New releases offer crime flicks in the City of Angels, freedom fighter
This week, we begin in the City of Angels:
Gangster Squad -- In 1949, Los Angeles, police chief Parker (Nick Nolte) enlists World War II veteran Sgt. O’Mara (Josh Brolin) for a secret mission. The chief wants to rid his city of its rampant graft and corruption, most traced to crime boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). O’Mara hand-picks a group of men, including Sgt. Wooters (Ryan Gosling). The group acts on its own, breaking up Cohen’s casinos, bugging his home, and diverting drug shipments. Cohen believes it all to be the work of a rival gang.
Director Ruben Fleischer choreographs his scenes proficiently enough, but an uninspired script won’t make anyone forget L.A. Confidential. Brolin remains square jawed and grim-faced throughout, while Gosling, as well as Emma Stone as the gratuitous girlfriend, languish in wasted roles. As Cohen, Penn snarls a lot, while Pronouncing. Every. Word. Rated R, 113 minutes.
The DVD, in all formats and combo packs, offers director commentary and about two hours of supplements. Includes the 46-minute focus points segment “The Set-Up,” with 12 minutes of deleted scenes, and an episode of “Rogues’ Gallery” featuring a 46-minute look at gangster Mickey Cohen. Plus: “Tough Guys With Style,” a five-minute featurette on the film’s costumes, and an eight-minute “Then and Now” segment.
A Whisper to a Roar -- This compilation documentary takes existing footage, whether in the form of newsreels or recent phone or Internet clips, and assembles a portrait of five countries that have suffered or continue to suffer under some sort of authoritarian control: Venezuela, Egypt, Malaysia, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe. The film also examines and how the countries built counter-activities against its dictators. Filmmaker Ben Moses also scored some impressive interviews with many involved, including former leaders of Ukraine and Malaysia, opposition leaders of Zimbabwe, as well as two pivotal Egyptian figures in the rebellion against Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The interviews lend insight into the familiar footage, which is still harrowing. Narrated by Alfred Molina. Not rated, 95 minutes.
The DVD includes three additional interviews and a three minute segment on Ukraine’s Termini Place incident.
Save the Date -- In this slight romantic-comedy-drama, Sarah (Lizzy Caplan) moves in with Kevin (Geoffrey Arend). Once there, he proposes marriage and she bolts. Meanwhile, her sister Beth (Alison Brie) prepares to marry Kevin’s best friend, Andrew (Martin Starr). After the break-up, Sarah struggles to find balance in her life, even when moving on to another relationship. Director Michael Mohan takes familiar material and does little with it, restricting his field to clubs, bars, and apartments, and filling them with indifferent rock music. Not rated, 97 minutes.
The DVD contains about six minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes and a “Save the Date” storyboard and comic strip.
Warner Home Entertainment releases four unrated, manufactured-on-demand titles originally made between 1932 and 1934, when officials started enforcing the restrictive Production Code. These titles are distributed by Warner Archives.
Heat Lightning --, Blondie Johnson (), From Headquarters (1/2) and Alias the Doctor (1/2)
All films run between 62 and 67 minutes. Similar to Warners' “Forbidden Hollywood” series, this offering (call it “Forbidden Hollywood 5.5”) showcases some lesser known titles starring once-popular players who pushed Depression-era boundaries. Heat Lightning takes place at an isolated rest stop run by two independent sisters (Aline MacMahon, Ann Dvorak). Eventually joining them and igniting the situation, are an ex-boyfriend along with two dangerous fugitives. Renowned director Mervyn LeRoy squeezes maximum suspense out of this minimalist character study.
Former Denton resident Joan Blondell stars as Blondie Johnson, a young woman who comes to the big city with her destitute family. She becomes an unrepentant gold digger, with various grafts and schemes that thrust her up the ladder of a local criminal gang.
From Headquarters is a rapidly paced whodunit with fast talking characters and an involving plot directed by Warners veteran William Dieterle. When a man is found dead, guilt shifts from his girlfriend (Margaret Lindsay) to his butler to his girlfriend’s brother and then to a business partner.
Only a shrewd detective (George Brent) can get to the bottom in this well plotted mystery, which also gives a comprehensive close-up of the era’s crime forensics.
Wooden Richard Barthelmess stars as the title character in Alias the Doctor, a strained melodrama about an honors medical student in Vienna who takes the blame for a bungled abortion performed by his fellow medical student brother. Several years after his release from jail, the defrocked doctor unintentionally poses as his now dead brother. Before long, he has gained acclaim while hiding his secret. From there, he must hide his identity and live a double life.
Escapee-- During a school field trip to a high security mental facility, an inmate (Dominic Purcell) physically confronts a student, Abby (Christine Evangelista). Unharmed but shaken up, she returns home to her two roommates. But wait. Later, on a dark and stormy night, that slippery inmate somehow escapes. And of course he wants to make contact once again with poor, frightened Abby. Bad things then happen in this moody yet formulaic fright-fest. Rated R, 96 minutes.
The DVD, also on Blu-ray, holds a 15-minute “making of” featurette.
And, finally, for kids this week:
Car’s Life 3: The Royal Heist — Sparky (voice of Corrine Orr) the red sports car returns to animated action, greeting Queen Limousine when she arrives for a charity drag race. While there, however, the queen’s jewels go missing, setting off a mystery only the Sparkman can solve. Not rated, 85 minutes.
The Magic School Bus: All About Earth — Scholastic Storybook Treasures celebrates Earth Day on April 22 with this collection of three new environmentally-themed episodes of the science adventure series. Subjects covered include seeds, volcanoes, and air pressure in, respectively: “The Magic School Bus Goes to Seed,” “The Magic School Bus Blows Its Top,” and “The Magic School Bus Goes on Air.” Not rated, 78 minutes.
The DVD also includes a bonus episode: “The Magic School Bus All Dried Up.”
Also on DVD: The Impossible, Jurassic Park 3D, Mr. Selfridge, Promised Land.