Not the strongest week for New Releases, unless you have a fondness for Nicholas Sparks tearjerkers or Miley Cyrus vehicles (in which case the Disney drama The Last Song is just for you) or mindless cartoonish slapstick featuring live-action animals with animated facial expressions acting like Looney Tunes characters (that would be Furry Vengeance, from Summit).
But if you reach beyond the multiplex, you’ll find The Good, the Bad, the Weird (MPI), which plays like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by way of Peking Opera Blues and Dragon Gate Inn. For a while, Korean action cinema seemed like the heir apparent to the great Hong Kong action cinema of the eighties and pre-reunification nineties, but its mastery of slick, explosive action and creative set pieces was always so deadly serious and humorless. Kim Jee-won’s self-described “Oriental Western,” set in 1930s Manchuria and featuring a cast of Korean thieves and killers and bounty hunters, is a madcap chase for a treasure map filled with double crosses, crazy escapes and lots of black humor.
The tongue-in-cheek tone and devil-may-care energy reminds us that it is indeed just a movie and invites us to kick back and have fun with it, while the momentum and invention keep it entertaining. It’s the closest I’ve seen Korean cinema come to the glory days of Hong Kong action cinema, and Kim Jee-won does it with more polish and less silliness. Includes a generic “Behind the Scenes” featurette and video interviews with director Kim Jee-Woon and actors Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun and Jung Woo-sung, along with a couple of brief promotional featurettes, all in Korean with English subtitles.
Cemetery Junction (Sony) – Beware the comic creators who decide they want to be taken “seriously.” Directors/writers Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, creators of “The Office” and “Extras,” jump to the big screen with a comic drama of three best friends facing dead-end lives in a small British mill town in the seventies. When one of them (Christian Cooke) takes a job selling life insurance, his under-achieving buddies (angry young troublemaker Tom Hughes and doofus Jack Doolan) see this as some sort of betrayal, which apparently justifies their continued campaign of petty vandalism, practical jokes and bar fights. Gervais admits that it was designed as a feel-good film, but that hardly justifies the blandness of this utterly conventional and completely predictable coming-of-age story. If you haven’t pegged the ending in the first twenty minutes, you’ve never a seen a film before. Ralph Fiennes plays the former local boy turned success story who turns out to be as much of a prat (if not more so) than the small-minded working class losers he’s trying to escape and Felicity Jones is his bright and pretty daughter in danger of falling to the same soul-sucking existence that snuffed the life out of her mother (Emily Watson). Matthew Goode co-stars. Features two commentary tracks (one by Gervais and Merchant, the other by stars Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes and Jack Doolan), bonus interviews with the creators and stars, deleted scenes and a blooper reel. The Blu-ray includes six other featurettes and the usual interactive BD-Live functions.
Dark and Stormy Night (Shout! Factory) and The Lost Skeleton Returns Again (Shout! Factory) are two more tributes to cheesy, cheap matinee movies of yesteryear from Larry Blamire. Dark and Stormy Night is a conglomeration of decades of “old dark house” clichés into a single film, where the greedy relatives of an eccentric millionaire (joined by two hardboiled reporters, a couple of odd servants, a madwoman in the attic and a frustrated cabbie who just wants his 37 cents) gather for the reading of the will. Convenient blackouts hit at every turning point and the bodies pile up as our intrepid, wise-cracking reporters turn detective to investigate the hidden passages and clutching hands and missing wills while the script contorts itself in absurd contrivances and ridiculous dialogue and the cast offers a grab-bag of character types and acting excess. Blamire’s stock company is joined by James Karen, Jim Beaver, Betty Garrett and Marvin Kaplan. Most of the cast also appears in The Lost Skeleton Returns Again, a sequel to Blamire’s The Lost Skeleton of Cadarva that takes his characters into the jungle and to the dreaded Valley of the Monsters. Both films arrive direct to DVD this week, each with cast and crew commentary and a behind-the-scenes featurette.
Elsewhere on the blog I review Black Orpheus (Criterion) and Orlando (Sony), and also released this week is L’enfance Nue (Criterion), the debut feature from French director Maurice Pialat, and this DVD debut includes Pialat’s first film, the 1960 short L’amour existe, and the 1968 documentary Autor de L’enfance nue, among its supplements.
James Ivory’s The City of Your Destination (Screen Media) with Anthony Hopkins, Spring Fever (Strand) from China and Skellig: The Owl Man (Image) with Tim Roth.
For TV on DVD for the week, see my wrap-up here. For the rest of the highlights, visit my weekly column, which goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.