THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
“Rush”: You’ve got to hand it to director Ron Howard: he went out on a limb to produce and direct this film set during the golden age of 1970s Formula 1 racing — a sport little-known by most Americans (although it draws massive audiences worldwide, both at Grand Prix events and via broadcast). There are few auto racing movies that make money — actually, there have been only a handful of racing movies, period — and, unfortunately, “Rush” isn’t among those moneymakers. Which is a shame, since it’s actually a well-directed, honest and accurate look at men pushing themselves to emotional and physical breaking points in pursuit of their muse — which here happens to be winning Grand Prix races at all costs. The film portrays the exhilarating true story of two of the greatest rivals in the sport — handsome and flamboyant English playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and his methodical, brilliant opponent, disciplined Austrian perfectionist Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) — in the 1976 season, both on and off the track. The racing scenes are spectacularly amazing — Howard planned the scenes for months, mainly using vintage F1 cars and their drivers in lieu of special effects and stunt drivers (except for the crash scenes). It’s a breathtaking production. Extras include a bevy of featurettes on F1 cars and the film’s production. From Universal.
“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2”picks up where the first film left off, but this time inventor Flint Lockwood’s infamous machine (which turns water into food, resulting in cheeseburger rain and spaghetti tornadoes) is now being used to create food-animal hybrids — “foodimals” — and he has to battle hungry tacodiles, shrimpanzees, apple pie-thons, double bacon cheespiders and other food creatures to save the world again. Like the original, this delightful animated comedy is set in a world all its own where imagination runs amok — and harkens back to the great surreal cartoons of the 40s and 50s where anything could — and would — happen. Fun for audiences of all age groups. There’s an amazing array of behind-the-scenes and self-referential extras on both the DVD and Blu-ray versions. From Sony.
“Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”:“Jackass” ringleader Johnny Knoxville takes on the personna of 86-year-old Irving Zisman in the story of a crotchety old man unexpectedly saddled with the care of his 8-year-old grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll). This pair of troublemakers travel across the heartland of America pulling pranks on unsuspecting, real-life people — male strippers, disgruntled child beauty pageant contestants (and their equally disgruntled mothers), funeral home mourners, biker bar patrons — in this “Candid Camera” meets “America’s Funniest Videos” by way of “Borat” production. A huge moneymaker for the franchise. Blu-ray extras include behind-the-scenes vignettes, deleted scenes, and “Alternate Reactions From Real People.” From Paramount.
“The Fifth Estate”is a muddled attempt to track the rise and fall of WikiLeaks — the muckraking website that leaked hundreds of thousands of pages of secret documents from governments around the world — its founder, Julian Assange, and its impact on the flow of information to news media and the world at large. The film follows Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl), an early supporter and eventual colleague of Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Assange himself, as they rise from obscurity to worldwide notoriety. As the website flourishes, so does Assange’s megalomania, eventually alienating Domscheit-Berg and his supporters and friends. The film, unfortunately, lacks any coherence or vision in its depiction of government leaks and the people at the forefront of divulging secrets and bringing government transparency to the people of the world. Director Bill Condon has done much better work elsewhere (“Gods and Monsters,” “Kinsey,” “Dreamgirls”). Extras are meager, covering the visual effects and the score. From Disney.
What do four of our greatest actors do when they have down time between meaty roles? They get together for an inconsequential comedy about four old friends who travel to Las Vegas for a senior citizen version of “The Hangover.” The plot: Billy (Michael Douglas, 69), Paddy (Robert De Niro, 70), Archie (Morgan Freeman, 76) and Sam (Kevin Kline, 66) have been best friends since childhood. So when Billy, the group’s sworn bachelor, proposes to his thirtysomething girlfriend, the four head to Vegas with a plan to stop acting their age and relive their glory days. There are a few predictable laughs as each man brings to Vegas — and overcomes — his respective emotional baggage concerning love, sex, loyalty and freedom, but for the most part this comedy just coasts along from one mediocre set piece to another. Extras include commentary by director Jon Turteltaub and a few ho-hum behind-the-scenes featurettes. From Sony.
There’s a mixed bag of releases this week to add to your collection, highlighted by three Paramount films from the cusp of the 1960/1970s, when the studio system was being buried and a new generation of American filmmakers was overturning the apple cart; these three films represent old-style Hollywood filmmaking: In “The April Fools” (1969), starring Jack Lemmon, Catherine Deneuve, Peter Lawford, Jack Weston, Myrna Loy, Charles Boyer, Kenneth Mars, Melinda Dillon, Harvey Korman and Sally Kellerman, Howard Brubaker (Lemmon) is a newly promoted man trapped in a loveless marriage. Catherine’s (Deneuve) marriage would be ideal if her husband (who, unknown to Howard, is his boss) weren’t a womanizer. When Howard and Catherine meet at a trendy party for New York’s corporate elite, they decide to escape and explore the city instead. Soon the pair find themselves falling in love and deciding to run off to Paris. All they have to do now is tell their spouses … “Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?” (1971) follows Georgie Soloway (Dustin Hoffman), a hit love-song writer who ironically can’t love others, or himself. Although he’s rich, successful and seemingly on top of the world, he spends his days dreaming of suicide and trying to track down a man named Harry Kellerman, who has been spreading outrageous lies about him. Co-stars Barbara Harris and Jack Warden … In “The War Between Men and Women”(1972), starring Jack Lemmon, Barbara Harris, Jason Robards and Herb Edelman, Peter (Lemmon), a near-sighted cartoonist, abhors women, children and dogs but falls for Theresa (Barbara Harris), a divorcee who comes bag and baggage with all three. Peter and Theresa couldn’t be more wrong for one another, but Cupid has a sense of humor and soon the pair finds themselves dangerously close to living happily ever after … if they can overcome flirtatious ex-husbands, clashing lifestyles and Peter’s potential blindness. Features live-action and animated sequences based on the artwork of James Thurber.
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, Warner has put together the “Nicholas Sparks Limited Edition DVD Collection,” a boxed set with the seven films based on Sparks’ novels: “Safe Haven,” “The Lucky One,” “Dear John,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “A Walk to Remember,” “Message in a Bottle” and “The Notebook.” Sparks is one of the world’s best-selling authors and romantic storytellers: all 17 of his novels have been New York Times bestsellers, have been published in more than 50 languages, and have sold more than 90 million copies worldwide (including more than 60 million copies in the U.S.). This is the first time these films have been together in one collection. On DVD only for $69.97. Extras include a special postcard set with images from each film and a letter from Sparks as well as all the extras on the original DVD releases.
And, closing out January from The Criterion Collection comes a Blu-ray/DVD Combo of “The Long Day Closes” (1992), a glorious cinematic expression from the unique sensibility of Terence Davies (“Distant Voices, Still Lives”; “The Deep Blue Sea”). Bursting with enchantment and melancholy, this autobiographical film takes on the perspective of a quiet boy growing up lonely in Liverpool in the 1950s. But rather than employ a straightforward narrative, Davies jumps in and out of time, swoops into fantasies and fears, summons memories and dreams. A singular filmic tapestry, “The Long Day Closes” is an evocative, movie- and music-besotted portrait of the artist as a young man. In a new, high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed stereo soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include commentary by Davies and director of photography Michael Coulter; an episode from 1992 of the British television series “The South Bank Show” with Davies, featuring on-set footage from “The Long Day Closes” and interviews with cast and crew; new interviews with executive producer Colin MacCabe and production designer Christopher Hobbs; the trailer; and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Koresky.