Posts Tagged ‘The Freebie’

The DVD Wrap: The Social Network, Army of Shadows, Dances with Wolves, Raging Bull … and more

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

The Social Network: Blu-ray

Depending upon whom one asks, Facebook is 1) 500 million friends and friends of friends who pretend to care desperately about their friends’ pets and bowel movements (or is that Twitter?), 2) a convenient way for parents to spy on their kids while they’re away at college, or 3) a massive data base of potential customers that can be sold to companies too cheap to create one of their own.

Facebook’s unlikely evolution from brainchild of an amoral Ivy League dweeb to multibillion-dollar phenomenon is the focus of Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher’s wonderfully entertaining movie, The Social Network. In a rare Hollywood trifecta, the film is sitting on top of most year-end critics’ polls; odds-on favorite to win a bushel basket full of Academy Awards; and already in the black. While it’s true Social Network has yet to pass the $100-million barrier at the box office, it cost half that to make and stands to make a killing in DVD and Blu-ray.

Apart from the presence of Sorkin and Fincher’s names in the credits, it was nearly impossible six months ago to imagine that anyone could make a film about Facebook that was even remotely amusing … interesting, sure; entertaining, no. As stories regarding addictions go, networking is about as provocative as caffeine and a million times less stimulating. After all, Facebook’s bedrock appeal was to collegians desperate for a tool that would allow them to separate the wheat from the chaff of Boston’s dating pool. It spread like wildfire from one Ivy League school to another and, nearly as fast, to all manner of public and private institutions.

Eventually, the network would be co-opted by large corporations and Boomer parents, but that’s another story altogether. Sorkin chose to forgo all the boring “likes” and cutesy photos of dogs and babies, in favor of sex, drugs and cutthroat litigation. It allowed Fincher to re-imagine dusty old Harvard as a breeding ground for potential Fight Club franchisees and, perhaps, the odd serial killer. At other times, Social Network resembles Wall Street in a beanie.

As drawn here, Faceback founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is the kind of exceedingly bright, if socially inept kid who craves acceptance by the cool guys, but on his own merits. He’s not worldly enough to appreciate the fact that, at Harvard, the game is fixed from Day One and the only way dweebs can escape their caste is to provide the sons of privilege with something they value: money, prestige or a hard-on. Math-wiz Zuckerberg caught the attention of the BMOC Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer), whose idea for an Internet-based date-screening service required the algorithms only he could provide.

When Zuckerberg’s hopes for advancement in the college’s social whirl are dashed, he decides to forge ahead on his own with Facebook, ignoring any legal niceties. By the time the full weight of the American judicial system begins falling on Zuckerberg’s shoulders, Sorkin and Fincher already have the audience hooked. The movie’s second half is dominated by the presence of former Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), a force as dark and charismatic as Gordon Gekko. It’s only in comparison to the haughtiness of the twins and ruthlessness behavior of Parker that we sympathize with Zuckerberg, whose own bad behavior we’d like to blame on naiveté … but can’t.

The Blu-ray edition of The Social Network benefits from Fincher’s decision to shoot digitally. It looks and sounds great, and the making-of material in the two-disc set is generous. On the first disc are two separate commentary tracks, one with Fincher alone and the second with Sorkin and cast members. The second disc adds the four-part “How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook?; discussions with Fincher and DP Jeff Cronenweth, editors Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter and Ren Klyce, and musicians Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross; a comparison of music that was scrapped from the soundtrack with the piece that made the final cut; “Swarmatron,” in which Reznor introduces viewers to one of the unique instruments that played a critical role in the film’s soundtrack; and a multi-angle breakdown of shots used in the Ruby Skye VIP Room sequence.


Army of Shadows: Blu-ray: Criterion Collection

Lots of people thought critics were up to their usual high-brow tricks when they anointed Jean-Pierre Melville’s 37-year-old wartime thriller, Army of Shadows, one of the top films of 2006. That was it was French, subtitled and shot in black-and-white only made readers that much more suspicious. When the fully restored adaptation of Joseph Kessel’s 1943 novel finally made the rounds of American arthouses and debuted months later on DVD, Army of Shadows was widely acknowledged as the masterpiece critics claimed it to be. Now that it’s arrived in Blu-ray from Criterion Collection, there’s no reason for mainstream audiences not to embrace it, as well.

The “shadows” refer to the French Resistance fighters who, in 1942, were seriously outmanned by Vichy stooges and Gestapo thugs. The movement had yet to develop to the point where anyone outside a very small circle of like-minded people could be trusted with knowledge of their underground activities. It explains why the portrait painted Melville, himself a Resistance fighter, was so dark and devoid of broad heroic gestures. Unlike other World War II movies, in which partisans are shown blowing up railroad tracks and outfoxing stupid Nazis, Army of Shadows is far more a psychological thriller.

