Jeremy Irons shows just why it's good to be the Pope
Okay, I stole that headline right out of the show's own advertising, but it was just too good to pass up. The Borgias were the most notorious family of their time, an aristocratic house that amassed power through tactics worthy of a Shakespeare villain.
Created by Neil Jordan, who directs the first two episodes and scripts all ten episodes of the first season, "The Borgias: Season One" (Paramount) opens with family patriarch Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons, perfectly restrained), a powerful Cardinal within the Vatican, ensuring his succession to the Papal throne. There's no murder yet, merely bribery, coercion and the promise of political favors: illegal, yes, but just a little corruption between cronies in a church that rivals the power of some countries in Renaissance Europe.
"The Borgias" appears to follow the same formula of "The Tudors," a recipe of royal intrigue, aristocratic decadence and lusty sex in the courts of old Europe, but Jordan is more interested in chamber drama than melodrama. The first season is about the early days of the dynasty and the education of the two Borgias who will become the most notorious of the clan: Cesare (François Arnaud), Rodrigo's heir and consigliore (to use a term from "The Godfather"), and Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger), the golden-haired, apple-cheeked daughter whose innocence isn't corrupted so much as educated by the joys of power. She is definitely her father's daughter. It's all very interesting but never really comes to life until the final episodes of the season.
What's most compelling about the show is not the spectacle of the crimes and decadence (from poisoning rivals to open affairs) but the brazen displays of power and the inspired gestures of diplomatic fluency, especially as wielded by Irons' Rodrigo. And for all the roiling melodrama within the family (including an intimacy between siblings Cesare and Lucrezia that suggests an incestuous future), the final image of the first season, with the happy family gathered around to celebrate the birth of Rodrigo's first grandchild, presents them with all the innocence of a Renaissance-era Norman Rockwell family portrait. The irony is underplayed and wickedly wry, and makes me wish the entire season was this witty.
Both the DVD and Blu-ray editions present the nine episodes of the debut season on three discs, with bonus episodes of other Showtime series: the pilot of the upcoming "House of Lies," the first episode of "Dexter: Season Six" and the first two episodes of "Episodes." Further bonus episodes, as well as a featurette on "The Borgia," will be available via E-Bridge Technology on DVD and BD-Live on Blu-ray, but were not yet accessible at the time of this review.
The high-concept horror franchise finds yet more new ways to dispatch its victims
"Everybody knows going in that "Final Destination 5" isn't really a movie any more than a meat grinder is," confesses MSN film critic and devoted horror movie fan Kat Murphy. "A factory franchise even more predictable than the "Saw" series, each of these little "FD" money machines produces gruesome, intricately designed "snuff" shorts, separated by lame chat among bland-blander-blandest meat puppets fighting to stay out of death's spotlight."
This installment, which follows the not-so-aptly named "The Final Destination," is witness to the inevitable deaths of a group of interchangeable folks who are saved from a suspension bridge accident by one character's sudden vision. Death doesn't let go that easily, of course, and Tony Todd is on hand to remind the survivors of that after every "accident."
In the words of Kat Murphy: "At its most interesting, "FD5" conjures visual paranoia about the physical world as deathtrap. Investing ordinary places and things with potential lethality, the movie comes as close as hackwork can to one of the grand staples of true horror movies -- and Hitchcockian thrillers. When the spatial normalcy we take for granted -- say, that of a kitchen or a gym -- is penetrated or degraded, the whole construct of what keeps us sane is undermined. In all of the never-"Final Destination"s, objects like leaking air conditioning fans, a popped screw, and an electrical plug can become linked in a network of sinister coincidence, a series of falling dominos set in motion by a killer Rube Goldberg. When stuff that serves us turns deadly, we're in a world of hallucinatory hurt. "FD5" occasionally generates that kind of frisson, but it never goes bone-deep."
The film was released in 3D but is standard definition on home video.
The DVD comes with the featurette "Final Destination 5: Circle of Death," which essentially spotlights all the splatter deaths in under six minutes, plus an Ultraviolet digital copy, for download and instant streaming. The Blu-ray includes a bonus featurette on two of the film's key visual effects sequences and a 15-minute montage of alternate versions of the death scenes. Also offered in a Blu-ray Combo pack with a bonus DVD.
See a trailer below, after the jump.
