Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 10/29/13

This week, one of last summer’s biggest hits shares its home video release date with one of the summer’s biggest bombs: Dan Scanlon’s Pixar prequel MONSTER’S UNIVERSITY, which grossed over $700 million, and Robert Schwentke’s supernatural spoof R.I.P.D., which barely made back 10% of its $130 million budget. MONSTER’S UNIVERSITY, featuring Billy Crystal and John Goodman reprising their roles as Mike and Sullivan from 2002’s MONSTER’S, INC., is available in a 3 disc Blu ray edition (Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy), and on a single disc DVD. Special Features include a bunch of featurettes, Art Galleries, Promo Picks, the 7 minute animated short BLUE UMBRELLA, and a audio commentary with co-writer/director Scanlon, producer Kori Rae and story supervisor Kelsey Mann.

Amid lots of critic's cracks that it looked like a lame remake of MEN IN BLACK, I skipped R.I.P.D. along with the rest of civilization when it briefly played in theaters last July. The flop comedy starring Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds as deceased policemen patrolling the afterlife is now out in spiffy 2 disc Blu ray (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD with UltraViolet) and 1 disc DVD editions. Special Features: Alternate Openings, Alternate/Deleted Scenes, over 30 minutes of featurettes, and Gag Reel.

Baille Walsh’s acclaimed 2012 rock doc about The Boss and his fans, SPRINGSTEEN & I, drops today in single disc Blu ray and DVD editions. Special Features include Springsteen’s Hard Rock Calling 2012 performance, in which Paul McCartney joins in with Bruce on “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “Twist and Shout”; 28 minutes of Fan Submissions, and over 10 minutes of “Meet the Fans.” Yep, this release is really fan-centric.

Also out today: Neil Jordan’s British-Irish Vampire film BYZANTIUM, Justin Kreutzmann’s concert film of tribute: Move Me Brightly: Celebrating Jerry Garcia's 70th Birthday, and Henry Saine’s sci-fi thriller BOUNTY KILLER.

On the older film out today front, there’s the Criterion Collection edition of Michelangelo Antonioni's 1961 classic LA NOTTE, Brian De Palma's 1978 cult horror flick THE FURY, Harold Cronk's Christmas comedy SILVER BELLS, and another title from the Pixar franchise division, CARS 3D: The Ultimate Collector's Edition.

TV series sets releasing this week: Christopher Guest's Family Tree: The Complete First Season, Degrassi Season 12, Line of Duty: Series 1, Damages: The Complete Series, and Agatha Christie's Poirot: Series 9.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

The Overlooked OWNING MAHOWNY Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary

Despite positive critical notice including a 4 star review from Roger Ebert who also listed it among 2003’s best films, Richard Kwietniowski’s OWNING MAHOWNY has been pretty overlooked in the decade since its release. I mean, if one thinks of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the early to mid Aughts, his roles in PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, 25TH HOUR, RED DRAGON, LOVE LIZA, and, of course, his real breakthrough CAPOTE will most likely will come to mind before his turn as the gambling addicted Canadian Dan Mahowny.

The character is based on Brian Molony, a clerk who embezzled millions from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce to fund his gambling habit in the early ‘80s. Hoffman’s portrayal of Mahowny is one of a well dressed schlub who appears to only be comfortable when he’s sitting at a table in a casino playing blackjack, baccarat, roulette, or craps.

As a Atlantic City casino manager who wants to take full advantage of Hoffman’s habit, John Hurt observes that Mahowny only has the one true vice: “No sex, no booze, no drugs…our little roller is a purist. All he cares about is the next hand.”

That’s certainly the case when it comes to Hoffman’s girlfriend, Minnie Driver in a bad blonde wig, who is kept in the dark about his addiction until he takes her to Las Vegas and she realizes that his purpose there isn’t to propose to her.

OWNING MAHOWNY is shelved next to Wayne Kramer’s THE COOLER in my mental movie database for a couple of obvious reasons: they’re gambling movies that came out the same year, and they both star guys who were in Paul Thomas Anderson’s BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997). Both are also veterans of late ‘90s Coen Brothers’ movies (Hoffman in THE BIG LEBOWSKI; Macy in FARGO), which I bring up because Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard character in FARGO and Hoffman’s Mahowny have both gotten themselves entangled in huge financial problems. Macy isn’t a gambler in the gamer sense, but his poorly planned solutions involving his wife’s kidnapping and a sketchy real estate deal constitute some high stakes no matter which way you look at it.

However, Macy’s roles in FARGO and THE COOLER couldn’t be more different. His Lundegaaard is a conniving immoral jerk, while THE COOLER’s Bernie Lootz is a lovable yet extremely unlucky everyman. Hoffman would know immediately to steer clear of Macy the second his eyes fell upon him walking in the door of the fictional Shangri-La. Odds are that Alec Baldwin’s casino boss wouldn’t be as fascinated as Hurt is by Hoffman.

