From the Big Screen:
This Week’s Best Bets:
The Criterion Collection will release this week two classic films by the great German filmmaker G. W. Pabst:
G. W. Pabst brought the war movie into a new era with “Westfront 1918” (1930 — German), his first sound film, a mercilessly realistic depiction of the nightmare that scarred a generation, in the director’s native Germany and beyond. Digging into the trenches with four infantrymen stationed in France in the final months of World War I, Pabst illustrates the harrowing ordeals of battle with unprecedented naturalism, as the men are worn away in body and spirit by firefights, shelling, and the disillusion that greets them on the home front. Long unavailable, the newly restored “Westfront 1918” is a visceral, sobering antiwar statement that is as urgent today as when it was made. On DVD and Blu-ray, with new high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include an hour-long French television broadcast of World War I veterans reacting to the film in 1969; 2016 interview with film scholar Jan-Christopher Horak; and an essay by author and critic Luc Sante … When a coal mine collapses on the frontier between Germany and France, trapping a team of French miners inside, workers on both sides of the border spring into action, putting aside national prejudices and wartime grudges to launch a dangerous rescue operation in “Kameradschaft” (1931 — Germany). Pabst brings a claustrophobic realism to this ticking-clock scenario, using realistic sets and sound design to create the maze of soot-choked shafts where the miners struggle for survival. A gripping disaster film and a stirring plea for international cooperation, “Kameradschaft” cemented Pabst’s status as one of the most morally engaged and formally dexterous filmmakers of his time. On DVD and Blu-ray, with new high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray.
From TV to DVD:
“Masterpiece: Victoria Season 2” (2017) is a three-disc set with eight episodes. Jenna Coleman returns for a new season as the young queen who wants it all — romance, power, an heir, and personal freedom. Season 2 finds Victoria adapting to motherhood after the birth of her first child, a daughter (to the disappointment of many). Meanwhile, the disaster of the Anglo-Afghan War unfolds abroad, and the catastrophic Irish potato famine begins to wreak havoc. In other foreign affairs, a royal state visit to France is in the offing. Most intriguing to Prince Albert is the budding Industrial Revolution, which is now sweeping England. There is Charles Babbage’s mechanical calculator, a collaborative project with the bewitching Ada Lovelace, daughter of the scandalous Lord Byron. Then there is William Fothergill Cooke’s miraculous electrical telegraph, not to mention Marc Isambard Brunel’s daring — and dangerous — Thames Tunnel. On DVD, Blu-ray Disc from PBS Distribution … “Ray Donovan: The Fifth Season” (2017) is a four-disc set with all 12 episodes. Stars Golden Globe and Emmy nominee Liev Schreiber and Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Jon Voight, with notable guest Stars Susan Sarandon, Lili Simmons, C. Thomas Howell and Donald Faison. In this season, Ray’s ongoing family upheaval has taken an emotional toll, leaving him more vulnerable than ever. LA’s preeminent fixer is heading into uncharted territory and will soon discover that some damage can’t be controlled. Extras include “Dog the Dog” documentary, three-part featurette “On Death & Dying,” “Nothing Goes Right for Bunchy,” “Terry Donovan and Parkinson’s,” commentary on Episode 508. From Showtime/Paramount.
