Without wanting to reduce the greatness of some of the other films hitting DVD and Blu-Ray, this week is all about Sergio Leone’s restored masterpiece “Once Upon a Time In America.” The film was famously butchered in a 2-hour theatrical release that did away with Leone’s intricately-planned time-hopping structure, only to develop a cult following when a nearly four-hour version saw release on VHS. Now, with the help of Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, Leone’s film has been further restored to 251 minutes, closer to the director’s full vision than ever before. Leone’s gangster film about two childhood friends (Robert De Niro and James Woods in two of their best performances) from the Roaring Twenties to the late 60s is one of his greatest achievements, a melancholy, mysterious epic about friendship, betrayal, guilt and regret. It also features (this is no small achievement) Ennio Morricone’s finest, most haunting score.
Other major classic releases this week include Criterion’s release of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s terrific “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul,” a reimagining of Douglas Sirk’s lush melodrama “All That Heaven Allows” as a romance between a German woman and a Moroccan immigrant; the 75th anniversary Blu-Ray release of the often uncomfortable but still sweeping epic “Gone with the Wind;” and the Audrey Hepburn Collection, which groups “Sabrina,” “Funny Face” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” together.
This week’s new releases include Jon Favreau’s “Chef,” which sees the actor/director in non-Blockbuster mode for the first time since his 2001 debut “Made,” Jim Mickle’s crime drama “Cold in July” starring Michael C. Hall, the Aaron Paul-starring Sundance family drama “Hellion,” the indie music dramedy “Lucky Them,” and science-fiction black comedy “Space Station 76.” All received mostly positive reviews on the Criticwire Network, so there’s plenty to seek out this week and very little room to go wrong, so long as you steer clear of “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner’s disappointing directorial debut “Are You Here” and Paul Haggis’s disastrously dour hyperlink drama “Third Person.”
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Keith Phipps, The Dissolve
It’s fun to watch his shamelessness, and it might be illuminating to watch him change his ways if Weiner made his evolution the least bit believable, or even invested it with a fraction of the thoughtfulness evident on “Mad Men.” Weiner might have a great movie in him yet, but “Are You Here” suggests his true talent lies elsewhere. Read more.
Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger
Greg Cwik, Indiewire
Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York
The movie is best in its more observational moments…A whole movie could be made from these poignant asides, and the cast is uniformly superb in rendering them. Sadly, the film also features a fair share of forced drama. Read more.
Mike D’Angelo, The A.V. Club
Director Megan Griffiths, best known for the grim human-trafficking drama “Eden,” proves surprisingly adept at this lighter material, maintaining a slightly loopy tone that serves to make the occasional dramatic moments all the more piercing. Every once in a while, it’s nice to have a good movie sneak up on you unawares. “Lucky Them” is as sneaky as they come. Read more.
Joe Leydon, Variety
Michael Phillips, The Chicago Tribune