But let’s get back to the film in its own right. So as Hoffman’s Mahowny gets deeper and deeper into a hole, investigators are monitoring his every move. All the while Hoffman’s nonchalance and cold indifference to everything but the game is reflected in the cold sterile surroundings of the casinos and the bank’s board rooms. Thrown in the mix is Maury Chaykin in a great role as a sleazy bookie, who’s too stupefied by Hoffman’s business practices to resort to violence, even though he’s owed over 10 grand.

Mahowny never admits he has a gambling problem. “I have a…financial problem. A shortfall” is all he says about it when under interrogation. Hoffman well conveys the nature of a man who lives inside his head, taking his time to answer people’s questions in an aloof yet not awkward manner. The character could be seen as a comment on the unassuming, plainspoken personalities of Canadian gamblers, but the loneliness of this slave to the game is pure Hoffman,

OWNING MAHOWNY isn’t a masterpiece or even one of the best gambling movies out there, but it’s a well acted, neatly plotted, little sleeper that deserves a viewing. With its backdrop being that of the Canadian gambling industry we see the flashy side of the wheeling and dealing from behind the scenes where players are monitored by drably dressed men in charge. These elements are better seen as background fodder from one’s cozy safe home, rather than really experienced by risk takers in the raw.

Hoffman’s portrayal of Mahowny isn’t a star making turn or a revelation for the actor, but it’s a stepping stone of a role that led to greater heights – there’s little bit of the cold calculation of this character in his performance of the L. Ron Hubbard-ish Lancaster Dodd in last year’s misunderstood Paul Thomas Anderson epic THE MASTER for instance.

Hurt’s part as the on top of his game (and everyone else’s) casino kingpin is also pleasing, albeit in a very different tone and demeanor than Hoffman’s. It’s telling that the actor worked with writer/director Kwietniowski on the films LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND (1997) and REGRET NOT SPEAKING (2011) before and after this production. A solid working relationship appears to be on ample display here.

OWNING MAHOWNY is a different kind of gambling movie than the usual razzle dazzle – one that breaks down the obsessive methods behind putting everything on the line.

More later..

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Out today on Blu ray and DVD:

(Dir. Richard Linklater, 2013) *

“Where did you think your life would be at this point, Missy?” Ethan Hawke flippantly asks Julie Delpy early on in the third installment of Richard Linklaters’ ongoing saga of Jesse and Céline, the star-crossed lovers that we first met back in 1995’s BEFORE SUNRISE.

From Delpy’s remarks throughout BEFORE MIDNIGHT, we can guess that she didn’t expect that in her early 40s she’d be married to somebody she calls an “American teenager,” and that she’d be the mother of his curly haired blonde twin seven-year old girls (Charlotte and Jennifer Pryor).

But since they came together that afternoon in Paris they spent together in 2004’s BEFORE SUNSET that’s what happened, and now, nine years later, on vacation in Greece, they come to another crossroad in their relationship. Hawke’s successful novelist Jesse, is aching to spend more time with his teenage son (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) who lives with his mother in Chicago, but the French Delpy’s politically-minded Céline doesn’t want to leave France because of a government job offer.

Linklater (SLACKER, DAZED AND CONFUSED, BERNIE) effectively gets us back into the tone and the talkiness of the couple’s world with a long unbroken shot (taken from a camera mounted on the hood of their automobile) of the two chatting while driving through the Greek hillside while their children sleep in the back seat. We then meet a group of locals including Walter Lassally, Xenia Kalogeropoulou, Athina Rachel Tsangari, and Panos Koronis that join the leads for a lively dinner party, in which life and love is discussed with much wit and warmth.

This is a fine appetizer, but the real entrée is the last two thirds that concern Delpy and Hawke alone. They have a long walk and talk through Grecian ruins (another unbroken shot), in which Hawke notes that it’s been a long time since they’ve “walked around and bullsh*ted.” Then it’s on to an evening at Westin Resort Hotel at Costa Navarino which starts off romantically, but then becomes an edgy argument that could end their marriage.

Their heated hotel room feud put me through the emotional ringer, as it probably will anybody who’s enjoyed and/or suffered a long term relationship. Being the same age as they are (Hawke is 42; Delpy - 43), I can heavily relate to them as I’ve experienced almost identical arguments.

In both career best performances, Hawke and Delpy alternate between being funny, deeply frustrated, and heart-broken, never taking an inauthentic step (the fact that Delpy spends a good chunk of their hotel room spat topless is somehow organically present). Along with Linklater, Hawke and Delpy co-wrote the screenplay, so you often feel the overlap of real life in their exchanges and that makes the material sting and resonate greatly.

Some folks may be turned off by how talky it is – and it’s all talk; a series of constant conversations - but fans of these films are going to be elated to spend more time with these two, who, I believe, are in the running for greatest screen couple ever.

In a world full of major studio sequels and re-boots, it’s a beautiful treat that every nine years we can catch up with Jesse and Céline in an intelligent indie shot at another picturesque location. As BEFORE MIDNIGHT is on excellent par with the first two films, that prospect is even more appealing. Delpy recently said in an interview that they plan on making these films into their 60s, “then we’ll be like the couple in AMORE.” Amen to growing old with these characters.

