This Week in Movies & TV, May 21, 2013: Mad, Bad, & Dangerous
When her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum) gets out of stint in prison for insider trading, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) falls into a deep depression and attempts suicide leading to her being put on an experimental new medication that has complicated side effects - such as stabbing your husband while you're sleep walking. This poses all kinds of problems for her psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), and so begins what initially seems to be an exposé of the medication industry but soon turns into a whole different, more traditional - if quite unpredictable - bitter-pill ball of wax.
In his swan-song film, director and cinematographer Steven Soderbergh keeps the look of the picture very low key to match the mood of the movie, with very muted colors, warm, gentle, even lighting, and shallow-focus compositions. This shallowness reflects well the lives of the characters since for everyone it's all about the money - the psychiatrist, pushing the untested drug on his patients as part of a study he's getting paid $50,000 for from the profit-margin-motivated pharmaceutical company, his wife, who leaves him when his income dries up and she doesn't need him anymore because she's just finally gotten a job of her own, his partners, who bail because they risk losing money by association with him, the patient's old psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Emily's reckless trader husband, and even at times the patient herself, all driven by selfishness more than love.
Within these parameters, images are bright, clean, sharp - and somewhat bland. Muted greys and blues fill this rather emotionally grey, bleak film. Within the limited palette, though, there's a wide range of tones. There are deep blacks throughout and bright whites in professional suits, shirts, and blouses. Occasional rich colors, such as Emily's scarlet lipstick or a red desk ornament, are so rare that they really catch your eye. Skin tones are natural at times, grey or green at others as in the rare exterior scene where the characters are surrounded by a mass of grass and hedges. Images are well detailed, patterns distinct in the office sofa, faces in the many extreme close-ups revealing textures, lines, and pores as well as individuated strands in hair.
As with the visuals, the same, downplaying approach is applied in the sound, used in an unobtrusive, unexpressive way, the soundfield generally kept as shallow as the images. It's rarely employed much for music or effects, occupied instead in providing a continuous flow of not too persuasive atmospherics, although in one scene on the subway station, a contemplated suicide attempt is psychologically expressed through an effective, startlingly sudden, loud panning of the train passing front to back and then across the screen. The surrounds also come into play at the moment of the stabbing when overwhelming, squeamishness-inducing bassy electronic sounds flare up from them immersing you in the moment.
Those two incidents and the more room-filling end-credits music apart, most of the sonic action is up front left, right, and center, Thomas Newman's engaging score - consisting of North African-style instrumentation mixed with a little electronica - seeming so natural, full, and open that it could almost be being played in the room.
Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Aliza Website Experience" mock website with ad for the drug, "Ablixa Commercial" the same mock ad, "Behind the Scenes of Side Effects" 3-minute spoof, "Intenin Commercial" promo for a fictional ADHD drug; DVD, iTunes digital copy, and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Universal.
Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics
Four of the biggest Warner classics that helped define the gangster genre - Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, The Petrified Forest, White Heat - have been collected in this 5-disc set (4 Blu-ray discs and 1 DVD) which includes a bonus DVD with the feature-length documentary Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film. Each title comes with a commentary and Warner Night at the Movies extras hosted by Leonard Maltin that includes an introduction and relevant-to-the-film newsreel, short film, cartoon featurette, and trailer to the film and to a connected title of the same era. (The Petrified Forest also has a radio broadcast starring Humphrey Bogart.)
The Pre-Code crime drama Little Caesar (1931) tells of Caesar Enrico Bandello (Edward G. Robinson), a little pug of a guy with a big chip on his shoulder, a small-time hoodlum whose massive ambitions take him - with his cohort Joe Massar (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) - from his country roots to Chicago to pursue his career in crime. There, Rico joins the gang of Sam Vettori (Stanley Fields) and Joe becomes a dancer in a nightclub with Olga (Glenda Farrell) as his dance partner and girlfriend. But Rico, who doesn't approve of women, intends to drag his friend back into the criminal world by involving him in the robbery of the nightclub where Joe dances.
