Allen tangles with many threads in ‘To Rome With Love’
This week we begin in the Eternal City: To Rome With Love (***) Rated R, 112 minutes. Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray.
Woody Allen continues his European tour with this slight, breezy but ultimately enjoyable romantic-comedy romp centering mostly on four people or couples whose lives intertwine while in Rome.
An American architect replays his youth, an average Roman man suddenly becomes famous, a young couple from rural Italy visits the big city and finds surprises, and an opera singer is discovered in an unlikely place. But wait, there’s more.
Allen always assembles excellent casts while also showcasing young talent. To Rome boasts Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, Greta Gerwig, Alison Pill, Roberto Begnini, Carol Alt, Flavio Parenti, and Allen himself as the father of Pill’s young American student.
The DVD, in all formats and varieties, includes the nine-minute “making of” featurette, “Con Amore: A Passion for Rome.”
Frankenweenie (***1/2) Tim Burton co-wrote and directed this imaginative stop-motion animated treat that centers on a boy, Victor Frankenstein (voice of Charlie Tahan), who grieves so much when his dog Sparky dies that he follows in the tradition of his Frankenstein ancestors and uses his scientific skills to bring the pooch back to life.
Unfortunately, his schoolmates pressure him into showing them how he did it, leading them to perform the same procedures on their own dead pets. As a result, creepy monsters in various forms prowl the town, a prolonged sequence that could be frightening for the youngest audiences.
Avid film fans will appreciate how Burton slides in winking homages to many horror classics.
Rated PG, 87 minutes. The DVD comes in all formats and in various combo packs. Supplements — which vary according to the version, so check labels — include a brief original short, “Captain Sparky vs. The Flying Saucers,” a five-minute featurette on the Frankenweenie touring exhibit, a 23-minute “making of” featurette, a music video, and the 30-minute original live-action short from 1984 that was Burton’s progenitor for the full-length movie.
The Possession (***) This slowly unfolding tale of devilry takes its cues from the archetype of the possession genre, The Exorcist. But one of the unexpected twists in the frequently chilling horror flick from Danish director Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch) is that when the time comes to drive a demon from the body of young Emily Brenek (Natasha Calis), it’s done by an Orthodox rabbi.
The possession itself comes when Emily buys a mysterious box at an estate sale. When she opens it, a dibbuk, a “dislocated spirit,” enters her body. Eventually, her strange, erratic and often violent behavior alerts her divorced parents Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick), who finally decide to bring in the rabbi.
Rated PG-13, 92 minutes. The disc also contains a 13-minute featurette focusing on the lore behind the dibbuk’s box.
Love Me (**1/2) Teen angst and a potentially creepy killer combine in this routine rendering of the new boy (Jamie Johnston) entering school and falling for the hot girl (Lindsey Shaw), who is then warned off by her friends — seems like the new boy might have been involved in the disappearance of another girl. Suspicion mounts. Or not.
Rated PG-13, 97 minutes. The DVD includes a seven-minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette, and a six-minute featurette with cast interviews from the set.
And now for some stand-up comedy:
Joan Rivers: Don’t Start With Me (**1/2) Joan Rivers and Don Rickles are perhaps the only two performers in the world with audiences who want to be insulted. And Rivers certainly hits all the targets in this filmed performance that also offers a few glimpses of her personal life — that is, if one actually exists for the constantly performing Rivers.
Nearing 80, the animated Rivers prowls the stage, feigning sex acts, mimicking corpses and spouting out epithets to everyone. Not rated, 69 minutes.
Harland Williams: A Force of Nature (**1/2) Manic comedian Harland Williams is too much for a simple auditorium to hold him and his stand-up act. So for this recorded performance, director Tom Stern captures Williams as he ventures into the Mojave Desert to deliver his zaniness, seemingly alone and looking straight into the camera as he screams, yells, jumps around and fills the desert with his bellowing sounds.
Not rated, 54 minutes. The DVD includes a brief “nature interview” with more of Williams talking straight to the camera.
And now, something for the smallest among us:
Thomas and Friends: Muddy Matters In these five episodes and a bonus segment, Thomas the Tank and his friends land in the dirt when they try to be helpful.
Not rated, 58 minutes. The disc also holds a music video, puzzles and a game.
And, finally, from this week’s TV offerings:
The Hour 2 This excellent period drama from the BBC originally looked like it was going to last for only one six-part miniseries. Surely, we had thought, it would be too hard to reassemble the fine, well-known ensemble cast. But back they all are to tell the story of the broadcasting team of a British news show called The Hour. It’s 1957, and now they must deal with the intricate plottings of police corruption bleeding over into affairs of national security.
Bel (Romola Garai) proves to be a ferocious producer despite rampant sexism, Freddie (Ben Whishaw) returns from America, and Hector (Dominic West) looks to jump at a lucrative competitor’s offer before being derailed by a possible sex scandal. And Peter Capaldi (In the Loop) joins the cast as the head of news. Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady) created and wrote the well-executed drama.
Not rated, 160 minutes. The two discs hold six episodes along with a 12-minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette with ample cast and crew interviews.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: The Man Who Knew Too Much (Criterion Collection), Taken 2, Won’t Back Down.