Special Features: Commentary with Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy, a 7 minute featurette “Revisiting Jesse & Celine,” a 37-minute Q & A with Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy conducted by Film Critic Elvis Mitchell, and the theatrical trailer.

* Except for the last bit about bonus material, this review originally appeared in the June 14th, 2013 edition of the Raleigh News & Observer.

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New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 10/22/13

Last summer’s horror hit THE CONJURING brought about old school scares with aesthetics that recall such classics as THE EXORCIST, POLTERGEIST, and an obvious spiritual connection, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. James Wan’s film, based on the real-life account of a pair of paranormal investigators (Ed and Lorraine Warren played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), releases today just in time for Halloween on a 2 disc Blu ray edition (DVD + UltraViolet), and a single disc DVD.

Special Features: 3 featurettes (“A Life in Demonology,” “THE CONJURING: Face-To-Face With Terror,” and something called “Scaring the ‘@$*%’ Out of You”) equaling around 30 minutes.

One of my favorite films of the year, Richard Linklater’s BEFORE MIDNIGHT, the third film in the ongoing series about the talky relationship between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, also comes out today on home video in single disc Blu ray and DVD editions. Read my review, which contains info about the film’s Special Features, here.

A film that definitely won’t make my top ten of favorites, Shawn Levy’s THE INTERNSHIP (my review), the comedy that had Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson goofin’ on Google, is our this week in a 2 disc Blu ray Combo Pack, and a single disc DVD edition. Special Features include Theatrical and Unrated versions of the film, deleted scenes, a mocumentary about the Quidditch Match: “Any Given Monday,” and commentary with Director Levy.

The writing duo from THE DESCENDANTS, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, scored box office success with their directorial debut THE WAY, WAY BACK, as I saw by week after week of appreciative audiences last summer at the indie theater I work at part-time. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the film – it’s a pretty routine kid-comes-of-age-while-on-a-family-trip-to-the-beach scenario, but its decent cast including Steve Carrell, Allison Janey, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, and Maya Rudolf keep it somewhat afloat. Bonus material includes deleted scenes and several behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Another comedy that doesn’t quite cut it that’s out today on Blu ray and DVD is Dan Mazer’s I GIVE IT A YEAR. The British rom com is about a couple, Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne, who get married only to find they’re in love with other people in the form of Anna Farris and Simon Baker. Being that first time director Mazer co-wrote BORAT and BRUNO, there’s a lot of crude humor epitomized by how Spall puts the premise in one of the film’s making-of featurettes in the Special Features:

“In all relationships, you get together with someone, you spend the first four months of the relationship stifling farts. Then they get married and let it rip. And they realize that they don’t like the smell of each other’s farts.”

For those who happen to like this film’s farts, there’s also a blooper reel, deleted/extended scenes, outtakes (of one wacky scene involving doves) and multiple interviews with cast/crew.

Nicholas Winding Rehn and Ryan Gosling’s crime thriller follow-up to DRIVE, ONLY GOD FORGIVES also drops in single disc Blu ray/DVD editions today. Special features include a commentary with Director Rehn, 12 short behind-the-scenes segments, “The Music of ONLY GOD FORGIVES with Cliff Martinez, and over 10 minutes of interviews with Rehn.

Also out today: Max Mayer’s comedy drama AS COOL AS I AM (starring Claire Danes, Sarah Bolger, and James Marsden), Rachid Bouchareb’s JUST LIKE A WOMAN (2012), Roel Reiné’s action fantasy DEAD IN TOMBSTONE (for those who can’t get enough Danny Trejo), Verena Paravel’s 2012 documentary LEVIATHAN, and Lavinia Currier’s 2011 drama OKA!

On the older films out today front, there’s the Bruce Lee: The Legacy Edition (4 Blu ray/7 DVD), The Vincent Price Collection, Michael Findlay and Horacio Fredriksson's 1976 thriller SNUFF, and the Criterion Collection Edition of Lewis Allen’s 1944 horror classic THE UNINVITED, starring Ray Milland.

TV series sets out this week include Nikita: The Complete Third Season, Call The Midwife: Seasons 1 & 2, The Young Riders: Season 2, and Silk Stalkings Complete Seasons 6, 7, & 8.

More later...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sly & Ahnold's Buddy-Convict Flick ESCAPE PLAN Is A B-Movie Blast

Now playing at a multiplex near you:

ESCAPE PLAN (Dir. Mikael Håfström, 2013)

There’s just no way Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger can make a movie together that isn’t a throwback to their ‘80s action heyday. It's simply impossible.

Of course, THE EXPENDABLES movies have been there and done that (and will again), but this shiny formulaic prison break movie, a buddy-convict flick if you will, proves that maxim all over again.

The graying former rivals (they never would’ve appeared in each others’ movies during the Reagan era) here play fellow inmates in a secret state of the art maximum security facility that highly resembles the futuristic prison in John Woo’s FACE/OFF – you know, the ‘90s over-the-top action film in which John Travolta and Nicholas Cage traded faces? Yeah, I thought you’d remember.