Gradually Rico turns the gang against Vettori, who he claims is getting soft, takes over the gang, and transforms himself into a big shot known as Little Caesar.
Little Caesar, based on the novel by William R. Burnett (who also wrote High Sierra, The Asphalt Jungle, and Dark Command), was directed by Mervyn LeRoy (I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Gold Diggers of 1933, Mister Roberts, Gypsy, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo)and was and made a star of Robinson.
The Public Enemy
Another Pre-Code crime drama, this one set in Prohibition-era Chicago,The Public Enemy (1931) was directed by William "Wild Bill" Wellman (Wings, the 1937 version of A Star Is Born, Nothing Sacred, the 1939 version of Beau Geste, The Ox-Bow Incident, The Story of G.I. Joe, Battleground).
The screenplay is based on Beer and Blood, a never-published novel by John Bright and Kubec Glasmon, two one-time street thugs who had witnessed some of Al Capone's gang warfare in Chicago. It tells the life story of an Irish-American, Tom Powers (James Cagney), and his pal, Matt Doyle (Edward Woods), who as kids start a life of crime together engaging in petty theft. They sell their loot to "Putty Nose" (Murray Kinnell) and later, when they come of age, Putty talks them into joining his gang and doing a job stealing furs from a warehouse. But the naïve, inexperienced young men blow the job and, while being chased by a cop, they shoot him.
In 1920, just before Prohibition, Tom and Matt become enforcers for Paddy Ryan (Robert Emmett O'Connor), going around bars intimidating owners into buying Paddy's beer. Soon they're in the bootlegging business, which is far more lucrative, and they're making good money, living large, but disapproved of by Tom's straight-laced brother, Mike (Donald Cook) - a shell-shocked ex-World War I Marine - who rejects Tom's values and gifts of money to their mother (Beryl Mercer).
Otherwise, everything is going great for the boys - Tom living with Kitty (Mae Clarke), Matt with Mamie (Joan Blondell), until Tom tires of his girlfriend, doing the gentlemanly thing by breaking up with a grapefruit and takes up with Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow) - that is until a rival gang tries to move into Paddy's territory and his boys are forced to go to the mattresses.
The Petrified Forest
A world-weary writer who's a penniless hobo, a waitress yearning for bigger, more poetic and spiritual things, and a dumb jock who loves her walk into restaurant in the Petrified Forest area in northern Arizona. This alone would make for a good story - or joke - but when an infamous bank robber fleeing a massive police hunt holes up there, too, taking them and the rest of the clientele hostage, you get a marvelous mix of crime drama, love story, and thought-provoking existential questioning.
In the lonely, rundown desert diner, disillusioned writer Alan Squire must talk his way out of a deadly situation with a killer - primitive but instinctive Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart). All the while young Gabby Maple (Bette Davis) is touched and smitten by Squire's genteel, intellectual curiosity and the descriptions of his travels in Europe - much to the chagrin of her jealous, blue-collar, beefcake boyfriend.
The Petrified Forest (1936) was directed by Archie Mayo (A Night in Casablanca, Bordertown, Black Legion), the screenplay - co-written by Charles Kenyon and Delmer Daves (writer of An Affair to Remember, White Feather, and Queen Kelly and director of 3:10 to Yuma, Dark Passage, and Broken Arrow) - was based on Robert E. Sherwood's 1935 Broadway hit from which Howard and Bogart recreated their stage roles for the film. It had been newcomer Bogart's first major role and the actor mimicked mannerisms of John Dillinger (who Mantee was based upon) in his portrayal of the complex character, his performance in the film making Bogart a star.
"It looks like I'll spend the rest of my life dead."
James Cagney gives a thrilling performance in this 1949 über gangster movie by director Raoul Walsh (High Sierra, The Roaring Twenties, Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N.) playing Cody Jarrett, a psychotic with the mother of all Oedipus complexes.
