From the Big Screen:
“City of Lies”
What is worse, the crime or the cover-up? Based on the book, “LAbyrinth,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Randall Sullivan, this crime-thriller follows the investigation into the infamous murder of iconic rap artist Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G. and the death of Tupac Shakur. Johnny Depp stars as determined LAPD detective Russell Poole, who spent nearly 20 years trying to solve the murder, and Forest Whitaker stars as Jack Jackson, a journalist who teams up with Poole in search of the elusive truth. Together they explore why the case remains cold — and why a secretive division of the LAPD is seemingly set on keeping it that way. Vitals: Director: Brad Furman. Stars: Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker, Rockmond Dunbar, Xander Berkeley, Michael Paré. 2021, CC, MPAA rating: R, 112 min., Crime Thriller, US box office gross: $.572 million, worldwide $2/844 million, Saban Films. Formats: DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, Digital. Extras: Deleted scenes, “Crafting the Characters in City of Lies,” commentary with director Brad Furman and author Randall Sullivan. Read more here.
This Week’s Best Bets:
Maggie Cheung embodies tragic silent screen siren Ruan Lingyu, known as the “Greta Garbo of China,” in the unconventional biopic “Center Stage” (1991 — Hong Kong), by Hong Kong New Wave master Stanley Kwan. Praised for her moving and emotive onscreen presence, Ruan’s private life, which was frequent fodder for the vicious Shanghai tabloids, began to mirror the melodramas which brought her fame, culminating in her suicide at age 24. Kwan and Cheung paint a kaleidoscopic yet intimate portrait of the ill-fated actress, deftly blending lush period drama, archival footage, and metatextual documentary sequences of Cheung reflecting on Ruan’s lasting legacy. Digitally restored in 4K from the original negative. On DVD, and in a Blu-ray debut from Film Movement Classics … In “Under the Sand” (2000), the incomparable Charlotte Rampling gives one of her most acclaimed performances in Francois Ozon’s mesmerizing tale of loss and grief. For many years, Marie (Rampling) and Jean (Bruno Cremer) have happily spent their vacations together at their country house. One day at the beach, Marie naps in the sand while Jean goes for a swim. When she awakens, he is gone. Did he drown? Did he run off? Distraught, Marie notifies the authorities. But after an extensive search, no body is found, and Marie is left in a painful limbo, unable to properly grieve for her lost love. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Kino Classics … “The Human Condition” (1959-61), the mammoth humanist drama by Masaki Kobayashi, is one of the most staggering achievements of Japanese cinema. Originally filmed and released in three installments of two parts each, the nine-and-a-half-hour “The Human Condition,” adapted from Junpei Gomikawa’s six-volume novel, tells of the journey of the well-intentioned yet naive Kaji — played by the Japanese superstar Tatsuya Nakadai — from labor camp supervisor to Imperial Army soldier to Soviet prisoner of war. Constantly trying to rise above a corrupt system, Kaji time and again finds his morals to be an impediment rather than an advantage. A raw indictment of Japan’s wartime mentality as well as a personal existential tragedy, Kobayashi’s riveting, gorgeously filmed epic is novelistic cinema at its best. In a three-disc Blu-ray set debut, with high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural (Parts 1–4) and 4.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio (Parts 5 and 6) soundtracks. From The Criterion Collection … Marlene Dietrich for years insisted that “The Blue Angel” (1930) was her screen debut, when in fact she was catapulted to fame by the silent drama of 1929, “The Woman One Longs For,” which fits neatly among the visually dynamic and emotionally dark melodramas of Joseph von Sternberg and G.W. Pabst. Uno Henning stars as a young businessman whose plans of marriage are interrupted when he becomes entranced by a haunting young woman (Dietrich) who seems to be the victim of a monocled sadist (Fritz Kortner). Like Dietrich, director Kurt Bernhardt would emigrate to the United States and enjoy a long career making films based around strong female characters. Restored in 2012 by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung, this edition is accompanied by a spectacular original orchestral score by Pascal Schumacher. On Blu-ray from Kino Classics.
From TV to Disc:
“Fuller House: The Fifth and Final Season” (2019-20) is a two-disc set with all 18 episodes. In the fifth and final season, the Tanner childhood house is fuller than ever with DJ’s three boys, Stephanie’s new baby, and Kimmy’s feisty family, as the she-wolf pack prepares for a triple wedding and celebrates all the memories that have led them there. “Fuller House” is the continuation of the 90s ABC series “Full House,” which centered around three grown men raising three girls in San Francisco, and which premiered in 1987 on ABC and became an instant hit with viewers. From Warner … “MacGyver: Season 4” (2020) is a three-disc set with all 13 episodes. In this reboot of the 1980s series, ex-MI6 agent Russ Taylor recruits former Phoenix Foundation members Mac, Riley, Bozer, Matty, and Desi to hunt down a bioweapon that’s planned to be used by a mysterious organization for a devastating attack on a major U.S. city. From Lionsgate … “Power Book II: Ghost Season 1” (2020-21) includes all 10 episodes and picks up after the events of “Power” as Tariq St. Patrick grapples with his father’s death while his mother, Tasha, faces charges for the murder her son committed. Tariq is forced to split his time between school and hustling to pay for Davis MacLean, the defense lawyer who is Tasha’s only hope of escaping prosecution by U.S. Attorney Cooper Saxe. Tariq turns to the drug game; he figures out the only way to avoid the same fate his father met is to become him — only better. From Lionsgate.