Buzzin’ the ‘B’s:
After being defeated by humans centuries ago, the Winged Tribe has lost their ability to fly in “Legend of the Naga Pearls” (2017 — China). Seeking vengeance, a royal descendant of the tribe has begun searching for the magical Naga Pearls, which he plans to use to destroy the humans. When the legendary pearls fall into — and out of — the hands of Heiyu, a wily human street punk, he must join a team of unlikely heroes as they race to prevent the destruction of their people in this magical fantasy adventure. Stars Darren Wang, Crystal Zhang, Sheng Guansen, Simon Yam and Xing Yu. On DVD, Blu-ray Disc, from Well Go USA … In “Shockwave: Countdown to Disaster” (2018), starring Stacey Oristamo, Rib Hillis, Ed Amatrudo and Brace Thomas, after a pair of military robots crash on a deserted pacific island, a team of Navy SEALs goes to destroy them, with disastrous consequences: they set off a chain reaction of volcanic storms. It’s up to geophysicist Kate Ferris, her daughter and estranged husband to travel to the San Andreas fault line to find a way to stop the destruction. From Monarch … Lionsgate has been reissuing classic Vestron Video DVDs form the 1980s and 90s, and this week they’re adding a pair of very cool titles to the Vestron Video Collector’s Series: First up is the Blu-ray debut of “Class of 1999” (1990), starring Pam Grier, Stacy Keach and Malcolm McDowell. The time is the future, and youth gang violence is so high that the areas around some schools have become “free fire zones” into which not even the police will venture. When Miles Langford (Malcolm McDowell), the principal of Kennedy High School, decides to take his school back from the gangs, robotics specialist Dr. Robert Forrest (Stacy Keach) provides “tactical education units.” These human-like androids have been programmed to teach and are supplied with weapons to handle discipline problems. These kids will get a lesson in staying alive. Restored and remastered. Extras include commentary with producer-director Mark L. Lester, “School Safety” interviews with Lester and co-producer Eugene Mazzola, “New Rules” interview with screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner, “Cyber-Teachers from Hell” interviews with special effects creators Eric Allard and Rick Stratton, “Future of Discipline” interview with director of photography Mark Irwin, theatrical trailer, TV spots, still gallery, video promo … Next up is “Gothic” (1987), directed by Ken Russell and starring Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands and Natasha Richardson, is a fictional retelling of the night Mary Shelley developed the story of Frankenstein. While under the influence of experimental substances, she and a group of friends experience terrifying visions that bend reality into her horrific tale. In a Limited edition Blu-ray Disc. Extras include commentary with Lisi Russell and film historian Matthew Melia, isolated score selections and audio interview with composer Thomas Dolby, “The Soul of Shelley” featurette with Sands, “Fear Itself” featurette with screenwriter Stephen Volk, “One Rainy Night” featurette with director of photography Mike Southon, theatrical trailer, TV spot, still gallery … “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” (2017), starring Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote, is based on the bold and illuminating true superhero origin story depicting the creation of the beloved comic book character Wonder Woman in 1941 by Dr. William Moulton Marston (Evans), the Harvard psychologist who helped invent the modern lie detector test. Marston’s polyamorous relationship with wife Elizabeth Holloway (Hall) and their lover, Olive Byrne (Heathcote) was key to the creation of Wonder Woman as their feminist ideals were ingrained in the character from her creation. On DVD, Blu-ray Disc from Fox.
On the Indie Front:
Inspired by arthouse films of the 1960s, writer-director Lee Eubanks creates a menacing world of dread, isolation, and unease in his feature film debut “It Takes From Within” (2017). An ominous, bleak atmosphere permeates a desolate town where an unnamed man and woman make preparations to attend a burial. Tension builds as the two experience increasingly disturbing incidents as the internment draws near. Expressive cinematography, brooding sound design, and minimal use of spoken dialogue help create a surreal cinematic examination of the human condition in conflict with death. Tailored for audiences who take pleasure in interpreting a film on their own terms, “It Takes From Within” is a cryptic journey into the dark void between reality and nightmare. Stars David Brownell, Kristin Duarte, James Feagin. From First Run Features … “Just Charlie” (2017 — UK) is set in Tamworth, a gritty, small working class Midland town in the UK, where teenage soccer star Charlie and his family see soccer as a way out of a dead-end factory life for him. But Charlie is struggling with gender dysphoria, and is torn between his father’s expectations and shedding his male identity. With dramatic yet surprising results for himself, his family, and his community, Charlie begins a gender transition while continuing to pursue the dream of becoming a soccer star. Stars Harry Gilby, Scot Williams, Patricia Potter, Karen Bryson, Ewan Mitchell and Joshua Pascoe. From Wolfe Video … In “My Art” (2016), contemporary artist Laurie Simmons makes her directorial debut with a quirky and acclaimed dramedy. Ellie Shine (Simmons) is a single artist living in New York City; she has a good life, a stable teaching job, successful friends, and a loyal, aging dog named Bing. As her decades-old dream of a respectable place in the art world becomes more elusive, her frustration with her lack of recognition feels alarmingly urgent. When she is offered the summer house and studio of a famous friend in Upstate New York, she seizes the opportunity to hit the reset button on her life and work. There she unwittingly finds inspiration in two out-of-work actors who maintain the gardens at her summer retreat. Stars Simmons, Lena Dunham, Parker Posey, Blair Brown, Robert Clohessy, John Rothman, Josh Safdie and Barbara Sukowa. From Film Movement.
