This Week in Movies & TV, April 23, 2013: Mobsters & Millionaires

Gangster Squad

By 1949, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a New York Jew, has gone West to follow his manifest destiny to take over Los Angeles and then the whole of the Western United States through buying politicians, judges, and cops with profits from his vice, gambling, and drug rackets. But a badges-and-gloves-off Gangster Squad unit formed by Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) and led by Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) intend to stop him and take apart his rackets and organization. O'Mara, an ex-war hero, and his team are going to war again to regain what they fought for overseas - a bright future for their kids. But Mickey always wants more because he sees Los Angeles as the Wild West and himself as progress.

This film is purposely sensational and its torridly stylized look and feel matches this like a True Detective story or illustration. The 2.40:1 picture has good contrast. Whites in papers and shirts are very bright and blacks in holsters, suits, and shiny cars a deep black. Cohen's "tomato," Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), wears rich crimson lipstick and a matching dress that's saturated. Her and everyone else's skin tones are all quite natural. There's plenty of detail throughout, even in dim shots, so that you can see pores in faces and patterns in the shirt of Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling). Newspapers and police reports are easily readable.

LFEs are used to add menacing mood to scenes, sometimes just a low rumbling, sometimes highly exaggerated noises to slow-motion images like Cohen pounding on a punching bag at the opening, or the flicking of a cigarette lighter, or Mickey's money all going up in flames with a bassy whoosh. In the many action scenes, motors rumble nicely, guns sound like cannons, and vehicles and grenades explode violently loud and deep.

Surrounds are initially used for environmental atmospherics as when we're in the Hollywood Hills where Cohen, with a cry of "let 'er rip" has a rival torn in two by cars the man's chained to. Voices delivering the very stylized patter - sounding more like Dick Tracy dialogue than real film noir - and Cohen's foul expressions are all clear and full. Music - Big Band and Bebop in clubs, new orchestral elsewhere - is often mainly spread across the front channels and not particularly well separated, but when Big Jay's Hop/Blow Blow Blow by Big Jay McNeely kicks off it soon swings and swerves into the surrounds and leaps back and forth and all around like a wild jitterbugger. Guns blast and bullets ricochet nicely about and one slow car wreck is panned well across the screen.

The screenplay to Gangster Squad was written by Will Beall based on the book by Paul Lieberman, Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less) directed, and the excellent ensemble cast doing their best with the arch dialogue includes Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Robert Patrick, and Mireille Enos.

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: The Gangland Files PIP experience, director's commentary and 46-minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes, the same featurettes available separately as "Focus Points: The Set-Up," seven deleted scenes, "Rogues Gallery: Mickey Cohen" 47-minute installment of the TV series narrated by William Devane that profiles Cohen, then and now locations photos, "Tough Guys with Style" reflections of the cast on late 1940s Los Angeles; DVD, iTunes digital copy, and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Warner.

The Great Gatsby

In this lavish 1974 period romance adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jazz Age classic, screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by Jack Clayton (Room at the Top, The Innocents, Our Mother's House), Robert Redford stars as Jay Gatsby, a man who loved and lost his beautiful, spoiled Daisy Buchanan (Mia Farrow), when she went off with rich guy Tom Buchanan (Bruce Dern). So Gatsby made himself rich, too, in order to somehow win her back.

The story is mostly told from the perspective of Nick Carraway (Sam Waterston), a young Midwesterner now renting a humble house during the summers on Long Island, whose neighbor in the epically luxurious mansion next door happens to be the fascinating, mysterious, and reclusive man who lives so lavish a lifestyle. Gradually Carraway is pulled into Gatsby's world of madcap parties and is enlisted by him to help facilitate the romance with Daisy. Carraway becomes witness to the opulence of the era but also the tragedy that will come out of Gatsby's obsession.

In his book Memoirs, Tennessee Williams expressed the view that the film actually surpassed even the classic novel. Two previous film versions of the book were made into movies, a silent version in 1926 directed by Herbert Brenon and starring Warner Baxter, Lois Wilson, and William Powell, and a 1949 sound version directed by Elliot Nugent and starring Alan Ladd, Betty Field, and Shelley Winters. A new adaptation, directed by Baz Luhrmann, will be in theaters in America May 10th.

