This Week in Movies & TV, July 16, 2013: Civil Rights & Civilization
42 is so schmaltzy, clean-cut, clean-living, and well brought up that it makes sentimental 1940s-made baseball biopics with Jimmy Stewart (The Stratton Story) or Gary Cooper (The Pride of the Yankees) seem positively cynical and bawdy in comparison. But the game play is good and exciting and it's all in a good cause and it's a story that needs to be told.
Writer-director Brian Helgeland (screenwriter of L.A. Confidential, Mystic River, and Robin Hood, writer-director of Payback, A Knight's Tale, and The Order), rather than telling the whole biography of Jackie Robinson, focuses solely on the heroic story of his history-making 1946 signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers and subsequent playing in Major League Baseball, thereby breaking the league's and the country's color barrier, changing the sport and prejudices forever.
Having first signed Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to Minors' team the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers' innovative general manager, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), then brings the incredibly talented player to Brooklyn for the big show and helps guide him through the inevitable racially-based challenges that would follow, from fans, press, rivals, and teammates, forcing Robinson to demonstrate incredible courage and self-restraint in order to pave the way for other African Americans and players of all colors to follow.
In 42's bright, gently-lit 2.35:1 pretty picture, contrast is exceptional with the deep, deep blacks in suits, cars, and Rickey's bow tie, the deepest of which is in a racist airline ticket seller's outfit which is set off against an intensely bright white blouse, as if the separation of blacks and whites were reflected in the well-defined extremes in her attire. As Rickey points out, though, this isn't about black or white it's about green - the color of money when you win the World Series - and the tones in this transfer are beautiful: a wide range of attractive pastels in the clothes of the crowd, lovely greys in the suit of play-by-play announcer Red Barber (John C. McGinley at his best), and rich crimson of the team bus, the scarlet dress of Robinson's loving wife, Rachel Isum (Nicole Beharie), and the American flag. Skin tones, such as the even tones of the young players and the more mottled ones of aging Rickey and weathered Montreal Royals' manager Clay Hopper (Brett Cullen), are all natural.
I would have liked compositions to have deeper focus so that background crowds in the bleachers were clearer while the game's in play in the fore- and mid-ground, but whoever's the subject of a shot, they're always sharp and detailed. You can see individual strands and curls in hair, the texture to woolen suits, and the intricacies in patterns such as that in Robinson's ties. You can also make out type in newspapers and the Dodgers name on uniforms which is very crisp and solid. Trees have highly variegated bark and blades of grass and pebbles in dirt paths are visible even in shadow as are grains in the pitcher's mound.
In the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, each channel is engaged for Mark Isham's always uplifting orchestral score that underlines or leads you to every emotion you're supposed to be feeling and for the marvelous period-evoking Artie Shaw Orchestra numbers like Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" in beautiful 5.1, the instrumentation well separated amongst each of the channels yet coming together in the middle of the room and all around you, clear, full, with a wide dynamic range.
Surrounds are also used for atmospherics to help create immersive environments such as an airport lounge with its announcements, planes flying over, and babies complaining or the ball park with its booing bystanders, national anthem echoing convincingly in the public address system, and other babies complaining. I only wish that when the crowds finally start roaring for Robinson, they weren't drowned out by Mr. Isham's rousingly soaring brass.
There's nicely convincing pans of trains rattling diagonally by, into or out of the back and at one point you can hear a car engine menacingly purring its approach from behind. And pitches smack satisfyingly into gloves having whooshed past your head into the center channel.
42 costars Christopher Meloni as Dodgers skipper Leo Durocher, T. R. Knight as sportswriter turned Dodgers secretary Harold Parrott - Robinson's Boswell - and Lucas Black as shortstop Pee Wee Reese.
Video: 2.35:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Stepping into History," "Full-Contact Baseball," and "The Legacy of the Number 42" featurettes; DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Warner.
Lord of the Flies
In this 1963 black-and-white film adaptation of William Golding's provocative novel, renowned experimental theater and film director Peter Brook (Marat/Sade, Meetings with Remarkable Men, King Lear) creates a raw, almost documentary-like look and feel as if the story were evolving naturally from the characters themselves as we watch.
After their plane crashes on an isolated island, a large group of grade-school boys - evacuees from England following the outbreak of the next world war - find themselves . . . lost. The first survivors to emerge are Ralph (James Aubrey), a tall, smart, athletic type and Piggy (Hugh Edwards) a short-sighted, overweight kid who wears large glasses but, under the circumstances, they put aside their differences and throw in together. It's not long, however, before they're joined by more boys from the crash.
