This week we begin with little Richard:
The Criterion Collection had already scheduled the Blu-ray release of Laurence Olivier’s 1956 masterly interpretation of Shakespeare’s play long before King Richard III’s remains recently turned up and were exhumed from under an English parking lot.
But timing proved fortuitous in death if not in life for the villainous monarch, one of Shakespeare’s two unrepentant, truly evil characters (along with Iago). Perhaps the actual king was not as bad as Shakespeare’s portrait, but regardless, the playwright turned him into a fascinating climber, one amenable to killing his nephews, and his brother, and then marrying the widow.
Olivier here benefits from the original VistaVision presentation, lovingly captured in this print remastered for sound and picture. The director and star also features a superb cast supporting him as Richard, including the great John Gielgud as Clarence (“Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous … to set my brother Clarence and the king in deadly hate the one against the other”), and Ralph Richardson, the greatest, as Buckingham (Richard’s “second self,” his “counsel's consistory”).
The new Blu-ray includes commentary, the 48-minute 1966 BBC program Great Acting, with host Kenneth Tynan, and an eight-minute segment hosted by Martin Scorsese on the film’s restoration. Also: a gallery of more than 50 production photo stills. Plus: a 20-page booklet by film scholar Amy Taubin.
Strictly Ballroom -- As Baz Luhrmann’s anticipated new feature The Great Gatsby nears release, his first film receives a Blu-ray re-do.
The director’s 1992 debut centers on a young ballroom dancer (Paul Mercurio) who defies the staid established order to break out and perform his own steps while also taking a blossoming wallflower (Tara Morice) as his partner. Luhrmann shows a deft hand throughout, mixing near-satirical caricatures with excessive close-ups and frantic dance scenes to render a consistent entertainment.
Rated PG, 94 minutes. The new Blu-ray edition holds commentary, a 23-minute “making of” featurette, two minutes of deleted scenes, a six-part gallery of the film’s designs, and a 30-minute featurette on dance: Samba to Slow Fox Dance.
Warner Home Entertainment releases, through its manufactured-on-demand Warner Archive Collection, the latest in its entertaining series of films made before Joseph Breen’s Production Code clamped down in 1934 on the delicious debaucheries seen in these four features. The pieces are on four discs packaged into a single covering.
The Wet Parade -- , based on Upton Sinclair’s novel, draws a doubly condemning portrait of alcoholism in its parallel stories about a young Southern woman (Dorothy Jordan) who loses her father (Lewis Stone) to alcoholism and then sees her writer-brother (Neil Hamilton) move north, only to fall to alcohol as well, despite the efforts of a friend (Robert Young) to keep him sober. 118 minutes.
Downstairs -- Famous silent film actor John Gilbert supplied the story and also starred in Downstairs as a fascinating yet truly despicable character. A chauffeur (Gilbert) lands a new job and quickly seduces a newlywed chambermaid, blackmails his employer, and then steals the cook’s savings. Paul Lukas plays the chief servant and the cuckolded bridegroom. 77 minutes.
Mandalay -- A woman (the sultry Kay Francis) falls into South Seas human trafficking when abandoned by her scheming lover (Ricardo Cortez). She recovers through her own code-breaking skills and eventually scores revenge on her former squeeze. 65 minutes.
Massacre -- An unlikely Richard Barthelmess plays Chief Thunder Horse, the star attraction of a Wild West show who returns to the Indian reservation when his father nears death. Once there, he discovers rampant governmental corruption cheating his people of money and rights. He finds himself in the middle of an uprising because of his advocacy. The film explores mistreatment of Indians, surely a rarity for 1933. 70 minutes.
Future Weather -- Jenny Deller wrote and directed this cautionary story about 13-year-old Lauduree (Perla Haney-Jardine). She wakes one day in her trailer home to find her flaky mom has left her. But the intelligent, self-reliant teen wants to remain, paying for rent and food from the small amount she makes tutoring. However, her grandmother Greta (Amy Madigan) insists the girl come live with her. Lauduree’s independent streak hinders anyone from helping her.
Lili Taylor plays the caring science teacher who sees Lauduree’s promise and intelligence, which manifest themselves in her passion for environmental causes.
Not rated, 85 minutes. The DVD contains two deleted scenes, and a three-minute short film, “Save the Future.”
Pawn -- If it were not so deadly serious throughout, this caper-heist saga would almost seem a satire, it has so many plot holes.
A police officer (Forest Whitaker) walks into a diner where, unknown to him, a robbery is taking place. From there, director David Armstrong fleshes out back stories of how some of those present came to be there. Seems it was no accident but instead a planned gathering, which results in some half a dozen storylines unfolding, contradicting each other and stepping on each other.
It’s not confusing, just illogical in too many ways. With Ray Liotta, Common, Stephen Lang, Nikki Reed, Jessica Szohr and Michael Chiklis, who seems to be doing a Bob Hoskins imitation.
Rated R, 88 minutes. The DVD also includes a 23-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.
Shelter Me -- This touching documentary explores how adopted sheltered pets are being used as therapy and also helping out in retirement homes as well as with returning war veterans. Katherine Hegl hosts this film filled with tear-jerking moments. Not rated, 57 minutes.
If You Really Love Me (1/2) Three smart, funny, loving sisters (Reagan Gomez-Preston, Caryn Ward and Eva Marcille) — one married, one engaged, and one single — seem on top of the world until almost simultaneously hitting separate and unforeseen disasters and crises of their own. Directed by Roger Melvin. Not rated, 88 minutes.
Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection -- Not much exceptional graces this zombie redo except perhaps its Welsh settings. After the requisite apocalypse, a motley group assembles in a West Wales farmhouse. Bad things happen. With Sule Rimi, Sabrina Dickens and Richard Goss.
Rated R, 90 minutes. The DVD offers director commentary.
Manborg -- This cheesy horror-adventure scores points for audacity and outrageous creativity. But the colorful, over-caffeinated film is a mess, with a futuristic story about a soldier (Matthew Kennedy) resurrected as a cyborg fighting forces threatening to overtake Earth. Or something like that. Co-writer and director Steven Kostanski delivers a variety of monsters, villains and crazy action sequences, even if they are brazenly chaotic and don’t always make sense.
Not rated, 72 minutes. The DVD contains commentary, five minutes of deleted and alternate scenes, five minutes of bloopers, a 15-minute behind-the-scenes segment, a stop-motion montage, an effects montage, interviews and more.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: Broken City, The Details, The Guilt Trip, Not Fade Away, Silver Linings Playbook.