This Week’s Best Bets
“Ivansxtc” (2009), starring Danny Huston, Peter Weller and Lisa Enos, is a biting satire that goes behind-the-scenes of the Hollywood film industry, with all its drink and drug-fueled excess, from director Bernard Rose (“Candyman,” “Paperhouse”). Opening with the death of its titular protagonist, ivansxtc goes back in time to chart the final days of hot-shot Tinseltown agent Ivan Beckman (Huston) and his fast-paced, wheeler-dealer lifestyle, which will ultimately lead him to an early grave after a shock cancer diagnosis. Loosely based on Leo Tolstoy’s celebrated 1886 novella “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, and featuring a searing performance by Huston at its core and wonderfully sleazy turn from Weller as Ivan’s biggest client, ivansxtc is a powerful meditation on life, death and morality set against the glitzy backdrop of La La Land. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment … From Billy Wilder, the legendary director of “Double Indemnity,” “The Lost Weekend,” “Stalag 17,” “Some Like It Hot” and “The Apartment,” comes the wartime espionage thriller “Five Graves to Cairo” (1943), starring Franchot Tone, Anne Baxter, Akim Tamiroff, Erich von Stroheim and Peter van Eyck. John J. Bramble (Tone), the sole survivor of a British tank crew, makes his way to a desolate desert town where he is given refuge by a hotel owner (Tamiroff) and a French chambermaid (Baxter) who prepare to receive General Erwin Rommel (Stroheim) and his German staff. Posing as the hotel’s waiter, Bramble attempts to infiltrate Rommel’s inner circle and report the general’s plans to the Allies. Co-written by Wilder and Charles Brackett (“A Foreign Affair,” “Ball of Fire”), based on a play by Lajos Biró (“The Last Command”) and featuring top-notch cinematography by John F. Seitz (“The Big Clock,” “Calcutta”), the masterful “Five Graves to Cairo” marks Wilder’s second U.S. directorial effort. New 4K master. On Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics … With “The Elephant Man” (1980), David Lynch brought his atmospheric visual and sonic palette to a notorious true story set in Victorian England. When the London surgeon Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) meets the freak-show performer John Merrick (John Hurt), who has severe skeletal and soft tissue deformities, he assumes that he must be intellectually disabled as well. As the two men spend more time together, though, Merrick reveals the intelligence, gentle nature, and profound sense of dignity that lie beneath his shocking appearance, and he and Treves develop a friendship. Shot in gorgeous black and white and boasting a stellar supporting cast that includes Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, and Wendy Hiller, “The Elephant Man” was nominated for eight Academy Awards, cementing Lynch’s reputation as one of American cinema’s most visionary talents. On DVD, Blu-ray, with new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed stereo soundtrack on the Blu-ray. From The Criterion Collection.
From TV to Disc:
While vacationing in Egypt, Poirot (David Suchet) meets the beautiful Linnet Ridgeway (Emily Blunt), a wealthy British heiress on her honeymoon, in “Agatha Christie’s Death On the Nile” (2004). Linnet requests his help, as she is being stalked by a former friend (Emma Griffiths Malin), who accuses Linnet of stealing her boyfriend (JJ Field). Poirot declines to get involved in the quarrel, even as all four of them embark on a Nile cruise together. But when a murder occurs aboard the vessel, Poirot must turn his little gray cells from relaxation to investigation. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Acorn Media) … “DC’s Stargirl: The Complete First Season” (2020) is a three-disc set with all 13 episodes of the new CW series that follows high school sophomore Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) as she inspires an unlikely group of young heroes to take up the legacy of a long-lost Super Hero team – The Justice Society of America – and stop the Super-Villains of the past. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Warner … “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels – Season One” (2020) is a four-disc set with all 10 episodes. 1938 Los Angeles is a time and place deeply infused with social and political tension. When a grisly murder shocks the city, Detective Tiago Vega and his partner Lewis Michener become embroiled in an epic story that reflects the rich history of Los Angeles: from the building of the city’s first freeways and its deep traditions of Mexican-American folklore, to the dangerous espionage actions of the Third Reich and the rise of radio evangelism. Before long, Tiago and his family are grappling with powerful forces that threaten to tear them apart. From Showtime/Paramount.
