'Simon' finds love

By Tom Von Malder | Jul 01, 2018
Photo by: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Nick Robinson plays the title character, a gay high school student, in "Love, Simon."

Owls Head — Love, Simon (20th Century Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 109 min.). Simon Spier (Nick Robinson  of "Jurassic World," "Everything, Everything") appears to be your typical well-mannered, intelligent high school student, with loving parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel), a few good friends and a comfortable existence, but he also is gay and not ready to come out yet. Simon has, though, started falling in love with an anonymous e-mail pal who signs himself "Blue" and also is probably a high school student. One day in the school library, Simon forgets to sign off on his e-mail account and the next student to use the computer finds the e-mails and blackmails Simon into helping him get close to the new girl in school.

The film is directed by Greg Berlanti, who is responsible for such TV shows as "Supergirl," "The Flash," "Arrow," "Legends of Tomorrow," "Riverdale" and "Black Lightning." It is based on the young adult novel "Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda" by Becky Albertalli, which was told half through Simon's viewpoint and half through the e-mails between Blue and Jacques, the name Simon uses for the correspondence. In the book, there is much more guessing as to who Blue may be as Simon tries to pick out clues. Berlanti makes a wise choice to show different characters writing to Jacques, during the period each is thought by Simon to be Blue. Among the possibles are soccer player Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale of "Legends of Tomorrow," "The Flash"), theater participant Cal (Miles Heizer of "13 Reasons Why") and flirty waiter Lyle (Joey Pollari).

Simon's best friends are Leah (Katherine Langford) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). The blackmailer is Martin (Logan Miller), who plays the emcee in the school's production of "Cabaret," and the girl Martin wants to date is Abby (Alexandra Shipp), in her first year at the school, but already a good friend with Simon. I prefer the book's ending better. In the film, a crowd of students watch to cheer on Simon as he hopes to meet Blue. It is both cheesy and uncomfortable. One of the nice moments, though, is when Simon goes to a Halloween party dressed like John Lennon. The vice principal role played by Tony Hale is a complete joke and totally unrealistic.

There are several bonus features, but only a couple are substantial. Berlanti does audio commentary along with producer Isaac Klausner and co-writer Isaac Aptaker (producer and writer for TV's "This Is Us"). There are only two deleted scenes (7:48), the longer of which has one of Simon's friends take him to a gay nightclub, where he is hit upon for the first time. In the book, it is two friends taking Simon to a gay restaurant. The scene extends to back at Simon's house, where he is rather nasty to his mother, which is, I'm sure, the reason the scene was not used. There also is a photo gallery, a look at the adaptation that includes book author Albertalli (10:41) and a look at the cast (9:46). Shorts include the winner of a film-related contest (1:34) and two promotional pieces, one on Georgia (5:07) and one on Atlanta (2:06), where the film was shot. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

The Endless (Well Go USA, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 112 min.). The film is advertised on the cover as "horror/sci-fi," but I found nothing horrific in it and the science fiction angle that comes in real late is muddled. This is more like an episode of "The Twilight Zone" stretched out to three times the normal length, with much of that extra time devoted to meeting quirky characters. At least the film, directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead ("Spring") does provide a bit of a creepy element that it seems like something might happen at any moment or something bad is lurking just off camera.

Benson wrote the film and Moorhead was the cinematographer. They also star in the film as, respectively, Justin and Aaron, two brothers who escaped from what they called a UFO death cult 10 years earlier. After a ratty old videotape arrives at their apartment from one of the cult members, the younger brother talks the other into revisiting the cult at Camp Arcadia "for closure." Weirdly, the cult welcomes the brothers back with no real animosity. In fact, their leader, Hal (Tate Ellington of TV's "Quantico"), although he thinks that label is inappropriate, treats them almost as best buddies. It takes until 65 minutes in to reach what could be called a science fiction angle. The film does get weirder as it goes along and several more new characters are introduced.

