‘The Illusionist,’ ‘Winter Passing’ and ‘Resurrecting the Champ’ Among Star-Studded Films Joining MVD Marquee Collection

The MVD Marquee Collection is adding five films from Yari Film Group to its lineup on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

Due June 25 are Resurrecting the Champ, Winter Passing and The Illusionist.

Resurrecting the Champ, directed by Rod Lurie (The Contender), stars Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Hartnett with Alan Alda, Kathryn Morris, Teri Hatcher, David Paymer and Peter Coyote. In the film, sportswriter Erik Kernan (Hartnett) wants nothing more than to discover a story great enough to make headlines. When he meets Champ (Jackson), a former boxing champion living on the streets, he knows he has a shot to save them both. Recording his newfound friend’s tale of triumph and defeat, Kernan gets his story and his fame. But as Champ’s tale falls under more scrutinizing eyes, Kernan learns what truly makes a story great is the quality of the man behind it. Bonus material includes a feature audio commentary from Lurie, a behind-the-scenes featurette, interviews with the cast and crew, and the original theatrical trailer.

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Winter Passing is an offbeat film about homecoming and reconciliation that features Zooey Deschanel, Will Ferrell, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Dallas Roberts, Michael Chernus, Anthony Rapp, Sam Bottoms and Rachel Dratch. When a book editor (Madigan) offers to buy the love letters of Reese Holden’s (Deschanel) parents, she returns home to recover them, only to find her widowed dad (Harris) golfing upstairs, sleeping outside and living with roommates — a pretty grad student (Amelia Warner) and a quirky wannabe musician (Ferrell). Bonus material includes a behind-the-scenes featurette and the original theatrical trailer.

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The Illusionist stars Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton along with Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Marsan and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. In the film, acclaimed illusionist Eisenheim (Norton) has not only captured the imaginations of all of Vienna, but also the interest of the ambitious Crown Prince Leopold (Sewell). But when Leopold’s new fiancée (Biel) rekindles a childhood fascination with Eisenheim, the Prince’s interest evolves into obsession and the city’s chief inspector (Giamatti) finds himself investigating a shocking crime. As the Inspector engages him in a dramatic challenge of wills, Eisenheim prepares for his most impressive illusion yet. Bonus material includes a feature audio commentary from writer/director Neil Burger, “The Making of the Illusionist” featurette, the “Jessica Biel on the Illusionist” featurette and the original theatrical trailer.

Taking 18 years from the start of production to theatrical release, Shortcut to Happiness finally makes its debut on Blu-ray and DVD July 16. Originally titled The Devil and Daniel Webster, the film was to be the directorial debut of Alec Baldwin. With the film plagued by investor problems and rumored creative differences, Baldwin had his director credit removed from the film and replaced with the pseudonym Harry Kirkpatrick. Producer Bob Yari rescued the film from bankruptcy court and finished it without Baldwin’s participation. It received limited theatrical screenings in 2007. Years later, it aired on Showtime and Starz channels. Set in New York’s literary world, Shortcut to Happiness is a contemporary re-telling of the classic short story ”The Devil and Daniel Webster,” starring Baldwin, Dan Aykroyd, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Kim Cattrall, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Poehler and Darrell Hammond. It follows Jabez Stone (Baldwin), a down on his luck writer who sells his soul to the devil (Love-Hewitt) in exchange for fame and fortune. When things don’t turn out as planned, Stone ultimately decides that he wants his old life again and enlists the help of Daniel Webster (Hopkins) in order to win his soul.

Finally, Sept. 17 comes Find Me Guilty from director Sidney Lumet (Serpico, Network, Dog Day Afternoon). Vin Diesel stars with Peter Dinklage, Annabella Sciorra, Alex Rocco, Ron Silver and Linus Roache in this true story. When police arrest 20 members of the Lucchese crime family, the authorities offer Jackie Dee DiNorscio (Diesel) a bargain: a shortened prison term if he’ll testify against his own. But the wisecracking DiNorscio has other ideas. Refusing to cooperate, he decides to defend himself at his own trial and proceeds to turn the courtroom upside-down, culminating in one of the most shocking verdicts in judicial history. Bonus material includes the “A Conversation with Director Sidney Lumet” featurette, the original theatrical trailer and three TV spots.

