Plus 'Mammuth' with Depardieu, 'Life, Above All' from South Africa and more
The French crime thriller "Point Blank" (Magnolia), not to be confused with John Boorman's 1967 post-noir masterpiece, opens in full sprint and pretty much stays in that adrenaline-pumping state. Sure, we get a peaceful interlude with nursing student Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) and his pregnant wife (Elena Anaya of "The Skin I Live In") to show just what's at stake before his life is yanked from under him: his wife (under orders for bedrest) is kidnapped to force him to slip a wounded criminal (Roschdy Zem) from the hospital before the police come to question him… or kill him, as it turns out. Samuel ends up in the middle of a murderous conspiracy -- damned if he's caught by the good cops, dead if the corrupt cops get him first -- and his only hope to get him and his wife out alive is to team up with Zem's Hugo, a safecracker framed for murder by the same killer cops. He's the kind of super-talented crook with a moral streak that crime movies love so much and Zem is an actor who can make that cliché work.
The script doesn't always hold up to the light of day, but director and co-screenwriter Fred Cavaye drives the film with so much furious, pulse-pounding momentum, powered by an overwhelming sense of panic and paranoia, that you don't have much time to worry about it. And at under 85 minutes (including end credits) the film doesn't get tangled up in unnecessary side stories or blind alleys. (I can just imagine an American remake – and surely someone is trying to make that happen, as they did with his earlier "Anything for Her," which became "The Next Three Days" – dragging it out in further twists and turns.) If the premise is familiar (the nice-guy innocent forced to become ruthless lawbreaker to survive) the execution and evocation of the gritty nocturnal Paris underworld makes is zing. In French with English subtitles. On DVD and Blu-ray, both with a behind-the-scenes featurette.
"Rapt" (Kino Lorber), a grueling kidnapping drama with an undercurrent of tabloid culture humiliation, is more interesting than involving. Yvan Attal is a famous corporate bigwig whose secret private life of adultery, gambling addiction (with millions in IOUs) and jet-setting excess is revealed after he's kidnapped and ransomed for more than, it turns out, he's worth, at least in practical terms.
It's less a thriller than an intimate and detailed portrait of the ordeals suffered by Attal as he's terrorized, threatened, kept in isolation and moved from one hiding place to another while terms are negotiated and money drops are disrupted by police surveillance. But it's also about the ordeal that his wife (Anne Consigny) and family go trying to keep up a supportive public face while the revelations of his private life humiliate them every day in the press and on TV, a tabloid culture that feeds ravenously on the damning details of his secret life. The film is surprisingly lacking in tension or character drama for the most part but the final act upends expectations once again with a defiantly impassive portrait of privilege and entitlement unbowed in the face of public disgrace. It's a far cry from the classic tale of arrogance humbled on a journey of contrition and that sting of brutal honesty lingers after the film is over. DVD and Blu-ray. In French with English subtitles, no supplements beyond a stills gallery.
In the road comedy "Mammuth" (Olive), Gerard Depardieu (settling into his new position as the potbellied bear of an elder statesman of French cinema) stars as a slaughterhouse butcher who takes to forced retirement like an escape artist takes to prison. It’s almost a gift when his dowdy wife (Yolande Moreau) makes him hit the road on the motorcycle that gives the film its name to collect documents of his employment history so he can collect full benefits. The episodes of his odyssey piece together the film, though it's something of a forced fit in places. Filmmakers Benoît Delépine and Gustave de Kervern (who share writing and directing credits) run out of ideas too quickly and soon the entire purpose of the trip is lost in a vague journey of self-discovery. Even the satire of the bureaucratic maze they have to wade through is tired and obvious. Isabelle Adjani pops up as a bloody ghost from his past, a former lover whose wounds suggest reasons why he no longer drives. The rest a lazily meandering road comedy that stalls out before it really gets anywhere. Olive's edition has an unduly weak, hazy image, like looking at the film through a dirty fish tank. In French with English subtitles, no supplements.