Buzzin’ the ‘B’s:
The sci-fi comedy “Alien Addiction” (2018), starring Jimi Jackson, Thomas Sainsbury, Jojo Waaka and Harry Summerfield, follows Riko (Jackson), who lives in a small town in the middle of nowhere (Waikato, New Zealand). His life was pretty normal until two aliens crash landed near his house; he welcomes them and together they develop an intergalactic relationship of epic proportions. Alientologist Peter Mackintosh (Sainsbury) has tracked the aliens and Riko, and plans to capture them and reveal them to the world. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Gravitas Ventures … For four outcast teens, summer detention means being assigned to clean their high school after a horrific incident in “The Dead Ones” (2020), starring Sarah Rose Harper, Brandon Thane Wilson, Katie Foster and Torey Garza. But they are not alone; a macabre gang wearing guises of The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse – Famine, Pestilence, War and Death – has locked them inside and is hunting them through the school’s ravaged hallways. As the four students battle to survive, each must confront the supernatural echoes of past traumas they have struggled to forget – and may be condemned to relive. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Artsploitation … In “Cruel Jaws”(1995), starring David Luther, George Barnes Jr. nd Scott Silveria, the coastal town of Hampton Bay is threatened when a tiger shark starts chomping up their vacationers in this king of all “Jaws” rip-offs. Legendary director Bruno Mattei — here as ‘William Snyder’ (who defied all laws of good taste and international copyright with “Shocking Dark” and “Robowar” and reset the bar for crazy ItaloHorror with “Rats: Night Of Terror” and “Hell of The Living Dead”) — stunned the civilized world with this ultimate sharksploitation saga that liberally borrows characters, plot, and footage from Joe D’Amato’s “Deep Blood” and Enzo G. Castellari’s “The Last Shark” (and that’s just the tip of a very litigious fin). Filmed in South Florida with a cast of now-ashamed unknowns that includes a Hulk Hogan lookalike, now remastered uncut in HD for the first time ever. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Severin Films … In “The Silencing” (2020), starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Annabelle Wallis and Hero Fiennes Tiffin, a reformed hunter (Coster-Waldau) and a sheriff (Wallis) are caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse when they set out to track a killer who may have kidnapped the hunter’s daughter five years ago. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Lionsgate … In “Welcome to Sudden Death” (2020), starring Michael Jai White, Michael Eklund, Sabryn Rock, Anthony Grant and Nakai Takawira, Jesse Freeman (White) is a former special forces officer and explosives expert now working a regular job as a security guard in a state-of-the-art basketball arena. Trouble erupts when a tech-savvy cadre of terrorists kidnap the team’s owner and Jesse’s daughter during opening night. Facing a ticking clock and impossible odds, it’s up to Jesse to not only save them but also a full house of fans in this action thriller. From Universal … “My name is Dylan Hunt. My story begins the day on which I died.” So begins the sci-fi saga “Genesis II / Planet Earth – 2 Film Collection” (1973/1974) from visionary creator Gene Roddenberry (“Star Trek”). “Genesis II” follows NASA scientist Dylan Hunt (Alex Cord), who’s buried in his own suspended-animation machine at NASA’s underground Carlsbad complex following an earthquake. Revived in the terrifying 22nd century by the pacifists of PAX, descendants of his fellow scientists, he learns of The Great Conflict, a third and final world war that destroyed everything he knew. As an agent of PAX, Dylan seeks to spread the message of science and peace throughout this savage and strange new world called Earth. In “Genesis II,” he encounters the Tyranians, a mutant, militaristic neighboring civilization. In “Planet Earth,” Dylan (now played by John Saxon) journeys to the Confederacy, where a despotic matriarchy enslaves all males.On Blu-ray from Warner.
The “The Legend of Tomiris” (2019 — Kazakhstan) is an epic drama about one of the world’s first female warlords. Based on historical heroine Queen Tomiris of Massagetae and her cadre of female warriors (the real-life 6th century BCE Amazonians), this action film recounts the tale of the nomadic ruler who overcame great personal tragedy to become a skillful warrior and strategist, unite the Scythian/Saka tribes under her authority, and slay the founder and first king of the Persian empire. On DVD, Blu-ray/DVD Combo, from Well Go USA … In “Amerika Square” (2016 — Greece), filmmaker Yannis Sakaridis presents a clever satirical view of the Greek migrant crisis by exploring both xenophobic and sympathetic sentiments of Greeks towards foreigners escaping the war and hardships that engulfed their native lands. Nakos is an unemployed inhabitant of the small neighborhood of Amerika Square who grows increasingly disgruntled at the influx of Middle Eastern migrants coming to Athens. Much of Nakos’ frustration stems from his inability to do anything about the new demographics of his neighborhood, a situation he spends most of his time brooding over instead of undertaking measures to address the much bigger problem at hand – his dead-end life. From Corinth Films.
For the Family:
Thomas the Tank Engine’s feature film debut, “Thomas and the Magic Railroad (20th Anniversary Edition)” (2000), follows Thomas and Mr. Conductor (Alec Baldwin) as they cross between the real world and the fictional Island of Sodor, in an attempt to recover lost gold dust. Thomas the Tank Engine is marking his 75th year as a beloved children’s character. Originally part of the Rev W. Awdry’s Little Railway book series, first released in 1945, Thomas was brought to life through the cherished TV series “Thomas & Friends,” created by Britt Allcroft (director-writer-producer of “Thomas and the Magic Railroad”) in the early 1980s. In the late ‘80s, Allcroft and Rick Siggelkow introduced Thomas to America when they created Shining Time Station. Many years on, Thomas’ legacy remains everlasting. Co-stars Cody McMains, Russell Means, Peter Fonda and Mara Wilson. On Blu-ray from Shout! Kids … “Sea Level/Sea Level 2: Magic Arch” is an animated double-feature. In “Sea Level” (2011), Pup, a bamboo shark, discovers egg sacs while playing around the ocean with his friends. When he sees human poachers stealing the eggs from his reef, Pup makes it his mission to save his family. In “Sea Level 2: Magic Arch” (2020), Dephi the dolphin discovers a magical archway that grants wishes to all who visit. But evil moray eels use the arch to become gigantic and menace peaceful Fish Town. Now, Delphi must summon his courage, master his “secret punch” fighting technique, and find his missing father to rescue his friends and win the love of pretty Mia. From Lionsgate.