Mission: Impossible — Fallout

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 12/4/18;
Paramount;
Action;
Box Office $220.16 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $37.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language.
Stars Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Sean Harris, Vanessa Kirby, Angela Bassett, Michelle Monaghan, Wes Bentley, Alec Baldwin. 

The latest entry in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise brings together elements from all the movies to craft a top-notch, high-energy action adventure that could go down as a benchmark in the genre.

Central to the film’s success is star Tom Cruise, who took on many of the most dangerous stunt sequences himself. This emphasis on practical stunts lends a verisimilitude other contemporary action movies would be hard-pressed to match, as they so often resort to frenetic editing to mask underwhelming stuntwork or visual effects.

What’s even more remarkable about this is that Cruise is now 56 years old. By comparison, Roger Moore was 58 by the time he walked away from James Bond, when critics were saying he seemed way too old for the part. Even more astonishing, as has been pointed out online, perpetual old guy Wilford Brimley was five years younger in the quintessential senior citizen movie Cocoon than Cruise was in this movie. And yet Cruise shows no signs of slowing down (though a broken ankle during one of his stunts does raise the question of how far is too far).

In Mission: Impossible — Fallout, the sixth film in the franchise based on the classic TV series, Cruise personally executes a lengthy skydiving sequence, pilots a helicopter through a narrow mountain pass and races a motorcycle without a helmet through the streets of Paris. Not to mention his signature running scenes that have become a staple of the franchise. All this comes, of course, after he learned to hold his breath for five minutes for the previous movie.

In Fallout, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has to track down stolen plutonium that got into the hands of terrorists because his personal attachment to members of his team led him to save them instead, compromising the safety of the world (and highlighting a big reason why James Bond usually works alone).

Hunt’s IMF squad is then saddled with a CIA observer (Henry Cavill) as they attempt to recover the plutonium again, which now involves a group that wants to free Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the bad guy from the previous film who ran a covert network of rogue secret agents looking to undermine world governments.

Another subplot deals with Ethan’s relationship with Julia (Michelle Monaghan) from Mission: Impossible III, and how they had to part ways so he could continue to save the world without putting her at risk. (Cleaning up this storyline was one of Cruise’s main goals for the film, he says in the supplements).

What’s clear from the bonus materials is that, aside from the flexibility Cruise doing his own stunts being a huge advantage for the film’s editors, director Christopher McQuarrie and the writers were still making up the story as they were filming (which isn’t unlike Ethan’s methodology for completing the mission).

McQuarrie is the first person to direct a second “Mission: Impossible” movie, and even though this film is very much a direct sequel to his Rogue Nation, he insisted on bringing in a new production team to give the film a different style than his previous work, and the results speak for themselves. McQuarrie’s action is kinetic and thrilling while maintaining a clear sense of space and geography so the audience can easily track where the characters are and what is going on.

A number of the action sequences were shot using Imax cameras, and the Blu-ray aspect ratio adjusts to fill the full screen during these scenes.

The Blu-ray comes loaded with bonus materials, including three audio commentaries — a rarity in a day and age when most new home videos are reluctant to include even one.

McQuarrie is involved in two of the commentaries — sharing one with Cruise and another with editor Eddie Hamilton. The McQuarrie/Cruise pairing, amusingly dubbed “Tom Cruise University” at one point, is more an exercise in self-praise and an affirmation of how much fun they were having crafting the film. The track with Hamilton gets more into the filmmaking process in general.

The third commentary involves composer Lorne Balfe, who discusses his creative process and how he went about incorporating the iconic “Mission: Impossible” theme. Fittingly, there’s a score-only audio option to show off the terrific music.

