This Week in Movies and TV, March 12th 2013: Hitchcock, Lang, & Buñuel

Life of Pi 3D

What do you do when you find yourself adrift alone in the Pacific Ocean on a 26-foot lifeboat with just the company of an orangutan, a hyena, a zebra, and a majestic but fearsome, nay terrifying 450-pound male Bengal tiger? This is the sticky situation Pi Patel must deal with while trying to survive the elements and discover the meaning of life.

Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, that's been published in 40 languages, and directed by visually masterful Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonBrokeback Mountain), the highly-acclaimed, live-action and computer-animated Life of Pi is a 3D epic, a magical adventure of hope despite impossible odds - I mean literally impossible - related by Indian storyteller Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) telling the tall tale of his extraordinary life.

Sixteen-year-old son (Suraj Sharma) of a Pondicherry zoo owner in India, up to this point Pi's spent all his spare energy studying the world's major religions, becoming a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Jew (but not walking into a bar), taking from them what he can in order to find the different faces of God, despite his father (Adil Hussein) being a strict rationalist. Pi begins another kind of journey when his family decide to move to Canada and a better life, setting off on a huge Japanese freighter accompanied by some of the animals which they intend to sell in the United States. But 'twas not meant to be for they never reach their destination, being lost at sea in a storm that leads to a spectacular shipwreck.

Life of Pi has an adapted screenplay by David Magee and co-stars Rafe Spall and Gérard Depardieu. This $120 million-budgeted 3D spectacle earned $600 million in worldwide box office, was nominated for 11 Oscars (including Best Film Editing, Music, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Song, Cinematography, Visual Effects, Direction, Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film), winning for Best Cinematography, Direction, Music, and Visual Effects.

Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: "A Remarkable Vision" 20-minute featurette, "A Filmmaker's Epic Journey" 63minute featurette, "Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright" 8-minute featurette, stills gallery, storyboards, deleted scenes in 3D and 2D, VFX (visual effects) progressions in 3D and 2D; Blu-ray, DVD, and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: 20th Century Fox.

Hitchcock

Director Sacha Gervasi's dramatic biopic, based on a non-fiction book about the beloved Master of Suspense by Stephen Rebello, tells of Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his relationship with his wife and artistic collaborator Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) at the time they were working together on Psycho.

Despite the success of North by Northwest in 1959, the filmmaker is troubled by suggestions in the press that it would be a good time for him to retire. So, just to show them he's still got game, Hitchcock sets out to make his most daring and experimental film - a gruesome horror flick from a novel by Robert Bloch, which in turn is based on the murders of serial killer Ed Gein.

Alma, initially as unenthusiastic as the acclaimed director's horrified colleagues at his proposal - especially since she's taken to working on a script with their writer friend, Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), who's also trying to pitch a project of his own - eventually comes on board, even suggesting the revolutionary concept of killing off the main character early in the film and then convincing him to accept the idea of composer Bernard Herrmann (Paul Schackman) to have harsh, jagged strings over the shower scene.

But experimentation is not what the studio heads are looking for, forcing Hitchcock to personally finance the film. The pressures this puts on the filmmaker - such as having to deal with representatives of the Motion Picture Production Code - Hitchcock's relationship with female lead Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), and his interpretation of Alma's visits to Cook's cottage to collaborate with the writer as his wife perhaps collaborating in a lot more personal ways, all add stress to the marriage, adding to the general frisson of the filming, helping give Psycho its unique qualities.

Hitchcock co-stars Toni Collette as Peggy Robertson, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins, Michael Stuhlbarg as Lew Wasserman, and Wallace Langham as Saul Bass.

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: commentary by Gervasi and Stephen Rebello, deleted scene, "Becoming the Master: From Hopkins to Hitchcock," "Obsessed with Hitchcock," "The Story," "The Cast," "Danny Elfman Maestro," "Hitch and Alma," and "Remembering Hitchcock" featurettes, Gervasi's behind-the-scenes cell phone footage, Hitchcock cell phone PSA; DVD and digital copies. Studio: 20th Century Fox.

Alfred Hitchcock: The Classic Collection

This three-disc, three-film collection offers some of the best of the director Alfred Hitchcock's films, all from a 1940–1946 period - Rebecca,Spellbound,and Notorious.

In Rebecca (1940), Hitch's romantic suspense thriller based on Daphne DuMaurier's novel, a young bride (Joan Fontaine) feels constantly in competition with and compared to the much remembered and revered, glamorous and glamorously dead first wife of her still-haunted new husband, Max DeWinter (Laurence Olivier).

