The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond: Blu-ray
That Evening Sun
Movies put into limited release in the dead zone between December 26 and New Year’s Eve share certain traits. They tend to feature stars whose work has previously been recognized by the folks at AMPAS, but whose commercial prospects don’t warrant an expensive marketing campaign. A few good reviews and pre-holiday accolades could prompt a modicum of box- success, insider buzz and a wider release. If not, the picture could disappear without a trace almost overnight.
After a few stops on the festival circuit and several positive notices, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond only managed to last about five weeks in limited release. For my money, Bryce Dallas Howard and Ellen Burstyn easily qualified for consideration in the top acting categories, but I doubt if many voters or critics saw Jodie Markell’s observant adaptation of the long-forgotten Tennessee Williams’ screenplay.
Howard played the eccentric daughter of a murderous Memphis-area plantation owner, while Burstyn portrayed a bed-ridden friend of the family who had lived the kind of life Howard’s Fisher Willow envied. As defined by the author, Fisher is the kind of 1920s, European-educated debutante who considers herself to be above the social fray, but fears being left off the invitation lists for important events.
Not terribly interested in local college boys, Fisher decides to play Pygmalion with the son of the alcoholic who manages the plantation’s commissary. Jimmy is handsome enough to pull off the ruse and smart enough not to buy into Fisher’s mad impulses. He understands that it’s important for the young woman to pretend, at least, she’s willing to conform to certain Southern conventions and rituals, if only because her spinster aunt controls the purse strings on her inheritance.
At a particularly eventful Halloween party, Fisher is taunted by her fellow debs and angered by Jimmy’s inability to immediately locate her missing earring. It provides an opening for the other girls to make a play on Jimmy, who they believe to be the grandson of a former governor. At one point, Fisher’s summoned to the bedroom of Burstyn’s character, an opium-addicted kindred spirit who’s lost the will to live among the squares.
Familiar primarily as an actor, Memphis native Markell had previously directed only one other film, a short adapted from a story by another Southern literary icon, Eudora Welty. Although far removed from the period described in Williams’ story, Markell knew that social mores had changed little between the ’20s and 1957, and outsiders could be driven crazy by traditional demands.
Although Teardrop Diamond won’t make anyone forget A Streetcar Named Desire, Glass Menagerie or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, it provides a great stage for the wonderful cast, which, besides Howard and Burstyn, includes Will Patton, Ann-Margret, Chris Evans and Jessica Collins. The making-of featurette and interviews are definitely worth watching.
That Evening Sun, another showcase for brilliant acting, takes place a bit further to the east of Memphis and several decades apart in time. In it, Hal Holbrook plays the hard-nosed octogenarian, Abner Meecham, whose Tennessee farm was appropriated against his will by his pragmatic lawyer son.
While Abner was killing time in a seniors’ community, the son leased the property to Lonzo Choat, a member of a redneck family his father particularly despised. Meecham didn’t stay cooped up for long, however. He escaped the retirement facility on his own two feet and kept on walking until he got home, where he found Choat’s much put-upon wife and daughter already in residence. Although he can’t stand sharing his farm with the Choats, Abner has little legal recourse. A compromise is reached, allowing the farmer stay in a reconditioned shed on the property. It’s an agreement that satisfies neither of the stubborn men.
Blessedly, Choat’s wife and daughter possess cooler heads and out-right war is delayed for a while by their kindness. Evening Sun is the freshman feature for writer/director Scott Teems, who adapted it from a story by William Gay. The rest of the sterling cast includes Ray McKinnon (Deadwood), Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), Walton Goggins (Justified), Carrie Preston (True Blood), Barry Corbin (One Tree Hill) and Dixie Carter, in her last screen appearance.
The DVD adds “anti-commentary” with Teems, DP Rodney Taylor and editor Travis Sittard; cast and crew interviews; a pair of behind-the-scenes pieces; and a trailer.
Anyone who can recall by heart the lyrics to Solitary Man, Neil Diamond’s classic ode to failed love, will be at a disadvantage when it comes to Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s dramedy about a male cougar in heat.
Diamond’s lyrics suggest an entirely different character than Douglas’ Ben Kalmen, a handsome 60-something grandfather, who, in his twilight years, remains less interested in commitment than in one-night stands with women ranging in age from 18 to 45. One senses that Ben’s always been something of a horn-dog, but, after being convicted of fraud and diagnosed with possible heart disease, he’s decided not to wait for baldness and wrinkles to eliminate him from the game.