Anyway, Stallone plays a “secure structure expert,” who is employed by various contractors to break out of prisons to test the strength of their security. The CIA hires him to go undercover to their new high-tech super prison to find the flaws in their system, but his methods are immediately compromised by a truck full of thugs who abduct him and remove the G.P.S. tracker embedded in his arm.

This leaves his staff including Amy Ryan (The Wire, The Office), and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson scrambling to find his location, while his boss (Vincent D’Onofrio) seems less concerned, obviously because he was involved in the set-up.

Jim Caviezel (PASSION OF THE CHRIST, Person Of Interest), as the sinister as can be Warden, knows Stallone’s real identity (he even uses Stallone’s book on building an escape-proof prison as a reference guide), and has evil plans to use Stallone and Schwarzenegger to find the whereabouts of a never seen terrorist mastermind named Manheim.

If that last paragraph seemed a bit hard to follow, it really doesn’t matter as its just mysterious background fodder to the main action dealing with escaping from the prison which turns out to be located inside an oil tanker somewhere in the middle of the ocean. See what I mean about the prison’s similarity to FACE/OFF?

In the midst of these convolutions, Schwarzenegger has the best lines, like “You hit like a vegetarian,” while Stallone does his stoical man in deep thought thing, and there is juicy turn by Vinne Jones as a sadistic guard. A not so juicy turn is put in by the odd casting of Sam Neill as a prison doctor who so seems like he’d rather be anywhere else.

ESCAPE PLAN is smarter than THE EXPENDABLES movies, but it's still really stupid. However, hardcore fans who’ve been waiting for the duo of the Italian Stallion and Ahnold to break away from the EXPENDABLES ensemble of aging action stars and do a true buddy film where they kick a lot of ass together will surely find it to be explosively entertaining.

As someone who’s not particularly a big fan of either heavy weight, but has come to appreciate their brands over the years, I found it to be a B-movie blast. It has the look, feel, and gusto of Stallone and Schwazenegger’s greatest guilty pleasures – consider it LOCK UP meets COMMANDO. No
 self-deprecating jokes about being aging relics this time around, just good ole '80s-style action 101.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

CASSADAGA: A Dark Piece Of Horror Porn With A Micro-Budget

Made two years ago but releasing in my area today:

CASSADAGA (Dir. Anthony DiBlasi, 2011)

In the first two minutes of Anthony DiBlasi’s CASSADAGA, involving a mother reacting violently to catching her preteen son wearing girl’s clothing, you can tell exactly what kind of movie this is - a dark piece of horror porn with a micro-budget.

That’s not such a bad thing, especially this time of year with Halloween coming up, but genre fans looking for a cheap thrills gore-fest will likely be bored by this offering.

Kelen Coleman (The Newsroom, The Mindy Project) plays a deaf art teacher whose young sister (Sarah Sculco) is killed when hit by a car in the parking lot of their school. Coleman relocates to the spiritualist community of Cassadaga University, called “The Psychic Capital of America” on its welcome sign. We’re never told what state the film is set in, but it was shot in Orlando, Florida if that means anything.

Coleman is shown around the grounds and to her new living quarters by Louise Fletcher as Cassadaga’s head mistress, who tells her not to mind her grandson Thomas (a barely seen Lucas Beck), who keeps to himself on the upper floor. That last bit of info wouldn’t make anyone nervous, right?

Coleman begins dating a suave Emergency Medical Technician (Kevin Alejandro of True Blood), the father of one of her students, and on their first date they decide to go to a séance conducted by a medium played by Avis-Marie Barnes. Despite her deafness, Coleman hears her sister’s voice in her mind, but another spirit, that of a murdered girl gone missing in the area four years ago, gets in the way.

From then on Coleman is tormented, by way of jolting gruesome in-your-face imagery and gross incidents involving maggots, and any viewer can put together the pieces faster than the characters that this is the spirit’s way of giving clues to her killer’s identity.

Meanwhile we catch glimpses of another woman (Christina Bach) being abducted and having her limbs dismembered then reattached to form what could certainly be considered a macabre marionette.

None of this is as frightening as it sounds as the pace is as slow as Coleman is trying to craw away from an attacker in a bloody butcher’s apron in one of the extremely anti-climatic final scenes.

First time screenwriters Bruce Wood and Scott Poiley have obviously put a lot of thought into the plot mechanics here with the unraveling of the mystery, but the film can’t seem to decide whether to be a tense melodrama or a slasher thriller, and it ends up being neither successfully.

And why cast Louise Fletcher, who won the Oscar for her iconic performance as Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” almost four decades ago, and is no newbie to the world of horror (see: THE EXORCIST II, FIRESTARTER, and FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC for starters), if you’re not going to do anything with her? A scene in which Fletcher smokes pot with Coleman during one of the film’s many downtimes is about as unnecessary as you can get.