The film co-stars Karen Black, Scott Wilson, Lois Chiles, Howard Da Silva, Roberts Blossom, and Edward Herrmann.         The Great Gatsby won Oscars for Best Costume Design and Best Music.

Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: None. Studio: Warner.

Jurassic Park 3D

On a remote island. . . .

Twenty years after the release of Steven Spielberg's epic, jaw-dropping, computer-generated-imagery-and-animatronics-filled fantasy adventure in 1993, this transfer has been created from a new, fully restored, color-corrected 4K master of the film's original 35mm negative made for its recent 3D conversion, all approved by the director. It comes with a new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track created by original sound designer Gary Rydstrom. However, the new transfer and new lossless audio mix are only offered on the 3-disc set's 3D disc, which is 3D-locked. This means that to view the new AV presentation of the restored film and hear its 7.1 lossless remix, a 3D display and 3D Blu-ray player (or a 3D-ready computer with a 3D Blu-ray drive) are required. The second Blu-ray disc in the set can be viewed on 2D home theaters, but it's identical to its 2011 counterpart.

Jurasic Park is based on the novel by Michael Crichton and stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, and Martin Ferrero.

Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Return to Jurassic Park: Dawn of a New Era," "Return to Jurassic Park: Making Prehistory," "Return to Jurassic Park: The Next Step in Evolution," "The Making of Jurassic Park," "Steven Spielberg Directs Jurassic Park," "Hurricane in Kauai," "Jurassic Park: Making the Game," and "The World of Jurassic Park 3D" behind-the-scenes featurettes; 2D Blu-ray, DVD, iTunes digital copy, and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Universal.

Promised Land

What the frack? In the latest film from director Gus Van Sant (Milk, Good Will Hunting, Drugstore Cowboy), corporate salespeople Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) travel to the economically deprived farming town of McKinley in Pennsylvania to nobly offer relief to the desperately hard-hit residents - in return for hydraulic fracturing drilling rights for natural gas on their properties. Butler is known for his ability to persuade land owners to sign over the mineral rights leases very fast for very little. The fact that Butler was a farm boy who came from a place and way very similar to that of the people he is trying to persuade, allows him to rationalize his seeming attempted exploitation, convincing them that he is the failing town's last chance. When the townsfolk decide to put Butler's offer up to a community vote, all goes well for him until a respected high school science schoolteacher (Hal Holbrook) raises the question of the safety and an environmental activist (John Krasinski) starts a grassroots campaign, appealing to the local citizenry who have previously been proud of passing their family farms from one generation to the next. Added to that, Butler's interest in a local woman (Rosemarie DeWitt) morally complicate things even more.

Promised Land's screenplay was written by Damon and Kaminski from a story by Dave Eggers, Damon originally going to make the film as his directorial debut before he stepped down due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced by Van Sant (who had directed him in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting).

Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "The Making of Promised Land" featurettes, extended scene; DVD, iTunes digital copy, and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Universal.

Central Park Five

Central Park Five is a recent PBS documentary by Ken Burns, David McMahon, and Sarah Burns that examines the notorious 1989 Central Park Jogger case in which five teenagers - four black and one Latino - were convicted of raping a wealthy, young, white woman in Central Park and each spent between 6 and 13 years in prison before a serial rapist confessed to the crime. The story the film tells is from the perspective of the teenagers whose lives were undone by this miscarriage of justice.

After the body of a badly beaten, barely alive woman was discovered in Central Park on April 20, 1989 it only took a matter of days - after many hours of aggressive interrogation - before Korey Wise, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana confessed to her rape and assault. The police announced to a press that the young men had been part of a gang of teenagers who were out "wilding," assaulting cyclists and a homeless man in Central Park that evening.

