vampire goddess Lilith and hallucinogen-fueled trips. The werewolf pack gets a scruffy new alpha who makes them the V-addicted lapdogs of the vampires. War vet Terry (Todd Lowe) is pursued by a fire demon. Heartbroken Hoyt (Jim Parrack) joins an anti-vamp hate group. Jason keeps screwing himself into more trouble. The Fey… will, they just keep partying on in their alternate dimension nightclub. And, how yeah, Tara is a vampire and she's pretty pissed about it.
Oh Sookie! Our ostensible heroine (Anna Paquin) seems just a bystander anymore, the all-purpose damsel in distress for a growing number of protectors (add Joe Manganiello's wolfman Alcide to the ranks). It's all pretty silly and feels rudderless, like a supernatural soap opera tossing everything into the mix for shock value and exploitation spectacle (blood and sex: the pay-cable formula!). It's the final season with series creator Alan Ball (who took the characters from Charlaine Harris' books and went his own way with them) and seems out of ideas. Hard to tell if things will get better with the next season, but there are a lot of fans who figure any change has got to be an improvement at this point.
The show still has passionate followers addicted to the supernatural soap opera and the discs remains TV bestsellers. That's fine, but for those less sanguine about the changes in the show, might I suggest taking a look at "Teen Wolf: Season 2" (Fox).
MTV's entry in the supernatural teenager series, is turning out to be one of the best of the genre, interesting and engaging and a lot smarter than "True Blood." The first season (available on DVD, Netflix Instant, and VOD) reworked the eighties horror comedy as a coming-of-age drama by way of young adult melodrama for the post-"Buffy" era, with a supernatural Romeo and Juliet story at the center: teen wolf Tyler Posey is in love with new girl Crystal Reed, who just happens to come from a line of werewolf hunters.
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week
"Side Effects" (Universal), medical drama-turned-psychological thriller with Jude Law and Rooney Mara, is ostensibly the last feature film from Steven Soderbergh, and it's a pretty sharp piece of filmmaking. Kind of like an updated Joe Esterhaus thriller from the nineties, only smarter and without any ice picks in sight. Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand. Videodrone's review is here.
"Beautiful Creatures" (Warner), the latest teen romance with a supernatural setting, stars Alice Englert as the new girl in town with magical powers and Alden Ehrenreich as the local boy entwined with her fate. Apparently it wasn't popular to spawn a franchise. Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand.
On the more traditionally action-oriented front, there is "The Last Stand" (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand and at Redbox), the Arnold Schwarzenegger come-back film, and "Parker" (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand and at Redbox), with Jason Statham as the brutal anti-hero of the Richard Stark's crime novels. Skewing older is "Stand Up Guys" (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, and at Redbox), the geriatric gangster buddy film with Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin.
"The ABCs of Death" (Magnet, Blu-ray and DVD) is an indie anthology horror film with 26 short pieces, "The Rolling Stones: Crossfire Hurricane" (Eagle Rock) looks back on the first two decades of the legendary band, and the Israeli drama "Yossi" (Strand, DVD) toplines the foreign list this week.
Most releases are also available as digital download and VOD via iTunes, Amazon, and other web retailers and video services.
TV on Disc:
"True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season" (HBO) is the final season of HBO's gothic pulp vampire melodrama supervised by Alan Ball, and he goes for broke with the most extreme season yet: more blood, more conspiracies, more transformations, and way more internal wars within and between the species. A little too much for many fans, but it's still addictive supernatural soap opera for many others. Oh, Sookie! 12 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, plus commentary tracks, featurettes, and other supplements.
"Teen Wolf: Season 2" (Fox), MTV's entry in the supernatural teenager series, is turning out to be one of the best of the genre and a much more interesting and engaging series than "True Blood," as far as I'm concerned. 12 episodes on two discs on DVD.
"Perception: The Complete First Season" (ABC) is TNT's latest attempt at the high-concept detective show with a damaged genius in the lead, this one with Eric McCormack as a schizophrenic neuroscience professor who can’t separate his hallucinations from real life. 10 episodes on two discs, DVD.
Plus: "Saving Hope: The Complete First Season" (eOne), which is also the only season of this cancelled medical show-turned-supernatural drama, and "The Aquabats Super Show: Season One" (Shout! Factory), a kid's show with "the world's first musical crime-fighting super group." Both DVD.
Cool and Classic:
"The Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics" (Warner) and "The Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Contemporary" (Warner) present nine films on Blu-ray, from 1931 to 2006, and a bonus documentary on DVD, across two box sets. You can enter to win a copy of both volumes in a giveaway from MSN and Warner Home Entertainment.
