THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
“Her”: It would be an understatement to say that Spike Jonze is a quirky filmmaker; from “Being John Malkovich” through his many music videos and shorts and through even the dismal failure of “Where the Wild Things Are,” the director has tackled on-the-edge themes and projects. Here he explores love in the age of the electronic machine by mating a depressed single man — heartbroken after the end of a long relationship — with a computer operating system that takes on a life of its own. Joaquin Phoenix plays a complex, soulful man who makes his living writing touching, personal letters for other people; when he upgrades his computer to a new, advanced operating system he encounters “Samantha,” a bright, female voiced (Scarlett Johansson) intuitive and unique entity that becomes his best friend and, eventually, his lover. It’s warm and fuzzy and imminently enjoyable, as the film explores the ups and downs of what we know will be a doomed relationship. Phoenix gives a cavalier performance. Extras include a couple behind-the-scenes featurettes. From Warner.
Also due this week: “I, Frankenstein,” another B- project for the talented Aaron Eckhart who constantly plays his way through junk. This supernatural thriller has Dr. Frankenstein’s creature playing footsies with demons and gargoyles in a battle to save human kind. Based on a graphic novel. Also along for the bumpy ride are Bill Nighy and Miranda Otto. From Lionsgate.
“That Awkward Moment,” a male buddy rom-com about three best friends who vow to remain single after each has a failed relationship; naturally, all three enter new relationships that eventually fall apart and then come back together again. A typical soft comedy only notable for leading man Zac Efron’s abs. Also stars Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis and Jessica Lucas. From Sony.
THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS:
“The Dave Clark Five and Beyond: Glad All Over”
(2013) This two-hour long documentary celebrates the 50th anniversary of the British invasion of America (The Dave Clark Five was the first English group to tour America, in May 1964, thus spearheading the invasion) and features newly filmed interviews with Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, Stevie Wonder, Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne, Gene Simmons, Whoopi Goldberg, Dionne Warwick, 60s fashion icon Twiggy and Ian McKellen, all sharing their memories of how the music of the 60s and the cultural revolution of 1964 changed their lives. The Dave Clark Five was a joyous, hard-driving record-making machine with an incredible stomping beat driven by the signature drums of leader Dave Clark. The group recorded 24 albums with 30 charting singles from 1964 to 1970, when they disbanded because they wanted to go out at the peak of their powers. They achieved a record-breaking 15 consecutive Top-20 U.S. hit singles within a two-year period — more than any other group in the world except The Beatles. They appeared a record-breaking 18 times on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” with its weekly audience of 70 million viewers — more than any other rock, pop or R&B artist. They took the world by storm and helped change the rock scene. Clark wrote all the songs with lead singer Mike Smith and — unheard of for its time — he owned all the masters, produced the group’s records, and was one of the first to create music videos. He later studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio, acted in West End plays, wrote, produced and directed a spectacular multi-media “space-travaganza” in 1986 with Ian McKellen, Laurence Olivier and Freddie Mercury, and bought the rights to the ultimate 1960s British pop culture show “Ready Steady Go,” not to merchandise it but keep it intact for posterity. And, naturally, he wrote, produced and directed this documentary which, unfortunately, meanders a little too much through the group’s history with little background on the members themselves or their musical inspiration (though Clark cites Buddy Rich, Elvis and soul music for his inspirations). Still, an enlightening film. On DVD, Blu-ray from PBS Distribution. Note: Surprisingly, all the DC5 albums are out of print and going for phenomenal prices online.
