This Week’s Best Bets
The elegantly down-and-dirty “The Wild Goose Lake” (2019 — China), starring Hu Ge, Gwei Lun-mei and Liao Fan, follows the desperate attempts of small-time mob boss Zhou Zenong to stay alive after he mistakenly kills a cop and a dead-or-alive reward is put on his head. Director Diao Yinan proves his action bona fides in a series of stylized set pieces and violent shocks, simultaneously devising a romance between Zhou and a mysterious young woman who’s out to either help or betray him. Yinan’s much anticipated follow-up to his amazing breakthrough film “Black Coal, Thin Ice.” On DVD, Blu-ray, from Film Movement … The first Iranian film to win the Palme d’Or, the austere, emotionally complex drama “Taste of Cherry” (1997), by the great Abbas Kiarostami, follows the middle-aged Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) as he drives around the hilly outskirts of Tehran looking for someone who will agree to dispose of his body after he commits suicide, a taboo under Islam. Extended conversations with three passengers (a soldier, a seminarian, and a taxidermist) elicit different views of mortality and individual choice. Operating at once as a closely observed, realistic story and a fable populated by archetypal figures, “Taste of Cherry” challenges the viewer to consider what often goes unexamined in everyday life. On Blu-ray, with new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack, from The Criterion Collection … Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of 1981, “Mephisto” (1981 — West Germany/Hungary/Austria) is a malevolent masterwork from Hungarian director István Szabó. It concerns a passionate but struggling actor (Klaus Maria Brandauer) who remains in Germany during the Nazi regime and reaps the rewards of this Faustian pact by finally achieving the stardom he has long craved. Brilliantly adapted from Klaus Mann’s 1936 novel, it is presented in a stunning 4K restoration by the Hungarian National Film Archive. On Blu-ray from Kino Lorber … Set in the lead-up to WWI, István Szabó’s Academy Award nominated “Colonel Redl” (1984 — Hungary) charts the meteoric rise of Alfred Redl (Klaus Maria Brandauer) from a family of railway workers to his post leading counter-intelligence in the Austro-Hungarian Army, rubbing elbows with the Crown Prince (Armin Mueller-Stahl). His hidden homosexuality, however, is used against him by enemies of the state, putting both his professional standing and his country’s security in dire straits. The film was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. On Blu-ray from Kino Lorber … A love story about divorce. A marriage coming apart and a family coming together. “Marriage Story” (2019) is a funny and harrowing, sharply observed, and deeply compassionate film from the acclaimed writer-director Noah Baumbach. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deliver tour-de-force performances as Charlie, a charismatic New York theater director wedded to his work, and Nicole, an actor who is ready to change her own life. Their hopes for an amicable divorce fade as they are drawn into a system that pits them against each other and forces them to redefine their relationship and their family. Features bravura, finely drawn supporting turns from Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, and Laura Dern — who won an Academy Award for her performance here — as the trio of lawyers who preside over the legal battle. On DVD, Blu-ray, with new 4K digital transfer, supervised by director Noah Baumbach, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. From The Criterion Collection … “Scoob!” (2020), with the voices of Will Forte, Mark Wahlberg, Jason Isaacs, Gina Rodriguez, Zac Efron and Amanda Seyfried, was originally scheduled for a massive theatrical release this spring but was knocked out because of COVID-19. Instead, it was released to Digital and VOD and now makes it to disc. A fully animated, full-length Scooby-Doo action adventure that reveals how lifelong friends Scooby and Shaggy first met and how they joined with young detectives Fred, Velma and Daphne to form the famous Mystery Inc. Now, with hundreds of cases solved and adventures shared, Scooby and the gang face their biggest, most challenging mystery ever: a plot to unleash the ghost dog Cerberus upon the world. As they race to stop this global “dogpocalypse,” the gang discovers that Scooby has a secret legacy and an epic destiny greater than anyone imagined. On DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray Combo, from Warner.
