This Week in Movies & TV, August 13, 2013: Past Lives Lost
A cartoon I once saw depicted a middle-aged businessman staring out of his corner office window and crying out in desperation, "Shane. Come back!" It comments beautifully on the loss and longing and other deep feelings that this classic Western evokes in both boiling down the genre to its essence and getting at the purpose it serves in the American psyche and perhaps the psyche and psychology of all people.
Seen mainly from the perspective of a young boy living on a farm, it tells of a mysterious strangers who drifts into view, a world-weary warrior who finds home in a family and attempts to settle down with them, relating to and in turn affecting each member - father, mother, and son - in the process. However the familial interactions are made more complex by intrusions from the larger world in the shape of the ranchers - earlier settlers of the land who want to push back the newcomers in order to protect the old way of life they'd fought for and not be fenced in. The ultimate threat to the homesteaders, though, comes from a vicious, merciless gunman that the ranchers have brought in to intimidate the farmers into leaving - or else. Only Shane can help the homesteaders find the courage and will to stand up to this threat by involving himself in their fight and putting his own life at risk.
Shane (1953) comes to Blu-ray completely remastered in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio it was composed in, as opposed to the 1.66:1 ratio the studio chose to release it in or the 1.85:1 it has been seen in recently in cinemas and on video. Loyal Griggs's Oscar-winning Technicolor cinematography is filled with the beauty and the grandeur of the Wyoming plains of a remote valley and the Grand Teton massif mountain range in the background but also the dark mood and mystery of the night in the wilderness far from lamplights. In depicting these gloomy hours, the transfer (unlike the included trailer) restrains from brightening the picture, but there's still great clarity amongst the shadows. Color is restrained and subtle, at times a little drained, but mostly there's plenty of rich tones such as a red cockerel head or candy cane or a lime waistcoat and wide ranges of warm greens and browns of the flora, fauna, and horses in the many outdoor sequences. The bad-guy hat of hired gunslinger Wilson (Jack Palance) is truly inky black.
There's plentiful detail throughout, the texture of the homesteaders' rough fabrics and the mud in the streets are almost tactile and every tooth of fringe in the tan suede outfit worn by Shane (Alan Ladd) is visible as are strands of straw on the ground, grain in rows of floor planks, and hairs on a dog's face. This combines with the good contrast to bring out the great depth and volume to compositions such as in a standoff before a gunfight or layers of figures in fore-, medium-, and background, all extremely solid and dimensional as are the rounded faces in close-ups.
The shooting of Frank "Stonewall" Torrey (Elisha Cook Jr. in fine form) is made all the more shocking by the sudden, booming, bassy loudness of the gun as it barks death, knocking Torrey to the ground. Similarly in the inevitable ultimate showdown between Shane and head rancher Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) backed by Wilson, the pistols go off like canons, the bullets slamming bodies over. Voices are all clear and full as is Victor Young's distinct, memorable score. Frequently it's kept to a minimum or the scene is just played out in complete crisp silence - as in the barroom brawl with Ryker's bully Calloway (Ben Johnson) alternating the sound of a blow with long moments of stillness. At other times it movingly comments on the action or rouses with plenty of clean brass, as when Shane rides across the territory on his way into town and trouble.
Ladd, at his most restrained but multi-layered, is ably supported by Brandon De Wilde as the boy, Joey, Jean Arthur as Joey's mother, and Van Heflin as his father.
Producer-director George Stevens (A Place in the Sun, Giant, Gunga Din) made Shane from a screenplay by A.B. Guthrie Jr. (with additional dialogue by Jack Sher) based on Jack Schaefer's 1949 novel. It was nominated for five other Oscars and has become beloved by critics and public alike.
Video: 1.37:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono. Extras: commentary with George Stevens, Jr. and associate producer Ivan Moffat. Studio: Warner.
Olympus Has Fallen
From director Antoine Fuqua (Tears of the Sun, Training Day, Brooklyn's Finest) Olympus Has Fallen tells of what might happen if the White House (codenamed Olympus by the Secret Service) were to be taken over by a North Korean-led guerrilla force and the U.S. President taken hostage.
All this comes about when the President (Aaron Eckhart) is dealing with a tense confrontation on the Korean peninsula that threatened to end the long-term peace between the communist North and U.S. ally South Korea. When the South Korean Prime Minster Lee (Keong Sim) visits the White House for emergency talks with President Asher, they're interrupted by an airborne gunship letting loose on the White House while North Korean ground forces aided by treasonous members of Prime Minister Lee's own detail penetrate the building's defenses and take control of the most heavily fortified building in the world, creating a state of siege.
