‘Buttons’ updated; ‘Shanghai Calling,’ ‘Java Heat’ take action abroad
This week, we begin in Longeverne:
The War of the Buttons (***1/2) In this fourth film based on the 1912 novel by Louis Pergaud, who died at 33 during World War I, director Christophe Barratier updates it to Vichy France during World War II. The main plot revolves around groups of boys from two villages who harmlessly battle each other, taking trophies such as buttons and shoelaces.
But the plot’s updating also allows an enabling subplot to play out about the building love between a seemingly shy if not cowardly schoolteacher (noted director Guillaume Canet), who secretly belongs to the Resistance, and a local shop owner (Laetitia Casta) who shelters a Jewish girl from the occupying Nazis. The wartime activities provide opportunities for the boys from both villages to learn about bravery as well as loyalty to country and to their parents.
Rated PG-13, 87 minutes. Available Tuesday on DVD.
The DVD includes a 35-minute “making of” featurette, four minutes of bloopers and four deleted scenes.
Two Men in Manhattan (**1/2) Few directors have enjoyed a career resurrection and reappraisal like Jean-Pierre Melville. The midcentury dramas from the French artist have been pored over by contemporary scholars and have influenced filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino. The noirish Two Men in Manhattan, now arriving on DVD thanks to the Cohen Media Group’s efforts to rescue notable but overlooked films, represents Melville’s only film shot in America, and also one of the few in which he acts.
In the 1959 film, Mellville plays a reporter, Moreau, called upon to find a French diplomat who has gone missing. He is joined by a sleazy photographer (Pierre Grasset), and they tour a succession of Manhattan’s nighttime haunts.
The slight narrative gives Melville a chance to indulge his passion for American culture, including jazz and beautiful women, but it also allows him to fashion a glistening post-noir portrait of the city. The pace lags at times, and the payoff hardly seems worth it, but anyone interested in Melville’s progression as a filmmaker will appreciate the film’s resurrection.
Not rated, 89 minutes. The DVD, in all formats, includes a 36-minute discussion between film critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, and an essay from Melville scholar Ginette Vincendeau.
Blood (**1/2) This measured British crime drama sports an excellent cast that include several actors now appearing on American television.
Two police detective brothers, Joe (Paul Bettany) and Chrissie (Stephen Graham, Boardwalk Empire’s Al Capone) murder a man suspected in the killing of a child. They bury the body. Unknown to them, their drunk, dementia-afflicted father (Brian Cox) watches from the back seat of their car.
Later, a colleague (Mark Strong, who plays Frank Agnew on Low Winter Sun) suspects the brothers and begins acting on his suspicions. Chrissie folds under the pressure, causing trouble with his fiancee, Gemma (Zoe Tapper, Ellen Love on Mr. Selfridge).
Director Nick Murphy delivers a no-nonsense drama filled with angst-ridden characters. Not rated, 92 minutes.
Shanghai Calling (**1/2) Sam Chao (Daniel Henney) reluctantly travels to Shanghai when sent by his Wall Street bosses because they think he can use his Asian heritage. But the attorney is New York-born and -bred, enough so that when he arrives in China, he may not look it, but he is the fish in this fish-out-of-water tale.
The slight plot revolves around Sam’s work on some big corporate deal — a MacGuffin shoved into the background when Sam proves a jerk and then tries to redeem himself in the eyes of Amanda (Eliza Croupe), another American living and working in Shanghai.
Daniel Hsia directs with little imagination, but he has written a diverting script that propels his characters through Shanghai, thereby providing a thorough, loving portrait of the city. Bill Paxton plays another American-gone-native, and Alan Ruck appears as a sneaky entrepreneur.
Rated PG-13, 101 minutes. The DVD contains a 16-minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette.
Sisters & Brothers (**) Director Carl Bessai shows a light comedic touch to go along with an unfocused, overly ambitious narrative about four sets of siblings: brothers Rory (Dusty Milligan) and movie star Justin (the late Cory Monteith); half-sisters Nikki (Amanda Crew) and Maggie (Camille Sullivan); Louise (Gabrielle Miller) and her manic brother, Jerry (Benjamin Ratner); and Sarah (Kacey Rohl), who learns she has a much older half-sister, Sita (Leena Manro), from India.
Usually, in such intricate dramas, parties play off each other, interacting and coming to some unified conclusion.
Here, however, Bessai concentrates on the individual concerns of each set of siblings, flipping among them while also fleshing out his lightweight film with cutesy bridges and animated sequences. Rated R, 86 minutes.
Frankenstein’s Army (**1/2) This English-language film unfolds as a Russian soldier records everything for his battalion in faux-documentary style.
At the end of World War II, a squad of lost Russian soldiers stumbles into a seemingly deserted laboratory in East Germany. Lurking inside is an evil German madman (Karel Roden) who has been turning out Frankenstein-type zombies to fight one last gasp for the motherland.
From there, bodies fly, blood flows, and chaos reigns in this first film from writer-director Richard Raaphorst.
Rated R, 84 minutes. The DVD includes a 32-minute “making of” featurette along with five brief creature “spots.”
Java Heat (**1/2) In this formulaic action-thriller with an international flavor, Kellan Lutz plays Jake Travers, an American in Indonesia who becomes embroiled in a sticky conflict. After an assassination attempt on a local religious leader, Travers teams up with a Muslim partner (Ario Bayu), learning much while still feeling like an outcast. Mickey Rourke turns up as an unexpected bad guy.
Rated R, 104 minutes. The DVD includes a “making of” featurette.
And now, something for the young ones:
Puppy in My Pocket: Adventures in Pocketville In these seven animated episodes, Princess Ava matches children with new pets. But Ava’s twin sister, Eva, becomes jealous and sends Ava away, causing trouble throughout Pocketville. Not rated, 80 minutes.
Thomas and Friends: King of the Railway, The Movie Four new engines arrive on the Island of Sodor, and Thomas and his buddies, Percy and James, show them how to rely on their friends and how their cooperation can help everyone.
Not rated, 62 minutes. The DVD includes puzzles, a game and three music videos.
Thomas and Friends: Animals Aboard Thomas and his pals have five new adventures in this collection of episodes along with two music videos. Not rated, 55 minutes.
Barney: Most Huggable Moments 2 This two-disc set holds new, unseen episodes among the six offered. Also included is a special episode celebrating Barney’s birthday. Not rated, 138 minutes. The set also offers five music videos.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: Behind the Candelabra, The Bling Ring, The East and World War Z.