Editor’s Notes: Everybody Loves Somebody, Life, Railroad Tigers, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Altitude, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Series are out on their respective home entertainment formats June 20th.
Everybody Loves Somebody
Everybody Loves Somebody (Lionsgate) is a bilingual romantic comedy set in Los Angeles. Carla (Karla Souza) is a successful doctor, but not so successful in her love life. Her dissatisfaction comes to the surface when her parents, who live in Baja, decide to get married after 40 years of living together without an official marriage certificate. Clara has a self-destructive bent, often trying to undermine the relationships of others in her life, including her own parents. She favors one-night stands but seems to have a dread fear of commitment.
At a family get-together in Mexico, she reconnects with old flame Daniel (Jose Maria Yazpik), who broke her heart years earlier when he went on a series of adventures around the world. There’s still a spark between them, but Carla is also exploring a relationship with a resident at her medical office, Asher (Ben O’Toole), an Australian who appears more stable than either Clara or Daniel.
Ms. Souza has a winning charm that makes us root for Carla. We like her spirit and hope she escapes from her downward social spiral. She plays Carla without undue sentiment or cloying, which avoids the overt manipulation of many movies to elicit empathy for their characters. Carla is intelligent, just flummoxed by romance and indecision, which makes her engaging and hits a universal chord.
The widescreen DVD release is rated PG-13. The film is in English and Spanish, with English subtitles.
Life (Sony Home Entertainment) is a science fiction film that, like the Alien movies, adds a strong element of horror. The premise: if there is life on Mars, it may not be friendly, a theme explored on film as far back as 1953’s The War of the Worlds. With modern space travel, however, and unmanned landings on the planet, revisiting the idea is a way to combine scientific inquiry with the unknown forces it may unleash.
The film takes place on a space station and deals with the responsibilities of its six-person crew investigating Martian soil samples. The mission specialists are from four countries: the United States (Rory Adams, played by Ryan Reynolds) and Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal); the U.K. (quarantine expert Miranda North, played by Rebecca Ferguson) and biologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare); Russia (Commander Katerina Glolovkin, portrayed by Olga Dihovichnaya); and Japan (Sho Kendo, played by Hiroyuki Sanda).
When the crew discovers signs of life in the Martian dirt, they nurse it out of suspended animation and give it a name — Calvin. But their excitement at witnessing Calvin grow and develop turns to panic when it shows violent tendencies and displays surprising strength and intelligence. When the crew’s efforts to contain Calvin fail, the mission becomes a fight for life — six humans against one extraterrestrial. They cannot allow this being to reach Earth.
Though the cast is effective, the movie has a serious case of deja vu. We’ve seen similar movies, similar situations, and similar confrontations. There isn’t enough that’s original in Life to make it a “must see.” Director Daniel Espinosa has a deft hand at creating and sustaining suspense, a prime ingredient. Many sequences depend on tension resulting from not knowing how the crew in a claustrophobic setting will be able to do battle with and survive an enemy about which they know little.
Bonus materials on the R-rated widescreen Blu-ray release include deleted scenes, and the featurettes “Claustrophobic Terror: Creating a Thriller in Space,” “Life: In Zero G,” “The Art and Reality of Calvin,” and “Astronaut Diaries.” A digital copy is enclosed.
Railroad Tigers (Well Go USA) takes place in 194. Railroad worker Ma Yuan (Jackie Chan) and his group of freedom fighters do whatever they can to sabotage the Japanese army that occupies China. Their method of choice: hijacking trains and stealing supplies. When they learn that a plan is afoot to destroy a bridge crucial in getting supplies to the Japanese, Ma Yuan and team are determined to attack and destroy it. They set out on their dangerous mission, pursued by Yamaguchi, a captain of the military police.
This is a movie that isn’t quite sure of what it wants to be. It begins with a light, even slapstick approach and then becomes a much darker tale of the pain inflicted by war. Chan, now 62, isn’t as agile as he once was, and leaves most of the elaborate stunt work to younger men.
Many movies have relied on trains as a primary plot point, specifically Buster Keaton’s The General, Bridge on the River Kwai, and Unstoppable. It’s exciting to see such massive pieces of equipment used as the focus of action, particularly when you consider the logistics involved — safety for cast and crew, securing permission, rehearsing, and filming to maximize dramatic effect. If you’re a train enthusiast, you’ll probably enjoy the film more for its train sequences than the so-so plot. The film never really gives background on the Japanese occupation. The feature doesn’t have the responsibility of a documentary to methodically explain every historical ramification, but merely establishing the good guys — Ma Yuan and crew — and the bad guys — the Japanese — is simplistic and fails to fully engage us.
Bonus materials on the unrated widescreen 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD release include 4 behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a trailer. Language options include original Mandarin and English. English subtitles are also available.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Kino Lorber) is an adaptation of director Julie Taymor’s stage production at Brooklyn’s Theatre for a New Audience that combines both elements of live theatre and cinema. With minimal props and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto’s steadicam cameras weaving throughout the action, the result is an unusual, even controversial take on Shakespeare’s often-filmed play. Dialogue is right from the Bard, but the play has a freshness and daring unlike other screen versions that tend to adhere religiously and respectfully to a traditional adaptation.
The cast features Max Casella as Nick Bottom, Tina Benko as Titania, David Harewood as Oberon, King of Shadows, but the stand-out is Kathryn Hunter as Robin Goodfellow Puck, whose bodily flexibility is wondrous as she flits and prances about with athletic ability both graceful and confident.
