THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
“Fast & Furious 6”: The sixth installment in the “Fast & Furious” franchise continues the thread established in “Fast Five” with an emphasis on heists, capers and international crime — but without sacrificing any of the fast action, street-racing and car stunts that has made the series so popular. Since Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian’s (Paul Walker) Rio heist toppled a kingpin’s empire and left their crew with $100 million, the “Fast” gang has scattered across the globe, unable to go home. Enter federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who has been tracking an organization of lethally skilled mercenary drivers across 12 countries whose goal is to steal components to create a device that can disable power in an entire region. Hobbs persuades Dom to assemble his elite team in London to capture the bad guys, offering full pardons for all of them so they can return home. And there’s an added incentive: One of the members of the mercenaries is none other than Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom’s love whom everyone assumed was dead. Throw in some double-crosses, kidnappings, cons, trickery, and spectacular chases (including a freeway chase with a tank), and you have one heck of a ride. Our only caveat: There’s just too much suspension of disbelief this time around, particularly in the closing sequence aboard a disabled jumbo cargo jet that taxis down what has to be the longest runway in the world. But hey, you have to forgo reality when immersed in this franchise. It’s all about the stunts and the cars and the speed — forget verisimilitude for the thrills. And the death of Paul Walker over the Thanksgiving weekend puts a damper on the proceedings. Extras on the DVD and Blu-ray are enormous, and include deleted scenes, making-of featurettes, behind-the-scenes footage, a look at the cars, and much, much more. From Universal.
“Despicable Me 2” continues the saga of the world’s most lovable villain, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), and his wildly crazy sidekicks, the Minions. This time around the newly reformed master criminal is simply trying to live life as a normal dad to his three adopted daughters when he’s recruited by the Anti-Villain League to track down a new criminal mastermind and save the world. Partnered with secret agent Lucy Wilde (Kristin Wiig), Gru goes undercover at a shopping mall to track down the bad guy, and has to juggle his new crime-fighting persona with his duties as a father. As with many sequels, this one plays off the strengths of the original but adds little new or exciting to the mix, giving the film a “been there, done that” feeling. It’s cute and fuzzy and boring. But then there’s the Minions … Extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentary, three mini-movies starring the Minions, a deleted scene, and more. From Universal.
Also due this week: The weak break-dancing film “Battle of the Year,” about an underdog American dance team that enters an international competition in order to reclaim the world championship; the film is low on plot and dialogue and has the silly conceit of a basketball coach training the dance crew; from Sony — and erotic romance “Adore,” which was unavailable for review, from Paramount.
If you like Spaghetti Westerns, then you just have to get a copy of “The Big Gundown,” probably the greatest Italian Western after the Sergio Leone “Man With No Name” trilogy. The legendary Lee Van Cleef, who was the “bad” of “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly,” stars as Jonathan Corbett, a relentless bounty hunter hired to track down Manuel “Cuchillo” Sanchez (Euro-film superstar Tomas Milian), a Mexican outlaw accused of the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl. Cuchillo’s trail takes Corbett south of the border and his trip brings him in contact with prostitutes, a wagon train of Mormons, ex-gunslinger priests, corrupt Mexican federales and innocent peasants. Along the way he gets to know his prey, and begins to doubt the man’s guilt. The film has a strong political subtext, about a wealthy, unscrupulous landowner with political aspirations who has no qualms about rising to power on the backs of the powerless. Director Sergio Sollima’s epic boasts stylish and beautiful widescreen photography, dripping with space and color, and a great Ennio Morricone score, and was written by “Once Upon a Time in the West” screenwriter Sergio Donati. Grindhouse Releasing has put together the first-ever U.S. home video release of the “The Big Gundown” in a four-disc deluxe limited edition combo pack (two Blu-rays, one DVD and one bonus CD) that offers a new 2K digital restoration of the original uncensored English-language version of the film; “La Resa Dei Conti,” the complete, 110-minute director’s cut presented in Italian with optional English subtitles and special musical subtitles; a DVD of the U.S. version; and the original soundtrack by Morricone. Extras include in-depth interviews with director Sergio Sollima, star Tomas Milian and screenwriter Sergio Donati; commentary by Western film experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke; extensive still galleries; trailers and TV spots; and a 24-page booklet with “Sergio Sollima’s Political Gundown,” an article on the history of the film by C. Courtney Joyner, “Cutting to the Chase: The Tale of the Two Gundowns,” an article about the cuts made to the original version for U.S. distribution, by Gergely Hubai; and an article on the Morricone soundtrack, also by Hubai. Highly recommended.
