STORY WRITTEN BY AMY LONGSDORF
For 21st Century Media
There’s a refreshing unpretentiousness about “The Expendables 3” (2014, Lionsgate, PG-13, $30) that makes it hard to resist. Adding to the film’s appeal is the willingness of star/co-screenwriter Sylvester Stallone to allow series newbies Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes and Antonio Banderas to steal every scene they’re in.
The plot involves Stallone going up against an old foe (Gibson) and mistakenly believing he needs new blood to do it. Sure, you’ll forget “The Expendables 3” in the morning but it still manages to deliver 126 minutes of old-school escapism. Trivia note: Stallone wrote the screenplay with Boyertown native Creighton Rothenberger and his Berks-county-reared wife Katrin Benedikt.
Extras: gag reel and featurettes.
Also New This Week
The Giver: (2014, Anchor Bay, PG-13, $30) In Phillip Noyce’s tepid adaptation of Lois Lowry’s young adult bestseller, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is chosen by the conformity-loving Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) to take over from the Giver (Bridges) as the sole keeper of all of humanity’s memories. In the process, Jonas discovers the nasty secrets of his community’s past and vows to do something about it. The filmmakers deserve credit for trying to make a sci-fi epic about the dark side of compliance but the characters are so colorless and the action so lacking in impact that “The Giver” could have been masterminded by the Chief Elder herself. Extras: featurettes.
Sin City – A Dame To Kill For: (2014, Anchor Bay, R, $30) A big improvement over the first “Sin City” (2005), this splashy sequel unfolds in a noirish underworld where a handful of hardscrabble characters ( Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke) are perpetually under the thumb of an evil senator (Powers Boothe). In the best interlude, Josh Brolin gets mixed up with an upwardly mobile moll (Eva Green). Brolin and Green have so much fun with the material – and each other – that you can’t help but wish the whole movie was about them. Still, at its best, “Sin City” casts a dark spell. Extras: featurettes and a cool “high-speed green screen-all green screen” version.
I Am Ali: (2014, Universal, PG, $20) Even though it gets a smidge too gushy in the final round, Clare Lewins’ doc about Muhammad Ali excels at taking you behind the scenes of the boxer’s life and career. Lewins not only had access to Ali’s personal archive of voice recordings but she spoke to many members of the fighter’s inner circle, including his kids, ex-wife, brother, trainers and managers. Particularly fascinating is a sequence about Joe Frazier in which Frazier’s son movingly discusses how the once-estranged Ali and Frazier enjoyed reconciliation before Joe’s death in 2011. Extras: featurettes and additional footage.
War Story: (2014, IFC, unrated, $25) Catherine Keener is so fascinating to watch that you keep hoping this look at a traumatized photojournalist will snap together and make a bit of sense. It never really does. Keener, who chooses to recuperate in a modest hotel in Sicily, becomes obsessed with helping a young Tunisian woman (Hafsia Herzi) slip into France. The film, which is silent for long stretches of time, has the eerie logic of a dream. But director Mark Jackson’s unwillingness to fill in the blanks grows annoying. In the end, “War Story” seems less about overcoming grief than celebrating vagueness. Extras: none.
James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge: (2014, Millennium, PG, $20) For his latest expedition, the “Avatar” filmmaker strapped himself into a tiny submersible and headed 36,000 feet below sea level to the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans. Oddly enough, this document of that mission is mostly padding, as Cameron recaps his history as an adventurer and performs test dives. Only during the last 15 minutes of the film does Cameron actually descend into the vast, eerie emptiness of the Trench. Extras: featurettes.
What Is Cinema?: (2014, Cohen, unrated, $30) With this clip-heavy documentary, director Chuck Workman (the man best known for creating montages for the Oscar telecasts) investigates what distinguishes movies from other art forms. Unfortunately, Workman spends too much time conferring with cliché-spouting experimental filmmakers like Jonas Mekas and Bill Viola. Workman gets better stuff from David Lynch, Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy and Lucy”) and, especially, Mike Leigh who uses a scene from his own “Happy-Go-Lucky” to demonstrate the emotions that movies can unlock. Extras: ten experimental shorts.