Buzzin’ the ‘B’s:
Obsession gets a makeover in “The Stylist” (2020), a deliciously twisted slice of female-led psychological horror, nominated for the New Visions Award for Best Motion Picture at the 2020 Sitges International Film Festival and based on co-writer/director Jill Gevargizian’s award-winning short film of the same name. We all dream of being someone else … but for Claire (Najarra Townsend), that dream goes from an obsession to a living nightmare. Hairstylist by day, serial killer and collector of scalps by night, Claire’s lonely existence is thrown into turmoil when her regular client, Olivia (Brea Grant), asks her to style her hair for her wedding day. Increasingly fixated on Olivia’s seemingly flawless life, Claire vows to lock up her scalp collection and change her ways for good – only to discover that repressing your deadly desires is easier said than done. In a Limited Edition Blu-ray with soundtrack CD,from Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment … Screen greats Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jacqueline Bisset star in the uproarious spy comedy “Le Magnifique – aka The Man from Acapulco” (1981 — France). Belmondo plays Francois, a reclusive novelist whose wild imagination gets the best of him in this delightful blend of fantasy and adventure. Becoming the lead character from his own book, the dashing spy-hero Bob Saint-Clair, Francois is hysterically thrown into the middle of his latest espionage case, “How to Destroy the Reputation of the Greatest Secret Agent.” Only with the help of Francois’ beautiful and enticing neighbor (Bisset aptly filling the role of his seductive assistant, Tatiana) can the author save the world from his editor, who has been transformed into dastardly secret agent Karloff. Together, the duo gets caught in a whirlwind of chases, betrayals, confrontations and mutual attraction. Long before Austin Powers, this cleverly written French comedy outrageously portrays the spy game like it’s never been seen before. Co-written and directed by Philippe de Broca (“That Man from Rio”) and beautifully shot by René Mathelin. In a Blu-ray debut from Kino Lorber Studio Classics … Spanish horror star Paul Naschy plays a multitude of roles in a tour-de-force performance in one of his last great films, “The Howl of the Devil” (1988 — Spain). He plays Hector Doriani a stage and screen actor who feels himself living in the shadow of his dead twin brother, Alex Doriani, the latter once a famous star of horror movies. Alex’s young son, Adrian, now lives with Hector in his brother’s isolated mansion in the countryside. To keep alive the memory of his father, the boy imagines himself visited by the spirit of the dead man, incarnated in a series of classic horror characters from the past. Eric, Alex Doriani’s former butler, now also works for Hector. His main role is to locate and bring to the mansion a series of women who are paid large sums of money by Hector to take part in various sadistic sex games. To complicate matters even further, the games always seem to end with the women getting slaughtered in various gruesome ways by a black gloved, masked killer. Also on hand is horror diva Caroline Munro, as Hector’s housekeeper and cook, who is being pursued by a local priest with whom she once had a much-regretted affair. One of the last films to be directed by Paul Naschy, “The Howl Of The Devil” was, for many years, impossible to see in anything like its intended form. This first HD presentation of the film shows it at last in its true glory. New 4k transfer from the film negative, digitally restored. On Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro … In “Flashback” (2021), starring Dylan O’Brien, Maika Monroe, Hannah Gross, Emory Cohen and Keir Gilchrist, Fredrick Fitzell (O’Brien) is living his best life until he starts having horrific visions of Cindy (Monroe), a girl who vanished in high school. After reaching out to old friends with whom he used to take a mystery drug called Mercury, Fredrick realizes the only way to stop the visions lies deep within his own memories, so he embarks on a terrifying mental odyssey to learn the truth. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Lionsgate. Read more here … A bullied teenager gains the means to fight back when a botched faith healing bestows supernatural, shamanistic powers upon him in “The Unhealer” (2020), starring Elijah Nelson, Kayla Carlson, Adam Beach, Natasha Henstridge and Lance Henriksen. When his lifelong tormentors pull a prank that causes the death of someone he loves, the teen uses his newfound abilities for revenge and goes on a bloody rampage to settle the score. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Scream Factory. Read more here … In “Hunting Ground” (1983 — Spain), Adele, a female lawyer, brilliantly played by Assumpta Serna, passionately defends criminals, believing that everyone deserves a second chance and that criminality is more often than not bred by deprivation. In the courtroom, a pair of local hoods sees her in action and decides to follow her. They steal her car, find the keys to her country villa and decide to rob the place. Unfortunately, Adele’s family turns up at the villa mid-burglary and her husband is killed. But that is only the beginning of the nightmare. Directed by Jordi Grau who made the horror classics “Blood Ceremony” and “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie.” In a new 4k transfer from film negative, uncut, digitally restored. On Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro … In “Assault on VA 33” (2021), starring Sean Patrick Flanery, Michael Jai White, Mark Dacascos, Rob Van Dam and Weston Cage Coppola, Flanery stars as decorated army veteran Jason Hill. While on a routine visit to the local VA hospital, organized terrorists infiltrate the building and take hostages, including a decorated general, and Hill’s wife. The highly trained veteran is outnumbered and the last line of defense, taking on a building full of armed insurgents before it’s too late. From Paramount … In “The Lovebirds” (2020), starring Anna Camp, Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani, Kyle Bornheimer and Paul Sparks, a couple (Rae and Nanjiani) experiences a defining moment in their relationship when they become mixed up in a murder mystery. As their journey to clear their names takes them from one extreme circumstance to the next, they must figure out how they, and their relationship, can survive the night. From Paramount … In “Undercover Punch & Gun” (2019 — Hong Kong), starring Philip Ng, Van Ness Wu and Andy On, an elite cop working undercover to infiltrate a notorious drug ring has his plan compromised when a rival agency with a grudge attacks during a trade, killing the gang’s leader. Their cover blown, both teams are forced to unite and take to the high seas in an attempt to overthrow the ruthless smuggler behind it all. With an all-new English dub. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Well Go USA … Set in the iconic Italian neighborhood of Bensonhurst, “Omerta: The Act of Silence” (2011), starring Paul Malignaggi, Will Wallace and Joe Estevez, is a peek inside the operation of the Mafia, at a time when the organization had a firm grip on day-to-day living in the area. The word Omerta describes a code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to give evidence to authorities. From MVD Entertainment Group.
Partially inspired by true stories, the comedy “Beate” (2018 — Italy), starring Donatella Finocchiaro, Betti Pedrazzi and Lucia Sardo, is a modern social fairytale set in Northeast Italy. When the employees of the Veronica lingerie factory discover they’re to be fired, they take matters into their own hands and borrow equipment to produce their own garment line. Lead by plucky forewoman Armida, they’re determined to overcome the odds and succeed. Nearby, in “Convent of the Holy Mantle,” a handful of nuns skilled in the art of embroidery and devoted to a mummified body of a “blessed one,” are in danger of being transferred, while the unscrupulous mayor — also the owner of the Veronica factory — wants to develop a luxury resort where the convent resides. Together, to oppose their unfortunate turns, they join forces for a surprising collaboration: a line of sexy lingerie. However, they ‘re soon attacked by the owner of Veronica and the convent’s Mother Superior, from whom the operation had to be kept secret. From Corinth Films … In “True Mothers” (2020 — Japan), starring Hiromi Nagasaku, Arata Iura and Aju Makita, after a long and unsuccessful struggle to get pregnant, Satoko and her husband decide to adopt a child. Over the next six years, the middle-class couple and their young son, Asato, settle into a comfortable, albeit routine life. The family’s orderly existence is shattered by the arrival of Hikari, a young woman who claims to be Asato’s biological mother and demands his return. The film weaves together multiple timelines and genres and was Japan’s entry for Best International Film Oscar this year. From Film Movement … The Danish psychological thriller “Blurred Vision (Tågesyn” (2019 — Denmark), starring Niklas Herskind, Ida Rasmussen and Dorte Højsted, follows Andre and Elisa, a couple who has recently discovered they’re expecting their first child. Full of hope and excitement for their family’s future, they move to the countryside to be closer to Elisa’s mother, Martha. When life seems perfect, things start to unravel as Elisa develops psychosis and Andre begins to question his own sanity, the pregnancy, and his girlfriend. As disturbing secrets surface about Elisa and a web of lies are spun by her and her overprotective mother, Andre must fight for himself and the life of his unborn child. From Indican Pictures … Alberto Testone. Step inside the brilliant, tormented mind of renaissance legend Michelangelo in Andrei Konchalovsky’s lavish and gripping drama “Sin” (2019 — Russia/Italy). Florence, early 16th century. Although widely considered a genius by his contemporaries, Michelangelo Buonarroti is reduced to poverty and depleted by his struggle to finish the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. When his commissioner and head of the Della Rovere nobility Pope Julius II dies, Michelangelo becomes obsessed with sourcing the finest marble to complete his tomb. The artist’s loyalty is tested when Leo X, of the rival Medici family, ascends to the papacy and charges him with a lucrative new commission — the façade of the San Lorenzo basilica. Forced to lie to maintain favor with both families, Michelangelo is progressively tormented by suspicion and hallucinations, leading him to ruthlessly examine his own moral and artistic failings. From Corinth 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.