The Criterion Collection has two strong releases this week; the Blu-ray debut of “Grey Gardens,” the 1976 documentary by Albert and David Maysles about Big and Little Edie Beale: mother and daughter, high-society dropouts, and reclusive cousins of Jackie Onassis, who manage to thrive together amid the decay and disorder of their East Hampton, New York, mansion, making for an eerily ramshackle echo of the American Camelot. The cult classic established Little Edie as a fashion icon and philosopher queen. This special edition also features the 2006 follow-up to the film, “The Beales of Grey Gardens,” constructed from hours of extra footage in the filmmakers’ vaults. In a new 2K digital film restoration, approved by co-director Albert Maysles, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack … Established by Martin Scorsese in 2007, the World Cinema Project expands the horizons of moviegoers everywhere by preserving and presenting marginalized and infrequently screened films from regions of the world ill equipped to provide funding for major restorations. “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” collector’s set brings together six films from various countries, including Bangladesh/India (“A River Called Titas”), Mexico (“Redes”), Morocco (“Trances”), Senegal (“Touki bouki”), South Korea (“The Housemaid”) and Turkey (“Dry Summer”); each is a cinematic revelation, depicting a culture not often seen by outsiders. In a three Blu-ray/six-DVD combo set for $124.95.
Just in time to for the Dec. 20 release of “Saving Mr. Banks,” the Emma Thompson-Tom Hanks starrer about Walt Disney’s efforts to persuade author P.L. Travers to let him make a movie of her beloved children’s book, “Mary Poppins,” Disney has remastered the 1964 hit and released “Mary Poppins” in 50th Anniversary Blu-ray/DVD combo and DVD editions. Julie Andrews stars as the titular nanny, who magically appears to take care of the children of the stodgy Banks family at Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane in London and succeeds to upend the household by taking the kids on a variety of fantastic adventures — with the help of a carefree chimney sweep named Bert (Dick Van Dyke). Co-stars David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns, Karen Dotrice and Mathew Garber. Andrews won the Academy Award for Best Actress and the film won an additional four Oscars for Best Original Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”), Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score. New Blu-ray extras include “Mary-OKE’s” sing-along, “Becoming Mr. Sherman” featurette with Jason Schwartzman as he sits down for a musical-filled afternoon with Richard Sherman, half of the famous composing team the Sherman Brothers, who wrote all the classic songs from “Mary Poppins,” as well as many other favorites (Schwartzman portrays the Disney legend in “Saving Mr Banks”).
Though Barbara Stanwyk’s career was well under way by the time she signed on to director King Vidor’s “Stella Dallas” (1937), her role as a mother from the wrong side of the tracks who gives up everything for the benefit of her beloved daughter certainly solidified her status as one of Hollywood’s top actresses and top boxoffice draws; she received her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The devastatingly tear-jerker of an ending is one the greatest in all of cinema. Warner Home Video has remastered the Samuel Goldwyn classic and re-released it on DVD (but not Blu-ray for some reason) … With Ben Still’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” opening Christmas Day, it’s time to take a look at the original Danny Kaye 1947 version, which Warner has also just released in a remastered DVD version. Based on James Thurber’s story, the film stars Kaye as a pulp-fiction magazine proofreader whose dull life with his overprotective mother (Fay Bainter) is made livable by his daydreaming, in which he imagines himself a hero in fantastic adventures around the world. His dreams become real, however,when he meets a mysterious woman (Virginia Mayo) and embarks on a real-life adventure. Co-stars Boris Karloff, Ann Rutherford, Gordon Jones and Thurston Hall.
Fox this week has on offer a Blu-ray/DVD Combo 25th Anniversary Edition of “Big,” the 1988 smash comedy directed by Penny Marshall and starring Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, John Heard, Jared Rushton, David Moscow, Jon Lovitz, Mercedes Ruehl and Josh Clark. In addition to a host of extras, including an extended cut, a “Big: Brainstorming” audio documentary by writers/co-producers Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg, deleted scenes, and a series of featurettes (“Big Beginnings,” “Chemistry of a Classic,” “The Work of Play,” “Hollywood Backstories: Big” and “Carnival Party Newswrap”), the release boasts collectible packaging with a sound chip that plays “Heart and Soul” when opened.
