Posts Tagged ‘Harry Brown’

The DVD Geek: Harry Brown

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

A British remake of Death Wish with the inspired casting of Michael Caine in the title role, Harry Brown, has been released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.  Caine’s character, a former marine who is no stranger to violence, is a widower living in whatever the British version is of public housing.  His one friend is murdered by the slacker punks who generally terrorize the area, and so Caine’s character systematically wreaks his vengeance while a police detective, played by Emily Mortimer, gradually pieces together what is going on.  The 2009 film has limited artistic merit.  Despite its political undertones in addressing the connections between poverty and anarchy, the villains are superficially nasty in a classic, exploitation movie sort of way.  While Caine’s character is more realistically vulnerable than Charles Bronson, the purpose of the movie is to root for the old guy and disdain the snotty youngsters.  It’s an efficient formula and, thanks primarily to Caine, remains essentially entertaining.  The class he brings to the part, in fact, makes the 103-minute movie highbrow and lowbrow, simultaneously.

The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.  The colors are generally drained and yellowish on purpose, and the movie’s grungy look is in keeping with its setting and environment.  The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound has a modest dimensionality, and there are optional English subtitles.  17 minutes of deleted scenes have also been included.  They answer a few story questions but were sensibly excised.  Doubling the value of the DVD, however, is a commentary track with director Daniel Barber, producer Kris Thykier and, most importantly, Caine.  Caine’s contributions to the chat are super.  As they go over how the film was staged and what went on during the shoot, Caine shares many terrific anecdotes about his career, including marvelous stories about Charles Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock (who wanted Caine for Frenzy and was annoyed when Caine turned him down), and quite a few excellent insights to his craft.  “Stanislavsky is very good for movie actors, because the basic tenet is the rehearsal is the work and the performance is the relaxation.  If you’re still working on the performance in front of the camera, the camera will spot it.  It’s got to be the relaxation.  They talk about theater acting and film acting as though it’s a similar thing.  It’s a completely different animal.  I always remember when I was in theater the first time, my voice wasn’t very loud.  You know, I didn’t have one of these ‘actor voices,’ and the producer said, ‘Michael,’ he said, ‘There’s a man right in the back of the balcony who has paid to hear every word you say.  Let’s have some projection.’  In a movie, you’ve got to cover up any acting that you’re doing from a camera that is three feet away.  That’s how different it is.  And the problem with a lot of critics is that they start out as theater critics and move into film, and you see the most hammy performances getting great reviews and then the same guys, if you give a movie performance, they say, ‘I think he was just playing himself because he didn’t do anything.’”

The picture on the Blu-ray is a little sharper, but the colors remain deliberately ‘brownish’ and bland.  The DTS track, however sharpens the details on the audio, enhancing the thrill of the action scenes and making the film more involving over all.  The subtitling and special feature options are the same as the DVD.

DVD Wrap: The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, That Evening Sun, Why Did I Get Married, Too?, The Exploding Girl, Solitary Man … and more

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond: Blu-ray
That Evening Sun

Movies put into limited release in the dead zone between December 26 and New Year’s Eve share certain traits. They tend to feature stars whose work has previously been recognized by the folks at AMPAS, but whose commercial prospects don’t warrant an expensive marketing campaign. A few good reviews and pre-holiday accolades could prompt a modicum of box- success, insider buzz and a wider release. If not, the picture could disappear without a trace almost overnight.

After a few stops on the festival circuit and several positive notices, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond only managed to last about five weeks in limited release. For my money, Bryce Dallas Howard and Ellen Burstyn easily qualified for consideration in the top acting categories, but I doubt if many voters or critics saw Jodie Markell’s observant adaptation of the long-forgotten Tennessee Williams’ screenplay.

Howard played the eccentric daughter of a murderous Memphis-area plantation owner, while Burstyn portrayed a bed-ridden friend of the family who had lived the kind of life Howard’s Fisher Willow envied. As defined by the author, Fisher is the kind of 1920s, European-educated debutante who considers herself to be above the social fray, but fears being left off the invitation lists for important events.

Not terribly interested in local college boys, Fisher decides to play Pygmalion with the son of the alcoholic who manages the plantation’s commissary. Jimmy is handsome enough to pull off the ruse and smart enough not to buy into Fisher’s mad impulses. He understands that it’s important for the young woman to pretend, at least, she’s willing to conform to certain Southern conventions and rituals, if only because her spinster aunt controls the purse strings on her inheritance.

At a particularly eventful Halloween party, Fisher is taunted by her fellow debs and angered by Jimmy’s inability to immediately locate her missing earring. It provides an opening for the other girls to make a play on Jimmy, who they believe to be the grandson of a former governor. At one point, Fisher’s summoned to the bedroom of Burstyn’s character, an opium-addicted kindred spirit who’s lost the will to live among the squares.

Familiar primarily as an actor, Memphis native Markell had previously directed only one other film, a short adapted from a story by another Southern literary icon, Eudora Welty. Although far removed from the period described in Williams’ story, Markell knew that social mores had changed little between the ’20s and 1957, and outsiders could be driven crazy by traditional demands.

Although Teardrop Diamond won’t make anyone forget A Streetcar Named Desire, Glass Menagerie or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, it provides a great stage for the wonderful cast, which, besides Howard and Burstyn, includes Will Patton, Ann-Margret, Chris Evans and Jessica Collins. The making-of featurette and interviews are definitely worth watching.

That Evening Sun, another showcase for brilliant acting, takes place a bit further to the east of Memphis and several decades apart in time. In it, Hal Holbrook plays the hard-nosed octogenarian, Abner Meecham, whose Tennessee farm was appropriated against his will by his pragmatic lawyer son.

While Abner was killing time in a seniors’ community, the son leased the property to Lonzo Choat, a member of a redneck family his father particularly despised. Meecham didn’t stay cooped up for long, however. He escaped the retirement facility on his own two feet and kept on walking until he got home, where he found Choat’s much put-upon wife and daughter already in residence. Although he can’t stand sharing his farm with the Choats, Abner has little legal recourse. A compromise is reached, allowing the farmer stay in a reconditioned shed on the property. It’s an agreement that satisfies neither of the stubborn men.

Blessedly, Choat’s wife and daughter possess cooler heads and out-right war is delayed for a while by their kindness. Evening Sun is the freshman feature for writer/director Scott Teems, who adapted it from a story by William Gay. The rest of the sterling cast includes Ray McKinnon (Deadwood), Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), Walton Goggins (Justified), Carrie Preston (True Blood), Barry Corbin (One Tree Hill) and Dixie Carter, in her last screen appearance.

The DVD adds “anti-commentary” with Teems, DP Rodney Taylor and editor Travis Sittard; cast and crew interviews; a pair of behind-the-scenes pieces; and a trailer.


Solitary Man

Anyone who can recall by heart the lyrics to Solitary Man, Neil Diamond’s classic ode to failed love, will be at a disadvantage when it comes to Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s dramedy about a male cougar in heat.

Diamond’s lyrics suggest an entirely different character than Douglas’ Ben Kalmen, a handsome 60-something grandfather, who, in his twilight years, remains less interested in commitment than in one-night stands with women ranging in age from 18 to 45. One senses that Ben’s always been something of a horn-dog, but, after being convicted of fraud and diagnosed with possible heart disease, he’s decided not to wait for baldness and wrinkles to eliminate him from the game.

Once an extremely successful car dealer, Ben approaches women like a salesman would approach the potential buyer of a slightly used automobile. Lately, though, he’s gotten sloppy. Among other things, Ben’s allowed himself to be seduced by the devious blond daughter of his rich, divorced lover (Mary-Louise Parker), while escorting her to a college-entrance interview. Things only get worse for him from there.