Initially the children are happy celebrating their freedom and fantasy, as if they'd found themselves in a giant adventure playground, but soon they realize that they're on their own and in order to survive they'll have to get organized. Electing Ralph as their leader, they soon get a fire going with Piggy's glasses in order to be able to signal passing ships and then set about building shelters.
One boy, Jack (Tom Chapin), however, doesn't like the new set-up and, armed with a knife, leads a group of boys off to go hunting and catch a pig. After feeding everyone with the cooked pork, he declares he's forming a new group and many of the boys follow him, replacing Ralph's democratic order and civilization with chaos and savage cruelty. And then the boys discover a beast hiding up in the hills that's making strange sounds. . . .
In 1963, Lord of the Flies was nominated for the Palme d'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival.
This newly restored 4K digital film transfer was supervised by cameraman and editor Gerald Feil and comes with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
Video: 1.37:1. Audio: LPCM Mono. Extras: commentary featuring Brook, producer Lewis Allen, director of photography Tom Hollyman, and Feil, audio recordings of Golding reading from Lord of the Flies accompanied by the corresponding scenes from the film, deleted scene with optional commentary and reading by Golding, 2008 interview with Brook, collection of behind-the-scenes home movies, screen tests, outtakes, and stills, new interview with Feil, excerpt from Feil's 1972 documentary The Empty Space showcasing Brook's theater methods, Something Queer in the Warehouse composed of never-before-seen footage shot by the boy actors during production with new voice-over by Tom Gaman (who played Simon), booklet featuring an essay by film critic Geoffrey Macnab and an excerpt from Brook's book The Shifting Point. Studio: The Criterion Collection.
Don't you hate it when your employers erase all records of your existence and mark you and your long-estranged offspring for "termination" as part of a wide-reaching international conspiracy? Ex-CIA operative Ben Logan (Aaron Eckhart) does and rebellious teenage daughter Amy (Liana Liberato) isn't happy, either, especially when they're forced to go on the run.
Ben had been stationed in Belgium working for mega-conglomerate Halgate, testing security by fooling eye scanners, coded locks, and breaking into safes. Now he and Amy are being pursued by enemies including a relentless, enigmatic agent Anna Brandt (Olga Kurylenko) and hitman Maitland (Eric Godon). The only way they can save themselves is by taking on the company, with its near-limitless resources, and discover the truth behind its rulers' massive wrongdoings.
In order to expose the evil capitalistic plan headed up by billionaire badman, Halgate (Garrick Hagon) and help get his and Amy's lives back, Ben has to take Amy on a tour of his old associates to help in the investigation, but in doing so he's revealing to his daughter his past as a C.I.A. assassin. Dem's de breaks.
Directed by Philipp Stölzl (North Face, Young Goethe in Love, Baby), this international action thriller co-stars include Olga Kurylenko, Garrick Hagon, Neil Napier, and Alexander Fehling.
Erased (a.k.a The Expatriate) is the number 10 most pirated movie online globally.
Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: behind-the-scenes featurette. Studio: Anchor Bay.
Bullet to the Head
Bullet to the Head - directed by Walter Hill (writer of The MacKintosh Man, The Getaway, and The Drowning Pool and writer-director of The Driver, The Warriors, and Red Heat) from a screenplay written by Alessandro Camon based on a French graphic novel by Alexis Nolent and Colin Wilson - is a take-no-prisoners action film about a New Orleans hitman forced to form an alliance with a Washington D.C. detective to get the guy who wasted each of their partners.
After hitman Jimmy Bobo (Sylvester Stallone) and his partner Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda) kill corrupt cop Hank Greely (Holt McCallany), Washington D.C. Detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) is sent to New Orleans to investigate the murder. Meanwhile, the two assassins are attacked by an ex-mercenary enforcer named Keegan (Jason Momoa), Blanchard being left dead but Bobo escaping. Kwon, on seeing Blanchard's body at the morgue, deduces that Blanchard and Bobo took out Greely and meets up with the surviving hitman to tell him he knows.
Afterwards, when Kwon tries to follow Bobo, he's attacked by more corrupt cops who were ordered by Keegan's employer, Robert Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), to prevent Kwon's investigation of Greely's death. Bobo rescues Kwon and takes him to a tattoo parlor where Bobo's daughter, Lisa (Sarah Shahi), treats Kwon's wounds. After a deadly run-in at a massage parlor with Ronnie Earl (Brian Van Holt), the middleman who hired Bobo and Blanchard, Bobo and Kwon agree to work together to solve the case.
