THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
“The Purge” combines the best of several thriller genres all in one fairly tightly directed and acted outing: there’s the near-futuristic “Clockwork Orange” violence-for-violence’s- sake scenario, a home-invasion-by-strangers attack, and a “Straw Dogs’s” fight-back retaliation. In the near future, in order to reduce crime in America, the government has sanctioned an annual 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity — including murder — is legal. Supposedly this quells bad behavior the other 364 days of the year. Ethan Hawke’s family — wife (Lena Headey), daughter and son — hunker down in their secure home in a gated community to wait out the night. But when they allow a homeless man to find safety in their house, a gang of yuppie murderers mount an all-out assault on them — and the family has to learn to defend themselves. It’s all very exciting and edge-of-your seat, with several neat twists and a predictable ending that you wait for since it’s been foreshadowed about 30 minutes into the film. “The Purge” didn’t fare well at the box office or with the critics but it definitely deserves a better chance on DVD — it’s much better than you suspect. Co-stars Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane and Edwin Hodge. The only bonus feature is a behind-the-scenes featurette, “Surviving the Night: The Making of The Purge.” From Universal.
For “The Hangover Part III,” director Todd Phillips and stars Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha and Ken Jeong reunited for a little “hair of the dog” to pad their checking accounts one last time. In this nasty sequel, the guys of the Wolfpack are happily married and content with their lives — except for Alan (Galifianakis), who’s rudderless and off his meds. The boys decide to stage an intervention and take him to a retreat in Arizona — but get waylaid and double-crossed by murderers, thieves, drug dealers, and their old Bangkok buddy, Leslie Chow (Jeong). The first “Hangover” was lewd and rude and a surprise hit; No. 2 upped the ante by transporting the first’s Las Vegas shenanigans into Thailand, amping up the violence and stupidity. For No. 3, the only way to outdo the previous editions was by killing people — which they do. Without the shock of the new, this “Hangover” just flounders around, gasping for air. And, to make matters worse, the film ends a full 12 minutes before the credits roll. I needed a stiff drink after this one. Extras include “Replacing Zach: The Secret Auditions,” outtakes, “The Wolfpack’s Wildest Stunts,” “Zach Galifianakis in His Own Words,” an action mash-up, “Inside Focus: The Real Chow,” extended scenes. From Warner.
In “After Earth,” Jaden Smith stars as Kitai Raige, the failed cadet son of the zen-like general of the United Ranger Corps (Will Smith in a god-like role as Cypher Raige), the military arm of a human race transplanted onto a new world after destroying the Earth 1,000 years earlier. But the kid gets a chance to prove his mettle when the space ship he’s traveling on — with his dad — crash lands on, of all places, Earth, and he must travel 100km over rough land to retrieve a beacon to signal for help. The movie starts off with some weak narration to introduce the action, then segues into a contrived storyline with weak acting by the young Smith (the kid just can’t take command of a scene, though he plays scared really well). It’s goofy and ludicrous and a vanity project for kid Smith by pop Smith’s production company. The best part of the film is one of its extras: “The Nature of the Future” featurette that explores the beautiful landscapes in which the film was shot (Costa Rica, Utah and Northern California), set to lush music. Other extras: “A Father’s Legacy” featurette with Will and Jaden Smith on- and off-screen; “1,000 Years in 300 Seconds” on-location featurette; an alternate opening sequence; “Building a World” featurette; “Pre-Visualizing the Future” featurette; “The Animatics of After Earth” featurette. From Sony.
Speaking of vanity projects, here’s one that works: director Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” a delightful Shakespearean romp gussied up in 21st century garb and surroundings with 21st century sensuality and looks. The film was shot in just 12 days (using the original text), in secret, while Whedon was working on “Marvel’s The Avengers,” at Whedon’s Santa Monica home. It’s amazing that after seven centuries, ol’ William’s words and insights about relationships, lust, revenge and the game of love — here epitomized by sparring lovers Beatrice and Benedick — still hold true. Lighthearted and thoroughly entertaining, mostly because the actors here strut their stuff, working with a director whose passion for the project drove him to forgo a vacation for his 20th wedding anniversary (suggested by his wife, Kai Cole.) Extras include a pair of light-hearted behind-the-scenes featurettes and commentary. From Lionsgate.
“Europa Report” (2013) is one of the new breed of thrillers (using any combination of “documentary” story-telling, video camera footage, talking heads and real-time action) that has brought us “The Blair Witch Project,” the “Paranormal Activity” outings, “Cloverfield,” “Apollo 18” and “Troll Hunter.” Though this science fiction actioner puts a lot of emphasis on science fact, it never shortchanges the fiction, stylishly delivering its thrills and chills, much like Danny Boyle’s highly underrated “Sunshine,” to which “Europa Report” has a striking kinship. When unmanned probes suggest that a hidden ocean could exist underneath Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa Ventures, a privately funded space exploration company, sends six of the best astronauts from around the world to confirm the data and explore the revolutionary possibility that life may exist there. It’s a doomed mission, and we’re given privy to the failures of the venture: the loss of communications, equipment breakdowns, the tragic death of a crew member, the psychological and physical toll of deep space travel and, after arriving on Europa, a discovery more frightening than the crew could ever have imagined. It’s well-acted, directed, and the CGI is incredible — with utmost detail to scientific realities. Sci-fi fans need to put this on their short list. Helmed by up-and-coming Ecuadorian director Sebastian Cordero and starring Christian Camargo, Embeth Davidtz, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra and Sharlto Copley. Extras include a pair of enlightening featurettes, “Exploring the Visual Effects of Europa Report” and “The Musical Journey of Europa Report.” From Magnolia Home Entertainment.
