DVDs for March 12 by Boo Allen
This week we begin in 1955 Moscow:
Moscow in 1955 is not where one would expect to find an engaging film bursting with color, with dazzling musical scenes, rebellious youth, striking costumes and hilarious hair styles, and a theme about the need for self expression. But this crazy 2008 musical comedy-drama, totally original but reminiscent of a mixture of Chicago, Amelie, West Wide Story and others, now reaches American shores thanks to distributor Kino Lorber. Co-writer and director Valery Todorovsky delivers an energetic work about non-conformist youths in Moscow who adapt Western style clothing and hair styles and listen and dance to forbidden American music. They naturally become targets for abuse and authoritarian repression. A basic love story about outsider Mels (Anton Shagin) falling for hot yet elusive hipster Polza (Oksana Akinshina) goes on too long and feels stretched out, but the director delivers a series of engaging musical numbers, many popping up out of nowhere, and has assembled a talented young cast to complement the Romeo and Juliet figures. Todorovksy imaginatively choreographs her scenes, spliced together with delicate editing to give a constant feel of animation. A real surprise, a real delight.
Not rated, 125 minutes.
Life of Pi (***)
Winner of the Best Director Oscar Ang Lee directs David Magee’s script from Yann Martel’s allegorical and fantastical novel. A boy, Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma), travels with his family from India to Canada. But a shipwreck throws him into a small boat with a group of zoo animals. Quickly, they are all reduced to a computer generated tiger. The two co-exist, an incongruity that supposedly gives Zen-like life lessons to the boy. He eventually grows into the man (Irrfan Khan) who tells the story in flashback. Entertaining pseudo-spiritual diversion with elaborate special effects. The colorful film garnered four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. It won four awards.
Rated PG, 127 minutes. The DVD comes in all formats, including Blu-ray 3-D, Blu-ray, Ultraviolet, and DVD. Various editions contains varying supplements so check labels. Included are: the 20 minute featurette “A
Remarkable Vision,” the five minute featurette “Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright,” and the 64 minute documentary “A Filmmaker’s Epid Journey.” Plus: Five deleted scenes, VFX Progressions, stills, storyboards and more.
This latest release from the Cohen Film Collection, dedicated to reviving and rescuing notable films, showcases the biting 1970 puzzle from Spanish-Mexican director Luis Bunuel. The impish provocateur loved to skewer everything, but particularly delighted in tweaking religious authorities and Franco’s government. He bases Tristana on Benito Perez’ 1892 novel updated to 1920s Toledo. Catherine Denueve stars as Tristana, orphaned and sent to live with a guardian, Don Lope (Fernando Rey). What starts out as abuse of the young woman ends up with her turning the tables on the predatory Don Lope, taking a lover (Franco Nero—seen recently in Django Unchained), and losing a leg. Bunuel blithely mixes his diverse elements to render a satirical look at Spanish norms.
Not rated, 98 minutes. This remastered new Blu-ray disc includes a brief alternate ending and a 32 minute featurette with film scholar Peter Evans analyzing the film.
Philo Vance Murder Case Collection: The Bishop Murder Case, The Kennel Murder Case, The Dragon Murder Case, The Casino Murder Case, The Garden Murder Case, Calling Philo Vance
Warner Archives has assembled six films on three discs from the once popular series based on novelist’s S.S. Van Dine’s gentleman detective Philo Vance. The series, developed by several movie studios, ran from 1929 to 1948 or so, with more than half a dozen actors playing Vance at some point. These assembled six films give a good sampling of the actors involved, beginning with the best, the original Vance, a pre-Thin Man William Powell. He appeared four times as Vance and is seen here in the lively The Kennel Murder Case, directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca). A pre-Sherlock Holmes Basil Rathbone played Vance in only the desultory The Bishop Murder Case. The remaining quartet of films featuring the Manhattan sleuth starred Paul Lukas, Edmund Lowe, James Stephenson, and Warren William. The Vance films enjoyed lean scripts and some noted directors, such as Curtiz. Also, up and coming marquee names and faces pop up during the series, such as 28 year-old Rosalind Russell in Casino Murder. The films feature concise and cleverly plotted murder cases, with Vance uncovering the culprit, among many suspects, only at the finale. These six were made between 1930 and 1940. Lengths vary but run 87 minute or less.
Actor Martin Donovan makes an impressive writing and directing debut in this involving psychological thriller. He also stars as Robert Longfellow, a faltering New York playwright who returns to his Los Angeles home to stay with his mother (Katherine Helmond), see an old girlfriend (Olivia Williams), a now successful actress, and grudgingly converse with Gus (David Morse), the 57 year-old neighbor he grew up across the street from. Various other sub-plots play out and build up tension along with a personal interest in Longfellow before the final parts of the film devolve into a hostage-crisis. But Donovan mostly succeeds in avoiding the cliches of that genre with deft character portrayals and some unforeseen plot twists.
Not rated, 87 minutes. The DVD contains interviews with Williams and Donovan.
The Devil’s in the Details (**)
What begins as a potentially engaging set of encounters between a Navy psychologist, Bruce Michaels (Ray Liotta), and a soldier, Thomas Conrad (Joel Matthews), returning from intense combat, eventually turns into substandard torture porn. Conrad, suffering the effects from combat, counsels with Michaels. Before long, Conrad, in some nefarious scheme by a Mexican cartel to smuggle drugs into the U.S., is kidnapped and tortured, a process director Waymon Boone drags on unnecessarily.
Rated R, 100 minutes. The disc contains a 12 minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette.
Gun Hill Road (**1/2)
Esai Morales, as recently released convict Enrique, looks set to explode at any time throughout this first feature from writer-director Rashaad Ernesto Green. Enrique leaves prison after three years and returns to his Bronx home, where his wife, Angela (Judy Reyes), is scared and leery of him. Meanwhile, his teen son Michael (Harmony Santana) guards his new sexuality, all changes Enrique struggles to navigate without exploding.
Rated R, 86 minutes. The DVD contains an interview with director Green.
And, finally, for kids this week:
Curious George Swings Into Spring
In this full length adventure, George and best buddy Hundley decide to take a closer look at nature. They investigate the season’s new flowers and the fresh arrivals of baby animals. Before the sojourn concludes, they take a canoe ride and George becomes airborne.
Not rated, 57 minutes.
Angelina Ballerina: The Mouseling Mysteries, Thomas and Friends: Go Go Thomas, Barney: Play With Barney
In this new trio of unrated titles, mouseling Angelina and friends, in five episodes (61 minutes), try to solve some mysteries; Thomas and friends, in five episodes (58 minutes), learn about being quick and ready as well as other lessons; and Barney stars in four episodes (76 minutes) devoted to the benefits and responsibilities of playing with others. The individual discs include additional games, music videos, puzzles and more.
Also on DVD: Fairy in a Cage, Ministry of Fear, Ripper Street, Smashed.