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week
"Final Destination 5" (Warner) is yet another installment in the high-concept franchise that finds yet more new ways to dispatch its victims. This one begins with a bridge collapse and ends with a lot of corpses dispatched in creative fashion. In the words MSN film critic Kat Murphy, it "isn't really a movie any more than a meat grinder is." More on Videodrone here. On DVD and Blu-ray.
"Brighton Rock" (MPI), the second screen version of Graham Greene's novel about a pathological young hoodlum, stars Sam Riley as the coldly vicious young hood, John Hurt and Helen Mirren. On DVD only.
"Apollo 18" (Anchor Bay) combines science-fiction, horror and the mock-documentary for a thriller that "exposes" the story of a secret mission to the moon funded by the Department of Defense. DVD and Blu-ray. Jason Sudeikis throws "A Good Old Fashioned Orgy" (Sony) and Lake Bell, Leslie Bibb, Tyler Labine, Will Forte and Lucy Punch join the party. DVD only.
On the foreign film front is "Tuesday, After Christmas" (Kino Lorber), a clear-eyed look at the human damage of an affair from Romania, and Alain Corneau's psychological thriller "Love Crime" (IFC) starring Ludivine Sagnier and Kristin Scott Thomas.
TV on DVD:
Created by Oscar-winner Neil Jordan, the Showtime original series "The Borgias: Season One" (Paramount) chronicles the rise of the real-life family dynasty that amassed tremendous power and wealth in Renaissance-era Italy through political intrigue, blackmail, bribery, murder and rampant corruption. The show's tagline says it all: The original crime family. Jeremy Irons plays the family patriarch, pulling the strings of power from the Papal throne. On DVD and Blu-ray. Reviewed on Videodrone here.
Also from Showtime comes "Shameless: The Complete First Season" (Warner), an American incarnation of the British dramedy relocated from Manchester to South Chicago. William H. Macy stars as the perpetually drunk single father of six kids and Emmy Rossum is the eldest daughter, who juggles multiple jobs to raise the kids in his absence. On DVD and Blu-ray. Reviewed on Videodrone here.
David Cross created and stars in "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret: Series One" (MPI) as an office temp who tries to bluff his way through a promotion but… well, read the title. "Archer: The Complete Season Two" (Fox) continues the animated adventures of TV's most reckless, hard-drinking, aimless secret agent.
Flip through the TV on DVD Channel Guide here
Cool, Classic and Cult:
"Looney Tunes Super Stars: Pepe le Pew" (Warner) features 17 cartoons starring Pepe le Pew, the Maurice Chevalier of animated skunks who refuses to let a little body odor cool his romantic ardor. Features the Oscar-winning "For Scent-imental Reasons" and "Dog Pounded" with co-stars Tweety and Sylvester, along with 14 animated shorts making their home video debut.
"The Complete Doctor Collection" (VCI) collects all seven films in the hit medical comedy series begun with "Doctor in the House" (1954), the film that solidified the matinee idol status of Dirk Bogarde (who went on to star in three of the sequels). (Reviewed on Videodrone here.) And there's more of the British leading man in "The Dirk Bogarde Collection" (VCI), which features "Penny Princess" (1952), "Simba" (aka "Mark of Mau Mau") (1955), "Campbell's Kingdom" (1957) and the spy spoof "Agent 8 ¾" (1964). "The Rank British War Collection" (VCI) collects "The Way to the Stars" (1945), "The Malta Story" (1953), "Above Us the Waves" (1955) and "Sea of Sand" (aka "Desert Patrol") (1958).
Plus the horror comedy "Chop" (Vivendi), the directorial debut of Trent Haaga, writer of the cult horror film "Deadgirl."
The acclaimed "Buck" (IFC) profiles the real-life man who inspired "The Horse Whisperer."