Other notable releases:
“Unhung Hero” (2013) is a wild documentary that places its director, Brian Spitz, in league with the likes of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock: he’s taken on a verboten topic with humor and aplomb. When Patrick Moote’s girlfriend rejects his marriage proposal broadcast on the jumbotron at a UCLA basketball game, it unfortunately goes viral and hits TV networks worldwide. Days after the heartbreaking debacle, she privately reveals why she can’t be with him forever: Patrick’s small penis size. “Unhung Hero” follows the real-life journey of Patrick as he boldly confronts ex-girlfriends, strangers on the street, doctors, anthropologists and even adult film stars (Dan Savage and Annie Sprinkle) to discover, alternately, whether size really matters and, if it does, how does an “underachieving” man lengthen his chances. His journey involves vacuum pump devices and male enhancer pills and takes him from sex expos to a Malaysian condom factory to witch doctors in Papua New Guinea and to a sex museum in South Korea. It’s delightfully funny, at times nasty, always tongue-in-check — and scientific. From Breaking Glass Pictures.
Though only 30 minutes long, director Sage Stallone’s impressive “Vic” (2006) held out the promise of more strong and involving work by a budding young filmmaker (the film won a Best New Filmmaker Award at the Boston Film Festival); unfortunately Stallone (yes, Sylvester’s son) died of coronary artery disease at age 21 in 2012. The film stars Clu Gulager, Tom Gulager, Carol Lynley, Gregory Sierra, John Phillip Law, John Lazar, Gary Frank, Miriam-Byrd Nethery and Peter Mark Richman and tracks a few days in the life of Vic Reeves (Gulager), once a Hollywood star respected for his award-winning roles in classic Westerns and television dramas but now way past his prime, overlooked and forgotten. A late-night phone call from a young director offers Vic an opportunity for a comeback, and he prepares himself for the toughest audition of his career. It’s alternately uplifting, grueling and heart-breaking. From Grindhouse Releasing (which Sage Stallone co-founded and which has been responsible for restoring and releasing classic “grindhouse” and obscure films).
In “Touchy Feely” (2013), starring Rosemarie DeWitt, Allison Janey, Ron Livingston, Josh Pais, Ellen Page and Scoot McNairy, a free-spirited massage therapist is unable to do her job when stricken with a mysterious and sudden aversion to bodily contact while her uptight brother’s floundering dental practice receives new life when clients seek out his “healing touch.” The quirky indie film attempts to illustrate how minor crises can lead to transformation and change (the massage therapist loses control when she frets over her boyfriend’s invitation to move in with him) but the plot and ideas begin to fall apart about two-thirds of the way through; there’s some fine low-key acting but not enough to salvage the brave outing. From Magnolia Home Entertainment.
On the exploitation front, Vinegar Syndrome offers up “Fanny Hill + The Phantom Gunslinger,” a pair of films from acclaimed producer Albert Zugsmith (“Touch of Evil,” “The Incredible Shrinking Man”), who crafted some of the strangest and most unlikely exploitation films of the 60s. Here’s two of his rarest works. Cult filmmaker Russ Meyer takes on directorial duties in Zugsmith’s adaptation of the notorious erotic classic “Fanny Hill.” A strange mix of Zugsmith’s surreal slapstick and Meyer’s trademark buxom beauties and thoughtful satire, “Fanny Hill” (1964) is an over-the-top saga of low-rent thrills in high-brow settings. Stars Leticia Roman, Miriam Hopkins and Ulli Lommel. Direcor Zugsmith’s mind-numbing blend of surrealism and slapstick comedy, “The Phantom Gunslinger” (1967) done as a self-aware parody of Westerns, stars Troy Donohue as Phil P. Phillips, fresh out of divinity school and living in the frontier town of Tucca Flats. When a gang of seven criminals take the town hostage, it’s up to Phil to save the village, or die trying, again and again … Co-stars Sabrina. Both films have been restored from their original negatives and are uncut for the first time.