In the wake of robbing a train, someone squeals on Jarrett and he ends up in the big house where as a roommate he's given Vic Pardo, who's secretly undercover agent, Hank Fallon (Edmond O'Brien). "Pardo" gains Jarrett's trust when he saves his life from attempted assassination by a con in the pay of "Big Ed" Somers (Steve Cochran) who's trying to take over the gang and steal Jarrett's wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo). So that when Jarrett, further deranged by the death of his Ma (Margaret Wycherly), breaks out of prison, he takes Pardo with him. Now Big Ed's in big trouble - especially after treacherous Verna falsely points the finger at him for the killing of Ma.
Little Caesar, Video: 1.37:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Extras: commentary by Richard B. Jewell film historian at the University of Southern California, Warner Night at the Movies 1930 with introduction by Leonard Maltin, newsreel, The Hard Guy short with Spencer Tracy, Lady Play Your Mandolin cartoon, "Little Caesar: End of Rico, Beginning of the Antihero" featurette, Five Star Final theatrical trailer with Robinson, 1954 rerelease foreword.
The Public Enemy, Video: 1.37:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Extras: commentary by film historian Richard B. Jewell, Maltin hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1931 with newsreel, The Eyes Have It comedy short, Smile, Darn Ya, Smile! cartoon, "Beer and Blood: Enemies of the Public" featurette, 1954 re-release foreword, and theatrical trailers.
The Petrified Forest, Video: 1.37:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Extras: commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax, Maltin hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1936 with introduction, newsreel, Rhythmitis musical short, The Coo Coo Nut Grove Merry Melody cartoon with caricatures of movie stars, "The Petrified Forest: Menace in the Desert" featurette, audio-only Gulf Screen Theater broadcast of The Petrified Forest from 1/7/1940 starring Bogart, Bullets or Ballots (1936) theatrical trailer with Bogart and Edward G. Robinson.
White Heat, Video: 1.37:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Extras: commentary by film historian Dr. Drew Casper, Maltin hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1949 with newsreel, So You Think You're Not Guilty comedy short, Homeless Hare cartoon, "White Heat: Top of the World" featurette, and theatrical trailers. Set Extras: Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film feature documentary, 32-page booklet. Studio: Warner.
Based on the dark, gritty novel Flashfire by Donald Westlake under the pen name Richard Stark, action flic Parker tells of a hard professional thief Parker (Jason Statham) with his own personal set of ethics - "we don't steal from people who can't afford it and don't hurt people who don't deserve it."
But one day, during a job, a member of his crew goes off plan, killing an innocent man in the process. And later, when Parker won't throw his cut into the pot to finance a huge heist, his own thieves double cross him - proving the old adage - beating and shooting Parker, stealing his share, and leaving him for dead. So the moralistic thief goes looking for payback on the group who're now led by Melander (Michael Chiklis), tracking them to Palm Beach, Florida, where the crew is planning their biggest heist ever, the theft of very expensive jewelry from a high-end auction house.
Parker, disguising himself as a rich Texan(!), teams up with real estate agent Leslie (Jennifer Lopez) who's broke but whose smarts, beauty, and ambition Parker can use to help hijack the heist, conquer his enemies, and make their getaway.
This intense, violent, and bloody action thriller is directed by Taylor Hackford (Ray, The Devil's Advocate, An Officer and a Gentleman) and co-stars Wendell Pierce and Nick Nolte. The character of Parker also appeared in the 1962 novel The Hunter, written by Westlake/Stark and more than 20 follow-up novels and in the films Point Blank (as Walker)and its loose remake Payback (as Porter) based on the book The Hunter.
Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: director's commentary, "Bringing the Hunter to Life: The Making of Parker," "Who is Parker?," "The Origin of Parker," and "Broken Necks and Bloody Knuckles" featurettes; UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Sony.
