This Week in Movies & TV, August 27, 2013: Razzle Dazzle

The Great Gatsby

As with Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!, with this adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel set during the Roaring Twenties, the writer-producer-director creates a series of set pieces of bravura filmmaking with careering camerawork of huge zoom-ins and acrobatic fly-arounds all tied together with rapid montages. This creates a visual rhythm that dazzles and sweeps you up. Also like Moulin Rouge!, visuals and audio are test-disc marvelous, delivering true home theater heaven.

In telling the story of Nick Carraway — a young would-be writer who lives on Long Island next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby, and across the bay from his cousin Daisy and her philandering, blue-blooded husband Tom Buchanan — Luhrmann puts on a show, a high-octane, three-ring circus depicting the captivatingly lavish life of his superrich neighbor as seen through the young man’s eyes, a brilliant but hollow world of illusion, lost love, and deceit.

Contrast is perfect with wafting drapes, shirts, telephones, and sanatorium doctor’s lab coat all of the brightest whites and butlers’ uniforms, suits, and bowties the deepest blacks. In the bright picture there’s a broad range of solid pastels mixed in with incredibly saturated blocks of primaries such as the yellow, turquoise, and scarlet flapper dresses and crimson décor in the love nest they party in. Flowers look beautiful and skin tones are all very natural, both well variegated.

Images are cutthroat-razor sharp and there are vast quantities of detail throughout so that pores in faces are visible as are patterns to lace and texture, not just in in Nick Carraway’s tweeds but everywhere.

Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, Romeo + Juliet, Strictly Ballroom), with the help of executive producer Jay-Z  and executive music producer Anton Monsted, fills the film with music by Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Fergie, Q Tip, Goonrock, will.i.am, Lana del Rey, Bryan Ferry, Florence + the Machine, Andre 3000, The XX, Sia, Gotye, Lana Del Rey, Coco O. of Quadron, Jack White, and Nero. It’s sort of Hip-Hop Jazz-Age but there’s also elements of real ’20s jazz, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” floor-shaking organ music, and original orchestral score all mashed-up together. And it sounds sensational.

The very active surrounds are in constant use, especially when we get to Gatsby’s palace party when everything goes into overdrive, coming way off the front to utterly immerse you in the very open, full, and bassy soundtrack. There’s a wide dynamic range with blaring brass and booming beats bouncing back and forth diagonally as “Who Gon Stop Me” by Kanye West and Jay-Z completely overwhelms you from all sides. The steam train sounds incredibly real, and chuggily deep, too. Gatsby’s canary yellow Duesenberg dashes all around you, its supercharged engine rumbling and roaring like a tank, all the audio effect panning of it being accurately placed. Surrounds are also used for atmospherics with birds flying behind your head, running water, and flurry of snow-filled wind.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher, Joel Edgerton, and Elizabeth Debicki.

The Great Gatsby is also available in a 3D Blu-ray set that comes with a 2D Blu-ray DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading.

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: 14 minutes of deleted scenes including alternate ending with Luhrmann introductions, “The Swinging Sounds of Gatsby,” “The Greatness of Gatsby,” “Fitzgerald’s Visual Poetry” (in 3D), “Razzle Dazzle: The Fashion of the ’20s,” and “The Jazz Age” featurettes, “Gatsby Revealed” on five key sequences, Within and Without Tobey Maguire on-set video,The Great Gatsby (1926) vintage silent film trailer; DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Warner.

Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection

Winner of seven Emmys, eight BAFTAs, and a Peabody, this much beloved British police drama series created by writer Lynda La Plante stars Helen Mirren in an Emmy-winning performance as Jane Tennison, a tough, tenaciously driven but deeply flawed Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) in the highly sexist London Metropolitan Police force. Not only must she solve the horrific crimes she’s assigned, but also battle her own demons.

This 7-disc set includes 7 mystery miniseries — each 200 plus minutes — made intermitantly over the years 1991 through 2006 following Tennison from her first real case all the way through to the last months before her retirement. The incredibly strong cast appearing in the series includes Ralph Fiennes, Tom Wilkinson, Zoë Wanamaker, David Thewlis, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Bell, Frank Finlay, and Jonny Lee Miller.

When we fist meet her in Prime Suspect 1 (1991), DCI Tennison’s finally been given the opportunity to take charge of a murder investigation — an especially gruesome one. But when she learns that a suspect has already been identified before she's even come on board, and finds that her own team — all male — are openly hostile to her, and then uncovers inconsistencies and contradictory facts, she begins to believe that some kind of internal cover-up is going on. Now Tennison must ignore the pressures from both above and below in order to work out whether this is a regular murder case or the latest attack of a serial killer.

Prime Suspect 2 (1992) finds DCI Tennison investigating a racially charged murder while dealing with complications in her personal life.

In Prime Suspect 3 (1993), Tennison, assigned to a vice squad, investigates a child murder.

