“For a better tomorrow,” remarks one character in a rare moment of downtime in John Woo’s Manhunt, drawing a direct connection to Woo’s 1986 break-out hit. Not that he needed to drop so blatant a callback. Released in 2017 across Asian cinemas but debuting on Netflix in the U.S., Manhunt is a self-conscious throwback to the Hong Kong films that made Woo’s reputation among action movie fans around the world––a gleefully overstuffed thriller that races through the greatest-hits-of-Woo trademarks, right down to a hardboiled cop who bonds with his nemesis as he pursues him across the city.
The highly acclaimed and sparsely seen trilogy of films made by Pedro Costa in the impoverished Fontainhas neighborhood on the outskirts of Lisbon debuts on DVD in Letters From Fontainhas: Three Films By Pedro Costa (Criterion), a generous box set from Criterion featuring Ossos (1997), In Vanda’s Room (2000) and Colossal Youth (2006). Costa is an acquired taste and while I respect the artist and his vision, I’m not enthralled by his films. That’s no reason for anyone else to avoid these films, however, which have been embraced and celebrated by critics around the world. I review the set for MSN here, but you should really check out these pieces by Sam Adams (in the Los Angeles Times) and Dave Kehr (in the New York Times) to get a more in-depth and appreciative overview of his films.
The education of An Education (Sony), based on the memoir by Lynn Barber, comes to a smart and mature sixteen-year-old girl who, eager to escape her petite bourgeois life in early 1960s London, is swept off her feet by a confident, charming and worldly man with a lot of secrets. Carey Mulligan earned an Oscar nomination for her performance as a sophisticated girl intoxicated by the affair and Peter Sarsgaard is so deft that he staves off the creepy reality of a grown man seducing a high-school girl—until the reality of the situation becomes clear of everyone, including the complicit parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour). Beautifully directed and acted from a memoir deftly adapted to the screen by Nick Hornby. Features relaxed commentary by director Lone Scherfig and actors Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard (who spend as much time reminiscing over the shoot and appreciating key moments as discussing the production and the characters), a nine-minute making of featurette (which also includes interviews with screenwriter Nick Hornby and author Lynn Barber) and 11 deleted scenes among the supplements on both DVD and Blu-ray.
John Woo’s Chinese-language historical epic Red Cliff (Magnet) arrived on DVD and Blu-ray last week in both the original two-part, five-hour version released in China (to great acclaim and success) and most of the world, and in the American theatrical version, which was cut by almost half. For reasons beyond my comprehension, the publicists responsible for promoting this release were only providing the cut American version for critics (or maybe just me), so I had to wait for the street date to finally get a hold of the long version to review. And having seen it, I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t want every DVD critic to see this sweeping, magnificently mounted epic as it was originally conceived, completed and screened in the rest of the world rather than the abbreviated digest version.
Both versions are essentially about a major historical battle and the strategies and behind-the-scenes planning behind it all (with the usual exceptions made for dramatic license), a magnificent military epic with the scale of Lord of the Rings and the grand visual majesty of the recent wave of Chinese historical epics as incarnated through the stylistic muscle of John Woo. In third century China, Prime Minister Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi) pressures the Emperor to make his General of the army and let him conquer the kingdoms to the south (it’s a “preemptive strike” to put down a rebellion that has yet to happen). The elder ruler Sun Quan (Chang Chen), retreating from his land, joins forces with the young, untested Sun Quan (Chang Chen) to make a stand against the superior forces of Cao Cao at Red Cliff on the Yangtze River, a tiny military force taking on vastly superior numbers with the guidance of the brilliant strategist and diplomat Zhu-Ge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro behind a knowing smile) and the strong, silent, studly Zhou Yu (Tony Leung Chiu Wai, an old Woo star from the Hong Kong days taking charge by sheer presence).