While even the most basic operations carry with them the threat of torture, at least, Melville also makes palpable the sense of isolation and despair that comes from being forced into employing the same tactics against traitors as the Nazis would use against them. As bleak as it sometimes feels, though, Army of Shadows is as exciting as it is illuminating.

The leader of the resistance fighters, Phillipe Gerbier, is portrayed by Lino Ventura, who looks more like an accountant or lawyer than a soldier. Certainly, he doesn’t resemble a man nimble enough to escape capture several times. Simone Signoret is unforgettable as Mathilde, a woman who can sneak into places a man couldn’t and knows she would face the same torture if arrested. Army of Shadows wasn’t shown in American and many other markets until 2006. In fact, a controversy in France over the favorable portrayal of the exiled Charles De Gaulle helped derail the film’s success upon its release in turbulent 1969.

The pristine Criterion Blu-ray adds commentary by film historian Ginette Vincendeau; interviews with cinematographer Pierre Lhomme and editor Francoise Bonnot; a restoration demonstration by Lhomme; on-set footage and excerpts from archival interviews; a profile of Melville, “L’armee des ombres”; the 1944 documentary “Le journal de la Resistance”; an interview with Simone Signoret and Lucie Aubrac, who was an inspiration for Mathilde; “Ouvrez les guillemets,” excerpts from an episode of the popular French television series in which former members of the Resistance recall their activities; theatrical trailers; and a booklet featuring essays and an interview with Melville.


Dances with Wolves: 20th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
Raging Bull: 30th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray

For all the abuse heaped upon Kevin Costner, there’s no questioning his willingness to take great chances as an actor, director and producer. At a time when his handlers would have been content to see him reprise romantic lead roles in thrillers and comedies about over-the-hill jocks, Costner elected to throw the dice on a three-hour epic western. Apart from the odd “revisionist” or Brat Pack oater, the genre was dead. In addition to telling a remarkable story, though, the actor/producer/star of Dances With Wolves endeavored to create something in which Native American actors could inhabit key roles and 25 percent of the dialogue would be in Lakota, a language not even co-star Graham Greene understood.

Costner’s future projects would be greeted with bouquets and brickbats almost in equal measure, but Dances stood alone as a gamble that paid off for everyone. Within the western genre, he would go to appear as the title character in Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp; star in, co-produce and direct the splendid Open Range; and produce the expansive multi-part documentary on Native Americans, 500 Nations. There’s a sequel to Dances With Wolves on the drawing boards, but John Dunbar reportedly will be played by Viggo Mortensen.

The “20th Anniversary Edition” presents the extended cut, with 50 minutes of extra footage, in hi-def and 7.1 audio; commentaries by Costner and producer Jim Wilson, and director of photography Dean Semler and editor Neil Travis; the “in-feature experiences,” “Military Rank and Social Hierarchy Guide” and “Real History or Movie Make-Believe?”; backgrounders “A Day in the Life on the Western Frontier,” the original “Making of ‘Dances With Wolves’” and “The Creation of an Epic: A Retrospective Documentary”; the original music video, featuring music by John Barry; a photo montage with introduction by Ben Glass; poster gallery; theatrical trailer; and TV spots.

Unlike westerns, boxing movies have never gone out of favor with audiences or Oscar voters, and Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull is arguably the greatest of them all. In one of his signature roles, Robert De Niro played the brilliant, if self-destructive pugilist Jake LaMotta in the ring, at home and into retirement. Shot in crystalline black-and-white, Scorsese’s cameras put us in the ring with LaMotta and his opponents, demanding we experience the brutality of the sport at close range and with a clear understanding of the fighter’s primal motivations, including jealousy and blind rage.

Already released once on Blu-ray, the “30th Anniversary Edition” adds the featurettes “Marty & Bobby,” “Raging Bull: Reflections on a Classic,” “Remembering Jake,” “Marty on Film” and Cathy Moriarty’s appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” in 1981. It retains “Raging Bull: Fight Night,” “The Bronx Bull,” “DeNiro vs. LaMotta,” “LaMotta Defends Title” and the commentaries.


The Narnia Code

If anyone’s terribly disappointed that box-office tallies for the second and third chapters of the on-going Chronicles of Narnia series haven’t matched those for the 2005 original, it’s probably limited to producers who shelled out more than $150 million on each picture. The kids who comprise the target audience for the fantasy/adventure series – adapted from C.S. Lewis’ seven novels for children – certainly haven’t minded returning to the magical kingdom. The budgets didn’t seem unreasonable at the time, I suppose.

