THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
“Enemy”: Though it performed dismally at the boxoffice, “Enemy” — a frighteningly ominous thriller that plumbs the depths of identity, sexuality and reality in the modern world — deserves a second chance on DVD. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Adam Bell, a glum, disheveled history professor who seems disinterested in the world around him — including his beautiful girlfriend, Mary (Melanie Laurent). When he rents a movie and spots his double — a bit-part actor named Anthony Clair (Gyllenhaal), who is living with his pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) — he becomes obsessed with his doppelganger and tracks him down. When the identical men meet, their lives become irrevocably intertwined in a complex and dangerous struggle. Denis Villeneuve (who previously directed Gyllenhaal in “Prisoners”) fills his scenario with symbols, neuroses and bizarre actions that force viewers to question their perception of the real and psychological world of the film. Though the film stumbles a little here and there (there is some unbelievable behavior), Gyllenhaal’s performance and Villeneuve’s strong direction make for some adventurous filmmaking. Co-stars Isabella Rossellini, Jane Moffat, Joshua Peace and Tim Post. Extras include “Lucid Dreams: The Making of Enemy,” a fairly decent making-of featurette. From Lionsgate.
“Winter’s Tale”: You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of a big-screen fiasco than this overwrought, over-serious, romantic fantasy written and directed by Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind”) but based upon the acclaimed 1983 novel by Mark Helprin. The film is ripe with metaphysical nonsense from beginning to end, opening and closing with silly voiceovers about miracles and humans finding their places amongst the stars. The first half of “Winter’s Tale” is set in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century, and pits Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), a master thief, against his ex-boss and mentor Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), a gangster who’s really a demon and disciple of Lucifer (Will Smith in a very dumb cameo). Soames wants to kill Lake, but the young man is saved from death by his guardian angel, a flying white horse. When Lake fails to save the life of a young woman, he disappears for almost a century, popping up in modern New York (not a day older) again to be hunted down by the demon Soames in the last half of the film. There’s so many lapses in believability and so much over-the-top posturing by the actors that you’ll be laughing instead of crying (the film is supposed to be a tearjerker of sorts. Co-stars Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt and Eva Marie Saint. Extras include a couple behind-the-scenes featurettes. From Warner.
Also due this week: “300: Rise of an Empire,” a follow up to the 2007 hit “300.” From Warner.
THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS:
Ah, 1964. We were so young and naive … and when The Beatles — and “A Hard Day’s Night” — stormed the cultural bulwarks in the U.S., we were bowled over by the energy and excitement and spontaneity of this seemingly full-grown-at-birth phenomenon. It’s 50 years later and we now know, of course, that The Beatles had spent six long years developing their music and style before they hit it big in the states; and that the wild shenanigans and “free-form” scenario of “A Hard Day’s Night” owed as much to director Richard Lester and his years in the spontaneous and anything-goes world of British TV and “The Goon Show” as to The Beatles. Still, “A Hard Day’s Night” was ground-breaking and unconventional, innovative and bold for its time — Lester used hand-held cameras and experimental editing and cuts (wild swoosh pans, blurred shots), and blended together cinematic riffs from Buster Keaton, the Marx brothers, Bunuelian surrealism and the new language of the French New Wave to create a “fictionalized documentary” (in Lester’s words) that helped change the landscape of pop culture and movie-making. And though much of the script was based on the real-life interplay of the four lads from Liverpool, there’s not as many ad-libs or improvisations as we had thought back in the day — the bulk of the action and dialogue was scripted by Lester and screenwriter Alun Owen (the only totally unscripted sequence is when the boys escape the TV studio to romp in a field from a helicopter’s eye point of view, creating the grandfather of all music videos).
It was a “perfect marriage of film expression and subject matter. Style was content in the most perfect way. The inventiveness (of the film) mirrors The Beatles themselves. It was a time where we were ready as a generation to liberate ourselves and they were the perfect vehicle for that,” says film editor Bobbie O’Steen in “Anatomy of a Style,” one of the many superb extras on The Criterion Collection’s splendid remastering and new 4K digital film restoration of “A Hard Day’s Night” (in a Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format Edition). The edition, approved by director Lester, with two audio options — a monaural soundtrack and a new 5.1 surround soundtrack made by Apple Records presented in uncompressed monaural and DTS-HD Master Audio — contains a wealth of supplements that just boggle the imagination — and will tantalize Beatles’ and film fans: Commentary featuring various members of the film’s cast and crew; “In Their Own Voices,” a new piece combining interviews with the Beatles from 1964 with behind-the-scenes footage and photos; “You Can’t Do That: The Making of A Hard Day’s Night,” a 1994 documentary program by producer Walter Shenson; “Things They Said Today,” a 2002 documentary about the film featuring Lester, music producer George Martin, writer Alun Owen, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, and others; “Picturewise,” a new piece about Lester’s film work and influence, narrated by Rita Tushingham and featuring a new audio interview with the director; “The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film” (1959), Lester’s Oscar-nominated short featuring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan; a new interview with Mark Lewisohn, author of “Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years — Volume One,” about the Beatles’ career from 1958 to 1964; and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Howard Hampton. This is the must buy of the week, of the month … of the year.
Also due this week is the film noir fan-favorite “The Black Book” (1949), directed by noir and Western great Anthony Mann and starring Richard Basehart, Robert Cummings and Arlene Dahl. Set in the French Revolution, “The Black Book” blends history and fiction into a shadowy, suspenseful tale. Available for the first time in full HD restoration from the original 35mm film elements. From Film Chest Media Group.