True Bloods: Season 5
Young love these days seems to entail lots of blood, brooding young bloods, boogey men, ghosts, werewolves, and vampires. Just take a look at the British TV series Being Human (and its American version), The Vampire Diaries, and Moonlight. It's nothing new, of course, there was Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and even going back through Dark Shadows in the 1960s to all those 1950s monster movies that teenagers loved to see at the drive in while making out in the privacy of their vehicle. But lately it has definitely gotten more personal and passionate - in a Gothically moody, supernatural teen-romance way - and much more common. The hugely popular TwilightSaga movies set new standards in young passionate angst - not necessarily good standards - and just this week two more Blu-ray examples have been released among us to dwell in a cavern near you.
True Bloods: Season 5
Based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, True Blood is a highly popular spooky-sexy TV drama series created and produced by Alan Ball (Oscar-winning screenwriter of American Beauty, writer-director of Six Feet Under). It concerns a telepathic human-faerie waitress (aren't they all?), Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), who, on meeting handsome and charming, new guy Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) discovers a whole world she never knew existed - vampires.
The creation of synthetic blood (aka "Tru Blood") by Japanese scientists has allowed vampires to come out of the coffin and reveal their existence since, no longer needing human blood to survive, they're no longer a danger to man.
In Season 5, The Vampire Authority, the clandestine agency ruling over vampires - governed with an iron stake by Vampire Guardian Roman (Christopher Meloni) and zealot Salome (Valentina Cervi) - who're behind The Great Revelation and the social movement of mainstreaming, with co-existence between vampires and humans, must face the threat of a coup by their rivals, the fanatical, religious vampire fundamentalist group, Sanguinistas.
And, in addition to such developments which pick up the pace from the slow-moving and rather dopey and maudlin Season 4, the regular characters that fill Sookie's life - Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard) another vampire player, shape-shifting boss Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), clairvoyant Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), teen-vamp Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), friend Tara (Rutina Wesley), and the odd werewolf - are in Season 5 joined by a whole range of other supernatural beings.
All 12 episodes from Season 5 appear in this 7-disc set with DVD and UltraViolet digital copies of the entire season.
Adapted by writer-director Richard LaGravenese, Beautiful Creatures, is the first film based on one of Kami Carcia and Margaret Stohl's series of young adult novels. When a young woman, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), arrives in Gatlin, South Carolina, she takes the fancy of small-town boy Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) who's dying for the day when he'll be able to escape. What gets in the way of this romance, based on shared love of poetry and a mutual hottie attraction, though, is that Lena's strange powers have tended to push possible partners away. For she is a caster, capable of performing magical spells, who, upon entering her coming sixteenth birthday, will undergo the Claiming, which will decide whether her powers will be Light or Dark.
Two dark casters with immense power have arrived intending to make sure that Lena - whom they believe to be an even more influential caster who'll be able to purge the Earth of humans - goes to the Dark.
Other members of the cast include Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Viola Davis, Emmy Possum, Thomas Mann, and Kyle Gallner.
True Bloods, Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: commentaries on select episodes, enhanced viewing modes, interactive timelines, "Inside the Episodes," "Flashbacks/Flash Forwards," "Anatomy of an Episode," "True Blood Lines," "Authority Link-Outs," and "Character Bios" featurettes; DVDs, iTunes digital copies, and UltraViolet digital copies for streaming/downloading. Studio: HBO. Beautiful Creatures, Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: deleted scenes, "Book to Screen," "The Casters," "Between Two Worlds," "Forbidden Romance," "Alternate Worlds," and "Designing the Costumes" featurettes, book trailer: Icons by Margaret Stohl; DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Warner.
My Neighbor Totoro
Howl's Moving Castle
These separate releases of feature-length animated films by director Hayao Miyazakitwos (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) from Studio Ghibli both come with new HD digital transfers and a pair of lossless English and Japanese 5.1 soundtracks.
