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Stephen Schaefer’s HOLLYWOOD & MINE

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Sony Pictures Classics, now celebrating 30 years with a library of nearly 500 films, has selected 11 films – documentaries, foreign language, domestic dramas – for a 4K Ultra HD boxed set.  It’s hardly definitive yet easily focuses on what makes SPC special: A taste for distinctive voices, wide-ranging subjects and memorable performances.  Among the highlights:

‘The Celluloid Closet.’ Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman’s startling, influential 1995 adaptation of Vito Russo’s landmark 1985 history of decades of cinematic intolerance towards LGBTQ people and their stories. Narrated by Lily Tomlin. Special Features: Russo’s commentary (he died in 1990 at 44 without ever seeing his book transformed); another commentary by the filmmakers, Tomlin, editor and producer; a Russo interview and 21 deleted interviews that didn’t make the final cut.

Franka Potente in "Run Lola Run"
Franka Potente in “Run Lola Run”

‘Run Lola Run:’ Germany’s 1998 landmark, a movie that virtually redefined what ‘moving’ and ‘movie’ share. Director Tom Tykwer’s exercise in cinematic propulsion is a movie that, yes, runs – runs with audacity, insight and inspiration.  Special Features: Audio commentary by Tykwer and his star Franka Potente (‘The Bourne Identity’), another with Tykwer and his editor, 2 featurettes and the ‘Believe’ music video.

‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon:’ Ang Lee’s 2000 Chinese hit broke all sorts of records – for its extraordinary box-office appeal, its Chinese cast, its 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture (it won 4 — for Best Foreign Language Film, Score, Cinematography and Art Direction).  It remains the top-grossing foreign language film in American history.  Magical.

‘Call Me By Your Name:’ A popular if unexpected gay love story. Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet, the most photogenic couple imaginable, must compete with director Luca Guadagnino’s mouth-watering Tuscan scenery and luscious dining. It’s a proverbial feast for the senses. Special Features: An ‘In Conversation’ with the director and his actors, an audio commentary by Chalamet and Michael Stuhlbarg who plays his understanding father and the Sufjan Stevens ‘Mystery of Love’ music video.

HAND OF FATE: Armie Hammer, above left, forms a friendship with Timothee Chalamet in 'Call Me By Your Name.'
Armie Hammer, left, with Timothee Chalamet in ‘Call Me By Your Name.’

‘Still Alice:’ A harrowing docu-style descent into early Alzheimer’s courtesy of one of Julianne Moore’s most memorable performances. This 2014 drama won Moore her Best Actress Oscar. Special Features: Interview with the composer, 2 featurettes and 3 deleted scenes.

‘Synecdoche New York:’ ranks as personal, quirky and entirely comprehensible storytelling in the most idiosyncratic way by writer-director Charlie Kaufman (‘Being John Malkovich’).  This 2008 postmodern drama is boosted by the commitment of its star, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, and features Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Dianne Wiest and Emily Watson.  Special Features: Screen Animations and several featurettes.

A scene from "The Devil's Backbone"
A scene from “The Devil’s Backbone”

The others in the Sony Classics at 30 boxed set: ‘The City of Lost Children’ (’95), Almodovar’s ‘Volver’ (2006), Sally Potter’s ‘Orlando’ (‘93), Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ (2000) and ‘SLC Punk’ (00).

 

 

NEW DVDs:
HUMAN STRUGGLES                                        The hit video game has spawned a successful American military sci-fi series. But ‘HALO: Season One’ (Blu-ray, 9 episodes, 5 discs, Paramount, Not Rated) is not a series version of the game but a new saga inspired by it.  And this ‘HALO’ immediately shows why it’s already been renewed for S2. Starring Pablo Schreiber, it’s an action enterprise where mankind’s future is threatened by the Covenant, a fanatical powerful alliance of alien species. Schreiber’s Master Chief, a cybernetically-enhanced ‘Spartan’ supersoldier, is perhaps the only one who can slow their advance. As amazing as the series is, equally astonishing is the 5 hours-plus Special Features that range from Creating the Costumes, weapons and vehicles and the World of HALO to the making of Cortana, examining the culture of the Covenant and a song from ‘HALO’s score: ‘The Lake of Eternal Life.’

Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief in "Halo." (Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+/TNS)
Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief in “Halo.” (Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+/TNS)

 

BLOOD SUCKING ACADEMICS                          Vampires, witches and daemons live in the secret underworld of the long-running ‘A Discovery of Witches’ (Blu-ray, 25 episodes, 6 discs, Universal, Not Rated). The set-up of this romantic thriller is that these marginalized people hide for justifiable fear of human persecution. It’s Yale historian Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer), actually a witch who denies her heritage, who while studying at Oxford accidentally revives an ancient, bewitched manuscript and enters a dangerous mystery that puts her in the path of vampire Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode).  Love is never easy, especially among vampires!  BONUS: Creating the World, Can Love Survive? Creating Elizabethan London, Blood Rage and The Story So Far.

