Liam Neeson is back in action in the gritty crime thriller Run All Night (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), his third and most satisfying collaboration with filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop). Neeson once again has a very specific skill set—his nickname isn’t Jimmy the Gravedigger for nothing—but he’s been pickling it in booze for years to drown the guilt of his mob assassinations for Irish crime boss Ed Harris. Then Jimmy’s estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman), a former boxer turned limo driver, lands in serious trouble when his job takes him to the wrong place at the wrong time where he witnesses a gangland murder. Jimmy sobers up quickly and takes on his former boss and best friend—not to mention the bad cops in his pocket—to do protect his boy.
In the world of high-concept crime thrillers, this is surprisingly down to earth. There’s no superheroics or spectacular Die Hard-style stunts here. It’s all handguns and car chases and blood and broken glass on the urban mean streets at night. Collet-Serra grounds it in actual relationships—a son who has no respect for a drop-out father, a mobster who respects his alcoholic best friend more than his reckless son, who would rather play gangsta than understand the balance of power and diplomacy in the criminal underworld, and two fathers who will do anything for their sons despite the past. It’s reminiscent of seventies crime picture, with corrupt cops and criminal codes and a new generation of thug that has no respect for the old ways. If it never becomes anything more than a great paperback crime yarn built on coincidence, bad luck, and blood ties, it does the genre proud. Vincent D’Onofrio brings a weary gravitas to an old-school police detective whose sense of justice outweighs his desire to put Jimmy down and Common is enigmatic as a hired gun with his own specific skill set.
On Blu-ray and DVD with two featurettes and deleted scenes. Also on Cable On Demand, Amazon Instant, Vudu, Xbox, and CinemaNow.
Wild Tales (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) delivers on the promise of its title. An anthology of six original short stories from writer / director Damián Szifrón, it is a blackly comic film of modern life churning with frustration, rage, vengeance, and other decidedly civilized impulses. It opens on pure perfection, a darkly hilarious pre-credits revenge vignette that turns on a single joke that is flawlessly teased out, revealed, and executed, right down to the final freeze frame. If the subsequent pieces aren’t as wickedly satisfying, it’s because they are more ambitious and involved: a demolition engineer in a losing battle with bureaucracy (and his own obsessiveness), a savage road rage war that turns poisonously vicious, a disturbing drama of rich privilege that becomes even more disturbing as the price for corruption gets continually renegotiated. It’s all about pushing past the borders of civilized behavior to unleash the primal instincts of the human beast’s worst impulses. Give Szifrón credit for coming out of it with a happy ending—or at least the closest one can come from the wreckage left in the wake of a bride scorned on her wedding day.
It’s easy to see why Pedro and Agustín Almodóvar signed on as producers. Szifrón’s style is more stripped away and his satire more cutting and vicious than the compassion of Almodóvar’s sexy melodramas and colorful personalities, and his direction homes in on dramatic collisions between his characters, bringing out the tensions and the escalation of conflict to reveal the petty cruelties and greed and suppressed anger of the modern world. But the sensibility is similar, as is the satirical perspective. Like Almodóvar, Szifrón is all about emotion over reason. He just doesn’t find much to celebrate about passions unleashed. He does, however, find a mordant humor in it all, and he has the wit to pull it off. It earned the film an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Feature and an armful of awards in Argentina.
Blu-ray and DVD with the featurette “Wild Shooting: Creating the Film” and a Q&A with filmmaker Damián Szifrón at the Toronto International Film Festival screening. Also on Cable On Demand, Amazon Instant, Vudu, Xbox Video, and CinemaNow.
The Wrecking Crew (Magnolia, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, Digital VOD) was the secret weapon of the Los Angeles recording studio culture of the sixties and seventies. Hal Blaine, Plas Johnson, Carol Kaye, Earl Palmer, Don Randi and Tommy Tedesco played on literally hundreds of pop songs and albums, working with everyone from Frank Sinatra to The Beach Boys, Herb Albert to The Byrds, Phil Spector’s girl groups to Elvis and The Righteous Brothers. If you’ve seen Love and Mercy, the new drama about Brian Wilson, they’re the band recording the tracks for “Pet Sounds.” And they almost never received credit for their contributions, which meant that only the artists and engineers knew who their legacy, at least until a few years ago. Danny Tedesco (son of the late Tommy Tedesco) started recording interviews with these musicians and others (Glen Campbell and Leon Russell were members of the rotating line-up that broke through to solo success) more than a decade ago.
These artists and others, including Cher, Nancy Sinatra, Mickey Dolenz, Herb Alpert, and Dick Clark, sketch out the culture of the recording industry in the sixties and seventies, a life that had these musicians working day and night, getting called into a session at all hours of the day and putting down tracks within minutes of learning the parts. They created the West Coast sound, and just a fast as they rose to the top of the profession, most of them slipped into obscurity when the era of the studio musician gave way to the rock groups that insisted on playing their own sessions. It’s not strong enough to sustain a 100 minute documentary alone, but the session stories and remembrances and the vast soundtrack of their legacy keep the film buoyant. But that aside, it’s satisfying to learn the stories behind the songs that defined a decade and the musicians who never got their due credit for providing the soundtrack of a generation.
The film premiered at SXSW in 2008 but its release was held up due to music rights. It now joins other recent music documentaries about the unsung artists behind the hit records like Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002), Muscle Shoals (2013), and Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013).
Blu-ray and DVD with hours of deleted scenes. Also on Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, Xbox Video, and CinemaNow.