"Santa Claus" (VCI) is the 1959 Mexican fantasy where Santa Claus takes on the devil and "The Moon in the Gutter" (Cinema Libre) is Jean-Jacques Beineix's follow-up to "Diva," starring Gerard Depardieu and Nastassja Kinski.
|Tags:||Week in review|
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
'Midnight in Paris' – A Fantasy Come True
'Margin Call' - How to Crash the Economy in 24 Hours
TV on DVD:
TV on DVD Channel Guide: More 'Futurama' and 'One Tree Hill'
The Cool and the Collectible:
MOD Movies Calendar: Recent Releases from Sony's Columbia Pictures Classics By Request
Horror and Science Fiction: Cornel Wilde's 'No Blade of Grass' and more
Streams and Channels:
Coming up next week:
"Final Destination 5" (Warner)
"Brighton Rock" (MPI)
"Apollo 18" (The Weinstein Company)
"A Good Old Fashioned Orgy" (Sony)
"The First Grader" (Vivendi)
"Love Crime" (IFC)
"Tuesday, After Christmas" (Kino Lorber)
"The Borgias: Season One" (Paramount)
"Shameless: The Complete First Season" (Warner)
"Archer: Season Two" (Fox)
Cornel Wilde's 'No Blade of Grass' is the rediscovery of the season
"No Blade of Grass" (Warner Archive) - Cornel Wilde's end-of-the-world thriller "No Blade of Grass" is, to my mind, the most underappreciated science fiction film of the seventies. Gritty and brutal, built on fears of ecological devastation through pollution and overcrowding (with hints of genetic manipulation gone bad), it is both ambitious and rough around the edges, a warning of the stresses we put on the planet and a commentary on the nature of humanity under pressure reverting to a kind of tribal behavior in the wake of social breakdown. This 1970 eco-apocalypse got lost in the overcrowded apocalypse now science fiction cinema of the era and has never been available for rediscovery on home video. Until now.
Imagine a survival thriller set in the collapse of civilization as directed by Sam Peckinpah. Nigel Davenport stars the husband and father who reaches back to his military service and treats the panicked citizens of his once-peaceful country as potential enemies as he makes his north to his brother's estate, a piece of property transformed into a veritable fort. This is "The Road" while the roads were still crowded with desperate and scared people, ready to do anything to protect themselves and their own, and you can see films as diverse as "Mad Max" and "Time of the Wolf" springing from this film. Wilde's film isn't as thrilling as the former or as polished as the latter. He's a provocateur, favoring primal images to make his points, and as a result "No Blade of Grass" is as blunt and grim as it is ambitious, directed with a matter-of-fact presentation of desperation and savagery in the rapid spiral into a tribal existence. The "Remastered Edition" from the Warner Archive looks very good and is complete, with all the provocative imagery (including a clinically explicit live child birth) intact.
"Moon Zero Two" (Warner Archive) was promoted as "the first moon western" and the description is apt. The Hammer Film production, helmed by veteran Roy Ward Baker (director of the superior "Five Million Years to Earth"), stars James Olson as William Kemp, planetary explorer turned independent salvage contractor in 2021 with an old moon ferry capsule that, even by 1969 standards, looks like old Apollo technology. He's the original Han Solo as a lunar scavenger roped into a space-age version of a mining scam, caught between the authorities and the moon's most notorious crime boss. It's a bit sluggish and the special effects are cool but cut-rate, more impressive in their creativity and cleverness than realism, but it gets extra points for its inventive use of gravity, physics and actual science (in concept if not in detail). If you recognize co-star and love interest Catherina von Schell, it may be because she later dropped the "von" and went on to star in "The Return of the Pink Panther" and "Space 1999."
"The Snow Devils" (Warner Archive) is a damndest genre mash-up I've seen all year. Ostensibly an Abominable Snowman horror, it turns the Himalayan Yeti into extraterrestrial invaders bent on melting the polar ice caps in a bid to take over the world! (Ah, now we know the REAL cause of global climate change!). Director Antonio Mergheriti (under his nom de plume Anthony Dawson) was handed leftover sets from earlier Italian science fiction adventures so he sends the heroes rocketing back and forth between space stations and earth bases to target the strange power signatures they detect on the planet. It's all pretty cheap and cheesy, with aliens that look like blue-skinned Cro-Magnon and scene after scene set in anonymous space station and space ships rooms.
Also recently released:
"Hysteria" (Warner Archive) is another of the post-"Psycho" thrillers from Hammer Films, this one written and produced by studio stalwart Jimmy Sangster (who passed away this year) and directed by cinematographer turned director Freddie Francis. Robert Webber stars as an amnesiac who thinks he may be murderer. Released in a "Remastered Edition."
