Plus Kevin Spacey is 'The Father of Invention' and new horrors in time for Halloween
"Captain America: The First Avenger" (Paramount) is, as the title hints, something of a prologue to the upcoming superhero extravaganza "The Avenger," but it's also an old-fashioned piece of two-fisted comic-book heroism with a patina of nostalgia and World War II patriotism and a pitch-perfect performance by Chris Evans as the most earnest superhero ever put on screen. Videodrone's review is here. The lead-up to Halloween also brings a few timely titles: "Attack the Block" (Sony), a British invasion-in-the-hood thriller with both a palpable social subtext and a great B-movie energy, and from Finland comes the twisted Santa Claus tale "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" (Oscilloscope). See Videodrone's review here.
"Winnie the Pooh" (Disney) is the new animated feature starring the silly old bear of A.A. Milne's children's stories, and Disney's first hand-drawn animated feature in some time. "A great deal of care, it would seem, was taken in preserving the cute and homey feel" of those earlier films," writes MSN film critic Glenn Kenny. He likes what co-directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall did with their adaptation: "working with a writing staff of more than a half-dozen others, they concoct something consistently lively and clever and engaging and lovely to look at."
The DVD features the theatrical short "The Ballad of Nessie" which played in front of the film on its original release ("a Scottish-set fable whose look harks back to the halcyon days of famed Disney designer and colorist Mary Blair," praises Kenny), three deleted scenes and the bonus Winnie the Pooh short "Pooh's Balloon." The Blu-ray+DVD Combo pack includes more deleted scenes, the making-of featurette "Winnie the Pooh and His Story Too" and a sing-along function for the songs.
"The People Vs. George Lucas" (Lionsgate) explores the complicated relationship between "Star Wars" fans and the film's creator with an appreciation for the extremes of fandom. Director Alexandre O. Philippe doesn't simply ridicule the obsessives nor does he takes sides on the pile-on of complaints against Lucas, though he certainly gives a podium to both, but neither does he really get much beyond the surface of this strange symbiotic relationship. More fun is the collection of clips of fan-films, literally scores of tributes and parodies inspired by "Star Wars." That is a true illustration of devotion and love. MSN's own film critic Glenn Kenny is one of the featured interview subjects. Features filmmaker commentary, the featurette "The People vs. Star Wars 3D" (with fans complaining in advance about the proposed 3D retrofit) and other bonus footage.
Kevin Spacey is "Father of Invention" (Anchor Bay), an inventor and TV pitchman trying to make a comeback and patch things up with his family after serving a prison term for selling a defective device. "Make no mistake, Father of Invention is the hilarious Spacey's show all the way," writes New York Post critic Lou Lumenick. Arrives on DVD and Blu-ray (both with a featurette) two weeks after its nominal (almost invisible) theatrical release in a few cities.
Jenna Fischer is a dental hygienist who needs "A Little Help" (Image) when life comes down a little too hard in this comedy, which co-stars Chris O'Donnell, Rob Benedict and Brooke Smith. "It's manipulative, yes, but clever and persuasive in its manipulations," offers film critic Roger Ebert. On DVD and Blu-ray, with interviews and a music video.
From China comes "City of Life and Death" (Kino Lorber), an epic recreation of the Rape of Nanking in 1937 from the perspective of the Chinese soldiers and civilians (and one Japanese soldier disgusted with his army's behavior). It's a stark, grueling film, shot in black and white, short on dialogue and big on the atmosphere of chaos and terror as civilians are treated as inconveniences at best and spoils of war at worst. Which is still a far sight better than the treatment of the soldiers. San Francisco Chronicle critic David Lewis warns that: "This is hardly a film to recommend as entertainment. As an act of remembrance, though, it is singular and, in its way, soaring." In Mandarin with English subtitles. Two discs on both DVD and Blu-ray, with the feature-length making-of documentary "Matters of Life and Death" on the second disc.
Also from China is the costume action thriller "Shaolin" (Well Go). "If the movie feels old-school (with new-school production values), consider its pedigree," explains New York Times critic Rachel Saltz. "Shaolin is a reimagining of the 1982 "Shaolin Temple," in which Jet Li made his debut." Andy Lau takes Li's role as a warrior who retreats to a temple for penitence and Jackie Chan has a small role in the Benny Chan production. The DVD features deleted scenes and the Blu-ray also includes two featurettes. In Mandarin with optional English soundtrack and English subtitles.
