Editor’s Notes: Man Down, Resistance, Trespass Against Us, Compulsion, & Kendra On Top: The Complete Fourth & Fifth Seasons are out on their respective formats Tuesday March 7th.
Man Down (Lionsgate) stars Shia LaBeouf as U.S. Marine Gabriel Drummer who, when he returns from his tour in Afghanistan, finds that the place he once called home has become a ravaged wasteland. Accompanied by his best friend, hard-nosed Marine Devin Roberts (Jai Courtney), he searches desperately for the location of his estranged son, Jonathan (Charlie Shotwell), and wife Natalie (Kate Mara). In their search, the two intercept Charles (Clifton Collins, Jr.), a man carrying vital information about the whereabouts of Gabriel’s family.
Director Dito Montiel shows Gabriel in basic training, as family man with wife and child, in battle in Afghanistan, in session with a psychiatrist (Gary Oldman), and wandering through a blighted landscape as he searches for his son, who he believes has been kidnapped. The film switches around, using flashbacks to illustrate Gabriel’s state of mind. The scenes between Gabriel and the psychiatrist are dull and waste the talents of Oldman, who seems distant and bored. LaBeouf is all over the place with his acting, which contains several affectations and mannerisms that draw undue attention and take us out of the story.
I’m assuming director Montiel wanted to make a statement about how America treats its returning soldiers, who are haunted daily by the trauma of war and the awful images they have witnessed. The attempt is noble, but the final result is unfocused and disappointing, largely because of his tendency to meander rather than use straightforward narrative. Though we should care about Gabriel and root for him, LaBeouf makes it hard for us because he never succeeds in making Gabriel truly sympathetic. We can identify intellectually with how the horror of war has scarred him, but we never really feel his emotional pain.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include audio commentary with director Dito Montiel and military consultant Nick Jones, Jr. A digital HD copy is enclosed.
Resistance (Omnibus Entertainment) is based on the concept that the Allies lost World War II. The time is 1944. The Allied D-Day invasion has failed, Britain has been invaded and is now under Nazi occupation. In a small Welsh village, 26-year-old farmer’s wife Sarah Lewis (Andrea Riseborough) awakens to discover that her husband along with all the other men are gone, having fled the village to join the Resistance. Soon after, a German patrol arrives and sets up an outpost in the valley. When the severe winter forces the two groups to cooperate, Sarah befriends the commanding officer, Albrecht (Tom Wlaschiha), blurring the lines between collaboration, duty, and occupation.
The alternate history concept has been used on film previously in Inglorious Basterds and in print in Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America.” The notion allows for creative speculation of how people would act if fate took a dramatically different turn. Director Amit Gupta keeps his focus narrow rather than taking an expansive view at what a Nazi-ruled England and Europe would mean. He sets his sights on average folks rather than the political infrastructure, the military, or the greater Resistance movement. In order to survive, Sarah must do what she can. Personal resistance is fruitless, so she connects on a personal level with Albrecht, who is not the stereotype of the heel-clicking monster so prevalent in movies. He is a decent man, and that is what resonates with Sarah.
The film is a dark fable and succeeds as a fascinating “What if…” tale of war, its aftermath, acceptance of the inevitable and, ultimately, survival.
There are no bonus features on the widescreen DVD release.
Trespass Against Us
Trespass Against Us (Lionsgate) is set across three generations of the Anglo-Irish Cutter family who live as outlaws in their own anarchic corner of the rich Northern England countryside. Chad Cutter (Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs”) is heir apparent to his criminal father, Colby (Brendan Gleeson), and has been groomed to spend his life hunting, stealing, and avoiding the police. With his own son, Tyson (Georgie Smith), coming of age, Chad soon finds himself locked in a battle with his father for the future of his young family. When Colby learns of Chad’s dreams for another life, he determines to tie his son and grandson into the archaic order that has bound the Cutter family for generations. He engineers an elaborate criminal scheme involving a heist, a high-speed car chase, and a manhunt, which leaves Chad bloodied and with his freedom at stake.
