Plus Hong Sang-soo's 'Night and Day,' Bela Tarr's 'The Man From London' and Jackie Chan in '1911'
Legendary film director Jean-Luc Godard has stated that "Film Socialisme" (Lorber) will be his final film. The typically dense, discursive and idiosyncratic film is, in classic Godard mode, not a narrative in any conventional sense but an essay, a contemplation of social politics in the capitalist world of today, and an often dryly witty play with idea of storytelling and character and the way we expect movies to, well, move.
"In "Film Socialisme" what's crucial is less the words -- printed, spoken, sung -- and the images themselves, than the way they're layered, juxtaposed, delivered," explains MSN film critic Glenn Kenny. "There's the usual Godardian polemics and punning, the obsessive sifting through the ash heap of 20th century (and further back than that) history, the attitudinizing, the cameos by philosophers and artists (nice to see Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye pitching in). But then there are the various textures of conveyance, which go back to, and take in, imagery and grain from Eisenstein's "Potemkin" and Ford's "Cheyenne Autumn," among others."
The film is spoken in numerous languages (French, German, Spanish, Russian and more) and Godard created his own tongue-in-cheek "Navajo" English subtitles for export (which offers its own added layer of commentary). The DVD and Blu-ray feature both Godard's subtitles and alternate subtitles with a literal English translation. No other supplements of note (a stills gallery and trailers from Kino releases) but there is an insert with an essay by Godard biographer Richard Brody.
"Night and Day" (Zeitgeist), another wry character study from South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo, sends his typically self-absorbed artist hero (this time played by Yeong-ho Kim) to Paris, where he lays low in the Korean ex-pat community and proceeds to engage in casual flings and hard-drinking evenings. Film critic Scott Foundas, writing in The Village Voice, observes that the "emphasis on dialogue, combined with an unapologetically stationary camera, gives Hong's work a casual, "artless" façade that belies his carefully plotted, novelistic structure—of which "Night and Day" may be the most ambitious to date." The DVD release, from the KimStim Collection, is in Korean and French with English subtitles. No supplements.
Also from the KinStim Collection is "The Man From London" (Zeitgeist), a stylized, contemplative thriller from Hungarian director Bela Tarr. Based on a novel by George Simenon, the stark black-and-white production follows a guilt-ridden railroad switchman (Miroslav Krobot) after he finds a suitcase of money left behind after a murder. It "feels like no other film that you've seen before," writes Slate film critic Dana Stevens. "It's cerebral and lugubrious, yet simple as a fairy tale." Tilda Swinton co-stars as the hard-bitten wife. In Hungarian, French and English with English subtitles, no supplements.
"1911" (Well Go) is a Chinese military epic starring Jackie Chan (who also carries a "general direction" credit) as a general in the Qinq Dynasty who picks up the sword to lead rebellions against the out-of-touch emperor. Los Angeles Times film critic Mark Olsen complains that "the sense of dutiful intentions blocks any building momentum. When an English-speaking character appears to declare that history is being made, it only underlines the obvious." On DVD and Blu-ray, in standard and Collector's Editions, the latter featuring interviews with Chan and co-star Li BingBing, deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette (with no subtitles) and a press conference (with subtitles). In Mandarin with option English dub soundtrack and English and Chinese subtitles.
"Protektor" (Film Movement), from the Czech Republic, is built around fame, compromise and the marriage of a Jewish actress and a gentile reporter in 1938 Prague, weathering the rise of Nazism. The film, from Marek Najbert, won 9 Czech Lions (the country's equivalent to the Academy Awards) and the DVD also features the animated short "I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors" from Australia.
From Mexico comes the comedy "Saving Private Perez" (Pantelion), about a crimelord who puts together a team to rescue his brother from Iraq. Also new this week is "Aurora" (Cinema Guild) from Romania, which I hear is very good but I never received a review copy.
