The buildup: After an unwilling drug mule (Scarlett Johansson) to a Taiwanese kingpin accidentally absorbs the powerful drugs sewn into her belly, she begins accessing parts of her brain other people cannot. Utilizing her burgeoning psychokinetic abilities, knowing her lifespan is now limited, and aware that the crime lord is after her, she seeks out more of the drug to survive and in hopes of reaching an influential science professor (Morgan Freeman) to pass on her newly gained knowledge from her radical transformation.
The breakdown: Luc Besson’s latest sci-fi epic meshes philosophical drama with Matrix-like action in a strikingly visceral way. The hyperactive gunplay and chases seem to be implemented more to ultimately lure people into the trippy visual montage at the end as Lucy reaches 100% brain capability and explores our collective unconscious. Rather Hollywood-ish at times, Lucy is still a smart thrill ride that will stimulate your synapses.
THE BOXTROLLS (2014)
The buildup: In the village of Cheesebridge located around a mountain, elite humans are seeking the extermination of pesky Boxtrolls, who are underground dwellers that roam above ground at night to pick through the trash to find useful items for their inventions. When they allegedly steal a baby boy, they become public enemy number one. Years later when their ranks have dwindled thanks to the policing efforts of villainous Archibald Snatcher, the boy raised amongst the Boxtrolls, supported by an open-minded royal daughter, surfaces and tries to make the humans realize what gentle creatures they really are. But prejudice and fear are hard to overcome.
The breakdown: Although this Oscar-nominated stop motion animated film is not that fresh in ideas—the Boxtrolls sound like Jawas, the villainous Archibald Snatcher invokes the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and a key gag is swiped from Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life—it does create its own dazzling world effectively and spices up the humor with some adult references. It’s an enjoyable family film for older kids with nice vocal performances from Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, and Jared Harris, among others. Stay alert during the end credits—partway in is a great meta bit about the characters and their relationship to their stop motion creators.
GAME OF THRONES: The Complete Fourth Season (2014)
I admit I’m behind on my Thrones viewing, but I still feel it’s worth mentioning this release as HBO Home Entertainment pulls out all the bells and whistles for fans of the beloved fantasy series inspired by the George R.R. Martin novels. Beyond the 10 episodes from Season Four, this well-stocked set includes a featurette about the making of the battle for The Wall, 11 separate audio commentaries (including Martin, breakout star Peter Dinklage, and Lena Headey), a discussion with Martin and the showrunners about the bastards of Westeros, a recap of season three, a look back at the characters who died during the fourth season, bloopers, and two deleted scenes. I also love the fact that Dame Diana Rigg (aka Emma Peel from iconic ’60s Brit series The Avengers) is a part of the show.
KINO LORBER’S STUDIO CLASSICS
Kino Lorber has built their reputation on a solid mix of silent film restorations, cult horror, and new and classic foreign films. Their library boasts such an eclectic mix of titles like Metropolis, Black Sabbath, The Conformist, and Stanley Kubrick’s Fear And Desire. The company is now pleasantly surprising cineastes even further with their Studio Classics line, giving many past A and B level studio titles like Desperately Seeking Susan, What’s New Pussycat?, Gorky Park, The Great Train Robbery, and Hickey & Boggs their Blu-ray due. Seeing as the major studios are focusing on their top-selling titles in the wake of declining physical media sales, Kino’s offerings are essential for many film buffs who feared they might never see these titles in high definition or even ever again.
The Studio Classics line has just started rolling out too. I recently watched River’s Edge for the first time in ages, and it includes commentary from director Tim Hunter. Released in 1987, it shocked some filmgoers with its depiction of disaffected teens who, upon discovering that one of their friends (Daniel Roebuck) has murdered another, are somewhat unmoved and unsure of what to do. Only Keanu Reeves’ mellow metalhead is concerned about the death. Years before Thirteen and Kids shocked people with their frank depictions of young teenage rebellion and sexual promiscuousness, River’s Edge truly prophesied the lack of empathy prevalent in many Millennials and their parents today. Crispin Glover’s performance is a bit over-the-top and the stereotype of headbangers as crazy dirtbags dated, but this lurid tale still resonates today.
On the flip side is the ridiculous sci-fi epic Meteor, the 1979 film starring Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, and Brian Keith which bankrupted American International Pictures. In this Cold War-era flick, American and Soviet forces must unite and use their nuclear missiles (located on orbiting satellites that both sides have previously denied the existence of) to destroy a giant meteor racing towards earth. Some of the effects are decent but many shots of the huge rock and the missiles get repeated ad nauseam, reducing the growing apocalyptic tension. Despite its flaws, Meteor still proves to be somewhat entertaining, although more likely for nostalgic Gen Xers.
Going back to 1955, multiple Oscar winner Marty, which was penned by Network scribe Paddy Chayefsky, stars Ernest Borgnine as a lonely bachelor living with his widowed mother who wants to find the right gal but seems resigned to always be out of luck. When he meets a warm and charming Plain Jane (Betsy Blair) at a dance, he becomes smitten and scared at the same time. There’s a poignancy to this simple black and white film that is missing from many romantic comedies and dramas today, and it takes us back to a simpler time before the Internet, cell phones, and online dating, when people had to interface directly and in person. There are good lessons to be learned from this character-driven drama.
Dozens more titles are coming from Kino Lorber that will be covered in future columns. While many of the initial Studio Classics releases did not have bonus interviews or commentaries (having them out is certainly good), many of the newer ones do, including Foxes (an early Jodie Foster movie), Running Scared (the 1986 Gregory Hines-Billy Crystal buddy cop comedy), and the early Burt Reynolds movies Sam Whiskey, Gator, and White Lightning. It’s important to keep many vintage films alive and restored—especially as there are thousands of titles that may never see the light of day except in subpar transfers on TV reruns, if even that—so kudos to the Studio Classics line.
HOW I LIVE NOW (2013)
After a troubled, angry young teen (past Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan) gets shuttled off to cousins in the British countryside by her parents for the summer, she begins to bond with a cute boy her age. Then WWIII seems imminent as a major nuclear attack on London forces her and her cousins to fend for themselves without adult supervision while martial law is imposed and society turns chaotic. Directed by Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald (The Last King Of Scotland) and based on Meg Rossof’s award-winning 2004 novel of the same name, How I Live Now spins an intimate yarn about youngsters trying to cope with apocalyptic circumstances in a rustic setting. While Ronan’s character is super bitchy at the start, you’ll warm up to her and enjoy her personal evolution into a strong young woman under daunting circumstances.