By Harley Lond - 06/12/12 at 01:51 PM CT
Call me a curmudgeon, but I still can't get excited about the releases coming out of Hollywood. Once again, the best material hitting the little screen this week is from overseas or reissues of older American films. Read on:
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is the sequel to 2009's blockbuster "Sherlock Holmes." In this outing, Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and faithful friend Dr. Watson (Jude Law) battle the evil Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), who is wrecking havoc with bombings and murder in an effort to promote a nefarious scheme to ... who cares. The at-times incoherent storyline is merely a backdrop for extravagant (and ultimately unimaginative) fist fights, battles, death and destruction and thus Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows makes the Great Detective just another big-screen action figure, relegating the real sleuth to the dustbin of books and Basil Rathbone films.
"Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is a follow-up to the much-despised comic-book film "Ghost Rider," with Nicolas Cage again overacting as Johnny Blaze, cursed to be the devil's bounty hunter and roam the Earth as a motorcycle-riding ball of fire. In this one he tries to save a young boy from the devil himself, but the story and action is so weak that the film barely worked up enough box office steam to pay Cage's salary (the first "Ghost Rider" grossed north of $100 million). I guess you can't fool some of the people all of the time.
Also out this week: "In Darkness," an engaging film by acclaimed director Agnieszka Holland about a sewer worker and petty thief in Lvov, a Nazi-occupied city in Poland, who hides a group of Jews in the labyrinth of the town's sewers (the film is based on a true story); it's explicit in its depiction of atrocities and is tough to watch, though certainly worth the visceral pain ... and "Tyler Perry's Good Deeds," another one of the actor-director-writer-producer's cookie-cutter melodramatic comedies.
Now here's the good stuff:
With the idiosyncratic American fable "Harold and Maude" (1971), countercultural director Hal Ashby fashioned what would become the cult classic of its era. Working from a script by Colin Higgins ("9 to 5"), Ashby tells the story of the emotional and romantic bond between a death-obsessed young man (Bud Cort) from a wealthy family and a devil-may-care, bohemian octogenarian (Ruth Gordon). Equal parts gallows humor and romantic innocence, "Harold and Maude" dissolves the line between darkness and light along with the ones that separate people by class, gender, and age, and it features indelible performances and a remarkable soundtrack by Cat Stevens. From The Criterion Collection.
"Accident" (2009 -- Hong Kong) is an off-beat dark thriller starring Louis Koo, Richie Jen, Feng Tsui Fan, Michelle Ye, Lam Suet, Han Yuqin and Monica Mok. A self-styled accident choreographer, Brain is a professional hit man who kills his victims by trapping them in well crafted accidents that look like unfortunate mishaps -- but are in fact perfectly staged acts of crime. After one mission inexplicably goes wrong, costing the life of one of his men, Brain becomes convinced that the accident has been choreographed. Believing that someone is out there plotting to terminate him and his team, he becomes increasingly paranoid, not knowing whether or not to trust his friends and accomplices. This "Final Destination" in reverse is a gem to behold: the "accidents" are set up and executed delicately, the acting is naturalistic, and the lighting and cinematography appropriately moody and muted. A pleasure from Shout! Factory.
Also from Criterion comes a new, restored version of Charlie Chaplin's "The Gold Rush." The first feature-length comedy by Chaplin -- which charts a hapless prospector's search for fortune in the Klondike and his discovery of romance (with the beautiful Georgia Hale) -- forever cemented the iconic status of Chaplin and his Little Tramp character. Shot partly on location in the Sierra Nevadas and featuring such timeless gags as Chaplin's dance of the dinner rolls and meal of boiled shoe leather, "The Gold Rush" is an indelible work of nonstop hilarity. This special edition features both Chaplin's definitive 1942 version, for which the director added new music and narration, and a new edition of the original silent 1925 film, restored in collaboration with the Cineteca di Bologna, with a newly recorded version of director Chaplin's score, presented in 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray edition ... The diabolical thriller "Shallow Grave" (1994) was the first film from director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew MacDonald, and screenwriter John Hodge (the team behind "Trainspotting"). In "Shallow Grave," three self-involved Edinburgh roommates -- played by Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor, in his first starring role -- take in a brooding boarder. When he dies of an overdose, leaving a suitcase full of money, the trio embark on a series of very bad decisions, with extraordinarily grim consequences for all. Macabre but with a streak of offbeat humor, this stylistically influential tale of guilt and derangement is a full-throttle bit of Hitchcockian nastiness. New, restored digital transfer, supervised by director of photography Brian Tufano, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition.
From TV to Video:
"Entourage: The Complete Eighth Season" (2011) is a two-disc set with eight episodes, $39.98 from HBO ... "Episodes: The First Season" (2011) is a single disc with seven episodes, $29.99 from Showtime/Paramount ... "The River" (2012) is a three-disc set with 10 episodes, $39.99 from ABC/Disney ... "The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Fifth Season" (2011) is the last season (six episodes) of the Doctor Who spinoff, $19.98 from BBC Home Entertainment ... "Scandal: The Complete First Season" (2012) is a two-disc set with seven episodes, $29.99 from ABC/Disney ... "Too Big to Fail" (2011), directed by Curtis Hanson and starring James Woods, John Heard, William Hurt, Topher Grace, Cynthia Nixon, Kathy Baker, Edward Asner and Paul Giamatti, is an HBO drama that chronicles the financial meltdown of 2008; from HBO ... "Top Gear 18" (2011) is a three-disc set, $24.98 from BBC Home Entertainment ... "The Tribe: Series 1 Part 2" (1999) is a four-disc set with the second 25 episodes from the first season, $29.93 from Shout! Factory.
Buzzin' the 'B's:
Thrill seeking party boy Sean Strayger and his friends support a lavish lifestyle by running drugs across the Mexican border in private planes, but when Strayger meets the beautiful and mysterious Rosanna, high-flying fun takes a dangerous turn in "Kill Speed" (2010), starring Andrew Keegan, Brandon Quinn, Natalia Cigliuti, Nick Carter and Tom Arnold, from Epic Pictures ... In the action-comedy"Monster Brawl" (2011), starring David Foley, Robert Maillet, Kevin Nash and Jimmy Hart, eight classic horror monsters -- supported by their colorful and eccentric managers -- compete in visceral bloody combat to determine who will be the most feared and powerful fiend of all time, from Image Entertainment ... First- time director Vincent D'Onofrio explores love, greed and ruthlessness in the twisted musical/horror hybrid "Don't Go In The Woods" (2010), telling the story of a young band who heads to the woods to get away from their everyday lives and focus on writing new songs. Hoping to walk away from the trip with new tunes that will score them their big break, they instead find themselves in the middle of a nightmare beyond comprehension. Stars Bo Boddie, Eric Bogosian. From New Video ... What goes around comes around for a pair of prank-playing tire salesmen who find themselves placed in secretarial jobs by their put-upon boss in "Demoted" (2011), starring Michael Vartan, Sean Astin and David Cross, from Anchor Bay ... Feeling afraid and isolated living in the over-populated, concrete-filled Los Angeles, a young woman joins a group of dysfunctional friends on a camping trip that ends up in violence in "All Alone" (2010), starring Mandy Levin, Suzy Cote and Brice Williams, from Osiris Entertainment ... In "Decisions" (2011), starring Matt Medrano, Yeniffer Behrens, Corey Haim and Anthony Vitale, a group of friends decide to pull a bank heist to get out from underneath their money troubles, but run afoul of a corrupt LAPD Detective on the take with a crime syndicate; the bank was the depository for the cop's dirty money and he'll do anything to get it back. Corey Haim's last movie. From Inception Media Group.
Docurama has three documentaries on their docket this week: "Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance" (2011), the story behind one of the most famous ballet companies in America; "Fastest" (2011), the sequel to the hit extreme motocross documentary, "Faster." Shot around the world in 2010 and 2011, the film distills the thrilling, terrifying reality of the MotoGP world championship into a maximum-speed, full-length documentary feature film; narrated by Ewan McGregor; and "Something's Gonna Live" (2011), in which Academy Award-nominated director Daniel Raim captures the late-in-life coming together of renowned art directors (and life long friends) Robert "Bob" Boyle ("North by Northwest," "The Birds"), Henry "Bummy" Bumstead ("To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Sting") and Albert Nozaki ("The War of the Worlds," "The Ten Commandments"), storyboard artist Harold Michelson ("The Graduate," "Star Trek: The Motion Picture"), and master cinematographers Haskell Wexler ("Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" "Medium Cool") and Conrad Hall ("In Cold Blood," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"). From snapshots, sketches and vintage footage interwoven with interviews, we get a behind-the-scenes look at movie-making in the golden age of cinema. As we watch iconic scenes of our collective imaginations emerge from their drawings, models, matte paintings and sets, we hear tales of Mae West, "Hitch" and DeMille in this celebration of the human stories behind the glamorous edifice of Hollywood.
Check out other new June 12 DVD releases at OnVideo.