After a strong week of new releases on home video last Tuesday, we return to a relatively mediocre offering this week. While several popular new TV shows (e.g. Modern Family, Community, Spartacus, Human Target) saw first-season compilations released (timely releases at that, considering many of them return to their regular schedules this week), the feature film selection might leave you a bit wanting. With that said, we’ve compiled just a handful of them that might have some appeal, so read on to check out what we’ve got lined up.
Director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien) enlisted the acting talents of Russell Crowe for the fifth time to bring the story of Robin Hood to the big screen in a new adaptation, and though the pair have seen their share of success in the past, it seems this year’s Robin Hood failed to live up to its potential. On the one hand, you have Scott, who’s proven before that he can handle period drama and action (Gladiator, also starring Crowe), and on the other, you’ve got not only Crowe, but also Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, Max von Sydow, Danny Huston, William Hurt, and more. On top of that, Scott also decided to approach the legend of the character from a different angle, playing the film out as more of an “origins story” and leaving the end open for a possible sequel. So why the mediocre 43% Tomatometer rating? Critics felt that, despite all its fine acting and gripping action, Robin Hood failed to capture the sense of fun and adventure that’s always made the legend so appealing to audiences, choosing instead to play it serious and draw the plot thin over a 148-minute runtime. But if that’s not enough to keep you away from an old-fashioned medieval yarn, then you’ll probably still enjoy the film for the good things it has going for it. It’s available this week on DVD and Blu-Ray.
The Oscar Winning “dark horse” of the 2009 Academy Awards, The Secret in Their Eyes is a potboiler told through the flashbacks of a retired attorney (Ricardo Darín) working on a novel. His recollections of crimes past date back to 1974, when he was a young attorney investigating the rape and murder of a newly married young woman. Due to the regime of the day, his empathy for the victim’s husband is disregarded and the police and legal system meet his investigation with disinterest and leaden feet. Why he seems so determined to relive and record the tragedy isn’t immediately evident; what is clear is that his book is more an exorcism than a pastime. The Blu-Ray includes director commentary, theatrical trailer and two featurettes: one behind the scenes another about casting.
From Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire) comes this darkly fantastical tale about an Irish fisherman (Colin Farrell) who catches a woman (Polish actress Alicja Bachleda) in his nets. While his daughter (Alison Barry) becomes convinced the woman is a mermaid or selkie (a similar mythological creature), the fisherman himself begins to fall deeply in love with the woman, until the inevitable conclusion arrives and difficult choices must be made. Though critics took issue with the end of the film, which some felt was unsatisfactory, most found Ondine to be charming, taking full advantage of Jordan’s gifts for myth, magic, and wonder, and it currently sits with a healthy 69% Tomatometer score. Ondine failed to perform very well at the box office when it opened back in June, but that may have had to do more with its lack of exposure (it initially only opened in five theaters). If you’re a fan of Neil Jordan, or if you’ve been following Colin Farrell’s career and would like to see him do more in his native accent, then film could be a surprise treat for you.
Here’s a puzzler for you: how does a remake of a relatively well-received thriller (2001’s German film The Experiment) based on a riveting real-life story and starring two recent Best Actor Oscar winners (Adrien Brody for 2002’s The Pianist and Forrest Whitaker for 2007’s Last King of Scotland) find no home on the big screen and become relegated to straight-to-DVD status? We’ll let the Jeopardy music play while you figure that one out. For whatever reason, this dramatization of the notorious Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971, in which 24 students were separated into groups of prison inmates and prison guards to study the role-related psychological effects, was sent directly to your nearest home video shelves, skipping any screenings and foregoing any real promotional marketing. As such, there’s precious little to go on here, so it’s tough to say whether or not Sony Pictures made the right decision. But based on what we can see, one would expect to see some good acting and a fairly intriguing, if familiar, story to follow. Take a chance on this one, and you might be rewarded.
When French was still the international language and spies trafficked information (not arms), a YSL-adorned Audrey Hepburn looked to be at the center of all trouble in Charade, a super-stylish confection from the director of Singin’ In the Rain (Stanley Donen). Regina Lampert (Hepburn) loses her husband to mysterious circumstances before we even make her acquaintance. As she finishes a skiing holiday in Switzerland, she’s aggressively approached by many handsome men who alternate between threatening and charming her into helping their unspecified causes. It’s mindboggling such glamour exists in the world, and the slightly controversial May/December romance between Hepburn and her co-star Cary Grant, (in one of his two final performances) only amplifies matters. Beguiling future baddies Walter Matthau and James Coburn are as dashing as they are dangerous, and Donen transforms this race through Paris into an event every bit as iconic as Gene Kelley’s umbrella dance. DVD commentary by director Donen and writer Peter Stone, production stills, a theatrical trailer and an essay by Bruce Eder.
Here’s a curious and potentially enlightening item you can find if you browse Amazon.com tomorrow when it releases. Directors: Life Behind the Camera consults thirty-three different directors, all notable in their own right, for their opinions on a series of filmmaking topics with telling titles ranging from “Everyone Has to Start Somewhere” to “Your Cinematographer Is Your Best Friend” to “The Art of Writing and Choosing Scripts.” The collection of interview clips was compiled by the American Film Institute (AFI), and they include almost every big-name director you can think of, from Tim Burton to Spike Lee, from George Lucas to James Cameron, from Oliver Stone to David Lynch – as well as a slew of notable actors who have worked with these directors, like Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, and Dustin Hoffman. The interviews are presented on two discs, and viewers can choose to view the material either by director or by topic, which could make for a very informative experience. There’s over 300 hours of footage here, folks, so it’s a lot to absorb, but it may very well be quite worth your while to hear insights from some of Hollywood’s leading filmmaking personalities.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Sara Vizcarrondo