Since David O. Selznick talked Hitchcock into leaving his native Britain to go Hollywood, Hitch responded by setting his first film firmly solidly in moody and moldy old England. The Second Mrs. de Winter (as Joan Fontaine's character is constantly addressed and listed in the credits) wanders the creepy corridors of Max's Gothic palace, Manderley, which is not only filled with Rebecca, but the presence of her acolyte, the menacing Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson in an Oscar nominated performance) - one of the most memorable villains ever created. Meanwhile, tormented, romantic hero Max strides around self-lacerating and staring moodily out to sea while his wife attempts to discover what really happened to Rebecca.

Rebecca won Oscar Awards for Best Picture and Best Black-and-White Cinematography (George Barnes).

In Spellbound (1945), the frigidly intellectual, emotionally restrained psychiatrist, Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman), is sad to see the respected chief-of-staff at Green Manors institution in Vermont, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), leave but his replacement, the mysterious but glamorous Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck), opens certain doors to her. Only problem is he has a slight difficulty with remembering things - like who he is - and could well be a killer. Nonetheless, the fevered paranoia comes with simmering sexuality and romance that prevents cooler heads from prevailing while parallel lines come together as Constance goes on the lam with her neurosis-shrouded suspected murderer in search of secrets and answers of the subconscious and the identity of who did the murder.

Spellbound was groundbreaking in being first mainstream film to feature psychoanalysis as a central theme using a captivating Freudian dream sequence by Surrealist icon Salvador Dalí to provide a series of startlingly bizarre images, a delirious screenplay by Ben Hecht, and a lush Oscar-winning score by Miklós Rózsa to add to the vertiginous swooniness.

Notorious (1946) has another script by Ben Hecht, this one set at the end of World War II. A beautiful playgirl, Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), with a Nazi-spy father is recruited by U.S. Military Intelligence agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) to infiltrate a group of suspect Germans in Brazil. Devlin, a dashing, devilishly handsome, but ruthless operative becomes her handler (in more ways than one) and soon the two spies find that - while she's insinuating herself into the life of the ringleader of the Germans, Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) - they are falling in love. But when Sebastian proposes marriage. Devlin, under pressure from his boss and wishing to test Huberman, allows her to decide what to do. In order to get the information the military requires and feeling hurt and abandoned by Devilin, she agrees to go ahead with the wedding. And everything goes to hell, sending both agents into a spiral of jealousy, guilt, and betrayal and leaving Bergman vulnerable and trapped with her new husband and his hostile mother (Leopoldine Konstantin) who are beginning to suspect the truth.

All, Video: 1.37:1. Notorious, Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Extras: commentary by film professor Rick Jewell, commentary by film professor Drew Casper, isolated music-and-effects track highlighting Roy Webb's score, "The Ultimate Romance: The Making of Notorious" 30-minute featurette, "Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Spymaster" featurette, "The American Film Institute Award: The Key to Hitchcock" featurette with Hitchcock's granddaughter Mary Stone introducing snippets of footage from Hitch's AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, 60-minute 1948 radio play version of Notorious starring Joseph Cotton and Ingrid Bergman, Hitchcock audio interviews includes talks with Peter Bogdanovich and François Truffaut, restoration comparison. Spellbound, Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Extras: commentary by film historians Thomas Schatz and Charles Ramirez Berg, "Running With Scissors: Hitchcock, Surrealism and Salvador Dali," "Guilt By Association: Psychoanalyzing Spellbound," and "A Cinderella Story: Rhonda Fleming" featurettes 60-minute 1948 radio version of Spellbound directed by Hitchcock starring Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli, Bogdanovich interview with Hitchcock. Rebecca, Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, music Dolby Digital 2.0. Extras: commentary by Richard Schickel, "The Making of Rebecca" about the conflicts between Hitchcock and Selznick and  "The Gothic World of Daphne DuMaurier" featurettes, screen tests of Margaret Sullavan and Vivien Leigh with Laurence Olivier, original 60-minute 1938 radio play version starring Orson Welles, 60-minute 1941 Cecil B. DeMille radio play version starring Ronald Colman, Ida Lupino and Judith Anderson, isolated music-and-effects track, 1950 60-minute radio play version with Laurence Olivier and Leigh, Hitchcock audio interviews includes chats with Bogdanovich and Truffaut. Studio: MGM.