At 65, Douglas is still sufficiently studly to play a guy like Ben and cocky enough to dispense dating advice to a dorky Fordham underclassman (Jesse Eisenberg). Still, his presence is reason enough to see Solitary Man. He also gets terrific support from Susan Sarandon, as his estranged wife; Jenna Fischer, as his increasingly disenchanted daughter; Imogen Poots, as the teen femme fatale; and Danny DeVito, as a college buddy who re-enters Ben’s life at a crucial juncture. The behind-the-scenes material isn’t particularly noteworthy.


Harry Brown

During the course of Michael Caine’s long and illustrative career, he’s played more than a few vigilantes and desperate characters unafraid to take the law into their own hands. Rent Harry Brown along with Get Carter, if for no other reason than to see just how steady Caine’s trigger finger still is, after nearly 40 years on the job.

Now 77, Caine remains perfectly capable of playing a geezer, albeit a former Royal Marine, who proves to be a worthy opponent for the local punks terrorizing the grounds of his rundown London council estate. The set-up will be familiar to anyone who’s watched Death Wish, Walking Tall or any of their many sequels and rip-offs.

Here, the local thugs and dope dealers evolve from being mere nuisances to murderous fiends, and their victims are residents too old and poor to move from the projects. Brown monitors their activity from afar mostly, until his best pal is savagely attacked. Brown’s marine training serves him well, making him as much a threat to the punks as the police, who, apart from a detective played Emily Mortimer, refuse to believe an old-timer could be so cruel.

Director Daniel Barber and screenwriter Gary Young take full advantage of the environment that spawns such sadism among dead-end kids. Harry Brown isn’t about sociology, though. It’s about action and revenge, and Caine makes the movie worth watching for genre fans. The package adds deleted scenes and commentary.


Why Did I Get Married Too?: Blu-ray

By now, I think it’s safe to say that Tyler Perry is more in tune with his audience than most critics are in touch with their readers, and that disconnect continues even as reviewers for mainstream publications are being replaced by less effete observers. Watch enough movies and most educated minds will come to the same conclusions as their peers, even if they have degrees in journalism, not film.

This is why pundits across the board, white and black, approach Perry’s movies as if they were punishment. It isn’t that such broad entertainments as Why Did I Get Married, Too? are all that difficult to watch – especially in the comfy confines of a screening room — only that each new titles tends to resemble the ones that have come before it. The messages are the same, as are most of the gags and character flaws.

Here, the same four affluent African-American couples from the 2007 original are reunited on their annual retreat, this time in the Bahamas, during which they address the question, “Why did we get married?” At first, they appear to be a happy lot, but it doesn’t take long for the fissures to show. When they do, the resulting temblors measure 7.2 on the Richter scale.

Loudmouth Angela (Tasha Smith) sets the acrimonious tone early on, as she angrily accuses her sportscaster husband of having an affair with every woman in Atlanta. Meanwhile, of all the weeks in the year, this is the one Sheila’s violent ex-husband chooses to use his time-share. He enjoys being with his former cronies, who now include Sheila’s new husband, but he clearly has other motivations. The other two couples also have serious problems, but they aren’t revealed until later.

By the half-way mark of Married, Too?, things are very noisy, indeed. The home of relationship counselor Patricia (Janet Jackson) and her mostly supportive husband appears to have been designed by a glazier, for all the glass that’s broken when she goes medieval with his golf clubs. Meanwhile, the most solid of the couples is upended by the wife’s affair.

It isn’t until these disparate souls begin heeding the advice of a strategically placed elderly couple (Louis Gossett Jr., Cicely Tyson) that the healing process inevitably begins. My problem with Perry’s movies is that I think he tries to stuff five pounds of popcorn into a one-pound bag and every emotion is exaggerated by half. That formula worked for Perry in his stage productions and the so-called urban audience followed him to the multiplex. Why mess with success?

Married, Too? has an attractive cast – when they aren’t beating each other up – and the locations are easy on the eye, as well. The bonus features include Girl Talk: The Women of ‘Married’ and Male Bonding: The Men of ‘Married’; a music video from Jackson and the pop-up Couples Character Guide Trivia Track.


The Exploding Girl

Feature films don’t come much more fragile than The Exploding Girl, a title that refers more to the lead character’s epileptic seizures than any likelihood something loud or threatening will occur over the course of its 80 minutes. As played by Zoe Kazan (Revolutionary Road), Ivy is a rather ordinary young woman, spending her summer break from college at her New York home. She’s cute, in an odd sort of way, but it’s unlikely she would stand out in any crowd of people her age.

Her epilepsy prohibits her from most forms of debauchery favored by college kids, although she does enjoy the occasional drink or joint. If anything is going to distinguish this summer from others in her life, it’s only because her boyfriend breaks up with her on one of their many long-distance calls. An unexpectedly homeless male confidante is spending the break at her house as well and feels her pain.

He seems more interested, though, in getting advice on how to pursue a tentative relationship with a girl who sounds even less interesting than Ivy. (Jaded viewer to clueless character: you’re gay, forget about it.) If nothing much happens in Exploding Girl, there’s still plenty to look at, thanks to Ivy’s strolls through the bustling city and writer/director Bradley Rust Gray‘s voyeuristic camera. The extras are of the making-of variety.



Although it continually pays homage to The Breakfast Club – that’s kinder than calling it a direct steal, anyway — Peter Coggans’ slightly comedic Woodshop serves more as a reminder as to just how good the late John Hughes was at replicating the fresh hell that was high school for many kids.

Here, the school’s naughty boys and girls are required to spend their Saturday morning in the woodshop class taught by Jesse Ventura’s Mr. Madson. Unlike the prick who supervised detention in Breakfast Club, Madson is an ex-Army Ranger with a gruff voice and soft spot in his heart for square-peg students. All the various high school types are represented here, including a distinctly unpleasant psychopath who looks as if he’s closer to 25 than 18.

Madson gives all of the students an assignment involving wood and potentially lethal machinery, but cuts them a lot of slack in the disciplinary department. That’s both a blessing and a curse for the delinquents, at least one of whom pays for his misbehavior with a severed appendage (no, not that one). As much as older viewers might be offended by the direct lift of certain Breakfast Club conceits, teens might find Woodshop entertaining enough to recommend it.


American Cowslip

Set in the overheated Colorado River town of Blythe, but filmed in an impoverished suburb of L.A., American Cowslip is the kind of indie comedy that rises and falls with the eccentricities of its many wacky characters. To this end, writer/director/cinematographer/composer/editor/producer Mark David was fortunate enough to recruit such fine curtain-chewing actors Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Rip Torn, Cloris Leachman, Lin Shaye, Priscilla Barnes, Peter Falk and, yes, even Val Kilmer.

They’re nothing compared to little-known Ronnie Gene Blevins, who plays one of the most disagreeable protagonists in recent memory. Blevins’ Ethan Inglebrink is an agoraphobic heroin addict who hasn’t changed out of the powder-blue tux he wore to a wedding a month previously. The primarily conflict in his life is the result of an eviction notice served by his landlord and next-door neighbor, an unkempt curmudgeon played by Torn (again, looking very much like his most-recent mug shot).

Both men hope to win the cash prize in the local Garden of the Year contest. Inglebrink’s American cowslip could have been a contender, if it weren’t for his neighbor’s many attempts to kill it. It’s that kind of movie. There’s also a rather twisted love story, but I wouldn’t begin to know how to describe it. A making-of featurette is included in the set.


By the Will of Genghis Khan

Two years ago, fans of sprawling, hyper-violent historical epics thrilled to Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan, a beautifully staged movie that chronicled the rise of one of the world’s mightiest leaders. Andrei Borissov’s By the Will of Genghis Khan tells virtually the same story, but in different, equally spectacular locales and with some of the most brutal battle scenes I’ve ever seen.

