Even in 3D – and the super-duper set sent me for review includes that version – “Jurassic World” is bound to lose a little something on any home screen that doesn’t take up an entire wall. At least I’m assuming so because I have so far avoided upgrading to that level of technology and so had to content myself with merely the flat BR experience. But aside from a dino in your lap (to paraphrase an early 3D advertising tagline) and their carnage splattered with depth perception I can’t think of any reason for another installment in this series about scientists and businessmen who just won’t learn their danged lessons. It seems that Jurassic World is still a going concern (exactly how is never addressed) even though the sheer number of humans consumed by reptilian carnivores over the last three films would seem to make that a highly unlikely proposition. Nonetheless that is the case, and to keep attendance up the techno geeks (led by B. D. Wong one of the few supporting players who doesn’t get eaten – oops! I forgot the SPOILER ALERT) have to invent newer dinosaurs. Bigger and with more teeth is the mantra handed down by corporate, and this can only be accomplished by creating nastier mutations.
The latest beastie turns out to be a Tyrannosaur with Raptor DNA in it and thus turns out to be a thinking dinosaur that tricks its keepers and escapes. Of course. Now I don’t mean to sound entirely dismissive of “Jurassic World.” It is what it is: a big summer blockbuster movie that’s exciting as all get out while you’re watching it but a tad silly if you think about it later. Now the film does have a few interesting new ideas that it plays with (trictly within the context of the franchise of course), such as a raptor wrangler (Chris Pratt) who’s the only really likeable character and who also possesses a motorcycle that rides smooth as silk through jungle terrain). Bryce Dallas Howard starts out as a clichéd shark of a business woman but she too swings into action mode (and she does it in heels!). I’m not entirely convinced, however, that the raptors don’t outshine them both. Of course this being a film from Steven Spielberg (even if directed by Colin Trevorrow) there are kids in danger but this particular pair has survival skills aplenty, which is a refreshing approach. And Trevorrow, unlike his producer, isn’t prone to dragging out his set pieces until they holler for mercy. Given a gross of over half a billion dollars, there’s naturally another installment will be forthcoming so the old mistakes can be made all over again. (On the positive side Trevorrow, Pratt and Howard are to be aboard.) A word of warning: despite the PG-13 rating the violence, while never overly graphic, is intense.
2015 / Legendary, Universal / 124m / $49.98 [PG-13]
Generally I enjoy spaghetti westerns because they offered what was, at the time (and still is), a refreshing take on the genre. By the time they’d run their course, they pretty much killed off the Hollywood approach to such productions but it’s likely the grittiness of their settings paved the way for such Western Revival entries as the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit” and “The Homesman.” However, given Italian filmmakers’ nonchalance about such things, the storylines are sometimes a bit loopy. Goofiest of the lot – or at least goofiest of the examples I’ve seen – is “Get Mean,” a film that appears to be a vanity production for star Tony Anthony, who also produced and supplied the nutty story that was co-scripted with co-star Lloyd Battista. The film begins with Anthony as The Stranger (how original) being dragged behind his horse; what brought this about is never explained – perhaps he was careless in mounting his steed. He encounters a woman who claims to be a Spanish princess, and it seems she is being pursued by what appear to be Vikings but who have names such as Diego. He gets hired to accompany the princess back to Spain where the Moors are in a contest for that country with the “barbarians” and for a fabled treasure to which the princess is somehow the key.
This nonsense leads to a hallucinogenic quest where The Stranger substitutes himself for the princess to obtain the treasure and ultimately a showdown with the villains – whose number includes an offensive gay caricature – that has our hero obtaining a veritable arsenal of dynamite and a powerful four-barreled rifle. From whence these things come is never explained nor is how he manages to set the dynamite bundles all over town to go off picturesquely at intervals but with little effect on the bad guys. I doubt anyone cared much about explanations so long as the result was visually impressive and visually “Get Mean” is an eye-popper throughout its running time. Whether that is compensation for a story that doesn’t make a lick of sense anywhere during its running time or a lead who defines anti-charisma is another question entirely. Let’s just say this film will not be joining the likes of “My Name is Nobody” or “Once Upon a Time in the West” on my shelf. But the head-scratching it prompted gave my scalp a good massage.
