This Week in Movies & TV, May 7, 2013: Prisoners, Escapees, & Outsiders

Jack Reacher

Reacher (Tom Cruise) is an ex-lifer military police officer living off the grid. He agrees to become lead investigator for attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) who’s trying to keep a veteran sniper off death row since all evidence points to him having randomly shot five people. Reacher is a Bourne-like character — expert at armed and unarmed combat and just about everything else — in a Bourne-like film, complete with conspiracies and car chases, but one with an individual, involving plot, play-out, and cinematic style. Filled with kick-ass action set pieces, genuinely spooky, one-eyed, one-fingered, villain (maestro Werner Herzog), and bizarre bat beat-down by Laurel and Hardy-like thugs, Jack Reacher is a way above average thriller and an audio delight.

In the picture, although the style of lighting, shallow-focus, and horizontal 2.35:1 compositions make images flat, they are still sharp and detailed, maintaining a film-like look by not over-pumping either. Yet watch dials, striations on shell cases, and the lines, pores, and perspiration on Tom Cruise’s faces (both) are visible. Contrast is excellent, though color, like composition, is unimaginative, with blue tints in offices, hospitals, and legal discussions, yellow in Iraq flashbacks and romantic scenes, and random rich tones of a scarlet outfit or green passing car. Blacks are the deepest and whites are quite bright.

From the opening, the 7.1 mix — with the loading of a sniper’s rifle, one sharp snap after another — rapidly ratchets up tension. Then the shooting begins, seen from the killer’s telescopic point of view, so that when shots erupt so boomingly right behind your head — echoing up front as figure drops — each makes you jump, dousing in adrenalin. The whole sequence is extremely effective and affecting. Between such set pieces the score smoothes you out without totally losing an edge.

Joe Kramer’s orchestral music flows from all channels engagingly, moving things forward emotionally. Generally, the rears and surrounds are only utilized for score and certain effects, all atmospherics coming from the front — that is until the big final shootout immerses and soaks you in a heavy rainfall. This sequence also has some of the best gunfire audio ever, with Reacher’s buddy, Cash (Robert Duvall), shooting at hidden enemies by bouncing bullets off construction equipment behind them, the ricochets snapping satisfyingly around the room while other weaponry is punching all about.

Strangely, the full, clear, and vibrant voices are solely in center channel — even when characters stand far apart. Vehicle and chopper fly-bys, though, are very accurately panned, such as when one car startlingly suddenly charges straight at you, snarling past on the right back behind you. Each rumbles bassily, particularly Reacher’s souped-up, red Chevelle SS, which sits idling like a threateningly growling lion before it roars into the chase.

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: commentary by Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie, music-only track (sadly Dolby Digital 2.0) with commentary by composer Kraemer, “When the Man Comes Around,” “You Do Not Mess with Jack Reacher: Combat & Weapons,” and “The Reacher Phenomenon” featurettes; DVD and digital copies. Studio: Paramount.

The Great Escape

Dum-dum. Da-daaar du dum-dum. Dum dum, da daaar da-dum dum dum-dum. Based on author Paul Brickhill’s non-fiction account of surviving the Nazi high-security camp designated as Stalag Luft III, a maximum-security prison-of-war camp opened in 1943, designed to hold the best of all Allied POW escape artists. The Germans high command had hoped to get all their bad apples out of their other camps, but unwittingly had assembled the finest escape team in history who planned, worked, and executed the largest prison breakout ever attempted.

It also allowed for one of the greatest teams of ensemble actors to be assembled to play them, including Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, Charles Bronson, David McCallum, Gordon Jackson, John Leyton, Nigel Stock, Hannes Messemer, Angus Lennie, and Donald Pleasence.

Squadron Leader Bartlett (Attenborough) comes up with an ambitious plan for a mass exodus of 250 men involving three tunnels — “Tom,” “Dick,” and “Harry. Soon the energies of the entire camp are involved in the escape, digging, disposing of the dirt, and manufacturing the disguises, forged papers, maps, and compasses that will be needed once the men are outside the wire.

The book was transformed into a screenplay by James Clavell (633 Squadron, To Sir With Love, The Satan Bug) and W. R. Burnett (The Getaway, High Sierra, The Asphalt Jungle, This Gun For Hire) that was directed by John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, Bad Day at Black Rock, The Old Man and the Sea). All the major studios passed on the script but Sturges eventually got the film into production at the Mirisch Company and kept the cast, who were convinced they were making a big flop, happy, including McQueen, who had to be constantly convinced that he was actually the star of the film, not just part of an ensemble.