Brad Pitt hits a home run in the film about how the business of baseball was reinvented by Billy Beane
Brad Pitt makes it look effortless in "Moneyball" (Sony), a drama about the business of baseball in the era of multi-million dollar payrolls based on the non-fiction bestseller by Michael Lewis.
Pitt plays Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, struggling to field a competitive team against organizations with much deeper pockets. His solution is to -- with the help of unprepossessing Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a geeky numbers-cruncher whose radical ideas are dismissed by every other club in the league -- completely throw out the conventional wisdom and apply a whole new set of metrics to measure player skills. It's not sexy but it is remarkably effective.
This is a different kind of underdog sports movie, one where percentages and balance sheets and backroom trades are bigger drama than home runs and double plays. The film's triumph is in turning that sports geek detail into the stuff that wins are made of.
Pitt's conviction in the role of Beane, once a rookie player with potential that never developed into success, turns the volleys of negotiations over trades and verbal showdowns over his unconventional ideas into dazzling drama. Under Pitt's easy-going performance of charm under pressure is a man putting his entire career on the line, and while he hides it under a cocky grin and boyish twinkle, we can feel the gravity of his position. Count on Pitt getting a nomination, as well as one for screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian.
It "makes the down-and-dirty business side of baseball painful fun to follow," in the words of MSN film critic Kat Murphy. "Chronicling how Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane reinvented baseball by using "sabermetrics," a statistical approach to fielding teams, "Moneyball" is sure to please old-school fans. But this spectacle of idiosyncratic losers carried away by counterintuitive theory and rollercoaster process should captivate a larger audience, too. Call it "The Social Network" for the boys of summer."
"Spotlighting the muscle, brain and skill that goes into getting The Show on the road, this remarkably absorbing baseball saga hits a homer to the heart and mind."
The DVD is supplemented by the smartly-made "Moneyball: Playing the Game," a 20-minutes making-of piece, and "Billy Beane: Reinventing the Game," where the filmmakers discuss the real-life inspiration for the film. Also features deleted scenes and the usual blooper reel -- a staple of all comedies and sports movies.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray edition are two substantial additional featurettes: "Drafting the Team" (on the casting) and "Adapting Moneyball." A Combo Pack also includes a bonus DVD and Ultraviolet edition for download and streaming.
See the trailer below, after the jump
MSN talks to Ms. Faris and presents an exclusive deleted scene from the film
Anna Faris is one of the most talented comic actresses of the past decade, but she's had a hard time finding good roles for strong, funny women. "What's Your Number" (Fox), a raunchy romantic comedy starring Faris as a, shall we say, sexually active single woman and Chris Evans as her hunky and even more slutty neighbor, isn't doing anything to change that. For a film that looks ready to challenge the sexual double standard of men and women, it's doesn't have anything to say, apart from a lot of words unprintable in this review, doesn't have a lot of laughs and has even fewer surprises. As MSN film critic Glenn Kenny puts it, the film "spends a largely intolerable hour and 45 minutes reaching an all-too-obvious conclusion."
But Anna Faris is funny, a bright presence in a dull film, and she's responsible for pretty much every memorable moment in the film. And so I was quite pleased to have an opportunity to talk with Ms. Faris -- star of the "Scary Movie" spoofs, Gregg Araki's "Smiley Face" and "Observe and Report" -- about making the film, playing basketball in her underwear with Chris Evans, putting her husband in a fat suit and, of course, what she's been watching lately.
"What's Your Number" (Fox) arrives on DVD and Blu-ray with bonus deleted scenes, a gag reel and an extended cut of the movie along with the original theatrical cut.
See an exclusive deleted scene with Faris and Chris Pratt below, after the jump.
What have you been watching?
Faris: It's kind of boring. I've been streaming a lot of shows because I've been traveling a lot, so my husband and I have finally been catching up on "Friday Night Lights" and "Breaking Bad," which has been fun. Movie-wise, I really enjoyed "The Artist" this year and of course "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked."
You've been a voice in the last two "Chipmunk" movies.
