New to Blu-ray/DVD: Maurice, The Wedding Banquet, First Kill, The Lion King, The Last Face, All Eyez On Me, Red/Red 2, Narcos, Monsieur Le President, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Flash, & Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In

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Editor’s Notes: Maurice, The Wedding Banquet, First Kill, The Lion King, The Last Face, All Eyez On Me, Red and Red 2, Narcos: Season Two, Monsieur Le President, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Flash: The Complete Third Season, & Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete First Season are out on their respective home entertainment releases September 5th.

Maurice

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Maurice (Cohen Film Collection) is set amid the conformity of pre-World War I English society. Students Maurice Hall (James Wilby, Howards End) and Clive Durham (Hugh Grant, Four Weddings and a Funeral) find themselves falling in love at Cambridge. In a time when homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment, the two must keep their feelings for one another a complete secret.

After a friend is arrested and disgraced for “the unspeakable vice of the Greeks,” Clive abandons his forbidden love and marries a young woman. Maurice, however, struggles with his identity and self-confidence, seeking the help of a hypnotist to rid himself of his urges. But while staying with Clive and his wife, Anne, Maurice is seduced by the servant Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves, The Madness of King George), an event that brings about profound changes in Maurice’s life and outlook.

The film is based on the 1914 book by E.M. Forster (A Room With a View) that was suppressed for 50 years because of its controversial subject matter and was finally published in 1971, a year after Forster’s death.

Director James Ivory believably portrays the inward struggle of two young men coming to terms with their homosexuality that puts them in conflict with their social class, the teachings of their Anglican background, the views of the medical profession at the time, and British law, which made them susceptible to blackmail as well as prison sentences.

Both Wilby and Grant are excellent and convey the omnipresent guilt their characters carry because of their homosexuality. The time period and its stringent codes of behavior and propriety are realized through a script that emphasizes how the two young men are torn between their passion and societal expectations.

Bonus materials on the 2-disc Blu-ray release include a making-of featurette; new on-stage Q & A with director James Ivory and cinematographer Pierre L’homme; “The Story of Maurice” featurette; conversation with the filmmakers; deleted scenes and alternate takes with audio commentary by James Ivory; and original and 2017 re-release theatrical trailers.

The Wedding Banquet

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The Wedding Banquet (Olive Films) is a comedy about a young gay man who must hide his “secret” and marry in order to placate his traditional parents.

Gay couple Wai-Tung (Winston Chao, Eat Drink Man Woman) and Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein, Streamers) are happily cohabitating in New York when word comes from Wai-Tung’s parents, who, tired of waiting for their son to marry and give them grandchildren, have hired a dating service to get him closer to the altar. Wai-Tung and Simon hatch a plot that’’ bring about a marriage of Wai-Tung and Wei-Wei (May Chin, Woman Soup), an acquaintance in need of a green card. All seems to go well until Wai-Tung’s parents announce a visit and insist that a customary wedding banquet is given to make up for the less-than-spectacular city hall marriage ceremony.

Director Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain) combines comedy with biting social asides. The jokes are often predicated on genuine pain and confusion as Wai-Tung is torn between a lifestyle he has embraced and his devotion to his parents. This kind of film could easily have drifted into broad yuk-yuks by treating its characters as caricatures and stereotypes, but Lee keeps the situation believable. The humor derives from the relationships and the conflict between modern, enlightened society and old-school traditions. The Chinese cultural traditions portrayed are a significant part of the story, and are treated respectfully, rather than as a source of one-liners.

Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release include the featurette A Forbidden Passion, and a trailer.

First Kill

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First Kill (Lionsgate) stars Hayden Christensen (Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith) as Will, a successful Wall Street broker who takes his family on a vacation to the cabin where Will grew up. While Will and son Danny (Ty Shelton) are hunting, their trip takes a frightening turn when they witness the murder of a crooked police officer when a bank robbery goes awry. When Danny is taken hostage by the criminals, Will is forced to help them evade Police Chief Howell (Bruce Willis) investigating the murder and recover the stolen money in exchange for his son’s life.

Willis, who’s played a cop in countless films, takes on the role of yet another law officer, but this one is not necessarily out there to protect and serve. Howell is courteous to the locals in small-town Graville, Ohio, but is not above dispatching them permanently if they come between him and the money from the recent robbery.

The secondary story involves Danny, who has been bullied at school. Will is trying to instill in the boy self-confidence in a hunting trip that will give them an opportunity to bond. But the portrayal of Will simply doesn’t ring true. He’s depicted as practically an action hero as he sets out to save Danny at all costs, showing courage and skills not usually ascribed to a stock broker. An interesting twist in the film is that Danny’s kidnapper, Levi (Gethin Anthony), is sympathetic and has a compelling backstory.

As an action flick, First Kill delivers with its off-road chases and backwoods shootouts, but fails to explore the moral and/or legal consequences of some of Will’s questionable actions. Director Steven C. Miller (Marauders) creates suspense and features some stand-out scenes between Danny and his kidnapper that avoid cliche and present Levi as more than just a plot point.

Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release include director’s commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurette, extended cast & crew interviews, and trailer gallery. A digital HD copy is enclosed.

The Lion King

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The Lion King (Disney) was another huge hit for the company that produced The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, and cemented once and for all Disney’s reputation as the preeminent producer of cartoon features. It also inspired the long-running Broadway musical. Set in Africa, the film opens spectacularly with a gathering at Pride Rock of animals large and small to pay homage to Simba, newly born son and heir to the great king of beasts, Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones).