It follows the rise of Temujin, who would become Genghis Khan, from his boyhood on the Mongolian steppes to the conquest of his longtime rivals and consolidation of their armies. In addition to the magnificent settings and exciting battles, the costumes are nothing short of spectacular. American audiences who miss the grandeur of traditional westerns are advised to take a chance on both Rise of Genghis Khan and Will of Genghis Khan, as the wide open spaces and competition among warlords for land and power are comparable … or one supposes.



The lives of only a very few artists could match that of Michelangelo Merisi di Caravaggio, an undeniably brilliant post-Renaissance painter whose dramatic use of light and natural physicality remain as fascinating and visually stunning today as when they were introduced during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. More to the cinematic point, however, Caravaggio’s life was the stuff of legend.

A true creative genius, the painter developed a reputation as a brawler, womanizer and hothead. He relished controversy and went out of his way to create scandals. One way he did this was using as prostitutes, beggars and common drunks as models for paintings of great religious significance.

Angelo Longoni’s ambitious 180-minute mini-series for Italian television starred handsome Alessio Boni as the artist and featured several astonishingly beautiful European women as his muses, lovers and patrons. The re-imagining of life and architecture during the period is wonderfully done and, of course, the paintings can stand on their own merit. Caravaggio’s various stops along the road to a tragic ending are vividly rendered, as well, especially the brief time he spent in exile on the island of Malta.


Leslie Jordan: My Life Down the Pink Carpet

As the title suggests, Leslie Jordan’s one-man show is largely about being an outwardly gay actor in Hollywood and a barely closeted teenager growing up in Tennessee. The 4-foot-11 Jordan has appeared in dozens of TV shows and commercials since arriving in L.A. in the early 1980s. His most memorable turn, however, may have come as Beverley Leslie in Will & Grace, for which he received an Emmy.

He’s also had recurring roles in Sordid Lives, Boston Legal and Boston Public. As tiny as he is, Jordan makes full use of the Atlanta stage, dancing down a pink carpet, climbing over large boxes and occasionally disappearing among the props. In between witty recollections of growing up gay in the Deep South, Jordan offers hilarious anecdotes about the crazy times he shared with such stars as George Clooney, Boy George and Cloris Leachman.

He also describes how a life of booze, drugs and disco music led to rehab and various 12-step programs. Pink Carpet is a truly delightful evening’s worth of humor … self-deprecating and otherwise. And, one needn’t be gay to enjoy it.


John Rabe

Long before the full extent of Nazi atrocities were revealed by survivors and liberators of World War II death camps, Japanese forces had turned the world’s stomach by engaging in a slaughter even Emperor Hirohito’s crack marketing team couldn’t disguise … not that it didn’t try.

In the absence of international diplomats and media, Japanese troops were ordered to wipe out every living witness to the mass extermination of tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers and sanctioned rape of thousands of women. Even today, Japanese scholars dispute the extent of the tragedy, including the number of people killed, assaulted and forced into prostitution during the Rape of Nanking.

It wasn’t until photos were smuggled out of the demolished city and witnesses came forward that the world was alerted to the massacre. In John Rabe, writer/director Florian Gallenberger describes the heroism of a German factory manager and other foreigners trapped in Nanking during the siege. At first, Rabe refused to believe that Germany would form an alliance with a country capable of such horror, and he even wrote a letter to Hitler alerting him to the extent of the killing.

Although German nationals were able to hide themselves behind the swastika for a time, it eventually became clear the Japanese would rather kill members of the western business community than have them live to tell about it. Rabe was responsible for a creating a safety zone to protect innocent civilians from attack. Its population would grow to 200,000 and be allowed to exist only as long as it refused to harbor or treat Chinese soldiers and no guns were found among the civilians.

These parameters were constantly challenged not only by Japanese officers, but also the handful of westerners who couldn’t resist the temptation to save lives. It was a tense situation for everyone involved and it wasn’t until the gates to the city were re-opened to outsiders that people in the zone could exhale. Upon his return to Germany, Rabe was accused of being unpatriotic and left to the dustbin of European history.

Chinese historians held him in much higher regard, which is how Gallenberger even knew there was a Schindler’s List-like story to be told in China. John Rabe also features terrific performances by Steve Buscemi, Ulrich Tukur (The White Ribbon”), Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds) and Anne Consigny (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).


Hatchet: Unrated Director’s Cut: Blu-ray
Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated

In anticipation of the release next month of Hatchet II, Anchor Bay Entertainment has sent out an “Unrated Director’s Cut” version of the original in sparkling hi-def. Not having seen the original in either format, I couldn’t say with any certainty what distinguishes the new product from its predecessor. I’m guessing it has something to do with severed body parts or still-attached titties.

Otherwise, it remains Adam Green‘s slightly goofy, undeniably gory ode to the great slasher flicks of the 1980s. The setting is New Orleans and the swamps that surround it. Despite a ban on boat traffic in the vicinity of the home of one Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), folks looking for an authentic “haunted swamp” adventure can’t resist the urge to get as close as they can to the scene of a hideous crime. Naturally, they all wind up as alligator food. Still, as these things go, it was pretty entertaining.

The Blu-ray edition adds commentary by Green and some of the actors; featurettes on the making of the film, its villain and his elaborate makeup; a breakdown of one of the film’s most jaw-dropping effects; a gag reel; and a conversation between Green and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider. (Apparently, in the sequel, Marybeth survived her ordeal and is given another chance to assassinate Victor Crowley.)

Growth describes what happens when an experiment involving the commercial and military use of parasites runs amok and how, even 20 years later, it’s still causing considerable turmoil on Kuttyhunk Island. While most of the chronological elements in Gabriel Cowen’s thriller are suspect, the central conceit of having human bodies becoming hosts for out-of-control parasites raised real goosebumps on my arms.

Watching seriously ugly worm-like creatures crawl in and out of various wounds and orifices – or slither visibly under living flesh – left me reaching for the remote control. Fortunately, these parasites aren’t immune to the effects of salt water on their hosts and therefore are stuck on the island … until a sequel is ordered, at least. Otherwise, the story is pretty straight-forward in its destroy-or-be-destroyed, guess-who’s-infected through-lines.

Being it the public domain, almost anyone is free to mess around with George Romero’s original edition of Night of the Living Dead. For the relatively clever Re-Animated, several dozen animators and cartoonists from around the globe were invited to participate in a remake consisting entirely of drawn interpretations of the narrative. The large number of contributors ensured that a new graphic style would be introduced every 30 seconds or so. Some are clever, others uninspired. If you can’t get enough of NOTLD, you’ll want to sample Re-Animated.

Czech director Juraj Herz has been making movies for more than 40 years, which, if nothing else, suggests that he knows how to create a decent thriller. Darkness/T.M.A is essentially a ghost story that harkens back to the dark days of the Nazi occupation, when people disappeared and evil plots were hatched.

Ivan Franek plays Marek, a musician in a Prague shock-rock band who decides he needs some R&R in the country to pursue his dream of becoming a painter. After re-settling in his childhood home, Marek learns of the village’s sinister past and legends involving his long-dead parents and institutionalized sister. The location helps make Darkness a decent way to kill some time and brain cells. Curiously, someone even managed to talk Maxmilian Schell into making a cameo.

Andrew Allen’s Brainjacked is a mind-control thriller that could very well have been inspired by testimonials about life as a Scientology robot. In it, troubled teenagers are given shelter at a facility run by a mad scientist who drills holes in their heads and implants chips in their brain. He does this presumably to give these aimless youths relief from their emotional trauma and severe headaches. Once they accept the notion that they’re being helped, the scientist and his goons can push them in any direction they like, including doing sexual favors for local politicians who could help with zoning laws and other such mundane things.