Dante Lam directs "Fire of Conscience" (Vivendi), a contemporary Hong Kong crime thriller starring Leon Lai as a veteran cop pulled into the gangster underworld by his aggressive new partner. Mandarin with English subtitles, plus five featurettes.
Is this a horndog trilogy? Jerry O'Connell hires a hot chick (Shannon Elizabeth) to seduce buddy Jake Busey to win a bet in "Tomcats" (Image), while Carmen Electra gets top billing in the college sex comedy "Mardi Gras Spring Break" (Sony) (released in an "unrated" edition) and a magic shirt turns three guys into a "Chick Magnet" (Phase 4), a film that includes guest appearances by Owen Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Kristen Bell, Tracy Morgan and Kristy Swanson.
"Atrocious" (Vivendi) is a Spanish horror film in the "Paranormal Activity" mode. "Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings" (Fox) is the direct-to-DVD prequel to the slasher series. "Mothman" (Lionsgate) is a SyFy Channel original.
"Out Late" (First Run) is a documentary about five people who came out of the closet after the age of 55. "Fambol Tok" (First Run) looks at the efforts to bring justice and healing to Sierra Leone in the aftermath of the civil war. "An Injury to One" (Icarus) reaches back to the murder of a labor organizer in 1917 to frame the history of Butte, Montana.
"Are we not men?"
Dr. Moreau: What is the law?
Sayer of the Law: Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?
"Are we not men?" That question is at the heart of the 1932 "Island of Lost Souls" (Criterion), the first adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel and (for all the changes from the novel) still the defining one. It's also been the hardest to see. Though it was released on VHS and on laserdisc, it rarely showed on TV or cable and its arrival on DVD comes decades after the classic horrors of the thirties -- "Frankenstein," "Dracula," "Freaks," "The Mummy," "The Black Cat" and so on -- have been released. As a result it's more known about than seen, more often a footnote in conversations about the early days of horror, when in fact it's one of the most transgressive films of its era.
Charles Laughton enters the film as Dr. Moreau in the white linen suit of a plantation owner or a southern slaver. Once he cracks his ever-present whip to send the "natives" scurrying in fear, the resemblance is sealed, but that's just the beginning of his brutal identity.
"Do you know what it means to feel like God?" he boasts, but he's more a demon in the devil's workshop transforming beasts into human-like creatures. Whether they are men is an open question, but they certainly aspire to manhood in their creation of community and adherence to laws. Whether Dr. Moreau, a vivisectionist who seems to enjoy the pain he inflicts, has sacrificed his humanity is more to the point.
Arrogant and unfeeling, he's the proto Dr. Mengele, the master-race scientist who operates on his subjects without anesthesia or compassion in an operating room he calls "The House of Pain." (In the era before DNA and genetic engineering, his operations are all grafts and transplants.) "This time I'll burn out all the animal in her," he swears as his prized project Lota (Kathleen Burke) reverts back to her feline roots. It's as much a threat as it is a statement of purpose, a promise of terrible pain that evokes torture and hellfire. And as he plots to pair off Panther Woman Lota to his castaway guest (Richard Arlen) to procreate, he's essentially experimenting with bestiality. No wonder this was banned in Britain for decades.
Two imports with fresh takes and surprising twists on the horror movie
With big screen horror films routinely returning to familiar paradigms, whether it be psychotic killers stalking teens or the post-"Blair Witch Project" video "reality" strain (like "Paranormal Activity 3," last week's box-office monster), it's always a treat to find filmmakers reviving old genres with new attitude and hacking their way through new territory. This week, two recent horror imports show that ingenuity and creativity are alive and well in the horror genre: "Attack the Block" (Sony) from Britain and "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" (Oscilloscope) from Finland.
"Attack the Block" (Sony), an alien invasion movie set in the gang-run projects of South London, is both far smarter than it looks on the surface, and more indebted to the drive-in horror movie culture than has been acknowledged.
While fireworks fill the sky, meteors pelt the streets, unleashing inky-black predators on an unsuspecting gang of teen thugs and a young nurse (Jodie Whittaker) who they just mugged. Most monsters have eyes that glow in the dark. These inky-black furry predators are all teeth and they glow in the dark with a threat they can't ignore. Part of the pleasure of the film is the way filmmaker Joe Cornish gives these memorable creatures, smudgy "wolf-monkey" fur balls that disappear in the shadows and leap out like all-mouthy eating machines, a startling physicality. As unreal as they look, they are insistently present and threatening.