The 2009 BBC documentary, The Narnia Code, argues that Lewis’ books were informed not only by his embracing of Christianity and desire to entertain young readers, but also his research into medieval astrology. The key to Dr. Michael Ward’s theory is Lewis’ poem, “The Planets,” in which references to themes in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are echoed. The DVD adds 45 minutes of related material.


Soul Kittens Cabaret

Tyler Perry became famous for making the leap from producing broadly comic and deliberately heart-tugging stage productions for niche “urban audiences,” to successfully repackaging film adaptations of the same shows for the same audience. In the face of uniformly negative reviews and intellectual condemnation, Perry guessed correctly that fans of Madea and other, more spiritually challenged characters, would be welcomed as much on the silver screen as the boards of the “chitlin’ circuit.”

His first two films – Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Madea’s Family Reunion — grossed a stunning $50 million and $65 million respectively. Soul Kittens Cabaret won’t do nearly as well, if only because Nicci Gilbert’s musical is going straight from the stage to DVD, and it’s nowhere near as a polished an entertainment. Indeed, it often looks as if someone pointed a video camera at the stage from various angles and left it at that. It needed to be edited down to movie length and the performances are far too stage-bound.

That said, targeted viewers might not mind the 147-minute experience, considering the presence of “American Idol” veteran Fantasia Barrino; the Notorious B.I.G.’s baby-mama, Faith Evans; and Gilbert, former lead singer of Brownstone.

Soul Kittens Cabaret chronicles the journeys of seven women as they attempt to come to grips with the problems usually associated with life in the spotlight. Here, the healing plays out at a Detroit nightclub on the rebound. Barrino plays the women’s Good Conscience, while Evans is her polar opposite. The musical, dance and acting skills of the women entertainers are complemented by the talents of a chorus of handsome young men.


The Hessen Conspiracy

Billy Zane, who makes movies like Carter used to make Little Liver Pills, gets to look dapper in both an army uniform and tuxedo in The Hessen Conspiracy (a.k.a., The Hessen Affair).

In the wake of the Allied victory in World War II, Zane’s Col. Jack Durant is an American colonel, who, while bivouacked in a German castle, stumbles upon a cache of jewels that once belonged to the royal family. Durant conspires with a beautiful American lieutenant, Kathleen Nash (Lynn Renee), to smuggle the crown jewels into the United States, and, then, decides to steal them back from the mobsters with whom they were entrusted.

The scheme might have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for the intercession of a German princess, who needs the gems for the wedding of her brother to another royal personage. Because the prince had supported the Allied cause, American authorities are anxious to return the jewels to their rightful owner. The post-war setting allows director Paul Breuls to frame the action as a noir thriller. Nicholas Meyer’s name on the screenplay adds luster to the straight-to-DVD story.


Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey
Masterpiece Contemporary: Framed
Great Performances: Macbeth
Nature: A Murder of Crows

Lovers of Upstairs, Downstairs will be ecstatic to find Downton Abbey playing on their local PBS station or on the new-releases shelves in video stores. As scripted and produced by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, The Young Victoria), the seven-part “Masterpiece Classic” mini-series chronicles the affairs of the Dowager Countess of Grantham (played with imperious precision by Maggie Smith), her privileged family and a dozen of their servants, who range from impeccably loyal to downright frightening.

As World War I approaches, the matriarch’s son, Lord Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) and American daughter-in-law (Elizabeth McGovern) face the prospect of having their vast wealth and property re-distributed to a distant cousin, the only male heir in the family. The Crawleys’ son was killed aboard the Titanic, leaving a gap that couldn’t legally be filled by one of his three feuding daughters. Meanwhile, the servants are unsettled by the surprise appearance of a valet hired from outside the clan by Crawley.

The daughters could hardly be any more different from each other. One is sexually adventurous, another snooty and the third, a suffragette. Their troubles wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans if it weren’t for the fine ensemble cast and their ability to make us care about family squabbles and back-stabbing employees. Many viewers will conclude that the real star of the series is the mansion itself, magnificent Highclere Castle, in Hampshire. If something like that isn’t worth fighting to keep, nothing is. The DVD represents the original un-edited UK version of the program. It includes a pair of background features.

The charming romantic comedy, Framed, is a co-production of the BBC and PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre Contemporary series. It imagines what might happen if a flood caused by obsolete plumbing threatened the treasures being housed in the National Gallery. Instead of panicking, curator Quentin Lester (Trevor Eve) borrows a page from World War II history books for a solution.