Coleman is a very attractive presence, and it’s nice to see her get a chance to show that she has more range than allowed in her supporting roles on television, but the material forces her to embarrassingly overact at times, and I’m really not sure how the film benefitted at all by making her character deaf. Add that to the list of unnecessary elements on display here.

Still, there’s some promise in the writing. If Wood and Poiley can tighten up their narrative to alleviate the tedium in future projects, they may be able to create something much scarier than this cliché ridden slog.

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THE FIFTH ESTATE: The Film Babble Blog Review

Opening today:

THE FIFTH ESTATE (Dir. Bill Condon, 2013)

“Hero or Traitor?” asks one of the taglines for this dramatized version of the story of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange releasing today. But perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer to that question isn’t clear at all by the end of the film.

We get from Josh Singer’s screenplay, based on the books “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website” and “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy,” that Assange is a liar and a manipulator, who secretly dyes his hair and falsifies to the press the size of his site’s staff, but as to whether or not he’s actually fighting the good fight – that’s still up in the air.

As portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, having a banner year as he’s popping up everywhere from STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS to 12 YEARS A SLAVE to the sequel to THE HOBBIT (as well as starring in the British TV series Sherlock), Assange is a restless driven power-hungry player full of pompousness and platitudes such as “Courage is contagious.”

This mixed bag of a biopic begins with a montage of news clips from when WikiLeaks broke with the publishing of State Cables in 2010, then jumps back a few years before that to when Assange recruited German tech activist Daniel Domscheit-Berg to help with publicity and technical support on the up-and-coming startup.

Domscheit-Berg played by Daniel Brühl, also currently playing a real guy (Austrian racecar driver Niki Lauda) in Ron Howard’s RUSH, wrote the first of the books mentioned above that the film draws from, so a lot of the point of view present comes from his character.

It seems that Condon and screenwriter Singer sensed that a movie mostly made up of two hackers on their laptops wouldn’t be very visually interesting so they throw in a lot of visual tricks to sexy up the material. They try to take us on a journey through cyberspace with floating headlines and flashy in-your-face graphics, as well as continually returning to the motif of a sandy landscape featuring rows of desks stretching into infinity.

These artsy surreal elements only serve to distract us from the half-baked narrative, and the far from fully formed thesis. The time they take up would be better spent dealing with the sex scandals Assange was caught in that are only quickly summed up in the film’s postscript.

Cumberbatch’s invested performance is the best thing about THE FIFTH ESTATE as he looks and acts the part to a tee capturing Assange’s eccentricities in full throttle. It’s a shame that it’s in the center of such a fussy un-focused drama that works overtime to dazzle its audience instead of actually giving them any weighty insights.

A subplot concerning Laura Linney as Deputy Undersecretary of State Sarah Shaw and Stanley Tucci as Assistant Secretary of State James Boswell glib reactions to WikiLeaks has a few amusing moments, but like everything else here it never really gets under your skin.

Condon’s KINSEY, his 1995 biopic of sexologist Alfred Kinsey starring Liam Neeson, did a better job covering a real-life subject, but maybe his work on the last two TWILIGHT movies clouded up his vision here. THE FIFTH ESTATE isn’t lacking in ideas; it just doesn’t know what to do with them so it throws them all up on the screen. Trying to make one’s way through them is as futile as trying to find the answer to the hero or traitor question in this stylish mess. It’s not here or there or anywhere to be seen.

More later...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 10/15/13

A couple of hit films released last summer that I almost forgot about lead the pack of new releases on home video today: Guillermo del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM, and Paul Feig’s THE HEAT. PACIFIC RIM, a big ass sci-fi action film dealing with giant robots battling giant monsters starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, and Charlie Day, is available in a 3 disc Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet Combo Pack and a 2 disc Special Edition DVD + UltraViolet package.

Special Features: Audio commentary by director Del Toro, thirteen Focus Point featurettes equaling over an hour, an interactive feature “The Director’s Notebook,” an archive of the film's key design art: “The Shatterdome,” something called “Drift Space,” bloopers, and deleted scenes.

THE HEAT, the so-so Sandra Bollock and Melissa McCarthy buddy cop comedy, is out this week in a 2 disc Blu-ray / DVD + Digital HD edition, and a single disc DVD release. There are way too many Special Features to list here so let’s just say it includes the theatrical and unrated versions of the film, more than one gag reel, deleted scenes, extended scenes, bloopers, and multiple commentaries including one by the original lineup from Mystery Science Theater 3000 (!). Looks like if you happen to be a big fan of THE HEAT, you’re in for quite a feast of extras.