"Life Above All" (Sony) from South Africa is, in the words of New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis, "A grave and quietly moving story about a South African girl of extraordinary character [that] does something that few painful dramas accomplish: It tells a tale of resilience without platitudes about the triumph of the human spirit or without false promises about an unclouded future." In Northern Sotho with English subtitles. The Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack features the making-of featurette "The Making of Life, Above All."
Derek Yee ("One Night in Mongkok") directs "Triple Tap" (Well Go), starring Louis Koo as a championship marksman hunted by a bank robber he foiled and Daniel Wu as a police officer trying to save him.
"Astral City: A Spiritual Journey" (Strand), based on a novel by Medium Chico Xavier, is a Brazilian tale of life after death from director Wagner de Assis. In Portuguese with English subtitles. On DVD only, with a making-of featurette.
The bestselling novel becomes a simplified movie about civil rights and female empowerment in the sixties
This season's favorite to "Blind Side" the Academy Awards with a sentimentalized tale of race relations and a feisty white woman leading the charge is "The Help" (Touchstone), based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett and directed by her childhood buddy Tate Taylor.
Emma Stone stars as Skeeter, the only college grad of her group of girlfriends in early 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, who returns home with a different point of view that clashes mightily with Hilly, the social leader (Bryce Dallas Howard in arch, hissable form) of the town's affluent wives and Skeeter's former best friend. As she leads the campaign to further segregate the black maids and housekeepers and nannies from the white families they serve, Skeeter starts interviewing the help to tell their story to a country just starting to wise-up to the civil rights struggle in the South.
The film was as popular as the novel, even with its simplification of a complicated social relations and its idealized hero. Arriving almost 50 years after the events presented in the film, this isn't some brave piece of social commentary, it's a wish fulfillment fantasy that praises the courage of a maverick young white woman defying society at the risk of (horrors) being ostracized from polite society. Which, of course, never actually happened. Not that it stops the film from equating her (fictional) courage with the (reality-based) ordeals faced by the black characters of the novel. Or from celebrating the public humiliation of the cruel, racist social queen bee as some kind of victory. In a culture where the stakes are life and death, this film too often reduces the lives to soap opera melodrama.
"Noble as the film's intentions may be, its default method of communicating with its potential audience is to patronize it, to serve up one entertaining diversion or other whenever its story line threatens to turn a corner into the valley of The Real," agrees MSN film critic Glenn Kenny. "What's frustrating about all this is that there are fleeting moments when a better, truer, almost good movie seems to be struggling to the surface in spite of itself."
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week
This season's favorite to "Blind Side" the Oscars with a sentimentalized tale of race relations is "The Help" (Touchstone), based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett and directed by her childhood buddy Tate Taylor. The film, set in early 1960s Jackson, MI, was as popular as the novel, and even with its simplification of a complicated social relations and its idealized hero (Emma Stone) and easy-to-hiss villain (Bryce Dallas Howard), the dignity that Viola Davis brings to her role and the performances by Octavia Spencer, Sissy Spacek and especially Jessica Chastain (having a magnificent year) make it worth seeing. On DVD, Blu-ray, Video on Demand and digital download. Videodrone's review is here.
"The Hangover Part II" (Warner) is the monster hit of a sequel to the monster comedy hit starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis. It's out on DVD, Blu-ray, Video On Demand and digital download and, yes, there are extras. "Cowboys & Aliens" (Universal), a science fiction western with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, wasn't a hit, but it does have monsters. Plus cowboys, spaceships, horses and Olivia Wilde. And, of course, lots of supplements. On DVD, Blu-ray, Video on Demand and digital download.