Once an extremely successful car dealer, Ben approaches women like a salesman would approach the potential buyer of a slightly used automobile. Lately, though, he’s gotten sloppy. Among other things, Ben’s allowed himself to be seduced by the devious blond daughter of his rich, divorced lover (Mary-Louise Parker), while escorting her to a college-entrance interview. Things only get worse for him from there.
At 65, Douglas is still sufficiently studly to play a guy like Ben and cocky enough to dispense dating advice to a dorky Fordham underclassman (Jesse Eisenberg). Still, his presence is reason enough to see Solitary Man. He also gets terrific support from Susan Sarandon, as his estranged wife; Jenna Fischer, as his increasingly disenchanted daughter; Imogen Poots, as the teen femme fatale; and Danny DeVito, as a college buddy who re-enters Ben’s life at a crucial juncture. The behind-the-scenes material isn’t particularly noteworthy.
During the course of Michael Caine’s long and illustrative career, he’s played more than a few vigilantes and desperate characters unafraid to take the law into their own hands. Rent Harry Brown along with Get Carter, if for no other reason than to see just how steady Caine’s trigger finger still is, after nearly 40 years on the job.
Now 77, Caine remains perfectly capable of playing a geezer, albeit a former Royal Marine, who proves to be a worthy opponent for the local punks terrorizing the grounds of his rundown London council estate. The set-up will be familiar to anyone who’s watched Death Wish, Walking Tall or any of their many sequels and rip-offs.
Here, the local thugs and dope dealers evolve from being mere nuisances to murderous fiends, and their victims are residents too old and poor to move from the projects. Brown monitors their activity from afar mostly, until his best pal is savagely attacked. Brown’s marine training serves him well, making him as much a threat to the punks as the police, who, apart from a detective played Emily Mortimer, refuse to believe an old-timer could be so cruel.
Director Daniel Barber and screenwriter Gary Young take full advantage of the environment that spawns such sadism among dead-end kids. Harry Brown isn’t about sociology, though. It’s about action and revenge, and Caine makes the movie worth watching for genre fans. The package adds deleted scenes and commentary.
Why Did I Get Married Too?: Blu-ray
By now, I think it’s safe to say that Tyler Perry is more in tune with his audience than most critics are in touch with their readers, and that disconnect continues even as reviewers for mainstream publications are being replaced by less effete observers. Watch enough movies and most educated minds will come to the same conclusions as their peers, even if they have degrees in journalism, not film.
This is why pundits across the board, white and black, approach Perry’s movies as if they were punishment. It isn’t that such broad entertainments as Why Did I Get Married, Too? are all that difficult to watch – especially in the comfy confines of a screening room — only that each new titles tends to resemble the ones that have come before it. The messages are the same, as are most of the gags and character flaws.
Here, the same four affluent African-American couples from the 2007 original are reunited on their annual retreat, this time in the Bahamas, during which they address the question, “Why did we get married?” At first, they appear to be a happy lot, but it doesn’t take long for the fissures to show. When they do, the resulting temblors measure 7.2 on the Richter scale.
Loudmouth Angela (Tasha Smith) sets the acrimonious tone early on, as she angrily accuses her sportscaster husband of having an affair with every woman in Atlanta. Meanwhile, of all the weeks in the year, this is the one Sheila’s violent ex-husband chooses to use his time-share. He enjoys being with his former cronies, who now include Sheila’s new husband, but he clearly has other motivations. The other two couples also have serious problems, but they aren’t revealed until later.
By the half-way mark of Married, Too?, things are very noisy, indeed. The home of relationship counselor Patricia (Janet Jackson) and her mostly supportive husband appears to have been designed by a glazier, for all the glass that’s broken when she goes medieval with his golf clubs. Meanwhile, the most solid of the couples is upended by the wife’s affair.
It isn’t until these disparate souls begin heeding the advice of a strategically placed elderly couple (Louis Gossett Jr., Cicely Tyson) that the healing process inevitably begins. My problem with Perry’s movies is that I think he tries to stuff five pounds of popcorn into a one-pound bag and every emotion is exaggerated by half. That formula worked for Perry in his stage productions and the so-called urban audience followed him to the multiplex. Why mess with success?
Married, Too? has an attractive cast – when they aren’t beating each other up – and the locations are easy on the eye, as well. The bonus features include Girl Talk: The Women of ‘Married’ and Male Bonding: The Men of ‘Married’; a music video from Jackson and the pop-up Couples Character Guide Trivia Track.
The Exploding Girl
Feature films don’t come much more fragile than The Exploding Girl, a title that refers more to the lead character’s epileptic seizures than any likelihood something loud or threatening will occur over the course of its 80 minutes. As played by Zoe Kazan (Revolutionary Road), Ivy is a rather ordinary young woman, spending her summer break from college at her New York home. She’s cute, in an odd sort of way, but it’s unlikely she would stand out in any crowd of people her age.