When a pair of young recruits attempt to escape and reveal the truth about the experiments, they’re confronted with a citizenry that not only ignores their pleas but also is comprised of chip-bearing airheads. “Brainjacked” looks as if it was made on the cheap, but it occasionally manages to rise above the clichés of the mind-control sub-genre.


Wonders of the Solar System: Blu-ray
Chuck: The Complete Third Season
Supernatural: The Complete Fifth Season
Smallville: The Complete Ninth Season

The BBC and Science Channel’s five-part mini-series, Wonders of the Solar System, parleys several decades worth of knowledge accumulated from various probes, rovers, high-powered telescopes and manned flights to gain an understanding of makes our solar system tick … or rotate around the sun. It also explains how Earth fits among its fellow planets and how the celestial community came to be.

The presentation gains from the Blu-ray format, if not nearly as much as other such series. The two-disc set adds the episode-length docs, What on Earth Is Wrong With Gravity and Do You Know What Time It Is?, about the intricacies of time.

Chuck, the NBC action-comedy series about an extremely unlikely secret agent, begins its fourth season in a couple of weeks, so there’s still plenty of time to get up to speed on the intricacies of the show. Zachary Levi stars as Chuck Bartowski, an electronics-store computer geek who becomes a government asset by inadvertently downloading top-secret data into his brain. In Season 3, Chuck was allowed to learn the fighting skills necessary to become useful as a field agent, as well. The package adds the featurettes, Chuck-Fu and Dim Sum: Becoming a Spy Guy and The Jeffster Revolution: The Definitive Mockumentary” “declassified scenes”; and a gag reel.

The CW network’s fantasy/horror series, Supernatural, continues to follow Sam and Dean Winchester, and the angel Castiel, on their mission to eliminate the devil. In Season 5, Lucifer is loose in the land and the Apocalypse looms on the horizon. The new season launches at the end of September. The DVD set adds Supernatural: Apocalypse Survival Guides: Bobby’s Exclusive Video Collection, Ghostfacers: The Web Series, commentary on episode 4, “The End,” an unaired scene from episode 9, “The Real Ghostbusters,” and a gag reel.

Like the Mississippi River, the CW’s Smallville just keeps rolling along. Heading into its 10th season, Clark Kent has finally embraced his true calling as a superhero and is ready to get on with his father’s business. The set’s extras adds the featurettes, Kneel Before Zod and Justice for All; commentaries on episodes “Idol” and “Kandor”; and unaired scenes.

Wilmington on DVD: Red Riding Trilogy, Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, Errol Flynn Adventures … and more

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010


The Red Riding Trilogy (Four Stars)

U.K.; Julian Jarrold/James Marsh/Anand Tucker, 2009 (IFC Films)

Easily one of the most ambitious and best films of 2009 is writer Tony Grisoni‘s three part adaptation of David Peace’s Red Riding novels.

This is noir times three, with the three films spanning a decade from 1974 to 1983, following a series of hideous Yorkshire murders and crimes of corruption. The trilogy begins in chaos with a series of sex murders and a young reporter’s (Andrew Garfield) doomed investigation (Red Riding 1974, directed by Julian Jarrold). (Four Stars)

It continues with Red Riding 1980 (James Marsh) (Four Stars), as the corruption deepens, a good cop (Paddy Considine) searches for truth, and the police seem even more involved. And it ends with Red Riding 1983 (Anand Tucker) where all mysteries seem solved, a strange Bunuelian cleric (Peter Mullan) comes forth and a bit of uplift finally pierces the Yorkshire brutalism and gloom.

Tony Grisoni (the writer of Terry Gilliam’s sadly underrated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) adapted all of these, and though the directorial style changes, the voice (Grisoni’s and Peace’s) remains strong. This is a great film, an epic of evil and madness, and a supreme example of the high cinematic and dramatic literacy of the best British TV. For buffs, it’s an absolute must-have set.

Extras: Julian Jarrold Interview; “Making of” documentaries on Red Riding 1980 and Red Riding 1983; deleted scenes; TV spots; booklet with a David Thomson essay, arguing that Red Riding is “better than The Godfather” (I don’t think so) and a dialogue with novelist Peace, scenarist Grisoni, directors Jarrold, Marsh and Tucker and producer Andrew Eaton.


Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King (Three and a Half Stars)

Germany: Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, 1972 (Facets)

Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, a real one-of-a-kind cineaste, released this thoroughly bizarre, insanely stylish bio-epic about mad King Ludwig of Bavaria and his life of voluptuous abandon and super-aesthetic excess, the same year that Luchino Visconti brought out his own Ludwig, with Helmut Berger prancing and frowning as the mad king, and Trevor Howard as a dour, intense composer Richard Wagner.

This one, much less expensive, fared better with critics, and was even a winner of the Oscar for best costume design and the German Film Award for best film and best screenplay (Syberberg). But both the Syberberg and the Visconti, are powerful, crazy, unique works — different from all other historical movies and from each other as well.

They share a common theme: Love, sex and art vs. politics and war, and they’re both about madmen trying to create their own worlds and destroying themselves in the process. They also both have a lot of Wagner on the soundtrack, which is all to the good. The visual style of Syberberg’s Ludwig is quite unique, peculiar and often jaw-dropping: each scene played out in mostly static but gorgeous tableaux against brilliantly colored, lush backdrops fashioned from projected photos of period 19th century style paintings, color photographs or paintings of Ludwig’s famous palaces.

Harry Baer, of the R. W. Fassbinder troupe, plays Ludwig, and there are a lot of other Fassbinder people too — including cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann, who later shot Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Peter Kern in multiple roles, acting like a man who badly wants to audition for the parts of both writer Franz Liebkind and director Roger Debris in Mel BrooksThe Producers. (Roger was the musical comedy Broadway auteur who said of Liebkind’s adoring Springtime for Hitler script, “That whole third act has got to go. They’re losing the war! It’s depressing!” )

Syberberg went on to make two other bizarre films about German history and culture with the same operatic bravura and the same stunning photo-tableaux visual style. Karl May was about the weird bestselling German author of American western novels like Old Shatterhand, and the famed Our Hitler, was about the mad killer/tyrant Adolf, who unfortunately tried to create his new world by destroying the old real one — a film which ravished critic Susan Sontag and became a special project of Francis Coppola. All three are available from Facets in Syberberg-approved editions and are all highly recommended.

I’ve always thought though, there should have been a third Ludwig: “Ludwig in Love,” written and directed by Brooks, with Gene Wilder as Ludwig (his turn to do “It’s good to be the king!”) , Brooks himself as Wagner, Dom De Luise and Harvey Korman as sneaky courtier/advisors, Anne Bancroft as Lola Montes, and Sid Caesar as Hitler.

They could have re-used Syberberg’s backdrop photos, and sets and costumes, and maybe Visconti’s too. Imagine Wilder and Brooks, singing “Tannhauser” together like Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in “What’s Opera Doc?!” Tell me that wouldn’t be genius! Anyway, it could get more laughs than Spaceballs. (In German with English subtitles.)


Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (Blu-ray) (Three Stars)

U.S.; Albert Lewin, 1951 (Kino)

Director-writer Albert Lewin (The Picture of Dorian Gray) was a supreme cinema aesthete, a highly self-conscious and art-loving artist who loved to plunge us into the feverish imaginary worlds of painting, literature, music and sexual passion. And Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is, as Martin Scorsese blurbs on the cover, “a strange and wonderful dream.”

