THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
“Ride Along”: The wild antics of comedian Kevin Hart rescues this cop-buddy-comedy from the mundane and predictable; he stars as a video game junkie and high school security guard who not only wants to become an Atlanta cop but also wants to marry the sister of the city’s toughest detective, James Payton (Ice Cube). To persuade him otherwise, James invites him on a ride-along designed to scare the hell out of him and show him he doesn’t have what it takes to take care of his sister. It’s all pretty silly — especially when Shakespearean actor Laurence Fishburne shows up as the underworld’s top bad guy — and fairly innocuous. It’s kind of a downtown version of “Rush Hour” — and has taken in almost as much as that smash hit. “Ride Along 2” is scheduled for 2016. Co-stars John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter and Bryan Callen. Extras include a funny gag reel, several behind-the-scenes featurettes, and alternate and deleted scenes. From Warner.
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”: Very loose remake of James Thurber’s classic story about a day-dreamer who escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. Ben Stiller directs and stars in this mixed-bag of a film that juxtaposes gorgeous cinematography with a story line and dialogue that can’t decide whether it wants to be clever and rich or mundane and flaccid, though it tends to lean to the latter. Stiller plays Mitty, a timid photo manager at LIFE just at the time the print magazine was being retired in favor of an online version; when an important negative for the very last cover goes missing, Mitty has to give up his daydreams and embark on a global mission to find the film. Stiller composes the first half of the movie in squares and rectangles, kind of a cinema version of Mondrian’s grid-based paintings — and Stiller’s images are striking and beautiful. Later, when Mitty travels to Iceland, Greenland and Afghanistan, the vistas open up and the gorgeous scenery fills the screen. Too bad the dialogue and acting aren’t as bold as the images; they’re cramped and awkward. Supporting actors Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Adam Scott, Patton Oswalt, Shirley MacLaine and Kathryn Hahn are totally wasted. Extras include a few feeble deleted daydream scenes and several behind-the-scenes featurettes. From Fox.
Also due this week: “Philomena,” based on the 2009 investigative book by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith about the efforts of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) to track down the son the Catholic Church forced her to give up for adoption 50 years earlier in Ireland. Directed by Stephen Frears and co-starring Steve Coogan, Mare Winningham, Michaelle Fairley and Sophie Kennedy Clark. From The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay. Unavailable for review.
“The Nut Job,” an animated kids film about a mischievous squirrel who masterminds a raid on a nut store that turns out to be a front for a human gang’s bank robbery. With the voices of Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Dunham with Gabriel Iglesias and Sarah Gadon. From Universal.
THIS WEEK’S BEST BETS
It doesn’t get any better than this: Director: Billy Wilder. Stars: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson. Screenplay adapted by Wilder and Raymond Chandler from a book by James M. Cain. Music by Miklós Rózsa. And costumes by Edith Head. The film: “Double Indemnity” (1944), arguably one of the first — and certainly the most influential — example of film noir, about an insurance agent who teams up with a femme fatale to murder her husband to collect on the latter’s accidental life insurance policy. Universal has digitally restored the film from 35mm film elements for its “Double Indemnity Limited Edition” Blu-Ray debut on the occasion of its 70 anniversary and its big-screen restoration screening at the 2014 TCM Classic Film festival in Hollywood. In addition to gorgeous images (deeper, clearer and purer than the previous DVD version) and a DTS-HD soundtrack, the Blu-ray contains an introduction by Robert Osborne; a fascinating “Shadows of Suspense” featurette that plots out the history of film noir; a made-for-TV movie version from 1973 starring Richard Crenna and Samantha Eggar; the theatrical trailer; and commentaries with film historian Richard Schickel, film historian/screenwriter Lem Dobbs and film historian Nick Redman. Don’t miss this one.
Universal also comes in for kudos for their digital presentation of one of the grittiest, darkest and nastiest crime thrillers of all time, Orson Welles’ unabashedly cynical take on morality, corruption, sex, drugs, murder and racism, “Touch of Evil” (1958). Starring Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Joanna Moore, Ray Collins, Dennis Weaver and Marlene Dietrich, the complex and convoluted story line ostensibly follows the joint U.S.-Mexico investigation of the bombing murder of a wealthy American builder and his female companion on the border between the two countries … but there are so many other subplots going on that the murder gets pushed into the sidelines. Welles fills each scene with incredible detail, overlapping dialogue, and characters who wander in and out of the frame with abandon. The image (which reveals more detail than in any other edition) and sound (DTS-HD) are superb. Features three versions of the film: the original 1958 theatrical version, which the studio put together after Welles traveled to Mexico for a new project; the “Preview” version, which was discovered in the 1970s and which incorporated some changes that Welles wanted to make to the studio version; and the Reconstructed version, which was put together in 1998 based on Welles’ original vision using a detailed 58-page memo Welles wrote to the studio when he first saw the theatrical version in 1958. Extras include “Bringing Evil to Life” featurette; “Evil Lost and Found” featurette; the theatrical trailer; commentary on all three versions; and a reproduction of Welles’ 58-page memo.
Lars von Trier became an international sensation with “Breaking the Waves” (1996), a galvanizing realist fable about sex and spiritual transcendence. Emily Watson stuns in an Oscar-nominated performance, as Bess, a simple, pious newlywed in a tiny Scottish village who gives herself up to a shocking form of martyrdom after her husband (Stellan Skarsgard) is paralyzed in an oil-rig accident. “Breaking the Waves,” both brazen and tender, profane and pure, is an examination of the expansiveness of faith and of its limits. In a new 4K digital restoration, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. In a Blu-ray/two-DVD Dual Format Edition from The Criterion Collection.
“Mobius” (2014), starring Jean Dujardin, Cecile De France, Tim Roth and Emilie Dequenne, is a mind challenging thriller about international espionage, double agents, and a new world order in which the goal of spying is not to uncover military secrets but to manipulate international economies. A Russian FSB (heir to the Soviet Unions KGB) operative will do whatever it takes to crack an international money laundering operation and he recruits a young French woman, Alice, who works as a trader in the bank, to help him. There’s only one problem: he isn’t the only one after Alice: She’s already working for the CIA and, unknown to her, she’s being manipulated to entrap the Russian in a higher stakes game. There’s plenty of double-dealing and surprises in this well-wrought thriller to keep you guessing and surprised until the very end. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc from Lionsgate .