Prime Suspect 4 (1995) consists of three separate cases (each 102 minutes long) — “The Lost Child,” “Inner Circles,” and “Scent of Darkness” — with Tennison orchestrating a search for a baby that a convicted child molester might have abducted, looking into the murder of a country club manager that leads her to a possible political scandal, and investigating a series of brutal killings that resemble those in her first major case, suggesting to her subordinates that she may have locked up the wrong guy.

In Prime Suspect 5 — “Errors of Judgment” (1996) — a drug murder in Manchester leads Tennison to believe it's linked to a  local crime boss.

Episode 6 — “The Last Witness” (2003) — finds Tennison after the killer of a Bosnian refugee, leading her to Serbian war criminals who are out to silence all witnesses to a decade-old massacre. (The series returned after a seven-year hiatus.)

In Episode 7 — “The Final Act” (2006) — Tennison, now approaching, dealing with her own alcoholism and the death of her father (Frank Finlay), investigates her final murder case — that of a missing girl.

Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Extras: 50-minute behind-the-scenes special, 23-minute behind-the-scenes featurette for Prime Suspect 6, photo gallery, cast filmographies. Studio: Acorn Media.

To Be or Not to Be

In this 1942 screwball masterpiece from director Ernst Lubitsch (Ninotchka, Heaven Can Wait, Trouble in Paradise), Jack Benny and Carole Lombard (in her final film before she died in a plane crash at age 34) play Joseph and Maria Tura, famous husband-and-wife stage actors in a hammy troupe in 1939 German-occupied Warsaw, who find themselves involved in a dangerous spy plot.

The lovely Maria receives a bouquet from handsome admirer Lt. Stanislav Sobinski (Robert Stack) who, while Joseph is playing Hamlet on stage, makes a play for her backstage. Soon after, Sobinski is sent to London where he meets Professor Siletsky (Stanley Ridges) who, supposedly, has established contact with the leaders of the Polish Resistance. Sobinski becomes suspicious, though, when he learns the Professor Siletsky has never heard of Maria Tura and meanwhile, back in Warsaw, the Gestapo begins rounding up suspected members of the Resistance.

The professor leaves for Warsaw where he meets with Maria in order to give her a message from Sobinski and, instantly charmed by her and impressed by her intelligence, decides to make her a Nazi spy, too. Maria learns that Professor Siletsky has information that, if it were delivered to the German High Command, would be devastating to the Polish resistance, so the acting troupe decides to use their talents for impersonation to prevent this from happening.

The film co-stars Tom Dugan, Charles Halton, Lionel Atwill, Stanley Ridges, and Sig Ruman. To Be or Not to Be went into production soon after the U.S. entered World War II yet Lubitsch was still able to bring off a comedy based upon horribly serious situations.

To Be or Not to Be comes in a new, restored 2K digital film transfer with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.

Video: 1.37:1. Audio: LPCM Mono. Extras: new commentary by film historian David Kalat, Lubitsch le patron 54-minute French 2010 documentary (with optional English subtitles) on Lubitsch’s career, Schuhpalast Pinkus (Pinkus's Shoe Palace) 45-minute early film which Lubitsch directed in 1916 (with German intertitles and optional English subtitles), 2 episodes of The Screen Guild Theater radio anthology series — “Variety” (1940) starring Jack Benny, Claudette Colbert, and Lubitsch and “To Be or Not to Be” (1942) radio adaptation starring William Powell, Diana Lewis, and Sig Ruman, booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien. Studio: The Criterion Collection.

The Walking Dead: Season 3

The Walking Dead was developed for television by writer-director-co-executive producer Frank Darabont from the comic book series by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard. It’s a dark and unsettling story of a small group of survivors in a flesh-eating zombie apocalypse, travelling across the United States in search of a new home away from the rambling, shambling deadheads.

In the previous seasons, having awoken from a coma to find the country devastated and then tracked down his family near the overrun Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, old-world sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) had to lead the group to the supposedly safe CDC in Fort Benning, the group threatened by internal strife as much as the deadly “walkers.”

In Season 3 (2012–2013), as their situation grows more and more grim, the desperation of the group of survivors — including his pregnant wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), his son Carl (Chandler Riggs), Andrea (Laurie Holden), Darryl (Norman Reedus), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Theodore “T-Dog” Douglas (IronE Singleton), Carol (Melissa McBride), Beth (Emily Kinney), Hershel (Scott Wilson), and Hershel’s daughters Maggie (Lauren Cohan) — pushes them to desperate actions in their struggle to survive.

Having abandoned the farm, losing Andrea in the process, they come upon a prison occupied by another group — former inmates — who are initially hostile to the newcomers, but Lori needs somewhere safe to give birth and this structure, with its high walls capable of keeping zombies out, fits the bill — especially since it’s filled with guns and ammunition as well as plentiful food supplies.

Andrea (Laurie Holden) and the sword-savvy Michonne (Danai Gurira) who saved her are taken to Woodbury, a well-fortified town ruled over by “The Governor” (David Morrissey) who charms Andrea but makes her companion suspicious. Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) — Daryl’s older brother — has taken refuge in Woodbury as well and when Michonne decides to leave, Merle’s ordered to hunt her down. He only wounds her but captures Maggie and Glenn. Michonne goes to the prison and guides Rick, Oscar, and Daryl back to Woodbury in an attempt to rescue their friends.