Two of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films debut on Blu-ray: "My Neighbor Totoro" (Disney) from 1988, a gentle film of magic and imagination in a time of childhood anxiety and Miyazaki's first genuine masterpiece, and his 2004 fantasy adventure "Howl's Moving Castle" (Disney). Both in Blu-ray+DVD combo packs with Japanese and English soundtracks.
"National Lampoon's Vacation: 30th Anniversary Edition" (Warner) is a new Blu-ray release of the family road movie comedy with a new documentary.
Cult films from Italy: "Cold Eyes of Fear" (Redemption) and "The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine" (Redemption), two exploitation horrors of the seventies, are restored for Blu-ray and DVD, and the spaghetti western "Grand Duel" (Blue Underground) with Lee Van Cleef arrives in DVD with the four-disc collection "Spaghetti Westerns Unchained" (Blue Underground).
Also new: the disc debuts of horror films "The Burning" (Shout! Factory) and "The Town that Dreaded Sundown" (Shout! Factory) on Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack special editions and the Blu-ray debut of the 1990 "Captain America" (Shout Factory) in its correct aspect ratio.
Streams and Channels:
The Netflix original revival of "Arrested Development" debuts on Sunday, May 26 with 15 episodes. Meanwhile, here's what currently new and available on Netflix Instant.
"The Dictator" (2012) is a Sacha Baron Cohen comedy without the mock-documentary stuntwork of "Borat." Which means the gleefully outrageous bad taste and wild exaggerations are pushed to even more cartoonish extremes.
"Defiance" (2008) is a real-life World War II drama with Daniel Craig. Not new but getting a lot of renewed interest is "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982), still the best of the big screen "Star Trek" movies.
And here are a couple of recommended titles that aren't on disc yet: "Longmire: Season 1," the A&E original series starring Robert Taylor, Katee Sackhoff, and Lou Diamond Phillips, and the shadowy British psychological drama "The October Man" (1947).
New On Demand:
"Side Effects," Steven Soderbergh's medical drama-turned-psychological thriller with Jude Law and Rooney Mara, and "Beautiful Creatures," the first film in a new supernatural teen romance franchise, are now available.
Also new is Arnold Schwarzenegger's come-back action film "The Last Stand" and "Parker" with Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez.
Arriving before theatrical release are two comedies: "Free Samples" with Jess Weixler and Jesse Eisenberg and "Kid-Thing" with Sydney Aguirre and Nathan Zellner.
Available from Redbox this week:
Arriving day and date with video stores is "The Last Stand" (Lionsgate Blu-ray and DVD), Arnold Schwarzenegger's come-back action film, "Parker" (Sony, Blu-ray and DVD) with Jason Statham, and "Stand Up Guys" (Lionsgate, Blu-ray and DVD) with Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin.
Also arriving in Redbox kiosks this week is "Gangster Squad" (Warner, Blu-ray and DVD), with Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling as cops in 1940s Los Angeles, and "Promised Land" (Universal, Blu-ray and DVD), a drama about fracking in Midwest farmlands written by and starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski.
|Tags:||Week in review|
We reveal one of the witches to you so you can partake in the hunt
Stars Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are the brother and sister team seeking to avenge their parents’ deaths as they face evil greater than anything they’ve seen before. The digital release of the unrated cut of “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is now available so you can watch the adventure unfold before your eyes! To celebrate MSN Movies is partnering with Paramount Pictures so you can be a part of the witch hunt.
The first person to find all six witch images and uncover the secret URL will win an iPad mini with digital versions of the theatrical and unrated cut of “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” You also have a chance to win a trip to the premiere of “World War Z” the latest film starring Brad Pitt.
"Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" digital release is available now and the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack is available starting June 11.
For all you hunters out there, here is the first of six witches that will be revealed!
Soderbergh's intelligent take on a familiar genre reminds us how much we'll miss his touch
Steven Soderbergh says that "Side Effects" (Universal) is his last theatrical feature before retirement (he doesn't count his upcoming made-for-HBO film "Behind the Candelabra"). The modestly scaled but satisfying thriller reminds us just how much we'll miss his take presence on the big screen.
