THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASE:
“The Veronica Mars Movie”:
Seven years after it left TV, “Veronica Mars” was resurrected as a theatrical feature. The cult series, which ran on UPN and The CW for 64 episodes from 2004-07, followed the adventures of high school-age private detective Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) who, after her best friend is murdered and her father is removed as county sheriff, dedicates her life to cracking the toughest mysteries in the affluent town of Neptune in Southern California. For several years after the series’ demise, fans clamored for more of Veronica and, finally, Bell and director-showrunner Rob Thomas put together a package for a big-screen continuation of Veronica’s saga — but the studio wouldn’t greenlight the project. Thomas and Bell decided to mount a Kickstarter crowd-sourcing campaign in 2013 to raise funds, and got a promise from the studio that the film would go into production if the duo raised $2 million. Lo and behold, the campaign raised $5.7 million from 91,585 donors in just a few days, ensuring a go-ahead for the film. The movie hit the big screen on March 14 in some 291 theatres for a box office take of $2 million; after a month in limited release, however, it ended up with only about $3.3 million … certainly not recouping its costs. The problem: The film was created for the TV series’ devotees, and never made an attempt to crossover to a wider audience. Directed by Thomas and starring Bell, Enrico Colantoni, Jason Dohring, Tina Majorino, Ryan Hansen, Percy Daggs III, Martin Starr, Krysten Ritter and Jerry O’Connell, the story picks up a year after Veronica’s high school graduation; she’s vying for a job at a hot-shot New York law firm when she’s called back to Neptune to help her old high school flame, Logan Echolls, who’s accused of murdering his current girlfriend. Once in Neptune, she gets embroiled in the murder mystery, police corruption and class warfare — as well as her 10-year high school reunion — and again takes up her sleuthing ways. For the non-fan, though mildly entertaining, the film is way too smug in its allusions to characters from the TV series who pop up here; the in-jokes and continuous snappy one-liners may have worked well on TV but fall flat on the big screen; the story line is bogged down by weak direction and sloppy pacing. It’s a TV show masquerading as a movie. Definitely for die-hard fans only. Extras include deleted scenes; a gag reel; several behind-the-scenes featurettes; and “By the Fans: The Making of the Veronica Mars Movie,” which chronicles the Kickstarter campaign and the loyalty of the series’ fans (many of whom made large Kickstarter donations to get bit parts in the film) and which, to this viewer, was more entertaining than the main feature.
THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS:
There’s a flurry of impressive Blu-ray debuts this week:
“The Big Red One: The Reconstruction” (1980) is Samuel Fuller’s classic antiwar film that follows a quartet of U.S. soldiers from “The Big Red One” (the nickname of the 1st Infantry Division that Fuller himself served in, making the film semi-autobiographical) serving in a rifle squad from 1942-1945 as they push from North Africa to Sicily to D-Day to the liberation I of France, the invasion of Germany and finally to a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. The story is told in a series of anecdotal vignettes as a core group of soldiers talk about life, love and war, fight off the Germans, and greet new squad recruits and mourn their passing. The film was heavily edited by the studio on its original release, but was restored and premiered at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. Stars Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Cicco, Kelly Ward and Stephane Audran. The Blu-ray disc includes both the original theatrical version and the reconstruction but, infortunately, only the theatrical version is presented in 1080p and DTS-HD Master Audio. Still, a must buy. Extras include alternate scenes, “Anatomy of a Scene” before and after restoration comparisons, “The Real Glory: Reconstructing The Big One” featurette, “Profile: The Men Who Make the Movies: Samuel Fuller,” a War department film “The Fighting First,” commentary on the restoration version by film critic Richard Schickel. From Warner.
“Blazing Saddles 40th Anniversary Blu-ray” (1974) is one of the funniest and most outrageous comedies of all time. It stars Cleavon Little as an unlikely sheriff in the Wild West town of Rock Ridge, Harvey Korman as the villain, Madeline Kahn as a Marlene Dietrich-style chanteuse, Gene Wilder as the wacko Waco Kid and director Mel Brooks as a dimwitted politico. Once the lunatic film gets started, logic is lost in a blizzard of gags, jokes, quips, puns and outrageous assaults upon good taste or any taste at all. Takes the No. 6 spot in the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Comedies. Also stars Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, John Hillerman and Dom DeLuise. Extras include a new featurette, “Blaze of Glory: Mel Brooks’ Wild, Wild West”; commentary by Brooks; “Back in the Saddle” cast/crew reunion documentary; “Black Bart” 1975 TV pilot inspired by the movie, starring Lou Gossett Jr. and Steve Landesberg; deleted scenes; theatrical trailer. From Warner.