"The Debt" (Universal) is the actor's showcase of the week: Helen Mirren headlines the cast as Mossad agent remembering a past mission (where she's played by actress-of-the-moment Jessica Chastain), and Sam Worthington, Ciaran Hinds and Tom Wilkinson co-star. And Jim Carrey stars in the family film "Mr. Popper's Penguins" (Fox) with a bunch of, you guessed it, adorable penguins.
From France comes the riveting crime thriller "Point Blank" (2011) (Magnolia), about an innocent guy pulled into a conspiracy of corrupt cops and vicious killers (reviewed here), and "Rapt" (Kino Lorber), a grueling kidnapping drama with an undercurrent of tabloid culture humiliation, plus the road comedy "Mammuth" (Olive) with Gerard Depardieu. And there is "Life Above All" (Sony) from South Africa and "Astral City: A Spiritual Journey" (Strand) from Brazil.
TV on DVD:
"Big Love: The Complete Fifth Season" (HBO) brings HBO's big family drama of polygamy in Salt Lake City to a close. While the show had a tendency to get lost in contrived complications, at its best it offered a skewed yet impassioned perspective on faith and family values. Also this week is "Big Love: The Complete Collection" (HBO), with all five seasons in a tightly-packed set, but nothing new that isn’t in the existing season sets. Videodrone's reviews are here.
"The Simpsons: The Fourteenth Season" (Fox) rewinds back to the 2002-2003 season, which features the show's 300th episode and a guest roster from Mick Jagger and Elvis Costello to Adam West and Burt Ward. 22 episodes on four discs in an accordion digipack of paperboard slipsleeves. "Portlandia: Season One" (MVD) is the comedy series from Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen about the city where the dream of the nineties is still alive. (See a clip here.)
"The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Complete Fourth Season" (BBC) marks the second-to-last season of the kid-oriented "Doctor Who" spin-off, starring original-series companion Elisabeth Sladen and young cast of helpers. Also for young viewers is the 2011 holiday special "Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas Special" (Fox).
Flip through the TV on DVD Channel Guide here
Cool, Classic and Cult:
The original "Millennium" trilogy, based on Stieg Larsson novels, was produced in two versions. "Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition" (Music Box) presents the expanded edition created for European television, where it was shown as a six-part, nine-hour mini-series. It debuts in the U.S. on DVD and Blu-ray in advance of the American remake of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." More on Videodrone here.
Not exactly documentary, "Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinema" (Olive) is a collection of eight video essays, made over a period of ten years, where the filmmaking legend considers the history of the movies with a typically idiosyncratic style. Videodrone's review is here.
Ernst Lubitsch's "Design for Living" (Criterion), previously available exclusively in a Gary Cooper DVD box set, gets the Criterion treatment on DVD and Blu-ray. Videodrone looks to MSN colleague Kim Morgan for comments.
Pier Paolo Pasolini directs Maria Callas in his 1969 interpretation of "Medea" (eOne). And "Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII" (Shout! Factory) makes fun of four more films, including the "Planet of the Apes" Japanese knock-off "Time of the Apes" and the Ed Wood Jr.-scripted "The Violent Years."
Hitchcock patented the romantic thriller with "The Lady Vanishes" (Criterion), a bright, breezy confection that takes Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty and a colorful cast from an idyllic picture postcard of fantasy Europe to a nightmarish journey to the heart of the dark days of World War II that lay just ahead. Crierion's Blu-ray debut includes a bonus feature with the film's co-stars Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford among its supplements. Videodrone's review is here.
"Mission: Impossible Extreme Blu-ray Trilogy" (Paramount) collects the first three big budget, big screen incarnation of the cult espionage series of the 1960s, starring Tom Cruise as secret agent Ethan Hunt and a collection of dazzling action set pieces. Just in time for mission four.