“Stalingrad” (2013), starring Thomas Kretschmann, Petr Fedorov, Sergey Bondarchuk, Mariya Smolnikova, Yanina Studilina. An epic look at the battle that turned the tide of World War II, “Stalingrad” was the highest-grossing Russian film of all time and Russia’s official submission for Best Foreign-language Film to the 86th Academy Awards. The Battle of Stalingrad lasted five months from August 1942 to February 1943 and cost millions of lives on both sides — the Soviets alone suffered a total of 1,129,619 casualties; it is estimated that anywhere from 25,000 to 40,000 Soviet civilians died in Stalingrad and its suburbs during a single week of aerial bombing by the Germans. The defeat of the German army at Stalingrad and the Eastern front was fatal for the Nazi, slowing its momentum and tieing up resources that allowed the Allies to slowly but surely mount successful forays into German occupied Europe, culminating in the D-Day invasion. The film contrasts the grand scale of the famous battle with the intimate human drama among the Russian soldiers, the few remaining civilians and the German soldiers who invaded the city. A band of determined Russian soldiers fight to hold a strategic building in their devastated city against a ruthless German army, and in the process become deeply connected to a Russian woman who has been living there. The acting is, as to be expected, gallant and righteous; the battle scenes are realistic and gritty; and the special effects surprisingly good — an attack by flame engulfed Soviet soldiers that overruns a German encampment is spectacular. A powerful outing. On DVD and in a 3D Blu-ray/Blu-ray Combo from Sony.
Another powerful films about World War II is “Overlord” (1975), arriving on Blu-ray this week from The Criterion Collection. Seamlessly interweaving archival war footage and a fictional narrative, this immersive account of life during wartime follows a 21-year-old man’s induction into the British army, his stint during basic training, and his preparation as an infantryman for the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Along the way he makes friends, falls in love, and has horrible dream-like premonitions of death. Directed by Stuart Cooper and shot by John Alcott (Stanley Kubrick’s longtime cinematographer), the film is brings to life all the boredom, terror and isolation of war with jolting authenticity. Restored in a high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Stuart Cooper, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Stars Brian Stirner, Davyd Harries, Nicholas Ball, Julie Neesam and Sam Sewell. Extras include “Mining the Archive,” a 2007 video piece featuring archivists from London’s Imperial War Museum detailing the footage used in the film; “Capa Influences Cooper,” a 2007 photo essay featuring Cooper on photographer Robert Capa; “Cameramen at War,” the British Ministry of Information’s 1943 film tribute to newsreel and service film unit cameramen; “A Test of Violence,” Cooper’s 1969 short film about the Spanish artist Juan Genoves; “Germany Calling,” a 1941 Ministry of Information propaganda film, clips of which appear in “Overlord”; excerpts from the journals of two D-day soldiers, read by Stirner; more.
There’s two horror Blu-ray debuts this week from Scream Factory/Shout! Factory: “Evilspeak” (1981), starring Clint Howard, R.G. Armstrong, Joseph Cortese, Claude Earl Jones, Haywood Nelson, Don Stark, Charles Tyner, Lenny Montana and Richard Moll, about a social outcast military cadet who finds a way to summon demons and cast spells on his tormentors through his computer. Prior to its U.S. theatrical release, the distributor of the film requested that the graphic violence be cut to avoid an “X” rating from the MPAA. The film has been completely restored from a newly discovered 35mm inter-positive source including all of its long rumored scenes of bloody carnage. In a new 1080p high definition transfer supervised and approved by director Eric Weston … and “Final Exam” (1981), about a psycho killer who shows up on a college campus to slash up pretty co-eds and dumb jocks. Stars Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice. In a new HD transfer from the original camera negative.
Olive Films has two classic 1940s hits on Blu-ray this week: “Flying Tigers “ (1942), starring John Wayne, John Carroll, Anna Lee, Paul Kelly and Mae Clarke in an actioner that follows a small and daring band of American mercenaries who soared into battle against Japan in defense of China’s freedom just prior to the invasion of Pearl Harbor. Remastered in high definition … and “Home of the Brave” (1948), directed by Mark Robson and starring Frank Lovejoy, Lloyd Bridges, Douglas Dick, James Edwards, Steve Brodie and Jeff Corey. The melodrama recounts the story of a young black soldier who suffered a nervous breakdown and developed psychosomatic paralysis; crippled by rage and trauma, his condition was induced by experiences encountered during a reconnaissance mission combined with a lifetime of racial discrimination. One of Hollywood’s first bold statements regarding the issue of race and the realities of war. Remastered in high definition.