Franck Khalfoun’s remake of William Lustig’s 1980 slasher film MANIAC also hits home video today in both 1 disc Blu ray and DVD editions. The brutal gore-filled horror film is hard to watch at times, but effectively constructed as it’s almost completely seen through the eyes of its sicko protagonist portrayed by Elijah Wood. Director Khalfoun, Wood, and executive producer Alix Taylor provide a commentary, among other bonus material such as an almost feature length “Making of” doc, poster gallery, deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

Tobias Lindholm’s A HIJACKING, that has a premise similar to the currently playing Tom Hanks hit CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, i.e. a cargo ship is hijacked by Somali pirates, releases today also on 1 disc Blu ray and DVD editions. The basic plot may be the same as CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, but Lindholm’s film, which he also wrote the screenplay for, deals more with the long negotiations over the high-seas hostage situation that go on for several months. Special Features consist of five behind-the-scenes featurettes and the theatrical trailer.

Comic Kevin Hart’s stand-up comedy performance film LET ME EXPLAIN, directed by Leslie Small, drops today in a 2-disc Blu ray package and a single disc DVD. The film, which has drawn comparisons to Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy’s classic stand-up movies, is made up mostly of highlights from Hart’s 2 sold out Madison Square Garden shows in 2012. Special Features: a few featurettes (“No, No, No, Let Us Explain,” “Backstage Pass”), and three music videos (“Let Me Explain” title song featuring Erick Sermon, Snoop Dogg, Method Man & RL, “Let Me Explain” theme song “The Narcissist” featuring American Antagon 1st, and “Pop Off” by Doeshun featuring Ray Ray & Ruck).

Other notable new releases today include: Richard Rowley’s documentary DIRTY WARS, Jeff Renfroe’s sci-fi horror flick THE COLONY, Chad Crawford Kinkle’s low budget horror production JUG FACE, Catherine Hardwicke’s erotic thriller PLUSH, and Johnnie To’s Chinese-Hong Kong action film DRUG WAR.

On the older films out today front we’ve got the Blu ray debut of George Roy Hill’s 1977 classic hockey comedy SLAP SHOT, the 40th Anniversary Edition of Clint Eastwood’s HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, the 10th Anniversary Edition of LOVE ACTUALLY, Robert Wise’s 1963 horror classic THE HAUNTING, John Carpenter’s 1994 horror film IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, John Sturges’ 1976 war epic THE EAGLE HAS LANDED, Curtis Harrington’s 1961 thriller NIGHT TIDE (starring a young Dennis Hopper), and the Kino Classics Remastered Edition of Orson Welles’ unjustly overlooked 1946 film noir thriller THE STRANGER.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Complete Fifth Season from Executive Producer George Lucas and Lucasfilm Animation is out today in a 3-disc Blu ray set, and a 4-disc DVD set. Extras on what is considered by fans to be the best season of the series includes director’s cuts of two episodes, a bunch of behind the scenes featurettes, cast and crew interviews, deleted scenes, and alternate scenes.

Other TV series sets releasing today include Vikings: Season One, The Fall: Series 1, Defiance: Season One, Maverick: The Complete Third Season, Bewitched: The Complete Series, I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete Series, The Partridge Family: The Complete Series, and for all you Charlie Sheen fans, Anger Management Season 2.

More later…

Monday, October 14, 2013

Film Babble Blog's Top 10 Films Of The '70s

Inspired by Sam Fragoso’s “History of Film: The Best Movies of the 1970s” at moviemezzanine.com, in which ballots from staff and friends of the site contribute their top ten films from the decade many consider to be the finest decade in American cinema, I decided to post my list here (also in their comments section).

So here goes:

1. HAROLD AND MAUDE (Dir. Hal Ashby, 1971)

2. THE GODFATHER: PART II (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)

3. MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (Dirs. Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones, 1975)

4. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (Dir. Alan J. Pakula, 1976)

5. THE LONG GOODBYE (Dir. Robert Altman, 1973)

6. MANHATTAN (Dir. Woody Allen, 1979)

7. TAXI DRIVER (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976)

8. CHINATOWN (Dir. Roman Polanski, 1974)

9. BADLANDS (Dir. Terrence Malick, 1973)

(Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1978)

More later…

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tom Hanks Holds His Own Against Somali Pirates In CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

Opening today at a multiplex near you:

(Dir. Paul Greengrass, 2013)

Tom Hanks’ most vital and powerful film since CAST AWAY dramatizes to great effect the hijacking of the cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama, which made headlines in 2009. 
Working from a screenplay by Billy Ray (based on the book “A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea” by the real Captain Phillips and Stephan Talty), Paul Greengrass applies his action thriller skills, honed on other films based on real-life events (BLOODY SUNDAY, UNITED 93) and BOURNE sequels, to the tension-filled material set almost exclusively on the high seas.

I say “almost” because we get a bit of set-up on land with Catherine Keener, as Hank’s wife, driving her husband in their minivan to the airport. We get a little insight into their home-life as they discuss their son’s future with Hanks worrying aloud that “the world is moving fast. It’s not going to be easy for our children.”

Then Hanks is off to sea on a shipping route along the Somali coast, where his worries change considerably as he’s well aware of how dangerous these waters are. Hanks puts his crew through anti-hijacking practice drills to ensure safety measures, but before long they are face to face with the real thing: four armed Somali pirates.