In the context of a New York going through a tumultuous time, a city beset by escalating violence with racial and class tensions running at an all-time high, the ensuing media frenzy over a white woman - and one who went to Yale and worked in a Wall Street investment bank - was met with an angry public outcrying for justice and retribution. The young men were tried as adults and convicted despite a complete absence of witnesses, confessions that didn't fit the facts, and DNA evidence that actually excluded them.

The five railroaded kids served their complete sentences before serial rapist Matias Reyes admitted to the crime and DNA testing supported his confession. The film illuminates how law enforcement, social institutions, and media undermined the rights of the individuals purely because of the color of their skin and racial stereotypes.

In 2002, based upon Matias Reyes's confession, a judge vacated the original convictions of the Central Park Five. A year later, the men filed civil lawsuits against the City of New York, and the police officers and prosecutors who had worked toward their conviction and taken away much of their young lives. That lawsuit remains unresolved.

Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, LPCM 2.0 stereo mix. Extras: "Making the Film: Interviews with the Filmmakers" and "After the Central Park Five" featurettes. Studio: PBS.

Pierre Etaix

This collection includes some of French comedy master Pierre Etaix's films, including five features - The Suitor (1962), Yoyo (1965), As Long as You've Got Your Health (1966), The Great Love (1969), and Land of Milk and Honey (1971) - and shorts Rupture (1961), Happy Anniversary (1962), and Feeling Good (1966). Most of them were co-written by Jean-Claude Carrière, screenwriter of Belle de Jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Tin Drum, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and 128 other films.

Etaix's body of work went unseen for decades, tied up in legal dispute with a distribution company, so he's little known to audiences today, but the director-actor's mastery of classic physical comedy (learnt through working as a circus acrobat and clown) puts him in the same pantheon as Jacques Tati with whom he worked as assistant director on Mon Oncle.

The Suitor (Le Soupirant),Pierre Etaix's first feature, is a tribute to Buster Keaton. It tells of a privileged yet sheltered young man (Etaix) who, though obsessed with a famous female singer, is pressured by his parents to find a young woman to marry.

In Yoyo, another homage to silent cinema (complete with intertitles), is a celebration of the circus in which Etaix plays Yoyo, a billionaire with a castle who has everything but longs to share the simple life of a beautiful circus performer. That dream comes true when he loses everything in a stock-market crash allowing him to joins the circus and be with his love. They have a son (also played by Etaix ) who goes from being a clown to a famous actor, giving him the money to be able to buy back his father's castle.

As Long as You've Got Your Health (Tant qu'on a la santé) is a compendium film made up of four stories looking at the 1960s.

The Great Love (Le grand amour) tells of a happily married bourgeois businessman (Etaix) who finds himself tempted by his attractive new secretary.

Land of Milk and Honey (Pays de cocagne) is a documentary which, through observing idle summer vacationers, investigates post–May 1968 French society, asking critical questions about class and gender inequality, media and advertising, and the sexualization of culture.

Etaix shared an Oscar with Carrière when Happy Anniversary won for Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects.

The set contains new digital restorations of all five features and three short films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks.

Video: 1.66:1. Audio: French LPCM Mono. Extras: new interview with Etaix, new video introductions by the director to seven of the films, Pierre Etaix, un destin animé (2010) film portrait of the life and work of the director by his wife Odile Etaix, booklet featuring an essay by critic David Cairns. Studio: The Criterion Collection.

A Haunted House

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the haunted house . . . producer-writer-actor Marlon Wayans' delivers his latest spoof of a movie sub-genre - the shakey-cam, found-footage horror flic.
On videotaping a series of paranormal events, Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) discovers that his girlfriend Keisha (Essence Atkins) who has recently moved into his house with him is possessed by an evil spirit. Malcolm enlists the help of jailbird priest, Father Williams (Cedric the Entertainer), to perform an exorcism of the girl, but sadly not of the film.

A Haunted House was directed by Malcolm D. Lee and co-stars Essence Atkins, Nick Swardson, and David Koechner, Starring: Marlon Wayans, Cedric the Entertainer, Nick Swardson, Alanna Ubach, Essence Atkins, and David Koechner

Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: PIP; DVD, Digital copy, and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Universal.