DVD reviews: Both sides of the bars

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Joshua Rofe
A child in detention is shown in this film still from the documentary “Lost for Life,” which examines the lives of children and teenagers sentenced to juvenile detention and adult incarceration.
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Rofe trains lens on children locked up for life

This week, we begin in prison:

Lost for Life (**1/2) Not rated, 74 minutes.

Joshua Rofé directed this compelling documentary that focuses on the large number of prisoners serving life terms for crimes they committed when juveniles.

The director goes behind bars to interview several of the incarcerated, all men. They seem mature, serious men, appropriately grievous over their crimes.

To viewers, they do not seem capable of being the monsters responsible for various deaths and cruelties. But the director also interviews victims’ families, who draw attention to the heinous nature of the crimes and the grief still felt.

Rofé notes Supreme Court decisions affecting the delicate balance needed for fair sentencing guidelines and victims’ justice.

*

On Demand Warner Archives releases a trio of 1950s films, starring then-popular Alan Ladd, who died in 1964 at age 50.

Deep Six (***) takes place on a World War II battleship. Ladd plays Alec, whose fighting capabilities are questioned when his shipmates learn of his Quaker faith.

Plus, when he faces his first big challenge, he hesitates. Eventually, he undertakes a face-saving mission to prove himself to his shipmates, including noted character actors William Bendix, Keenan Wynn, James Whitmore and Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Released in 1958.

Rated PG, 105 minutes.

Drum Beat (**1/2) After his appearance as the title character in 1953’s classic Western Shane, Ladd became more in demand for that genre during the rest of the decade.

Drum Beat (1954) takes place in 1872 and is based on the true story of John Mackay (Ladd), an Indian fighter sent by President Ulysses S. Grant (Hayden Rorke) to Oregon to pave the way for arriving settlers by appeasing the Modoc Indians.

Their leader turns out to be a strutting Captain Jack, played incongruously by Charles Bronson. The so-called Captain Jack tries to drive out the area settlers without conflict or bloodshed, a goal not possible in this action film written and directed by Delmer Daves.

Not rated, 111 minutes.

Big Land (***) The best of this trio of Ladd offerings, Big Land (1957) follows a recognizable Western recipe.

Ladd plays Chad Morgan, an ex-Confederate soldier after the Civil War who fights against ruthless land baron Brog (quintessential villain Anthony Caruso). Morgan teams up with an often drunk architect, Joe Jagger (Edmund O’Brien), to save a new town, while also finding time for Joe’s sister, Helen (Virginia Mayo).

Director Gordon Douglas plays out the conflict with judiciously measured tension and action.

Not Rated, 92 minutes.

*

Breathe In (**) Drake Dormus wrote and directed this meandering melodrama. The pointless story staggers towards its ending while suggesting it might go somewhere but never does.

Felicity Jones, the star of Dormus’ 2011 hit Like Crazy, stars as Sophie, a British exchange student and budding piano prodigy sent to study in upstate New York. There, she will live with Megan and Keith Reynolds (Amy Ryan and Guy Pearce). Keith teaches music at Sophie’s school, leading teacher and pupil to spend much time together, a relationship that never really comes to anything despite the hints.

Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire) appears as Lauren, the Reynolds’ daughter and Sophie’s fellow classmate. Top talent Amy Ryan is wasted as the forlorn wife who witnesses her husband’s dangerous but ultimately empty flirtations.

The film feels incomplete, as Doremus fails to bring few of his plot lines to conclusions.

Rated R, 98 minutes.

DVD extras: a 10-minute “making of” featurette and a four minute interview with Doremus.

*

William Shatner’s Get a Life! (**1/2) Based on his own book, this breezy documentary from the good captain himself examines the Star Trek phenomenon.

Shatner interviews some of the series’ legendarily rabid fans, the “Trekkies,” and also offers his own introspective comments along with some interesting clips. While impossible to explain the series’ enduring popularity, the film offers decent entertainment for those so engaged.

Not rated, 60 minutes.

DVD extras: six featurettes on various topics, including the fans, Shatner with Robert Walker, the Jue family and more.

*

And, finally, from this week’s TV offerings:

Revolution: Second and final season The first season of this post-apocalyptic drama drew huge ratings and ended with several tense cliff-hangers. The second season of 22 episodes, now on five discs, roared to its surprisingly early conclusion while still providing its share of excitement and interest.

The season begins three months after the first ended, picking up the rag-tag group of revolutionaries as they try and regroup in Texas after the deadly surge. Power has not been fully restored, leaving all the various paramilitary factions feuding over possible energy sources.

Our intrepid leader, Miles Matheson (Billy Burke), lies captured by evil Titus (Matt Ross). Miles can only hope for help from sister-in-law Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) and niece Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos).

The second season proceeds to witness various changes of allegiances and even some unexpected romances, all played out under the series’ excellent CGI rendering of a destroyed America.

Most of the cast from the first season returns: David Lyons, J.D. Pardo, Zak Orth, Giancarlo Esposito, David Lyons, with season two arrivals Stephen Collins, Steven Culp, Jessica Collins and others.

Not rated, 943 minutes.

DVD extras: a three-minute gag reel, the 23-minute “making of” featurette “Revolution: Heading West,” a 12-minute featurette on incorporating dialogue into the series concerning the United Nations, a faux five-minute United Nations PSA announcement, 28 minutes with cast and crew at 2013 Comic-Con. Deleted scenes come separately on all discs.


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