In “Aida’s Secrets” (2016 — Germany), the discovery of records from World War II sparks a family’s quest for answers as two brothers separated as babies and dispersed to different continents reunite with each other and their elderly mother, who hid more from them than they ever could have imagined. Izak Szewelwicz was born in Germany’s Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp in 1945 and was sent by his mother, Aida, to Israel to be raised by foster parents. Though Izak was able to form a relationship with his birth mother, his life was turned upside down years later when he located not only his birth certificate, but also proof that he had a brother he never knew existed. Documentary filmmakers Alon and Shaul Schwarz set out to find answers for Izak, uncovering questions of re-shuffled identities, resilience, and the traumatic plight of displaced persons. The detective work culminates in Izak and his brother Shep — both nearly 70 years old — finally meeting in Canada before traveling to a nursing home in Quebec to introduce Shep to his elderly mother, Aida, for the first time. From Music Box Films … In “The Square” (2017 — Sweden), starring Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West, a prestigious Stockholm museum’s chief art curator finds himself in times of both professional and personal crisis as he attempts to set up a controversial new exhibit. Christian is the respected curator of a contemporary art museum, a divorced but devoted father of two who drives an electric car and supports good causes. His next show is “The Square”, an installation which invites passersby to altruism, reminding them of their role as responsible fellow human beings. But sometimes, it’s difficult to live up to your own ideals: Christian’s foolish response to the theft of his phone drags him into shameful situations. Meanwhile, the museum’s PR agency has created an unexpected campaign for “The Square.” The response is overblown and sends Christian, as well as the museum, into an existential crisis. From Magnolia Pictures.
For the Family:
From visionary director Kenji Kamiyama (“Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” and “Eden of the East”) comes “Napping Princess” (2017 — Japan), a sci-fi fantasy that effortlessly weaves together the rapidly evolving technology of today’s world with the fantastic imagination of the next generation, which was nominated for Best Animated Feature – Independent, at this year’s Annie Awards. The year is 2020, three days before the opening of the Tokyo Olympics. While she should be studying for her exams, Kokone Morikawa often dozes off, entering a dream-world called Heartland full of fantastic motorized contraptions. But when her father, a talented but mysterious mechanic, is kidnapped for stealing technology from a powerful corporation, it’s up to Kokone and her childhood friend Morio to save him. Together they realize that Kokone’s dream-world holds the answers to the mystery behind the stolen tech, uncovering a trail of clues to her father’s disappearance and ultimately a surprising revelation about Kokone’s family. In a Blu-ray/DVD Combo from GKIDS/Shout! Factory.
“Slavery and the Making of America” (2005) is a landmark series that documents the history of American slavery from its beginnings in the British colonies through the years of post-Civil War Reconstruction. The program examines the integral role slavery played in shaping the new country’s development, challenging the long held notion that it was exclusively a Southern enterprise. Four episodes, narrated by Morgan Freeman. From PBS Distribution.
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.