The result, with all its memorable characters — “The Tunnel Kings” (Bronson and Leyton), “The Scrounger” (Garner), “Big X” (Attenborough), “The Manufacturer” (Coburn), “The Cooler King” (McQueen), “The Mole” (Lennie), “The Forger” (Pleasance), and “The Ferrets” (Robert Graf, Til Kiwe, and Heinz Weiss) — is one of the most entertaining, most watchable and re-watchable movies ever made.

For its 50th anniversary this new high-definition transfer of the 172-minute The Great Escape (1963) was created from a 4K master. The remastered restoration was screened at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Video: 2.35:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: commentary made up of interviews with director Sturges, cast, and crew with moderator Steven Jay Rubin, The History Channel featurettes from 2001 — “The Great Escape: Preparations for Freedom” on the real escape efforts by prisoners at Stalag Luft III, “The Great Escape: The Flight to Freedom” on the real escapees flight after getting past the wire, “The Great Escape: Bringing Fact to Fiction” narrated by Burt Reynolds on the differences between the actual history and the movie, “The Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones” on American Army pilot David Jones whom McQueen’s character was based upon, and “The Great Escape: A Standing Ovation” on the film’s reception by audiences and particularly by former POWs, The Great Escape: The Untold Story 50-minute 2001 British TV documentary on Allied efforts to identify and prosecute members of the Gestapo responsible for the deaths of escaped prisoners, Return to The Great Escape 1993 Showtime documentary “The Great Escape: The Untold Story” interviews. Studio: MGM.

Band of Outsiders

Loosely based on Fool’s Gold by Dolores Hitchens, Band of Outsiders(Bande à part, 1964), the New Wave classic by master filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard (Breathless, Contempt, Pierrot le Fou, Histoire(s) du cinema), tells of two friends, Arthur (Claude Brasseur) and Frantz (Sami Frey), who meet a beautiful but naive young woman, Odile (Anna Karina), at an English language class and become instant pals. Since the pair share an interest in literature and a love of crime fiction and films, when they learn from Odile that the house she’s staying in has a stash of cash she stumbled upon, they decide to pull a robbery — just like in the Hollywood movies.

Meanwhile, the guys flirt and play with Odile — running through the Louvre, travelling on the Métro, performing a musical dance routine to Michel Legrand music in a bistro — Franz being the first to make a play for her, but Odile deciding she is drawn to Arthur more because he seems the decenter guy. However, she has her doubts about the plan and whether she wants to go on the lam with Franz, who is manipulating her, and Arthur, who’s willing to go along with him for the money so he can be financially free of his dominating uncle.

This band of outsider amateurs can barely stick together or stay focused for long let alone pull off a heist, but they, and we, have a lot of fun in the process, with the help of Godard’s voiceover narration telling us what they think and feel — often the opposite of what they themselves express.

This postmodern gangster film was shot by Godard’s regular cinematographer, the great Raoul Coutard (Breathless, Jules et Jim, Z, Alphaville). The Blu-ray disc contains a new digital master of Gaumont’s recent high-definition restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.

Video: 1.33:1. Audio: French LPCM Mono with English subtitles. Extras: “Visual Glossary” collection of clips from Band of Outsiders with explanations of each reference, wordplay, and quote therein, “Godard, 1964” clips from director Andre S. Labarthe’s documentary La nouvelle vague par elle-meme interviews with Godard in French with optional English subtitles, separate 2002 video interviews with Karina and Coutard in French, with optional English subtitles, Les fiancés du pont Mac Donald (1961) silent short directed by Agnes Varda which appears in the French director’s pre-New Wave Cleo From 5 to 7 starring Godard, Karina, Frey, and Daniele Girard with English subtitles, illustrated booklet featuring essay by poet and critic Joshua Clover, Godard’s character descriptions from Band of Outsiders’ press book, and an interview with him. Studio: The Criterion Collection.

In the Name of the Father

In this 1993 biographical film from director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, The Field, The Boxer), a petty thief from Belfast, Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis), is falsely accused of being involved in the IRA bombing of a London pub that killed four off-duty British soldiers and a civilian, injuring 74.

