Two helpings of Pike: 'Beirut,' 'Entebbe'

By Tom Von Malder | Jul 08, 2018
Photo by: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike star in "Beirut."

Owls Head — Beirut (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 110 min.). The exotic setting -- war-ravaged Beirut -- helps make the film interesting, as does several short action sequences. It takes a while to sort out the characters and, indeed, to understand the overall political picture. Basically, the latter is that Israel wants to take over Beirut and Lebanon to drive the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization), which has entered the neighboring country and is threatening Israel. The film takes place in two periods, 1972 and 1982, jumping over a bloody civil war that took place in-between.

American diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm of TV's "Mad Men") has made a life for himself in Beirut, where he and his wife Nadia (Leïla Bekhti) have taken in and kind of adopted Karim, 13, who claims to be without family. They have even gotten Karim a student visa. However, during a diplomatic party, Skiles learns that Karim is to be taken for questioning, as not only does he have a brother, but his brother, Rafid Abu Rajal, is wanted for allegedly participating in the Munich Olympic bombings.  As Skiles tries to ensure the boys' safety, a shootout breaks out with a third party. Karim is taken and Nadia is killed. The film then jumps forward 10 years, when Skiles, now a heavy drinker, is working as an arbitrator in the private sector around Boston. Out of the blue, Skiles is called back into government duty and asked to fly to Beirut. There, he learns that his old friend Cal (Mark Pellegrino of TV's "Supernatural") is being held hostage and has asked that Skiles be the one to negotiate his release. It is no surprise when the kidnapper of Cal turns out to be an old friend grown up (Idir Chender).

Rosamund Pike (see "7 Days in Entebbe" below, where she has less to do) plays Sandy Crowder, a CIA operative who gets to "babysit" Skiles, although he manages to ditch her several times. In the supporting cast are Dean Norris as U.S. spy official Donald Gaines, Shea Whigham as Col. Gary Ruzak of the National Security Council and Jonny Coyne (of TV's "The Blacklist") as Bernard Teppler, the liaison with American University, where Skiles is to give a lecture, part of his cover for being in Beirut.

The action bits maintain one's interest, but only Hamm is asked to do much acting. Some of the real past history of Beirut is shown just before the closing credits. The extras are minimal: a plot summary with clips (2:57) and Pike on her character (51 seconds). For some reason, IMDB lists the film as "The Negotiator." Grade: film 3 stars; extras 1/2 star

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

7 Days in Entebbe (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 107 min.). This time, Rosamund Pike (see "Beirut" above) plays Brigitte Kuhlman, one of two Germans, who along with two Palestinians, hijacked an Air France flight from Tel Aviv, Israel to Paris, France during a stop in Athens, Greece and forced the pilots to fly to Entebbe, Uganda on June 27, 1976. On board in this true event were 239 passengers, 83 of whom were Israelis. The hijackers' demands were the release of 52 terrorists jailed in France and Israel.

Basically, the film falls flat with no sense of peril or excitement at all, until the closing minutes when the Israelis send in four planes with soldiers to rescue the hostages. (Apparently no one felt this would be an act of war against Uganda and its unstable president, Idi Amin, here played by Nonso Anozie). Despite playing the main terrorists, Pike and Daniel Bruhl (as Wilfried Bose) have very little to do, even in the brief flashbacks to the planning of the event with Juan Pablo (played by Juan Pablo Raba). Back in Israel, there seems to be some plotting by Defense Minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan of TV's "Ray Donovan"), who wants an immediate military strike, against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi), who leans more toward negotiating because, as he puts it, the Palestinians are Israel's neighbors and they will have to negotiate eventually in order to live in peace.

Bizarrely, director Jose Padilha leads off with, and often breaks back to, an Israeli dance troupe practicing for a performance. One of the dancers is the girlfriend of Israeli soldier Zeev Hirsch (Ben Schnetzer), who is assigned to the raid. The subplot of the couple is pointless, unless it is meant to spark interest in whether Zeev will be killed. The dancing, while interesting, does not fit in with the film, especially if it is supposed to be a metaphor of some kind. (That said, it is nice to have two additional dance sequences among the extras, with the first one, featuring a superb male dancer, quite brilliant.) The German terrorists acknowledge the perceived echoes of Nazism in their actions against Israelis, but believe they are freedom fighters. Things become worse though, when the Palestinian terrorists separate the Jews into another holding room at the unused airport terminal in Entebbe.

