This Week in Movies & TV, May 28, 2013: Epic Curious

Cleopatra

For its 50th anniversary - along with the hoopla of a Cannes Film Festival re-release, a limited theatrical engagement in more than 200 theaters, and Richard Burton's posthumously receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next to Elizabeth Taylor's - Cleopatra has been newly digitally restored in a 243-minute original theatrical cut. (Over the years there have also been a 192-minute version, a 233-minute TV version, a 320-minute director's cut, and a 248-minute roadshow version.)

The 1963 "historical" epic, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, Guys and Dolls,The Quiet American, Julius Caesar), was shot on 70mm Todd-AO by Leon Shamroy who won an Oscar for Best Cinematography. In addition, Cleopatra was nominated for eight other Oscars (including Best Picture), also winning for Best Art Direction, Best (Color) Costume Design, and Best Visual Effects.

It tells the story of Cleopatra VII (Elizabeth Taylor), the young Queen of Egypt who, in 48 BC, must use all her womanly wiles, to secure power from her equally ambitious and ruthless teenage brother Ptolem and resist the imperialist ambitions of Rome. In the process she seduces one general from Rome - Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) - only in turn to be seduced herself by manly Mark Antony (Richard Burton).

Cleopatra co-stars Roddy McDowall, Carroll O'Connor, and Martin Landau. The music score was by Alex North. The screenplay was adapted by Sidney Buchman, Ben Hecht, Ranald MacDougall, and Mankiewicz from a book by Carlo Maria Franzero.

Cleopatra was the highest grossing film of 1963, bringing in more than $24 million in its initial release. Unfortunately it cost $42 million to make (equivalent to over $300 million today) and nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox. The three-year production was dragged out by delays, the creation of insanely elaborate sets and costumes, the near-death illness of its leading lady, and relocation of the production from London to Rome, all leading to a very publically celebrated love affair between its stars over the period and a horribly runaway budget. However, its box-office take has since gone up to $57,750,000 in the US, $62,000,000 worldwide.

The 2-disc set is packaged with a full-color book, comes with three new featurettes, and offers the choice of the original 4-channel soundtrack or a 5.1 mix.

Video: 2.20:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 4.0. Extras: commentary with Chris Mankiewicz, Tom Mankiewicz, Martin Landau and Jack Brodsky, "Cleopatra Through The Ages: A Cultural History," "Cleopatra's Missing Footage," "Fox Movie Channel presents Fox Legacy with Tom Rothman," "The Cleopatra Papers: A Private Correspondence," "Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood," "The Fourth Star of Cleopatra," Fox Movietone News, archival footage of the New York premiere, archival footage of the Hollywood premiere, full-color book featuring rare images from the making of the film. Studio: 20th Century Fox.

Dark Skies

Lacy (Keri Russell) and Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton), never having seen a horror movie before, move to a quiet suburban house to raise their children, Jesse (Dakota Goyo), and younger son Sammy (Kadan Rockett), in peace and safety. But at night, Sammy reads scary stories about The Sandman in bed via walkie-talkie. Then, surprisingly, an escalating series of strange occurrences begin to occur - fridge food on the floor one night, packaged foods and cans stacked in towers the next, missing photographs, and three swarming flocks of migrating birds - hundreds of them - kamikazing against the building from three sides. And if that wasn't bad enough, laid-off dad can't pay the mortgage.

After their inquiries and pleas to the police authorities draw a blank, the family start to suspect . . . the supernatural. But even paranormal expert Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons) can't do anything to help them and soon Lacy and Daniel begin to feel that they're losing it. But to what? And how can they protect their family against such a seeming generic horror-movie threat - especially when it all turns out it's not to be a generic horror movie threat?

Writer-directed Scott Stewart (Priest, Legion) made Dark Skies for $3.5 million and it went on to earn $23.4 million worldwide. The film co-stars Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, Annie Thurman, J.K. Simmons, and Trevor St. John.

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: commentary with Stewart, producer Jason Blum, executive producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, and editor Peter Gvozdas, deleted and alternate scenes; DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Starz/Anchor Bay.