To escape the Blitz, dozens of valuable paintings were boxed and shipped by truck to a slate mine in Wales. It worked once, so why not? Given the possibility of terrorist action during the transfer, security officials are put on high alert. On television, there’s nothing quite as insecure as a secret being kept from the residents of a tiny village. In Framed, it’s the remote Welsh town of Manod. Before the curator is free to breathe a sigh of relief over the successful transfer, though, locals deduce there’s art in them thar’ hills.

Before long, teacher Angharad Stannard (Eve Myles) has Lester hosting art-history lessons for her students and adults in the community. Normally, this sort of a scenario wouldn’t offer enough entertainment to fill the average British sitcom, let alone a movie. Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, a frequent collaborator with Michael Winterbottom, introduces storylines involving an amusing heist and celebration the community’s naïve artists. There’s nothing here the whole family couldn’t enjoy together.

Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood star in Rupert Goold’s updating of Macbeth under the BBC/PBS “Great Performances” banner. This time around, the setting is post-World War II Eastern Europe, where treachery and paranoia have reached epidemic levels. The period and place lend themselves well to the “Scottish Play,” whose bleak tone matches the emotional climate of most countries trapped behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. Lady Macbeth could stand her own against Stalin, certainly. Both of the lead actors are terrific. Stewart has been nominated for a 2011 SAG Award for his portrayal of the overly ambitious king.

It would be difficult to imagine a timelier documentary than A Murder of Crows, part of PBS’ “Nature” series. At a time, when flocks of birds literally are falling from the skies in Arkansas and other places, it’s important to understand just how fragile is the environment for crows, even in the best of times. In fact, only 40 percent of hatchlings born in the wild make it to their first year, while 50 percent of the survivors don’t last a second year. The research is provided by ornithologists from the University of Washington in Seattle and Austria’s Konrad Lorenze Institut. That crows are among the most evolved of birds makes the death rate only that much more alarming.

Other fascinating new releases from PBS: “Secrets of the Dead: Silver Pharaoh”; “Frontline: Death by Fire” and “Frontline: the Spill”; “Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of WWII”; and “Slave Ship Mutiny.”


Love Hurts
The Freebie

Among the handful of stock male characters available for middle-age actors to play these days is the recently divorced father too emotionally damaged to do anything but feel sorry for himself. In Love Hurts, Richard Grant plays the grieving father and Carrie-Anne Moss the former wife. (And, yes, you’d grieve, too, in the absence of Moss.)

Fortunately for Ben, he has a 17-year-old son willing to arrange a makeover for his dear old dad, who takes to it like a duck to water. Suddenly, Ben is overflowing with vim and vitality, while everyone else struggles to make sense of his nutty behavior. It’s an old story, far better told in previous versions. Besides Moss, the familiar cast includes Jenna Elfman, Julia Voth, Yvonne Zima, Camryn Mannheim, Janeane Garofalo and a bunch of Pretty Young Things.

As the title implies, The Freebie describes what happens when a bored yuppie couple decides to spice up their non-existent sex lives by setting aside a night in which cheating not only is permitted, but it’s also encouraged. Despite the scarcity of orgasms, Annie (Katie Aselton) and Darren (Dax Shepard) seem to be perfectly compatible. A couple’s special at a Nevada brothel probably would have been a better investment than wasting time on a couple of fitful hookups, but that would have been too smart and easy. Ecstasy might have worked the same miracle, without involving innocent bystanders.

What Aselton, who also directed and co-wrote The Freebie, is doing with a self-absorbed dweeb like Shepard is a mystery to me. Knowing that she has ties to the mumblecore crowd explains why the largely improvised dialogue feels so limp and unstructured. Sometimes, a script is just what a picture needs to be successful.


Funny or Die Presents: Season One
Top Shot: The Complete Season One
Universe: Complete Season 5: Blu-ray
Criss Angel: Mindfreak: Season 6
Greek: Chapter Five: The Complete Third Season
ER: The Complete Fourteenth Season

HBO raided the Internet for its sketch-comedy series, Funny or Die Presents. In its interactive version, followers submit short comic sketches to be graded by other followers. If the bit isn’t deemed funny, it’s killed … simple as that. The good ones are allowed to live for future consumption by browsers. The HBO iteration doesn’t allow for voting, one way or the other. I assume, perhaps incorrectly, the bits that made Funny or Die Presents are the cream of the crop.

