Crisis and struggle mark this week’s new releases
This week, we begin somewhere at sea:
All Is Lost
Rated PG-13, 106 minutes.
Available Tuesday on DVD, Blu-ray and in various download formats.
Writer-director J.C. Chandor has executed a well thought-out story with craft, precision and impeccable rhythm. And he has done this while facing an extreme dramatic challenge.
Robert Redford stars and takes the sole role as an unnamed man alone at sea. His small craft is hit by a loose cargo container, tearing a gap into the boat’s side. From there, Chandor has created continuous challenges for the man to remain afloat.
A large dose of believable ingenuity extends the drama, and, through it all, Redford makes us believe the struggle.
The DVD includes commentary and three featurettes of six minutes or less on the story, Chandor and Redford. A segment on sound runs 12 minutes. A four-part featurette on “Preparing for the Storm” runs eight minutes.
Wadjda (2 1/2 stars) The back story on this debut feature from writer-director Haifaa Al Mansour proves more compelling than the film itself: It’s the first film from Saudi Arabia by a woman and also the first ever shot entirely in that country.
The feisty 10-year-old title character (Waad Mohammed) wears sneakers to school and threatens convention by wanting to ride a bicycle, all of which sets off the film’s transparent narrative. Wadjda cleverly earns and saves money to buy a certain bike. She seizes her opportunity by entering a contest testing participants’ knowledge of the Quran.
Little surprise or suspense waits, but in the interim, the director, unwittingly or not, shows a closed, backward society that devalues its women and thrusts them into continuously humiliating situations. Regardless, the well-photographed movie, by cinematographer Lutz Reitemeier, proves entertaining enough while its mere existence is remarkable.
Rated PG, 98 minutes. The DVD includes director commentary, a 33-minute “making of” featurette, and a 38-minute interview with Al Mansour at the Directors Guild of America.
Trans-Europ-Express (3 stars) and Successive Slidings of Pleasure (2 stars) Kino Classics releases two films from writer-director Alain Robbe-Grillet, with plans to release more later this year.
Robbe-Grillet had already established himself as a groundbreaking new novelist when he turned to film scripts. His screenplays shattered convention in much the same way his novels did. Time, space and narrative coherence were treated as pliable elements, often resulting in confusion, as confirmed by anyone who has seen Last Year at Marienbad.
In Trans-Europ-Express (1966), a thriller spoof, he plays himself as he and two assistants board the Trans-Europ train and immediately begin plotting a movie that could take place on that train.
Jean-Louis Trintignant stars as Elias, a Parisian who travels to Antwerp to smuggle cocaine. Or wait, is it diamonds? Robbe-Grillet and his cohorts pose that very question, theoretically flipping between fiction and nonfiction. Poor Elias becomes a pawn of the director’s imagination as he becomes entangled with a mysterious woman (Marie-France Pisier) and a shady group of characters.
The end result turns out whimsical, even enjoyable, yet without any pretense at suspense.
Not rated, 96 minutes. The newly remastered HD DVD includes a 33-minute interview with Robbe-Grillet. In a similar 34-minute interview on the Successive Slidings of Pleasure disc, Robbe-Grillet confesses that he made Trans-Europ-Express on a wager, claiming he could make it for a small amount.
In Robbe-Grillet’s Successive Slidings of Pleasure (1974), the bare-bones approach is evident, as is the shaky narrative, about a young woman (Anicee Alvina) accused of murder.
Robbe-Grillet milks the scernario for repetitive interpretations, all of which seem to involve young naked women. Trintignant again appears but only fleetingly, as does the esteemed Michael Lonsdale.
Not rated, 95 minutes.
How I Live Now (2 1/2 stars) As some vague conflict brews in Europe, Daisy (Saoirse Ronan), a self-absorbed American, arrives in the English Highlands to stay with relatives. But her frostiness melts in the arms of her hunky cousin, Eddie (George MacKay).
When military authorities separate them and send them into displacement camps, their only thoughts, as a devastating war seems to be taking place, are of returning to each other. The handsome but unbelievable film mixes terrorist menace with cloying puppy love.
Rated R, 101 minutes. The DVD includes six separate interviews with cast and crew, a six-minute “making of” featurette, six minutes of behind-the-scenes comparisons, five minutes of deleted scenes and more.
The Booker (3 stars) This documentary offers lessons in persistence both from the main subject, Steve Scarborough, as well as director Michael Perkins, who followed Scarborough for four years even when things looked dead.
When younger, Scarborough traveled to Japan to study with sumo wrestlers, returning to the United States and a short-lived career as a wrestler. But he still lives his dream, forming a wrestling school in Atlanta, which he hopes someday will lead to a lucrative TV contract.
Perkins probes his subject’s determination, fleshing out his life story while trying to uncover what drives him. Not rated, 96 minutes.
And for kids this week:
The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition Disney gives a Blu-ray debut to this 1967 animated classic filled with the engaging animals found in Rudyard Kipling’s “Mowgli” stories.
The creatures remain cute and cuddly, even if the voices belong to another generation. Phil Harris voices Baloo the bear and delivers some of the movie’s best-known songs from the Sherman brothers. Sebastian Cabot voices Bagheera the panther, with Sterling Holloway as Kaa the snake.
Rated G, 78 minutes. The clear, colorful new Blu-ray captures the film’s vibrant colors, and the two-disc set contains more than two hours of supplements, including featurettes on behind-the-scenes action and the music. Plus: a sing-along, a recently uncovered alternate ending and much more.
And finally, from this week’s TV offerings:
The Americans: The Complete First Season This compelling series takes place in the 1980s and centers on a married Russian couple, trained in the deadliest and most dangerous forms of espionage, who have been living in the U.S. for years to act as true blue Americans.
Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, both excellent, play Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, a Washington, D.C.-area couple who regularly bug the homes of government officials, kill people, and often take false identities in the 13 episodes in this fascinating series created by Joseph Weisberg.
Not rated, 620 minutes. The collection includes commentaries, a gag reel, deleted scenes, and featurettes on the “making of,” the art of espionage and “Ingenuity Over Technology.”
Family Matters: The Complete Fourth Season This audience-pleasing ABC series, a spin-off from Perfect Strangers, ran from 1989 to 1998. It features the adventures and escapades of Chicago’s multi-generational Winslow family, who are always up to something, usually with Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams) and Eddie (Darius McCrary) in the middle and often with their goofy, nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel (Jaleel White).
The fourth season sees, among many events, Steve with a new girlfriend, and father Carl (Reginald VelJohnson) and Steve on American Gladiators. The season’s 24 episodes arrive on three discs. Not rated, 8 hours, 44 minutes.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: The Armstrong Lie, The Best Man Holiday, The Counselor, G.B.F., Spinning Plates.