Thursday, September 25, 2014
Blu-ray Reviews: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), The Innocents (1961), Macbeth (1971) and Star Trek: The Compendium (2009/2013)
by Tony Dayoub
Fall box office offerings are starting to heat up as we head into awards season. That means Blu-ray reviews will be more infrequent, so forgive the odd selection I've cobbled together for this one (and enjoy each Blu-ray's respective screen grabs).
Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek Into Darkness
First up is Star Trek: The Compendium, a re-release of the two J.J. Abrams entries in the popular science fiction franchise. The origin of this release is among the oddest. Last year, the Blu-ray release of Star Trek Into Darkness caused some controversy among fanboys and collectors because Paramount chose to withhold what would have been its extras from the actual disc and offered them as exclusive premiums distributed among various retailers. iTunes got an exclusive audio commentary, Target got some featurettes, Best Buy got some others, etc. You can read more about this at The Digital Bits. But what it basically comes down to is that Paramount gave the impression it knew that because Trekkers are completists, they are game to buy just about anything and are ripe for being taken advantage of. Allegedly a pretty blatant cash grab at one of fandom's most loyal group of followers, it did not go too well. Hence, Star Trek: The Compendium.
The just released set includes both films and every single extra created for each all spread out across four Blu-ray discs. The video and audio quality are superb. As for the movies themselves? 2009's Star Trek is still an original, creative idea to reboot the franchise, ingeniously allowing the Shatner/Nimoy TV iteration to co-exist in its own pocket universe alongside the new Abramsverse through some temporal script mechanics. 2013's Into Darkness squanders the goodwill of the previous film's premise by failing to set off in a new direction. After its promising pre-credits sequence, the movie settles into a rehash of the far superior Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with Benedict Cumberbatch playing the most dangerous nemesis Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) ever faces. Still, the look behind the scenes offered by Into Darkness' extras is fascinating. Never have so many come together to so expertly design such a vivid fictional world for so mediocre a film. The Star Trek: Compendium is worth a buy, even though the 2 discs included for 2009's Star Trek are identical to the original special edition released that year. And Paramount is even offering U.S. fans who bought either film's original Blu-ray a $5 rebate until 11/30/14.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
More and more, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not only looking like one of Marvel's best pictures but one of the best thrillers of the year. In the Blu-ray commentary, sitcom directors Anthony and Joe Russo reveal how they made the transition to big-budget conspiracy drama seem so effortless. They are film geeks who studied all kinds of espionage and action movies. The influence of 70s political suspense films like All the President's Men and Three Days of the Condor is most keenly felt thanks to the presence of an actor who once could have played Captain America himself, Robert Redford. Less apparent is the Russos' assertion that The French Connection informed a stunning car chase early in the film where the evil HYDRA organization attempts to assassinate spy agency SHIELD's director Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson). At the heart of the movie is the tragic dislocation of the earnest Cap (Chris Evans) himself, shown in sharp relief to Cap's partners, the techno-savvy Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and further exacerbated by the reappearance of a man from his past in the form of the mysterious Winter Soldier. If only the rest of the extras were as good as the creative team's commentary. There's a smattering of featurettes, with the best of them (like with Into Darkness) available only through Target's new digital download platform, TargetTicket.
Disquieting, if not necessarily horrifying, The Innocents is a psychosexual take on The Turn of the Screw. Deborah Kerr may be a touch too old to play the naive governess, Miss Giddens. But the casting becomes totally acceptable if one sees the ghosts haunting her young charges, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin), as delusions arising from Miss Giddens' easily discernible sexual frustration. Miss Giddens shivers at the mere touch of a man, even if it's the kids' possibly homosexual uncle (Michael Redgrave).
But she goes positively aflutter at the idea that Flora and Miles may be possessed by the ghosts of two of their estate's previous staff, her predecessor, Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), and the darkly handsome Mr. Quint (Peter Wyngarde). This apparently gives the repressed Miss Giddens a justification for carrying on quite inappropriately with young Miles. Their dynamic is more jilted girlfriend and aloof boyfriend than teacher and student, a fact that becomes even more evident after a couple of passionate kisses Miss Giddens plants on the oblivious Miles' lips. It's all very brief, but it adds considerably to the creep factor of this classic ghost story. Only you can decide whether the phantoms are real or all in Miss Giddens's head.
Another movie featuring a protagonist wrestling with unearthly disturbances marks the return of Roman Polanski to the Criterion Collection. 1971's Macbeth is one of Polanski's most unjustly maligned movies, perhaps because of its unapologetic wallowing in dark themes coming so closely after the murder of Polanski's wife Sharon Tate by the Manson Family. That it was Playboy founder Hugh Hefner's first and ultimately only venture into cinema may have been another reason. However unlike Penthouse's only film production, Caligula, there is nothing prurient about this cold interpretation of Shakespeare's Scottish Play, and its influence has certainly been more pronounced.
Surely David Lynch must have seen it when deciding whether to cast Francesca Annis in Dune. Primarily a stage actress, Annis's youthful turn as Lady Macbeth is her only other screen role of note. But Lynch may have also picked up the odd, sotto voce voiceover technique to deliver Dune's many soliloquies from the way Macbeth (Jon Finch) whispers his internal dialogue, often in voiceover as well.
One thing that is more obvious in this pristine Criterion edition is the visual legacy Macbeth shares with 1981's Excalibur. Aside from the red sun hanging low over the smoky skies as Macbeth arms for battle, just take a look at Finch in the photo at top. Thanks to Polanski and cinematographer Gil Taylor, his armor shines with the same otherworldly glow as King Arthur's. And doesn't he look just a little bit like Excalibur's Nigel Terry?