From TV to Disc:
“Castle Rock: The Complete Second Season” (2019) is a three-disc DVD, two-disc Blu-ray with all 10 episodes. Stephen King’s multiverse is a place that combines the mythological scale and intimate character storytelling of the best-selling author’s best-loved works. In season two, a feud between warring clans comes to a boil when budding psychopath Annie Wilkes, Stephen King’s nurse from hell, gets waylaid in the small town of Castle Rock. Local businessman Reginald “Pop” Merrill is dragged into the fight, when Pop’s nephew, legendary bully John “Ace” Merrill, stirs up trouble. It’s another eerily unforgettable season of Castle Rock, as the mysterious town’s ongoing epic saga continues to unfold. From Warner … “Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Tenth Season” (2020) is a two-disc set with all 10 episodes of the HBO series that revolves around a fictionalized, gleefully misanthropic version of Larry David as a ubiquitous camera chronicles the private, often banal world of this — relatively — private man. In the latest season, Larry gets into a series of escalating predicaments as he takes on a major project to spite a new adversary which ends up proving to be an undertaking way more complicated than he anticipated. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Warner … “MASTERPIECE Mystery!: Grantchester, Season 5” (2020) is a two-disc set with all six episodes. It’s 1957, and Will Davenport (Tom Brittney) has settled into his role as the vicar of Grantchester, preaching to a packed church. His best friend, Detective Inspector Georgie Keating (Robson Green), has come to accept his wife Cathy’s commitment to her job. Mrs. C. happily juggles her roles as the vicarage housekeeper and being a well-to-do married woman. But Will’s faith will be thoroughly tested as he and Georgie are reminded once more that there’s darkness lurking in their little corner of Cambridgeshire. From PBS Distribution.
Buzzin’ the ‘B’s:
In “The Room” (2019), starring Olga Kurylenko and Kevin Janssens, Kate and Matt leave the city to move into an old house, where they discover a secret hidden room that has the extraordinary power to materialize anything they wish for. Their new life becomes a true fairytale. Yet beneath this apparent state of bliss, something darker lurks: some wishes can have dire consequences. On DVD, Blu-ray, from RLJE Films … In “Survive the Night” (2019), starring Chad Michael Murray, Bruce Willis, Shea Buckner and Tyler Jon Olson, after two brothers commit a robbery that goes wrong, one of them, Mathias, is mortally wounded, forcing sibling Jamie to stalk a trauma doctor named Rich (Murray) from the hospital to his home. While holding Rich’s wife and daughter hostage, Jamie forces him to operate on Mathias. For the family to survive the night, Rich must team up with his estranged tough-as-nails father, retired sheriff Frank (Willis), in order to gain the upper hand and turn the tables on the criminals. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Lionsgate … “Samurai Marathon” (2019 — Japan), starring Takeru Satoh, Nana Komatsu, Mirai Moriyama, Shota Sometani and Danny Huston, is a stunning visual feast complemented by a haunting score from iconic composer Philip Glass. Inspired by a race still held annually in Japan, this is a lively action flick with a samurai twist. In late feudal Japan, a young ninja (Satoh) operates undercover in the court of an aging lord and his rebellious daughter. When the lord challenges his lazy samurai to a punishing marathon—joined covertly by Princess Yuki—the ninja finds his loyalties put to the test. Facing impossible odds, this unusual band of characters is running a race to either win or die. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Well Go USA … In “Deadtectives” (2018), starring Chris Geere, Tina Ivlev), David Newman and Martha Higareda, a team of reality TV ghost hunters experience true paranormal activity for the first time while filming a make-or-break episode in the most haunted mansion in Mexico. Facing cancellation on the one hand and supernatural entities on the other, the team must figure out a way to bust the ghosts, deliver the episode of a lifetime, and escape with their lives intact. From RLJE Films … A man of action who can fight with the best of them and a cab driver who would give the Transporter a run for his money, pair up to save a young girl from the clutches of an evil criminal magnate in the adventure thrill-ride “Bloodstone” (1988). The Bloodstone, a priceless stolen ruby, accidentally ends up in the possession of American newlyweds Sandy (Brett Stimel) and Stephanie (Anna Nicholas). Now, their honeymoon in India is interrupted as they become the target of international fence Van Hoeven (Christopher Neame) and his evil henchmen. When Van Hoeven kidnaps Stephanie and ransoms her for the jewel, Sandy joins forces with cabby and dormant stunt-driver Shyam Sabu (Rajinikanth) to rescue his young bride. Co-written and produced by genre film luminary Nico Mastorakis (“Island of Death,” “The Wind”) and featuring a stellar performance by legendary Tamil megastar Rajinikanth in his first English-language role, “Bloodstone” is an action-packed romp full of thrills, kick-ass one liners and venomous cobras. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment … In “Attraction 2: Invasion” (2020 — Russia), starring Irina Starshenbaum, Rinal Mukhametov, Alexander Petrov, Yura Borisov and Oleg Menshikov, two years have passed since an alien spaceship crash-landed in Chertanovo. After her direct contact with extra terrestrial technologies, Julia, a previously ordinary girl, has become an object of study at the Ministry of Defense’s secret labs. While undergoing their analysis, she discovers she is developing seemingly impossible superhuman powers. And soon she finds that not only are her fellow humans out to harness her newfound abilities, but that her amazing potential has made her the target of new intergalactic entities, plunging the world into a cosmic threat. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Dark Sky Films … In “The Whistlers” (2019 — Romania), starring Vlad Ivanov and Catrinel Marlon, a police inspector who plays both sides of the law embarks on a high-stakes heist with a beautiful woman and both will have to navigate the twists and turns of corruption, treachery and deception. But a trip to the Canary Islands to learn a secret whistling language might just be what they need to pull it off. From Magnolia Home Entertainment.
