|A scene from Safe House (Handout)
Safe House is a skilled blend of authenticity and absurdity, with an undertow of pathos. This is how Hollywood makes spy movies these days.
With Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds as the unlikely yet effective co-stars, Safe House is new to home entertainment this week, either as a digital download or on disc. I have the two-disc combo pack for review. It combines DVD, Blu-ray and digital copy.
Set primarily in Cape Town, South Africa, with side trips to Paris and Washington, Safe House is an action thriller about a rogue CIA agent (Washington) who is now selling intelligence to the highest bidder. When his operation goes bad, Washington ends up in the custody of an inexperienced agent (Reynolds) whose job it is to run a safe house.
The complex relationship that ensues -- love-hate, violent-tender, father-son, mentor-pupil -- is a fascinating, fresh new twist on the international spy movie. Plus director Daniel Espinosa makes the violence raw and real and brutal. This is not a James Bond spin-off. Instead, there are shock waves from Bourne, for the adrenaline rush, while the emotional side is handled with unusual care.
Washington is always best when caged in a conflicted character. Reynolds is far more interesting than usual. Without the absurdity -- big chase sequences in the streets of Cape Town, unrealistic shootouts in the townships -- Safe House would be an intense character drama, not a thriller.
Espinosa hired retired CIA agent Luis Falcon III as his technical advisor.
"He's the person that actually has lived this life that Matt (Reynolds' young character) is living," Espinosa says in the Blu-ray extras. "Falcon has been a safe house keeper, so it was immensely interesting to talk with him ... and also deeply disturbing."
Falcon's contributions help make Safe House more compelling, even with its jarring, hand-held action camerawork and surrealistic colour palette. "There's definitely some pretty shaky operations that they do," Reynolds says of his brush with the real spy world, "stuff that most of them sort of don't want to talk about." But, Reynolds adds with pride about this film, "The devil's in the details."
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson plays a big lovable bear of a man, with Josh Hutcherson as his step-son. Their adventure flick Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is family entertainment with a Jules Verne twist. The kid from Journey to the Center of the Earth gets an encrypted message from his missing grandfather (Michael Caine) and a new story begins. Vanessa Hudgens and Luis Guzman play sidekicks.
Journey 2 is new this week as a digital download and on disc. There is a stand-alone DVD as well as a two-disc combo pack with DVD, Blu-ray and digital copy. The movie is so cheesy you could slip it inside a Big Mac. Even the extras on the Blu-ray are awful, like the awkward island survival game.
But any time The Rock flashes his smile and braves a giant lizard, or the ridiculous dialogue, you just have to laugh. This sorry sucker could be a cult comedy one day.
George Roy Hill's immaculate craftsmanship, as Paul Newman once noted, is the only way that The Sting could have become the legendary classic it became. Giddy and wry and jaunty and fun, The Sting won seven Oscars, including best picture of 1973 -- but none for Newman and Robert Redford.
This superb film, set during the Great Depression, chronicles the lives of con men, all of it set to Scott Joplin's ragtime music from three decades earlier. Wrong era but right mood.
The Sting has been lovingly restored and re-issued this week as a two-disc combo pack (DVD and Blu-ray) in the Universal 100th Anniversary Collector's Series.