The film occasionally uses archival TV news footage of the time. It then shows real hostages coming home at the end. Extras include a look at the plot (7:24); inside the raid (7:45), with interviews with the real people involved, including the flight crew; and the two extras dance sequences (5:26). Grade: film 2.25 stars; extras 2 stars

Blockers (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 102 min.). If a comedy only makes me laugh once -- at a bit of unexpected physicality -- then it is a failure, and that is what "Blockers" is. It is a sometimes raunchy, often distasteful film about three parents who learn about their three daughters' pact to lose their virginity on prom night and decide to disrupt those plans.

The parents are played by John Cena (Mitchell), Leslie Mann (Lisa) and Ike Barinholtz (Hunter). Mitchell is over-serious but soft inside, single parent Lisa is the most well-rounded and Hunter is a bit over-the-top, having been out of his daughter's life since being divorced by her mother. Their respective children are played by Geraldine Viswanathan (Kayla), Kathyrn Newton (Julie) and Gideon Adlon (Sam), whose respective dates are played by Miles Robbins (Connor), Graham Phillips (Austin) and Jimmy Bellinger (Chad), even though it is established that Sam is a lesbian. Connor, by the way, is known as The Chef because he bakes drugs into food. Gary Cole and Lisa Gershon are literally running around naked as parents of one of the boys. Gross as the latter is, it actually is one of the film's funnier bits and is revisited with different actors during the closing credits.

The acting by the six leads is generally fine, but comedic moments are such that is seems each one is trying to top the previous one. As the parents show up at the prom and then a succession of parties to try and find the girls, they encounter butt chugging (real dumb) and have some very awkward conversations. However, the three teenage girls each reach the expectations they had, with no one hurt in the process.

The many extras start with audio commentary by director Kay Cannon (not the greatest); four deleted scenes (2:34); a gag reel (2:39); a funny history of sex by Barinholtz (2:06); the ever-more-present line-o-rama (7:26 of ad-libs); a behind-the-scenes look (5:14); a look at the sex pact and the dates (6:37); Cena's prom survival kit for parents (2:35); a closer look at the butt chug scene (3:20); and a look at the not one, but six vomiting visuals (2:02). Grade: film 1.5 stars; extras 2.25 stars

Doctor Who: Tom Baker Complete Season One (1974-75, BBC, 6 Blu-ray discs, NR, 480 min. plus many extras). This is the first time a last-century Doctor Who series has come out on Blu-ray and the set is packed with all the  bonus features from the previous individual story releases in 2006-08, 2010 and 2013, as well as a whole disc of new bonus features and other new DVD extras.

The first story is the four-parter "Robot," which introduces Baker as the Fourth Doctor, succeeding Jon Pertwee. The regeneration itself is limited to two shots, but the Doctor has the usual bits of disorientation throughout the first part, although he is aided by a jump-rope sequence. At this time, the Doctor was a scientific advisor to UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, later UNified Intelligence Taskforce), led by Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney). Baker "inherited" assistant Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), an investigative journalist, and gets a new companion in Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter). The case involved a sophisticated robot (the robot's point of view is divided into squares) that was used  to steal the plans for a disintegrator gun from UNIT. Previous extras include audio commentary by Baker, Sladen and writer Terrance Dicks; the 2007 documentary "Are Friends Electric?," a 38-minute look at the episode and Baker taking over the role; and a 13-minute look at how the opening credits' tunnel look was accomplished.

The second story, also four episodes, is "The Ark in Space," in which the TARDIS lands on a space station orbiting the Earth in the distant future. Thousands of humans, the planet's only survivors, are aboard the ark in cryogenic sleep, but a parasitic insect race, the Wirm, has invaded the ark. Previous extras include audio commentary by Baker, Sladen and producer Philip Hinchcliffe; a 30-minute making-of feature; a 70-minute TV movie version;  and others.