Bullet to the Head co-stars Christian Slater, Weronika Rosati, Marcus Lyle Brown, Weronika Rosati, and Marcus Lyle Brown.
Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Bullet to the Head: Mayhem Inc." featurette; DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Warner.
Masterpiece Mystery: Endeavour Series 1
In this whodunit murder mystery prequel to the long-running and much-beloved British TV series, Inspector Morse (adapted from Colin Dexter's novels), Endeavour Morse, rookie Oxford detective constable (DC), has got the instincts and deductive powers but not yet the experience or the signature red Jaguar.
The series starts out in 1965 when Morse (Shaun Evans), an ambitious and eager young man, is seriously considering departing from the police force, disillusioned and bored silly from doing dull, drab, day-to-day police work. But when a murder lands in his lap, one that makes demands on the particular talents he possesses, the challenge actually intrigues and engages him. Apart from the pilot, this 3-disc set of Series 1 includes four other individual feature films (all full UK-edition length).
In "Girl" Morse, who has now proven his mettle through the detecting methods and the instincts he brought to the previous murder case, is given a lot of help and encouragement by his senior partner and mentor, Detective Inspector Fred Thursday (Roger Allam), who recognizes his brilliance.
But even back then Morse manages to rub folk the wrong way with his manner. And now he has got to deal with an unimpressed and imposing new Oxford police chief, Superintendent Bright (Anton Lesser). In the mean time, Morse and Thursday begin investigating the mysterious death of a young secretarial student from a supposed heart attack that Morse is suspicious of - especially when other bodies start to crop up. Over the course of the case, Morse also makes the acquaintance of police constable, PC Strange (Sean Rigby), a character from the original Inspector Morse series.
"Fugue" finds DC Morse and DI Thursday dealing with a whole string of Oxford homicides that completely take over the round-the-clock efforts of the entire police department. Even though an expert on serial killer profiling, Dr. Daniel Cronin (Geoffrey Streatfield), comes on to assist, it's Morse's love of opera that gives him a lead to a possible suspect.
In "Rocket," during a royal visit from Princess Margaret to a family-owned munitions factory that's constructing missiles to sell to a country in the Middle East, the celebrations are cut short when an employee is murdered. Morse delves into the factory-owning family's murky past - as well as his own since one of the factory workers, Alice (Maimie McCoy), is a former Oxford classmate of Morse who's always had the hots for him.
"Home" offers Morse a seemingly simple hit-and-run case in which an eminent Oxford professor is killed, but which turns out to be connected to a land deal concerning a local university and some disgruntles local farmers whose livelihood is threatened. The pressure mounts for Morse, who is also studying for his upcoming Sergeant's Exam, when his father takes ill and an old enemy of Thursday appears from his past threatening to reveal aspects of the Inspector's history.
Endeavour is written by Russell Lewis, directed by Colm McCarthy, and produced by Mammoth Screen for ITV Studios and Masterpiece. It co-stars Flora Montgomery, James Bradshaw, and Abigail Thaw (John Thaw's daughter).
Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Extras: none. Studio: PBS.
Continuing their mission to destroy the world's most famous landmarks, the team of producer-co-writer Dean Devlin (Independence Day) and co-writer-director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, White House Down) let Godzilla (1998) loose on Manhattan.
The giant, irradiation-mutated, computer-generated lizard, created by the French atomic bomb tests in the South Pacific, leaves home for the Big Apple in hope of making a big hit there with his wreaking-havoc-and-making-mayhem act. On the way he rehearses by destroying a supertanker and some Panamanian forests, but on arrival - despite the U.S. the military forces that take down the Flatiron and Chrysler buildings - Godzilla really takes New York by storm.
Now only nuclear scientist, Dr. Niko Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick), his ex-girlfriend and would-be ace reporter, Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo), and Agent Philippe Roaché (Jean Reno) of the French foreign intelligence agency (DGSE), can figure out a way to close the show, prevent Godzilla from breeding asexually, and save what's left of the city.
Godzilla 4K is one of the "optimised for 4K Ultra HD TVs," Sony is creating to show off the TVs' upscaling capabilities. (Other titles coming out this week includeSpider-Man, Men in Black, and Moneyball.) Once again, although mastered in 4K, these Blu-rays themselves aren't Ultra HD 4K resolution - 4,000 pixels of horizontal resolution - since a 4K movie, weighing in at a hefty 200GB, can't fit on a Blu-ray disc. But these 1080p transfers, with new expanded color (which can be played using existing HDTVs and Blu-ray players) are a stopgap for those looking to benefit from their 4K television.
Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: none; UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading.