DVDiscussion

Double the Hemsworth, Plus Lots More Recent Releases

By BILL GEIGER | Aug 31, 2016

That “lucky old sun” and the ol’ “silvery moon” rise and set at clear diurnal and nocturnal intervals, giving us a new day, heading toward an uncertain future. One thing is certain, however: This DVD column will go on a hiatus until next May, since this is the last for the summer of 2016.

As I mentioned at the start of this season, we may have to come up with another title for it to reflect the new way movies are distributed. Streaming comes to mind immediately, since Netflix, Hulu and YouTube have certainly changed the game. Redbox is still hanging around, lending flicks out of that big red box we see at food stores, and it’s even nice enough to keep track about what people are renting. I like to use Redbox’s top five DVD rentals at the end of each column because I find it so cool that people still pay money into a big red machine that dispenses flicks instead of potato chips.

So already at this late, late August date, we have available on DVD a few flicks that I had seen in May on the big screen. So I’ll be able to talk about “The Nice Guys” and “Maggie’s Plan” in very familiar terms, having reviewed them for the movie column. More and more of the summer flicks will debut, so be on the lookout for them.

And now, without further ado, let’s get to some recently released flicks. We’ll start with a kind of a Hemsworth double feature – actually a couple of films that feature the Hemsworth brothers, Chris and Liam. Chris stars in “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” and Liam in “The Duel,” the former about the forbidden love between Eric, the Huntsman (C. Hemsworth), and Sara (Jessica Chastain), trying to outwit the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and her Ice enemy, Queen Freya (Emily Blunt). Soon the battle begins, and even Snow White makes an appearance. In “The Duel,” things are not all on the up and up in the Texas town of Helena, where people are dying and found floating down the Rio Grande. Helena, it appears, is under the control of a mysterious preacher named Abraham (Woody Harrelson). Soon the Texas Rangers are dispatched to investigate, with David Kingston (L. Hemsworth) heading the investigation, and heading squarely into the clutches of Abraham. I’d ask for two bags of popcorn for each one.

Our next double feature looks at two films I saw in the theater back in summer’s early days, “The Nice Guys” and “Maggie’s Plan,” both of which were good enough in my estimation to deserve a second look. “The Nice Guys” stars Russell Crowe as a rumpled private investigator named Jackson Healy who happens into the life of a more main-stream investigator named Holland March (Ryan Gosling). March has a precocious tween daughter, Hollie (Angourie Rice), who likes to give her father advice. When Healy and March discover they’re investigating the same murdered porn actress, things in their lives begin to heat up. Nice guys may finish last, but these nice guys make a fight of it.

In “Maggie’s Plan,” perennially single Maggie (Greta Gerwig) decides to have a child on her own, but her plan falls apart when she meets John (Ethan Hawke), a married anthropologist who leaves his marriage to the famously frosty anthropologist Georgette (Juliette Moore) once he meets Maggie, and they have a daughter. Soon Maggie needs a new plan, how to bring John and Georgette back together again, for John seems hopelessly interested in a book he is writing, and not in Maggie. This is a funny, often poignant film from director Rebecca Miller. Grab three bags of popcorn for both of these.

Everyone has a kind place in their hearts for “The Jungle Book,” this time a live-action, motion-capture film of the famous Kipling book, directed by Jon Favreau. We all know the story, how Mowgli (Neel Sethi), the orphaned boy, is threatened by the tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba), and so runs off, both to escape the tiger, but also to learn about himself. He’s aided by Baloo the bear (voice of Bill Murray) and Bagheera the panther (Ben Kingsley). With help from Murray and Kingsley, what could go wrong? Grab three bags of popcorn for “The Jungle Book.”

Fans of Emilia Clarke from “Game of Thrones” might like seeing her in a different light in “Me Before You,” a weepie from director Thea Sharrock, in which a young woman is hired to look after a paralyzed man, and then falls in love with him. We’ve seen this type of film before, but Clarke (who plays a character named Clark) is game, and is actually quite an enchanting actress. The paralyzed man? That’s Sam Claflin. We’ll give two bags for this one.

Once upon a time, a television miniseries called “Roots” came along in 1977 and changed the whole process of how miniseries work. The History Channel recently remade “Roots,” but the story stayed the same. Kunta Kinte was kidnapped from Africa, taken to the southern United States, and sold into slavery, and the institution of slavery was passed down from generation to generation, impacting the lives of so many people. This new version of “Roots” holds up well as a historical statement and as a drama of several lifetimes. This one’s a true four-bagger.

From the Vaults: “Ben-Hur,” the 1959 film directed by William Wyler and starring Charleton Heston and Jack Hawkins, was an epic in every sense of the word. This one was what they used to call a “sword and sandal” flick, in a derogatory sense if it covered something out of ancient history, but Wyler’s “Ben-Hur” rose above the negatives and set them on their side. And with the new “Ben-Hur” remake getting mediocre reviews on the big screen, perhaps it’s time to dig deep into the vault and talk about Wyler’s epic.

The story of Ben-Hur comes from the imagination of a Union general, Lew Wallace, several decades after the Civil War. Wallace wrote the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. A film of the novel with that exact title was made in 1925, then the Heston version in 1959, then the new Jack Huston version that’s out now. Believe it or not, there’s a competing Hungarian version now out in Europe called “In the Name of Ben-Hur,” but I don’t think it will make much of a difference because in it Ben-Hur is older and helping the vigilante Zealots try to overthrow the Romans in Judea.

In between there has been an animated version of “Ben-Hur” in 2003, for which Charleton Heston supplied the voice in his final acting appearance before he died in ’05, and a television mini-series in 2010 called simply “Ben Hur.” But the granddaddy of the films is the 1959 version. Wyler, who was the second unit director for the 1925 film, was chosen to helm the production, and with the pure natural force of Heston as the lead and Stephen Boyd as Judah Ben-Hur’s boyhood friend turned enemy Messala, and Jack Hawkins as the aristocrat Quintus Arrius, the film plows along solely on the strength of Wallace’s narrative and the various actors’ grit.

This is one of the big films of all time, with literally a cast of thousands, to make up the audience in Rome’s Circus Maximus. The races had their origins in religious rites, particularly the two deities who drove chariots in the Roman minds, Sol (the sun) and Luna (the moon), the two heavenly orbs I invoked at the beginning of this column. The musical score for “Ben-Hur” is one of my favorites, composed by Miklós Rózsa, and is one of the finest ever made for a film. Add Heston’s strong, masculine, Oscar-winning performance, and you have one of the best films of all time. Perhaps the original four-bagger.

Awesome Auteur: Zack Snyder, director of our number one DVD rental of the week (see below) “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” is our final awesome auteur of the summer. Maybe we’ll come back with this next summer in some way, or feature a revolving door of directors from America vs. directors from around the world, or maybe directors one week and actors the next. We’ll have to ponder that one over the winter, along with the possible name change for this column.

Anyway, Snyder’s a good choice because of the current popularity of comic book flicks, and since coming up with a remarkable remake of George Romero’s 1978 zombie flick “Dawn of the Dead” in 2004, he made “300” in 2006,” “Watchmen” in 2009, “Sucker Punch” in 2011, and “Man of Steel,” the first of the Henry Cavill Superman flicks, in 2013. As a follow-up to his “Batman v Superman” film, he’s filming “Justice League” for a possible 2017 release, and a “Justice League Part II” for 2019. Snyder seems to know where he’s best, and he has the comic book realm covered for several years to come.

Random Suggestions: The importance of the relationship between sisters drives “Jane Wants a Boyfriend,” the story of a young woman with Asperger’s who, with her sister’s help, goes on a few first dates. Louisa Krause and Eliza Dushku respectively star as Jane and her sister Bianca. In “The Phenom,” ace pitcher Hopper Gibson has the makings of a genuine star until he loses control and is sent down to the minor leagues. After he goes to pieces, he’s referred to a sports psychologist who helps pull him out of his abyss. Johnny Simmons and Paul Giamatti star.

Giamatti is also a voice in the animated feature “Ratchet and Clank,” about a mechanic and a robot who join forces with the galactic rangers to save their universe from a despicable threat. It features the voices of James Arnold Taylor as Ratchet and David Kaye as Clank. In our final cinematic Random Suggestions, everyone knows there’s nothing worse than hiring a clown for your kid’s birthday party, and then having to scramble when the clown does not show up. That happens in “Clown,” but even worse, Kent (Andy Powers), the loving father who wants his son’s party to be the best, finds an old clown costume in the basement of an old house, puts it on, falls asleep from fatigue after the party, and wakes not being able to get the costume off. Worst of all, the evil needs of the clown, like a craving for the flesh of young children, begin to follow Kent around and naturally alarm his pregnant wife, Meg (Laura Allen). This guy certainly ain’t no Bozo.

There are many top-notch television shows just getting the DVDs of completed seasons out into the rental world. Among the favorites are “Brooklyn Nine-Nine: The Complete Third Season,” with Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher, “Elementary: Season 4,” with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, “NCIS: Season 13,” with Mark Harmon and Michael Weatherly, “Scandal: Season 5,” with Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn, “Superstore: Season One,” with America Ferrara and Ben Feldman, “The Walking Dead: Season 6,” with Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus, and two very long-running shows, “Criminal Minds: Season 11,” with Thomas Gibson and Joe Mantegna, and the venerable “Greys Anatomy: Season 12,” with Ellen Pompeo and Justin Chambers.

Eminent DVD rental Redbox has come up with its top five DVD rentals for the week, so you can ponder the possibility of renting a flick based on its popularity. Hey, if everybody rents it, they must like it, right? So the top five rentals, ascending from number five, are these. At number five, “Criminal,” with Kevin Costner, Ryan Reynolds and Tommy Lee Jones; at number four, “Mother’s Day,” with Julia Roberts, Jennifer Anniston and Kate Hudson; at number three, “The Boss,” with Melissa McCarthy; at number two, “The Angry Birds Movie,” where Red, Chuck and Bomb try to figure out a way to beat some shadowy green piggies who have assaulted the island. Yeah, seriously. Go figure. And finally, at number one, a legitimate number one in “Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice,” with heroic performances from Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel and Ben Affleck as Batman. The film also stars Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg and Diane Lane.

It’s time now for the tearful goodbye. Soon the cooler breezes will commence, although with July and August being classified as the warmest on record, perhaps the fall will be on the mild side. Some long-range forecasters have already made that prediction. What worries me is that we’re now seeing the unfortunate ramifications of global climate change – heavy rain with devastating flooding, as witnessed in Texas and Louisiana, and wildfires burning thousands of acres on the West Coast, particularly California, Oregon and Washington.

It seems like the tropics are getting active, and I’m fervently hoping LBI is spared any of these tropical systems. I know the surfers like them, but they often get good waves even when the system is, like, 600 miles away. Let’s hope they all stay far away and we have a fairly benign off season. We’re experiencing a seriously contentious election season, and feelings are running high about both candidates, and against both candidates. What a shame. Let’s hope the whole process is able to strive for, and achieve, a more civil approach to this governmental process. When we reconvene for the 2017 summer season, the new president will have had the first 100 days in office.

Maybe by then we’ll be able to see how this new president will do. Speaking of new things, perhaps this column will have a new title, reflecting the way movies are delivered to individual consumers. So with new things on the horizon, it’s time for the tearful goodbye. Stay centered, be kind to everyone, as Plato said, because everyone is fighting a hard battle, and watch a good film every now and then. By the offseason, most of the good films in the theaters this summer will be available for a fall rental.

Look especially for “War Dogs,” “Hell or High Water,” “A Bigger Splash,” “The Secret Life of Pets”  and “Star Trek Beyond.” These are among my favorite flicks of the summer, on the big screen. And now, I won’t be able to say I’ll see you in two, but instead it will be I’ll see you in nine. As in months. Just about the time of the birth of the cosmic child.

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