[Sony Pictures] Starring David Niven, Kim Hunter; James Mason, Helen Mirren. Both directed by Michael Powell. $24.96. *** 1/2
Best known for directing one of the most beautiful (1948's The Red Shoes) and one of the most controversially voyeuristic (1960's Peeping Tom) films ever released, British director Michael Powell packed a lot more than those two milestones into his four-decade career. This two-disc set, with movies made available for the first time on DVD, offers evidence of both his talent and his singular vision.
The 1946 fantasy Stairway to Heaven, known as A Matter of Life and Death in England, stars David Niven as a World War II aviator who should have been killed during a bombing run, but escapes death when the Heavenly Hosts can't find him amid all the fog. Lucky for him, especially after he begins romancing an American RAF worker (Kim Hunter) whom he first contacted while his plane was spiraling downward. Not so lucky for him, he has to convince a heavenly tribunal he deserves this second chance.
Beautifully shot in both black and white (when in Heaven) and color (when on Earth), Stairway to Heaven was voted one of the 10 greatest British films in a 2004 London Sunday Telegraph poll.
Age of Consent, from 1969, stars James Mason as an artist stubbornly convinced his best days are behind him, until he moves to an isolated island off the Australian coast and has his creative fires (and perhaps a few others) revived by a spirited and uninhibited teenager named Cora (a young and radiant Helen Mirren).
By 1969, Powell's career seemed pretty much over, thanks largely to the negative reaction to Peeping Tom. Watching this beautiful, wistful film, one suspects Powell saw something of himself in Mason's character.
Also in stores today:: Pineapple Express (Sony Pictures, $28.95, Blu-ray $39.95) Seth Rogen and James Franco are a pothead and his dealer, on the run after a rare strain of marijuana ties them to a murder scene. This is another comedy from the franchise that is Judd Apatow (who produced and gets a story credit), with all the arrested adolescent slacker mayhem that suggests (and I mean that in a good way).