THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
“Transcendence” is a failed sci-fi morality tale by first-time director Wally Pfister (Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer). Johnny Depp stars as a researcher in the field of artificial intelligence who is developing a computer that will feel and think for itself. As he closes in on his project, anti-technology extremists attack him and shoot him with a radioactive bullet and, with only a month to live, he persuades his wife and best friend to upload his consciousness into the supercomputer. When his virtual form connects to the Internet, he grows in knowledge and capability, merging with other computers around the world to create an omnipresent entity that soon spirals out of control. Though Pfister’s direction is top-notch and the story line intriguing, the film as a whole is dragged down by poorly executed subplots and Depp’s almost somnambulistic acting — almost 360 degrees from his over-the-top roles in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. Still, it’s a fun outing. Co-stars Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Clifton Collins Jr., Morgan Freeman. Extras include a fascinating “What Is Transcendence?” featurette; the Blu-ray adds five more behind-the-scenes featurettes. From Warner.
“Sabotage”: You’ve got to love Arnold Schwarzenegger. After giving up a flourishing acting career for politics, the muscle-bound man was elected governor of California, whereupon he screwed the state by dismantling its welfare and educational systems and lowering taxes for giant corporations.* Then he screwed wife Maria Shriver by screwing their housekeeper (and fathering an illegitimate child) and, now that he’s out of office, he’s screwing Hollywood with a string of junky movies that are downright embarrassing: “The Last Stand” (2013) (which pretty much cut short director Kim Jee-woon’s Hollywood career), “Escape Plan” (2013), and now this violent and stupid film. The non-stop carnage romp is about a group of DEA agents who steal $10 million in cash after storming a heavily armed cartel safe house and then are murdered one-by-one by an unknown assassin. It’s sex, tattoos, dirty words and bloodshed with absolutely no redeeming qualities — there’s no vision, no style and no sense. Co-stars Sam Worthington, Olivia Williams, Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway and Mireille Enos. Extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette. From Warner. [*To be fair, Schwarzenegger supported same-sex marriage, tried to beef up California’s healthcare system, and was a strong advocate of green legislation.]
Also due this week: “Heaven Is for Real,” “Cesar Chavez,” “Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club” and “Dom Hemingway.”
THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS:
When I first saw French director Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964) in the early 1970s, I was stunned by the glorious beauty of the film and the lead actress, Catherine Deneuve. This tale of an ill-fated romance between a 16-year-old girl — the daughter of a middle-class shopkeeper — and a handsome young auto mechanic is told toally through lyrics: the dialogue, no matter how casual or short, is sung to the music of Michel Legrand. The photography drips with sparkling, deep color; the acting of Deneuve is just breathtaking. “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” — which just has to be one of the most romantic and bittersweet films ever made — has long been out of print in the states … until now. The folks at The Criterion Collection have restored “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” as part of their “The Essential Jacques Demy,” which is arriving in stores today. Here’s what Criterion has to say about the set: “French director Jacques Demy didn’t just make movies — he created an entire cinematic world. Demy launched his glorious feature filmmaking career in the 60s, a decade of astonishing invention in his national cinema. He stood out from the crowd of his fellow New Wavers, however, by filtering his self-conscious formalism through deeply emotional storytelling. Fate and coincidence, doomed love, and storybook romance surface throughout his films, many of which are further united by the intersecting lives of characters who either appear or are referenced across titles. Demy’s films — which range from musical to melodrama to fantasia — are triumphs of visual and sound design, camera work, and music, and they are galvanized by the great stars of French cinema at their centers, including Anouk Aimee, Catherine Deneuve and Jeanne Moreau. The works collected here, made from the 60s to the 80s, touch the heart and mind in equal measure: ‘Lola’ (1961), ‘Bay of Angels’ (1963), ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ (1964), ‘The Young Girls of Rochefort’ (1967), ‘Donkey Skin’ (1970) and ‘Une chambre en ville.’ New 2K digital restorations of all six films.” Available in a six-Blu-ray/seven-DVD Dual-Format Edition). Extras include two documentaries by filmmaker Agnes Varda (Demy’s wife):”The World of Jacques Demy” (1995) and “The Young Girls Turn 25” (1993); four short films by Demy: “Les horizons morts” (1951), “Le sabotier du Val de Loire” (1956), “Ars” (1959) and “La luxure” (1962); “Jacques Demy A to Z,” a new visual essay by film critic James Quandt; two archival interviews from French television with Demy and composer Michel Legrand, one on “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and the other on “The Young Girls of Rochefort”; French television interview from 1962 with actor Jeanne Moreau on the set of “Bay of Angels”; a booklet featuring essays by critics Ginette Vincenndeau, Terrence Rafferty, Jim Ridley, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Anne Duggan and Geoff Andrew, and a postscript by Berthome; and much, much more. Not to be missed.
