In ‘Argo,’ fake movie used as ruse for escape from Iran
This week, we begin in Iran:
Rated R, 120 minutes.
Available Tuesday on DVD.
Ben Affleck directed this best picture Oscar nominee, and he also takes the lead role in the true story of a CIA operative who secretly travels to Iran in 1980 in the guise of producer of a bogus science-fiction film. Once in Tehran, he must extract six Americans hiding in the home of the Canadian ambassador.
Affleck squeezes drama from the chaotic and harrowing crowd scenes, yet the consistently taut and suspenseful film surprises with its abundant dark humor. The excellent supporting cast includes Tate Donovan, John Goodman, Clea Duvall and Oscar-nominated Alan Arkin.
The DVD comes in all formats and downloads. Supplements include commentary, full-length picture-in-picture notes, a 17-minute segment with Affleck discussing the actual events of the film, another 11-minute segment with Affleck and a former CIA agent examining the affair, and an excellent, comprehensive 47-minute featurette on “Escape From Iran: The Hollywood Option,” which gives a firsthand account of the extraction.
Ballad of Narayama (****) The Criterion Collection brings to Blu-ray the darkly enigmatic 1958 jewel from often overlooked director Keisuke Kinoshita.
Prolific in his time in various genres, Kinoshita here examines Japan’s attitude toward the aged. But he does it with his own stylized approach, rendering a film shot entirely in a studio amid colorful and striking sets.
The story centers on an aging grandmother, Orin (Kinuyo Tanaka), burdened with the expectation of relieving her son and his fiancee of a burden when she turns 70 by venturing to the peak of Mount Narayama.
The mountain serves as symbolic euthanasia, a benignly described destination that all older people must eventually visit. The old woman’s rejection and ultimate voyage play out as society’s biting indictment, yet one filled with wonder and an appreciation of life. Not rated, 98 minutes.
The Thief of Bagdad (***1/2) The Cohen Media Group has announced the release of the Cohen Film Collection, a collection of more than 700 cinematic nuggets that span the full range of the medium. Here, the company has rescued and given a Blu-ray release to the rousing 1924 silent classic starring Douglas Fairbanks as Ahmed, secret suitor to a Bagdad princess. With surprisingly striking production values and with a contemporary score by Carl Davis.
Not rated, 149 minutes. The DVD includes the 17-minute featurette about the film titled “Flight and Fantasy: The Thief of Bagdad.”
Undefeated (***) The 2011 Oscar-winning documentary presents an inspirational story of a downtrodden Memphis high school football team, the Manassas Tigers.
Volunteer coach Bill Courtney arrives in time for filmmakers T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay to capture the team’s transformation. Martin and Lindsay also concentrate on three inner-city players who struggle to succeed.
Rated PG-13, 114 minutes. The DVD, in all formats, includes commentary, six deleted scenes and a 9-minute “making of” featurette.
The Package (**1/2) Steve Austin and Dolph Lundgren star in this standard action-thriller set in Seattle. Austin plays a bouncer who, in order to satisfy a debt, must deliver a mysterious package to a mobster (Lundgren). Instead, emotions and tempers rise, setting off a series of battles of various sorts by director Jesse V. Johnson.
Rated R, 95 minutes.
Mimesis (***) Astute horror fans might find familiar this clever work from director and co-writer Douglas Schulze, as his on-screen characters are stuck into a situation eerily — and intentionally — similar to the plot of horror classic Night of the Living Dead.
The group of seven, all mostly unknown to each other, wake to find themselves at a rural farmhouse after a night of revelry, wearing different clothes and unfamiliar with their surroundings. When they learn that zombies are outside, threatening to munch on them if they leave, they realize that each is taking a real-life part similar to a movie role.
But Schulze, like the creators of the snarky The Cabin in the Woods, has more hidden tricks, as, unsurprisingly, not everything, or everyone, is what it or he seems. Rated R, 95 minutes.
The Cyclist (**1/2) Beautiful Utah mountains make palatable this routine drama that amounts mostly to a celebration of cycling. K.C. Clyde plays Phil Nash, a bike messenger who loses his job and his girlfriend, enough simultaneous trauma to drive him toward his ultimate dream of bike racing. With new friends and a fresh start, he tackles the task laid before him by writer-director and obvious cycling enthusiast John Lawrence.
Not rated, 89 minutes. The DVD contains deleted scenes.
And now, something for the kids:
Hats Off to Dr. Seuss: Collector’s Edition This impressive collection of Dr. Seuss TV specials holds such favorites as Green Eggs and Ham, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax, Horton Hears a Who! and more.
Not rated. The set includes a documentary on Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), four bonus Dr. Seuss classic cartoons, four interactive puzzles, a featurette on how the Grinch made it to Hollywood, and more.
The Red Hen … and More Cooking Stories Scholastic Schoolbook Treasures presents these four tales centered on cooking. In the title piece, from the book by Caldecott Award-winning father-and-daughter team Ed and Rebecca Emberley, Red Hen has help from friends — a cat, a rat, a frog and others — to help bake a cake. Lily Tomlin and Michael McKean pitch in with the narration.
Not rated, 56 minutes. The disc also holds a cake recipe and read-along captioning.
Babar: The Movie In this full-length animated treat, King Babar joins his friends to thwart Rataxes and rescue future queen Celeste. Rated G, 98 minutes. The disc also includes the Babar TV episode “Monkey Business.”
And finally, from deep in the TV vault comes a classic:
Naked City: 20 Star-Filled Episodes This set of five discs collects 20 episodes of the revered police drama that ran from 1958 to 1963.
The first face on screen in the first episode is that of Robert Morse, known nowadays as senior partner Bert Cooper on Mad Men. About 15 minutes later, an unbilled, and impossibly young, Dustin Hoffman appears. William Shatner stars in the second episode, Peter Fonda and Martin Sheen in the third.
And so it goes throughout these selected episodes that showcase the finest acting talent that was then available in New York, a fertile time of the Actors Studio and Lee Strasberg’s Method classes.
Naked City, a weekly ABC series, starred Paul Burke, Horace McMahon and Harry Bellaver as a trio of working detectives who would break cases while showing fatherly concern for those they arrested, mostly men. Unlike today’s police procedurals, each episode would usually focus on one crime and one individual, giving the series groundbreaking psychological depth.
Not rated, more than 16 hours.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: Fun Size, Sinister, Game of Thrones — The Complete Second Season, Prison.