Ava Gardner is Pandora Reynolds, a femme fatale on the Spanish coast, who conquers everybody prominent of the male persuasion: stalwart racing driver Nigel Patrick, learned and gentle archeologist/narrator Harold Warrender, and murderous toreador Juan Montalvo (Mario Cabre), Within ten minutes of the start of the movie, rich wastrel Marius Goring of the Powell-Pressburger stock company, has poisoned himself for love of her, and soon the others are killing rivals, bulls and dogs, and throwing cars off cliffs, all to win her prickly heart.

But Pandora can love only one man and he, for God’s sake, is the Flying Dutchman, that Fluegende Hollander beloved of Ludwig’s pet composer, Richard Wagner — Hendrick van der Zee, that captain of stormy mischance and evil destiny, who is doomed to wander forever between the sea-storms, after killing Ava’s look-alike, his faithful wife whom he wrongly thought faithless. (Ah, Desdemon’!). Then, worse, he spoke ill of God before the court, unfortunately during the heyday of the Production Code.

Foolish, foolish man, to tempt the wrath of Breen! Now he must find a woman willing to die for love of him, or, failing that, sail forever, probably breaking the Guinness all-time record for a continuous voyage. But at what cost!

Is all this plausible? Well, take a look at Ava — Lewin thoughtfully includes two (suggested) nude scenes — and ask yourself how much bull you’d sling to win her. Or Mason? It matters not. Dutch (Mason) drops anchor in this Spanish pleasure spot, where we can watch the fateful beach straight down from a Vertigo-like bell tower, and we first see the unhappy wanderer painting Pandora against a di Chirico townscape, before even seeing her. Soon the star-crossed, storm-tossed lovers are quoting Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat to each other and getting ready for the grand desire and the moving finger and final voyage to beat them all. (Gardner, by the way, swipes Patrick from actress Sheila Sim, but Sim had the last laugh. She married Richard Attenborough.)

The first ten minutes or so of Pandora and the Flying Dutchman are pretty lugubrious, a lush but torpid pageant of the all-too-idle rich enlivened only by Goring’s suicide. (Now we know why Lewin needed a smart alec cad like George Sanders around.) But then van der Zee shows up on his crewless ship and kicks the whole movie into high gear. Few actors can do a grand passion and endless torment like Mason can, and, despite his awful destiny, still stay urbane and virile enough for any posh moonlit party or swanky tête-à-tête the director can throw at him.

Granted, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is sort of a nutty movie. But it’s also — as conceived by Lewin, designed by John Bryan and photographed by the great Jack Cardiff (the King of Technicolor) — an uncommonly beautiful one. Cardiff shot this iridescent gem shortly after he made the color masterpieces Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, and shortly before doing another color classic, The African Queen. And this is the 2009 restoration that played at the 2009 Los Angeles TCM Classic Film Festival, where I saw it fantastically in 35 mm. (Despite complaints on IMDB, It looked great both times.) Strange and wonderful indeed! As Marius Goring said in Stairway to Heaven (Powell-Pressburger’s, not Led Zeppelin’s), “one simply cannot live without Technicolor!”

Extras: Documentary El Torero de Cordoba on Manolete; Featurettes; Alternate titles; Photo Gallery.


Errol Flynn Adventures (Five Discs) (Three and a Half Stars)

U. S.; Raoul Walsh, Lewis Milestone, 1942-45 (TCM/Warner)

Errol Flynn was a genuine Hollywood Golden Age superstar, a natural actor and athlete who lit up the screen in roles like Robin Hood, Captain Blood, and Gentleman Jim Corbett. He was also a bastard, a selfish jerk, a sex-hound and an amoral destructive drunk.

Don‘t take my word for it. Here‘s the word of one of Flynn’s best Hollywood friends, David Niven, who costarred with his buddy in the 1936 Michael Curtiz Charge of the Light Brigade and in the 1938 Edmund Goulding remake of The Dawn Patrol and hung around a lot with him. “The great thing about Errol,” Niven wrote in one of his witty memoirs, “was that you always knew where you stood with him. He always let you down.”

To illustrate, Niven tells the story of an idyllic Hollywood weekend he once spent with Errol and one of Flynn’s innumerable lady friends off Catalina in Flynn‘s motorboat — one of the many, many female conquests who helped create the almost universally understood American catch-phrase “In like Flynn.” (It means just what you think it does.) It was a hot, sunny day and Niven dived in for a swim, as Errol worked his legendary charm on board.

Suddenly Niven heard a motor noise, looked up and was startled to see the boat taking off and sweeping away from him out to sea, as his Australian-born chum smiled and waved him goodbye, apparently convinced that the moment was nigh and that he could score better alone. Niven was miles from shore, with few or no other boats near, but he knew Errol well, knew he wouldn’t see him again for hours, if at all that day. Resigned to his disposable sidekick fate, Niven started swimming toward shore.

An athletic chap, Niven nevertheless grew tired as he swam. It was such a long way to shore. His “friend” hadn’t even had the courtesy to pick him up and drop him off on the beach before sailing off toward another orgasm. Niven’s muscles began to ache. Worried about something, he turned to look behind him. His fears were realized. Almost four decades before Jaws, it was nevertheless Steven Spielberg time off Catalina. Two or more shark fins had taken a bead on Errol Flynn’s best pal. He screamed for help.

This story could then have taken a tragic turn, and Niven might well never have made Around the World in 80 Days or The Pink Panther or won an Oscar for Separate Tables. But then we probably never would have known what really happened, at least as Niven wryly recalls it. (Think of a distraught Errol talking to their other friends: “I told him not to go swimming alone, but you know David. He was such an insistent cuss. Then we just lost sight of him…”)

Instead, the tale becomes a truly great Hollywood story. A yacht was now visible, within rescue distance, and it belonged to Niven’s fellow countryman, the urbane and quite helpful Ronald Colman. Bulldog Drummond saves Phileas Fogg. No Niven snack for the sharks that day. As for Errol, he never told the story himself, but the odds suggest that someplace, somewhere, he was in like Flynn.

What kind of man essentially feeds his best friend to the sharks, so that he can get laid?

Errol Flynn, according to Katz, was born in Tasmania, son of a famous marine biologist, the descendant of real-life Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian (Flynn played him in the low-budget In the Wake of the Bounty). expelled from more schools than Charles Foster Kane, the writer of three somewhat well-regarded books, a good actor with a gift for on-screen heroism and good relations (for a while) with Warners action maestros Michael Curtiz and Raoul Walsh, a famously faithless husband (to Lili Damita, Patrice Wymore) who was arrested in 1942 for statutory rape (and acquitted), a hedonist who drank like his great sodden pal and mentor John Barrymore (and played him in Too Much, Too Soon), and who finally got into heroin and wasted away after making a last rotten film called Cuban Rebel Girls and after the appearance of his ghost-written scandal-laden autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways.

Writer Charles Higham wrote another book recounting wickeder ways, claiming Flynn had sexual affairs with Tyrone Power (whose heart he broke) and Howard Hughes, and that, during the war, he was a Nazi spy. I can believe the former, but not the latter. But still, how many Hollywood stars could you even plausibly suspect of being a Nazi?

As David Niven said, “He always let you down.”

In life maybe. But not in his movies, even in the ‘50s, in late pictures like The Sun Also Rises (where author Hemingway, incredulous, said Flynn stole the show) and John Huston‘s The Roots of Heaven, and especially in his early swashbuckling era in the ‘30s, or in the WW2 adventure days chronicled in this exciting TCM set. Like everybody else, despite myself, I like Errol Flynn because I like his movies. I always get a big thrill when Flynn comes on screen as Robin Hood and in those other Captain Blood-Sea Hawk roles. Jerk or not, he was probably the best Robin of them all: an impudent rascal of a hero, or an insolent hero of a rascal. Take your pick.