Her epilepsy prohibits her from most forms of debauchery favored by college kids, although she does enjoy the occasional drink or joint. If anything is going to distinguish this summer from others in her life, it’s only because her boyfriend breaks up with her on one of their many long-distance calls. An unexpectedly homeless male confidante is spending the break at her house as well and feels her pain.
He seems more interested, though, in getting advice on how to pursue a tentative relationship with a girl who sounds even less interesting than Ivy. (Jaded viewer to clueless character: you’re gay, forget about it.) If nothing much happens in Exploding Girl, there’s still plenty to look at, thanks to Ivy’s strolls through the bustling city and writer/director Bradley Rust Gray‘s voyeuristic camera. The extras are of the making-of variety.
Although it continually pays homage to The Breakfast Club – that’s kinder than calling it a direct steal, anyway — Peter Coggans’ slightly comedic Woodshop serves more as a reminder as to just how good the late John Hughes was at replicating the fresh hell that was high school for many kids.
Here, the school’s naughty boys and girls are required to spend their Saturday morning in the woodshop class taught by Jesse Ventura’s Mr. Madson. Unlike the prick who supervised detention in Breakfast Club, Madson is an ex-Army Ranger with a gruff voice and soft spot in his heart for square-peg students. All the various high school types are represented here, including a distinctly unpleasant psychopath who looks as if he’s closer to 25 than 18.
Madson gives all of the students an assignment involving wood and potentially lethal machinery, but cuts them a lot of slack in the disciplinary department. That’s both a blessing and a curse for the delinquents, at least one of whom pays for his misbehavior with a severed appendage (no, not that one). As much as older viewers might be offended by the direct lift of certain Breakfast Club conceits, teens might find Woodshop entertaining enough to recommend it.
Set in the overheated Colorado River town of Blythe, but filmed in an impoverished suburb of L.A., American Cowslip is the kind of indie comedy that rises and falls with the eccentricities of its many wacky characters. To this end, writer/director/cinematographer/composer/editor/producer Mark David was fortunate enough to recruit such fine curtain-chewing actors Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Rip Torn, Cloris Leachman, Lin Shaye, Priscilla Barnes, Peter Falk and, yes, even Val Kilmer.
They’re nothing compared to little-known Ronnie Gene Blevins, who plays one of the most disagreeable protagonists in recent memory. Blevins’ Ethan Inglebrink is an agoraphobic heroin addict who hasn’t changed out of the powder-blue tux he wore to a wedding a month previously. The primarily conflict in his life is the result of an eviction notice served by his landlord and next-door neighbor, an unkempt curmudgeon played by Torn (again, looking very much like his most-recent mug shot).
Both men hope to win the cash prize in the local Garden of the Year contest. Inglebrink’s American cowslip could have been a contender, if it weren’t for his neighbor’s many attempts to kill it. It’s that kind of movie. There’s also a rather twisted love story, but I wouldn’t begin to know how to describe it. A making-of featurette is included in the set.
By the Will of Genghis Khan
Two years ago, fans of sprawling, hyper-violent historical epics thrilled to Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan, a beautifully staged movie that chronicled the rise of one of the world’s mightiest leaders. Andrei Borissov’s By the Will of Genghis Khan tells virtually the same story, but in different, equally spectacular locales and with some of the most brutal battle scenes I’ve ever seen.
It follows the rise of Temujin, who would become Genghis Khan, from his boyhood on the Mongolian steppes to the conquest of his longtime rivals and consolidation of their armies. In addition to the magnificent settings and exciting battles, the costumes are nothing short of spectacular. American audiences who miss the grandeur of traditional westerns are advised to take a chance on both Rise of Genghis Khan and Will of Genghis Khan, as the wide open spaces and competition among warlords for land and power are comparable … or one supposes.
The lives of only a very few artists could match that of Michelangelo Merisi di Caravaggio, an undeniably brilliant post-Renaissance painter whose dramatic use of light and natural physicality remain as fascinating and visually stunning today as when they were introduced during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. More to the cinematic point, however, Caravaggio’s life was the stuff of legend.
A true creative genius, the painter developed a reputation as a brawler, womanizer and hothead. He relished controversy and went out of his way to create scandals. One way he did this was using as prostitutes, beggars and common drunks as models for paintings of great religious significance.
