This set of movies on DVD includes several two-disc special-edition releases
of major hits, loaded with bonus features, just in time for all the
gift-giving occasions coming up in May and June.
Edition leads the way, adding to the multiple award-winning filmed version
of the long-running musical with a dozen alternative or extended versions of
its songs, plus insider extras ranging from audition clips to rehearsal
footage and storyboards, showing the intricacies of adapting a play to the
screen. Jennifer Hudson's Oscar-grabbing showstoppers play as compellingly
on your TV as they did on the big screen. The same is true for Eddie
Murphy's supporting role, both as actor and singer.
Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers turned out to be a surprisingly
complex psychological portrait of the iconic Iwo Jima flag-raising, focusing
far more on the aftermath and cultural importance of the image, than the
battle itself. Besides the powerful, insightful presentation of the times
and the principals contained in the film, the second disc adds hours of
further historical context, details about the principals, and "making-of"
coverage, including some reflections by Eastwood.
Those with high-def or Blu-Ray capacity will enjoy the extended versions of
Tom Cruise's first two outings as the successor to Peter Graves' Jim Phelps
- Mission: Impossible and M: I-2. Both screenplays were rather convoluted,
but no one could gripe about the quality or scale of the action scenes. The
bigger and better your home setup has evolved, the more kick you'll get from
watching the films again, plus the hours of extras the second disc offers
with each. Bonus material on the former focuses more on the original TV
show, and real-life spy business; the sequel's add-ons are more about
Cruise, and the process of planning and shooting blockbuster testosterone
fare that kept us buying tickets for three of these outings.
Among vintage treats, The Guns of Navarone holds up amazingly well,
considering how far technology has advanced since its 1961 release. The
famous assault on the Nazis' monstrous cannons that dominated a seminal part
of the Mediterranean is still thrilling. Its climactic battle couldn't be
more exciting if re-shot with present-day computer effects and enhancements.
Why? Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven. Until they clone those
dudes, no one's going to sell the heroism and inner conflicts that make such
tales soar as well as they could. In those days, the players were bigger
than the explosions. Icons endure.
Equally immortal are the individual and combined charisma of Cary Grant and
Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock's light-hearted, yet suspenseful romantic
caper, To Catch a Thief. The strict industry moral watchdogs of 1955 did far
more to make the era's comedies and love stories seem quaint and
constrained, than they could impede solid action fare. Grant has no peer,
then or since, on anyone's suaveness scale; Kelly was flawless as the
elegant American tourist, plotting to trap an international jewel thief
beneath her idle-rich veneer. They're a joy to watch; but one wonders how
much fun they might have had, and delivered, without the rigid censorship of
the Hayes Office. Bonus features include warm, insightful comments about the
legendary Hitchcock from former colleagues and his descendants. Fans may
enjoy some of the trivia - this was the first use of helicopters for
overhead shots, maximizing the glamor of shooting most of the film on the
Riviera; Kelly was slated to star in another of his classics, Marnie, before
giving up her career for royal duties in Monaco. Our loss.
1989's Shirley Valentine is another delightful relic of its time. Pauline
Collins warmed plenty of hearts on both sides of the Atlantic as a plain,
middle-aged British suburban housewife who decided convention and boredom
were not necessarily life sentences, even for those far less foxy than the
Desperate Housewives on Wisteria Lane. The rediscovery of her youthful
vitality and autonomy on a trip to Greece gave voice to the dreams of many,
in a successful sentimental comedy. Tom Conti's co-starring role is another
treat, with his easygoing charm that still plays well.
Turning from foreign settings to languages, Casi Casi is a low-budget gem
from Puerto Rican brothers Jaime and Tony Valles, shooting their first film
with absolutely no training, and an amateur cast. You can't tell by
watching. This is a high-school comedy in the vein of Mean Girls, Election,
and every other awkward stab by some likable lad to win the unattainable
Miss Popularity of his school. Emilio runs for Student Council President
just to impress foxy Jacklynn; the first snag is learning he's running
against her! When he suddenly finds himself the frontrunner, he decides the
way to her heart is by taking a dive, so long as she knows he made that
sacrifice for her. An engaging cast of first-timers, including several
relatives of the creators, delivers a brisk, amusing variation on a common
theme, with a couple of twists that make it fresh. Though I rarely recommend
the audio commentary option on DVDs, you'll enjoy sharing the wonder of
learning- by-doing as the brothers describe it.