1975 / Blue Underground / 90m / $39.98 BR+DVD [NR]
In the MGM adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz,” young Dorothy takes the lesson that everything she should ever want is in her own back yard and if she couldn’t find it there then she really didn’t want it all that badly. Now when you realize that most Hollywood movie studio heads (and quite a few of their employees) emigrated here from Europe and transferred from other trades to movie-making and thus to positions of wealth and power, you understand what a hypocritical message this is and one of the reasons I dislike the movie. I had similar feelings about “Enough Already,” a short animated film intended for children that depicts the dilemma of a chicken farmer who, on the advice of his rabbi, deals with his family’s demands by moving a series of animals into his home until wife and kids cry out the titular phrase. Now agreed the guy is poor but his family isn’t really asking for much – one child only wants to be able to warm himself under a blanket that doesn’t possess a hole big enough to stick his head through. And maybe if the farmer would stop giving away his eggs he’s have some dough to bring home to provide for what scarcely seem like luxuries. I was also not taken with the songs that take up what seems like half the running time or the computer animation that unsuccessfully attempt to emulate hand-drawn work. (And if the guy who did that hadn’t at some point pined for a better Mac would he have been able to make this film?) Of course I am not the demographic for “Enough Already.” Perhaps the wee folk will be charmed by it and if it gets any of them to stop screaming for things mom doesn’t want to buy them in the supermarket, I’ll happily reverse my less-than-positive reaction.
2010 / SISU Home Entertainment / 26m / $14.95 [NR]
My Fair Lady
Amazingly there are still people who are steamed over the role of Eliza Doolittle going to Audrey Hepburn rather than Julie Andrews (it’s 2015, folks; get a life). Yes, it might have been nice to have cast an actress who could have sung the role as well as acted it, but this is a film musical and dubbed singing, at least since 1950 or so, has been as common as performers providing their own vocals. Movies, after all, are about illusion, so who cares if Marnie Nixon (who also dubbed Deborah Kerr in “The King and I” and Natalie Wood in “West Side Story”) did the singing; Hepburn is convincing in the role of the ugly duckling who becomes a swan, and she’s breathtakingly beautiful as the latter (if a tad too pretty as the former, but as I said, this is the movies). Rex Harrison repeats from Broadway and the West End as Professor Higgins – who accepts a wager from his fellow linguistic scholar Pickering (Wilfred Hyde White) to coach the streetside flower seller Eliza to be passed off as “a lady.” There is the oft-told story of Cary Grant being offered Higgins and telling producer Jack Warner that not only would he not play it but that if Harrison wasn’t cast he wouldn’t even go see the film. But Leslie Howard was considered the definitive Higgins of his time (and Wendy Hiller a perfect Eliza) in the film of Bernard Shaw’s play made in the 1930s, so let’s just dispense with the notion that only the actors who’d essayed the roles in the Lerner and Loewe stage production could possibly have played the parts.
Actually the film’s chief flaw is that is has too faithfully been transported to the screen. There are musical passages meant to cover scene changes that have been unnecessarily ported over intact, such as a moment early on, depicting the Covent Garden square “waking up” that may have been quite striking on stage but is simply peculiar here. The lack of pruning doesn’t exactly kill the film but it would have been better off running closer to two hours than nearly three. That it doesn’t collapse from its own weight can surely be credited to the deft touch of George Cukor, a director who rarely gets his due, possibly because he allowed himself to be swallowed up in the MGM film factory in the 1940s and mostly buried his personality under its production gloss. But in the 1930s he guided Katherine Hepburn through her less overbearing performances and in the 1950s turned out several films that are as close as Hollywood got to Neo-Realism. Rarely considered an auteur his films are marked by his taste and a graceful elegance, both of which keep afloat a film that threatens constantly to be overwhelmed by its production design. He’s aided in this by the performances of his actors (Gladys Cooper, Mona Washburne, Stanley Holloway and Henry Daniell in support of the leads) and a glorious score with some of the smartest lyrics ever crafted. And, yes, that is TV’s Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy Brett, as Eliza’s society suitor.