The pirates, led by Barkhad Abdi in an impressive performance for a first-time actor, were able to board by way of hooking a long ladder to the side of the ship, while Hanks has his men hide in the bowels of the engine room. The Captain offers the pirates the $30,000 they have in the ship’s safe, but it’s not enough to satisfy Abdi, who knows that there will be fatal repercussions if he doesn’t return home with much more than that.

The tension mounts when the Navy shows up, with the macho Max Martini as a SEAL negotiator, but unfortunately this marks where the movie begins to feel a bit routine. The film is perhaps 20 minutes too long, drawn out too heavily by a sequence in which snipers target the pirates as they try to make their escape. The sequence drags because we know exactly what’s going to happen and it takes too long to get there.

But despite the electricity of the pacing fading in its last third, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, like Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY, is a sure sign that the Oscar-baiting fall movie season has begun. Greengrass’s shaky-cam shot documentary-style production isn’t as good as the visually stunning and awe-inspiring GRAVITY, but it’s a work of genuine quality with Hanks at the top of his game.

It’s obvious why the part of Captain Richard Phillips appealed to the two-time Best Actor Oscar winner – he’s a by-the-book hard working family man, not unlike Hanks himself. After the over the top stunt casting of Hanks as six different characters in Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski’s CLOUD ATLAS last year, it’s a simply a treat to see him as a normal guy, holding his own in abnormal circumstances. Do I smell a third Oscar?

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 10/8/13

The two big releases on home video today are two of last summer’s biggest critical duds: M. Night Shyamalan’s AFTER EARTH, and Todd Phillips’ THE HANGOVER PART III. AFTER EARTH, which features Will Smith and his son Jaden in a sci-fi adventure I can barely remember the plot of (read my review from when it hit theaters last May), is available in a Two Disc Combo (Blu-ray / DVD + UltraViolet Digital Copy), and a single disc DVD edition. Special Features: an Alternate Opening, and a bunch of featurettes (mostly behind-the-scenes mini-documentaries) adding up to almost an hour.

The third and final entry in THE HANGOVER series, in which Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zack Galifianakis reprise their roles for even less laughter than before (read my review), is also out in a Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet Combo Pack, but its DVD edition is 2 discs. Special Features include such supposed wackiness as “Replacing Zack: The Secret Auditions,” “The Wolfpack’s Wildest Stunts,” “Pushing the Limits,” “Zach Galifianakis in His Own Words,” “Action Mash-Up,” “Inside Focus: The Real Chow,” Extended Scenes, and Outtakes.

For those looking for something of actual quality, Joss Whedon’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is out today in single disc Blu ray and DVD editions. The charming black and white production, was filmed at Whedon’s swanky house in Los Angeles over 12 days, with veterans of the directors’ TV shows such as Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Reed Diamond, and Clark Gregg spouting out the original text of Shakespeare’s 16th century play. Bonus material consists of two commentary tracks (one with Whedon; one with Whedon and almost the entire cast), a 22 minute featurette “Much Ado About Making Nothing,” a 6 minute featurette “Bus Ado About Nothing,” and the “Sigh No More” Music Video. 

Jacob Hatley’s AIN’T IN IT FOR MY HEALTH: A FILM ABOUT LEVON HELM is another quality release out this week. Fans of The Band, the Americana genre, or just good music in general should enjoy this 2010 documentary, which has Hatley hanging with Helm, who sadly passed away last year, in his Woodstock home recalling his history as he works on a new solo album. There are many highlights here, both musical and anecdotal, but my favorite is Helm killing it on a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.” Over 50 minutes of deleted scenes are included, but folks who just want to see the film alone should note that it’s also available on Netflix Instant. 

Other notable feature films debuting on home video today: James DeMonaco’s surprise horror hit THE PURGE (starring Ethan Hawke!), Sebastián Cordero’s straight-to-Blu ray/DVD/VOD sci-fi thriller EUROPA REPORT, Josh Boone’s ensemble rom com STUCK IN LOVE, and Liz W. Garcia’s Kristen Bell comedy THE LIFEGUARD.

On the older films front there’s the 40th Anniversary Edition of William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST (just in time for Halloween!), the 30th Anniversary Edition of MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE (has a new hour long documentary but otherwise the bonus material comes from previous editions), Blu ray box sets of the individual STAR WARS trilogies, and the Criterion Collection edition of René Clair’s 1947 fantasy comedy I MARRIED A WITCH, starring Veronica Lake. 

TV season sets out today include: American Horror Story: Asylum, Bones: The Complete Eighth Season, Psych: The Complete Seventh Season, White Collar: Season Four, The Six Million Dollar Man: Season 4, and Robot Chicken: Season Six.

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Monday, October 07, 2013

A Troubled Brie Larson Takes Care Of Troubled Teens In SHORT TERM 12

SHORT TERM 12 (Dir. Destin Daniel Cretton, 2013)

Brie Larson isn’t a household name yet, but she’s getting closer bit by bit with roles in recent buzzed about films like THE SPECTACULAR NOW and DON JON, in which she plays Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s always texting sister.

