Boys of Abu Ghraib is a compelling prison drama and new classics on Blu-ray: Double Indemnity, Touch of Evil
By Peter Covino
Before moving on to this week’s DVDs, there is some really good news for everyone with a digital collection of UltraViolet movies.
Flixster, the online movie website, announced this week its mobile application now works with Google’s Chromecast device as well as Amazon’s new FireTV media player.
That means there finally is an easy way to watch your cloud-based movies on your home television, as well as tablets, phones, laptops, etc. UltraViolet copies of films are now included with many Blu-ray purchases.
I tried watching Homefront (just keep reading for the review) in the UltraViolet format, and for the most part, it was a snap.
The action film already had been uploaded into my UltraViolet collection previously, and all I had to do was go to the Flixster movie app on my Nexus 7 tablet, and a few seconds later it was streaming perfectly on the big screen.
The app gives you a few screening resolution options and after opting for the HD version, the movie was playing, looking just about as good as the film does in Blu-ray.
There was a glitch about 25 minutes into the film and I had to start over (you can speed ahead, so it isn’t that big a deal), but other than that it was a nice viewing experience.
I did notice that while streaming UltraViolet onto the TV, watching a movie was fine, but it did not work for TV series. A message saying this episode is currently not available for Chromecast popped up every time I tried viewing an episode from a TV series in my Flixster collection. I’m hoping it is just one of those “bugs” that will be resolved soon since this is the first week Flixster is available for home-viewing via Chromecast.
Meanwhile, the best (new) movie I saw this week cannot be seen via a Chromecast device.
Boys of Abu Ghraib
Boys of Abu Ghraib (Vertical Entertainment) is another one of those based-on-a-true story incidents, in this case the torture and abuse by the American military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
It is a low budget affair, directed, written and starring Luke Moran and he does an admirable job on all counts.
While Boys has been criticized for not dealing with the bigger picture of what happened at the prison, that really is not its point. It is an examination of how one average G.I. Joe-type could become so tyrannical and abusive.
Jack Farmer (Moran) is a 22-year-old American soldier who wants to make dad (John Heard) and family proud by serving in the military. He is shipped off to Iraq to Abu Ghraib as part of the military pool. It’s boring and dreary and soon he volunteers to be a MP for the prison itself. He is alarmed at the way a veteran guard (Sean Astin) treats the prisoners on his first day, and soon, going against the rules, forms a secret bond with a prisoner named Ghazi (played by Omid Abtahi).
The two share many an hour talking, during the long, lonely shifts, and Jack is horrified when Ghazi too is subjected to the humiliating and violent interrogation tactics.
What ultimately happens is pretty horrifying, and makes for compelling viewing.
Less compelling is Homefront (Universal Home Entertainment), an action film starring Jason Stratham, James Franco and Winona Rider.
After a slam-bam start, Homefront settles into more predictable territory as a former DEA agent (Stratham) finds trouble just follows him when he settles down with his young daughter in a stereotype, redneck community and his path crosses with the local meth kingpin (played by Franco). The acting is pretty good, as are the action scenes, but the screenplay offers nothing new, with dialogue to match. But it is nice to be able to watch the film on the big screen via Flixster, in addition to the Blu-ray and DVD that comes in the combo pack.
Touch of Evil, Double Indemnity
If you want guaranteed quality, stick with the classics and Universal went first-class with two major releases coming out in limited edition versions Tuesday.
It doesn’t get much better than Touch of Evil, a film directed by cinema legend Orson Welles and starring Welles, Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh.
One of the all-time film noir greats, it is nice that Universal is doing the title the recognition it deserves in this handsome set that includes three versions of the film, bonus features and a 58-page memo from Welles on the film to the movie studio.
Beautifully restored and digitally remastered, Touch of Evil is wonderfully dark with its tale of murder, kidnapping and police corruption, along the Mexican border.
The three versions include the original 1958 theatrical release; a rarely-seen preview version that was rediscovered in 1976 and the definitive 1998 cut that was reconstructed according to Welles’ original vision, using detailed memo included in the set.
And there is still more. The special version includes the bonus features:
Bringing Evil to Life — A retrospective documentary featuring interviews with Heston, Leigh, crew members and film historians.
Evil lost and Found — A behind-the-scenes look at the reconstruction of the three versions of the film.
Four feature commentaries — Featuring one with both Heston and Leigh.
There is more film noir greatness with the release of the 70th anniversary edition of Double Indemnity, with Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson.
Also digitally remastered and fully restored, this Billy Wilder-directed great famously stars Stanwyck as the calculating wife and her suitor (MacMurray), trying to cash in on her rich husband’s double indemnity insurance policy. Only claims manager (Edward G. Robinson) stands in the way of their fortune.
Nominated for Seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, the limited edition includes several bonus features including:
Special Introduction — with TCM host and film historian Robert Osborne.
Shadows of Suspense — The world of 1940’s Hollywood and a look at this movie masterpiece.
Double Indemnity — You can compare the original with the 1973 remake with Richard Crenna and Samantha Eggar.
Feature Commentaries — with Richard Schickel, Lem Dobbs and film historian Nick Redman.
Movie buffs will really like the poster and lobby card reproductions also included in the set.
Both Double Indemnity and Touch of Evil include UltraViolet versions of the films, for viewing on all of your favorite devices.
Little Rascals Save the Day
Kids will like, adults with long memories, probably less so, the newest Little Rascals movie, The Little Rascals Save the Day (Universal Home Entertainmente).
The film is true to the spirit of the original Our Gang shorts, so much so that the film feels like a “best of” of some the most memorable moments from the popular collection of comedies.
This time the kids are involved in a bunch of schemes to help save Grandma’s (Doris Roberts) bakery.
The Blu-ray combo set includes a DVD version of the film as well an UltraViolet copy.
Other bonuses include deleted scenes and a gag reel.