This Must Be the Place

In the oddball drama by Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, bored, retired, laissez-faire '80s rock-star legend Cheyenne (Sean Penn), a middle-aged, Gothy childlike creature living reclusively in Dublin with his butch, firefighter wife, Jane (Frances McDormand), learns his dad is dying. He travels to New York for that final, fateful deathbed scene where father and son finally reconcile except that when he arrives the old man's already croaked. What he does get to connect with is his father's past, of being a prisoner in Auschwitz and his father's failed quest for vengeance against his persecutor, Nazi war criminal SS Officer Aloise Lange (Heinz Lieven) who's hiding out somewhere in America.

So begins Cheyenne's hunt, a road-trip to track down and confront his father's nemesis that enervates him anew and helps him find purpose, his journey leading him to enter many lives, his shy, often touching or hilarious interactions profoundly changing him and the people he meets.

The film co-stars Judd Hirsh, Kerry Condon, Harry Dean Stanton, Joyce Van Patten.

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: TBA. Studio: Starz/Anchor Bay. 

Ministry of Fear

Masked in shadows of paranoia, this dark and dread-filled 1944 Fritz Lang adaptation of the novel by Graham Greene - hugely entertaining - is a collapse-into-the-shadow world of war-time spies, mental instability, and sinister Nazi connections.

On his way to London after being released from an insane asylum he'd been sent to for supposedly murdering his wife, Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) stops to kill some time at a seemingly innocent English village fair while waiting for his train for London and in a raffle, at the urging of a mind reader, inadvertently comes into possession of a cake - one containing information sought by a Nazi network! Before he gets off the train he meets a blind man who swings a mean sap, but on pursuing him into the night is held up by German bombers that put a dent in the blind man and his cake.

Looking for answers in London, Neale visits the office of a company run by two Austrian refugees, charming Willi (Carl Esmond) and his delightful sister Carla Hilfe (Marjorie Reynolds), in order to get the address of the mind reader that told him how to win the cake. Willi takes Stephen to meet her and, of course, they end up in a séance, the lights go out, a gun blazes in the dark, and someone drops down dead. Exit Stephen, hunted by the police for murder but intent on clearing himself.

Ministry of Fear was shot by cinematographer Henry Sharp (Duck Soup, The Crowd, While the City Sleeps) and co-starred Dan Duryea, Hillary Brooke, and Alan Napier.

The film comes in a new 2K digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.

Video: 1.37:1. Audio: LPCM Mono. Extras: "On Ministry of Fear" 18-minute video interview with author and Lang scholar Joe McElhaney (The Death of Classical Cinema), leaflet featuring an essay by Glenn Kenny. Studio: The Criterion Collection. 

Tristana

Following the death of her mother, Tristana (Catherine Deneuve), a young, beautiful woman is entrusted to the guardianship of the well-respected, much older Don Lope (Fernando Rey). For playful prankster and provocateur-director Luis Buñuel, this is all the set up that's required to allow the everyday madness of love and lust to take hold and begin to play itself out in this delightful and deliciously uncomfortable cinematic treat.

Don Lope is popular and well thought of because of his seemingly conservative and honorable and ways, despite his frequently expressed socialistic and libertine views. But in the close proximity of the innocent girl, Don Lope cannot help himself growing more intimate and then falling for his charge, soon seducing her and making her his lover.

Since he considers himself beyond the brainwashing control of church, state, and bourgeois morality, Don Lope encourages his ward to adopt his free-thinking and freedom-loving beliefs. Unfortunately, he gets more than he bargained for and realizes that his faith in his own superior ideas are just fantasies and that he's really a jealous and possessive old letch eventually having to deal with the older Tristana's vengeful ruthlessness.

With Tristana (1970) - which is based on a novel by Benito Pérez Galdòs, author of Buñuel's hit 1961 film Viridiana (in which the director and Deneuve collaborated as they did again in Belle de Jour in 1967) - Buñuel mixed dreams, dream-like waking moments, and subliminal elements to make a Freudian-based examination of his characters and human nature that resonates for years after.

Video: 1.66:1. Audio: Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Tristana's Sentimental Education: A Conversation Between Catherine Deneuve and Kent Jones" 2012 commentary, "Luis Buñuel's Tristana: Repression and Desire" insights by Buñuel scholar Peter William Evans, 2012 restoration trailer. Studio: Cohen Media Group.

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