Angelo Longoni’s ambitious 180-minute mini-series for Italian television starred handsome Alessio Boni as the artist and featured several astonishingly beautiful European women as his muses, lovers and patrons. The re-imagining of life and architecture during the period is wonderfully done and, of course, the paintings can stand on their own merit. Caravaggio’s various stops along the road to a tragic ending are vividly rendered, as well, especially the brief time he spent in exile on the island of Malta.
Leslie Jordan: My Life Down the Pink Carpet
As the title suggests, Leslie Jordan’s one-man show is largely about being an outwardly gay actor in Hollywood and a barely closeted teenager growing up in Tennessee. The 4-foot-11 Jordan has appeared in dozens of TV shows and commercials since arriving in L.A. in the early 1980s. His most memorable turn, however, may have come as Beverley Leslie in Will & Grace, for which he received an Emmy.
He’s also had recurring roles in Sordid Lives, Boston Legal and Boston Public. As tiny as he is, Jordan makes full use of the Atlanta stage, dancing down a pink carpet, climbing over large boxes and occasionally disappearing among the props. In between witty recollections of growing up gay in the Deep South, Jordan offers hilarious anecdotes about the crazy times he shared with such stars as George Clooney, Boy George and Cloris Leachman.
He also describes how a life of booze, drugs and disco music led to rehab and various 12-step programs. Pink Carpet is a truly delightful evening’s worth of humor … self-deprecating and otherwise. And, one needn’t be gay to enjoy it.
Long before the full extent of Nazi atrocities were revealed by survivors and liberators of World War II death camps, Japanese forces had turned the world’s stomach by engaging in a slaughter even Emperor Hirohito’s crack marketing team couldn’t disguise … not that it didn’t try.
In the absence of international diplomats and media, Japanese troops were ordered to wipe out every living witness to the mass extermination of tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers and sanctioned rape of thousands of women. Even today, Japanese scholars dispute the extent of the tragedy, including the number of people killed, assaulted and forced into prostitution during the Rape of Nanking.
It wasn’t until photos were smuggled out of the demolished city and witnesses came forward that the world was alerted to the massacre. In John Rabe, writer/director Florian Gallenberger describes the heroism of a German factory manager and other foreigners trapped in Nanking during the siege. At first, Rabe refused to believe that Germany would form an alliance with a country capable of such horror, and he even wrote a letter to Hitler alerting him to the extent of the killing.
Although German nationals were able to hide themselves behind the swastika for a time, it eventually became clear the Japanese would rather kill members of the western business community than have them live to tell about it. Rabe was responsible for a creating a safety zone to protect innocent civilians from attack. Its population would grow to 200,000 and be allowed to exist only as long as it refused to harbor or treat Chinese soldiers and no guns were found among the civilians.
These parameters were constantly challenged not only by Japanese officers, but also the handful of westerners who couldn’t resist the temptation to save lives. It was a tense situation for everyone involved and it wasn’t until the gates to the city were re-opened to outsiders that people in the zone could exhale. Upon his return to Germany, Rabe was accused of being unpatriotic and left to the dustbin of European history.
Chinese historians held him in much higher regard, which is how Gallenberger even knew there was a Schindler’s List-like story to be told in China. John Rabe also features terrific performances by Steve Buscemi, Ulrich Tukur (The White Ribbon”), Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds) and Anne Consigny (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).
Hatchet: Unrated Director’s Cut: Blu-ray
Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated
In anticipation of the release next month of Hatchet II, Anchor Bay Entertainment has sent out an “Unrated Director’s Cut” version of the original in sparkling hi-def. Not having seen the original in either format, I couldn’t say with any certainty what distinguishes the new product from its predecessor. I’m guessing it has something to do with severed body parts or still-attached titties.
Otherwise, it remains Adam Green‘s slightly goofy, undeniably gory ode to the great slasher flicks of the 1980s. The setting is New Orleans and the swamps that surround it. Despite a ban on boat traffic in the vicinity of the home of one Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), folks looking for an authentic “haunted swamp” adventure can’t resist the urge to get as close as they can to the scene of a hideous crime. Naturally, they all wind up as alligator food. Still, as these things go, it was pretty entertaining.
The Blu-ray edition adds commentary by Green and some of the actors; featurettes on the making of the film, its villain and his elaborate makeup; a breakdown of one of the film’s most jaw-dropping effects; a gag reel; and a conversation between Green and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider. (Apparently, in the sequel, Marybeth survived her ordeal and is given another chance to assassinate Victor Crowley.)
Growth describes what happens when an experiment involving the commercial and military use of parasites runs amok and how, even 20 years later, it’s still causing considerable turmoil on Kuttyhunk Island. While most of the chronological elements in Gabriel Cowen’s thriller are suspect, the central conceit of having human bodies becoming hosts for out-of-control parasites raised real goosebumps on my arms.