The disc also includes an introduction of sorts in the form of a PSA-type video with Cruise and McQuarrie discussing motion-smooting settings on new TVs and telling viewers they should turn it off to avoid the movie looking like glossy videotape.

All the featurettes and behind-the-scenes material are on a bonus disc, with the main piece being “Behind the Fallout,” a grouping of seven featurettes that run a total of 53 minutes.

Balfe returns in a five-minute featurette to discuss mixing the music for the foot chase sequence. There’s also a three-minute featurette called “The Ultimate Mission” in which Cruise offers his own reflections on the franchise.

The bonus disc also includes the theatrical trailer and storyboards for several sequences, plus a four-minute montage of deleted scenes, offered with or without the director’s commentary.

The deleted scenes are alluded to frequently in the commentaries, but the montage is mostly just the visuals of the scenes set to music, with minimal sound effects and no dialogue. McQuarrie says he usually prefers not to show deleted scenes but decided to present them in a musical montage as a compromise because he really wanted audiences to see the hard work that went into them.

While a couple work fine without sound, it probably would have been more effective to just present the scenes as a disc typically would, rather than make a music video out of them.

Paramount Releasing ‘Jack Ryan Collection’ on 4K Blu-ray Aug. 21

Paramount Home Media Distribution is re-releasing the cinematic adventures of author Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst Jack Ryan with the new Jack Ryan Collection 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray boxed set Aug. 21.

The collection includes a UHD Blu-ray disc, a regular Blu-ray disc and a digital copy for each of the five films in the franchise: 1990’s The Hunt For Red October, with Alec Baldwin as Ryan; Harrison Ford in the role in 1992’s Patriot Games and 1994’s Clear and Present Danger; 2002’s The Sum of All Fears starring Ben Affleck; and 2014’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit with Chris Pine.

The new boxed set is timed for the Aug. 31 release of the new Amazon TV series “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” starring John Krasinski as the character.

Great Balls of Fire!

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Olive;
Drama;
$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13.’
Stars Dennis Quaid, Winona Ryder, Alec Baldwin, Trey Wilson. 

Nobody pulled too many muscles remastering Orion Pictures’ cartoonish Jerry Lee Lewis biopic for Blu-ray release, but curio seekers may want to be reminded — because I had totally forgotten myself — that Alec Baldwin plays evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, the real-life cousin of rockdom’s self-ordained “Killer.” Actually, it’s another cousin who looms large in the Lewis saga (more on that in a minute), but let it be noted, also for the curious, that Baldwin doesn’t even attempt a characterization. We can almost hear the actor bellowing, “None of that Dennis Quaid peroxide mixed into in my hair, you don’t.”

It’s the similar lack of detail beyond the onetime standard tabloid boilerplate of the day that hurts the picture, which was positioned and certainly promoted to be a hit, what with Lewis’s cooperation and even his agreement to record improved-fidelity versions of his career-making Sun Records hits from his brief time at the highest rungs of the top. Since his wedding-related tumble, of course, Lewis has always been a formidable “name” at the very least, as well as an undeniable killer when it comes to showmanship. Boomers everywhere have long waited for him to co-author a health-tips volume with Keith Richards called How To Defy the Odds by Living Half-a-Century Longer Than Anyone Predicted.

Much like Richards’ Rolling Stones of the ’60s, at least when at least compared to the Beatles dressing like gentlemen on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” dangerous Lewis posed a threat to parental stress levels that Elvis didn’t fully replicate, or at least all the time. Elvis, after all, occasionally scored smash hits with ballads like “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” or “Love Me Tender” or “Don’t” — and even romanced Debra Paget tender-ly in his Tender screen debut. Judging just from his performing behavior — and you can get a short idea of how scary he was at the time via a brief clip in that mammoth six-part American Music: The Root of Country doc that Ted Turner aired in 1996 — Lewis on screen with Paget would likely have been more akin to what the actress (as “Lilia”) had to endure during the Golden Calf orgy scene in DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