Also from Criterion this week is the granddaddy of Nordic Noir, Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s 1997 “Insomnia,” an elegantly unsettling murder mystery in which Stellan Skarsgard plays an enigmatic Swedish detective with a checkered past who arrives in a small town in northern Norway to investigate the death of a teenage girl. As he digs deeper into the heinous killing, his own demons and the tyrannical midnight sun begin to take a toll. Skarsgard was at the peak of his powers here, having not yet given up acting for roles in “Mamma Mia!” and the “Thor” outings. In a new 4K digital restoration approved by the director, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray.
“Detour” (1945) is a “poverty row” B-film noir from Edgar G. Ulmer, the acknowledged king of the genre. The plot is pure potboiler: Down-on-his-luck nightclub pianist Al Roberts (Tom Neal) leaves New York to join his girlfriend in Hollywood by hitching a ride with a shady bookie. When the driver mysteriously dies, Al – fearful he will be accused of murder — takes the man’s cash, clothes, car and identification. Continuing on his journey under his new guise, Al picks up the beautiful Vera (Ann Savage) — who coincidentally had been given a ride by the dead man earlier. When Al identifies himself as the dead man, the femme fatale catches on and immediately turns to blackmail, plunging him deeper into trouble. Though packed with visual and editing incongruities, this low-budget production has enough expressionistic moxie to keep you enthralled for its short 67 minute running time. The film has been digitally restored but, unfortunately, shows the wear and tear of an unknown generation negative. From Film Chest Media.
“The Suspect” (2013 — South Korea) is a slam-bang double-spy action adventure featuring this genre’s signature over-the-top martial arts hand-to-hand fighting, brutally wild car chases, and loads of bloodshed and gore. Dong-chul (Gong Yoo) is the best field agent in North Korea — until he’s abandoned during a mission, his wife is murdered and his daughter goes missing. Hunted and on the run, he takes a job as a night driver in the South for the CEO of a powerful corporation. When the chairman is brutally assassinated, Dong-chul is framed for the killing and goes on the run again, hunted by agents from both the North and the South. The excitement mounts as Dong-chul slips away from his pursuers time after time while trying to unmask the real culprits and traitors. Co-stars Cho Hee-soon, Jo Seong-ha, Kim Sung-kyun. On DVD, Blu-ray Disc from Well Go USA.
“Propaganda” — a decidedly enlightening film that explains the role of propaganda in manipulating and enslaving people in the Western world for the benefit of the 1 percent of the population that controls 99 percent of the world’s wealth — mysteriously appeared on You Tube on July 18, 2012 as a hard-hitting anti-Western propaganda film that looks at the influence of American culture on the rest of the world. As first reported on mainstream news around the world, “Propaganda” is allegedly a video smuggled out of North Korea. Brilliantly using this “fake North Korean propaganda” found-footage device, director Slavko Martinov first parodies its language and stylings, before targeting the mountain of hypocrisies and contradictions that make up the modern Western world. The film shows how PR, commercials, TV, consumerism and celebrityhood distract people from what really matters — that we really don’t control our government (the big corporations do for their own profits), that we’re slowly being poisoned by chemically adulterated food and drugs (also in the name of profits), and that globalization is just another word for economic colonialism. Using facts and examples, cover-ups and omissions from recent history, the film points up how the media serves up meaningless, distorted realities; lulls us into mindless consumerism; and brainwashes us with fake celebrities (think Paris Hilton). The use of propaganda was first conceived by PR agencies to persuade the American public to enter WWI; was fine-tuned by the Nazi in the 1930s; and has come to a sort of apex in the administration of George W. Bush (“I’ll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this oval office”) to fight an expensive, unnecessary war in Iraq (guess whose friends made a lot of money in that venture?). The film is enthralling and right on the mark — until about two-thirds of the way through when it’s totally sidetracked by the assertion that 9/11 was contrived to “create an endless was on terror” and by its blind anti Israel stance. Still, its worth seeing for its visual representation of the “Manufacturing (of) Consent.” But beware: The film is not for the squeamish, with scenes of horrible acts of violence against animals and humans. From MVD Visual.