The Italian is actually a Russian drama about an orphan about to be adopted
into the love and luxury a nice Italian couple offers. But six-year-old
Vanya isn't ready to abandon his fantasy of learning who his mother is, and
why she left him there. The two months of paper-shuffling needed to sanction
the move provide his window of opportunity to find mom before leaving his
homeland and the chance to ever do so. I wouldn't dream of telling you what
happens, but keep a couple of hankies nearby for this moving story, enriched
by a fine young cast, complementary locations, and script's fact-based
France and Koch Lorber give us a couple of Isabelle Huppert vehicles helmed
by Claude Chabrol. In the recent Comedy of Power, she plays a no-nonsense
magistrate investigating corruption at the highest levels of her country's
quasi-governmental agencies. Self-indulgences, bribes to foreign leaders and
many other questionable dealings are in issue; lives and careers of the rich
and powerful are at stake. The plot seems analogous to many of our own
affairs (Enron; no-bid and cost-plus contracts for Iraq and post-Katrina,
etc.), including the anonymity and lack of accountability for those who are
really pulling the strings. The story threads are somewhat hard to follow;
but that amplifies the frustration of Huppert's character and others trying
to untangle those webs, and penetrate the layers of authority to make a
meaningful dent in the structure. Very cynical stuff.
Less satisfying is their 1978 collaboration , Violette - a fact-based period
piece about a bold young woman in the 1930s, who became a cause celebre.
Desperate to live more glamorously than her humble station, but devoid of
assets other than beauty and willingness to use it, Huppert's Ms. Noziere
lied, stole, and slept around, giving money to men she apparently thought
would marry her and bestow unattainable luxuries if they thought she had
some wealth, too. Not a very sharp lass, eh? And that's the problem. It's
hard to care what happens to her throughout the film; the farther she goes,
the worse it gets. Like Disney's ill-conceived Swing Kids, just because the
story was a big deal in the 1930s doesn't mean it's grist for entertainment
or enlightenment today.
Among low-profile domestic products, Creepshow III offers more fun than one
might expect. The producers serve up five stories with varying degrees of
gore, grisly humor and T&A, that first seem unrelated, before cleverly
folding back into each other. Hookers, vampires, slashers, demons and
several deserving victims among a largely unknown cast give the viewer
plenty of bang for the bucks they spent. The first two outings under this
title, inspired by comic books, with George Romero and Stephen King among
the creators, hit the theaters in the 1980s. They're not actively involved
in this round, but it still probably won't take as long for Creepshow IV.
I'm ready when they are.
Seraphim Falls pits Irish stars Liam Neeson against Pierce Brosnan in the
our Old West. It's 1868. For most of the film, we only know Neeson and his
henchmen are trying to capture Brosnan, chasing him from snowy mountains to
wintry plains and barren desert. We gradually learn they were on opposite
sides in the Civil War, but can't be sure who we should be rooting for, or
why. Brosnan's more sympathetic because he's so outnumbered and outgunned.
Yet Leeson seems to have been greatly wronged. Neither betrays their Gaelic
origins in this quietly gritty, suspenseful ordeal. That's is a testament
to their artistry, enhancing this film's relatively unusual tone among
Motives 2: Retribution is just what the name connotes. A complicated revenge
drama, in which the brother (Brian White) of the man wrongly convicted of
murder in the first film sets up a complicated undoing for the dude (Sean
Blakemore) that framed his sibling, married his wife (Vivica A. Fox) and
took over the business empire they'd been building. A very attractive cast
(notably enhanced by Sharon Leal and Drew Sidora), and an array of low
characters aiding the principals make this an African-American,
Dynasty-style soap opera, with a bit more sex and violence that we'd get on
Finally, The Hard Easy is a cleverly plotted heist flick. It opens with two
masked crews showing up at the same time to rob a jeweler. We briefly see
their confusion, than spend most of the time alternating between the sets of
planners, oblivious to the existence of their rivals. Both include
reluctant, unlikely protagonists (Henry Thomas, David Boreanaz) forced by
circumstance to join their respective teams. Peter Weller, Gary Busey, Bruce
Dern and Vera Farmiga add name appeal, and other talents. Even knowing our
guys are heading towards chaos, seeing how they get there, and untangle the
absurdity of that convergence makes a sufficiently entertaining caper flick.
Mon July 28
The Driftaways are a seven-man reggae band hailing from St. Louis. Their E.P. "Don't Hide" is full of high-energy jams and groovy improvisations that give the band's music a good-time vibe.
Nashville, Tennessee-based songwriter Amelia White with guitarist Sergio Webb are this week's featured artists for Harvest Sessions.
This free Saturday morning concert series takes place at the Tower Grove Farmers' Market,...