THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
“Olympus Has Fallen”:
This is the way 21st century action-adventure-thrillers should be made — with real flesh and blood heroes who go above and beyond the call of duty to save the day — no G.I. Jerks or Marble-headed Avengers here — aided and abetted by great special effects, fast-paced editing and story line, and a lot of blood. Gritty action director Antoine Fuqua (“The Replacement Killers,” “Training Day”) has really gotten it all together here with this yarn about a terrorist mastermind who invades Washington D.C. and captures the White House (code-name Olympus) and the president, the vice president and chiefs of staff via a C-47 cargo jet, machine-gun equipped dump trucks, and a rather nasty commando group disguised at political envoys with the South Korean government. The hero here: a reassigned White House Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler) who finds himself in the building as the last line of defense between the bad guys and total devastation. The action is believable, frightening and exciting — and is definitely the best thrill ride of the year so far. Co-stars Aaron Eckhart, Finley Jacobsen, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell and Cole Hauser. Bonus features include five behind-the-scene featurettes and bloopers. From Sony.
“The Company You Keep”:
Robert Redford directs and stars in this mystery thriller about a former 1970s radical (Redford) — a fugitive wanted for murder who has created a new life for himself as a public interest lawyer — whose life is turned upside down when a brash young reporter (Shia LaBeouf) uncovers his true identity. After living for more than 30 years underground, he must now go on the run to track down the one person who can clear his name. What starts out as a simple tale gets complicated as secrets are revealed and more fugitives pop out of the woodwork. By the half-way mark, though, the film gets a little contrived, but the ride to the end is still enjoyable — especially with the star power of Redford, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Chris Cooper, Nick Nolte, Stanley Tucci, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Brendan Gleeson, Brit Marling, Sam Elliott and Jackie Evancho. Bonus features include a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes, one of which discusses the infamous Weather Underground, the group upon which some of the story was based. From Sony.
“The Big Wedding”:
Big fluffy comedy with a lot of big stars but few big laughs. When the adopted son of upper middle class — and divorced — parents announces that his ultra conservative biological mother unexpectedly is flying halfway across the world to attend his wedding, there’s just one catch in his scenario — mom doesn’t know that his adopted parents are divorced. To keep up appearances, the pair (Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton) move back in together, much to the chagrin of dad’s live-in girlfriend (Susan Sarandon), their friends and their other kids. Screwball comedy conceit doesn’t hold up as the movie and its shtick slowly unravels. Also stars Robin Williams, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried and Topher Grace. Includes a behind-the-scenes featurette. From Lionsgate.
Also due this week: “Emperor,” a slow-moving drama that takes place in Japan in the days after the end of WWII, revolving around General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) and the question as to the fate of Emperor Hirohito — worshiped as a god by his people but also guilty of war crimes. There’s plenty of cultural distress, political machinations, and a romantic subplot, thrown in for good measure. From Lionsgate.
The Criterion Collection brings us this week remastered Blu-ray and DVD versions of one of the most interesting films of the 1960s, “Seconds” (1966), a revelatory, sinister, science-fiction-inflected dispatch from that fractured era. Directed by maverick John Frankenheimer, the film concerns middle-aged businessman Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) dissatisfied with his suburban, gray-flannel-suit existence who elects to undergo a strange and elaborate procedure that will grant him a new life. He’s given a makeover that strengthens his muscles and plastic surgery to alter his physical demeanor so that he looks, acts and feels younger (Rock Hudson plays the altered man). But you can’t change your mindset, and starting over in America, however, is not as easy as it sounds. Living in Malibu as Antiochus “Tony” Wilson, the man can’t quite get his head around the situation, and his unhappiness leads to dire circumstances. This paranoiac symphony of canted camera angles (courtesy of famed cinematographer James Wong Howe), fragmented editing, and layered sound design is a remarkably risk-taking Hollywood film that ranks high on the list of its legendary director’s major achievements. It’s always been one of our favorites for not only its critique of middle-class, white-bread America, but for Hudson’s outstanding performance playing way against type. In a new 4K digital film restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition.
Rene Clement was one of the finest filmmakers of post-WWII France, a director who eschewed personal exploration for the simple delight of telling a great story (an ethos that didn’t sit well with the first coterie of New Wave directors) with verve and originality. His films had a tendency to dwell on the dark side — “The Battle of the Rails” (1946), “Forbidden Games” (1952), “Purple Noon” (1960) (remade as “The Talented Mr. Ripley”) and “Joy House” (1964). His “The Damned”(1947), set in the closing days of World War II, is a gritty mix of film noir and suspense about Nazis and Nazi collaborators fleeing for South America in a submarine. Soon after they leave Norway one of their group is injured and requires a doctor; the submarine lands off the coast of France and the crew abducts a French medic, who remains on board for the rest of the trip, plotting against his captors. This rediscovered masterpiece — the 1947 Cannes winner for Best Adventure and Crime Film — has been remastered and is available for the first time on Blu-ray and DVD as part of the Cohen Film Collection’s Classics of French Cinema series. It arrives in the centennial year of a director about whom film historian Ephraim Katz said, “His insistence on authenticity of detail nearly approaches an obsession.” In French with English subtitles. Highly recommended.
“A Band Called Death” (2012) is a rockumentary chronicling the rebirth and rise to cult stardom of early-’70s African-American “proto-punk” trio Death. Before Bad Brains, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, there was Death. Formed in 1971 by three teenage brothers in Detroit, Michigan, the group is widely acknowledged as being one of the first punk bands. After years of struggling with canceled contracts, increasing debts, family tragedy, and a controversial name that barred them from future success, Death sold off their instruments and disbanded with their recordings lying dormant in an attic for decades. After years of silence, a dusty 1974 demo tape made its way out of the attic and found an audience several generations younger, sparking unexpected demand from rabid internet fans and record collectors, ushering in a renowned appreciation and a swarm of national media attention that has now secured the group’s place in the annals of rock history. A limited edition 45 RPM 7″ vinyl reissue of “Politicians In My Eyes” and “Keep On Knocking, “originally pressed by Death in 1976 and featured in the film, will be available for purchase in custom double-gatefold packaging along with a DVD or Blu-ray version of the film. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc from Drafthouse Films.
On Blu-ray this week: “Shane” (1953), directed by George Stevens and starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Brandon De Wilde, Jack Palance, Ben Johnson, Edgar Buchanan and Elisha Cook Jr., from Warner … “The Muppets Movie: Special Edition” (1979), starring Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt, from Disney … “The Hot Spot/Killing Me Softly Double Feature”: Two sexy thrillers: “The Hot Spot” (1990), directed by Dennis Hopper and starring Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen, Jennifer Connelly, Charles Martin Smith, William Sadler, Barry Corbin, Jack Nance; and “Killing Me Softly” (2002) starring Heather Graham, Joseph Fiennes, Natascha McElhone and Ulrich Thomsen; from Shout! Factory.