All of this was exciting, of course, to us fourth and fifth graders at the time — a good topic of discussion during school detention, to be sure, after our near-daily adventures in Ohio classroom disrupting that anticipated everything in Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. On the small screen, as opposed to concert appearances, Lewis was at his piano-pounding wildest on “The Steve Allen Show” and even named his son after the comic host — whose not-ever-to be-missed Sunday night variety show got programmed by NBC opposite Sullivan for a much hipper hour, though one not as big in the ratings (think Cavett vs. Carson in the counterculture early ’70s). This is kind of odd because like the equally uproarious Stan Freberg, Allen disdained “the new sounds” (I think both made rock critic Dave Marsh’s “Enemies of Rock and Roll” list). But he also appreciated outrageousness when he saw it, went with the flow, and his too brief appearance as himself in this movie is a minor high point.

The high point here is probably Winona Ryder as Lewis’s 13-year-old first cousin (removed) Myra, whose marriage to him as wife No. 3 did not amount to a crackerjack career move in late 1957 (just as the film’s title tune was soaring the charts around Christmas time after Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On had ripped up the previous summer). Ryder is fully credible playing someone very young (and, indeed, might even pass for 13), though this part of the movie’s chronology is completely screwed up here in terms of Lewis record releases. (The Dave “Baby” Cortez recording of “The Happy Organ” also shows up on the soundtrack about a year before it would have been possible to do so.) The Jerry-Myra union — which, for a long while, managed to survive a pompously negative British press of Uriah Heep types during a disastrous musical tour in early ’58 — didn’t keep that spring’s “Breathless” from being a top-10 hit (it’s a killer itself). But it likely did make a big dent in the potential sales of follow-up High School Confidential!, which sported one of the coolest 45 jackets ever in that it showcased not just Lewis, but the cast of actors who headlined that teen-junkie trash classic, including Russ Tamblyn and Mamie Van Doren. I had it (of course) and played it in my room after detentions.

After that, things went downhill for the singer pretty fast, and a final indignity came in 1959 when someone ghosted an article under (the original) Jerry Lewis’s name in Photoplay (with Elvis in army uniform on the cover) called, “I Am NOT Jerry Lee Lewis.” And even when Jerry Lee made one of the greatest live albums ever in the mid-’60s, its release was held up for years.

Even so, the movie ends on a happy note suggesting that Lewis and Myra ended up together for decades of walks into the sunset, but he ended up being as married almost as many times as Larry King (I can’t remember if they ever married each other). The director here is Jim McBride, who had directed Quaid in one of his most appealing efforts (The Big Easy) but in this case can’t keep his star from doing the truly impossible: fashioning a performance as Lewis that is, of all things, too broad — a trait it shares with the movie. Nearly two hours of sheer burlesque, Fire! tries to be (or, at least, is) such a pastiche of everything that was happening in the musical/pop culture scene at the time that nothing seems authentic. The minor compensation for this is the film’s accelerated pace and an occasionally hilarious response or reaction shot by Quaid, usually over some indignity. And though, as mentioned, the print could use a fresh, modern-day remastering, the production design is so sprightly under any circumstances that I’d even enjoy living with the wild two-toned carpet in the home the newlyweds look at, even if no one else I’ve ever known likely would.

Through it all, Baldwin’s Swaggart remains a moral compass who is many public years away from the phlegm-faced adulterer whose nationally broadcast-to-death mea culpa in 1988 inspired my then 21-month older son (now an anesthesiologist) to take a baby’s milk bottle out of his month and identify him, when asked on a lark, as the first George Bush. Thus, we do not get to see a Baldwin dramatization of quaking Swaggart crying, “I have sinned” on the airwaves three years and change before a subsequent arrest with a prostitute — but the way things are going with Donald Trump, maybe a newer version will eventually show up on “Saturday Night Live.”

Mike’s Picks: ‘Running Wild’ and ‘Great Balls of Fire!’