Our recent Blu-ray dry spell breaks somewhat this week with the release of one sort-of-hit movie that made a decent amount of money earlier this year. To be honest, that one’s probably not very good, but several smaller titles look more promising.
‘The Divergent Series: Insurgent‘ – The basic premise of the YA ‘Divergent’ franchise makes so no sense at all. In the dystopian future, society is rigidly divided into rival factions, and anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into a single faction is considered a threat to the evil government. OK, but why? All the young people are allowed to choose what faction they want to go to, and it seems like a lot of them choose badly and wash out. How are they any different from the divergents? I get that this is supposed to be a metaphor for the importance of free will and finding your own path in life, yadda yadda yadda, but it’s just never particularly well thought-out. I’m not sure how I got roped into watching the first movie when it hit HBO, but it’s pretty crappy. Of course, that didn’t stop it from spawning a sequel with a lot more ‘Matrix’-style action, now rendered in 3D and with Dolby Atmos surround sound. I got fooled once. It won’t happen again.
‘Adult Beginners‘ – Comedian Nick Kroll, one of the stars of ‘The League’ on FXX, tries to break out into feature films with this story (which he co-wrote) about a middle-aged failure forced to move in with his sister (Rose Byrne, who’s in just about everything these days) and take care of her children. Despite its indie trappings, this is ultimately another “adults acting like stupid kids” comedy, of which we’ve seen far too many in recent years. However, if you like the stars and haven’t gotten tired of the formula yet, it might have some laughs.
‘Far from the Madding Crowd‘ – Carey Mulligan stars in a handsome period piece adaptation of the classic novel by Thomas Hardy (the British author, not the ‘Fury Road’ star), which was previously brought to screen back in 1967 with Julie Christie in the lead. Mulligan plays a headstrong girl with no interest in romance, who nonetheless finds herself pursued by three very different suitors after she inherits a farm and moves to the country. The film has been given a feminist bent that arguably wasn’t found in the book to appeal to modern audiences. If you’ve enjoyed the numerous Jane Austen movies of the last couple of decades, this looks like it will fit comfortably in with those. I pass no judgment either way when I say that.
‘Madame Bovary‘ – If you’re still in the mood for more classic lit, Mia Wasikowska takes on the role of the heroine from Gustave Flaubert’s once-scandalous novel about a small-town doctor’s wife who sleeps around to advance her social standing. The book has been the subject of numerous film and TV adaptations over the years. This one didn’t fare too well with many critics, who complained about its turgid pace, lack of emotional connection, and questionable casting choices.
‘A Little Chaos‘ – Actor Alan Rickman hadn’t tried to direct a movie since 1997’s ‘The Winter Guest’. He’s finally back at it with a period romance about two gardeners (Matthias Schoenaerts, who’s also in ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ this week, and Kate Winslet) hired by King Louis XIV (Rickman) to build a garden at his palace at Versailles. Reviews were mixed to negative. Hiring a mostly British and American cast to play French characters in a historical drama may have proved distracting, but most complaints centered on the story being an inconsequential trifle.
‘True Story‘ – Jonah Hill and James Franco may both be former Oscar nominees, but when you put them in a movie together, it’s only natural to expect a raunchy comedy. In a shameless bit of Oscar-baiting, they play things deadly straight for this dour drama about a disgraced reporter and the felon who stole his identity. Most accounts call the film dull and heavy-handed.
‘The Salvation‘ – I tend to get this one mixed up with ‘Slow West’ in my mind. It’s another Western about a European immigrant (Mads Mikkelsen in this case) traversing the American frontier. The difference is that ‘Slow West’ tries for a little depth and artiness, whereas ‘The Salvation’ is a straight-up revenge flick. Nothing wrong with that, of course. I like revenge flicks and I like Mikkelsen.
‘Child 44‘ – Tom Hardy plays a Russian cop (really?) hunting for a serial killer in the Stalin-era Soviet Union. His investigation is hindered by a bureaucracy that refuses to admit that any serial killers could ever exist in the Communist paradise. The concept is clever, and the cast is stacked with other good talent like Gary Oldman, Noomi rapace, Vincent Cassel and Paddy Considine, but most reviews call out director Daniel Espinosa (‘Safe House’) for failing to do anything interesting with it.
Criterion’s sole offering this week is the noir mystery thriller ‘Night and the City‘. Note that this is the original 1950 film starring Richard Widmark, not the 1992 remake with Robert De Niro. Directed by Jules Dassin, this should make a good pairing with his ‘Rififi‘, which already has a Criterion disc. Sadly, Criterion’s cover art for this is one of the label’s most hideous.
Joe Dante’s goofy comedy ‘Innerspace‘ is not one of the director’s better movies, but it has some neat forced-perspective gags and other nifty practical special effects that seem kind of endearing now in the CGI age. Too bad that the story, a ‘Fantastic Voyage’ knockoff, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and Martin Short’s incessant mugging is so exhausting.
Is it wrong that when I hear the title ‘Free Willy‘, saving whales isn’t the first thing I think of? That title, oof… I was a little too old to buy into this family adventure claptrap when it was released in 1993, but I suppose that viewers who saw it as kids may remember it fondly.
For some strange reason, the American Amazon site has listings for new Blu-rays of ‘Fellini’s Casanova‘ and the recently-discovered Orson Welles short film ‘Too Much Johnson‘. Be warned that both discs appear to be UK import copies that are locked to Region B. You will need appropriate region-free hardware to play them.
Paramount released Season 1 of the classic sitcom ‘I Love Lucy‘ more than a year ago. Lest you feared that the studio would never follow up with subsequent releases, Season 2 is finally available now. (The show ran for six seasons in all, so it could take a while to get them all at this rate.)
If you’d prefer to stick with modern TV fare, the third seasons respectively of ‘Orphan Black‘ and ‘Strike Back‘ are also available.
‘Night and the City’ will go on my wish list for a future Criterion sale. I might consider renting ‘The Salvation’ or ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’. Does anything strike your fancy this week?