Faris: Yeah, I play Jeanette, the little one with the glasses.
How does one audition to play the part of a chipmunk?
Faris: That's a tricky thing. Since we clearly don't sound like ourselves, it's…. um… I'm not quite sure. (laughs) There is a degree of skill involved but it's not necessarily your own distinct voice because they warp it. But I'm really flattered that Amy Poehler and Christina Applegate are my fellow Chippettes.
You mentioned that you were traveling with your husband: Chris Pratt from "Parks and Recreation." He's also Disgusting Donald in "What's Your Number?" Does he take it personally when you put him in a fat suit and call him names?
Faris: Chris is so great. He loves that stuff. He loves any opportunity to mock himself. He's not a very vain actor, which is so rare in Hollywood, so he just jumps at that kind of opportunity.
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week
Brad Pitt makes it look effortless in "Moneyball" (Sony), a drama about the business of baseball in the era of multi-million dollar payrolls based on the non-fiction bestseller by Michael Lewis. This is a different kind of underdog sports movie, one where percentages and balance sheets and backroom trades are bigger drama than home runs and double plays. The film's triumph, in large part to Pitt's easy-going performance of charm under pressure, is in turning that sports geek detail into the stuff that wins are made of. Count on Pitt getting a nomination, and probably one for screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian as well. Videodrone's review is here.
"The Killer Elite" (Universal) is not a remake of the Sam Peckinpah thriller but it does pit elite killers (Jason Statham, Robert DeNiro and Clive Owen) in a fight to the death. MSN film critic Glenn Kenny calls it "quite the cliché-ridden desultory mess." "What's Your Number" (Fox), meanwhile, offers the very talented Anna Faris in a very unfunny romantic comedy. Videodrone talks with Faris here.
Legendary film director Jean-Luc Godard has stated that "Film Socialisme" (Lorber) will be his final film. The typically dense, discursive and idiosyncratic film is spoken in numerous languages and features the tongue-in-cheek "Navajo" English subtitles of the original release (which offers its own added layer of commentary) as well as an accurate English translation. Videodrone's review is here.
Other notable foreign releases this week: "Night and Day" (Zeitgeist), another wry character study from South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo; "The Man From London" (Zeitgeist), a stylized thriller from Hungarian director Bela Tarr, and "1911" (Well Go), a war drama from China starring Jackie Chan. More at Videodrone here.
TV on DVD:
Director/producer Martin Scorsese teams up with "The Sopranos" writer/producer Terence Winter for "Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season" (HBO), HBO's gangster drama set in the Atlantic City of the prohibition era. Steve Buscemi stars as the man behind the graft, the country treasurer who runs the liquor trade and protection rackets with a minimum of gang violence, at least until the rise of the mob brings in rivals to his power, and Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham and Dabney Coleman co-star. It's a lavishly textured period piece and a smart show, and HBO breaks with release tradition by debuting the first season long after the second season has wrapped on HBO. 12 episodes on five discs on DVD and Blu-ray, plus featurettes, commentary tracks and other supplements. Reviewed on Videodrone here.
The BBC time-travel and dinosaur-attack series "Primeval" was saved from cancellation by its fans. "Primeval: Volume Three" (BBC) features the fourth and fifth series from 2011, bringing back former junior team members Connor and Abby (Andrew-Lee Potts and Hannah Spearritt) from the Cretaceous Period and into a whole new ARC team and a new set of mysteries and conspiracies. 13 episodes on four discs on DVD and Blu-ray, plus featurettes and webisodes. Videodrone's review is here.
Jack Lord is the last man standing from the original cast in "Hawaii Five-O: The Twelfth and Final Season" (Paramount), and William Smith and Moe Keale join his team as James 'Kimo' Carew (it's not quite Dan-O but it'll do) and Truck Kealoha. But give the show credit: the finale finally pits McGarrett against Wo Fat, mano-a-mano. 19 episodes on five discs, no supplements to speak of.