Leading the attack is North Korean terrorist Kang Yeonsak (Rick Yune) who plans to force American troops to withdraw from the Korean Peninsula so that the North and South can reunify. In addition, he intends to get the nuclear codes and destroy all of America's nuclear missiles in their silos thereby completely irradiating the United States.
Although dozens of Secret Service agents have been killed, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a disgraced, ex-Secret Service agent and former U.S. Army Ranger has managed to get into the building. Since the President and Vice President are captured, Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) is forced to take over the President's duties and deal with the situation, immediately scrambling a national security team. But only with Banning's inside knowledge can the team hope to help retake the damaged White House, save the beloved Commander in Chief, and foil the forces of evil whose plans ultimately threaten the United States and the free world.
This big-ass action movie co-stars Ashley Judd, Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, and Rick Yune.
Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "The Epic Ensemble," "Under Surveillance: The Making of Olympus Has Fallen," "Deconstructing the Black Hawk Sequence," "Ground Combat: Fighting the Terrorists," and "Creating the Action: VFX and Design" featurettes, bloopers; DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Sony.
The Company You Keep
The Company You Keep is a political thriller directed and co-produced by Robert Redford from a screenplay by Lem Dobbs based on the novel by Neil Gordon. It centers on once-anti-Vietnam War militant activist Nick Sloan (Redford), a former member of the Weather Underground who's been in hiding, living under an assumed identity for over thirty years since participating in a Michigan bank robbery in which a security guard was killed.
When one of his old compatriot's, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), is arrested it sets ambitious, young local reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LeBeouf) on the trail of her accomplices. His investigation eventually leads him to Jim Grant (Redford), a recent widower trying to raise his daughter, Isabel (Jackie Evancho), who, despite being a public interest lawyer, has refused to take on Solarz's case. Since Grant is nervous and evasive, Shepard looks into his background with the help of a private investigator and learns that Grant had no Social Security number prior to 1979 and that there's a Californian death certificate under the name Jim Grant. The journalist concludes that Jim is really one of the bank robbers he is tracking.
Meanwhile, spooked Grant takes his daughter on a road trip, but when the journalist reveals the lawyer's real identity, Grant, now a sought-after fugitive, has to stay one step ahead of the FBI task force headed up by Cornelius (Terrence Howard) until he can find his ex-lover, Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie). Another Weather Underground member, she is the one person who might be able to clear his name.
The amazingly talented ensemble cast also includes Anna Kendrick, Sam Elliott, Chris Cooper, Nick Nolte, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Brendan Gleeson, Brit Marling, and Sam Elliott.
Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Behind the Scenes: The Movement" cast and crew discussion, "Behind the Scenes: The Script, Preparation and the Cast" featurette, "On the Red Carpet" on the New York premiere, The Company You Keep press conference with Redford, Tucci, Marling, and Evancho; UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Sony.
Seconds (1966) is a bizarre drama directed by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman of Alcatraz, Seven Days in May) from a screenplay by Lewis John Carlino (The Fox, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, and The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea). It tells of a married, middle-aged, successful broker, Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), who's become dissatisfied with his life-sapping upper-class suburban existence in Scarsdale. He's lost all sense of purpose, his marriage has become loveless, and his married daughter rarely visits.
Hamilton gets a series of phone-calls from a supposedly dead friend, who claims to be actually living a new life free from the anxiety and responsibilities that plagued his previous existence spent pleasing others and living up to their expectations. Now he's doing what he wants and fulfilling the dreams he'd previously had to give up.
Under the advice of his friend, Hamilton goes to the office of a mysterious organization, The Company, run by an old man with no name (Will Geer) who tells him how he can become a new man. Eventually, Hamilton's talked into signing up for the top-to-bottom makeover procedure that will allow him to take on a new identity and a new life, all supplied by The Company. The procedure consists of a team of surgeons changing his face, fingerprints, and teeth to make him unidentifiable, followed by mental and physical rehabilitation and training. The Company then arranges for a body with Hamilton's ID and similar features to be found in a hotel room while Hamilton - now a young-looking, trim, and fit Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson) - gets a new identity as the artist he always wanted to be, living in a beach house in Malibu with a devoted manservant. In return, The Company receives an insanely enormous fee.