The recurring titles include “Space Baby,” in which a toddler mows down bad guys on a space shuttle; “Designated Driver,” which demonstrates the downside of sobriety; “Playground Politics,” in which playgrounds serve as mini-UN’s; and “Drunk History,” in which a boozehound narrates a chapter in American history and familiar stars dramatize it. The others range from bizarre to stultifying.

Just when you think that all of the ideas for new reality shows have been exhausted, one comes along that almost curls your toes. Cable’s Top Shot combines weaponry with history, by pitting teams of sharpshooters against each in such events as shooting a lit fuse from an explosive device; knife-throwing; obstacle courses; and accuracy from various distances. The contestants use all sorts of weapons, from muskets and Berretas, to longbows and slingshots. It’s simultaneously nuts and completely normal … at least for red-blooded American males. The set arrives with additional footage, contestant bios and elimination interviews.

The fifth season of The Universe focuses on the discovery process, whether through telescopes or seeing what happens when a space probe hits a comet or asteroid. Among the chapters are, “7 Wonders of the Solar System,” “Mars: The New Evidence,” “Magnetic Storm,” “Time Travel,” “Secrets of the Space Probes,” “Asteroid Attack,” “Total Eclipse” and “Dark Future of the Sun.” The hi-def photography makes the CGI effects pop, while the interviews with scientists make astrophysics sound routine.

In the sixth season of Mindfreak, Criss Angel demonstrates his ability to jump across the Grand Canyon on a space-age motorcycle; make a crowd of 100 people disappear; levitate 400 feet in the air; and escape while hanging thousands of feet above the ground. In an amazing feat of cross-promotion, Angel attempts to walk up the side of Las Vegas’ Luxor Hotel, where his show with Cirque du Soleil is headquartered. The DVD adds “The Secrets Behind Criss Angel’s Tricks.”

There’s an internal contradiction in the title, Greek: Chapter Five: The Complete Third Season, but the good news comes in knowing that this installment is a full season and not a halfsie. Besides the party-hardy shenanigans and endless quests for passing grades, the DVD package includes “A Study Break With Nora Kirkpatrick,” cast and crew commentaries, a gag reel and “Gotcha!” featurette.

The strike-shortened 14th season of ER started out with a bang – an explosion – and ends with the departure of Stanley Tucci’s officious Dr. Moretti. In between, too much time was wasted on Abby and Luka’s dysfunctional relationship. It seemed as if everyone was anticipating getting lost during the star-studded 15th and final season. The DVD includes unaired scenes and material from a Paley Festival panel discussion.


Comedy Central Roast of David Hasselhoff
Louis C.K: Hilarious

If anyone ever deserved to be roasted by a small army of take-no-prisoners comedians it’s David Hasselhoff. In fact, the world’s most famous TV lifeguard (male) provided them with too easy a target. He proved to be beyond embarrassment, even with his daughters sitting in the audience. Naturally, the bulk of the insults were inspired by Hasselhoff’s much publicized drunken behavior and inexplicable popularity outside the U.S. Roastmaster Seth MacFarlane really doesn’t add much to the proceedings, but the Hoff proves a juicy target for Baywatch vets Pamela Anderson, Traci Bingham, Nicole Eggert and Gena Lee Nolin, and such roast regulars as Greg Giraldo, Gilbert Gottfried, Lisa Lampanelli and Jeffrey Ross. I’m not quite sure what Hulk Hogan and George Hamilton have in common with the guest of honor, but their presence is welcome.

At the ripe old age of 43, Louis C.K. may finally be ready for stardom. His FX sitcom, Louie, is his most accomplished TV project yet, while his standup material, including the material in Hilarious, is of a consistently high level. The balance between the personal and political also was honed to near-perfection.

Friday Estimates – September 17

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

The Town|8.2|2861||8.2
Easy A|6.7|2856||6.7
Resident Evil: Afterlife|3|3209|-72%|36.9
Alpha and Omega|2.3|2625||2.3
The American|0.8|2457|-53%|30.9
The Other Guys|0.6|1827|-42%|114
Also Debuting
Never Let Me Go|33,500|4||33,500
Jack Goes Boating|8,300|4||8,300
Leaves of Grass|6,900|2||6,900
Picture Me|2,900|1||2,900
The Freebie|1,900|1||1,900

Trailer: The Freebie

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

The deal: one night of no-strings-attached sex with a stranger for each of them.

The Freebie (Pt 1 of 2), dir/actor Katie Aselton, actor Dax Shepard

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

The Freebie (Pt 2 of 2), dir/actor Katie Aselton, actor Dax Shepard

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010