January 14, 2009 THE VILLADOM TIMES II & IV • Page 19 Mirren and Mason star in Michael Powell’s final film by Dennis Seuling Michael Powell is the British director famous for such film classics as “The Red Shoes,” “Black Narcissus,” and “Tales of Hoffmann.” Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has just released the two-disc DVD, “The Films of Michael Powell,” featuring two of Powell’s lesser-known movies, “A Matter of Life and Death” (1946) (known in the U.S. as “Stairway to Heaven”) and “Age of Consent” (1969). “A Matter of Life and Death” stars David Niven as Royal Air Force pilot Peter Carter who falls in love with Boston-born radio operator June (Kim Hunter) just as he is plummeting to the ground in a burning plane. Lost in a heavy fog, Peter cannot be found by the powers-that-be in heaven, which causes quite a stir. Because he has lived for 20 hours beyond the time he was supposed to die, his status is unclear. Should he remain on earth, or should heaven claim him? The film’s climax features an elaborate trial in which Peter must testify for his life. The film is one of the oddest love story fantasies ever. June and Peter fall in love with each others’ voices when Peter is certain he will die. Then, he quite conveniently, finds June bicycling home and romances her as if they have been a couple for years. Powell creates an intriguing premise and fashions a beautiful film with scenes on earth filmed in Technicolor and those in heaven shot in black and white. Often, images drift from color to black and white or vice versa. The director’s concept of a massive escalator-type stairway leading from earth to heaven with statues of famous statesmen and philosophers flanking both sides is memorable, as is the trial witnessed by thousands. Since the film predates Helen Mirren and Neva Carr-Glynn in ‘Age of Consent.’ computer generated image technology, those extras are real people, not computer programmers’ digitalization. The film costars Raymond Massey as the chief prosecutor at Peter’s heavenly trial and Abraham Sofaer as a bewigged judge. After Powell released the voyeuristic psychological thriller “Peeping Tom” (1960), he was unable to get work in England. “Age of Consent” was made in Australia, stars James Mason, and costars Helen Mirren in her first movie role. Bradley Monahan (Mason), a successful New York artist, is weary of the superficiality of the big-city art scene and has lost his passion for painting. He returns to his native Australia, taking up residence in a shack on the beach on an island along the Great Barrier Reef. There he hopes inspiration will return. There are a few other inhabitants of the island -- a love-starved woman living on an annuity, a drunken old crone, and her teenage granddaugh- ter, Cora (Mirren). Intrigued by Cora’s youth and beauty, Bradley wastes little time in having her pose for him, often in the nude. “Age of Consent” is slow getting underway, but once Mirren comes into the picture, things take an interesting turn. Mason, known for his urbane, sophisticated roles, is cast against type as an overage beachcomber hippie, but it is Mirren who absolutely glows. The photography by Hannes Staudinger is breathtaking, especially the crystal-clear underwater shots featuring a skimpily clad or completely nude Mirren. This is by no means the Helen Mirren of “The Queen.” “Age of Consent” was to be Powell’s last film. He died in 1990. Extras include introductions to both movies by Martin Scorsese, a champion of Powell’s films. Among the extras for “Age of Consent” are a making-of featurette, a conversation with Helen Mirren, and a featurette about filming on the Great Barrier Reef. “Ring of Death” (Genius Entertainment) finds Burke Wyatt (Johnny Messner) unemployed, separated from his wife (Charlotte Ross), and acting as a part-time father. Approached by his old partner, who is now with the FBI, ex-cop Burke is offered an undercover job with a huge payoff. Burke cannot afford to refuse. Because of a violent background in which he killed a man by using excessive force, Burke is chosen to pass as an inmate of a state prison where several mysterious deaths have been reported. With the help of Warden Golan (Stacy Keach), Burke finds himself mired in a sort of prisoners’ fight club. The unrated film is fast-paced and action-filled, though no contender for acting awards. 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