This week we begin with Bond, James Bond: Skyfall (***1/2) Rated PG-13, 143 minutes. Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray.
James Bond returns, with Daniel Craig again bringing new life to the exploits of 007. Bond takes it personally this time when his boss M (Judi Dench) and Britain’s spy agency MI6 come under attack.
Javier Bardem plays Silva, the villainous ex-agent pitted against Bond, who must find his nemesis and capture him. But once apprehended, Silva shows the infinite resourcefulness of Bond villains to prolong the misery long enough for Bond to return to his ancestral home, Skyfall. Bond eventually finds and brings back Silva, but that only sets the stage for further action and adventure.
Director Sam Mendes delivers on the action but also takes time and care to create a personal drama, making this Bond film unlike its predecessors. The excellent cast includes seasoned performers such as Albert Finney, but also new faces that presage future Bond films: Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris.
The DVD includes a 14-part “making of” featurette, a pair of commentaries, and a look at the Skyfall premiere.
The Sessions (****) Writer-director Ben Lewin based this touching film on a personal acquaintance, Mark O’Brien, played here by John Hawkes. The 38-year-old lies almost continuously in an iron lung, but he has natural longings. He wants to experience the delights and treasures of most men his age, which naturally include sex.
Through an intermediary, he recruits Cheryl (Oscar-nominated Helen Hunt) to become his “sexual therapist,” a misleading title that hardly explains how she opens up his life. She does so with sensitivity, care, humor and intelligence, provided by Lewin with a masterly touch. Rated R, 95 minutes.
Bully (***) This hard-to-watch yet engrossing documentary depicts brutal acts of bullying of a cross-section of adolescents of four boys and one girl from different parts of the country. But what makes it so painful is that in addition to the bullying, director Lee Hirsch stays with his subjects as they recoil into their inner selves, trying, and often failing, to cope with their situations.
The film follows one case that ended in suicide and another that played out with the child taking a gun on board a bus. Hirsch also documents some of the efforts to help remedy the aggression. Adults could be easily enraged at the injustices — where are the parents, the teachers, the school authorities?
Rated PG-13, 99 minutes. The DVD, available in all formats, includes 12 deleted scenes.
White Zombie (**1/2) Kino Lorber, through Kino Classics, remasters and gives a Blu-ray debut to this 1932 oddity starring a leering Bela Lugosi as “Murder” Legendre, the zombie overseer on a Haitian plantation.
Victor Halperin directed, with his brother Edward producing for their own company. Victor Halperin’s direction shows a surprising technical facility with diagonal split screens and diagonal wipes.
However, he avoids the gore and rapidity of today’s zombie treats and keeps to the genre’s traits of the era with an often funeral pace in telling the story of a plantation owner (Robert Frazer) entertaining an engaged young couple (Madge Bellamy and John Harron). The young bride dies after the wedding but quickly reappears in the form of a catatonic zombie, setting up the finale.
Not rated, 67 minutes. The new Blu-ray also includes a “raw,” unpolished version of the film, giving a contrast to this remastered edition. Plus, a nine-minute casual interview with a journalist circa 1932 with Lugosi in his Hollywood home.
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (***) This engrossing documentary examines Diana Vreeland, the fashion editor for 25 years at Harper’s Bazaar. The prickly icon followed that impressive run with forays as editor in chief at Vogue magazine and then as head of the Art Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland — the subject’s granddaughter-in-law — combines archival footage and interviews and readings from private papers.
Rated PG-13, 86 minutes. The DVD also includes extra interviews.
A Late Quartet (***) New York’s Fugue String Quartet has a crisis in this melodrama that examines the touchy relationships that build after four artists perform together for 25 years.
Yaron Zilberman co-wrote and directed this often overwrought but still engaging look at the fictional quartet, whose aging cellist (Christopher Walken) who must retire when symptoms signal the onset of Parkinson’s disease. His retirement sets off jealousies and unexposed rivalries with the group’s first violinist (Mark Ivanir), the second violinist (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife, the violist (Catherine Keener). Before long, other complications arise, such as replacing the cellist, an affair, a jealous daughter and more.
Much of the dialogue centers on classical music, its history, how to make it and its beauty. Sometimes the talk grows technical, but not so much that the personal dramas are ever overshadowed.
Rated R, 105 minutes. The DVD includes “Discord and Harmony,” an eight-minute “making of” featurette.
Seeds of Destruction (**1/2) Qualified praise goes to this Syfy channel release because, for what it is, the cheesy horror flick succeeds on its own terms. Although based on an outrageous premise, the narrative is complex, with several plot lines running throughout, all related to the main problem of runaway seeds.
The seeds in question are no less than those used in the Garden of Eden. Yes, that Garden of Eden. Now taken from a recovered urn, the seeds fall to earth, creating a wide network of giant roots and foliage that threaten to overrun the country.
Naturally, with national security on the line, stern-looking federal agents and beautiful scientists must confer to stop the deadly menace — and all with a straight face. With Adrian Pasdar, Stefanie von Pfetten, Jesse Moss and James Morrison. Not rated, 91 minutes.
Duck Dodgers: Dark Side of the Duck In the first season of this 2003 TV series, Daffy Duck is Duck Dodgers, Earth guardian and intergalactic hero. The amiable but combative Duck fights Martians, including the Queen (voiced by Tia Carrere), with his laser gun that looks a lot like a duck. The season’s 13 episodes come on two discs.
Not rated, about 5 hours. The collection also holds the bonus cartoon “Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century.”
And, from this week’s TV files:
Family Matters: The Complete Third Season The third of nine seasons of this once-popular series arrives, with Jaleel White reprising his role as the goofy, likable Steve Urkel, the youngster who amuses and confuses his neighbors, the Winslow family. This season sees him in the school play, entering a rope-climbing contest, falling harder for Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams), sleepwalking, inventing a robot and more.
The season’s 25 episodes come on three discs. With Reginald VelJohnson, Darius McCrary and JoMarie Payton. Not rated, about 9 1/2 hours.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: The Man With the Iron Fists, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.