“Life Is a Long Quiet River” (1988 — France) is an outrageously wicked comedy about two families from award winning debut filmmaker Étienne Chatiliez; the fast-paced satire became the most popular French comedy of the decade. The radiantly bourgeois Le Quesnoys with their immaculate children and perfect manners and the grubby, disreputable Groseilles are thrown together in absurd chaos by an act of revenge as they discover that 12 years prior their babies were switched at birth. A witty send up of class relations and family ties, “Life Is a Long Quiet River” was celebrated with a host of trophies at France’s César Awards ceremony winning for best screenplay, best debut work and acting prizes for Héléne Vincent and Catherine Jacob. On Blu-ray from Arrow Academy/MVD Entertainment.
“Target: Philadelphia” (2019): In 1985, Philadelphia police — at the behest of Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. — dropped a military-grade explosive on a residential building to end a standoff with Black liberation group, MOVE. The resulting fire caused by the C-4 bomb destroyed many buildings, and set a new standard for institutionalized violence: 11 people, including 5 children were killed. “Target: Philadelphia” explores the rise of police militarization within the parallel contexts of Black nationalism and the systemic disenfranchisement that incubates movements like Black Lives Matter. Interviewees include Jannie Blackwell, a seven-term West Philly councilwoman, members of MOVE, including Mike Africa Jr., Jerry Ford Africa, Birdie Africa, Ramona Africa and Mo Africa, Omali Yeshitela, founder of founder of the Uhuru Movement, an African Internationalist organization and Dr. Will Guzmán, a noted scholar of African/African American history and culture. On DVD, Blu-ray, from IndiPix Films … In 1995, director Paul Verhoeven’s salacious “Showgirls” — a nasty, over-the-top sex-and-sadism filled exploration of the trials and tribulations of a young woman who hitchhikes to Las Vegas to make it as a chorus girl — opened with an NC-17 rating and alienated literally every film critic in the country. The film was trounced in reviews and died at the boxoffice. Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas had a falling out and star Elizabeth Berkley (who played the lead, Nomi Malone), fresh off the bland TV series “Saved by the Bell,” was dropped by her agent and was pretty much black-listed in Hollywood. Because of its notoriety, “Showgirls” was a success on home video; since its release it has amassed north of $100 million. In the intervening years, “Showgirls” has become a cult classic, and has been re- evaluated as more than just a sensational, trashy nudie exploitation film, transcending the “so-bad-it’s-good” category. The film has been defended by such critics as J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Even Jacques Rivette, founder of the French New Wave, piped in, calling it in 1998 “one of the great American films of the last few years” for its unflinching look at the dark side of entertainment celebrityhood. Even Berkley’s career picked up; she went on to star in dozens of Broadway productions — to critical raves — and carved out scores of roles on TV. In the documentary “You Don’t Nomi” (2019), a chorus of film critics and fervent devotees explore the complicated afterlife of the film, from its disastrous release to cult adoration and extraordinary redemption. The film features Adam Nayman (“Vice Guide to Film”) and Peaches Christ (who hosts midnight screenings in San Francisco) as well as archive interview footage with the cast and crew. If you haven’t yet seen “Showgirls,” this documentary is a great introduction to it. It’s fast-paced and well-balanced, deconstructing “Showgirls” with supporters and naysayers alike. Director Jeffrey McHale intersperses clips from other Verhoeven movies to place “Showgirls” in the context of the director’s ouvre (most of his films have contained vibrant scenes of sex and violence (“Turkish Delight,” “Katie Tippel,” “RoboCop,” “Total Recall” and the notorious “Basic Instinct”) as well as centering it among other sex-oriented big screen productions (“Fatal Attraction” among them). And there’s plenty of footage from midnight showings. Unfortunately, there’s no modern interviews with Verhoeven, Eszterhas, Berkley or co-stars Kyle MacLachlan and Gina Gershon (both of whose careers have flourished, thank you). All in all it’s a fun adventure. On DVD, Blu-ray, from RLJE Films.
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.