Life is Sweet

This moving 1990 film from director Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies, Career Girls, All Or Nothing) - his third and most internationally successful cinematic project - is a portrait of a working-class family in a northern London suburb. The parents are Wendy(Alison Steadman), the upbeat stalwart center of the family who works in a baby clothing shop, is a part-time waitress, and teaches dance at a primary school. Andy (Jim Broadbent) is a loving but somewhat lost professional executive chef in an industrial kitchen who likes to plan projects but rarely gets round to following through. His latest idea is to buy and do up an ancient, beat-up hamburger van.

Their twin twenty-something daughters are Natalie (Claire Skinner) and Nicola (Jane Horrocks). Natalie is an easygoing apprentice plumber who likes to hang out with her male workmates drinking and playing pool but dreams of going to America. Nicola is troubled and moody, unemployed and bulimically thin, whilst being highly critical of those around her who don't live up to her political standards.

With these seemingly simple characters and situations and his usual humanist insight, honesty, and sensitivity, Leigh creates a world that, though lacking in any Hollywood romance or glamor, tells us instead an awful lot about our common humanity.

Life is Sweet co-stars Stephen Rea, Timothy Spall, and David Thewlis. It was shot by by Leigh's frequent cinematographer, Dick Pope and the music was composed by Rachel Portman. The film is presented here in a new high-definition digital restoration, with lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround soundtrack.

Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Extras: new director's commentary, audio recording of a 1991 interview with Leigh at the National Film Theatre in London, booklet featuring an essay by critic David Sterritt. Studio: The Criterion Collection.

The Star Chamber

In this 1983 thriller from director Peter Hyams (Outland, Timecop, Capricorn One), an idealistic L.A. Superior Court Judge, Steven Hardin (Michael Douglas) is disgusted by the legal system that forces him to free a pair of child rapists and murderers on a technicality. Particularly since they then go on to rape and kill another boy. So when he's told by his friend, Judge Caulfield (Hal Holbrook), of a group of nine like-minded judges called the Star Chamber who meet to go over such cases, he's intrigued. Soon he's meeting with them behind closed doors and joins the Star Chamber in identifying criminals who've managed to escape justice, trying them in this secret court, and, if the accused are found guilty, sentencing them to an unusual form of punishment - assassination by a hired hit man.

All well and good until police detective (Yaphet Kotto) comes to Hardin with conclusive evidence that it was someone else that raped and killed the boy. Unfortunately the two men have just been sentenced to death by the Star Chamber for a crime, it seems, they did not commit and so now Hardin has to find a way to somehow stop the assassin before he completes his mission.

The Star Chamber co-stars Sharon Gless, James Sikking, and Otis Day.

Video: 2.35:1. Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Extras: None . Studio: Starz/Anchor Bay.

The Grass is Greener

In this 1960 rom-com-dram from director Stanley Donen (Charade,Indiscreet, Funny Face,Singin' in the Rain), British Earl Victor of Rhyall (Cary Grant) and his wife, Countess Hilary of Rhyall (Deborah Kerr) are in such dire financial straights they're forced to open their home to the common public, allowing plebeians to take guided tours of their stately home.

A smooth-talking, good-looking American oil tycoon, Charles Delacro (Robert Mitchum), on traipsing into Hilary's private quarters, by his unusual attention, sweeps the earl's sweet wife off her feet forcing the now-attentive earl, on the encouragement of his old flame/his wife's best friend (Jean Simmons), to take up arms against a sea of troubles by inviting the cad up for a weekend to the death.

This sophisticated and blunt analysis of matrimonial endeavors was written by Hugh Williams and Margaret Vyner adapted from their own West End hit play.

Video: 2.35:1. Audio: TBA. Extras: TBA. Studio: Olive Films.

In Old California

In this black-and-white 1942 Republic Pictures Western from director William C. McGann (Illegal, Murder on the Second Floor, The Case of the Black Cat), Tom Craig (John Wayne), a mild-mannered but ambitious pharmacist who moves from Boston to Sacramento, settling into the tough frontier town during the Californian gold rush. He soon comes into conflict with the local political boss, Britt Dawson (Albert Dekker), who makes his money from forcing the citizens to pay protection payments. Tom decides to go after Dawson by leading the settlers in a revolt against paying the corrupt gun-toting politician's taxes, a fight that will inevitably lead to bullets not ballots. In Old California's cast includes Binnie Barnes, Patsy Kelly, Dick Purcell, Harry Shannon, Helen Parrish, and Edgar Kennedy.

Video: 1.37:1. Audio: TBA. Extras: TBA. Studio: Olive Films.

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