Though the film aspires to be a modern-day, Irish version of “The Godfather,” it falls far short of achieving that classic’s stature. Trespass Against Us is an undistinguished routine crime drama with a very strong performance by Fassbender, who’s deserving of a better script. Director Adam Smith often lets the film ramble on, shuffling back and forth between dysfunctional family drama and offbeat crime thriller. He fills the movie with Biblical references, and the family often uses passages of the New Testament to justify their actions. The juxtaposition of religion and lots of Commandment breaking gives the film a seriocomic feel. The action scenes are staged effectively, but the scenes between Fassbender’s Chad and Gleeson’s Colby are the real highlight — two professionals rising miles above the material.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette, and Heartfelt, a short film in which director Adam Smith discusses the movie’s original score. A digital HD copy is enclosed.
Compulsion (Kino Lorber) is based on the 1924 Leopold and Loeb murder case. Two extremely intelligent, wealthy Chicago law students, Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) and Arthur A. Straus (Bradford Dillman), feel it would be an interesting experiment to plan and execute the perfect murder of an innocent young boy. The murder is not shown, but it is described in detail. Defense attorney Jonathan Wilk (based on Clarence Darrow and played by Orson Welles), is hired by the boys’ families to defend them. Though the names have been changed, the film’s details are essentially factual and focus on the two defendants — one arrogant and intimidating, the other sensitive and introverted — who thought their superior intellect would enable them to pull off the perfect crime. The murder was referred to as the “crime of the century.”
Compulsion is compelling as a character study of two narcissists who feel they are above the law and hatch a lethal scheme to prove they can actually get away with committing murder. The dynamic between the two drives the film. They both bear a superior detachment from society, a superiority based on Nietzsche’s concepts of the superman. There’s also a strong suggestion of homosexuality which, in itself, was pretty daring for a 1959 film. They are simultaneously reprehensible and fascinating.
Director Richard Fletcher has crafted an intriguing adaptation of the Meyer Levin novel. Performances are uniformly first-rate, with Dillman and Welles especially effective. Dillman’s Straus is clearly the brains of the plot with submissive Steiner going along for the thrill ride. Straus is the ultimate sociopath, a quality masked by affluence and arrogance. Welles’ Wilk has a lengthy speech during the trial, based on actual court transcripts, in which his character makes a plea for humanitarianism, hoping to spare Steiner and Straus from a death sentence. Darrow delivered a 12-hour summation. In the film, Wilk’s speech is ten minutes. The same case was the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948).
Bonus features on the new 4K restoration Blu-ray release include audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas, and theatrical trailers.
Kendra On Top: The Complete Fourth & Fifth Seasons
Kendra On Top: The Complete Fourth & Fifth Seasons (MPI Home Video) follows the day-to-day life of former Playboy model and The Girls Next Door reality TV personality Kendra Baskett as she balances motherhood and her business ventures. After a scandal that nearly destroyed her marriage, Kendra determines to strengthen her relationships both in her career and at home. Unexpected opportunities in London and Australia re-ignite an urge in her to be wild and free, but when she returns home, she’s faced with the possibility that her wild antics may have forced her marriage to reach its breaking point. Rumors of a tell-all book, a possible Girls Next Door reunion, and an elaborate music video feature prominently in these two seasons.
Other episodes deal with a photo surfacing showing Kendra kissing a former football player, consequences of her texting other men, a visit from husband Frank’s parents, Kendra competing on a cooking show in New York City, Hugh Hefner serving as shoulder to cry on after scandalous accusations are made public, a wild night in the Playboy mansion, partying at the Sundance Film Festival, a walk on the red carpet, and the death of a close relative.
This is easily the worst reality show ever. It’s simply amazing that it has lasted for five seasons. Kendra Baskett is so involved in herself and her image that she places them before the needs of those around her, who travel in her orbit but are merely supporting players in her own self-centered drama. The issues dealt with are mundane, egocentric, and trivial. When you think reality TV has hit its nadir, Kendra On Top marks on new low. This show is a complete waste of time.
All 16 episodes of Season 4 and all 18 episodes of Season 5 are included in a 4-disc DVD set. Bonus features include deleted scenes, photo galleries, “Lost in Space” music video, webisodes, and a bonus episode.