Political maneuvering, robotic assassins amp up suspense this week
This week we begin with Abe:
Rated PG-13, 150 minutes.
Available Tuesday in DVD, Blu-ray and streaming formats.
Steven Spielberg’s latest masterpiece examines a crucial period near the end of Abraham Lincoln’s life and presidency, when he fought behind the scenes for a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery. Political maneuverings have never been more dramatic.
Daniel Day-Lewis brings gravitas to his Oscar-winning performance as the 16th president, and Sally Field plays his confidante, the feisty Mrs. Lincoln.
The film, which earned 12 Academy Award nominations, authentically recreates the era’s milieu, all gorgeously rendered by Oscar nominee Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography. One warning: The most gripping scene — that of the roll call vote on the constitutional amendment — isn’t 100 percent accurate.
The DVD comes in various combo packs and all formats. Supplements vary but include six separate, comprehensive “making of” featurettes totaling more than an hour.
Terminator Anthology (****) Warner Home Video has assembled the four R-rated Terminator films into one convenient, fully filled five-disc Blu-ray package, with new and previous supplements totaling more than 15 hours.
The Terminator (1984) starred future governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton and was directed by James Cameron. The action-filled original set the ball rolling for this successful franchise.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day, again directed by Cameron, followed in 1991, with Hamilton again joining Arnold. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) had Nick Stahl and Claire Danes along with Schwarzenegger and was directed by Jonathan Mostow. Christian Bale starred in Terminator: Salvation (2009), directed by McG.
The set contains more than 15 hours of supplements, including commentaries, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, full-length “making of” segments, interviews, quizzes, games and various interactive features.
Les Miserables (***) In this musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel, Hugh Jackman sings his own songs and takes the lead role as persecuted Jean Valjean. A singing Russell Crowe plays the obsessed Javert who relentlessly tracks down Valjean.
The technical achievements elevate the production, including Eve Stewart’s production designs, Anna Lynch-Robinson’s set decorations, Richard Bain’s special effects and Danny Cohen’s photography.
Anne Hathaway won a supporting-actress Oscar as Fantine, the streetwise mother who loses her child. Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) ably directs, following a script from several writers. Not rated, 158 minutes.
The DVD, in all formats, includes commentary and a four-part, 64-minute featurette on the casting, singing, building of the impressive barricade set and filming on location. Plus: an 11-minute featurette on recreating Paris, and more.
A Royal Affair (****) In this fact-based Oscar nominee for best foreign language film, Mads Mikkelsen plays Johann Struensee, the Svengali-like court physician who influences and virtually controls the weak-willed King Christian VII (Mikkel Folsgaard) of Denmark around 1760. The enchanted king then ignores his queen Caroline (Alicia Vikander), who’s having an affair with the good doctor.
The engrossing story, beautifully executed, unfolds as a clash of old versus young and light versus darkness, as the king ineptly battles his rigid court counselors who resist the Enlightenment. Not rated, 132 minutes.
The DVD contains a 33-minute interview with Mikkelsen, Vikander and director Nikolaj Arcel at the Berlin International Film Festival. Plus: “Portraits and Biographies” of the three main characters, and a “Royal Family Tree.”
Easy Money (***) In this frantic Euro-thriller, a young Swedish man, JW (Joel Kinnaman), struggles to juggle his life as a student while driving a taxi.
He falls for a beautiful rich woman about the same time he finds himself in the middle of feuding mobsters. On one side, a Serbian outfit smuggles drugs into the country, while a Middle Eastern gang tries to break up its rival organization. Violence ensues.
The action moves fast, shifting among several subplots centered on the perpetually stunned JW. Rated R, 125 minutes.
My Brother Jonathan and Daniel Day-Lewis Triple Feature Years before he cornered the market on best-actor Oscars, Daniel Day-Lewis refined, sharpened and then perfected his considerable skills in several British productions. BBC Home Entertainment has assembled two excellent offerings, all starring the young and impressive actor: the five-part series My Brother Jonathan and the triple-feature set — How Many Hills to Babylon, The Insurance Man and Dangerous Corner.
In Jonathan, he plays the lead character, the lesser favored of a pair of siblings in England’s West Midlands before and after World War I. In the shadow of his brother, Harold (Benedict Taylor), the self-sacrificing Jonathan becomes an aspiring surgeon, but because of family financial difficulties he ends up a general practitioner in a small, dreary mining town where he becomes embroiled in local rivalries.
Not rated, 247 minutes. The two-disc set includes the 29-minute featurette “Day Out,” filmed near the production site.
Babylon is about two Irish lads. A seemingly weak, upper-class boy (played by Day-Lewis) and a working-class boy (Christopher Fairbank) grow up as friends and then join the army together during World War I. Only then do their differences surface.
Alan Bennett wrote the strange Insurance Man, with Day-Lewis playing Franz Kafka as a bureaucrat in a seemingly Kafkaesque setting. In Dangerous Corner, Day-Lewis plays a publisher who sets off an incendiary weekend among friends in this drama based on a work by J.B. Priestley. None rated, 276 minutes.
And for kids this week:
Zambezia (***) This computer-animated film stars Kai (voice of Jeremy Suarez), a young falcon who travels to the legendary bird city Zambezia. But he must return home when he learns his father (Samuel L. Jackson) is in danger. Abigail Breslin, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy also provide voices.
Rated G, 102 minutes. The DVD, in all formats, includes a music video and four separate featurettes: “Birds of a Feather,” “The Tree City,” “An African Story” and “Technical Challenges.”
And, from this week’s TV offerings:
The Carol Burnett Show: This Time Together This generous package includes 17 episodes on six discs, featuring the escapades of regulars Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Harvey Korman and Vicki Lawrence, with such classic sketches as “The Ham Actor,” “The Charwoman,” “Mrs. Wiggins” and more. The set holds more than two hours of supplements, including interviews with Burnett, Conway and Lawrence. Not rated, 18 1/2 hours.
The Borgias: The Second Season The recent election of a new pope provides reason enough to revisit perhaps the most notorious pope of all, one so corrupt and controversial he spawned two separate cable series 500 years later — with this Showtime offering created by Neil Jordan the better of the pair.
Silver-throated Jeremy Irons plays Rodrigo Borgia, known better as Pope Alexander VI. When not fathering children with his mistress, he finds time to indulge in ongoing intrigues, many involving his battling sons, Cesare (Francois Arnaud) and Juan (David Oakes), or his free-willed daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger). This season sees more conflict with archenemy Della Rovere (Colm Feore) plotting against the family. Not rated, 11 hours and 20 minutes
The three discs of 10 episodes also include five brief “making of” featurettes and the first two episodes of the TV series Californication.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: Killing Them Softly, Parental Guidance.