This Week in Movies and TV, April 2, 2013: Writers & Other Superheroes

Hemingway & Gellhorn

In his first film for television, director Philip Kaufman (Henry & June, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Right stuff) focuses for the first half on Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) and Martha Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman) falling in love during the Spanish Civil War.

Hemingway's there to help filmmaker Joris Ivens (Lars Ulrich) and writer John Dos Passos (David Strathairn) make The Spanish Earth, a documentary on the fighting showing the Republican government's side of things to an uncaring world who have up to then only seen the war from the propaganda footage of Franco's Fascists. Gellhorn's in Spain under the guise of being a war correspondent to experience the conflict which she believes will soon spread throughout the world.

The difficult, stormy relationship that follows their coming together is described in narration by an aging Gellhorn looking back on their fairly brief time together in Spain, China, Cuba, New York, and London. As she puts it, she's "at home in the most difficult places . . . but love. . . . I'm a war correspondent."

Meanwhile Hemingway, looking for the period of peace necessary to write his great Spanish novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, has to chose between being the world's greatest living author - alone - and following his resourceful wife around to the next war zone.

Owen makes a charming Hemingway - pumped up huge, barrel chested, a solid mix of flesh and muscle - with the power, strength of purpose, and forceful intelligence to be convincing, nailing the humor and cruelty of the man. And Kidman makes for a competitive, ballsy (or cojonesy) enough woman to be able to hold her own against Papa and map her own path in life.

In the 1.78:1 picture, detail is good with all the lines in the prosthetically-aged Kidman face, her bloodshot eyes, Hem's stubble and his scars all clearly visible. There's texture and grain to wooden beams in Sloppy Joe's bar and the weave of woolen sweaters stands out clearly. Gellhorn's lipstick and the blood (literally) on her hands are a rich crimson and her dress later on is a vibrantly tasty, sexy green. Motherly Pauline Pfeiffer (Molly Parker), Hemingway's previous (second) wife, wears an inky black dress (as does Gellhorn's mother), the bright white polka dots at the collar standing out crisply distinct. There's a dimensionality to group compositions when Dos Passos, war photographer Robert Capa (Santiago Cabrera), journalist and Soviet agent Mikhail Koltsov (Tony Shalhoub) gather and Heminwayesque characters like the one-legged hooker the enormous female bar manager, and crazy-drunk General Petrov (Robert Duvall) add color.

At times during the 167-minute film, the regular images are intercut with newsreels from the era or with Ivens' film, matching their scratchy and soft, grainy, black-and-white or sepia qualities. Sometimes the characters actually appear in the old footage, Zelig-style, as when they sit chatting about the war in China with President Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. It's all well integrated and quite convincing though a little startling to suddenly have the romancing couple thrown into old-school footage out of the clean, sharp, well-contrasted colorful 1930s present of the rest of the movie. Although the black-and-white does have a wide range of tones, the color is made up of beautiful, restrained, autumnal hues of grey, brown, green, and tan and kaki of the uniforms.

A little later, when the now lovers go to New York for a screening of Earth, they walk down a 1930s Midtown street shot in blurry, grainy Technicolor and it's just as effective, if somewhat distracting, as the unnatural Technicolor tones suddenly leap out. A featurette included on the disc addresses how all these combinings were achieved.

Hemingway is introduced landing a marlin off Key West, the huge beast slamming onto the deck beside you with a massively bassy boom. Otherwise effects and music, at least initially, remain firmly in the front channels, instruments well separated and clear. There's barely any use of the surrounds for atmospherics, either, even on trains or in bars, until we get to Spain where in the hotel lobby there's hubbub off to the side. And then Hemingway enters into the war footage (and seemingly history) going outside to watch a rumbling tank rolling past, the plucky Gellhorn on board. It's as if their reunification brings the world to life for Papa (and for us). Soon we're immersed in the crowds and arriving Lincoln Brigade, with songs and cries of soldiers and their supporters all around and the gears of Ivens' movie camera clattering beside your head. You're immersed in the sounds of war - snappy gunfire and typewriters, grenade explosions, and mortor shells - and when the boomy bombs reign down on the couple's hotel as they make love for the first time and the window blows in, you're showered in debris, plaster, and broken glass, along with their sighs.

Other room-shaking, accurately panned LFEs include Fascist planes roaring overhead and across the screen, the deep rythmic drumming accompanying the stomping boots of Franco's marching army, and heroic Republican horsemen galloping by.

Kidman's voice, as the aged Gellhorn, is full, deep, and sonorous as are Hemingway's manly pronouncements - "Fascism is a lie told by bullies." "There's nothing to writing, Gellhorn, you just sit down at your typewriter and bleed. Get in the ring Gellhorn!" - and narration for Earth all clear over patriotic Spanish songs and cries of "Viva la Republica!" as Hemingway grabs a rifle off of Capa's falling soldier and joins in the charge.