The series has a creepy 7.1-channel soundtrack and Season 3 comes as a 5-Blu-ray-disc set with all 16 episodes.

The Walking Dead: Season 3 is also available housed in a McFarlane Toys Governor’s aquarium case with a collection of severed zombie heads.

Video: 1.78:1. Audio: Dolby TrueHD 7.1. Extras: commentaries by Ferland and actor Singleton for “Killer Within,” director-co-executive producer-special effects make-up artist Greg Nicotero and actor Gurira for “Say the Word,” executive producer-writer Robert Kirkman, executive producers David Alpert and Gale Anne Hurd, and Gurira for “Made to Suffer,” executive producer Gale Anne Hurd and Gurira for “The Suicide King,” and director-co-executive producer-special effects make-up artist Greg Nicotero and actor Rooker for “This Sorrowful Life,” deleted scenes, “Rising Son,” “Evil Eye,” “Gone, But Not Forgotten,” “Heart of a Warrior,” “Michonne vs. The Governor,” “Safety Behind Bars,” “Making the Dead,” and “Guts and Glory” featurettes. Studio: Starz/Anchor Bay.

And Then There Were None

In this 1945 adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic thriller, Ten Little Indians, by director René Clair (Entr’acte, Le Million, Under the Roofs of Paris) and screenwriter Dudley Nichols (Bringing Up Baby,Stagecoach, For Whom the Bell Tolls), 10 strangers are invited to a lavish mansion on a small, isolated island off the coast of Devon, England by a mysteriously missing host.

When they go ahead and settle down to dine, tended by two newly hired servants, Thomas and Ethel Rogers (Richard Haydn and Queenie Leonard), the guests each find themselves accused of a different murder by the voice ushering forth from a gramophone player — presumably their host, U. N. Owen (or Unknown) — who reveals that he intends to exact “justice” for each of their crimes.

One visitor dies. And then another. Gradually, one by one, the guests begin to turn up dead. Since escape from the island is impossible until the boat comes back at the end of the weekend, the survivors can only struggle to discover where their host might be hiding or whether one of them might their host and/or be responsible for the murders.

And then there’s the broken figurines that are found as each corpse is discovered and the fact that each death matches a verse of the “Ten Little Indians” nursery rhyme. . . .  Meanwhile, the corpses continue to pile up and the paranoia and distrust to flourish.

The cast of great character actors in And Then There Were None includes Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Roland Young, Louis Hayward, June Duprez, Mischa Auer, C. Aubrey Smith, and Judith Anderson.

Video: 1.37:1. Audio: TBA. Extras: TBA. Studio: VCI.

Kon-Tiki

In 1947 Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen), together with five other men, crossed the Pacific ocean in a balsa wood raft to prove that, even back in pre-Columbian times, South Americans had the wherewithal to cross the sea to be the first to settle on Polynesian islands.

This historical drama from directing duo Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Max Manus: Man of War, Bandidas, and the upcoming production of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) tells the story of the legendary explorer who, when the scientific community rejected his theory, resolves to prove its validity and save his reputation by embarking on the voyage himself.

Kon-Tiki recreates the adventure, from the origin of his idea, the gathering of financing for the trip with loans and donations, the recruiting of a group of five men bold enough to tackle the supposedly impossible trip, the building of a simple raft to original pre-Columbian specifications, and the epic 101 day-long journey across 8,000 kilometers of unpredictable ocean while the world watched and waited in awe.

Kon-Tiki co-stars Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Gustaf Skarsgård, Odd Magnus Williamson, Tobias Santelmann, and Jakob Oftebro. It was nominated this year for Best Foreign Language Feature Film Oscar. The scenes at sea were shot on the open ocean rather than on a set for greater verisimilitude.

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras:Kon-Tiki: The Incredible True Story” and “Visual Effects” featurettes; DVD. Studio: Anchor Bay.

Pain & Gain

This, the latest action movie from director Michael Bay (Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon), is based on the say-it-aint-so true story of the Sun Gym gang. Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), bodybuilder and successful personal trainer in a Miami, Florida gym, works hard for his sculpted physique and believes he deserves more for his efforts. So he recruits fellow trainer Adrian (Anthony Mackie), who’s suffering from steroid-induced impotence, and fellow employee Paul (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a cocaine-addicted ex-convict, to help him snatch client Victor (Tony Shalhoub), a super-rich braggart entrepreneur, to force him to surrender all his assets to them. But this crime-comedy story of the pursuit of the American Dream, material obsession, and being all that you can be ends up as a true tale of torture and attempted murder.

Eventually, the Sun Gym gang blows the murder and the money and soon has a retired private investigator Ed Du Bois, III (Ed Harris) hot on their trail. So they decide to do the logical bodybuilder thing  — repeat — planning another kidnapping and murder.

Pain & Gain co-stars Rob Corddry, Anthony Mackie, and Rebel Wilson, and Rebel Wilson.

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: none; DVD and digital copy. Studio: Paramount.

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