What begins as a medical drama of wonder drugs and pharmaceutical conspiracy turns into a sly psychological thriller, with Jude Law as a committed psychiatrist and Rooney Mara as a troubled patient with a coldly calculating soul. Law prescribes a new, experimental drug to combat her depression and anxiety attacks (recommended by fellow therapist Catherine Zeta-Jones, all very controlled and steely), Mara ends up killing her husband (Channing Tatum) in a sleepwalking nightmare, and the more he looks into the suppressed side effects of the drug, the more suspicions are raised about the whole situation. Meanwhile the film's observation on how cozy the medical profession is with the pharmaceutical industry, and how her murder trial is intertwined with big business and medical malpractice, puts a whole new angle on the stakes of the murder trial.
"Side Effects" is less twisty in retrospect than it appears as the drama unfolds moment to moment. Like so many of Soderbergh's films, it turns on human nature, perception, and expectations, which Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns play with to great effect. As Law's ambitious, seemingly sincere, and possibly paranoid psychiatrist says, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Fittingly the entire last act rests on that simple observation.
Soderbergh has been bringing a sharp intelligence and a strong understanding of character to his films throughout his career, but beginning with "Out of Sight," he's been playing increasingly with genre films and pulp stories and making clever, intriguing, surprising films of them. (I cover many of them in a survey of Soderbergh's career for MSN Movies here.) He doesn't refashion the stories so much as hone in on their reason for being and focus on those aspects, pulling character out of types and fashioning human stories out of plots. "Side Effects" is like Soderbergh's take on the Joe Esterhaus thrillers of the nineties, only smarter, more clinically-focused (as Soderbergh is wont to do), and without the ice picks. For all the twists, this is a thriller that turns on character.
MSN film critic James Rocchi proclaims it "a nice farewell: fun and smart, with cutting satire and blunt shocks. In fact, looking at the shooting and story of "Side Effects," it's almost perfect."
Blu-ray and DVD, with featurettes and the two fictional pharmaceutical commercials seen the films. The Blu-ray also includes a bonus DVD, digital copy of the film for portable media players, and UltraViolet digital copy for download and instant streaming.
Enter to win a Blu-ray collection of the great gangster movies, classic and contemporary
Warner Bros. created the modern gangster movie in the early thirties, when they were the kings of high-energy, street-smart filmmaking. The genre remained dear to the studio throughout its history.
They pay tribute the best of their gangster films, yesterday and today, with two Blu-ray box sets: "Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics" (Warner) and "Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Contemporary" (Warner). Both debut on Tuesday, May 21.
To celebrate the release, MSN and Warner Home Video are giving away a gift set of both volumes: nine films in two sets.
"Classics" offers the respective Blu-ray debuts of four landmark gangster movies -- "Little Caesar" (1931) with Edward G. Robinson, "The Public Enemy" (1931) with James Cagney, "The Petrified Forest" (1936) with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, and the incendiary "White Heat" (1949) with Cagney -- plus a bonus DVD with the documentary "Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film."
"Contemporary" collects five films that have previously been released on Blu-ray, including three by Martin Scorsese -- "Mean Streets" (1973), Oscar-nominates "Goodfellas" (1990), and Oscar-winning "The Departed" (2006) -- plus Brian DePalma's "The Untouchables" (1987) with Kevin Costner and Robert DeNiro and Michael Mann's "Heat" (1995) with DeNiro and Al Pacino.
See a clip for "Heat" below.
Enter to win by following these steps:
1. Like MSN Movies on Facebook and Twitter
2. Tweet and comment the following message: I want to win the @MSNMovies #ULTIMATEGANGSTERS giveaway!
3. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message: I want to win @MSNMovies # ULTIMATEGANGSTERS giveaway!
4. Stay in touch with MSN Movies Facebook to see if you’ve been selected as the winner
Entries are accepted until Monday, May 27. Good luck, MSN Movies fans!
In the meantime, enjoy a clip from "Heat."
And much more in Videodrone's first monthly round-up of documentary and non-fiction releases
"Mel Brooks: Make a Noise" (Shout! Factory), the new profile of the legendary writer / director / actor / producer / all around funnyman from filmmaker Robert Trachtenberg, premieres on the PBS arts showcase "American Masters" on Monday, May 20, and debuts on DVD the next day. "A raconteur of the first order, Brooks is also gifted with near-total recall, and a wit that hasn’t ebbed with the passage of time," writes Variety TV critic Brian Lowry. "In Robert Trachtenberg’s film, Brooks concedes every bad review is like “a knife through your heart.” In savoring this valentine, that organ and every other can rest easy."
Shout! Factory has been doing right by Brooks, with its deluxe five-disc set "The Incredible Mel Brooks" (featuring some other standout documentaries and specials on Brooks) released in 2012. This joins the ongoing tribute, and the disc features bonus segments filmed for but not included in the documentary.