Hemingway & Gellhorn co-stars Parker Posey as Mary Welsh (Hemingway's fourth wife), Joan Chen as Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Rodrigo Santoro as Paco Zarra (based on José Robles), Diane Baker as Mrs. Gellhorn, and Peter Coyote as Maxwell Perkins. It was nominated for two Golden Globes and 15 Emmy Awards, winning two for Outstanding Music Composition and Sound Editing.

Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: commentary by Kaufman and editor Walter Murch, "Making Hemingway & Gellhorn" and "Behind the Visual Effects" featurettes; DVD and digital copy. Studio: HBO.

Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled

Disney is gathering the superheroes - for their collection of all the recent Marvel films from 2008–2012 in one special package, allowing fans to see the history of the organization and some of its members all at once (sadly, poor old Hawkye and Black Widow didn't merit their own creation biopics). The 10-disc set is packaged with a glowing Tesseract and housed in a replica of Nick Fury's iconic briefcase. Super films include Blu-ray 3D and Blu-ray presentations of Thor (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), and The Avengers (2012), as well as Blu-ray versions of Iron Man (2008), The Incredible Hulk (2008), and Iron Man 2 (2010).

All titles have been previously released individually, but in addition this set allows access to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most confidential files through a top-secret bonus disc filled with never before seen classified information including deleted and extended scenes from each of the films, featurettes (such as the  "And Then Shawarma After"), and an exclusive Easter Egg inside look at all the other films from Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - Iron Man 3 (03-05-2013), Thor: The Dark World (11-08-2013), Guardians of the Galaxy (01-08-2014), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (04-04-2014), The Avengers 2 (01-05-2015), and Ant-Man (06-11-2015) from Phase Three. The discs are housed in art deco cardboard sleeves and in addition the set comes with prop and artifact reproductions from the motion pictures and dossiers on each member of the Avengers.

Iron Man, Video: 2.40:1. Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The Incredible Hulk, Video: 2.35:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0. Extras: PIP. Iron Man 2, Video: 2.35:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Thor 3D, Video: 2.35:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: commentary by director Kenneth Branagh, "Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant" short film that ties together some of the goings-on in the Marvel movie universe, "From Asgard to Earth" (on set design, costumes, and locations), "Assembling the Troupe" (on casting), "Hammer Time" (on the hammer), "Creating Laufey" (on the Frost Giant), "Music of the Gods," (on composer Patrick Doyle), "A Conversation" (with co-comic book creator Stan Lee, co-producer Craig Kyle, and comic book writer J. Michael Straczynski discussing Thor), "Road to the Avengers" (meshing scenes from various Marvel movies and the 2010 Comic Con introduction of the ensemble cast), and "Our Fearless Leader" featurettes, 25 minutes of deleted scenes with optional director's commentary; Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy. Captain America: The First Avenger, Video: 2.35:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: commentary by director Joe Johnston, director of photography Shelly Johnson, and editor Jeffrey Ford, "Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer" short film, "Outfitting a Hero," "Howling Commandos," "Heightened Technology," "The Transformation," "Behind the Skull," "Captain America's Origin," and "The Assembly Begins" featurettes, deleted scenes; Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy. The Avengers, Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: "The Avengers Initiative" Marvel Second Screen Experience allowing viewers to access the S.H.I.E.L.D. database via their Ipad, Iphone, or laptop, commentary by director Joss Whedon, "Marvel One-Shot: Item 47" short film which ties in to the main feature, gag reel, 15 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, "A Visual Journey" and "Assembling the Ultimate Team" featurettes, Soundgarden music video "Live to Rise" in Dolby Digital 2.0; Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy. Studio: Disney.

The Sweeney

"The Sweeney's doin' 90 cos they got nowhere t' go." Anyone too young and American (or young American) who missed The Sweeney classic English TV series from the '70s and has ever heard this lyric from Squeeze's "Cool for Cats" and wondered . . . it's cockney rhyming slang for the Flying Squad (Sweeney being Sweeney Todd, Todd rhyming with Squad, just as stairs is apples, as in apples and pears). And the members of the Flying Squad, London's elite armed-and-dangerous crime fighting force are usually doin' 90 not cos they're bored but cos they're anxious to get to some hideout in the East End of London and beat the crap out of a few heavyweight villains.

The team of Detective Jack Regan (Ray Winstone) and his number two, Detective Constable George Carter (Ben Drew) - "a couple of likely lads" - (the original iconic cop duo played by future Inspector Morse, John Thaw, and Dennis Waterman) head up the Squad whose purpose is to investigate armed robberies and other serious armed crimes.

Following their taking down of a well-planned warehouse robbery of gold bars, the Sweeney are facing the challenge of a master criminal on the loose who Regan suspects is an ex-con named Francis Allen (Paul Anderson), but he can't prove anything.