But even more impressive is the way he brings us into the social culture of the neighborhood and past the first impressions of these young gang members. John Boyega, a remarkable young actor who portrays Moses, the glaring leader of the group, is a performer to watch; the volatile mix of anger and toughened attitude he brings to the role covers a vulnerable young man beneath the pose. Plus, how can you not like a film where a dazed and confused stoner (Nick Frost) figures out how to fight these aliens because he watches a lot of natural history TV. More reviews here.
'The First Avenger' on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D - plus an exclusive clip from the Blu-ray
There is something very appealing in the gee-whiz earnestness and plucky patriotism of "Captain America: The First Avenger" (Paramount), a red, white and blue superhero journey wrapped up in the nostalgia of the World War II era, where American pluck and moral certainty made the battle.
MSN has an exclusive clip from the making of the film below, after the jump
As the title hints, it is something of a feature-length prologue to the upcoming superhero extravaganza "The Avengers," showing us exactly why the star-spangled Captain is the standard bearer of superhero ideals. Next to the psychotic obsession of Batman and the wisecracking, fun-loving spirit of Spiderman, Cap is the boy scout of the genre: brave, virtuous, earnest, so square he's almost hip. And the film owes all due credit to Chris Evans, who brings a convincing mix of pluck, modesty and duty to the role, embodying an icon without turning it into parody. He's the guy who steps up at every challenge, whether he's the scrawny, sickly, 4-F Brooklyn kid constantly scrapping with bullies while trying every trick to enlist or the super soldier leading a squad of howling commandos against greater numbers to take out The Red Skull, Hitler's madman of a freelance mini-Fuhrer.
But the film is also an old-fashioned piece of two-fisted comic-book heroism with a patina of nostalgia and World War II patriotism. It's a big film with sturdy production values, great forties costumes and sets and technology, terrific World War II Europe settings and Tommy Lee Jones as the flinty but dedicated American Colonel who is all about the men and the practical approach to winning the war and protecting his soldiers from reckless harm.
"It's light and bright and brisk, but never glib: It's a layer cake made of one part Indiana Jones, one part James Bond and one part "Inglourious Basterds," with the bright colors, tone and style of a four-color comic book as the icing holding it all together," writes MSN film critic James Rocchi. "With director Joe Johnston hitting the same tones of retro-styled high adventure he did in 1991's "The Rocketeer," "Captain America" is not high art, but it is so unabashedly fun -- and such well-made fun -- that it is hard to not like and admire it for so steadfastly being what it is."
While not the best superhero movie in the recent cycle of big-screen comic books, it's far from the worst and at times endearing in its sense of honor, decency and responsibility. It's more of a live-action graphic novel than a fully-realized movie, a retelling of a pulp myth or a chapter in a superhero saga rather than a stand-alone movie experience, but that in a way makes it an even more appropriate home video experience. Just file that disc alongside the other stories in the tales from the Marvel Universe.
Warner Home Video has a new trick: making "Harry Potter" disappear from DVD and Blu-ray in 2012
That doesn't mean they will all suddenly disappear -- now that would be a magic trick worthy of special credit at Hogwarts -- but that all discs will be limited to stock on hand on store shelves and stockrooms. When those are sold, there will be no more.
But don't panic. This is clearly timed to make the most of the holiday season and encourage anyone thinking of picking up a "Harry Potter" movie for a gift or complete their DVD library to take the lunge now.
And don't expect this to last forever. Disney has for decades taken their animated classics out of circulation and then, after a break of a few years, re-released them in theaters and on home video in new editions for a new generation.
And according to the press release, the film will still be available through video on demand and digital delivery.
Here's the full text of the press release, after the jump:
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week.
"Captain America: The First Avenger" (Paramount) is, as the title hints, something of a prologue to the upcoming superhero extravaganza "The Avenger," but it's also an old-fashioned piece of two-fisted comic-book heroism with a patina of nostalgia and World War II patriotism. And the film owes all due credit to Chris Evans, who brings a convincing mix of pluck, modesty and duty to the role, embodying an icon without turning it into parody. While not the best superhero movie in the recent cycle of big-screen comic books, it's far from the worst and at times endearing in its sense of honor, decency and responsibility. Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D. Videodrone's review is here.
