World disaster done family style

By Tom Von Malder | Feb 08, 2021
Photo by: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Morena Baccarin and Gerard Butler star in "Greenland."

Owls Head — Greenland (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 120 min.). Now we know why former President Donald Trump wanted to buy Greenland. The United States Space Force’s Thule Air Force Base is located in the northwest corner of the island. According to this film, located at the base are five huge underground bunkers designed to withstand extinction-level events. That is good, as just such an event is hurtling towards Earth.

In writer Chris Sparling and director Ric Roman Waugh’s “Greenland,” though, the emphasis is placed on one family, with the ongoing disaster often relegated to a supporting role, and boy is that family put through a lot as they experience the best and worst of humanity. The family is played by Gerard Butler, who also starred in Waugh’s “Angel Has Fallen,” as Scottish-born structural engineer John Garrity, Morena Baccarin (2 “Deadpool” films, TV’s “V”) as his estranged wife, Allison, and Roger Dale Floyd (“Doctor Sleep,” TV’s “Stargirl”) as 7-year-old Nathan, their son, who has type one diabetes, which becomes a key component to the plot.

As radio and TV broadcasts talk about the approach of comet Clarke – one assumes it has been named in honor of science fiction/futurist author Arthur C. Clarke – John gets a cellphone alert from Homeland Security that his family has been chosen to be placed in shelter, and that they should report to Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia.

Clarke has “suddenly” appeared a few weeks ago from another solar system – which I find as a nonsensical excuse for not tracking it better – and is expected to be the closest comet to ever pass Earth. Only something is wrong with Clarke. During its long journey in space, it has broken up and is now mostly made up of debris. The problem for mankind is some of those fragments now will be hitting the Earth, randomly. The first major collision wipes out a chunk of Florida from Tampa to Orlando, which was kind of strange as I was watching the film just before the Tampa Bay Super Bowl.

As the Garrity family heads for the Air Force base, their neighbors plead with them to be taken along; one woman even blocks the car, holding her child. Word has gotten out that one fragment – later estimated to be 9 miles wide – will hit Western Europe, causing an extinction-level event, predicted to wipe out 75 percent of humanity and plant and animal life. Naturally, hundreds not on the survival lists are at the Air Force base, demanding to be let aboard the evacuation planes.

Of course, the Garritys get separated, and while dad is going back to the car to fine Nathan’s insulin, which the boy had swapped out for his favorite blanket, Allison discovers that Nathan cannot board an airplane due to his chronic medical condition. This starts the family’s two- and then three-part odyssey to be reunited at her father Dale’s ranch, near Lexington, Kentucky. Dad is played nicely by an aged Scott Glenn (“The Right Stuff,” “The Silence of the Lambs”) in scenes that have emotional impact. The family is put through a lot, including a kidnapping, a fight in a moving truck and a killing, but there also is a friendly, helpful nurse.

Naturally, the family gets reunited and now must rush through New York State to Canada, where John has learned that some pilots are planning to take refugees to Greenland in hopes of finding shelter in the bunkers. The timing is tight, but that only allows for some spectacular disaster film-type scenes late in the film. One especially good one, before the big one, is when bits of molten rock fall on and around the highway, striking people and cars. For the most part, the comet strikes either appear on TV screens or are seen on the horizon. One impact near the Garrity home sends a meaningful percussive shock wave through the neighborhood. The more restrained use of the disaster elements helps support the family drama.

Extras include three deleted scenes (7:56) with optional introductions by Waugh, including an original ending; a mini-preview with actor comments (1:20); and audio commentary by Waugh and producer Basil Iwanyk. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2 stars

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

Jiang Ziya aka Legend of Deification (China, Well Go USA, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 108 min.). This animated film is set in the same Fengshen Cinematic Universe as the previously-reviewed “Ne Zha,” which is much more entertaining. In fact, the film’s “hidden,” but preannounced scene during the closing credits appears to tie in directly with that more whimsical film. The film purports to be based on an ancient Chinese legend. I had some difficulty following the plot, but the film is very colorful and flows well.