This version unfolds in a shadowy night, with tiny creatures — fairies played by children — peering through the darkness. A bed at center stage is raised aloft, a pillow fight takes place, projections of flowers serve as backdrops, billowy sheets create an otherworldly atmosphere, a forest is composed of ever-shifting silvery bamboo sticks, and a fairy queen sleeps in a hammock descending from the sky.
Ms. Taymor has tackled Shakespeare previously in the films Titus, with Jessica Lange and Anthony Hopkins, and The Tempest, with Helen Mirren in a gender-neutral portrayal of Prospero. Taymor also designed the incredible creatures in the Broadway production of The Lion King and was involved with the troubled Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Her artistic visions are always unique and memorable and this holds true of this movie, which Taymor calls a “hybrid of live theatre and film.” A lot of the magic of live theatre is being there, experiencing the play as the actors perform it. Though the movie attempts to capture much of the magic with multiple cameras, the film makes you wish you had seen the stage production. However, It’s worthwhile seeing the film to marvel at Ms. Taylor’s visual artistry, which is inventive, often humorous, and sometimes downright creepy.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release include behind-the-scenes footage and trailers.
Altitude (Lionsgate) is an action thriller incorporating a claustrophobic setting. The film begins with FBI hostage negotiator Gretchen Blair (Denise Richards) ignoring a direct order during a tense situation and getting demoted to a desk job in Washington, D.C. On the plane ride, she learns that Terry (Kirk Barker), the man sitting next to her, is trying to escape from his partners in crime with a suitcase filled with millions of dollars. Terry has betrayed them in a jewelry heist, and now they’re seeking the loot and revenge. When it’s revealed those partners are on the plane, Terry offers Gretchen $50 million to help him get off the plane alive.
The idea of setting an action picture aboard a plane has been used before, and more effectively, in “Non-Stop,” starring Liam Neeson. In “Altitude,” there are too many holes in the plot, making for a rocky ride. There are fistfights and shootings a-plenty which are exciting to a degree until you realize how dopey the whole concept is. It seems, because of the restricted location, the writers wrote themselves into a corner. That may amp the suspense a bit, but at the expense of credibility. Ms. Richards does her best with a thankless role, but never comes across as a believable agent. Dolph Lundgren plays one of the bad guys in larger-than-life villain mode, but can’t help elevate a routine picture.
There are no bonus materials on the R-rated widescreen Blu-ray release. A digital HD copy is included.
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (Arrow Video), made in 1970 by first-time director Dario Argento (Suspiria), made its long-lasting mark on Italian cinema. This was a film that redefined the “giallo” genre of murder-mystery thrillers and led to international stardom for Argento.
Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante), an American writer living in Rome, inadvertently witnesses a brutal attack on a woman (Eva Renzi) in a modern art gallery. Powerless to help because of a mechanical door, he grows increasingly obsessed with the incident. Convinced that something he saw that night holds the key to identifying the maniac terrorizing Rome, he launches his own investigation parallel to that of the police, heedless of the danger to both himself and his girlfriend, Giulia (Suzy Kendall).
Argento is more concerned with plot twists than with gore, which became a trademark of his later films. Borrowing a page from the Hitchcock Playbook, the film uses the plot device of an innocent person drawn into intrigue. As Sam undergoes his own investigation, he encounters a series of odd characters, contributing to an unsettling feeling. There are killings, but what stands out and makes the movie especially memorable is its excellent use of suspense — the anticipation of what might happen at any moment. Many veteran directors never master this tricky technique, but Argento incorporates it as if it’s second nature. Because “Bird…” is his directorial debut, this is all the more impressive. Though not as graphic as American slasher films of the 1980s, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage was definitely an influence.
Bonus materials on the 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack include new audio commentary by Tony Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films; “The Power of Perception,” a visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento; new analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger; new interview with writer/director Dario Argento; interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp); reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork; and limited edition 60-page illustrated booklet.
Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Series
Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Series (Time Life) is a 38-DVD set containing 140 original broadcast episodes plus the pilot of the show that took America by storm. “Laugh-In” aired as a one-time special in September, 1967 and was such a success that it was brought back as a series, replacing “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” on Mondays at 8 P.M. The comedy team of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin were the hosts, presiding over a fast-paced hour of sight gags, political commentary, and sketches.
Regulars included giggly blonde Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin’s snorting telephone operator, Ernestine, Arte Johnson’s “verrrry interesting” German soldier, Ruth Buzzi’s frustrated spinster, Jo Anne Worley’s anti-chicken-joke militant, and Judy Carne’s “Sock-It-to-Me” girl. The show ran from 1968 to 1973 and was the Number One rated show during the 1968-1969 and 1969-1970 TV seasons.
“Laugh-In” attracted many guest stars, including Bob Newhart, Debbie Reynolds, Liberace, Raquel Welch, Bobby Darin, Buddy Hackett, Diana Ross, Jack Lemmon, Robert Goulet, Carol Burnett, Carol Channing, Jonathan Winters, John Wayne, The Monkees, Sonny and Cher, Sammy Davis, Jr., Andy Griffith, Kirk Douglas, and Flip Wilson. Richard Nixon even showed up in a brief appearance in which he deadpanned, “Sock it to me?”
The box set contains over 6 hours of bonus materials including the complete 25th Anniversary Cast Reunion and interviews with Lily Tomlin and show creator George Schlatter. Other bonus features include interviews with Dick Martin, Ruth Buzzi, Gary Owens, Arte Johnson and Alan Sues; a tribute to George Schlatter; “Laugh-In” bloopers; and the featurette “How We Won the Emmys.” A 32-page memory booklet features liner notes from producer/creator George Schlatter, photos of the cast in character, and several jokes that appeared on the show.