The complete calendar of releases this week is after the jump:
|Tags:||Week in review|
Special editions of Harry, Willy, Bambi and the rest
"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Ultimate Edition" (Warner) and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Ultimate Edition" (Warner) are the deluxe editions of "Year Five" and "Year Six" of the Harry Potter saga on DVD and Blu-ray. Are the "Ultimate" exclusives worth the bump in price? I'm not so sure – apart from the usual doodads that look cool at first and get forgotten later (booklets, postcards) the only exclusive bonus are hour-long documentaries in the "Creating the World of Harry Potter" documentary series – but they are hefty-looking packages. But the budgetary alternative of getting the original DVD/Blu-ray releases has its own plus: an extended version of each film that is NOT included on the "Ultimate" box (which, I guess, means it's not so ultimate after all). Either way, Warner has announced that the films will all go on moratorium on DVD and Blu-ray at the beginning of the year.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1" and "Part 2" don't have the "Ultimate Edition" heft but the DVD and Blu-ray editions are both impressive packages and the Blu-ray-exclusive "Maximum Movie Mode" is a superb approach to interactive viewing.
The original "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" is that rare breed: an imaginative live-action kid's film that engages and delights adults and "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Blu-ray+DVD Ultimate Collector's Edition" (Warner) is quite the deluxe edition of the fantasy classic. Some of the extras are silly little gewgaws but there is also a bonus disc of all-new supplements and an accompanying book (not a booklet but a full-sized production) by the director. And, of course, the movie on DVD and Blu-ray. That's the real golden ticket.
Walt Disney’s "Bambi," often cited as the crown jewel from the golden years of Disney animation, is a magnificent piece of animated storytelling and a cinematic landmark that has lost none of its wonder or power over the years and "Bambi: Diamond Edition" (Disney) gives the film its Blu-ray debut in a Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack packed with supplements and a bright new image that has drawn criticism from purists but is quite beautiful on its own merits.
The Blu-ray debut of "The Incredibles" (Disney), also in a Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack, offers four discs of super Pixar filmmaking, packed with family-friendly featurettes on the creation and production of the film (and life at Pixar; after seeing these supplements, who wouldn't want to work there?) and lots of bonus animated bits.
A wealth of releases from the past couple of months
The Warner Archive was the first and remains the most robust of the new manufacture-on-demand services for classic and contemporary films on DVD, with dozens of films and TV programs rolled out every month on individual discs and multi-disc sets. While there is a great variety of releases in the mix, from MGM musicals and B-movies to TV movies and mini-series and animated series, their specialty is classic cinema from the archives of Warner Bros., MGM and RKO: the golden age movies that no longer sell in big enough numbers to warrant a full-fledged DVD release.
As I fall farther behind in my fruitless attempts to keep up with releases through spotlight reviews and round-ups, I realize that I'm falling behind in simply getting the information out in a timely manner, so I begin with the first of my DVD calendars. Though short on detail, this is a fairly comprehensive listing of Warner releases over the past couple of months, and the first of a series of regular reports.
Some of these have been reviewed already, more are scheduled for review in the coming weeks, but all of these are now available through the Warner Archive, where you browse for more information and for purchase. All of the titles that have been remastered are noted.
Buster Keaton at MGM: "Doughboys" (1930) (remastered), "Sidewalks of New York" (1931) (remastered) and "What! No Beer?" (1933) (remastered) – three sound films from the silent comedy legend. These are not his best films, due largely to mediocre scripts and the assembly line-style of production (not to mention problems in his private life), but Keaton had a fine voice for sound cinema and never lost his physical talent for comedy .
"Daktari: The Complete First Season" (1966) features the first 18 episodes of the exotic family show about a veterinarian (Marshall Thomson) running an animal research center in Africa. Producer Ivan Tors made a specialty of movies and TV shows centered on colorful animal characters ("Flipper," "Gentle Ben") and wildlife settings but this was his most colorful creation. Five discs in a standard case. The title, by the way, means "doctor" in Swahili.
Three by William Wellman: the pre-code rarity "Safe in Hell" (1931), "My Man and I" (1952) and "Lafayette Escadrille" (1958) (remastered), Wellman's final film.
