THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
“Dallas Buyers Club”: There’s a pair of outstanding performances in director Jean-Marc Vallee’s (“The Young Victoria”) thoroughly involving “Dallas Buyers Club”: One by Matthew McConaughey, who plays real-life Texas electrician Ron Woodroof, a bull-riding he-man diagnosed HIV-positive in 1985 and given 30 days to live; the other by Jared Leto as Rayon, a transgender AIDS-stricken activist who becomes friends with Woodroof and helps him to accept his plight and the plight of other HIV-infected people — people Woodroof shunned. Because the U.S. government refused to approve medicines that were proven to help hold back AIDS-related illnesses, Woodroof tracked down alternative treatments from all over the world by means both legal and illegal, setting up a Dallas Buyers Club that fellow HIV-positive people could join to get access to needed supplies. As in any film pitting a maverick against the establishment and powers that be, the bad guys (here thick-headed FDA agents, conservative doctors, government lackeys) are exaggerated so you can root for the underdogs (Woodroof and an unlikely band of renegades and outcasts). Woodroof’s crusade had as much to do with money and orneriness as it did for any moral imperative, but his unlikely (and unlikable) character becomes a hero at the film’s end. Co-stars Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn and Griffin Dunne. Meager extras include deleted scenes and a short behind-the-scenes featurette. From Universal.
“Escape Plan”: Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger team up for an implausible — but straight-ahead — action-adventure about a security expert (Stallone) whose all-consuming job is breaking out of maximum security facilities — on the government’s dime, of course — to test the weaknesses and flaws in the construction and guarding of prisons. When he’s hired to break out of an ultra-secret, high-tech prison called “The Tomb,” he’s deceived and betrayed and finds himself a prisoner in an escape-proof facility. He’s forced to team up with another inmate, an international criminal (Schwarzenegger), to help devise a daring, nearly impossible plan to escape. It’s great to see these muscle-bound stars still in action — Stallone is 67, Schwarzenegger 66 — but their stamina kind of belies reality: they’re fighting and beating up guys a third their age. Oh well, if you can overlook that, then you’re in for a fun ride. Co-stars Jim Caviezel, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Sam Neill, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio and Amy Ryan. Extras include several behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentary, and an excellent documentary on maximum security prisons, “Maximum Security: The Real-Life Tomb.” From Lionsgate.
At the top of the list this week is The Criterion Collection’s dual-format (DVD and Blu-ray) edition of “Jules and Jim” (1962). Hailed as one of the finest films ever made, “Jules and Jim” charts, over 25 years, the relationship between two friends and the object of their mutual obsession. The legendary Francois Truffaut directs, and Jeanne Moreau stars as the alluring and willful Catherine, whose enigmatic smile and passionate nature lure Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) into one of cinema’s most captivating romantic triangles. An exuberant and poignant meditation on freedom, loyalty, and the fortitude of love, “Jules and Jim” was a worldwide smash in 1962 and remains every bit as audacious and entrancing today. New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include two audio commentaries: one featuring screenwriter Jean Gruault, Francois Truffaut collaborator Suzanne Schiffman, editor Claudine Bouche, and film scholar Annette Insdorf, the other featuring actor Jeanne Moreau and Truffaut biographer Serge Toubiana; excerpts from “The Key to Jules and Jim” (1985), a documentary about author Henri-Pierre Roche and the real-life relationships that inspired the novel and film; interviews with Truffaut, Gruault, and cinematographer Raoul Coutard; segment from a 1969 episode of the French television program “L’invite du dimanche” featuring Truffaut, Moreau, and filmmaker Jean Renoir; excerpts from Truffaut’s first appearance on American television, a 1977 interview with New York Film Festival director Richard Roud; and much, much more.
There’s a pair of 1980s horror films making their debut to Blu-ray this week, courtesy of Shout! Factory’s Scream factory label: “Night of the Demons Collector’s Edition” (1988), in which Halloween party-goers at a deserted funeral home awaken something evil when they decide to have a seance. Stars William Gallo, Hal Havins, Mimi Kinkade, Cathy Podewell and Linnea Quigley. In a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack with new commentary and interviews; and “Witchboard” (1986), in which a Ouija Board brings forth the spirit of a dead 10-year-old boy who develops a sudden taste for violent murder and demonic possession. Stars Todd Allen, Tawny Kitaen, Stephen Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite, Burke Byrnes, J.P. Luebsen, James Quinn and Rose Marie. In a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack with new commentary and interviews. Also new to Blu-ray this week: “City of Angels” (1998), starring Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan, Andre Braugher, Dennis Franz and Colm Feore in a remake of Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire,” here about a heavenly angel (Cage) who, when he discovers that he is spotted by a doctor (Ryan) in an operating room, longs to give up his mortality to become human and fall in love; a 10th anniversary edition of “Million Dollar Baby” (2004),directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, with Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman; and “Two Weeks Notice” (2002), starring Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant — all from warner; and “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” (1958), starring Ingrid Bergman, Curd Jurgens and Robert Donat. From Fox.