My Neighbor Totoro
In My Neighbor Totoro (???????or Tonari no Totoro), from 1988, two young girls, Mei and Satsuki, move into a new home that is close to the hospital that their mother is in. We follow Satsuki and her younger, four-year-old sister Mei as they discover that the extremely large tree in their yard is home to Totoro and two other gods of the forest who can only be seen by children. Soon after, they hear news from the hospital that their mother won't be coming home as soon as they had been promised, so Mei leaves her home to go visit her mother. Now only Totoro can help Satsuki find her sister.
The My Neighbor Totoro English language version features the voice talents of Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, and real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning.
Howl's Moving Castle
In Howl's Moving Castle (??????? or Hauru no ugoku shiro) from 2004, simple, teenage Sophie, who diligently works in her family's hat shop, one day finds herself dazzled by a strange, handsome wizard called Howl. The jealous Witch of the Waste puts young Sophie under a curse, transforming her into a 90-year-old woman.
Horrified by her appearance, Sophie flees from the hat shop and hides in the hills, desperately searching for a cure for the curse. There she comes across a magically floating castle where young Howl dwells, and where she befriends Markl, Howl's apprentice, and the fire demon Calcifer who can see through the spell. He will help Sophie, if she will aid in Calcifer's breaking his contract with Howl.
The English language version features the voice talents of Emily Mortimer, Christian Bale, Billy Crystal, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, and Josh Hutcherson.
My Neighbor Totoro, Video: 1.78:1. Audio: Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Extras: "Behind the Microphone," "Behind the Studio," "Creating My Neighbor Totoro," "Creating the Characters," "The Totoro Experience," "Producer's Perspective: Creating Gibli," "The Locations of Totoro," and "Scoring Miyazaki" featurettes, original Japanese storyboards; DVD. Howl's Moving Castle, Video: 1.78:1. Audio: Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Behind the Microphone," "Interview with Pixar Animation Studios Director Pete Docter," and "Hello Mr. Lasseter: Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar Animation Studios" featurettes, original Japanese storyboards; DVD. Studio: Disney.
The Last Stand
Leaving the Narcotics Division at the Los Angeles Police Department after an operation goes terribly wrong, decimating his team, beaten and guilty Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) flees to become sheriff of sleepy border town, Sommerton Junction, Arizona, where there's little crime to deal with.
When a notorious leader of a drug cartel, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), breaks out during a transfer overseen by FBI agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker), his armored truck snatched from a seemingly impregnable convoy of vehicles filled with heavily armed guards, he heads for the Mexican border. Suddenly Sheriff Ray's easy, undemanding life of peace threatens to come to an end since the only thing standing between Cortez and safety is Sommerton Junction.
Aided by a team of mercenaries led by Thomas Burrell (Peter Stormare), Cortez, with a beautiful FBI agent hostage (Génesis Rodríguez), races ever closer in a specially outfitted Corvette ZR1 that can reach speeds of up to 250 mph. Now Sheriff Ray must face his high noon in this bad-guys-on-their-way modern-day Western showdown since he and his misfit deputized townsfolk and Agent Bannister's U.S. law enforcement team are making a final stand to stop Cortez and his band of desperados.
Making his American debut, South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon (The Good, the Bad, the Weird), for better or worse has given Schwarzenegger his first starring role since the debacle of his private life revelation. The Last Stand co-stars Johnny Knoxville, Peter Stormare, Jaimie Alexander, Zach Gilford, Luis Guzmán, Rodrigo Santoro, and Harry Dean Stanton.
This big-boom, good-'n' dumb action shootout comes with a 7.1-channel soundtrack.
Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: "Not In My Town: Making The Last Stand," "Cornfield Chaos" on the car chase scene, "The Dinkum Firearm and Historic Weaponry Museum" on actual historic weapons, and "Actor-Cam Anarchy: with Knoxville and Alexander," featurettes, 32 minutes of deleted, extended, and alternate scenes; iTunes digital copy and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Lionsgate.