Spencer Tracy: King Vidor's "Northwest Passage" (1940), "The Seventh Cross" (1944) (remastered) and "The People Against O'Hara" (1951) (remastered)
"Hollywood Party" (1934) and "Swing Parade of 1946" (1946) with The Three Stooges, plus the 1990 TV documentary "The Lost Stooges"
"Honolulu" (1939) (remastered) and "Ship Ahoy" (1942) (remastered) with Eleanor Powell
"Bitter Sweet" (1940) and "Smilin' Through" (1941) with Jeanette MacDonald
"Duchess of Idaho" (1950), "Texas Carnival" (1951) (remastered) and "Skirts Ahoy" (1952) (remastered) with Esther Williams
"The Constant Nymph" (1943) (remastered)
"The Affairs of Dobie Gillis" (1953) (remastered)
"Light in the Piazza" (1962) (remastered)
"Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion" (1965) (remastered)
"Around the World Under the Sea" (1966) (remastered)
"The Legend of Lylah Clare" (1968) (remastered)
"The Madwoman of Chaillot" (1969) (remastered) with Katharine Hepburn
"Travels With My Aunt" (1972) (remastered)
"The Carey Treatment" (1972) (remastered)
"Monogram Cowboy Collection: Volume One" (nine films on three discs in a standard case)
"Tim Holt Western Classic Collection: Volume Three" (ten films on five discs in a standard case)
Box Sets (of titles previously available individually):
"Elizabeth Taylor: The Warner Archive Collection" (five films)
"Lon Chaney: The Warner Archive Collection" (six films)
"Randolph Scott: The Warner Archive Collection" (five films)
"The Tarzan Collection Starring Lex Barker" (five films)
"The Tarzan Collection Starring Gordon Scott" (six films)
"The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" (1968)
"Pearl" (1978, 2 discs)
"Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story" (1987, 2 discs)
"The Ricky Gervais Show: The Complete Second Season" (2011, 13 episodes on 3 discs)
"Night Court: The Complete Fifth Season" (1987, 23 episodes on 3 discs)
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.
Your guide to our coverage of the new DVD/Blu-ray releases
All is a Little Too Smurfy in 'The Smurfs'
When Preppies Attack: 'Tucker & Dale vs. Evil'
The New Release Rack: 'One Day' our 'Friends With Benefits' will meet 'Our Idiot Brother,' and many, many more
TV on DVD:
Gift Guide Spotlight: 'Smallville: The Complete Series'
Gift Guide Spotlight: 'Friday Night Lights: The Complete Series'
TV on DVD Channel Guide: 'Smallville' Ends After Ten Seasons, plus 'Mission: Impossible - 1988,' '30 Rock: Season 5' and more
The Cool and the Collectible:
Gift Guide Roundup: Size Matters in these Deluxe Collections
Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing Board the 'Horror Express'
Cops, Killers and Sleuths in B&W: George Sanders and Tom Conway are 'The Falcon,' plus more classic crime
Announcement: 'The Andy Hardy Collection – Volume 1' Signed by Mickey Rooney
Coming up next week:
"The Help" (Disney)
"The Hangover Part II" (Warner)
"Cowboys & Aliens" (Universal)
"The Debt" (Universal)
"Mr. Popper's Penguins" (Fox)
"Point Blank" (2011) (Magnolia)
"Rapt" (Kino Lorber)
"Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition" (Music Box)
"Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinema" (Olive)
"Design for Living" (Criterion)
"Big Love: The Complete Fifth Season" / "Big Love: The Complete Collection" (HBO)
"Portlandia: Season One" (MVD)
"The Lady Vanishes" (Blu-ray) (Criterion)
"Tora! Tora! Tora!" (Blu-ray) (Fox)
|Tags:||Week in review|
George Sanders and Tom Conway are 'The Falcon,' plus more classic crime
"The Falcon Mystery Movie Collection: Volume 1" (Warner Archive)
George Sanders jumped ship from one mystery movie franchise -- "The Saint" – right into another with 1941's "The Gay Falcon." The title is a reference to the character's name, Gay Lawrence, aka The Falcon, who is introduced as an adventurer and rather notorious freelance detective with such shorthand that it almost convinces the viewer that we know all about him already. And in a way, most audiences did: The Falcon was practically The Saint by another name, so much so that The Saint creator Leslie Charters sued RKO (which also produced the Saint films) for plagiarism. His backstory was rewritten some but Sanders played him with the same mix of cultured wit, sly playfulness and passion for wading into every mystery that his stumbled upon. And despite the fact that he ostensibly has a fiancée in everything but name (played by Wendy Barrie), he manages to woo every beautiful woman he meets along his adventures.