"An Idiot Abroad" (BBC) is a new BBC comedy series with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (co-creators of "The Office" and "Extras") bringing their dim-witted pal (Karl Pinkerton) on a trip to the wonders of the world… against his will. 8 episodes on two discs, plus supplements.
Cool, Classic and Cult:
"The Hellstrom Chronicle" (Olive) won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1972, but the film, produced and directed by Walon Green and featuring mesmerizing footage of the insect world, is not a typical documentary. Call it natural history framed by science fiction and speculation on life after global warming. Which is also a reminder that climate change science has also been around a lot longer than the recent election cycles. On DVD and Blu-ray. Videodrone's review is here.
Also debuting is the 2005 horror film "Gurozuka" (Synapse) from Japan
Gary Oldman is self-destructive punk icon Sid Vicious and Chloe Webb his drug addicted girlfriend Nancy Spungen in "Sid & Nancy" (Fox), Alex Cox's tribute to a strange real-life love story. The Blu-ray debut of the cult film includes featurettes on the punk era and on the production of the film.
New on Netflix Instant:
Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy," starring Juliette Binoche, placed on numerous top ten lists (including MSN's poll) and end-of-the-year awards. Both a delicate romance and a complex portrait, you could describe it as the cinematic equivalent of a Picasso cubist portrait, presenting multiple experiences along the timeline of a relationship in a single day. While you can lose yourself in the tangle of identity, it's more rewarding to simply give in to the rich pageant of experience and the vibrant and fluid emotional life churning in Binoche's performance. It's not on DVD yet, but you can stream it on Netflix and there is an HD edition available.
The classic of the week is "The African Queen" (1951), John Huston's magnificent big screen adventure starring Humphrey Bogart as a hard-drinking caption of a sputtering steam-powered boat and Katharine Hepburn as a spirited missionary. Bogart and Hepburn stoke the fires of this unlikely romance the way only stars of that magnitude can.
Available from Redbox this week:
Part prequel, part reboot and part reimagined origin story, "The Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (Fox) " is not simply a revival of a beloved seventies series that took a serious dive into high kitsch. It's a terrific character piece, a gripping prison break thriller with a wicked high-concept twist and the smartest action movie of 2011. Andy Serkis delivers a motion capture performance more dense and complex than any of his human co-stars and grounds the high-concept idea in a character you can't help but root for. Now available for rent on DVD and Blu-ray through Redbox. Videodrone's review is here.
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The top home video releases of the year, part 3
Observations on a few more notable and notorious releases of the year.
Supplement of the Year
Deleted scenes from "Blue Velvet" on Blu-ray (MGM) - The Blu-ray debut of David Lynch's insidious classic, features a collection of over 50 minutes of deleted scenes, edited by Lynch himself into a phantom feature of stories around the edges of the film. These pieces were pared away in the editing, like a sculptor chiseling away to get to the perfect form, but they are full of visual delights and offbeat humor, narrative sidetrips and character embellishments. They offer glimpses into the inspiration and explorations of Lynch as a filmmaker and marvelous addenda to the finished film, a look into roads not taken and details whittled away to reach the narrative focus and tonal balance of the final piece.
Most welcome addition of 2011
Twilight Time began releases limited edition DVDs licensed from Fox early in 2011, and expanded to Blu-ray releases of select titles from Sony's Columbia catalogue late in the year. These are labor of love releases, not special editions but collector editions, with isolated scores (the producers, Nick Redman and Brian Jameson, come from a soundtrack background). What they are offering is well-produced editions of movies that the studios otherwise are not offering in the format, in a pressed disc (not burned in the MOD model), at a premium price. Following the boom/bust of disc sales for home video, this is a model that gets titles with small but passionate followings on disc. You just have to put your money where your passion is. That what Redman and Jameson did.
Worst Release of 2011:
Honestly, I'm not so much into worsts, but I have to call out two major screw-ups on the part of the studios. The Blu-ray release of "My Fair Lady" (Paramount) has been roundly decried as the worst restoration of the year, while "West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition" (Fox) screwed up the main titles sequence with a minor glitch that is uncalled for in a Special Edition and compounded by Fox refusing to recall the editions.
