Editor’s Notes: Fences, Solace, Jackie, 45 Years, & The Jetsons & WWE: Robo-Wrestle Mania are out on their respective home video formats, March 14th.
Fences (Paramount Home Entertainment) stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, who recreate their Tony Award-winning Broadway roles in this adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning August Wilson play. Troy Maxson (Washington) is a hard-working sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh. Bitter that baseball’s color barrier was broken only after his own heyday in the Negro Leagues, Maxson takes out his frustrations on his loved ones.
Troy’s teenage son Cory (Jovan Adept) is the prime target of his father’s self-righteous lectures. The boy has dreams of playing football in college, but Troy does whatever it takes to reduce his dream to cinders in a heartrending series of confrontations in which Troy swaggers and proclaims his place as head decision maker of the family. But Troy has a secret which is about to blow up in his face when his wife Rose (Davis) is forced to face the full degree of Troy’s thoughtlessness and selfishness, transforming her from dutiful, loving, supportive mate into a volatile inferno of pent-up anger and disappointment. The result is the film’s most powerful, gut-wrenching scene.
With Washington doing double duty as director, the film is opened up slightly from the play, but retains the confined location of the Maxson home and yard, underscoring the swirl of resentment, regret, and disillusion festering there. Movies rarely give actors the opportunity to display the raw intensity of Fences.
Bonus extras on the widescreen Blu-ray release include the featurettes “Expanding the Audience: From Stage to Screen,” “The Company of Fences,” “Building Fences: Denzel Washington,” “Playing the Part: Rose Maxson,” and “August Wilson’s Hill District.” A digital HD copy is enclosed. Fences is also available in the DVD format.
Solace (Lionsgate) is a thriller starring Anthony Hopkins as clairvoyant John Clancy, who is enlisted by FBI Special Agent Joe Merriwether (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) when he is unable to solve a series of homicides. Merriwether’s partner is Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish), an ambitious woman with a degree in psychology. Reminiscent of Hopkin’s Silence of the Lambs, Solace deals with a psychic working with law enforcement to track down a serial killer (Colin Farrell). When Clancy discovers that the killer’s victims have something very specific in common, the trio work furiously to stop the murderer before he strikes again. But the killer is always at least one step ahead at every turn.
Though the investigators travel from one crime scene to the next, and flashbacks feature grisly images of the crimes themselves, director Afonso Poyart fails to infuse these scenes with much excitement or suspense. He does create an atmosphere of gloom, but the film’s sluggish pace undermines it, reducing the movie to a routine murder mystery.
The most interesting character is Clancy, a one-time colleague of Merriwether who now, after a personal tragedy, lives as a recluse in a remote rural area. Hopkins’ Clancy has the gift of seeing what others cannot by touching them, but often he sees things he doesn’t want to. That is the downside of his parapsychological talent. By assisting in the investigation, Clancy has visions which gradually put together the puzzle pieces of the serial crimes to find connections that can lead to the perpetrator.
Director Poyart overdoes the psychic story slant by using montages and special effects to illustrate the possible futures of many characters. Ultimately, it’s the game of cat and mouse between Clancy and the clever, but mad killer that serves as the film’s strongest plot line.
Bonus extras on the widescreen Blu-ray release include commentary with director Afonso Poyart, the featurette “Visions and Voices: The Making of Solace,” and a trailer gallery.
Jackie (20th CenturyFox) is a portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) in the days following John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November, 1963. The framing device is a meeting between Mrs. Kennedy and an unnamed journalist (Billy Crudup) at her Massachusetts home for a one-on-one interview. Now a woman who knows how to work the media, the former First Lady is determined to insure her husband’s legacy in the public’s mind, even mentioning his love of the Broadway musical, Camelot. Through her recollections, the story flashes back to the day of the assassination and the events that followed.
Portraying an individual whose life and times are well within the memory of many — with plenty of film and TV footage available — is a courageous undertaking, but Ms. Portman is exceptional at capturing the essence of Mrs. Kennedy, from her patrician manner to her breathy manner of speaking to her guarded public image. This is not the same person who entered the White House on Inauguration Day, but a shrewd woman who knows how to use the media to her advantage. Though consumed by grief, she recognizes that the nation’s sympathy for her and her children is the time to do what it takes to shape the story of her husband’s brief presidency.