 

BEHIND THE SCENES                                          ‘The Offer’ (DVD, Paramount, Not Rated) tells the complicated backstory to the making of ‘The Godfather,’ generally listed as among the greatest American movies ever. Set in the early 1970s when real Italian-American gangsters were seriously concerned with what Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler) was going to show about the Mafia in the 1940s and ‘50s, ‘Offer’ is consistently engaging and often surprising.  Here, intimidation and threats were not pretend propositions, they were all too real. The central focus of ‘The Offer’ is producer Albert S. Ruddy (Miles Teller in a commanding, in every sense, performance) navigating his way thru Paramount Pictures’ unconventional owner Charles Bludhorn, studio boss Robert Evans, author Mario Puzo, demanding because he knows his way is the only way, director Coppola and Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi), the fearsome Italian-American mobster super-concerned about the image of Italian-Americans. Colombo’s high profile was reportedly why his fellow Mafia dons decided he had to go. Colombo barely survived a 1971 assassination attempt which left him paralyzed; he died in ’78. When ‘The Godfather’ opened in March 1972, it was instantaneously an immediate box-office behemoth that spawned a trilogy and remains a cultural touchstone.  BONUS: Over 2.5 hours of Special Features, including deleted and behind the scenes.

 

COLD WAR CHINA                                           Josef von Sternberg’s 1932 ‘Shanghai Express’ stands high among Hollywood’s most fabled, exotic and romantic classics and ranks among Marlene Dietrich’s most iconic performances. A remake, ‘Peking Express’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated) in 1951 lacks more than the magic of its original.  As film historian Eddy Von Mueller points out in his commentary, 20 years later it wasn’t just a different time, it was a different, now Cold War Communist, China.  Newly remastered, ‘Peking’ looks fine if slightly drab. Its stars Joseph Cotton and France’s Corinne Calvet are no match for the original’s magnetic duo, Dietrich (as Shanghai Lil!) and Anna May Wong (soon to be on an American coin!). Although Marvin Miller (known in the ‘50s for his wishful TV series ‘The Millionaire’) is fine as the film’s villain, a ruthless Chinese war lord, it is an example of Hollywood’s then pervasive casting of Caucasians as Asian, known as ‘yellowface.’

 

 

WHO PRINTS TRUTH?                                      A triumph in its native France, winning, among 7 Cesars, Best Picture, ‘Lost Illusions’ (Blu-ray, Music Box Films, Not Rated) is propulsive historical fiction from none other than Honore de Balzac, an early 19th century master of literary realism and an influence on Dickens and Zola. ‘Lost Illusions’ is a scathing, epic portrait of a society where ‘truth’ is bought and sold as we follow an aspiring young poet in 1830s Paris. Its observations about reputations being made and destroyed seems so very apt in the social media whirlwind of today.  Bonus: Profiles of the cast, an examination of the story, a photo gallery.  In French with English subtitles.

 

CARTOON CHEER                                   As the title heralds, ‘Tom and Jerry’s Snowman’s Land Original Movie’ (DVD, WB, Not Rated) is new with songs, hijinks and 3 classic episodes including ‘The Plight Before Christmas.’  It begins when Jerry and his nephew Tuffy make a snow mouse – that somehow, magically, comes to life.  Larry, as the snow mouse is named, must not melt and to save him the race is on for Tuffy and Jerry who head for Snowman’s Village where there’s plenty of snow.  Tom, with the devious Dr. Doublevay, is in pursuit.

 

RESCUE ME                                                   Directed by Pierre Morel who will always be shadowed by the success of his ‘Taken,’ ‘The Ambush’ (Blu-ray, Well Go USA, R) is intense, realistic (if far fetched) and couldn’t be more elemental in its storytelling. A trio of Emerati soldiers are ambushed by militants.  Wounded, isolated and with little ammunition, they appear doomed. Only their commanding officer, when he discovers their plight, leads a midnight-hour rescue.  Tension, intense and nonstop, ensues.

 

JEEPERS REVIVED                                              In 2001 the first ‘Jeepers Creepers’ horror film arrived with good reviews and box-office success.  Three more followed, the last in 2017; all minus any critical appreciation.  Now ‘Jeepers Creepers Reborn’ (Blu-ray, Screen Media, R) is a reboot that hopes to spin a new trilogy (think of the just-ended ‘Halloween’ trilogy).  Yes indeed! The Creeper is back, making the opening of the Louisiana Horror Hound Festival into a memorable night — for all the wrong reasons.

 

AIRBORNE NIGHTMARE                           The South Korean action-suspense thriller ‘Emergency Declaration’ (Blu-ray, Well Go USA, Not Rated) begins with buzz about a terrorist dominating social media.  Almost immediately the authorities discover a suspect is among those passengers on a Korean flight bound for the US.  Then comes horrifying news — a passenger, a fit, fine traveler, succumbs suddenly to a gruesome death, igniting a panic on the plane – and on the ground.  As the pilots search for a solution, no country wants the possibly contagious plane landing on their soil.  BONUS: Making of, character profiles, Cannes film festival interviews. An English dubbed version is available along with English subtitles for the Korean language original.

 

ARE THEY AMONG US?                                      Ambitious and extravagant, ‘Alienoid’ (Blu-ray, Well Go USA, Not Rated) is but the first in a planned series of 2 epic sic-fi action time warpers from South Korea.  The film is a tale of 2 eras, following 2 Goryeo Dynasty shamans (that would mean between 918 and 1392) seeking a legendary, time-bending blade as they weirdly, almost magically, cross paths with contemporary people hunting a dangerous alien who is concealed inside a human’s body.  BONUS: Character trailers, Making of and an all-new English dub and Korean with English subtitles.

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