1964 / Paramount, CBS Blu-Ray / 172m / $42.99 BR+DVD [G]
The Rock ‘n Rhythm Collection
The 1955 Rock ‘n Roll Revue – Rhythm and Blues Revue – Rock, Rock, Rock
The three features collected in “The Rock and Rhythm Collection” are more valuable historically than cinematically. “The 1955 Rock ‘n Roll Revue” and “The Rhythm and Blues Revue” are collections of African American musical acts from the mid-1950s – and despite the title of the former, there isn’t a hint of rock and roll to be found. There is, however, an astonishing collection of artists, including Nat “King” Cole, Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Sarah Vaughn and Cab Calloway (performing “Minnie the Moocher” and giving a terrific impression of being coked to his eyeballs). Tap dancers Coles & Atkins, Bill Bailey and the amazing Little Buck are also featured in what must have been a vaudeville movie intended for Black audiences – remember that segregation was still very much around at the time and “race movies” (which had been produced since the silent days) were made for play in theaters that catered specifically to African Americans. The incomparable Mantan Moreland also appears and does his nonsense conversation routine with Nipsey Russell (frankly it’s funnier when Sidney Toler is his partner).
Trivia buffs will appreciate that “Rock, Rock, Rock” – which does have actual rock and roll in it – is the first feature production from the team of Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg, who later formed Amicus, the chief rival to Brittain’s Hammer Films. The acts here are tied together with a plot that’s strictly sit-com and has Tuesday Weld (in her very first film assignment and frankly displaying no future as an actress) conniving how to get a dress for the prom after daddy has cut off her charge accounts. The production values and direction (by Will Price) are also strictly sit-com but adequate to the task at hand, which is to present a slew of musical numbers, first as part of an Alan Freed TV show and later at the prom. Most of these performers have been forgotten (if they were ever all that well known – The Three Chuckles, anyone?) but Chuck Berry shows up for a single number and Connie Francis dubs Weld in two songs. The acts offered are variable in quality but most are at least tolerable. The real reason to check out this release is the two reviews that, with only a few exceptions, offer some truly great artists performing signature pieces.
1955, 1956 / Film Chest Media / 228m (2 discs) / $19.98 [NR]
Testament of Youth
The low key and exquisite “Testament of Youth” is based on the memoir of World War I by British author Vera Brittain. The film begins during the summer before young Vera (a luminous Alicia Vikander) is to attend Oxford – at a time when a degree was not the thing young women were expected to bother their pretty little heads with. But the war breaks out and Roland (Kit Harrington), an aspiring poet who becomes Vera’s fiancé, enlists as does her brother Edward (Taron Egerton) and for the usual reasons about doing their duty. Only Victor (Colin Morgan) is left out because of poor eyesight – though as the war drags on his vision becomes less of a problem and he too ends up at the front. Because the film deals with loss and trying to make sense of tragedy, it’s no spoiler to reveal that all three men become casualties in that conflict that was guaranteed to be of brief duration and The War to End All Wars. Wanting to be useful, Vera leaves Oxford to become a nurse, first in Britain and then in a ramshackle unit very near the front lines of combat in France. There her knowledge of German comes in handy when she is assigned to care for “Huns” as well as her own brother who, in a ghastly turn of events, ends up at her unit and on recovery is sent off to Italy where he’s killed.
There is much of “Masterpiece Theater” or at least Merchant and Ivory about “Testament of Youth’s” subdued approach. Yet the way it eschews melodrama is one of its strong points so far as I am concerned. In many ways, this is simply trusting the intelligence of the viewer as when a son’s death is conveyed by the sight of a uniformed messenger arriving, seen by Vera through an upstairs window, followed by the sound of her father’s muffled sobbing downstairs. Director Kent also refrains from piling on the irony when Vera is summoned back home because her mother is having “a crisis” that turns out to be the shops having no eggs or butter. The film pulls no punches, particularly in the scenes set at the front lines hospital where the blown apart bodies of the wounded are not dwelt on (this is no “Saving Private Ryan”) but at the same time no punches are pulled; you can easily understand why Brittain later became one of the leading voices of the Pacifist movement. Kent has cunningly lensed the film, starting it out with the characters set within lush vistas and slowly draining the color and moving closer and closer in on Vera as the experience of the war closes in claustrophobically on her. Boasting immaculate production design and exceptional performances this is a film that is nigh perfect and you mustn’t miss it.
2015 / Sony Pictures Classics / 129m / $34.99 BR [PG-13]