"Doctor Blood's Coffin" (MGM Limited Edition Collection) is a 1960 British horror of gruesome Frankenstein experiments deep in the abandoned mines of a small Cornish village. An early effort from director Sidney J. Fury.
Available exclusively from Warner Archive:
MOD stands for "Manufacture on Demand" and represents a recent development in the DVD market, where slipping sales have slowed the release of classic, special interest and catalogue releases. These are DVD-R releases, no-frills discs from studio masters, ordered online and "burned" individually with every order. You can read a general introduction to the format and the model on my profile of the Warner Archive Collection on Parallax View here and on the MGM Limited Edition Collection on Videodrone here.
The action film gets an exclusive two-week PPV window before its official home video debut
"Abduction," Taylor Lautner's bid for legitimacy outside of the "Twilight" franchise, comes to DVD and Blu-ray on January 17, 2012, but between December 22 and January 4, it will be exclusively available via cable and digital Video on Demand and Pay Per View platforms.
The junior action film, which casts Lautner as the son of CIA agent who goes on the lam, was a flop with audiences and critics alike, notable largely for the moments when Lautner channels his sensitive werewolf persona or takes off his shirt. (See reviews here.) John Singleton directs and Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello and Sigourney Weaver co-star.
The VOD experiment targets viewers when they are home for the holidays and parked around the home theater.
The film will be available for rental in standard definition for $6.99 and high definition for $7.99 and all VOD platforms will also feature a DVD-style behind-the-scenes featurette.
Plus Seijun Suzuki’s 'Tokyo Drifter' and 'Branded to Kill'
"Underworld Trilogy: The Essential Collection" (Blu-ray) (Sony) collects all three of the "Underworld" films in anticipation of the upcoming fourth installment. The first "Underworld" is not a comic book movie, but it sure plays like one. In the bleak tech noir future of drizzly nights, rain slicked streets, and neon blue and cold white lighting, a centuries-old war between the vampires and werewolves rages. Kate Beckinsale is the vampire’s greatest warrior, a “Death dealer” armed with silver-bullet guns and high-tech throwing stars and dressed in shiny black leather so tight and form-fitting that the corset has to be tied around the outside. Lithe, limber Kate looks great but her first kiss with ostensible love interest Scott Speedman, a medical intern of particular interest to the Lycan (werewolf) pack, is single flattest, coldly curious liplock in the last century of cinema, and that disaffection spreads to the entire tech-noir spectacle. They turn out to be pawns in a beastly conspiracy that flips the conflict into a modern version of class warfare between old European aristocracy and peasant serfs fighting for freedom and equality, but this sleekly stylized monster mash is just a big, muddy mess of bad guys: predator versus predator, and the winner takes the human race. Len Wiseman (Beckinsale's husband) directs and Bill Nighy stands out as the once and future vampire king.
"Underworld Evolution" sets Beckinsale and Speedman back on the run from immortals of all persuasions who don’t want the bloodlines to mix. Again directed by Len Wiseman (Beckinsale's husband), the nighttime action film stars Tony Curran, Shane Brolly, Steven Mackintosh, Bill Nighy and Sir Derek Jacobi as immortal aristocracy and, quite frankly, it's bloody awful (emphasis on the bloody). "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" is actually a prequel set in medieval times chronicling… well, you can read it in the title. The vampires (led by Bill Nighy) have enslaved the werewolves, but one of the oppressed (Michael Sheen) rises up to free his people. It's bombastic and bloody and full of medieval faire flair, done up in a shadowy nocturnal palette of steel blue and stone gray with the requisite splashes of blood red accents, but it's also junky genre fun and more fun that "Evolution."
All three films feature commentary by director Len Wiseman and others, documentaries and featurettes. The films have all been available before on a Blu-ray box set but this release features the exclusive bonus disc "Underworld: Endless War" with new anime shorts, plus the cloud-based Ultraviolet function for digital download and instant streaming via wi-fi.
Seijun Suzuki’s whacked out crime films are a breed apart, stylistically outrageous tales of hit men and gangsters in almost abstract narratives. Criterion releases two of his best on Blu-ray (and newly remastered DVD editions). High contrast B&W photography explodes into the candy colored comic book images in "Tokyo Drifter" (Criterion), the story of a hitman (Tetsua Watari) who decides to go his own way. The twisting narrative takes Tetsu from deliriously gaudy nightclubs, where killers hide behind every pillar, to the beautiful snowy plains of Northern Japan and back again, whistling his own theme song as he dodges assassins and leaves a trail of corpses in his wake. His extreme stylization, jarring narrative leaps, and wild plot devices combine to create a pulp fiction on acid, equal parts gangster parody and post-modern deconstruction.