The Newsroom: The Complete Third Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) is also the final season of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series set at a fictional 24 hour news channel. The show has all the strengths and weaknesses we have come to expect from Sorkin shows: a buzzy ensemble, scripts strewn with smart dialogue, characters who are educated and dedicated, issues and themes hammered home with little subtlety, and the frustration of smart characters who behave in the most impulsive, immature ways whenever emotion comes into the picture. It’s an abbreviated season of six episodes, all scripted by Sorkin, that revolve around the fight to save the network after the scandal faced in Season Two while being gun-shy about breaking another story without verifying the facts. Plus there’s more romantic complications with adults who behave like elementary school kids when dealing with love. What saves the show—as much as you could say it was saved from Sorkin’s worst impulses—is the great cast and the scenes of newsroom activity putting together a story. Jeff Daniels has a way with Sorkin’s tossed-off wit.
Six episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, plus commentary on the series finale by writer / executive producer Aaron Sorkin and director / executive producer Alan Poul and “Inside the Episode” segments on each episode. The Blu-ray also features an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of all six episodes.
Also new and notable:
CHAPPiE (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) is the most badly judged science fiction film of the past few years, a bizarre and very violent collision of Robocop and Short Circuit, about a retired police robot that gains consciousness and becomes a sweet, childlike innocent in the brutal slums of a near-future Johannesburg. I expect better, and certainly smarter, from District 9 filmmaker Neill Blomkamp. On Blu-ray and DVD with a featurette. The Blu-ray includes eight additional featurettes, an extended scene and alternate ending, and a gallery of production art, plus a bonus Ultraviolet HD copy of the movie. Also on Cable On Demand, Amazon Instant, Vudu, Xbox, and CinemaNow.
A Master Builder (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), based on the stage production of the Ibsen play translated by Wallace Shawn and directed by Andre Gregory, is the third screen collaboration between playwright / actor Shawn and stage director / actor Gregory. Shawn plays architect Halvard Solness, a classic an Ibsen monster in human form. Egotistical and vain, he justifies the suffering he has inflicted on family, friends and employees as the cost of his success and plays his power games by keeping all in their place even as he lay on his sickbed until the unannounced arrival as an impossibly young and adoring girl (Lisa Joyce), like an angel nudging him to do right by those he has tormented and trapped. This one directed by Jonathan Demme in a surreally stripped down style, as if played in a vacant house hurriedly furnished with stage props. It serves to put the focus on the actors but fails to give the film any life of its own beyond a stage translation recorded for posterity. Blu-ray and DVD with cast and crew interviews.
It’s also included in the set André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), which includes the HD debut of My Dinner with André (Criterion, Blu-ray) along with the previously released Vanya on 42nd Street.
3-D Rarities (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray 3D) is a collection of 22 restored 3D shorts, tests, newsreels, trailers, and other ephemera from stereoscopic experiments and novelties of the 1920s to end of the 3D boom in 1962. Like the Cinerama restorations, this is more about film history and technological innovation than dramatic entertainment, and it arrives in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first documented exhibition of 3D footage. The disc will play back on all Blu-ray players but you need a 3D compatible Blu-ray player, HDTV, and glasses to experience the 3D effect. Also features a 24 page booklet with notes on each film.
The Happiness of the Katakuris (Arrow, Blu-ray+DVD), Miike Takashi’s bright, energetic, gonzo dysfunctional family comedy musical, will get its due in an upcoming column.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (Anchor Bay, Digital HD, VOD) is a sweetly offbeat indie drama inspired by an urban legend about a young Japanese woman (Rinko Kikuchi) who went in search of the money buried in the snow at the end the movie Fargo, which she believes is a true story. On Cable On Demand and DirecTV on Friday, June 19, two weeks before it arrives on disc.
Amour Fou (Film Movement, VOD) is a German comedy of modern romantic conventions through the lens of the 19th century Romantic era, with Christian Friedel as the Romantic poet Heinrich Kleist and Birte Schnoeink as the object of his obsession. In German with English subtitles. On Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, and Xbox Video.
Available on Cable On Demand on Friday, June 19, same day as theaters, is The Face of an Angel, Michael Winterbottom’s fictionalized take on the Meredith Kercher murder and the Amanda Knox trial and media circus, starring Kate Beckinsale and Daniel Brühl.
Also on Friday: Manglehorn, a romantic drama from David Gordon Green with Al Pacino and Holly Hunter; the horror comedy Burying the Ex from cult director Joe Dante starring Anton Yelchin and Ashley Greene; and American Heist, an action thriller with Adrien Brody and Hayden Christensen.
Classics and Cult:
Spirited Away (Disney, Blu-ray)
The Cat Returns (Disney, Blu-ray)
The Boys in the Band (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
The Onion Field (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Malice (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
An Eye for an Eye (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Hero and the Terror (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Land that Time Forgot (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
Nashville Girl (Scorpion, DVD)
Tentacles / Reptilicus – Double Feature (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
Chantal Alerman, From Here (Icarus, DVD)
Marcel Ophuls & Jean-Luc Godard (Icarus, DVD)
TV on disc:
The Bold Ones: The Senator – The Complete Series (Timeless, DVD)
The Driver (Acorn, DVD)
Lovejoy: Series 6 (Acorn, DVD)
Lovejoy: Complete Collection (Acorn, DVD)
La Gata (Cinedigm, DVD) – Spanish telenovela on four discs
Survivor’s Remorse: The Complete First Season (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Country Buck$: Season 1 (Lionsgate, DVD)
Welcome to Me (Alchemy, Blu-ray, DVD)
Unfinished Business (Fox, Blu-ray DVD)
The Lazarus Effect (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
Beyond the Reach (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD)
Pandas: The Journey Home (IMAX) (Virgil, Blu-ray+DVD, Digital HD)
Time Lapse (XLrator, Blu-ray, DVD)