This week, we begin with Damian:
Friends and Crocodiles: Not rated, 90 minutes.
Much Ado About Nothing: Not rated,108 minutes.
Available Tuesday on DVD.
In these two British productions from 2005, BBC Home Entertainment sagely recognizes the popularity and marketability of current hot property actor Damian Lewis, the Emmy-winning star of Showtime’s Homeland.
Much Ado About Nothing follows the plot of Shakespeare’s original play about feuding lovers, updating it to a TV studio in which Benedick (Lewis) returns to work alongside Beatrice (Sarah Parish). They fight and bicker, onscreen and off, while the subplot of another young love romance plays out between Hero (Billie Piper) and Claude (Tom Ellis).
It’s not Shakespeare, but David Nicholls’ screenplay proves entertaining and is filled with romance-spiced comedy.
In Friends and Crocodiles, Lewis turns in a credible performance in a drama lacking in credibility. He plays Paul, a Gatsby-like figure who never rings true. The rich, flamboyant Paul hires shy Lizzie (Jodhi May) to be his personal assistant. He constantly confuses her and embarrasses her as his fortunes hit several bumps.
Years pass, they have separate lives and experiences, and then they finally end up working together again — something that is supposed to be somehow shocking or surprising.
Writer-director Stephen Poliakoff delivers a succession of empty sequences that never reveal much about Paul’s character or Lizzie’s history. In addition, the story’s blatant contrivances, inconsistencies and absurdities add up until they drain the film from building any sympathy for either character. Still, for anyone wanting more of Damian Lewis, he’s here.
The single disc includes commentary on Crocodiles, as well as interviews with Lewis, May, Poliokoff and the creators of Much Ado.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist (***) A young man, Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), leaves his native Pakistan to attend Princeton University, after which he lands a high-profile job at a Wall Street firm.
He enjoys his life, but after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he feels alienated, with a yearning for home. Once he returns, he becomes involved in nefarious political activities.
Mira Nair directed from Mohsin Hamid’s novel, told in flashback when a writer (Liev Schreiber) interviews Khan in Lahore after his return from America. Nair captures both the alienation felt by Khan in America as well as his grudging exuberance in adapting to the lifestyle. Kate Hudson plays Khan’s love interest, and Kiefer Sutherland appears as Khan’s Wall Street boss.
Rated R, 130 minutes. The DVD includes a comprehensive 32-minute “making of” featurette.
Stories We Tell (***) Actress-turned-director Sarah Polley juggles slippery truths in this complex family tale billed as a documentary but more resembling a “docu-drama.”
The film unfolds in a recording studio as Polley’s father reads his daughter’s script documenting their eventful family history.
With help from supposed home movies and family members, Polley chronicles the life of her dead mother, a lively, free-spirited woman who thought she may have taken her secrets to her grave. But daughter Sarah uncovers the biggest mysteries while revealing the conflicting accounts from relatives and close friends.
The fleshed-out mosaic results in an engaging chronicle. Rated PG-13, 108 minutes.
From Up on Poppy Hill (***1/2) This colorful, hand-drawn animated feature from Japan’s celebrated Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle), written by renowned artist Hayao Miyazaki and directed by his son Goro, takes place in 1963 Yokohama.
Two high school students, Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger) and Shun (Anton Yelchin), become close friends while their country prepares for the upcoming Olympic Games. But a deep mystery threatens to disrupt their reverie, a danger that brings the two closer together and sends them on an adventure.
The film sports an excellent English voice cast, including Gillian Anderson, Beau Bridges, Jamie Lee Curtis, Aubrey Plaza, Ron Howard, Christina Hendricks and many other recognizable voices.
Rated PG, 91 minutes. The two-disc set offers more than three hours of supplements, including the original Japanese version, a featurette on the cast recordings, an interview with Goro Miyazaki, music videos and TV spots, storyboards, a 16-page booklet and more.
And, finally, from this week’s TV arrivals:
Da Vinci’s Demons: The Complete First Season David Goyer created this Starz series of eight episodes centering on one of history’s greatest minds and most flamboyant personalities.
Tom Riley stars as Leonardo da Vinci, an oversized personality filled with physical desires and emotional needs. During the series’ first season, the great inventor, thinker and artist becomes involved in various intrigues involving Vatican affairs as well as with Florence’s ruling Medicis.
Goyer wrote and directed much of the season, giving his creation charisma, beauty and presence — even if the history sometimes takes a beating.
Rated TV-MA; 7 hours, 46 minutes. The three-disc set includes commentaries, six deleted scenes, a “making of” featurette, and brief featurettes on set designs, costumes and more.
Scandal: The Complete Second Season This series picked up steam and became a bona fide hit during this sophomore season, which has 22 episodes now arriving on five discs.
Kerry Washington plays Olivia Pope, a “fixer” in Washington, D.C., who also happens to be having an on-again, off-again love affair with sitting U.S. president Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn).
This season, the president dithers on going to war in Sudan, even though his pregnant wife, Millie (Bellamy Young), eggs him on. Also, the mystery continues on what happened to Quinn (Katie Lowes), and some of the shady past of Huck (Guillermo Diaz) comes to light. Various other melodramas arise, including a possible spy infiltration.
Rated TV-14-DLSV; 15 hours, 46 minutes. The set includes about five minutes of outtakes, a five-minute featurette on the assassination attempt on President Grant, an eight-minute segment touring the set with series actor Guillermo Diaz, an extended episode, around 40 deleted scenes from the season, and more.
Person of Interest: The Complete Season Second The CBS series’ second season picks up where it left off at the end of its surprisingly successful initial season: Root (Amy Acker) has abducted Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) to learn the location of his magnificent Machine, the invention that signals when possible harm is about to be inflicted on someone (and also provides the series’ gimmicky MacGuffin).
Lethal John Reese (Jim Caviezel) now seeks to find his computer whiz partner, even traveling to Texas to track down Root. By the end of this season, New York detectives Carter (Taraji P. Henson) and Fusco (Kevin Chapman) are resigned to working with, and not against, Finch and Reese.
Not rated, 16 hours. The season’s 22 episodes come on four discs, which also include commentary on the season finale, a four-minute gag reel, and the comprehensive 21-minute “making of” featurette “View From the Machine: 24 Hours Behind Person of Interest.”
Also available Tuesday on DVD: The English Teacher, The Iceman, Now You See Me, Sharknado.