Watching seriously ugly worm-like creatures crawl in and out of various wounds and orifices – or slither visibly under living flesh – left me reaching for the remote control. Fortunately, these parasites aren’t immune to the effects of salt water on their hosts and therefore are stuck on the island … until a sequel is ordered, at least. Otherwise, the story is pretty straight-forward in its destroy-or-be-destroyed, guess-who’s-infected through-lines.
Being it the public domain, almost anyone is free to mess around with George Romero’s original edition of Night of the Living Dead. For the relatively clever Re-Animated, several dozen animators and cartoonists from around the globe were invited to participate in a remake consisting entirely of drawn interpretations of the narrative. The large number of contributors ensured that a new graphic style would be introduced every 30 seconds or so. Some are clever, others uninspired. If you can’t get enough of NOTLD, you’ll want to sample Re-Animated.
Czech director Juraj Herz has been making movies for more than 40 years, which, if nothing else, suggests that he knows how to create a decent thriller. Darkness/T.M.A is essentially a ghost story that harkens back to the dark days of the Nazi occupation, when people disappeared and evil plots were hatched.
Ivan Franek plays Marek, a musician in a Prague shock-rock band who decides he needs some R&R in the country to pursue his dream of becoming a painter. After re-settling in his childhood home, Marek learns of the village’s sinister past and legends involving his long-dead parents and institutionalized sister. The location helps make Darkness a decent way to kill some time and brain cells. Curiously, someone even managed to talk Maxmilian Schell into making a cameo.
Andrew Allen’s Brainjacked is a mind-control thriller that could very well have been inspired by testimonials about life as a Scientology robot. In it, troubled teenagers are given shelter at a facility run by a mad scientist who drills holes in their heads and implants chips in their brain. He does this presumably to give these aimless youths relief from their emotional trauma and severe headaches. Once they accept the notion that they’re being helped, the scientist and his goons can push them in any direction they like, including doing sexual favors for local politicians who could help with zoning laws and other such mundane things.
When a pair of young recruits attempt to escape and reveal the truth about the experiments, they’re confronted with a citizenry that not only ignores their pleas but also is comprised of chip-bearing airheads. “Brainjacked” looks as if it was made on the cheap, but it occasionally manages to rise above the clichés of the mind-control sub-genre.
Wonders of the Solar System: Blu-ray
Chuck: The Complete Third Season
Supernatural: The Complete Fifth Season
Smallville: The Complete Ninth Season
The BBC and Science Channel’s five-part mini-series, Wonders of the Solar System, parleys several decades worth of knowledge accumulated from various probes, rovers, high-powered telescopes and manned flights to gain an understanding of makes our solar system tick … or rotate around the sun. It also explains how Earth fits among its fellow planets and how the celestial community came to be.
The presentation gains from the Blu-ray format, if not nearly as much as other such series. The two-disc set adds the episode-length docs, What on Earth Is Wrong With Gravity and Do You Know What Time It Is?, about the intricacies of time.
Chuck, the NBC action-comedy series about an extremely unlikely secret agent, begins its fourth season in a couple of weeks, so there’s still plenty of time to get up to speed on the intricacies of the show. Zachary Levi stars as Chuck Bartowski, an electronics-store computer geek who becomes a government asset by inadvertently downloading top-secret data into his brain. In Season 3, Chuck was allowed to learn the fighting skills necessary to become useful as a field agent, as well. The package adds the featurettes, Chuck-Fu and Dim Sum: Becoming a Spy Guy and The Jeffster Revolution: The Definitive Mockumentary” “declassified scenes”; and a gag reel.
The CW network’s fantasy/horror series, Supernatural, continues to follow Sam and Dean Winchester, and the angel Castiel, on their mission to eliminate the devil. In Season 5, Lucifer is loose in the land and the Apocalypse looms on the horizon. The new season launches at the end of September. The DVD set adds Supernatural: Apocalypse Survival Guides: Bobby’s Exclusive Video Collection, Ghostfacers: The Web Series, commentary on episode 4, “The End,” an unaired scene from episode 9, “The Real Ghostbusters,” and a gag reel.
Like the Mississippi River, the CW’s Smallville just keeps rolling along. Heading into its 10th season, Clark Kent has finally embraced his true calling as a superhero and is ready to get on with his father’s business. The set’s extras adds the featurettes, Kneel Before Zod and Justice for All; commentaries on episodes “Idol” and “Kandor”; and unaired scenes.