"Winnie the Pooh" (Disney) is the new animated feature starring the silly old bear of A.A. Milne's children's stories, and Disney's first hand-drawn animated feature in some time.
The lead-up to Halloween also brings a few choice titles out for the season, the most choice being "Attack the Block" (Sony), a British invasion-in-the-hood thriller with both a palpable social subtext and a great B-movie energy. And from Finland comes the twisted Santa Claus tale "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" (Oscilloscope). Videodrone reviews them here.
Kevin Spacey is "Father of Invention" (Anchor Bay), an inventor and TV pitchman on hard times, Jenna Fischer needs "A Little Help" (Image) in this comedy and "The People Vs. George Lucas" (Lionsgate) explores the complicated relationship between "Star Wars" fans and the film's creator.
From China comes "City of Life and Death" (Kino Lorber), an epic recreation of the Rape of Nanking in 1937, plus the costume action thriller "Shaolin" (Well Go) with Andy Lau, both on DVD and Blu-ray. "Fire of Conscience" (Vivendi) is a contemporary Hong Kong crime thriller.
TV on DVD:
"Barney Miller: The Complete Series" (Shout! Factory) collects all eight seasons of the iconic seventies sitcom -- 168 episodes altogether -- plus complete half-season of the spin-off "Fish" in a hefty 25-disc box set. Set entirely in the precinct house, it's still considered the most realistic portrayal of cops on television by real-life law officers. The set is also packed with supplements: commentary tracks, cast interviews and the original pilot. Videodrone's review is here.
The Emmy-winning 1977 holiday drama "The Gathering" (Warner) stars Edward Asner and Maureen Stapleton.
With the new feature film set for release, the original 1980 British TV mini-series "Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy" (Acorn), starring Sir Alec Guinness is George Smiley, is back out on DVD. More from Videodrone here. Also from Britain comes "Luther 2" (BBC), the second round of the dark Idris Elba crime series, plus "Justice" (BFS) with Robert Pugh and "A Passionate Woman" (BFS), a romantic drama with Billie Piper.
"Nazi Hunters" (MVD) is an award-winning Canadian nonfiction series about the missions to hunt down some of the most wanted men in the 20th Century. Also new: "Thunder Cats: Season One, Book One" (Warner) with the first episodes of the new incarnation of the animated series, and "Robot Chicken: Season 5" (Warner) from the Cartoon Network.
Cool, Classic and Cult:
"Are we not men?" That's the question at the heart of "Island of Lost Souls" (Criterion), the first adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel starring Charles Laughton as a heartless scientist who plays God in his jungle laboratory. Though not as famous as the original "Frankenstein" and "Dracula," this early-thirties horror is one of the greats and makes its long-awaited debut on DVD and Blu-ray. Just in time for Halloween. Videodrone's review is here.
And speaking of horror, two Lucio Fulci films arrive this week in new editions for DVD and Blu-ray: "Zombie: 2-Disc Ultimate Edition" (Blue Underground) and "House By the Cemetery" (Blue Underground) both add new supplements to newly-remastered editions of the grotesque Italian horrors. More from Videodrone here.
"Laurel and Hardy: The Essential Collection" (Vivendi) is an impressive ten-disc set featuring newly-remastered editions of ten features and dozens of shorts from their Hal Roach period, from their first sound short to "A Chump at Oxford" and "Saps at Sea" in 1940. A whole disc of supplements plus alternate versions of some shorts and feature films. "Nine Nation Animation" (New Yorker) showcases new animated shorts from around the world.
"Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy" (Universal) brings all three of Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur adventures to Blu-ray in box set filled with old and new supplements. And, of course, lots of prehistoric predators. Videodrone's review is here.
"Dazed and Confused" (Criterion), the "American Graffiti" for the other end of the baby boom generation, gets its Criterion Blu-ray release mere months after its Universal Blu-ray release. Needless to say, the supplements are impressive. Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" (Lionsgate) debuts on Blu with new supplements and "Tom and Jerry: Golden Collection, Volume One" (Warner) presents 37 classic cartoons remastered for DVD and Blu-ray.