What a bastard. What an idol. That’s Hollywood for you.

Includes: Desperate Journey (U.S.; Raoul Walsh, 1942) Three Stars. Lots of fun. Yank bomber pilots and crew, including Flynn, Arthur Kennedy, Alan Hale and the irrepressible Ronald Reagan, race across Germany, pursued by dour Nazi officer Raymond Massey. Definitely tongue in cheek and highly entertaining. When Jack Warner heard years later that Reagan was running for Governor of California, he’s said to have said, “No, No. Errol Flynn for Governor; Ronald Reagan for best friend.” (Or was it Jimmy Stewart for Gov?)

Edge of Darkness (U.S.; Lewis Milestone, 1943) Three Stars. This one has been sort of misunderstood, I feel, as a standard good WW2 movie, typical WW2 leftist Hollywood political stuff, scripted by Robert Rossen and directed by Milestone, disguised as melodrama about a Norwegian fishing village standing up to the Nazis occupiers with British guns. Actually, it’s almost a crazy comedy of sorts, and it’s the pro-war reversal of Milestone’s great WWI anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front.

Flynn and Ann Sheridan are the head partisans, standing up to sadist Nazi Helmut Dantine, and inspiring classy villagers Walter Huston, Ruth Gordon and Judith Anderson to revolt. The movie begins with the village covered with corpses and Charles Dingle, the rapacious brother of The Little Foxes, as the village‘s seeming lone capitalist, raving and ranting to the Nazi investigators.

Soon we see a thrill-packed flashback tale of the masses arming themselves and Nazi oppressors running amok, tossing around the elderly schoolteacher like a beanbag, mocking the Polish prostitute, closing the fishery, raping Ann Sheridan and dying like dogs. (So vile and crazy are these Nazis, they seem capable of raping the dogs and fish as well.) The high point, worthy of Stallone, occurs when the village minister, heretofore the movie‘s most outspoken pacifist, prays at the church, says “Thy will be done” at the altar, marches up to the bell tower and mows down a row of Nazis with a handy machine gun. Milestone and Rossen are excellent moviemakers, which is what keeps you watching, dumbstruck. After making Edge of Darkness, Rossen took a two year sabbatical and then left the Communist Party. Who can blame him?

Northern Pursuit (U.S.); Raoul Walsh, 1943) Two and a Half Stars. The least of these movies. Errol is a Canadian mountie who tries to fool Helmut Dantine, as another even meaner Nazi, into thinking he has German sympathies and will help with Dantine‘s mysterious dogsled expedition. The setup for this goes on forever and the payoff is strictly hack stuff. The last shot at the wedding of Flynn and Jean Sullivan, remarkably, is an obvious “In like Flynn” joke.

Uncertain Glory (U.S.; Raoul Walsh, 1944) Three Stars. This has a bad rep, but I like it. Flynn plays a rare outlaw villain role, a murderer who escapes the guillotine in a bombing raid, is pursued and caught again by Inspector Paul Lukas (fresh from his Watch on the Rhine Oscar) and then has a chance to redeem himself by selling Lukas on Flynn giving himself up and claiming credit for a partisan bridge blowup, thereby saving 100 hostages. Schmaltzy but affecting and one of Flynn‘s best performances.

Objective, Burma! (U.S.; Raoul Walsh, 1945) Four Stars. The one true classic and by far the top movie in this set. Walsh at his absolute action movie best; Flynn at his near best, as the gutsy leader of a group of American paratroopers trapped in Burma and trying to get out. The writers include Ranald MacDougall and two eventual members of the Hollywood Ten, Lester Cole and Alvah Bessie. But there’s no propaganda or political slant, as there is in Edge of Darkness. This is just a terrific war movie about a group going though Hell or danger, as in Air Force, They Were Expendable, The Story of G. I. Joe and A Walk in the Sun.

Henry Hull is the old guy reporter and Warner standby George Tobias is around, along with William Price, Warner Anderson, John Ridgely and Dick Erdman. Very heavy anti-Japanese dialogue, but that seems par for the course for 1945 movie soldiers in a war movie.

Extras: Five Warners Night at the Movies packages, with contemporary trailers, newsreels, music shorts (some directed by Jean Negulesco), drama or comedy shorts (some by Negulesco or Ray Enright), and Looney Tunes (some by Bob Clampett or Frank Tashlin).


Harry Brown (Two and a Half Stars)

U.K.; Daniel Barber, 2009

Harry Brown gives Michael Caine an old lion star role that’s reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s old-tough-guy Walt in Gran Torino. And Caine does a great job with it, playing — with unflappable cool, commanding presence, a touch of sadness and carefully tamped-in rage — an elderly but still dangerous ex-military guy who becomes a free-lance vigilante when confronted with the savage gang violence in his deteriorating London neighborhood.

This is Caine in his element. The star of many top British and American noirs, from The Ipcress File to Get Carter, The Italian Job, Mona Lisa, Blood and Wine, and two Sleuths, he’s unerringly on-the-money, all the way to his last dark shot — though the movie, I think, starts going over the top midway through, and never quite recovers.

A shame, because up to the moment when, for me Harry Brown lost its footing — in the overwrought and over-designed evil-smack-dealer scene that damages the movie’s up-to-then canny mix of realism and heroic fantasy — I was having a fine time. Harry Brown has the mark of Caine, and Caine still has the Maltese Falcon-ish stuff that dreams are made of.

When I first saw him as Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File in 1965, I thought he was too insolent — and of course, I was reacting to the character and his Cockney jabs, rather than the actor. (Alfie wised me up and turned me around.) Bogart was insolent too, and Bogart, with his cynical-idealistic world-weary stare, knowing violence and punchy cracks, is the actor whom Caine often most suggests, despite the British actor’s blue-eyed, curly-haired, semi-pretty boy looks.

His Harry Brown is an unabashed revenge fantasy, and mostly a good one. Caine‘s Harry is triggered into deadly action when his old chess buddy Leonard (David Bradley) is killed by the local youth gangs, and he begins mopping them bloodily up, while a local cop, Alice Frampton (John Mortimer’s daughter Emily), increasingly suspects him, and the whole seedy area begins to explode. Not too original. But it’s done with style and the right chilly mood by commercial specialist and first time director Daniel Barber. And it has despicable villains, and a top-notch dark-side-of-the-street hero in Caine‘s Harry.

Actually, as I get older myself, I find I like revenge fantasies, especially when they have unlikely or seemingly vulnerable heroes or heroines like Harry, Walt or Hit Girl and Kick-Ass (directed by Harry Brown producer Matthew Vaughn). Caine’s Harry, like Clint’s, can go here outside the law, to our temporary delight. But the last half of Harry Brown takes too sharp a turn — for me at least — toward the over-familiar and over-scaled, toward the nutso cliché-clogged flights of those super-slick higher-budgeted revenge thrillers that aren’t lucky enough to have a Harry like Caine’s == doing his stuff in a setting that, at least at first, suggests the horror of the everyday.

Marmaduke (One and a Half Stars)

U. S.; Tom Dey (2010)

The long-lived comic strip about a big, sloppy Great Dane, which started way back in the ’50s, finally comes to the screen, with Owen Wilson doing the voice of Marmaduke, and George Lopez playing his friend Carlos the Cat.

How have we survived without these strange pets all these years? There are also not one, but two love interests for the Marmster: Jezebel the ravishing Collie (Fergie) and Mazie the big-hearted mutt (Emma Stone). Kiefer Sutherland is up to no good once again, as Bosco the villain, Sam Elliott gruff-voices the wild dog Chupadogra, Lee Pace runs around madly as Marmaduke‘s frazzled owner Phil, and there are lots of certifiably cute kids. William H. Macy sullies the memory of Fargo by appearing as a tyrannical veggie/pet food tycoon. (I kept hoping Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare would drop by to put him out of his misery.)