“The Bridges of Madison County” (1995) is Clint Eastwood’s luscious filmic adaptation of Robert James Waller’s romantic novel set in 1965 about Robert Kincaid (Eastwood), a photographer and free spirit searching for the covered bridges of Madison County, Iowa, and Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep), an Italian-born farm wife waiting for the fulfillment of a girlhood dream, who meet and have an incredible four-day torrid love affair while her husband and children are off at the Illinois State Fair. Extras include “An Old-Fashioned Love Story: Making The Bridges of Madison County,” commentary by editor Joel Cox and cinematographer Jack N. Green, theatrical trailer. From Warner.
Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole” (1951) is one of the most scathing indictments of American culture ever produced by a Hollywood filmmaker. Kirk Douglas gives the fiercest performance of his career as Chuck Tatum, an amoral newspaper reporter who washes up in dead-end Albuquerque, happens upon the scoop of a lifetime — a treasure hunter is trapped in a mine collapse — and will do anything to keep getting the lurid headlines. Wilder’s follow-up to Sunset Boulevard is an even darker vision, a no-holds-barred expose of the American media’s appetite for sensation that has gotten only more relevant with time. Restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack. From The Criterion Collection in a Dual Format Blu-ray/DVD release.
CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount has ported three of its most popular TV series to Blu-ray:
“I Love Lucy – Ultimate Season One” (1951-52) features all the hilarious first episodes of the groundbreaking series starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Alongside such classics as the “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” episode selling Vitameatavegamin are never-before seen treats, including Lucy and Desi’s makeup and wardrobe tests where the off-screen couple are filmed together just days before full-scale production began. Also included is the pilot episode, re-mastered from its recently discovered original 35mm negative, radio broadcasts, on-set color home movies and backstage photos. Six-disc set, $129.99 … “The Andy Griffith Show – Season One” (1960-61) includes all 32 episodes of the first season, restored in high definition, with original sponsor openings and closings. Starring Andy Griffith, Ron Howard, Don Knotts and Frances Bavier, the beloved series about small-town America includes rare special features, including color on-set home movies shot by Ron Howard’s father Rance, Edward R. Murrow’s insightful interview of Andy Griffith on “Person to Person” in 1957 and a new HD transfer of the “Return to Mayberry” television movie. Four-disc set, $129.99. … “The Honeymooners – Classic 39 Episodes” (1955-56) features re-mastered full-length episodes of the iconic series, starring the one and only Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph. Special features include a never-before-released, hour-long musical “The Honeymooners: The Adoption” from 1966; a memorable 1984 “60 Minutes” profile of Jackie Gleason; both “The Honeymooners Anniversary Special” (1990) and “The Honeymooners 50th Anniversary Celebration” (2002); Jackie Gleason interviewing a Queens bus driver as guest host for Edward R. Murrow on “Person to Person”; original openings, closings and cast commercials. Five-disc set, $129.99.
Also this week: “China Beach: The Complete Season Three” (1989-90), a six-disc set with 22 uncut episodes of the TV series set during the Vietnam War in a part-EVAC hospital, part-USO entertainment center that was an outpost of craziness and compassion that mingled horror and laughter, heroism and sacrifice, as seen through the eyes of the women who served there. Season Three explored the most unlikely relationship between nurse Colleen McMurphy (Dana Delany) and “entrepreneur” K.C. Kolowski (Marg Helgenberger), both of whom are held hostage in the notorious tunnels in Vietnam; introduced Holly Pelegrini (Ricki Lake); took Dodger (Jeff Kober) home; and jumped back in “F.N.G.” to when new guys Dr. Richard (Robert Picardo) and McMurphy first arrive in the country. Guest stars included Ruby Dee, Vince Vaughn, Tom Sizemore, Thomas Haden Church, Don Cheadle and Helen Hunt. And don’t forget the great 60s rock music soundtrack! On DVD only, $29.95 from Time Life/StarVista Entertainment … In “Generation War” (2013 — Germany) a group of five young friends — eager to become heroes — gather together on the eve of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union. Nothing could have prepared them for the extreme realities that await each and every one of them. As told through the eyes of young adults on the brink of adulthood in Nazi Germany, director Philipp Kadelbach and writer Stefan present a sweeping saga, aired as a TV minseries in Germany. Produced over a period of eight years and filmed on over 150 sets across Germany, Lithuania and Latvia, the film is a stunning German epic drama spanning over five years beginning in Berlin in 1941 through the immediate aftermath of WWII in 1945. The lives of five young German friends are defined when they are forced to navigate the unconscionable moral compromises of life under Hitler. Among the quintet of young people are level-headed officer Wilhelm (Volker Bruch), who is full of patriotic fervor as he heads for the eastern front with his sensitive younger brother Friedhelm (Tom Schilling); Charlotte(Miriam Stein), a young nurse in love with Wilhelm who is serving in the Red Cross; Greta (Katherina Schuttler), an ambitious singer who longs to become another Marlene Dietrich; and Greta’s boyfriend Viktor (Ludwig Trepte), who faces a daily struggle for survival as a Jew in an increasingly oppressive regime. On DVD, Blu-ray Disc with a special 12-page booklet containing photos, an essay and more. From Music Box Films.