Larson’s strong work in Destin Daniel Cretton’s feature length debut as writer/director, SHORT TERM 12, based on his 2008 short film of the same name, definitely deserves recognition as a breakthrough performance on the scale of Elizabeth Olsen’s performance in MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE and Jennifer Lawrence in WINTER’S BONE.

Larson plays Grace, a supervisor at the foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers of the title, who’s in a serious relationship with her co-worker Mason (The Newsroom’s John Gallagher Jr.), but can’t bring herself to open up to him about her troubled history, especially now that she finds out that she’s pregnant.

Between having to chase down runaways, the couple deal with the arrival of Kaitlyn Dever as a jaded 15-year old girl (aptly named Jayden) whose bad attitude is justified by what he learn about her abusive father, and the upcoming departure of Keith Stanfield (the only cast member reprising his role from the short) as a long term resident, and aspiring rapper who’s about to turn 18.

The intimate nature of the acting aided by straight forward thoughtful tone of Cretton’s screenplay drew me into this slice of these people’s lives in that “oh, I’ve known people just like these” kind of way. At various times throughout my younger years, I had both been somebody who was scared of opening up to others, and somebody who was desperately trying to get somebody else to open up. I was genuinely feeling Larson working both ends of this - we see without any heavy handiness that she’s great at her job, but lousy at life.

Dever’s situation affects Larson deeply, both having been labeled “cutters,” and they have a standout scene where they bond over bashing in the windows of Dever’s father’s car with a baseball bat.

Meanwhile Gallagher attempts some closeness with Stanfield before he leaves. Their bond comes in the form of Gallagher plays bongos to Stanfield’s rapping of some original, and very personal, lyrics he jotted in a notebook, the sentiment of which should be appreciated by even non-hip hop fans.

There are a few threads that are tied up a little too neatly – the film is best when it’s about how messy life can be – and the shaky cam may get a bit too shaky, but the overall picture Cretton paints is one of low budget beauty.

Despite winning awards at SXSW, and various other film festivals this year, SHORT TERM 12 has been pretty poorly attended at my local art house theater, the Colony in Raleigh, N.C., where it’s only playing for one week. That’s a shame, because it’s a well worth seeking out indie with what should be a star-making turn by an actress that if you don’t know now, you surely will soon.

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Friday, October 04, 2013

GRAVITY: The Film Babble Blog Review

Opening today at nearly every multiplex in the Solar System:

GRAVITY (Dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are our astronaut audience surrogates in Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY, the first great movie of the fall season.

After so many overblown sci-fi epics, it’s so refreshing to find a film set in the heavens, on the edge of Earth’s atmosphere to be exact, that doesn’t need attacking aliens or big ass asteroids to be scary - the prospect of being stranded, untethered in outer space is terrifying all by itself.

Bullock and Clooney find themselves in this predicament after debris from a destructed Russian satellite hits their space shuttle during their space walk on a Hubble Telescope repair mission. All other crew members were killed, and contact with Houston, represented by the voice of Ed Harris as Mission Control (nice shout-out to Harris’s roles in THE RIGHT STUFF and APOLLO 13) is lost, so there’s just the two Oscar winning A-listers lost in space.

Clooney, cocky and confident as usual, retrieves Bullock after she spins out of control away from the devastation of the accident, and, with the help of thruster packs, they make their way back to the shuttle. Finding that the shuttle’s been totaled and therefore not their ride back home, they then head towards the International Space Station.

Along the way we get a bit of insight into the characters, though less about why Clooney is driven to break the world record for longest spacewalk, and more about why Bullock prefers the quiet of space to life on Earth, i.e. she’s mourning the death of her four year old daughter.

When it comes to 3D, GRAVITY joins Martin Scorsese’s HUGO and Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI in the small club of films that make spectacular use of the format. Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who also shot Cuarón’s Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN and CHILDREN OF MEN) glide through the spectacularly imagery with an electric energy that will make you feel as weightless as its leads. It's definitely worth the price of admission for the
 IMAX 3D Experience.

Clooney is his regular charming self, but Bullock acts her ass off. It’s such an impressive and emotionally invested performance that I wouldn’t be surprised if it garnered her another Oscar nomination.

From the point-of-view visor shots from inside of Bullock’s helmet, to the expansive CGI-ed shiny space station surroundings, there’s a lot of immersive imagery in GRAVITY, a lot of technical beauty, but the film’s most amazing feat is how satisfyingly stressful it is.

One fake-out fever dream scene aside that I won’t spoil, the film is heavily grounded in reality with only existing technology available which adds greatly to the film’s frightening grip.

Although it begins with text telling us how unlivable outer space is, recalling Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci fi classic ALIEN’s tagline: “In space nobody can hear you scream,” GRAVITY is not sci-fi. It’s a thriller in which the cold darkness of the great beyond is more terrifying than any made up monster. 

Seeing it will make you feel as if you’re really starring into the void, and when it’s over you’ll be happy to be safe back on Earth. That’s just a few of this bold, amazing, and breath taking movie’s many sensations.

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