There is a surfing contest with the dogs, and a wild house-party with the dogs, and a cliff-hanging sewer blowup with the dogs, and a dancing jamboree with all the dogs whirling and twirling and shaking their booties. (Since Marmaduke has a propensity throughout to emit huge Great Dane farts at embarrassing moments, this qualifies the dance as a potential horror scene).

Worse, all of the animals (including Steve Coogan, for pity’s sake, as Raisin) continually deliver English dialogue which the humans can’t comprehend, while lip-synching words they can‘t hear. I don’t know about you, but if any of my dogs or dog-friends ever started lip-synching idiotic dialogue in my face (while barking, I suppose), or cutting the cheese while dancing, surfing or throwing wild parties, I would have immediately called the Humane Society.

Owen Wilson hit the doggie jackpot in the touching Marley and Me, where he played the loving, beleaguered owner. Here he tries a virtuoso switch, raising the possibility of a potential Owen Wilson Purina Chow-Chow Film Festival, or perhaps some new movie where Wilson plays both canine and owner, and where they switch personalities, opening the gates for some truly horrendous fart jokes.

Now, I could have ended all this woof-woof folderol by writing the obvious: that the movie is a dog, or that movies are going to the dogs, or that I had a dog of a time watching it, or “Who let the dogs out?“ Or I could have asked: Where is Rin Tin Tin when we really need him? Or even Deputy Dawg. But you’ll have to find those dog-jollies in other reviews. (Believe me, you will.) I have too much respect for the wit and intelligence of the canines I’ve known and sometimes loved, than to use them in a doggie put-down of a turkey like “Marmaduke.” Besides I suspect that any of my old canine friends would have abandoned this arf-barf of a movie after a minute or two, and looked around for a good fire hydrant instead.

9th Company (Also Blu-ray) (Two Discs) (Three Stars)

Russia; Fyodor Bondarchuk, 2005 (Well 60 USA Entertainment)

Unlike many critics I know, I happen to think Sergei Bondarchuk‘s original nine-hour War and Peace is a great movie — not in the way original author Leo Tolstoy is great of course, nowhere near as profound, as spaciously adventurous and brilliantly observant, as historically, emotionally and humanly vast and overwhelming. Director-writer-actor Bondarchuk simply made one of the all time classic period war movies, besides writing the script and playing Pierre, and he gets precious little credit for his feat.

Can he help it if he worked under a Communist tyranny and they handed him 100 million dollars to adapt the greatest novel ever written and he wasn’t martyred like Eisenstein? Bondarchuk’s incredible staging and filming of the Battle of Borodino is — with all apologies to my idol Akira Kurosawa — the most amazing battle scene I’ve ever seen. Seven Samurai is the greater movie. Borodino is the greater battle.

Now comes Bondarchuk’s son Fyodor, also a writer-director-actor of multiple gifts, and he makes a film on the waning days of the Afghanistan-Russian War, based (distantly) on fact: a harsh, brutal essentially anti-war, pro-soldier war movie in the vein of Platoon and Full Metal Jacket and it becomes the all-time biggest-grossing Russian film since Communism fell.

Bondarchuk, who, as the hard-drinking Kholkov, suggests a mix of Bruce Willis and Lee Marvin, is a good actor, good writer, good director, good at everything. After watching one crummy, overwrought, semi-coherent American action or war movie after another recently, it was a pleasure to see something this gripping, this honestly exciting, overplayed a bit but powerfully so. And — remembering that Sergei Bondarchuk scored around the world with War and Peace and failed with the Hollywood Waterloo, and directed precious little the rest of his career — it was a pleasure too to see that his son was inspired to dedicate his very successful film “to my father.”

He’s a worthy son, I think, just as his father was a fine, under-appreciated filmmaker. I will admit that this movie’s muhajadin, marching up the mountain toward the beleaguered 9th company, did look and act a bit like George Romero‘s Living Dead, But the movie — despite some severe historical criticism by detractors — is furiously alive in the way movies by Peckinpah or Aldrich were alive. And movies by Sergei Bondarchuk too, of course. (In Russian, with English subtitles.)

The Evil Dead Limited Edition (Three Stars)

U.S.; Sam Raimi, 1983 (Anchor Bay/Starz)

The Evil Dead, shot by Michigan State guy Raimi and other students, became the scariest movie of 1983, by following the low-budget, high-dread course laid down by George Romero in Night of the Living Dead and followed or elaborated by many others, including David Cronenberg in Shivers, and Peter Jackson in Dead Alive. Some kids are trapped in close quarters. Some unstoppable undead zombies want to kill them. They keep coming and coming. Yaaaagh!

Here, a too-confident quintet face a series of shocks, beginning with the nastiest plant attack ever. Warning: This one is really bloody, really gruesome and doesn’t let up on tension or horror for a second. Extras: Commentaries by Raimi and others, documentaries and featurettes, reunion panel, trailer.

Rocky Road to Dublin (Three Stars)

Ireland; Peter Lennon, 1967 (Icarus)

An excellent documentary about the political contradictions and social dilemmas of 1967 Ireland, written, directed and narrated by Irish journalist Peter Lennon, and beautifully photographed in breezy black and white by the great French cinematographer Raoul Coutard — who took this assignment in between his then-latest gigs for Francois Truffaut (The Bride Wore Black) and Jean-Luc Godard (Weekend).
Among Coutard and Lennon’s coups: a tough boycotted curling match, and an exuberant shot of grinning schoolkids in the street, running after the camera.

The movie, despite threats of censorship, ran seven weeks in Dublin and then disappeared for over forty years, its memory kept alive by prestigious showings elsewhere in Europe, and by its fame as the last film screened at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, before Godard, Truffaut and other directors shut it down in sympathy with the rioting May Paris students and workers. John Huston is one of the interviewees and the music is by the Irish group, the Dubliners, and others. A fine film; it’s good to have it back.

Extras: Paul Duane‘s 2004 documentary The Making of ‘Rocky Road to Dublin’ (Three Stars).


Poirot: The Movie Collection, Set 5 (Three Discs) (Three Stars)

U.K.; Various Directors, 2008-2010 (Acorn Media)

Agatha Christie’s Belgian super sleuth Hercule Poirot, the unflappable detective with the impeccable suits and egg-shaped head, who relentlessly gathers the clues and juggles his “little grey cells” and in pursuit of murderers from country British manors to exotic climes, found his ideal film proponent, many Christie addicts feel, when the BBC started dramatizing Christie’s novels and stories with the classically-trained stage, film and TV actor David Suchet starring as Poirot.

No murder plot is too ingenious, no trail of evidence is too deceptive, no suspect too (or least) likely, for Suchet‘s Poirot who, better than even Peter Ustinov or Albert Finney, conveys Poirot’s deductive genius as well as his fastidious manners and lovable or maddening eccentricities, while also often gives the infallible crime-unraveler an emotional and psychological depth that other Poirots tend to lack. Since the BBC adaptations of Christie are generally (though not always) the most faithful to Christie’s original plots and characters, they are highly prized by dedicated Agatha-ites and Christie-philes who have no use for the dramatic-comedic blasphemies of Tony Randall’s slapstick Poirot (in Frank Tashlin’s The A. B. C. Murders) or Margaret Rutherford’s dithering Miss Marple (in the travesty ‘60s series).

These are the Christie film murder mysteries that go to the source, and Suchet is the man to guide us there and back again. Here are the three latest BBC Poirots, somewhat revised but not disastrously so, including a splendidly mounted new version of one of her all-time masterpieces, Murder on the Orient Express (a.k.a. Murder in the Calais Coach). May your little gray cells always be in high form, but never as high, of course, as Hercule Poirot’s or David Suchet’s.

