THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
“Frances Ha”: Director Noah Baumbach has a knack for taking the mundane detritus of everyday life and weaving it into fascinating cinematic journeys, beginning with the all-too-talky “Kicking and Screaming” (1995) through the depressing but intensely honest and real “The Squid and the Whale” (2005) through “Greenberg” (2010) and now “Frances Ha,” the director’s ode to life and love in modern New York City. Developed with and starring Greta Gerwig, the director’s real-life girlfriend, this charming black and white tale follows a woman in her late twenties who’s trying to sort out her ambitions, her dreams, her finances, and, above all, her changing bond with her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). As Frances, Gerwig is light and joyful and a pleasure to watch. But, therein lies the rub: the film is all too light and joyful, leaving the viewer hungering for more. Still, in a year that has brought us noisy and meaningless outings such as “After Earth,” “Bullet to the Head,” “A Good Day to Die Hard,” “R.I.P.D.” and “The Wolverine,” too light is a virtue. Extra include a conversation between Peter Bogdanovich and Baumbach; a conversation between actor and filmmaker Sarah Polley and Gerwig; conversation about the look of the film between Baumbach, director of photography Sam Levy, and creative director Pascal Dangin; trailer; and a booklet featuring an essay by playwright Annie Baker. In a DVD/Blu-ray combo from The Criterion Collection.
“The Attack”: Palestinian surgeon Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) is fully assimilated into Tel Aviv society, has a loving wife, an exemplary career and many Jewish friends. But his picture-perfect life is turned upside down when a suicide bombing leaves 17 dead, and the Israeli police inform him that his wife Sihem (Reymonde Amsellem) not only died in the explosion, but was responsible for it. Initially interrogated — but cleared — as a possible accomplice, Amin is shaken further when he receives a posthumous letter from Sihem confirming her role in the carnage. Shattered by this revelation, Amin abandons the relative security of his adopted homeland to enter the Palestinian territories in pursuit of the zealots who recruited his wife. Based on Yasmina Khadra’s prize-winning and bestselling novel. It’s at once a fascinating mystery, thriller and cultural study of the forces tearing people and families apart in the Middle East — and it’s all the more powerful since the film doesn’t take any sides, preferring to key in on the personal rather than the political. In Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles. Extras include an interview with director Ziad Doueiri. From Cohen Media Group.
“Blackfish”: You don’t have to be an animal activist to be moved by “Blackfish,” a documentary that explores the world of the “killer whales,” the 8,000-pound orcas that grace sea parks with their stunning beauty and ability to soar out of the water and fly through the air, as if in perfect harmony with their trainers. But behind this facade is a world of cruelty and mistreatment of the massive mammals by park operators exploiting them — and park workers — for dangerous profits. Using the story of notorious performing whale Tilikum, who — unlike any orca in the wild — has taken the lives of several people while in captivity — the film explores man’s inhumanity to these highly intelligent and enormously sentient fellow mammals. Extras include “Recollections of a Former SeaWorld Trainer,” “The Truth About Wild Whales,” “Alternatives to Captivity,” more. From Magnolia Home Entertainment.
Also due this week: “Man of Steel” and “Turbo,” both of which were unavailable for review.
The Criterion Collection inaugurates their new strategy of packaging all releases as Blu-ray/DVD Combo sets with “City Lights” (1931). The most cherished film by Charlie Chaplin is also his ultimate Little Tramp chronicle. The writer-director-star achieved new levels of grace, in both physical comedy and dramatic poignancy, with this silent tale of a lovable vagrant falling for a young blind woman who sells flowers on the street (a magical Virginia Cherrill) and mistakes him for a millionaire. Though this Depression-era smash was made after the advent of sound, Chaplin remained steadfast in his love for the expressive beauty of the pre-talkie form. The result was the epitome of his art and the crowning achievement of silent comedy. In a new, restored 4K digital film transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include commentary by Charlie Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance; “Chaplin Today: City Lights,” a 2003 documentary on the film’s production, featuring Aardman Animations cofounder Peter Lord; excerpt from Chaplin’s short film “The Champion” (1915), along with footage of the director with boxing stars at Chaplin Studios in 1918; trailers; booklet featuring an essay by critic Gary Giddins and a 1966 interview with Chaplin, and more.
