The best new film on the big screen is based on true events that were born out of the November 1979, Iranian revolution. Remember when militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and took 52 hostages? But I bet you don’t recall that in the midst of the turmoil, six Americans managed to find their way to the home of the Canadian ambassador. With only a matter of time before the six are found and with the likelihood that their lives will be spared is remote, the CIA comes up with a plan so far-fetched and absurd it’s only something that could be in a movie. So that’s what they did — created a very risky fake film production that just might be a cover that can to “exfiltrate” the six to safety.
Ben Afflect seals his reputation as a director in this marvelously nuanced and thrilling film about a desperate situation. The screenplay, by Chris Terrio, allows for sly observations about the movie business, but make no mistake, it’s the dangerous heart of the tale that rivets. This is among the best of the risk and the rescue stories that have reached the screen. Reviews that tell too much are a disservice to films like this once. Suffice it to say, this immensely satisfying adventure resonates with issues that dominate the news. See it on the big screen because the epic nature of the story and images deserve the biggest venue available. Watch for this one on the short list come Oscar time.
As of this writing, Bryan Cranston is scheduled to appear for a Q&A after Cinémas Palme d’Or’s Saturday (September 13) 7:30 evening show. Check www.thepalme.com for time confirmation.
Ridley Scott’s hugely anticipated but disappointing prequel/sequel – yes, it is both – arrives for home theater consumption in a Blu-ray combo pack that includes a 3D version. Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts wrote the screenplay. Rumor has it that Spaihts’ screenplay was just about perfect before Lindelof came aboard and over-wrote it. What’s not in doubt are the outstanding performances by Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce and Noomi Rapace.
No, the 3D version does not make it a better film, but the quality of the transfer is exceptionally rich and crisp and the disc extras are generous. Especially interesting is Scott’s commentary that at times helps understanding not just some of the production issues but also what held his fascination with the concept itself. Although the lavish production creates a photo-realistic alien landscape, I felt the basic premise that has human seeking a creator (who may be malevolent) left a lot to be desired — and much that remained unnecessarily ambiguous. In other words, it jumped the rails of the poster’s promise.
The 4-disc set includes alternate opening and closing scenes as well as deleted elements. Especially welcome are the 35 minutes that cut from the original release: they enhance the premise, the conflict and perhaps even the meaning in this story that held so much initial promise. The multiple commentaries are often fascinating. In all, there are over seven hours of bonus material. The four-disc set includes a DVD, 2D, 3D and digital edition.
GAINSBOROUGH’S THREE WICKED MELODRAMAS
In the 1940s, UK’s Gainsborough Pictures — which had been around since the 1020s – found renewed success with a series of over-the-top, frankly preposterous, melodramas. However, audiences devoured these over-heated tales. Criterion’s “Eclipse Series 36” selects lost, forgotten or overlooked classic for the “adventurous home viewer.” The titles in this three DVD box set are:
THE MAN IN GREY (1943) put James Mason on the map. He plays cruel nobleman Lord Rohan, who marries the sweet, Clarissa (Phyllis Calvert) only to produce an heir. All the while Hesther (Margaret Lockwood), Clarissa’s devious best friend secretly plots against her for her own nefarious reasons. This box office hit set the tone for the series.
MADONNA OF THE SEVEN MOONS (1945) is the wildest of the set, director Arthur Crabtree’s (FIEND WITHOUT A FACE) movie is set in Italy. It begins as a conservative story about a respectable, convent-raised woman (Phyllis Calvert) haunted by a persistent memory of being raped as a young woman. But when her grown daughter comes home from school, her life splinters in a massively intense and surprising way. Stewart Granger has a prominent role in this astonishing film.
THE WICKED LADY (1945) is a lurid tale of sexuality and madness. Margaret Lockwood eats up the screen as a beautiful, up-tight 17th century slut who steals her best friend’s rich fiancé on the eve of the wedding. And that’s just the beginning. James Mason nearly steals the movie as a highwayman with whom Lockwood gets involved. This nasty, subversive piece of business was the most commercially successful of all the Gainsborough melodramas. All the titles are in beautiful black and white.