In “John Lewis: Good Trouble” (2020) director Dawn Porter takes audiences through an intimate account of legendary U.S. Representative John Lewis’ life, legacy and more than 60 years of extraordinary activism — from the bold teenager on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement to the legislative powerhouse he was throughout his career. After Lewis petitioned Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to help integrate a segregated school in his hometown of Troy, Alabama, King sent “the boy from Troy” a round trip bus ticket to meet with him. From that meeting onward, Lewis became one of King’s closest allies. He organized Freedom Rides that left him bloodied or jailed, and stood at the front lines in the historic marches on Washington and Selma. He never lost the spirit of the “boy from Troy” and called on his fellow Americans to get into “good trouble” until his passing on July 17, 2020. From Magnolia Home Entertainment … “Hip Hop: The Songs That Shook America” (2019) is a two-disc set with all six episodes of the series in which each episode focuses on a groundbreaking song pivotal to the evolution of American music and culture. Some of the songs featured include Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” Run-D.M.C.’s “Rock Box,” Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First,” and more. “Hip Hop: The Songs That Shook America” previously premiered on AMC in October 2019. Artists, their collaborators, and other influential musical and cultural figures deconstruct compositions, revisit the impact the song had on them personally, and dissect the socio-economic and cultural conditions that inspired the landmark work and gave voice to a generation. On DVD, Blu-ray, from RLJE Films … “Ursula Von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own” (2019) is an artistic biography of one of the few women in the world working in monumental sculpture. Von Rydingsvard’s work has been featured in the Venice Biennale and is held in the collections of some of the world’s great museums, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. But she may be best-known for her staggering, triumphant body of work in public spaces — imposing pieces painstakingly crafted with complex surfaces including: a series of early installations reminiscent of wings in what became New York’s Battery Park; a monumental yet inviting piece outside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and the stunning “Scientia” at M.I.T. which evokes the power of nature and the firing of brain synapses. In Daniel Traub’s intimate documentary, we go behind the scenes with von Rydingsvard, as she and her collaborators – cutters, metal-smiths, and others – produce new work, including challenging commissions in copper and bronze. The film also delves into the artist’s personal life, and how it has shaped her work. From Icarus Films … “Seniors: A Dogumentary” (2020) is a loving portrayal of the vitality of senior dogs. Features Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, the celebrated forever-foster home based sanctuary in Mount Juliet, Tennessee and Chaser the Border Collie, known as the smartest dog in the world. Their stories are brought together through the lens of famed photographer Jane Sobel Klonsky. Ms. Klonsky is the author of the book “Unconditional: Older Dogs, Deeper Love.” She specializes in capturing the cherished relationship between senior dogs and their owners. The film follows Zina and Michael Goodin, the Old Friends founders, as they relocate into their current facilities, and introduces us to Leo, a social media phenom who became the most popular dog in the sanctuary’s history. We also meet Dr. John W. Pilley, Jr. and his beloved Chaser who, even into her senior years, never stopped learning. Not only had Chaser learned the names of over one thousand toys, she could also differentiate between nouns and verbs, understand full sentences, and mimic Dr. Pilley’s actions after just observing them once. From MVD Visual … “Pizza, A Love Story” (2019) is an 11 years-in-the-making homage to the world famous pizzerias Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana, Sally’s Apizza, and Modern Apizza. The film sets out to prove its tag line: “Pizza wasn’t invented in New Haven. It was perfected there,” by combining history, comedy, and some of the most mouth-watering footage you will ever see, into a film that also features cameos from actor Henry Winkler, musicians Lyle Lovett and Michael Bolton, Senator Chris Murphy, legendary concert promoter Jim Koplik, and dozens more. In the six-block radius of Wooster square lies the trifecta, Sally’s, Pepe’s and Modern. Three pizza palaces loved by everybody from Presidents to Rock Stars. Even Frank Sinatra used to send his driver all the way from Hoboken just to pick up some pies. And to the people of the Elm City, there’s no question. Since Frank Pepe first wheeled his bread cart down Wooster street in 1925, New Haven has been home to the finest pizza on the planet. Director Gorman Bechard has directed 18 feature films including rock documentaries on The Replacements, Grant Hart, Archers of Loaf, Lydia Loveless, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, and soon Wilco’s Jay Bennett. He has also directed the animal-rights film “A Dog Named Gucci,” which won the prestigious and rarely awarded ASPCA Media Excellence Award in 2015. From MVD Entertainment Group.
All DVDs and Blu-rays are screened on a reference system consisting of an Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray Disc Player w/SACD & DVD-Audio, a Rotel RSX-972 Surround Sound Receiver, and Phase Technology 1.1 (front), 33.1 (center), and 50 (rear) speakers, and Power 10 subwoofer.