Most Entertaining Controversies of 2011
Kubrick was a perfectionist in all areas of his filmmaking, including presentation, and the preferred aspect ratio for his post-"2001" releases was 1.66:1, a standard format in Europe but not in the U.S.. While he was alive, he made sure the DVD releases hewed to his specifications, but the "Barry Lyndon" Blu-ray was mastered at the widescreen TV standard of 1.77:1, or 16x9. It may seem minor, Kubrick fans are as obsessive as Kubrick himself was and the hue and cry was extreme. Click here to follow the chain of evidence.
Peter Jackson rescanned the original elements from scratch and retimed the color on "The Fellowship of the Ring" for Blu-ray, and noticeable shift in some scenes toward green and blue roused a great debate over whether this was Jackson's intention or a mastering error. Conspiracy theories abound. Here are a few of them.
Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, I gave up my indignation over George Lucas screwing up "Star Wars" and sequels/prequels by re-editing scenes, adding special effects and rewriting small but central parts of the original experience. But that doesn't mean I like it when George Lucas continued to tinker with "Star Wars" for the Blu-ray debut, and of course he refused to remaster the original theatrical cut for fans, as if trying to erase it. So yes, the tempest was stirred up again. Click here for more details.
You can surely find some jokes to be made concerning the passions roused by these debates, but ultimately they remind us -- and the studios -- that these things do matter. We care deeply about the movies and we simply want to see them treated right on home video.
Glenn Erickson: "Most Impressive Discs of 2011" at DVD Savant
The top releases of the year, part 2
Continuing our tribute to the best of 2011, here are my picks for the top TV releases on disc and the best debuts from the manufacture-on-demand mode.
TV on DVD
1. "The Ernie Kovacs Collection" (Shout! Factory) - Ernie Kovacs was the first genius of TV comedy. Not comedy on TV, mind you, but comedy unique to TV. Kovacs used the screen as his stage, the technology as his tools and the possibilities inherent in the medium as his limits. In a medium before computer animation, digital editing or even videotape, when most sketches played out like a filmed stage show, he created gags that played out like cartoons, defying audience expectations with images created with primitive blue-screen and spilt-screen effects, editing surprises and self-reflexive acknowledgements of his place a TV entertainer interacting with an audience. Shout! Factory's six-disc collection presents Kovacs material from the span of his professional TV career and the range and creativity of the work in this collection shows that his work ranks beside "Monty Python's Flying Circus" as landmarks of innovative and creative television comedy. DVD only.
2. "Law & Order: The Complete Series" (Universal) - With less than half of the series available on individual DVD sets, this megaset offers all twenty seasons and 456 (!!!) episodes for the first time. It's 104 DVDs packed into a 12" by 7 1/2" by 5 ½" box, weighing in at just under ten pounds and carrying a retail price tag of $699.99, though you'll be able to find it discounted for up to hundreds of dollars less. DVD only.
3. "Human Planet" (BBC) - Shot over the course of three years by a crew of BBC filmmakers, "Human Planet" follows "Earth" and "Life" quite nicely as the final piece of the unofficial trilogy of world-class natural history documentary series made for British TV. DVD and Blu-ray.
4. "Prohibition" (PBS/Paramount) - Ken Burns' portrait of "the Noble Experiment" turned American disaster follows the director's trademark approach to American history by putting big events into perspective through the personal stories of both significant historical figures and the everyday citizens. DVD and Blu-ray.
5. "Smallville: The Complete Series" (Warner) - All ten seasons of the long-running WB youth superhero series, about Superman before he donned the cape, in a deluxe box set, an impressive collection of all 218 episodes and supplements, plus exclusive bonus supplements, on 62 discs in a box set of hefty digibook cases. DVD only.
