This week, we begin in the trenches:
World War I Centennial Commemorative Collection: Sergeant York, The Big Parade, Wings, The Dawn Patrol.
With all the recent attention paid to the World War I nonfiction releases, we shouldn’t overlook some of the great dramatic films inspired by that conflict.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has assembled four movies onto five discs, with the extra disc going to the ample supplements for Sergeant York (1941, 134 minutes). Director Howard Hawks led Gary Cooper to the first of his two Best Actor Oscars for his portrayal of Tennessee sharpshooter Alvin York, who became the most decorated soldier of the war.
Included with the York bonus disc is the 39-minute documentary “Sgt. York: Of God and Country,” narrated by Liam Neeson, and the 46-minute biographical profile “Gary Cooper: American Life, American Legend,” written and directed by Richard Schickel and hosted and narrated by Clint Eastwood. Other York-related extras include commentary, a cartoon, a short and more.
The set also includes the first Best Picture Oscar winner, legendary director William “Wild Bill” Wellman’s Wings (1927, rated PG-13, 144 minutes), the making of which was depicted in Martin Scorsese’s 2004’s The Aviator.
The Big Parade (1925, 140 minutes) is one of the best films of the silent era and probably the best about WWI. Galveston-born King Vidor directed the influential film about a rich young man (John Gilbert) who experiences the horrors of war while befriending other soldiers and falling in love with a French girl. Powerful, early indictment of war.
Errol Flynn, at the height of his popularity, starred in The Dawn Patrol (1938, 103 minutes), a more conventional action film with Flynn playing a daring pilot and David Niven appearing as his partner and best friend. The disc includes a short, cartoon and newsreel.
Transcendence (**1/2) Johnny Depp stars in this loopy, but deadly serious, science-fiction thriller, and he somehow keeps a straight face throughout. He plays Dr. Will Caster, an expert in artificial intelligence. His advanced technology has made him the enemy of Luddite terrorists who fear his work.
Even though an attack kills him, he remains, for a while anyway, as a disembodied form on a computer screen. Lucky him — he has transcended.
The narrative travels through related subplots involving the FBI, old colleagues, competitors and various other intrigues and diversions. Rebecca Hall plays Caster’s wife and partner in science, while Morgan Freeman is dragged in to lend an august presence as Caster’s mentor.
Director Wally Pfister keeps his scenes fast and short, avoiding any attempt to stop and think about the craziness.
Rated PG-13, 119 minutes. Available in all formats and combo packs.
DVD extras: about a half-hour of supplements with more than half a dozen featurettes: “What Is Transcendence?” (5 minutes), “Wally Pfister: A Singular Vision” (3 minutes), “Guarding the Threat” (2 minutes) and “The Promise of A.I.” (3 minutes), and the brief segments “It’s Me,” “Singularity” and “R.I.F.T.” Plus: two trailers.
Forever Female (****) and Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (***) In the delightful Forever Female (1953, 93 minutes), the first of a pair of unrated vintage titles brought back by Olive Films, director Irving Rapper works from a consistently clever script from the esteemed Epstein brothers, Philip and Julius (Casablanca). The work originates from an earlier play by J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan).
Ginger Rogers stars as an aging Broadway actress who wants to continue playing younger parts. When a young playwright (William Holden) authors a promising new work, she persuades her producer and ex-husband (Paul Douglas) to produce it, with her in a greatly altered lead role. An ever-bubbling Pat Crowley plays a young actress struggling for her first break.
The film sparkles with wit and pulls the curtain back on certain overwrought stage types. It boasts a flavorful supporting cast: King Donovan, Jesse White (the future Maytag repairman), George Reeves (the future Superman).
In Mr. Peabody (1948, 99 minutes), the great William Powell stars as Mr. Peabody, a reserved Bostonian who travels to a fictitious Caribbean resort with his wife (Irene Hervey). One day on a solo fishing outing, he lands a whopper — a beautiful yet silent mermaid (Ann Blyth). He takes her back to his hotel room bathtub, keeping her away from prying eyes.
He eventually installs Lenore, as he calls the creature, in his hotel fish pond. From there, Peabody struggles to keep his new love, while others around him are sure he is insane.
Famed humorist Nunnally Johnson wrote the clever script, filled with offhand quips and memorable comedy situations.
Detour (***) In this newly remastered version of Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1945 classic film noir, Tom Neal stars as down-on-his-luck Al Roberts. From New York, he hitchhikes to Los Angeles to meet his fiancee. He catches a ride from a man who quickly dies naturally.
Roberts takes the man’s identity, and car, but then meets a nest of trouble when he picks up a female hitchhiker, Vera (Ann Savage). She proves to be the classic femme fatale, guaranteed to bring woe to Al Roberts.
This grainy black-and-white film has gained an exalted reputation over the years for several reasons, including Ulmer’s rapid shooting pace (reportedly in six days) and the miniscule budget.
The film also is a model of brevity, with Martin Goldsmith’s script setting up a simple premise and then twisting into a surprise-filled pretzel. Director Peter Bogdanovich calls the film the “ultimate one-dark-night-as-I-was-driving picture.”
Of note: In 1965, Neal, a Harvard law school graduate, murdered his wife. He served six years in prison for manslaughter, then died eight months after his release.
Not rated, 67 minutes.
Cell 213 (**1/2) In this often claustrophobic horror-crime drama, Eric Balfour plays Michael Gray, a defense attorney who lands in prison after being framed for murder. Once there, he tries to dodge a cruel guard (Michael Rooker) as well as the disciplinarian warden (Bruce Greenwood). But while Gray must contend with the two men, other forces also threaten him.
Rated R, 109 minutes.
GMO OMG (**1/2) Jeremy Seifert directs this sincere but often limited documentary that examines, with a slanted eye, what genetically modified additions end up in our food. Seifert talks to various experts and even travels to such exotic locales as Norway, Haiti and Paris to uncover what lies beneath.
Not rated, 85 minutes.
DVD extras: bonus interviews and a short, “The Scarecrow.”
Also available Tuesday on DVD: Blue Ruin, Heaven Is for Real, The Suspect.