The complete calendar of releases this week is after the jump:
|Tags:||Week in review|
CinemaScope, SuperScope and Dana Andrews in the fifties
Fritz Lang arrived in Hollywood as an artist in exile and, as the creator of some of Germany's most famous and most successful films, accorded all due respect. Unlike a lot of artist refugees from Hitler's Germany, he was offered prestige assignments, "important" subjects and major stars. At least at first. Without major hits or awards to his credit, and with a reputation for autocratic methods (there's nothing a studio hates more than a "difficult" director), he very slowly slipped down the ladder into smaller budgets and increasingly turned to independent productions.
Fritz Lang's final three American productions were released through the Warner Archive Collection this year. And while they never reach the heights of his greatest American films -- "You Only Live Once" (1937), "Man Hunt" (1941), "Scarlet Street" (1945), "The Big Heat" (1953) -- they have their pleasures and rewards.
"Moonfleet" (1955) was Lang's last film for one of the Hollywood majors. The budget-minded MGM production set in 18th century England, it's like "Great Expectations" by way of a gothic film noir, in this case a world of smugglers, knaves and decadent, corrupt gentry on the rocky, foggy British coast. Jon Whitely is the film's answer to Pip, a plucky young orphan sent to live with the dark criminal aristocrat Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger), a brigand with money and status torn between his mercenary instincts and his growing sense of responsibility for the innocent and unfailingly loyal boy, the son of the woman he loved and in many ways the symbol of the road not taken.
Lang shot in CinemaScope entirely in the studio and still creates a claustrophobic world of craggy moors and bleak architecture. Even the stony church is a bleak sanctuary where cold statues seem to judge, if not outright threaten, the parishioners. Visually it anticipates the look of the Hammer Gothic horrors and Corman's Poe films, with its studio moors and gloomy sets of stone gray and rough wood and costumes of royal purple and soldier crimson, all shrouded in fog and mist like a perpetual purgatory. Granger delivers a perfectly sardonic and arrogant performance while George Sanders purrs pure aristocratic decadence and moral bankruptcy, relishing his easy corruption with wry looks and cheerfully greedy behavior. "You're cheating," accuses one man at a card game. He fixes a weary smirk and replies: "Even if I were, I'd consider it grossly impolite to say so in my own house." Sure, there's a redemption in the offing, but the brigands are a lot more fun.
After this low-end studio assignment, Lang ended his Hollywood career at RKO, once a major studio slowly withering under the capricious command of Howard Hughes, working with falling stars and budget-starved productions in black and white that he did his best to turn into an asset.
"While the City Sleeps" (1956) is less an all-star cast than a veteran line-up of studio pros: Dana Andrews as the ostensible lead, a TV newscaster in a multi-media news company that encompasses a metropolitan daily paper and a wire service, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price and Ida Lupino as the newspaper columnist whose nose for office politics is her greatest survival skill. Ostensibly a thriller about a serial killer (John Drew Barrymore) and the media circus around the investigation, there isn't much tension or crime movie thriller energy, but it does offer a thoroughly corrupt portrait of life: while a psychotic leatherboy kills girls and blames his mom, the staff of a new organization plays politics to maneuver themselves into a promotion when the playboy son (Vincent Price) of the deceased owner takes over and essentially pits his employees against one another to vie from promotion.
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
Arrrgh! Johnny Depp and the 'Pirates' are Back 'On Stranger Tides'!
TV on DVD:
'V' Leaves the Skies. Or at Least the Network Schedule
TV on DVD Channel Guide: Margaret Thatcher and J.K. Rowling via TV Movies
The Cool and the Collectible:
Cult Watch: 'Batman: Year One'
'Willy Wonka' and the Ultimate Collector's Edition – with an exclusive clip
Coming up next week:
"Captain America: The First Avenger" (Paramount)
"Winnie the Pooh" (Disney)
"Attack the Block" (Sony)
"Father of Invention" (Anchor Bay)
"The People Vs. George Lucas" (Lionsgate)
"City of Life and Death" (Kino Lorber)
"Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" (Oscilloscope)
"Identification of a Woman" (Criterion)
"Island of Lost Souls" (Criterion)
"Laurel and Hardy: The Essential Collection" (Vivendi)
"Zombie: 2-Disc Ultimate Edition" (Blue Underground)
"Barney Miller: The Complete Series" (Shout! Factory)
"Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy" (Blu-ray) (Universal)
"Dazed and Confused" (Blu-ray) (Criterion)
"The Conversation" (Blu-ray) (Lionsgate)
|Tags:||Week in review|