The top releases of the year, part 1
The death of DVD has been greatly exaggerated, as we've discovered, but the decline in sales has certainly curtailed the once robust schedule of classic and cult titles on disc. The increase in Blu-ray sales, on the other hand, is reason to celebrate, and the new manufacture on demand model is actually increasing the availability of classic and catalogue films on disc at a greater rate than DVD ever accomplished.
With that in mind, I've created a small compendium of lists: for disc debuts, Blu-ray releases, TV on disc and manufacture on demand. There is a lot of good stuff out there. Here's my perfectly subjective picks for the great stuff.
1. "Island of Lost Souls" (Criterion) - "Are we not men?" Paramount's 1932 answer to Universal's gothic horrors has been one of most requested classics for years. Though released on VHS and laserdisc in the nineties, it had been MIA on DVD, in large part because of the deplorable condition of the vault elements. No negative exists and the best 35mm prints were still damaged and incomplete. Criterion took on the task of preparing the DVD by piecing together the best possible version from multiple sources, from a damaged fine-grain 35mm positive to a 16mm print from a private collector, and digitally repairing as much damage as possible. The result is the first complete presentation of the most perverse and the least seen of thirties horror movie landmarks. There are better looking and sounding discs this year, and more exhaustive collections of supplements, but the effort expended in creating this release and the goodwill of the contributors makes this labor of love my pick for the best of 2011. DVD and Blu-ray.
2. "The Social Network" (Sony) - Ostensibly the story of Facebook, director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin are less interested in how the website was created than in how a young, arrogant genius with no people skills managed to deconstruct and reconstruct the social experience as a web-based simulacrum: a club that even Mark Zuckerberg (or, rather, "Mark Zuckerberg") could thrive in. The supplements on the DVD and Blu-ray release offer a glimpse into Fincher's process, from a reflective commentary track to the superbly produced feature-length documentary "How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook?," among the many supplements. And a superbly-mastered disc to boot. DVD and Blu-ray.
3. "Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938" (Image) - This collection of features, shorts, documentaries, newsreels, travelogues and fragments from the silent and early sound era is more about preservation and education than simple entertainment, but it is entertaining as well as revealing. It's a record of the American West as it was transforming from frontier to modern world, as viewed through fictional representations and documentary recordings. The richness of offerings and the span of formats presents a visual record that makes the case for film preservation better than any lecture. DVD only.
4. "The Prowler" (VCI) - The long-awaited home video debut of Joseph Losey's superb 1951 film noir, a classic of working class envy and brutal opportunism all but absent from TV showings for decades and never officially released on home video in any form, comes from a restoration by the Film Noir Foundation partnered with the UCLA Film and Television Archive and an insightful collection of supplements. It is the best looking disc to come from VCI to date. DVD only.
5. "The Complete Jean Vigo" (Criterion) celebrates the legacy of France’s cinematic poet laureate of lyrical fantasy in everyday life with newly remastered editions of all four films made by the great French director who died in 1934 at the age of 29. These are sublime films and this is a superb presentation. DVD and Blu-ray.
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
TV on DVD:
'Mildred Pierce' – The Whole Story
TV on DVD Channel Guide: 'Royal Pains,' 'Dr. Willoughby' and the end of 'Man in a Suitcase'
The Cool and the Collectible:
'X: The Unheard Music' - The Landmark Rockumentary
'The Andy Hardy Collection, Volume 1' - Six Adventures With America's Spunkiest Small Town Teenager
Coming next week:
"The Killer Elite" (Universal)
"What's Your Number" (Fox)
"Higher Ground" (Sony)
"There Be Dragons" (Fox)
"Film Socialisme" (Lorber)
"Night and Day" (Zeitgeist)
"The Man From London" (Zeitgeist)
"1911" (Well Go)
"Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season" (HBO)
"Primeval: Volume Three" (BBC)
"Hawaii Five-0: The Twelfth and Final Season" (Paramount)
"Columbo: Movie Mystery Collection 1994-2003" (Universal)
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