The only extra is a good one, with the two directors talking about the film outside during a storm in Switzerland. The film was shot in California over 17 days. It has a tie in with their first film, "Resolution," in which they appeared as the same characters in much smaller parts. A scene from "Resolution" is shown as a videotaped moment in "The Endless." Grade: film and extra 2.5 stars

The Colossus of Rhodes (Italy-Spain, 1961, Warner Archive DVD, NR, 128 min.). This film, part of the wave of Italian sword-and-sandal films after the splash the Hercules films made, is the first that credits Sergio Leone as director (as well as one of the eight writers), after he spent many years assistant directing films, including the similar "The Last Days of Pompeii." In fact, Leone was assistant director or second unit director on 35 films. Leone would become famous for introducing the Spaghetti Western to the West with Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name in a trio of films.

These sword-and-sandal films always had to have a "name" American star. In this case, it is Rory Calhoun, star of many a B Western. Through the first, slow half of the film, Calhoun is anything but a star, especially in the many scenes in which his character tries to seduce a Rhodean noble. She is Diala, played by Lea Massari. Luckily, the second half of the film is loaded with action, including a slave revolt, a massacre in the arena, slaves being dragged around by chariots or fed to lions in the arena, street fighting, a violent earthquake accompanied by strong winds and destruction as the whole city collapses. One unique slave torture involves a giant bell. The statue itself can tip boiling led onto ships passing below or launch catapults of the stuff, once its head opens like a flower.

Calhoun, who was filming "Marco Polo" in Italy at the time, plays Dario, a Greek war hero from Athens. He has been invited to view the new statue, the Colossus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, as it is dedicated to Apollo in 280 B.C. The crown of King Serse (Roberto Camardiel) does not rest easy though, as Dario gets unwillingly involved with two plots against him. Additionally, a man tries to stab Serse during the ceremony, then Serse's wine is poisoned during the banquet afterwards. Later, after chasing Diala for several minutes, Dario overhears the king's right-hand man (Conrad San Martin as Thar) plotting with a Phoenician delegate (Antonio Casas). Serse thinks Phoenicia, the other great sea power, will ally with Rhodes against the Greeks and thus control the Mediterranean Sea; however, Thar helps the Phoenicians smuggle in soldiers, disguised as Macedonian slaves, so Serse can be overthrown. A bit later, Dario is taken by a band of rebels, led by Peliocle (Georges Marchal), who want to end Serse's cruel reign and use of slaves to build giant monuments, even though the work kills many of the slaves.

Many of the film's sequences show only one foot of the statue, making me feel that was all that was built (this was a time before computers, so everything had to be built, modeled or painted). Christopher Froyling, a biographer of Leone who provides an audio commentary, confirms this. There also was a model built of the statue's head and shoulders -- where a sword fight takes place! The shots showing the whole statue were made with a model. Froyling, in his informative and entertaining commentary, also points out that the film actually makes the statue three times as tall as it really was, moves in from atop a hill to covering the entrance to the harbor, and moves up its destruction by an earthquake from 60 years to about a week. The film was shot on the north coast of Spain, with the interiors filmed in Madrid and Rome. Grade: film 3 stars; extra 2.5 stars

Also in release:

Edward II (United Kingdom, 1991, Film Movement Blu-ray, NR, 90 min.). This is the Blu-ray debut of Derek Jarman's ("Caravaggio," "Wittgenstein") extraordinary adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's 1593 play, based on the life of Britain's only openly gay monarch. The film stars Jarman's muse and Oscar winner Tilda Swinton as Queen Isabella, a French princess Edward wed. Steven Waddington ("The Imitation Game") plays Plantagenet King Edward II, who is a weak monarch with a tenuous grasp on the throne. After he rejects his wife and takes a male lover, the ambitious commoner Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan), the stage is set for a palace revolt.

Jarman uses anachronistic imagery and has gay activists battling riot police, as the film serves as a rebuke of Margaret Thatcher era homophobia . Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics shows up to sing Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye." Bonus features include a documentary, "Derek's Edward," and a new essay, "Queenie Queens on Top," by filmmaker Bruce LaBruce, with a prologue by Swinton.

Hamlet (United Kingdom, Omnibus Entertainment DVD, NR, 192 min.). This is a stripped back, fresh and fast-paced staging by Sarah Frankcom of William Shakespeare's most iconic work for Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre. Maxine Peake ("The Theory of Everything") is the first female actor to be cast as Hamlet in a major production since Frances de la Tour 40 years ago. The original stage production was 2014. The film is directed by Margaret Williams. Peake was praised for her performance and her quick, angry speech delivery.