"Branded to Kill" (Criterion) looks like a pop art collage come to life in B&W CinemaScope in its almost incoherent story of one gang’s number three hitman who becomes their own number one target after the butterfly effect upsets an important mission. Played by genre icon Jo Shishido, he's no pushover and leaves all comers splayed in death contortions that could qualify for an Olympic event, but the rat-a-tat violence gives way to a surreal, sadistic game of cat and mouse when the legendary Number One hitman moves in with him in a macho, testosterone-laden Odd Couple truce that ends up with them handcuffed together. Kinky? Not compared to earlier scenes. Suzuki so pushed his yakuza parodies and cinematic surrealism that his studio Nikkatsu finally called in their own metaphoric hit and fired the director with such force that he was effectively blackballed from the industry for a decade.
Both discs feature archival video interviews with Suzuki from 1997 and new interviews with Suzuki and assistant director Masami Kuzuu conducted from this release, plus booklets with essays by Howard Hampton and Tony Rayns. I don't have the 1998 Criterion editions to compare to, but Gary Tooze did direct comparisons at DVD Beaver and writes that both are significant improvements of the previous release. (Tokyo Drifter here and Branded to Kill here). Definite upgrade material.
Plus 'Love Exposure' and Colin Quinn on Broadway
Gary Cooper is the young ambulance in WWI and Helen Hayes a British nurse in the 1932 "A Farewell to Arms" (Kino), the first film based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel and still the most sophisticated. Made in the era before enforcement of the production code, the film, directed by Frank Borzage, offers a far more adult portrait of the love affair on the battlefield than the 1957 version.
Coop is almost impossibly young and beautiful as the stalwart soldier resigned to the grind of war and Helen Hayes practically glows as Catherine, an angel of a nurse who is nonetheless down to earth when it comes to sex. Borzage's romanticism would seem a poor match for Hemingway's stoicism but he elevates their love to a holt purity even as it takes place outside the official bounds of the church and social acceptance. A priest performs a benediction over their union, which in this film passes for marriage; the Catholic League wasn't fooled and condemned the film. Hemingway didn't much like it much, either, but Borzage's vision just looks better with time. It's gorgeous (it won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography), even as the choppiness suggests a rather violent treatment by the studio. But my, it glows.
"Nothing Sacred" (Kino) was born when David Selznick hired Ben Hecht to pen a fast paced newspaper comedy to rival his own play “The Front Page.” Perhaps he didn’t top it, but the smart, cynical screwball comedy gave Carole Lombard one of her most memorable roles: a sweetly sexy small-town girl who has been misdiagnosed with radium poisoning and keeps up the pretense that she's dying when she's offered a free trip the New York. Director William Wellman is at his best sparring with his romantic duo (Fredric March plays the opportunistic newspaperman who falls for Lombard) and juggling the barbed banter, but he sometimes slips in the pacing.
Both of these films have been long available in inferior public-domain DVD editions. Kino remasters both films for DVD and Blu-ray debut from original nitrate 35mm prints preserved by George Eastman House.
"Love Exposure" (Olive), a four-hour drama of youth culture in Japan from director Sion Sono, follows the odyssey of a good kid (Takahiro Nishijima) from a Catholic family who turns to upskirt photography to commit sins big enough to impress his father and falls in love with a man-hating martial arts whiz (Hikari Mitsushima). "This intricately plotted Japanese epic has so many twists and turns - not to mention bizarre characters with even more bizarre backstories - that the time will fly by, writes San Francisco Chronicle film critic David Lewis. "As the old cliche goes, you will not have another moviegoing experience quite like this one all year." In Japanese with English subtitles.
Originally shot for HBO, "Colin Quinn: Long Story Short" (VSC) presents Colin Quinn's one man show, directed for Broadway by Jerry Seinfeld. On DVD and Blu-ray, with commentary by Colin Quinn and Jerry Seinfeld, behind-the-scenes footage and a press conference.