Initially, things go well, Wilson liking his new life as a wealthy beachfront bohemian, soon meeting and becoming involved with an attractive, young neighbor, Nora Marcus (Salome Jens), but gradually events happen to make him question the coercive and ruthless methods of The Company and his supposedly better life because, despite his circumstances having been changed, he still feels the same on the inside.
Seconds cast includes Frank Campanella, Murray Hamilton, Jeff Corey, and Richard Anderson. Its striking black-and-white cinematography by James Wong Howe was nominated for an Oscar and Seconds was nominated for the Palme d'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival.
The film comes in a high-def transfer taken from a new 4K digital film restoration from The Criterion Collection with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
Video: 1.75:1. Audio: LPCM Mono. Extras: director's commentary, actor Alec Baldwin on Frankenheimer and Seconds, "A Second Look" new program on the making of Seconds featuring interviews with director's widow Evans Frankenheimer and actor Salome Jens, "Palmer and Pomerance on Seconds" new visual essay by film scholars R. Barton Palmer and Murray Pomerance, archival 1971 short video interview with the director, "Hollywood on the Hudson" archival short excerpt from a rare WNBC news special shot on location during the filming of Seconds in 1965, illustrated booklet featuring an essay by critic David Sterritt. Studio: The Criterion Collection.
In 1945, immediately after Emperor Hirohito (Takatar? Kataoka) surrenders to the Allied Powers, thereby finally ending World War II, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) is sent to Japan and finds that he is now the de facto ruler of the country.
He sets his expert on Japanese culture, the younger staff General Fellers (Matthew Fox), the task to investigate the role Emperor Hirohito played in World War II and find evidence in order to establish whether the Emperor, who is worshipped as a god by the Japanese people, should be tried as a war criminal and, if found guilty, hung - and General Fellers has just got 10 days to do it in. For that is when MacArthur must decide on the Emperor's fate.
As if he didn't have enough on his plate to worry about, General Fellers is also on a quest to find Aya Shimada (Eriko Hatsune), an exchange student he met years earlier in the U.S. and couldn't forget. She, too, will influence the recommendation he will finally make.
Emperor wasscreenwritten by David Klass (Walking Tall, Desperate Measures, Kiss the Girls) and Vera Blasi (Woman on Top, Tortilla Soup) and directed by Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring, Hannibal Rising, Jassim). It is a joint American and Japanese production and the cast includes Eriko Hatsune, Toshiyuki Nishida, and Masayoshi Haneda.
Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: commentary with Webber and producer Yôko Narahashi, "Revenge or Justice – The Making of Emperor" featurette, behind-the-scenes photo gallery, historical photo gallery, deleted scenes. Studio: Lionsgate.
The Damned (Les maudits, 1947), a well respected but long-neglected black-and-white film by French director René Clément (Forbidden Games, Purple Noon, Gervaise) - lost in the French New Wave revolution - starts off in a U-boat pen in Oslo on April of 1945 while the Third Reich is going through its last days.
A Wehrmacht general (Hurt Kronefeld), Himmler's former henchman (Jo Dest) and his male lover (Michel Auclair), an Italian Fascist industrial manufacturer (Fosco Giachetti) and his beautiful wife - the general's lover (Florence Marly) - a Swedish scientist (Lucien Hector) and his 17 year-old daughter Ingrid (Anne Campion), a French journalist collaborator (Paul Bernard), a collaborator couturier (Paul Bernard), Nazis all, plan to cross the sea in a submarine to take refuge in South America where they hope to find shelter.
After the industrialist's wife is wounded in a depth-bomb attack, when the sub gets off the shores of liberated Royan, the group go ashore and kidnap a French doctor, Guilbert (Henri Vidal), who will then be forced to share their trip.
In the confinement of the submarine, the enclosed space makes the drama horribly claustrophobic, a Chinese torture in which the feelings of hatred and contempt are barely suppressed. Guilbert realizes that because he's not a Nazi, in order to survive he'll have to have his wits about him and use his medical knowledge as he plays out a deadly game of survival of the smartest.
The Damned (1947) costars Marcel Dalio, Henri Vidal, Florence Marly, Paul Bernard (I), and Michel Auclair.
Video: 1.37:1. Audio: LPCM 2.0. Extras: commentary by Judith Mayne and John E. Davidson, Dominique Maillet's 2010 documentary René Clement or The Cinema of Sketches. Studio: Cohen Film Collection.