At the top of the list this week is the great French director Rene Clair’s second American film, the fantasy romantic comedy “I Married a Witch” (1942). Here Veronica Lake casts a seductive spell as a charmingly vengeful sorceress in this supernatural screwball classic. Many centuries after cursing the male descendants of the Salem Puritan who sent her to the stake, this blonde bombshell with a broomstick finds herself drawn to one of them — a prospective governor (Fredric March) about to marry a spoiled socialite (Susan Hayward). This most delightful of the films the innovative French director made in Hollywood is a comic confection bursting with playful special effects and sparkling witticisms. In a new 2K digital restoration, on Blu-ray and DVD. Extras include an audio interview with Clair, the trailer, and a booklet featuring an essay by filmmaker Guy Maddin and a 1970 interview with Clair. From the Criterion Collection.
FROM OUT OF THE VAULTS: “The Avengers — The Complete Emma Peel Megaset” (1965-1968) is a 16-disc set, including all three seasons and 51 episodes that featured Emma Peel’s (Diana Rigg) undercover roles, from her unforgettable debut in her famous leather cat suit, to her thrilling last spy adventure. Available on DVD for the first time in four years, the collection spans all of Peel’s time on the hit series with star Patrick Macnee. $49.98 from Lionsgate … The Star Wars trilogies are back, this time in combo Blu-ray/DVD sets: “Star Wars Trilogy Episodes IV-VI” contains the original “Star Wars” trilogy: “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” “Star Wars Trilogy Episodes I-III” contains the “Star Wars” prequels: “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace”, “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” and “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.” Each set goes for $59.99 … “Night Train to Terror” (1985) makes its Blu-ray debut this week. It’s a trio of stories that takes place aboard a fast moving train bound for Hell, during which God and Satan decide the fates of three unfortunate mortals: Harry, a fiendish killer who keeps the horribly mutilated body parts of his countless victims in a diabolical torture chamber; Gretta, a young woman, obsessed with death, who takes part in an unspeakable ritual of Russian roulette; and Claire, a young woman and a Holocaust survivor who is terrorized by the son of Satan. Stars Cameron Mitchell, John Phillip Law, Merideth Haze and Richard Moll. From Vinegar Syndrome.
FOR HALLOWEEN THRILLS: Universal has “Chucky: The Complete Collection — Limited Edition” so you can set a play date with Chucky with all six movies together for the first time in a chilling collection: “Child’s Play,” “Child’s Play 2,” “Child’s Play 3,” “Bride of Chucky,” “Seed of Chucky” and “Curse of Chucky” (see below). On Blu-ray and DVD.
BLU-RAY DEBUTS: “On the Riviera “ (1951), starring Danny Kaye, Gene Tierney and Corinne Calvet. Danny Kaye stars in dual performances in this musical farce about a womanizing French financier-aviator (Kaye) who, faced with a scheduling conflict, hires a nightclub performer (also Kaye) to temporarily impersonate him … and romance two beautiful women who both think he’s their lover. Released to celebrate Kaye’s centennial … “Fantastic Voyage” (1966), directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Stephen Boyd, Donald Pleasence, Raquel Welch, Edmond O’Brien, Arthur O’Connell and Arthur Kennedy … and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” (1961), directed by Irwin Allen and starring Walter Pidgeon, Barbara Eden, Peter Lorre, Joan Fontaine, Robert Sterling, Michael Ansara, Frankie Avalon and Regis Toomey. All three from Fox.
BLU-RAY ANNIVERSARY EDITIONS: Warner has released a 40th anniversary edition of what has to be one of the scariest movies of all time (due to great writing, directing, acting and verisimilitude): “The Exorcist 40th Anniversary Extended Director’s Cut” (1973), directed by William Friedkin and starring Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, Linda Blair and Mercedes McCambridge (as the voice of the devil). The set includes the extended director’s cut and the theatrical version. Extras include a new featurette, “Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist,” in which author Blatty returns to some of the locations that figure in the novel and film; “Talk of the Devil,” in which Blatty talks with Father Eugene Gallagher about the true story behind the exorcism; two commentaries by Friedkin; commentary by Blatty; introduction by Friedkin; 1998 BBC documentary “The Fear of God: 25 Years of the Exorcist”; “Raising Hell: Filming the Exorcist” set footage; “The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now”; “Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of The Exorcist,” with Friedkin and Blatty discussing the different versions of the film and featuring outtakes from the film; original ending; interviews; sketches and storyboards; radio spots; TV spots; and trailers … Universal has released “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life — 30th Anniversary Edition” (1983), starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. Celebrate the 30th anniversary by re-living every side-splitting comedic moment, every outrageous vignette and every tasteless joke, as Monty Python commands your attention once again following their breakthrough “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “Life of Brian.” “The Meaning of Life” brought all the loyal Pythonites back together, sharing writing responsibilities as they returned to their much loved sketch show format, with Terry Jones directing and John Goldstone producing, the group bringing to life roles ranging from The Grim Reaper to the legendary Mr. Creosote. Segments included “The Miracle of Birth,” “Live Organ Transplants” and “The Autumn Years.” Extras include “The Meaning of Monty Python: 30th Anniversary Reunion,” in which the Pythons takes a funny, enlightening trip down memory lane. Thirty years after making “The Meaning of Life,” Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones and Palin reunite for a new hour-long conversation about the last movie they made together. From the beach in Jamaica where it was written to the hilarious ideas that didn’t make the cut, the Pythons provoke laughter and thought with a wide-ranging discussion about comedy, society, the universe and the biggest mystery of all: “why are fish funny?” And there’s a sing-along version of the film.