Director Pablo Larrain shows us both the public and private faces of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Publicly, she is stiff and seems to be wound tightly, exerting every iota of self-control not to unleash deep feelings. Privately, she’s seen as a frightened mother, happy housewife, and grieving wife. The designer costumes of the period underscore the First Lady’s status as fashion icon and help to establish the period.
Jackie is a tour de force for Ms. Portman, who was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal. Though the movie deals with a dark time in Mrs. Kennedy’s life, there are also moments of humor. Some scenes are like witnessing history all over again, while others provide us with a behind-the-scenes peek behind the walls of the White House.
Bonus extras on the 2-disc Blu-ray/ DVD Combo Pack include audio commentary by director Pablo Larrain and Natalie Portman, photo gallery, and the featurette, “From Jackie to Camelot.” A digital HD copy is included.
45 Years (The Criterion Collection) is about the Mercers, an English couple about to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) have been living a childless, peaceful life in the country when Geoff receives news involving a former lover named Katya, who died in a mountain accident years before Geoff met Kate. Her body has been recovered.
Once, long ago, he was in love with Katya. Geoff insists he regards his former lover as little more than a memory, but Kate looks upon the memory of Katya as a threat to the couple’s life of contentment, calling into question everything she thought she knew about him. As the week goes on, something is off and Kate starts searching through boxes in the attic, trying to comprehend what this woman meant to her husband for so many years. She’s consumed with the feeling that their life together possibly came about by a twist of fate.
45 Years is an unsentimental look at an apparently happy marriage that turns into a series of doubts. Writer-director Andrew Haigh approaches his subject with realism that ranges from the mundane day-to-day life of an aging Norfolk couple to the melodrama caused by an unexpected contact from the distant past. He shows how the unremarkable, though comfortable status quo is upset, initiating concerns and raising questions.
Ms. Rampling, who was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for 45 Years, is the anchor of the film and turns in a completely convincing portrait of a woman struggling with a new, disturbing reality. It’s rare these days to find such a substantial role for actresses of a certain age. Usually they are relegated to roles as grandmothers or reduced to supporting characters, but Rampling’s Kate is one of most interesting movie characters of the last few years. She conveys a great deal through facial expression and body language, which stand in for dialogue. When she does speak, it’s in measured manner, as if choosing her words carefully so as not to give the wrong impression, alienate Geoff, or reveal her true concern. As the film progresses, her smile becomes more forced and her eyes colder as disappointment festers and finally overwhelms her.
Bonus extras on the widescreen Blu-ray release include audio commentary featuring director Andrew Haigh and producer Tristan Goligher; a new documentary featuring interviews with Haigh, Goligher, actors Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, editor Jonathan Alberts, and director of photography Lol Crawley; a new interview with David Constantine, author of the short story on which the film is based; trailer; and a critical essay.
The Jetsons & WWE: Robo-Wrestle Mania
The Jetsons & WWE: Robo-Wrestle Mania (Warner Home Video) is an animated feature in which the Jetsons meet the superstars of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). In the midst of an exhibition match, a powerful snow storm freezes Big Show solid. One hundred years later, Big Show has finally thawed and is discovered by George Jetson. His first mission is to revive wrestling in 22nd century Orbit City. With Big Show’s help, Elroy and George build robotic superstars, but Big Show had big plans of his own. The wrestle-bot army manages to capture Orbit City, leaving George and the Jetsons family one option: travel back in time to enlist WWE superstars Alicia Fox, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Sheamus to help defeat the Big Show and his wrestle-bot army in the future.
This is a strange movie on several levels. First of all the combining of Hanna-Barbera’s Jetsons and characters from the world of professional wrestling appears forced— an altogether uncomfortable fit. The story itself is odd, involving time travel and dependent on corny gags and overuse of catchphrases to milk laughs. The animation style looks cheap and resembles the worst of Saturday morning cartoons. I don’t know who this movie is intended for. Kids won’t have any idea who the Jetsons are, since the show aired more than 30 years ago. And I simply can’t see fans of pro wrestling eager to see how this silly story plays out. With so much quality animation out there, there’s no reason to settle for this underwhelming effort.
Extras on the widescreen DVD release include three behind-the-scenes featurettes and three bonus cartoons.