The film is set in the last years of the Shang Dynasty, when Emperor Zhou became a tyrant. The Fox Devil, Nine Tailed, transformed herself into Daji, the Royal Consort and took control of the government. Heaven’s Master of Jingxu Hall sent divine reinforcement and the Three Realms were engulfed in war. A suppression seal was used to vanquish the demons.

Now it is 10 years later, but we quickly get a flashback to when Jiang Ziya hesitated and refused to destroy Nine Tailed, as he sensed the presence of an innocent young girl entwined with her. For failing to act, he has been banished to icy Beihai, along with his minder, large Shen Gongboa, who is played mostly for comic relief, and minions of the old dynasty. Jiang Ziya’s other companion is a cute-looking, but dangerous creature called Four-Alike, who often is like a white squirrel perched on his shoulder, but which cam transform into other aspects, including a large stag.

As Jiang Ziya stops at an inn in Beihai, a young girl suddenly enters, who is the spitting image of the young spirit he saw entwined with Nine Tailed a decade earlier. It turns out they are linked by the Lock of Destiny, which looks like a bracelet the girl, who identifies herself as Jiu, wears on her ankle. She is seeking her father in the land of the black flowers, which the locals know as Mount Youdu. Jiang Ziya decides to help her in her quest, while trying to learn more about her connection to Nine Tailed. Naturally, Nine Tailed shows up to claim the girl during the journey and battles ensue. Nine Tailed also manages to release the demons at the Ruins of Return, apparently a pit of reincarnation.

As “Ne Zha” had a closing scene that briefly introduced Jiang Ziya, this film’s close sets up the City of Tribulation, a prison for the gods. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3 stars

A Tale of Two Cities (1935, Warner Archives, Blu-ray, NR, 126 min.). This adaptation of the Charles Dickens’ novel, set in London and Paris, just before and during the French Revolution, has some good acting and some memorable scenes, but I was expecting more drama. Ronald Colman (“Bulldog Drummond,” “Lost Horizon”) stars as Sydney Carton, who is a sardonic drunk who apparently serves as a co-counsel in a London law firm, although we see him drinking and socializing much more than his one court appearance.

As Dickens’ famously opens his novel, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” and those worst of times have seemingly come to an end for Dr. Manette (Henry B. Walthall of “London After Midnight,” “Chandu the Magician”), who has been released after 18 years imprisonment in the Bastille for crossing the Marquis St. Evremonde (Basil Rathbone of “The Court Jester,” reviewed last time). A British banker, Jarvis Lorry Jr. (Claude Gillingwater of “A Yank at Oxford”) informs Manette’s daughter Lucie (Elizabeth Allan of “Camille,” “David Copperfield”) that her father is still alive and then takes her to Paris to meet him and bring him home to London. Miss Pross (Edna May Oliver of “David Copperfield,” “Drums Along the Mohawk”) is Lucie’s companion/chaperone.

On the boat back to England, Lucie meets Charles Darney (Donald Woods of “Frisco Kid,” “13 Ghosts”), who is the Marquis’ nephew but refuses to use the St. Evremonde name. The two begin dating after the boat ride. Meanwhile, the Marquis, disliking his nephew’s penchant for American independence and George Washington, tries to frame Charles so he will be imprisoned or killed for treason in England. Used in the plot is Barsad (Walter Catlett of “The Front Page,” “Bringing Up Baby”), who eventually ends up in Paris.

Back in Paris is Ernest De Farge, who runs a wineshop with his wife, Madame Therese De Farge (Blanche Yurka of “The Song of Bernadette,” “The Bridge at San Luis Rey”), who is hell bent on revenge on all the St. Evremondes and leads a rebellious group called the Jacquerie that will be prominent in bringing about the storming of the Bastille -- the film’s visual highlight with hundreds of extras – and the French Revolution. In fact, she helps lure Charles back to Paris, so he can be arrested and sentenced to death. Here, the film shows the cruelty also used by the revolutionaries, who had previously been left to starve and be over-taxed by the aristocracy.

