From the Big Screen:
“American Hustle,” “Frozen,” “Saving Mr. Banks,” “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” and “Kill Your Darlings.” For more information on these and other releases this week, see the Weekly Guide to Home Video Releases.
The Criterion Collection this week offers looks at the world from both ends of the human telescope: from the ground-level, earthy adventures of Akira Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress” (1958) to the amazing and lofty work of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in “A Brief History of Time” (1991). “Hidden Fortress” is a grand-scale adventure as only Kurosawa could make one, starring the inimitable Toshiro Mifune as a general charged with guarding his defeated clan’s princess (a fierce Misa Uehara) as the two smuggle royal treasure across hostile territory. Accompanying them are a pair of bumbling, conniving peasants who may or may not be their friends. This rip-roaring ride is among the director’s most beloved films and was a primary influence on George Lucas’ “Star Wars.” “The Hidden Fortress” delivers Kurosawa’s trademark deft blend of wry humor, breathtaking action, and compassionate humanity. In a new 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Released as a Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format Edition. In “A Brief History of Time,” Errol Morris turns his camera on one of the most fascinating men in the world: the pioneering astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, afflicted by a debilitating motor neuron disease that has left him without a voice or the use of his limbs. An adroitly crafted tale of personal adversity, professional triumph, and cosmological inquiry, Morris’s documentary examines the way the collapse of Hawkin’s body has been accompanied by the untrammeled broadening of his imagination. Telling the man’s incredible story through the voices of his colleagues and loved ones, while making dynamically accessible some of the theories in Hawkin’s best-selling book of the same name, “A Brief History of Time” is at once as small as a single life and as big as the ever-expanding universe. New, restored 4K digital film transfer, supervised by director of photography John Bailey and approved by director Errol Morris, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Released in a Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format Edition.
Strand Releasing has given the HD treatment to Gregg Araki’s controversial “Mysterious Skin” (2004), an at once harrowing and tender look at the consequences of child abuse. At the age of eight, Kansas youngsters Neil (an incredible Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Brian (Brady Corbet) — both from broken families — played on the same little league baseball team. Neil became the protege of the team’s coach, who groomed him into the world of pedophilia. Brian, however, begins to have blackouts and nosebleeds, and becomes a nervous introvert. Ten years later, Neil is a charismatic but emotionally aloof male hustler while Brian is obsessed with the idea that he has been abducted by a UFO. When the boys parallel lives inevitably intersect, the pair unearth dark, repressed secrets on a harrowing and unforgettable journey of self discovery. Adapted from Scott Heim’s acclaimed novel. Co-stars Michelle Trachtenberg, Elisabeth Shue, Jeff Licon and Bill Sage. Highly recommended.
From TV to DVD:
“Atlantis: Season One” (2013) is a three-disc set with 13 episodes. DVD, $29.98; Blu-ray Disc, $39.98. From BBC Home Entertainment … “Flashpoint: The Final Season” (2013) is a three-disc set with 13 episodes, $42.99. Follows the exploits of Team One of the Strategic Response Unit (SRU), an elite SWAT team that specializes in resolving extreme situations. Armed and dangerous criminals, bomb threats, abduction and gang wars are all in a day’s work for these expert cops. This season the unit faces a serial killer on the run with a victim in tow, a deadly “smart” gun that is stolen, and a terrorist who starts bombing the city’s most populated buildings. From CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount … “Mako Mermaids – An H2O Adventure Season 1, Vol. 1: Island of Secrets and Mako Mermaids – An H2O Adventure Season 1, Vol. 2: Moon Pool Magic “ (2013) is the live-action teen mermaid dramedy spin-off from the TeenNick series “H20: Just Add Water,” and follows the adventures of mermaids Sirena, Nixie and Lyla, who are part of a mermaid pod that lives in the waters of Mako island. Season 1, Vol. 1 contains episodes 1-13, Season 1, Vol. 2 contains episodes 14-26. In two-disc DVD sets, $19.95 each from Cinedigm … “Monsters: The Complete Series” (1988-90) is a nine-disc set with 72 episodes of the fan-favorite syndicated horror anthology series, $99.98 from Entertainment One.
Buzzin’ the ‘B’s:
Although the South Korean plague thriller “Flu” (2013) at first glance appears to be a clone of Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion” (2011), the film actually ratchets up the fear and horror of the spread of a contagious disease by keying on Chinese-Korean animosity (an unknown virus attacks a group of illegal Chinese immigrants as they are “shipped” to Bundang, South Korea, in a container), unfeeling military officials with a one-sided solution (blow the infected to kingdom-come), government paranoia, political power trips, and the breakdown of law and order. Shortly after one of the immigrants dies in a Bundang hospital, covered in red rashes and coughing up blood, similar cases are reported all over the city. As the plague spreads, scientists find a sole survivor (Chinese) who may have developed antibodies against the viral mutation and they try to track him down in a city panicked with fear, violence, and quarantine camps. An exciting outing with great effects. Stars Jang Hyuk, Su Ae, Yoo Hae-jin, Park Min-ha. From CJ Entertainment … Want more infections? In “Contracted” (2013), starring Najarra Townsend, Caroline Williams, Alice Macdonald, Katie Stegeman and Simon Barrett, a twentysomething party girl has sex with a stranger at a party and contracts what she thinks is a sexually-transmitted disease. But she soon realizes that she is the host of something much more catastrophic, and that she and those around her are in mortal danger. Part zombie film and part body-horror shocker. From IFC Films … More death and destruction: In “The Wrath of Vajra” (2013 — China), a death cult working with the Imperial Army In 1930s Japan buys children and trains them as deadly assassins. When 8-year-old Vajrasattva accidentally kills his own brother in a fight for food, he makes a secret oath to take revenge. As an adult, he emerges as the cult’s best assassin, returning to China where he joins the Southern Shaolin Temple to protect his people from Japanese invaders. When the death cult opens a branch in China and starts buying local children, he sets out to save them and avenge his brother. Stars Xing Yu, Steve Yoo, Poppin Hyun-Joon, Jiang Baocheng, Ya Mei. On DVD, Blu-ray Disc from Well Go USA … In “Reasonable Doubt” (2014), starring Dominic Cooper, Samuel L. Jackson, Gloria Reuben, Ryan Robbins and Erin Karpluk, hotshot district attorney Mitch Brockden (Cooper) is involved in a fatal hit-and-run, but Clinton Davis (Jackson) is found with the body and charged with murder. Believing that Davis is innocent, Brockden is compelled to throw the trial but, soon after, Brockden’s perfect life begins to unravel as he realizes that the man he set free is hiding a secret that will destroy him. On DVD, Blu-ray Disc from Lionsgate.