Disney, the Beats and the Flu

Posted on March 26, 2014
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“American Hustle”: Though overlooked at this year’s Oscars, David O. Russell’s film set in the alluring world of high-stakes scams and politics, loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM operation of the late 1970s and early ’80s that ensnared East Coast politicians and congressmen in accepting bribes for political favors, was still one of the highlights of a year that photo for American Hustleproduced a lot of “good” films but was shy on great ones (except for our pick for best film of the year, “The Great Gatsby.”) Russell’s hard-driving direction, lightly-convoluted screenplay, playful camerawork and choice of actors (top-notch performances by Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence) made this an involving production that swept you away in its audaciousness. It’s over the top and very watchable. Extras include “The Making of American Hustle” featurette, deleted and extended scenes. From Sony.

Disney’s 53rd animated feature is a reworking of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” here about a young princess cursed with the magical ability to create ice and snow but who can’t control her powers, jeopardizing her younger sister as well as her entire kingdom. When she “freezes” the land of Arendelle and runs away to hide in the mountains, her younger sister, accompanied by a thrill-seeking mountain man, take of on a journey to return her to the castle and undo the icy damage. It’s by far Disney’s best non-Pixar animated film in ages, harking back to the story depth of “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast” (in fact, it shares many of the same motifs with “Beast”: a handsome bad guy, clumsy slapstick scenes, a surprise hero, anthropomorphic characters, and lively, bouncing songs (“Frozen” won Best Original Song for “Let It Go”). The animation is rich, the story line fast, the music catchy, the sentiment of “love and righteousness will conquer all” just perfect for younger viewers and just sentimental enough for old codgers like me (I shed a tear at the happy ending). No surprise that “Frozen” won the Oscar for Best Animated Film and will sell like crazy on DVD and Blu-ray. Voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciaran Hinds, Chris Williams. Extras include an original Micky Mouse homage theatrical short: “Get A Horse”; a fun tongue-in-cheek musical “The Making”; and “Breaking the Ice — The Real Making of Frozen,” about the long-gestation of “The Snow Queen” into “Frozen.” From Disney.

“Saving Mr. Banks”: Though Walt Disney was at the top of his game in 1962 — having come off TV and movie hits like “Lady and the Tramp,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” “The Mickey Mouse Club” and ” Davy Crockett,” as well as the success of Disneyland — there was one project that eluded him: a live-action adaptation of P.L. Travers’ children’s book “Mary Poppins.” Disney was up against a curmudgeonly, uncompromising writer who had photo for Saving Mr. Banksabsolutely no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get mauled by the Hollywood machine but, as the books stoped selling and money grew short, Travers reluctantly agreed to go to Los Angeles from England to hear Disney’s plans for the adaptation. “Saving Mr. Banks” maps the trials and tribulations Disney faced in trying to persuade the author to allow him to make a film of her cherished story. Tom Hanks is perfect as the low-keyed but always sunny Walt Disney (though in real life, Walt had a somewhat darker side) and Emma Thompson, who like Kristin Scott Thomas can do no wrong, dominates the film as the persnickety author whose craggy exterior harbors a traumatic past. It’s not a remarkable film but rather a nice nugget of Hollywood history. Co-stars Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Annie Buckley, Ruth Wilson, B.J. Novak, Rachel Griffiths, Kathy Baker. Extras include some deleted scenes and “The Walt Disney Studios: From Poppins to Present” featurette. From Disney.

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”is a straight-ahead look at the life and times of Nelson Mandela, the South African lawyer who, in the 1960s, became radicalized by the horrors of apartheid, joined and help lead the African National Congress, was imprisoned by the government for 27 years and finally, when released, became South Africa’s first democratically elected president, from 1994 to 1999. The film chronicles his early life, education, marriage to Winnie Mandela, prison sentence and his efforts to rebuild the country’s once segregated society. “Mandela” the film is stirring in its depiction of the horrors of segregation and slavery, and sets out to do three things: tell Mandela’s story, depict the struggle for freedom by African blacks, and paint the Afrikaner overlords as the horrible monsters they most likely were. It succeeds — enjoyably — on all levels. And Idris Elba is insanely great as Mandela. Co-stars Naomi Harris, Tony Kgoroge and Riaad Moosa. Extras include a featurette on Mandela and commentary by director Justin Chadwick. From The Weinsterin Co./Anchor Bay.