Possessed: (1947, Warner Archive, unrated, $20) One of the first Joan Crawford movies to arrive on Blu-ray is, appropriately enough, one of the actress’ most visually striking. The first scene, in which a lost soul named Louise Howell (Crawford) stumbles around early-morning Los Angeles unaware of who she is or what she’s doing is particularly haunting. After being wheeled into a psych ward, Crawford’s story comes tumbling out in flashbacks that detail a doomed love affair and a a loveless marriage. It’s a potboiler that never pretends to be more. Gotta love that. Extras: featurette and commentaries.
The Conformist: (1970, RaroVideo, unrated, $20) Beautifully restored for its Blu-ray bow, Bernardo Bertolucci’s masterpiece examines the tawdry tactics of Mussolini’s secret police. At the center of the action is Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a weak-willed spy who uses his honeymoon with his new bride (Stefania Sandrelli) as a cover to assassinate one of his former professors, now the leader of the anti-Fascist movement. The job is complicated by Marcello’s fascination with the teacher’s lesbian wife (Dominique Sanda) who, in the film’s most famous scene, dances a tango with Sandrelli. Style, politics, beauty, sex: “The Conformist” swirls them all together for one heckuva potent cinematic cocktail. Extras: making-of doc.
The Blob: (1988, Twilight Time, R, $30) Before developing “The Walking Dead,” Frank Darabont teamed up with director Chuck Russell (“The Mask”) for this update of the 1958 monster movie classic. Now on Blu-ray, the 1988 version boasts better special effects, a cheeky sense of humor and a feisty cheerleader heroine (Shawnee Smith). The characters (Kevin Dillon, Candy Clark) are paper-thin but the Blob itself has been transformed from an alien slime thing into the end result of a government experiment gone haywire. Get out the fire extinguishers; the Blob is back. Extras: commentaries and featurettes.
My Man Godfrey: (1936, Film Detective, unrated, $10) Finally available in a near-pristine print, this Depression-era classic begins with a wacky Park Avenue heiress (Carole Lombard) hiring a homeless man named Godfrey (superb William Powell) to be her family’s new butler. Until the love story between Lombard and Powell kicks in, “Godfrey” is an electrifying satire of the moneyed classes. Even when it turns toward romance, the film overflows with wit, smarts and visual pizzazz. It’s a real treat. Extras: none.
Getting On — The Complete First Season: (2014, HBO, unrated, $30) From the creators of “Big Love” comes a revamping of the BBC series about the staff members at a hospital’s extended care unit. The very funny Alex Borstein and Niecy Nash are the nurses who do most of the heavy lifting on the unit, while Laurie Metcalfe nails the role of a disgruntled doctor who condescends to patients and co-workers alike. “Getting On” isn’t in the same class as “Nurse Jackie” but it does do a great job balancing broad comedy with the kind of laughs that stick in your throat. Extras: deleted scenes and gag reel.
Raising Hope — The Complete Fourth Season: (2013, Fox, unrated, $30) Suffering from empty nest syndrome, Virginia (Martha Plimpton) and Burt (Garret Dillahunt) embark on a number of adventures, including participating in a reality TV contest held at Howdy’s Supermarket and planning a wedding for Virginia’s gay dad (Jeffrey Tambor.) Molly Shannon pops up as Howdy’s new owner and Kate Micucci continues to delight as a daycare owner who watches over dogs and elders, including the still-delusional Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman). Extras: none.
Miss Marple — Volume 1: (1984-1986, BBC, unrated, $40) Newly remastered in high-def, the first volume of mysteries featuring Joan Hickson as the beloved crime-solver is a real treat for fans of whodunits. Hickson was Christie’s own personal choice for the role of the iconic investigator and it’s easy to see why. The actress brings smarts and a soft-spoken tenacity to the sleuth who gets to the bottom of complex crimes in “Murder at the Vicarage,” “The Body in the Library,”“The Moving Finger” and “A Murder is Announced.” Extras: featurettes.