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The DVD Report #259

Generally dismissed by critics, Man on a Ledge, the feature film debut of director Asger Leth, is an efficient thriller. You may question the many coincidences and general credulity of it once it’s over, but during the film’s intense 102 minute running time you’ll be too busy wondering what’s going to happen next to really take notice.

Sam Worthington is a former NYC police detective framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Granted a compassionate day out of prison to attend his father’s funeral, Worthington escapes and resurfaces a month later on the ledge of the 21st floor of a mid-town hotel. The building across the street just happens to be the headquarters of maniacal builder Ed Harris, the man responsible for the frame-up. Jamie Bell as Worthington’s brother and Genesis Rodrigeuz as Bell’s girlfriend have plans of their own which later come into focus.

Elizabeth Banks and Ed Burns as police negotiators; Anthony Mackie and Titus Tolliver as detectives and Kyra Sedgwick as an obnoxious TV personality are also on hand. William Sandler as an unusually kind hotel valet rounds out the principal cast.

Man on a Ledge is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

Another film in which one of the principal characters is a maniacal builder headquartered in Manhattan is Joe Dante’s 1990 film, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, which has just been given a Blu-ray upgrade.

I had long been a fan of Dante’s original 1984 film, Gremlins, but had never seen the sequel, probably because of the film’s major flop status. It turns out the sequel is even better than the original, its flop status now generally attributed to the film’s opening the same weekend as Warren Beatty’s heavily marketed Dick Tracy.

In Gremlins 2, those pesky little creatures resurface in the office building owned by John Glover. Gizmo, the good gremlin, is cared for by Keye Luke (in his last film), but when the elderly Luke dies, his Chinatown building is torn down to make room for another of Glover’s skyscrapers and Gizmo ends up in the experimental laboratory of Glover’s main building, run by Christopher Lee. Zach Gilligan, Gizmos’ owner and his still girlfriend Phobe Cates rescue him and alert Glover and company to the dangers of the bad gremlins who are multiplying like rabbits all over the building.

The film is more comedy than horror and funnier than the original. It’s also a movie-lover’s as its many sight gags reference numerous old films from The Hunchback of Notre Dame to Marathon Man to The Wizard of Oz. The climax has the most erudite of the gremlins, voiced by Tony Randall, singing “New York, New York” from the movie of that name.

Comedy is nowhere to be found in Lynne Ramsey’s film of Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. Lionel Shriver is the pen name of journalist Margaret Ann Shriver who said she wrote the novel when she was in her early 40s (she’s now in her mid-50s) while reflecting on why she never wanted to have children. It could be she was afraid she would have one like Kevin.

(editor's note: this paragraph contains significant plot spoilers. Read at your own risk.) Kevin and his mother, Eva, played by Tilda Swinton, hate each other on sight. Father John C. Reilly sees nothing wrong the boy even after he takes out the eye of his younger sister with a bow and arrow. At 15, Kevin uses his bow and arrow to commit a high school massacre, after which his mother questions their relationship. The film was well received by the critics and Swinton received both Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, but nothing from Oscar. Personally I didn’t care for it. I much preferred Shawn Ku’s similarly themed Beautiful Boy with Maria Bello and Michael Sheen which I previously reviewed here. In that one both parents were taken by surprise when their son turned out to be a mass high school murderer.

Both We Need to Talk About Kevin and Beautiful Boy are available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

There’s no comedy either in William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, with which Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut.

Fiennes plays the Roman general who becomes an unpopular politician in his modern dress version of the tale. There are no cell phones or computers in Fiennes’ modern world, but there are trucks and machine guns, although the weapon of choice is still a knife.

Gerard Butler is the leader of the Volscian army, the Italian republic at war with Rome. Brian Cox is the most sympathetic of the Roman politicians and the intermediary between Coriolanus and those who want to banish him. Vanessa Redgrave is Coriolanus’ powerful politician mother and Jessica Chastain is his wife.

Unless you’re familiar with ancient Roman history or Shakespeare’s play, you may have difficulty following the film in which the characters’ motivations are not always clear. One thing that is clear, however, is the power of the acting with a fierce and fiery Redgrave vanquishing all others before her.

Coiolanus is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.

Before the start of the fifth season on June 10th, HBO has released True Blood: The Complete Fourth Season with its continuing ensemble cast of Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten, Alexander Skarsgard, Rutina Wesley, Nelsan Ellis, Jim Parrack, Deborah Ann Woll, Carrie Preston, Kevin Alejandro, Marshall Allman, Joe Mangianiello, Jessica Tuck and more. Adding to the mix of humans, vampires, werewolves, were-panthers, shape shifters, ghosts and faeries in Season Four is a coven of witches led by Fiona Shaw. Season One’s Lois Smith makes a cameo appearance.

The special effects blood and gore are there, but the emphasis this season was more on characterization than in any season since the first.

True Blood: The Complete Fourth Season is available in both Blu-ray and standard DVD.

This week’s new releases include John Carter and the Blu-ray debut of The Sting.

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