The third story, "The Sontaran Experiment," again has the three travelers in the far future, this time on Earth, which has been long abandoned by humans. Shipwrecked human astronauts are being hunted down by some kind of creature. The two-episode story comes with audio commentary by Sladen, co-writer Bob Baker and producer Hinchcliffe and a 39-minute look at the genesis and development of the Sontaran race through the history of Doctor Who. There also is a new making-of documentary and the first  DVD release of the two-part documentary "The Tom Baker Years," which was a 1991 VHS release.

Story four, "Genesis of the Daleks," was a two-disc release in 2006. In the six-episode story, the Time Lords strand the three travelers on the planet Skaro in an era before the Daleks evolved. The Doctor has to change the course of evolution before they can return to the TARDIS. Carried over extras include audio commentary by Baker, Sladen, Peter Miles and director David Maloney, and the documentaries, "Genesis of a Classic" (60 min.) and "The Dalek Tapes" (53 min.), as well as the 7-minute "Blue Peter" fan film made with Doctor Who models.

The final story of Baker's first season is "Revenge of the Cybermen," another iconic enemy in the canon. The four episodes come with audio commentary by producer Hinchcliffe and actors Sladen and David Collings (Vorus); a newly expanded version of the making-of documentary; and a look at fan collecting in the days before official Doctor Who video and DVD releases (28 min.).

The bonus disc includes a wonderful new conversation between Matthew Sweet and the then-83-year-old Baker (64:21), in which Baker describes how he was in a down period in his life when he wrote a letter to Bill Slater, head of serials at the BBC, and less than a week later had the job of being the new Doctor Who, although he had to keep it a secret for two weeks. Baker, by the way, still plays the Doctor in audio stories for Big Finish. This bonus disc also has the TV movie version of "Genesis of the Daleks" (85:57; not seen since 1975); plus a weird little extra of studio clocks for each episode (6:36). Each story also comes with new "Behind the Sofa" shorts, with classic clips viewed by Baker, Hinchcliffe, Louise Jameson, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Sadie Miller. Also new are immersive 5.1 Surround Sound mixes for "The Ark in Space" and "Genesis of the Daleks," and optional updated special effects for "Revenge of the Cybermen." Grade: season 3.5 stars; extras 4.25 stars

El Sur (Spain, 1983, Criterion, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 94 min.). In his career, director Victor Erice has only made two films and a documentary, each about 10 years apart. He also has directed shorts and segments of larger works, for a total of 14 directing credits. "El Sur" ("The South") was his middle film. He wrote the screenplay, based on the novella by his then-wife, Adelaida Garcia Morales. A copy of the 44-page novella is included with this Blu-ray release, which is important because, due to financial restraints, the film was never finished as Erice intended. The last 12 pages, in which the main character finally goes to the South, were never filmed.

The beautifully shot film deals with Estrella, who narrates throughout the film, often as if reading from her diaries, reflecting on her childhood relationship with her father, a doctor and a dowser (they find buried water using a pendulum), and trying to understand the depth of his despair and learn his secrets. One of those secrets is her father actually loved another woman more than his wife, a woman who had a brief career as a film actress, making four pictures.

Estrella at age 8 is played by Sonsoles Aranguren and at age 15 by Iciar Bollain. The father, Augustin, is played by Omero Antonutti, while mother Julia is played by Lola Cardona. One of the highlights is a visit by Agustin's mother (Germaine Montero) and the woman who raised him (Rafaela Aparicio as Milagros) to attend Estrella's First Communion. A conversation between Estrella and Milagros touches on the injustices of the Spanish Civil War's aftermath. For example, Julia used to be a teacher, but she was on the losing side of the war. Estrella and her family live in the North, outside a major city, but in a vast open space. Their ramshackle house is known as La Gaviota (The Seagull).

Erice uses a lot of dissolves to black, particularly on scenes using only existing light, such as from a window, with the window opening the last to fade out. Jose Luis Alcaine was the director of photography. Bonus features include a 2003 TV interview with Erice, who discusses how the film is unfinished (21:22); a 2012 making-of feature with interviews with actors Antonutti, Aranguren and Bollain, cinematographer Alcaine and camera operator Alfredo Mayo (24:29); and a 1996 episode of "Que grande es el cine" with film critics  Miguel Marias, Miguel Rubio and Juan Cobos discussing the film (61:25). In addition to the novella itself, there is a pamphlet with an essay by novelist and critic Elvira Lindo. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3.25 stars

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