Sanders starred in four films: "The Gay Falcon" (1941), "A Date With the Falcon" (1941), "The Falcon Takes Over" (1942) and "The Falcon's Brother" (1942), in which Tom Conway -- Sanders' real life brother -- steps in as Gay's brother Tom Lawrence to join him on a case and then take over the mantle of The Falcon for the subsequent films. Conway carries himself with the same continental cool and smiling charm as Sanders and makes the transition as smooth as The Falcon's line of seduction.
Like the "The Saint" films, these RKO productions are by strict definition B-movies, all running under 70 minutes to play as the back end of a double bill, but they are made with elevated production values and a solid line-up of character actors. It gives the films a snap and a sense of style you don't get in the usual B-product cranked out by the poverty row studios or the dedicated B-movie outfits in the major studios.
"The Falcon Mystery Movie Collection: Volume 1" features the first seven films of the series: all four films with Sanders, plus Conway's first three solo outings: "The Falcon Strikes Back" (1943), directed by Edward Dmytryk, "The Falcon In Danger" (1943) and "The Falcon And The Co-Eds" (1943). Three discs on a standard case with hinged trays.
For a more traditional B-movie, see "Behind the Mask" (MGM Limited Edition Collection), a 1946 production starring Kane Richmond as Lamont Cranston, aka The Shadow, a hero with more success on the radio than on film. This Monogram Studios production looks pretty good by their standard but pretty cheap by any other, and while director Phil Karlson (back before he made his reputation in a series of tough, bare-knuckle crime movies in the 1950s) kicks it off with a promising mix of mood and mystery, it soon slips into flat-footed writing and clumsy comic relief confined to anonymous studio sets.
Two more low-budget crime thrillers recently released from the MGM Limited Edition Collection are "No Escape" (1953), a story of innocents under suspicion written and directed by former Hitchcock screenwriter Charles Bennett, and "The Mugger" (1958), starring Kent Smith and James Franciscus and adapted from an Ed McBain novel.
Available exclusively from the Warner Archive:
"Behind the Mask"
A limited-edition offer from the Warner Archive
The Warner Archive Collection has finally released its first collection of the much anticipated Andy Hardy series.
The hugely successful family comedy series didn't start off under that name. It was "Judge Hardy and Family" and "The Hardys" until it became clear that Mickey Rooney, the young spark plug of a rising MGM star, was stealing the show. The subsequent films were built around his talent and persona and the rest of the cast became support for his spring-loaded performance and bouncy antics.
Count me among the fans of the films, of which there were ultimately 16 (including a late entry with Rooney as an adult Andy following in his father's footsteps in 1958). This first set of six is a sampling from the first four years of the series, including two of the three Judy Garland appearances: not strictly chronological but just fine for a first release.
I'll be reviewing the set later. For now, I'm announcing a limited offer: Mickey Rooney (still active at a mere 91 years young) will personally autograph the first 400 sets sold by the Warner Archive Collection.
This offer is available exclusively through the Warner Archive website. Details here.
UPDATE: The autographed sets sold out within hours of the announcement. Only standard editions available now.
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