THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation”: You really have to be a “G.I. Joe” fan to appreciate this tangled mess of a movie. The sequel to 2009’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” scored more than $122 million at the boxoffice, so — having missed the original — I settled down to what I hoped would be an evening of exciting fights, explosions and all-out war on the senses. Instead, I got a convoluted story line about the G.I. Joe unit being framed (and most of them killed) for stealing nuclear warheads from Pakistan, the evil Cobra capturing the president of the U.S. and sending in an impersonator, Cobra Commander getting rescued by Storm Shadow and ex-Joe Firefly, Snake Eyes and Jinx capturing Storm Shadow after a wild Ninja battle, a wacky James Bond-like orbiting space weapon called Project Zeus, and much much more. I was bored. Then I got lost in the plot — course it didn’t help that I fell asleep half-way through and had to fast backwards to figure things out. I guess you have to see this kind of toy-based film on the big screen and give yourself up to the violence and action — even if it is a Star Wars/James Bond derivation with Darth Vader helmeted villains and the “Diamonds Are Forever”-like space weapons. Stars Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Adrianne Palicki, D.J. Cotrona, Jonathan Pryce, Arnold Vosloo. Extras include commentary by director Jon M. Chu and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura; featurettes on pre-production, previsualization, storyboards, stunts, costumes and more; “Two Ninjas” focuses on two G.I. Joe favorites, Snake Eyes and Jinx, and the filming of the Dojo sequence; “The Desert Attack” in-depth look at the filming of the pivotal action sequence; “Cobra Strikes” villain highlights; and more. From Paramount.
There’s several great films getting special treatments this week, headed up by The Criterion Collection’s edition of “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001). Before his infatuation with big-budget and special-effects-laden productions, Guillermo del Toro made small, personal films; “The Devil’s Backbone” is his most brilliant, emotionally layered and stunning film yet. Set during the final week of the Spanish Civil War, “The Devil’s Backbone” tells the tale of a 10-year-old boy who, after his freedom-fighting father is killed, is sent to a haunted rural orphanage full of terrible secrets, least among them the spirit of another dead child and the spectre of an unexploded bomb buried in the building. Del Toro effectively combines gothic ghost story, murder mystery, and historical melodrama in a stylish concoction that reminds us that the scariest monsters are often the human ones. In Spanish with English subtitles, in a new 2K digital film restoration, approved by del Toro and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition.
“The Bronte Sisters” (1979) is a rediscoverrd and remastered classic by Andre Techine. Nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1979 Cannes International Film Festival, “The Bronte Sisters” has been only rarely seen in the decades since, but its reputation as an atmospheric and passionate masterpiece has grown. An early success for the revered director Andre Techine (“Rendez-vous,” “Scene of the Crime,” “Wild Reeds”), the film stars three of France’s most enduring actresses: Isabelle Adjani, Marie-France Pisier and Isabelle Huppert. Director Techine, who co-wrote the film with Pascal Donitzer (writer of Jacques Rivette’s film of “Wuthering Heights”), achieves an authentic depiction of the bleak, lonely existence of the Victorian-era Bronte sisters Emily (Adjani), Charlotte (Pisier) and Anne (Huppert). The young women live in a Yorkshire village under the stern eye of their minister father (Patrick Magee) and a rigid aunt — and also have to deal with their troubled, opium-addicted brother Branwell (Pascal Greggory). While all four siblings have artistic ambitions, their dreams are thwarted by romantic disappointments and tragic illness. But remarkably, against all odds (and using male pseudonyms), the sisters publish their first poetry and novels, including Emily’s “Wuthering Heights,” Charlotte’s “Jane Eyre” and Anne’s “Agnes Grey.” Techine’s sensitive biographical film poignantly contrasts the sisters’ humdrum lives with the wildly romantic fantasies that they conjured in their extraordinary novels. With stunning cinematography by Bruno Nuytten and powerful music by Philippe Sarde, “The Bronte Sisters” is a richly rewarding film; it’s both a step back into history and a startling look at the immediacy of artistic creation. On DVD and Blu-ray from Cohen Film Collection
Three more films from the influential Italian director Fernando Di Leo — considered by some, like Quentin Tarantino, who was immensely influenced by the director, to be “without a doubt, the master of (the gangster movie) genre” — come to home video in the U.S. in “Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection: Vol. 2,” headed up by his lost masterpiece, “Shoot First, Die Later,” which makes it to DVD and Blu-ray for the first time, digitally remastered and restored from 35mm negatives. Di Leo was a master of Mafia mayhem with ultraviolence (for its time), wild car chases and lurid tales of pimps and petty gangsters, made cheap and quick. Di Leo began as a screenwriter on Spaghetti Westerns, then soft-core exploitation films, then — supposedly inspired by the new realism of such American fare as “The French Connection” — went on to make a series of Italian crime genre films that were marked by social criticism of Italy’s economic and political landscape of corrupt cops, politicians and church officials. The three films here: “Shoot First Die Later” (1974), “Kidnap Syndicate” (1975) and “Naked Violence” (1969). In a classy three-disc boxed set with an illustrated booklet and documentaries on each disc. Read more about the films here. On DVD and Blu-ray from Raro Video USA.
Blu-ray debuts this week:
Paramount has released two Blu-rays from the fan-favorite series “Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 4” (1990-91) is distinguished as one of the most favored among fans. This six-disc set contains all 26 episodes with episode commentaries with writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, director Rob Bowman,scenic artists/Star Trek consultants Mike & Denise Okuda and such bonus features as “Relativity: The Family Saga of The Next Generation,” a multi-part documentary that examines both the show’s explosion into a pop culture phenomenon after its third season and the Enterprise crew’s interpersonal bonds and family relationships, as depicted in “Brothers” and “Reunion”; “In Conversation: The Art Department,” a look at some of TNG’s most-iconic designs, complemented by fresh interviews with the production team; a gag reel; and more; $129.99 … “Star Trek: The Next Generation — Redemption”
(1991) is a two-part “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode re-edited as a feature-length presentation. Captain Picard and Lieutenant Worf fight to end a Klingon Civil War. Extras include commentary with writer-producer Ronald D. Moore and scenic artists/Star Trek consultants Mike & Denise Okuda; “Survive and Succeed: An Empire at War” special featurette that explores the Klingon mythology of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and features all-new interviews with writer/producer Moore, who, in addition to “Redemption,” wrote some of the franchise’s most memorable Klingon story lines, and some of the actors who played the most renowned Klingon characters including Dorn (Worf), Robert O’Reilly (Gowron) and Gwynyth Walsh (B’Etor). $24.99. Fox has three classic films making Blu-ray debuts this week: Bus Stop (1956), directed by Joshua Logan and starring Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray, Arthur O’Connell, Betty Field and Eileen Heckart; “Love Me Tender” (1956) starring Richard Egan, Debra Paget and Elvis Presley; and “Niagara 60th Anniversary” (1953), directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters and Max Showalter.