With the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Nov. 22, 1963), a day that forever changed American history, politics and culture, virtually every home video studio is putting out commemorative releases about the president, that fateful day, and the conspiracy surrounding his death (with most streeting next week). If you want a definitive collection of JFK films, then look no further than the “JFK 50th Commemorative Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray” from Warner. The set includes the Blu-ray edition of the 1991 Oliver Stone film, “JFK” (which explored the assassination and the possibility of a conspiracy behind it), starring Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Bacon, Gary Oldman, Sissy Spacek, Jack Lemmon, Joe Pesci, Donald Sutherland, Laurie Metcalf, John Candy, Walter Matthau, Sally Kirkland and Edward Asner. The set also includes three captivating documentaries: Oliver Stone’s “JFK: To the Brink,” the insightful look at the JFK presidency that was included in his 2012 Showtime Series, “The Untold History of the United States”; the brand-new “JFK Remembered: 50 Years Later” from filmmaker Robert Kline (also available as a separate DVD release for $5.94); and “John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums” (1965) (also available as a separate DVD release for $11.97), a documentary produced by George Stevens Jr. and written and directed by Bruce Herschensohn, who also composed the music. In addition, the “JFK UCE” includes the feature film drama “PT 109” (1963, starring Cliff Robertson), about Kennedy’s World War II experiences as a skipper in the South Pacific. The “JFK UCE” also contains commemorative items from the Kennedy Presidential Library: collectible reproductions of family and presidential photos, a campaign poster from the 1960 presidential campaign, and a copy of Kennedy’s historic inaugural address. Lastly, there’s a 32-page book of famous quotations, and a 44-page JFK movie photo book. “JFK” Extras: “Behind the Story,” commentary by director Oliver Stone, “Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy,” multimedia essays, “Assassination Update — The New Documents,” “Meet Mr. X: The Personality and Thoughts of Fletcher Prouty,” deleted/extended scenes, theatrical trailer. At $49.00, a bargain.
There’s two interesting sets of TV series coming to home video this week:
The ground-breaking “Combat!” (1962-67) offered a gritty, unflinching look at American soldiers battling on the front lines in Europe during World War II, confronting imposing odds and demonstrating remarkable levels of ingenuity and courage. Vic Morrow and Rick Jason headed a stellar cast in the long-running war drama featuring an incomparable list of guest stars (including Eddie Albert, James Caan, James Coburn, Lee Marvin, Leonard Nimoy, Mickey Rooney, Rip Torn, Robert Duvall, Roddy McDowall, Sal Mineo, Telly Savalas, Bill Bixby, Claude Akins, Dennis Hopper, Ricardo Montalban and Wayne Rogers) as well as top directorial talent. “Combat! The Complete Series” consists of all 152 episodes, including the final season in color. $229.98 from Image Entertainment … “Dexter: The Complete Series Collection” (2006-13) includes all eight seasons in a collectible recreation of the actual blood slide box used by Dexter Morgan to catalog his victims on the show. Also designed and included specifically for this collection is “Grafix: The Art of Dexter,” a collection of photography, fan artwork and iconography and images used in the series’ cutting edge promotional campaigns. Finally, fans will enjoy an all-new bonus disc with over three hours of behind-the-scene interviews, featurettes and more. This bonus material delves deep into the series and is highlighted by the new documentaries “The Evolution of Dexter Morgan” and “The Code.” In a 33-disc DVD, $352.99; 25-disc Blu-ray, $427.99 from Paramount.
Blu-ray debuts this week: “Nosferatu” (1922): F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror” is resurrected in an HD edition mastered from the acclaimed 35mm restoration by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, backed by an orchestral performance of Hans Erdmann’s 1922 score. An unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” “Nosferatu” remains to many viewers the most unsettling vampire film ever made, and its bald, spidery vampire, personified by the diabolical Max Schreck, continues to spawn imitations in the realm of contemporary cinema. From Kino Lorber … “All the President’s Men 2-Disc Special Edition” (1976), directed by Alan J. Pakula and starring Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards, Jane Alexander, Meredith Baxter, Ned Beatty and Stephen Collins, in a new Blu-ray two-disc version that commemorates the 40th anniversary of Watergate. Extras include a new documentary “All the President’s Men Revisited,” plus vintage special features: “Telling the Truth About Lies: The Making of All the President’s Men”; “Woodward and Bernstein: Lighting the Fire”; “Out of the Shadows: The Man Who Was Deep Throat”; commentary by Redford; “Pressure and the Press: The Making of All the President’s Men”; Jason Robards Interview excerpt from Dinah!, hosted by Dinah Shore; trailer. From Warner … John Carpenter plays a creepy-looking coroner who introduces a trilogy of blood-curdling tales (directed by himself and Tobe Hooper) in “John Carpenter Presents Body Bags Collector’s Edition” (1993): “The Gas Station” (starring Robert Carradine and Alex Datcher), “Hair” (starring Stacy Keach), and “Eye” (directed by Tobe Hooper, and starring Mark Hamill). With special appearances by Deborah Harry, Sheena Easton, Twiggy, David Naughton, John Agar, David Warner and cameos by notable horror film legends Wes Craven, Hooper, Sam Raimi, Roger Corman and Greg Nicotero. From Scream factory/Shout! Factory … “The Lion of the Desert” (1981), starring Anthony Quinn, Rod Steiger, Oliver Reed, John Gielgud, Raf Vallone and Irene Papas, from Anchor Bay … “The Message” (1977), starring Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas and Michael Ansara. From Anchor Bay.