THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
What better way to start off the new year than with a staggering indictment of greed and imbalance in our economic system. “Inequality for All” is a passionate argument on behalf of the middle class by Robert Reich — professor, best-selling author, and Clinton cabinet member — as he demonstrates how the widening income gap has had a devastating impact on the American economy. Here’s some startling facts: In 1983 the poorest 47 percent of America had $15,000 per family, 2.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. In 2009 the poorest 47 percent of America owned ZERO PERCENT of the nation’s wealth (their debt exceeded their assets). At the other extreme, the 400 wealthiest Americans own as much wealth as 80 million families — 62 percent of America. The reason is the stock market. Since 1980, the American GDP has approximately doubled. Inflation-adjusted wages have gone down. But the stock market has increased by over 10 times, and the richest quintile of Americans owns 93 percent of it. When middle class consumers have to tighten their belts, the whole economy suffers — as seen in the years before the Great Depression and today: So much of the nation’s income and wealth are going to the top, that the vast middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power to keep the economy going. The middle class represents 70 percent of spending and is the great stabilizer of our economy. No increase in spending by the rich can make up for it — as the income gap increases, the country actually gets poorer because we can’t fund the necessary improvements in the infrastructure. This is where we now find ourselves: unprecedented income divisions, a wildly fluctuating and unstable economy, and average Americans increasingly frustrated and disillusioned. The film alternates between intimate, approachable sequences and intellectually rigorous arguments helping people with no economic background to understand what it means for the U.S. to be economically imbalanced. The films posits six fixes: Raise the minimum wage, strengthen workers’ voices, invest in education, reform Wall Street, fix the tax system and get big money out of politics. Reich presents a passionate argument with cutting humor and armed with staggering facts that poignantly explain economic inequality. If you think that documentaries on politics and economics are boring, you have another think coming. Highly recommended. From RADiUS-TWC/Anchor Bay.
“Thanks for Sharing” follows the lives of three sex addicts as they struggle to overcome their debilitating addictions. Adam (Mark Ruffalo) is an over-achieving environmental consultant who has trouble with relationships, Mike (Tim Robbins) is a long-married small-business owner with control issues, and Neil (Josh Gad) is a wisecracking emergency-room doctor who is just a “pig.” Their lives intersect in a 12-step program and though they try to help each other, their demons continually bubble to the surface to hamper them — and though the at-first-silly comedy takes a dark turn about two-thirds of the way through, it does sew everything up with a fairly predictable happy ending. A weak outing for everyone concerned. Extras include a making-of featurette, commentary, a gag reel and deleted scenes. From Lionsgate.
I’m So Excited! left me decidedly unexcited. I’ve never walked out on a film in a theater, and I’ve hardly ever “walked out” on a DVD, preferring to fast forward if a particular film is boring me to death. But this comedy by Pedro Almodovar had me hit the “stop” button a grueling third of the way through. The film follows a flight crew desperate to divert attention from a life-threatening situation in the clouds — something is wrong with the landing gear on their airplane headed to Mexico City. So a trio of campy flight attendants launch into fits of lip-synching, boozing, drugging and matchmaking with the colorful assortment of passengers. What’s worse than sitting on a flight next to a crying baby? Flying with this group of boorish and boring characters. Extras include two equally boring featurettes. From Sony.
Also due this week: “Closed Circuit” and “Runner Runner,” both of which were not available for review.
There’s a plethora of classic foreign films coming to home video this week, headed up by two films from Jean-Luc Godard: “Hail Mary” and “For Ever Mozart,” both from the director’s 1980s-1990s period, which was marked by a return to (somewhat) more traditional modes of storytelling, but still the work of a cinematic adventurer still exploring new territory, and both making their Blu-ray debut from the Cohen Film Collection. “Hail Mary” (1985), which starred Myriem Roussel, Thierry Rode and Philippe Lacoste, was a winner of a top prize at the Berlin Film Festival and one of the highest-profile films of Godard’s career, but drew criticism from no less than the Pope. In this modern retelling of the Virgin Birth, Mary (Myriem Roussel) is a student who plays basketball and works at her father’s gas station; her boyfriend Joseph (Thierry Rode) is an earnest dropout who drives a cab. The angel Gabriel (Philippe Lacoste) must school Joseph to accept Mary’s pregnancy, while Mary comes to terms with God’s plan. Juliette Binoche co-stars. In “For Ever Mozart” (1996), starring Madeleine Assas, Berangere Allaux, Ghalya Lacroix, Vicky Messica and Frederic Pierrot, Godard shifted to a narrative grounded in a distressing reality of the day: the Bosnian War. This densely packed rumination on the need to create order and beauty in a world ruled by chaos is divided into several distinct but related stories, chiefly the attempts by an idealistic French acting troupe to stage a play in war-torn Sarajevo. Along their journey, they are captured and held in a POW camp. Amid the gunfire of war, an elderly director struggles to complete his film. Both films are packed with bonus features and booklets.