"Citizen Hearst" (HBO) profiles William Randolph Hearst, the legendary media mogul and yellow journalist, and the empire that continues on in his wake. "Sometimes "Citizen Hearst" feels as breezy and electric as the newsreels Hearst pioneered," observes Village Voice film critic Alan Scherstuhl, "other times it feels like the video they'll make you watch during orientation on your first day at 300 West 57th." Leslie Iwerks directs and William H. Macy narrates. DVD, with 30 minutes of bonus footage and the "Heart Castle" episodes of the A&E series "America's Castles."
"Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters" (Zeitgeist) profiles the acclaimed photographer as he worked on his magnum opus, a collection of massive prints he called "Beneath the Roses." "For those unfamiliar with Crewdson’s oeuvre, the docu serves as a delicious eye-opener, while for fans it furnishes an unprecedented look at his long-secret methods, utilizing crews and budgets suitable for independent features, by which his eerily frozen moments of Americana come into being," writes Variety film critic Ronnie Scheib. The DVD includes deleted scenes, bonus interviews, and a Q&A at a screening at LACMA with director Ben Shapiro, Crewdson, and writer Jonathan Lethem.
"Last Summer Won't Happen" (Icarus) is a 1968 portrait of the East Village culture after the summer of love, with Abbie Hoffman, Paul Kassner, and Phil Ochs (among others) commenting on the political changes in the counter culture movement. Peter Gessner and Tom Hurwitz direct, and the disc features the bonus 1966 short "Time of the Locust" from Gessner and new interviews with the filmmakers. DVD.
"Witness: A World in Conflict Through a Lens" (HBO), a four-part series from producer Michael Mann and director David Frankham, follows three combat photojournalists through some of the most dangerous places in the world. Not war zones per se, but regions rife with drug trafficking, poverty, gangs, and corruption in Mexico, Brazil, Libya, and South Sudan. The series was produced for HBO, one of the few networks that still invests in investigative journalism and social and political documentary filmmaker. DVD. Review at The Hollywood Reporter.
The six-part "Marley Africa Road Trip" (Arc) follows brothers Ziggy, Riohan, and Robbie Marley on a motorcycle road tour across Africa, with stops along the way for concerts. Director David Alexanian previously shot the motorcycle road trips of Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor. DVD.
'3:10 to Yuma' and 'Jubal' get the Criterion treatment
"3:10 to Yuma" (Criterion)
Delmer Daves was a Hollywood pro with a long career and an impressive filmography. He established himself as a screenwriter with a series of light comedies and romantic melodramas (including the original 1939 "Love Affair") before stepping behind the camera with the World War II adventure "Destination Tokyo." Like most directors of his era, he moved easily between all genres – war pictures, romances, melodrama, and a few noir-inflected dramas (notably "The Red House" and "Dark Passage"), but he proved his affinity for the western from his very first effort in the genre, the 1950 classic "Broken Arrow." Along with his fine eye for imagery, Daves brought a psychological dimension and an adult sensibility to his westerns. In his best films, his characters had relationships and emotions that came out of real life.
Criterion's stamp on two of his most interesting westerns may help bring a little more attention to the director. "Jubal" (Criterion) is the first of three westerns Daves made with actor Glenn Ford, already a seasoned western presence by 1956. Here he's an itinerate cowhand and a wary loner hired by rancher Ernest Borgnine, a garrulous, generous guy who becomes both father figure and best friend to the emotionally bottled up cowhand. It's been called "Othello" on the range, with Rod Steiger as the bitter ranch hand playing Iago to Borgnine's Othello, but the Desdemona of this piece is no innocent victim but a dark, exotic beauty (she's Canadian, apparently to explain away Valerie French's accent) in a stifling marriage to the sincere but crude and boisterous cattleman. Young and deeply disenchanted, she sets her eyes on the simple, stoic cowboy.
This is less a Shakespeare western than a Hollywood melodrama in chaps and Daves was a seasoned hand at both genres. He favors suspense to action and violence, tightening the tension until Steiger (himself spurned by French) finally pushes his boss over the edge and the cycle of violence begins. Even then, the violence is brief and abrupt and Daves leaves the most brutal assault offscreen. Noah Beery Jr. and John Dierkes offer easy-going support as Ford's friendly bunkmates and fellow cowhands and Charles Bronson takes a small but key role as a plain-speaking cowhand whose loyalty to Ford's Jubal is unshakable even when Steiger turns the town against him. Daves brings out Bronson's easy-going humor and understated style, a side so rarely tapped by other directors.