The film starts in the early 1970s. When young Gerry’s attempts to steal lead from the roofs of houses in Belfast brings security forces and armored cars into the area, causing a riot to break out in response, he’s sent off to London by his father, Giuseppe (Pete Postlethwaite), to avoid the future ire of the IRA.

In England he spends his time in a squat focusing on free love and dope. After stealing money from a prostitute, he returns to Belfast, but his family’s home is raided by the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary who arrest and rendition him back to Britain for interrogation.

There, bullied, threatened, and tortured by pissed-off British police for seven days under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, he and his friends finally sign a confession. When his father travels from Belfast to help his son, he, too — along with Gerry’s aunt’s family (collectively known as the Maguire Seven) — is arrested and convicted of supporting the bombing through handling the nitroglycerin and Gerry, his friends, and his family are sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

Gerry spends 15 years in prison, trying to prove his innocence and that of his father with the help of a highly dedicated British attorney, Gareth Peirce (Emma Thompson). Gradually the bitter, rebellious son develops a close relationship with his father and the world he’d previously barely been living in.

The screenplay was adapted by Terry George and Sheridan from the Conlon’s autobiography. In the Name of the Fatherreceived seven Oscar nominations, including Best Actor (Day-Lewis), Best Supporting Actor (Postlethwaite), Best Supporting Actress (Emma Thompson), Best Director, and Best Picture.

Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: none. Studio: Universal.


Viva Zapata!

Based on a screenplay by John Steinbeck and directed by Elia Kazan (On the WaterfrontA Streetcar Named DesireEast of Eden), Viva Zapata! (1952), relates the difficult but colorful life of the legendary and then the mythic Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata who led a rebellion in the early 20th century against the neo-feudal dictatorship of President Porfirio Díaz.

Marlon Brando, in his follow-up to his phenomenally successful and influential performance in A Streetcar Named Desire the year before, gives a brilliant and charismatic portrayal of the revolutionary leader. After going as part of a peasant delegation addressing their complaints to the President Díaz (Fay Roope), and being rejected, he and his brother Eufemio (Anthony Quinn, in a Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winning performance) Zapata are driven to lead an open rebellion and armed insurrection.

Eventually Díaz is toppled by the armed struggle and Francisco Indalecio Madero (Harold Gordon) takes his place. Madero seems well meaning but doesn’t really understand the need for land reform, is more concerned about appointing himself president, and puts his trust in ambitious, ruthless General Victoriano Huerta (Frank Silvera). Zapata soon realizes to his dismay that nothing has changed, that the new regime is just as oppressive and corrupt as the previous one. “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.” Zapata begins a battle against Madero, capturing city after city, and is soon close to overthrowing him, but Madero is captured and then executed by Huerta.

Zapata is guided solely by his desire to return the land to the peasants whom it has been stolen from, but what chance has he when even his own brother, putting himself above the law, is using the power he has to exploit the poor by taking whatever and whoever takes his fancy. Nonetheless, Zapata decides to fight on, against all odds, for what he knows is right.

“It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”— Emiliano Zapata.

Kazan based the look of this classic political movie on photographs that were taken during the revolution between 1909 and 1919, but also took inspiration from Paisan, Roberto Rossellini’s 1946 neorealist classic. Viva Zapata! co-stars Jean Peters as Zapata’s wife, Josefa, Joseph Wiseman as ideologue and journalist Fernando Aguirre, and Alan Reed as Pancho Villa.

Video: 1.33:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Extras: none. Studio: 20th Century Fox.

An Officer and a Gentleman

In An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), the lonely loner Zack Mayo (Richard Gere), after losing his mother and suffering a difficult childhood as a Navy brat, dragged around the world by his hard-drinking chief boatswain’s mate father, enters Officer Candidate School in order to attempt to become a Navy pilot — much to his contemptuous drunken dad’s amusement.

Over the course of 13 tortuous weeks, under the grueling, tough tutelage of in-your-face drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr., who won an Academy Award for his memorable portrayal), Zack learns the importance of discipline and friendship, and that no man can make it alone (goddammit!). Zack even learns to love — Paula Pokrifki (Debra Winger) — despite Foley’s warnings about husband-hunting local slutty girls seeking to snag a well-paid Navy pilot.

This romantic drama, written by Douglas Day Stewart and directed by Taylor Hackford (Ray, Dolores Claiborne, The Devil’s Advocate), co-stars Debra Winger, David Keith, and Robert Loggia.

Video: 1.85:1. Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Extras: commentary, featurettes, still gallery. Studio: Warner.