Ingrid Bergman's Swedish Years (Sweden, 1935-40, Eclipse/Criterion, 6 DVDs, 519 min.). Bergman appeared in 11 films in her native Sweden before she was 25. Six of those films are included in this set, which shows Bergman summoning an impressive depth of emotion for her portrayals. Under the direction of filmmakers such as the prolific studio head Gustaf Molander, Bergman worked with some of the most celebrated actors in the Swedish film industry, including Gosta Ekman, Karin Swanstrom, Victor Sjostrom and Lars Hanson.

The films include the ensemble comedy "The Count of the Old Town" (1935, 82 min.), in which Bergman had her first speaking part, that of a chambermaid seduced by a suspected jewel thief. In "Walpurgis Night" (1935, 79 min.), Bergman is a virtuous young woman who becomes entangled in a sordid love triangle. The film also was about Sweden's declining birth rate. "Intermezzo" (1936, 92 min.), the film that took Bergman to America when she made the Hollywood remake, is a sweeping romance about an ill-starred affair, directed by Molander.

"Dollar" (1938, 77 min.), another comedy, is about three vacationing couples who flirt and fight. Bergman plays an actor whose sharp tongue belies her soft heart. In "A Woman's Face" (1938, 100 min.), a thriller Molander directed, Bergman plays a ruthless blackmailer who undergoes an operation to repair her disfigured face and gets a change of heart in the bargain. Finally, there is "June Night" (1940, 89 min.), in which an unassuming woman is caught up in a sensational scandal. It was Bergman's last Swedish film before moving to the United States. The Eclipse sets come without bonus features.

The Best of Agatha Christie Vols. 1-4 (Each Acorn 2-DVD sets, NR, 382/307/363/386 min.). These sets mix adventures from the Miss Marple, Poirot and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford series. The first two came out in November; the last two in June.

Volume 1 includes the classic "And Then There Were None," with 10 strangers invited to an isolated island on the brink of World War II. It stars Charles Dance, Aiden Turner, Sam Neill and Miranda Richardson. The other two mysteries star David Suchet as Poirot. They are "Five Little Pigs," in which Poirot is asked to prove the innocence of a woman executed 14 years earlier, and "Death on the Nile," another classic and starring Emily Blunt, JJ Field and Judy Parfitt.

Volume 2 includes "Agatha Christie's The Witness for the Prosecution," starring Kim Cattrall as the murdered heiress and Billy Howie as her young lover who is accused of her murder. It comes with bonus interviews (46 min.) and featurettes on the story (24 min.) and the fashion (11 min.). Then, there are two more Poirot stories: "Three Act Tragedy," in which dinner party guests start dying and starring Martin Shaw and Art Malik, along with Suchet; and "Hallowe'en Party," in which a young girl is murdered at a children's costume party." It stars Suchet, Zoe Wanamaker and Timothy West.

Volume 3 includes "Partners in Crime: The Secret Adversary," starring David Williams and Jessica Raine as Tommy and Tuppence Beresfored, who stumble into spy craft while searching for a missing woman in Cold War-era Britain. Miss Marple (Geraldine McEwan) is drawn into the Argyle family's tragic history in "Ordeal by Innocence," also starring Jane Seymour, Richard Armitage, Juliet Stevenson and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. In "The Hollow," Poirot (Suchet) untangles a family's love affairs while searching for a killer. Edward Fox and Jonathan Cake co-star.

Volume 4 includes Poirot (Suchet) and Hastings (Hugh Fraser) tackling their first case together in "The Mysterious Affair at Styles," as an old woman is poisoned. Wanamaker stars again in "Dead Man's Folly," another case for Suchet's Poirot, as a girl is killed at a "murder hunt." Miss Marple has to investigate some suspicious characters in "The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. Lindsay Duncan and Joanna Lumley co-star. Miss Marple also has "A Caribbean Mystery," with a death at a posh hotel. These adaptations are always delightful and handsomely made.

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