One of the most shocking — yet lyrical films — of the post-Vietnam War era was
“The Killing Fields” (1984), directed by Roland Joffe and starring Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich, Julian Sands, Craig T. Nelson and Spalding Gray. This emotional and brutally honest true story follows Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg (Waterston), who remains in Cambodia in 1975 after the government falls. He convinces his friend and translator Dith Pran (Ngor) to stay with him to report on the bloodbath perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge (which killed nearly 3 million Cambodians), one of the most brutal regimes of the 20th century, and on the United States’ role in precipitating the horror. The two continue to work until the Khmer Rouge arrests them. Schanberg is eventually released and returns to New York. Pran is sent for execution but barely manages a daring escape from the killing fields and from Cambodia. Warner was done a beautiful job of restoring and transferring the film to Blu-ray — the beauty (and horror) of the Cambodian countryside jumps at you off the screen. Packed in a 36-page Blu-ray book with rare photos, production notes and other material.
The folks at Lionsgate have put together an all-new, restored edition of director Robin Hardy’s final cut of “The Wicker Man” (1973) for its Blu-ray debut. Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt, Christopher Lee in this off-beat horror film about a Police Sergeant (Woodward) who travels to a remote Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. But the seemingly quiet community is not as it appears, as the detective uncovers a secretive pagan society led by the strange Lord Summerisle (Lee). While the townsfolk tempt and threaten him with bizarre rituals and wanton lust, the detective must race to discover the truth behind the girl’s disappearance before his clash with Lord Summerisle builds to a terrifying conclusion — one that has cemented this cult shocker as a modern horror masterpiece.
From The Criterion Collection comes a Blu-ray edition of Akira Kurosawa’s
“Throne of Blood” (1957), a vivid, visceral Macbeth adaptation that sets Shakespeare’s definitive tale of ambition and duplicity in a ghostly, fog-enshrouded landscape in feudal Japan. As a tough warrior who rises savagely to power, Toshiro Mifune gives a remarkable, animalistic performance, as does Isuzu Yamada as his ruthless wife. “Throne of Blood” fuses classical Western tragedy with formal elements taken from Noh theater to create an unforgettable cinematic experience. The company has also put together three films from Satyajit Ray — directed by him in the last 10 years of his life — in “Eclipse Series 40: Late Ray”: “The Home and the World” (1984); the vital Henrik Ibsen–inspired “An Enemy of the People” (1989); and the filmmaker’s final film, the poignant and philosophical family story “The Stranger” (1991). Each is a complex, political, and humane portrait of a world both corrupt and indescribably beautiful, constructed with Ray’s characteristic elegance and imbued with autumnal profundity.
And, lastly, for the Trekkies out there Paramount offers the Blu-ray debut of
“Star Trek Enterprise: Season Three” (2003-04) in a six-disc set with 24 episodes. Starring Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock, Connor Trinneer, Dominic Keating, Linda Park, Anthony Montgomery and John Billingsley, “Star Trek: Enterprise” follows the adventures of the Enterprise NX-01, the first Earth-built vessel capable of breaking the Warp 5 barrier, and her intrepid crew of brave explorers. In addition to bonus material previously released on DVD, the set includes commentary on select episodes; the newly produced “In a Time of War,” a retrospective, multi-part documentary that offers fans an inside look at the making of the series’ groundbreaking third season, which was the first in the franchise to feature a year-long story arc; and the featurette “Temporal Cold War: Declassified,” a never-before-seen piece in which the show’s creators, cast and production team reveal details about the original story arc that was never fully explored, and how the temporal cold war would have ended if the series had continued. $130.00.
BUZZIN’ THE ‘B’S:
“The Happy House” (2013) is a delightfully funny and offbeat horror thriller that leans a little too much to the amateurish side with slow takes and a reliance on talk over action. With their relationship on the rocks, a young Brooklyn couple heads to a remote bed & breakfast to work things out. But from the moment they arrive at The Happy House, it’s one disaster after another, and they soon begin to suspect they’ve wandered into a real life horror movie. Events escalate from weird to terrifying as they contend with the house’s batty owner, her imposing son, a moody Swedish lepidopterist, a pedantic English professor, an extraordinarily rare butterfly, the world’s best blueberry muffins, a .44 Magnum, a demented serial killer, and one very strict rule book. Stars Aya Cash, Khan Baykal and Marceline Hugot. From First Run Features.