“Kill Your Darlings”: The fascination for the Beat Generation poets and writers of the 50s and early 60s has had a bit of a renaissance as of late, with such documentaries and movies as “Howl” (2010), “William S. Burroughs: A Man Within” (2010), “Magic Trip” (2011), “Big Sur” (2012), “Corso: The Last Beat” (2012), “On the Road” (2012) and “The Beat Hotel” (2012). Now add to that list “Kill Your Darlings,” a weak, uneven attempt at portraying Alan Ginsberg’s early literary life at Columbia University in 1944, a time that supposedly set the foundation and themes for his later, groundbreaking work. At first it’s intriguing to see younger versions of Beat stalwarts Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac playing at being literary revolutionaries, but the film gets bogged done in too much exposition and off-key characterizations, including that of Ginsberg’s mother’s insanity, Ginsberg’s exploration of homosexuality, and his experimentation with drugs (a drug-infused, fast-motion Ginsberg writing session is a little too slapstick). The centerpiece of the film is the murder of a gay hanger-on that involves Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs and Lucien Carr (one of Ginsberg’s muses), and the movie picks up as it approaches that watershed event. But until then, there’s nothing really to “Howl” about. When is someone going to get this stuff right? Stars Daniel Radcliffe (Ginsberg), Ben Foster (Burroughs), Jack Huston (Kerouac), Dane DeHaan (Carr), Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyra Sedgwick, David Cross, Elizabeth Olsen and Michael C. Hall. Extras include deleted scenes and commentary. From Sony.

photo for Mysterious Skin BLU-RAY DEBUT Strand Releasing has given the HD treatment to Gregg Araki’s controversial “Mysterious Skin” (2004), an at once harrowing and tender look at the consequences of child abuse. At the age of eight, Kansas youngsters Neil (an incredible Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Brian (Brady Corbet) — both from broken families — played on the same little league baseball team. Neil became the protege of the team’s coach, who groomed him into the world of pedophilia. Brian, however, begins to have blackouts and nosebleeds, and becomes a nervous introvert. Ten years later, Neil is a charismatic but emotionally aloof male hustler while Brian is obsessed with the idea that he has been abducted by a UFO. When the boys parallel lives inevitably intersect, the pair unearth dark, repressed secrets on a harrowing and unforgettable journey of self discovery. Adapted from Scott Heim’s acclaimed novel. Co-stars Michelle Trachtenberg, Elisabeth Shue, Jeff Licon and Bill Sage. Highly recommended.

Although the South Korean plague thriller “Flu” (2013) at first glance appears to be a clone of Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion” (2011), the film actually ratchets up the fear and horror of the spread of a contagious disease by keying on Chinese-Korean animosity (an unknown virus attacks a group of illegal Chinese immigrants as they are “shipped” to Bundang, photo for Flu South Korea, in a container), unfeeling military officials with a one-sided solution (blow the infected to kingdom-come), government paranoia, political power trips, and the breakdown of law and order. Shortly after one of the immigrants dies in a Bundang hospital, covered in red rashes and coughing up blood, similar cases are reported all over the city. As the plague spreads, scientists find a sole survivor (Chinese) who may have developed antibodies against the viral mutation and they try to track him down in a city panicked with fear, violence, and quarantine camps. An exciting outing with great effects. Stars Jang Hyuk, Su Ae, Yoo Hae-jin, Park Min-ha. From CJ Entertainment … Want more infections? In “Contracted” (2013), starring Najarra Townsend, Caroline Williams, Alice Macdonald, Katie Stegeman and Simon Barrett, a twentysomething party girl has sex with a stranger at a party and contracts what she thinks is a sexually-transmitted disease. But she soon realizes that she is the host of something much more catastrophic, and that she and those around her are in mortal danger. Part zombie film and part body-horror shocker. From IFC Films.


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