One complicating wrinkle for Sydney is that he has fallen for Lucie too, but she only treats him as a good friend. Their friendship does help him ease up on his drinking though. The film is directed by Jack Conway (“Viva Villa!,” “The Roughneck”) with a script by W.P. Lipscomb (“Pygmalion,” “Colonel Blood,” “Dunkirk”) and S.N. Behrman (“The Sea Wolf”), and produced by David O. Selznick (“David Copperfield,” “Anna Karenina,” “Gone With the Wind”). The film was Oscar nominated for Best Picture and Best Film Editing (Conrad A. Nervig).

Extras include a 1942 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of the story, starring Colman and Edna Best (58:30); Happy Harmonies cartoons, “Hey-Hey Fever,” featuring Bosco (8:25), and “Honeyland” about singing bees (10:07); and a Pete Smith bit on 3D glasses, called “Audioscopiks” (8:14). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2 stars

New editions of classics

Do the Right Thing (1989, Universal, 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray, R, 119 min.). Writer-director Spike Lee’s fourth film cemented his reputation. The insightful and provocative film explores the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn’s simmering racial tension, which results in tragedy during one scorching day. The film earned Danny Aiello a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for playing Sal the pizzeria owner. It also earned Lee an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. It also was nominated for four Golden Globes: in the same two categories as Oscars, plus Best Picture – Drama and Best Director.

Other stars were Ossie Davis (Da Mayor), Ruby Dee (Mother Sister), Richard Edson (Vito), Giancarlo Esposito (Buggin Out), Bill Nunn (Radio Raheem), John Turturro (Pino) and Samuel L. Jackson (Mister Senor Love Daddy). The film also was the feature debut of Martin Lawrence (Cee) and Rosie Perez (Tina).

This edition comes with more than four hours of bonus features, including a new introduction by Lee. Archival extras include a look at the film 20 years later; 11 deleted and extended scenes; Lee’s personal behind-the-scenes footage; an in-depth making-of documentary; an interview with editor Barry Brown; a storyboard gallery of the riot sequence; a featurette on the film’s presentation at Cannes; audio commentary from 2009 by Lee; and earlier audio commentary by Lee, Director of Photography Ernest Dickerson, production designer Wynn Thomas and actor Joie Lee (Jade). Grade: film 5 stars; extras 4.5 stars

Love Story (1970, Paramount Presents, Blu-ray, PG, 100 min.). This 50th anniversary edition of the beloved romance is newly restored from a 4K film transfer. The film, which stars Ali MacGraw as Jenny and Ryan O’Neal as Oliver, is based on Erich Segal’s best-selling novel of the same name, which captures the highs and lows of young love. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and acting nominations for both MacGraw and O’Neal (the only Oscar nomination either received). Arthur Hill directed.

Jenny is a Radcliffe College student library aide, while Oliver is a Harvard student from a family so wealthy that a building on campus bears his surname, yet despite their opposite backgrounds they fall in love. Oliver’s wealthy father threatens to disown him, but they marry anyway and begin their new life together, until fate throws them a curveball.

The limited-edition release comes with a new Filmmaker Focus with Leonard Maltin (6:26); a TMC introduction by Ben Mankiewicz; archival audio commentary by Hill; and “Love Story: A Classic Remembered.” The collectible packaging includes a foldout image of the film’s theatrical poster and an interior spread with key movie moments. Grade: film 4 stars; extras 2.5 stars

The Little Prince (2015, Paramount, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 106 min.). Making its home video debut is this animated adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s 1943 novella, a timeless story of love and humanity. The all-star voice cast includes Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio Del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Albert Brooks, Paul Rudd, Mackenzie Foy and Paul Giamatti. The film debuted on Netflix in 2016.

Directed by Mark Osborne (“Kung Fu Panda”), this re-imagined take centers on The Little Girl (Foy), prepared by her strict mother (McAdams) for the very grown-up real world. However, her eccentric neighbor (Bridges as The Aviator) introduces her to an extraordinary world in which anything is possible and she learns of The Little Prince (Riley Osborne), who was the center of the original story. The film is set in the modern world, but The Little Prince’s story, with its own animation style, is used as a parallel to better the girl’s life and give her the courage to free herself from her mother’s well-meaning, but rigid control over her life.

Extras include a making-of featurette (25:52) and a music video of “Turnaround” by Camille (3:25). Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 2 stars

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