And now, not only is Regan stumped at solving a complex jewel robbery during which someone got killed, but he's also going to have to find some way to prevent a soon to be executed major bank job he's been tipped off to by his informant, Harry (Alan Ford). As the challenges mount, Regan contrives to do whatever it takes to bring down the bad guys, even if that means resorting to old-school policing methods involving coshes, knuckledusters, and baseball bats, bending the law a little, and ignoring the orders of his boss (Damian Lewis).

This gritty police drama - directed and written by Nick Love, co-written by John Hodge, and co-starring Allen Leech, Hayley Atwell, and Steven Mackintosh - is crammed with shoot-first, ask-questions-later gunplay - including a gigantic bullet battle in the middle of crowded Trafalgar Square - violence-filled foot and car chases (staged and filmed by BBC's Top Gear team), and vicious, beat-down fights ending with the triumphant declaration, "You're nicked. We're The Sweeney!"

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, LPCM 2.0. Extras: commentary by Love and the producers, "Behind the Scenes of The Sweeney" 26-minute featurette, "Shooting in Trafalgar Square," "The New Regan and Carter," "On the Shooting Range," and "Top Gear and the Caravan Park" featurettes, animated storyboards of Trafalgar Square and The Caravan Park; DVD. Studio: Koch Entertainment.

That Thing You Do!

In this 1996 musical rom-com--dram written and directed by Tom Hanks, a Pennsylvania rock-and-roll band makes a catchy chart-topping hit in 1964 and rides the rapid-rise-and-fall one-hit-wonder rollercoaster aided by their sweet but savvy manager.

When their regular drummer (Giovanni Ribisi) breaks an arm, band members Lenny Haise (Steve Zahn) and Jimmy Mattingly (Johnathon Schaech) ask jazz drummer Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) to join the Pittsburgh band along with a no-name (literally) bass player (Ethan Embry) for the annual Mercyhurst College talent show. They call themselves The Heardsmen but Mattingly 's girlfriend, Faye Dolan (Liv Tyler) comes up with the name "The Oneders."

When, during the contest, they play a faster tempo version of one of their songs - "That Thing You Do!" - the audience goes ape, the band wins the $100 prize, and they land a gig at a local pizza parlor. Guy's Uncle Bob (Chriss Isaak) helps them cut a single of the song and starts selling it around which leads to them being signed by local manager Phil Horace (Chris Ellis) who gets them local airplay and bigger gigs. This, in turn, attracts the attention of record company A&R representative Mr. White (Hanks) who offers the band a development contract with Play-Tone Records and changes their name to The Wonders. Soon they find themselves on a Play-Tone artists' tour of Midwest state fairs, in a low-budget beach movie, and with a top-ten hit - "That Thing You Do!" And the rest is rock-and-roll history.

The Blu-ray comes with both a theatrical version and the "Tom Hanks Extended Cut" which includes over 30 minutes of deleted footage.

Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Tom Hanks Extended Cut" and theatrical version of the film, "Feel Alright" music video, "The Wonders! Big In Japan!," "The Story Of The Wonders," "Making That Thing You Do!," "That Thing You Do! Reunion," and "HBO First Look: The Making Of That Thing You Do!" featurettes. Studio: 20th Century Fox.

Hello Dolly!

Hello Dolly!, a somewhat beloved musical, was directed by Gene Kelly and produced by Ernest Lehman - who, over the course of his career, was nominated for six Oscars for writing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, West Side Story, North by Northwest, Sabrina, and Hello Dolly! and producing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Lehman was not nominated for writing Sweet Smell of Success, The Sound of Music, The King and I, Somebody Up There Likes Me, and The Prize, which just goes to show how silly the Oscar process is, but Lehman was awarded an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement, so maybe we'll forgive them.

The 1969 romantic comedy musical film Hello Dolly! - shot in 65 mm Todd-AO by Harry Stradling, Sr. (cinematographer Harry Stradling Jr. not being available yet) - was based on the Broadway production of the same name. Its story (not that it matters much) tells of turn-of-the-century professional matchmaker Dolly Levi (Barbra Streisand), traveling to Yonkers, New York, to find a match for famously miserly unmarried half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau). The rest of the plot involves an elaborate hat, an armoire, a parade, and a polka competition - which pretty much tells you all you need to know - but the film does include a memorable performance by Streisand and the classic numbers "Before the Parade Passes By," "It Only Takes a Moment," and Louis Armstrong's sensational recording of "Hello Dolly," the biggest-selling record of his long and lustrous career, which became a number-one hit single in May 1964 - Armstrong (age 63) being the oldest artist to ever have one - in the process kicking The Beatles from the No. 1 slot they'd owned for 14 consecutive weeks with three separate songs.

Video: 2.35:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Directing Dolly: Gene Kelly Remembered" and vintage featurettes. Studio: 20th Century Fox Home.

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