Included: Murder on the Orient Express (U. K.; Philip Martin, 2010). Three and a Half Stars. Like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None, The A.B.C. Murders or Crooked House, Orient Express has one of Christie’s most ingenious plots and most radical departures from the detective story norm, and this version by director Philip Martin and scenarist Stewart Harcourt, is beautifully produced, sumptuously shot and brilliantly cast.

Toby Jones makes a particularly odious murder victim and Barbara Hershey, Eileen Atkins and Hugh Bonneville are among the deluxe trainful of suspects and detectives, stranded in the snow on the legendary luxury train.

Even if you’re an admirer of Sidney Lumet’s 1974 all-star movie of Orient Express, with Finney as Poirot, Richard Widmark as the villainous corpse, and Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Jackie Bisset, Anthony Perkins and Lauren Bacall among the Twelve Angry Suspects, you should enjoy this version. The extras include a delicious little travelogue where Suchet takes us aboard the actual Orient Express.

Third Girl (U.K.; Dan Reed, 2008). Two and a Half Stars. One of the late Christies, adapted by Peter Flannery, with Poirot aiding a beleaguered young heiress (Jemima Rooper), in what would have been, in the novel‘s time, the Swingin’ Sixties. With Zoe Wanamaker as Poirot’s inquisitive Christie-ish detective story writer friend, Ariadne Oliver, along with James (“Maurice”) Wilby and Peter Bowles. Not bad, but not too good.

Appointment with Danger (U.K.; Ashley Pearce, 2008) Three Stars. Set and shot in the Syrian desert and considerably revised, to the point of adding an important new character, Tim Curry as Lord Boynton, who is husband of the lady nobody likes, the first murder victim. Aficionados sometimes object, but this adaptation is notable for its ravishing location shooting, star cast (including Elizabeth McGovern and John Hannah, and for its canny exploitation of the profession and milieu of Christie’s archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan.

The “appointment” of the title is in Samarra, as in the memorable fable (Death Speaks) recorded by Somerset Maugham and later used by John O’Hara (in Appointment in Samarra), Peter Bogdanovich and Boris Karloff (in Targets) and here, by Suchet. I prefer the version in Karloff’s spooky recitation. Adapted by Guy Andrews.

Extras: Documentary David Suchet on the Orient Express (Three Stars); Christie history; Poirot book list; cast filmographies.

Wilmington on Movies: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Please Give and Harry Brown…

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (One and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Samuel Bayer, 2010

Twenty-six years ago, I walked into the only theater that ever stood on the very same block where I lived — the Vogue in Los Angeles on Hollywood Boulevard between La Brea and Cherokee — and got the living, screaming (more…)

24 Weeks To Go Toronto Scores A Single, But Not Much More

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

That sound you heard coming out of the Toronto International Film Festival this year…

Near silence.

The films that came in hot (An Education & Precious) stayed hot, the new film expected to come out hot (Up In The Air & A Serious Man) came out hot, and a total of one title that went in unsure came out with some heat, A Single Man.

Just not that exciting, awardswise.

There were other good movies. But there was not much of a fuse lit. Studios started pushing away from the Gala events at Roy Thompson Hall, often preferring the less tony environs of the Elgin, the newly reopened for movies Winter Garden, and often the college theater energy of Ryerson Hall.

The Road wasn’t killed… but it didn’t come flying out of the week either. Capitalism: A Love Story wasn’t a car wreck… but it was a lot more Sicko than Fahrenheit 9/11.

At $1 million, A Single Man was the biggest sale of the festival… which tells you right away that there were no rush-it-out sure bets like The Wrestler or The Hurt Locker in play at the festival this year.

Creation, Agora, Chloe, Mother & Child, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Micmacs, Love & Other Impossible Pursuits, The Young Victoria, Triage, Harry Brown, The Joneses, The Vintner’s Luck, The Boys Are Back, Leaves of Grass, Life During Wartime, Ondine, and London River are part of the long list of high profile titles looking to break out at TIFF and just not doing so. Cannes hits Broken Embraces, Bright Star, A Prophet, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus did fine… but didn’t have a next step, propelled by Oprah or anyone else.

The non-Best Picture arthouse breakout may turn out to be the Chinese-made City of Life & Death while the most commercial films might be Whip It (large size) and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (small size).

But still… the only potentially significant awards story to emerge from TIFF 2009 was A Single Man.

And the only really bad news for a film that was looking for a push out of TIFF was Bright Star, which opened on 19 screens for a 3-day $9,984 per-screen average and expanded to 130 screens and a $5,168 per-screen. The film is running slightly ahead of Cheri, as an example, on weekend per-screen, though after 10 days, Cheri is running slightly ahead of Bright Star because of weekday numbers. I still expect Bright Star to outperform Cheri, but $5 million seems like the high bar domestically. That is unlikely to be enough to make the Best Picture leap, especially in a season with an unusual number of strong female-driven films (Nine, Precious, An Education, Coco Before Chanel, Julie and Julia, Amelia, It’s Complicated and more).

Outside of Toronto, there have also been casualties of timing. Films from Martin Scorsese, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Lasse Hallstrom, Neil Jordan, and Paul Greengrass all are out of the game because they won’t be released this year.

What is clear is that there is plenty of room to fight for a slot at this point. Of my Top 12 – which is really my entire top group at this point – only three of the films are unseen as of this writing (Nine, Invictus, and Avatar). In addition, there are a couple of completely blind items, like Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol and Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. Traditionally, films like Sherlock Holmes, The Blind Side, and It’s Complicated are commercial films and not Oscar films… but there is always room for a pop.

What finally smashed me in the face up in Toronto was that with 10 Best Picture nominees and only five in each of the acting slots, it could get pretty weird. Nine and Precious are actress fests. Invictus, A Serious Man, A Single Man, and The Hurt Locker are actor parties. But at the same time, you have to assume an Oscar nomination for Daniel Day Lewis in Nine and for Julianne Moore in A Single Man. How many of the 8 star actresses can be nominated for Nine?

If it’s Day-Lewis, Clooney, Firth, Renner, and Damon… what happens to Mortensen, Wahlberg, Sarsgaard, Stuhlbarg, and Maguire?

If it’s Streep, Mulligan, Cotillard, Weisz, and Sidibe… what happens to Tautou, Cruz, Cornish, Swank, and Theron?

Supporting Actor is looking like the softest category with potential in Gyllenhaal, Tucci, Molina, Duvall, and Kind.

Best Supporting Actress is a MONSTER… Just Nine has Dench, Loren, Hudson, Cruz, and Kidman. Add Ronan, Farmiga, Kendrick. Moore, Adams, Portman… and God knows who else?

So here we are… about two months from things really locking in… and while The Ten doesn’t seem to be in for a whole lot of changes, there are some big fights brewing in the other categories. With 10 nominees, all of these films are more likely to be seen by Academy voters.. making it all the more interesting.

– David Poland
September 30, 2009

Pictures of Harry Brown

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

Harry Brown lives alone, shut away in one of Britain’s bleak public-housing apartment blocks. As his wife lives out her last days in the hospital, Harry restricts his activities to games of chess in the pub with Leonard, his last best friend. All around them swarms chaos. Their housing estate has been taken over by warring gangs that deal drugs and settle scores with impunity. The police  are reduced to simply informing the victims’ families when the latest shooting or knifing occurs – visits that Hicock calls death-o-grams.  When Harry suffers a horrible loss to the gangs, he quietly decides to act. It’s here that one fact becomes important: Harry Brown served in the Royal Marines, where he spent years battling the IRA in Ulster.