Young Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is curious and always wants to go exploring in the places his father says are off limits. He’s encouraged to continue his explorations by his uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons), a manipulative creature, passed over for the title of king.

This was the first animated film from Disney that was not based on existing material. The studio continued its fascination with comical sidekicks in the persons of the tender-hearted wart hog Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) and fast-talking meerkat Timon (Nathan Lane). These two provide the film with lots of broad comedy and their duet, “Hakuna Matata,” which is Swahili for “no worries,” is the picture’s liveliest and most memorable song. Their hijinks balance the movie’s themes of ecological awareness, and how all creatures on the planet are connected in a never-ending cycle.

Apart from “The Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata,” the songs by Elton John and Tim Rice are serviceable, but not memorable. In terms of the characters, Simba, Pumbaa, Timon and Scar are the best. The others are more symbolic, and they aren’t nearly as well developed. As in many Disney animated features, it’s the young ones, the villains, and the sidekicks that shine.

Bonus materials on the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD “Circle of Life” Signature Edition include the featurette “The Recording Sessions,” containing never-before-seen voice recording sessions; “Inside the Story Room,” with archival footage depicting the origins of five major scenes; “Visualizing a Villain,” an interpretation of the villain Scar by performance artist David Garibaldi; and “The Lion King: Song Selection,” featuring an all new sing-along version of the movie. A digital copy is enclosed.

The Last Face

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The Last Face (Lionsgate) is the story of two doctors, Wren (Charlize Theron) and Miguel Leon (Javier Bardem), working on the front lines in Africa, trying to bring relief to war victims. They meet and establish an intense romance that takes place over the course of many years and two wars.

Wren is the daughter of the founder of an organization like Doctors Without Borders, and Miguel is a dedicated surgeon. They become involved in crises in the war-torn regions of Liberia and South Sudan, and their love is hampered by horrifying, unending conflict, which the world at large ignores. Despite a privileged upbringing, Wren has felt invisible her entire life and has thrown herself into proving her worth as a doctor amid ongoing war and personal danger. Miguel is committed to serving in terrible surroundings to deliver badly needed medical attention when doctors are in short supply.

Director Sean Penn, who is known for his humanitarian work and likely felt strongly about the subject matter of The Last Face, has created an overlong film with characters it’s hard to connect with. Though the viewer can respect the self-sacrifice of a physician leaving the comfort and financial security of a practice at home to enter a war zone, it’s difficult to figure out Wren. She’s had an excellent education, is intelligent, and has looks to boot, yet her inner monologues seem more aimless musings on purpose and worth. After a while, these monologues become tiresome and she devolves into a plot convenience rather than a real person.

Bardem comes off better, and we see him performing amputations, digging out bullets from the wounded, and opening up a stomach. These are the disturbing images of war and its effect, but seem gratuitous. Though the intent of the movie might have been to draw awareness to the plight of those who sacrifice by putting themselves in harm’s way to help the needy, it comes off as pretentious. The romantic slant does more to undermine the message than enforce it. It’s a shame to see such fine actors wasted in this deeply flawed movie.

The only bonus extra on the widescreen, R-rated Blu-ray release is the featurette “Picturing The Last Face.” A digital HD copy is enclosed.

All Eyez On Me

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All Eyez On Me (Lionsgate) tells the story of rapper, actor and activist Tupac Shakur. The movie follows Shakur (Demetrius Shipp, Jr.) from his early days in New York City to his evolution into being one of the world’s most recognized and influential voices before his untimely death at the age of 25. Shakur’s raw talent, powerful lyrics, and revolutionary ideas propelled him into becoming a cultural icon whose legacy continues to grow long after his death.

The movie dispels many inaccuracies about Shakur and the 1996 shooting that took his life. The filmmakers have researched the rapper’s life and have attempted to portray events as accurately as possible. Though he achieved great fame, there were many missteps along the way, which are dealt with in unvarnished detail. Rather than whitewash events in Shakur’s life and career, the movie presents him, warts and all, resulting in a raw, unfiltered portrayal.

Structurally, the movie is unbalanced between a rushed first half, which covers Shakur’s first 20 years with lightning speed, and a second half which dwells on his final, tragic five years. As the film shifts from past to present, we meet Shakur’s mother, Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira), and see him performing Shakespeare in high school with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham). A major flaw is making Shakur’s narrative-rich songs cinematic. Several hits are included, such as “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” “So Many Tears” and “I Get Around.” Though it’s great to hear them, they are staged with little imagination.

After going through a series of directors including Antoine Fuqua and John Singleton, All Eyez On Me was ultimately helmed by music video director Benny Bloom. The cast includes Jarrett Ellis as Snoop Dog and Harold House Moore as Dr. Dre.

Bonus materials on the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include deleted scenes, Demetrius Shipp, Jr.’s audition footage, and the featurettes “Legends Never Die: The Making of All Eyez On Me” and “Becoming Tupac.” A digital HD copy is enclosed.

Red and Red 2

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Red and Red 2 (Lionsgate) are both available for the first time on 4K Ultra HD. In Red (2010) Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a former black-ops CIA agent living a quiet life alone until the day a hit squad shows up to kill him. Besides Frank, other retired CIA agents are being targeted by parties unknown. With his identity compromised, Frank reassembles his old team — Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), and Victoria (Helen Mirren) — and sets out to prove that they still have the field skills to handle the bad guys.

Director Robert Schwentke strikes an often uneasy balance between strictly action thriller elements and broad humor, but overall, the film is fun, especially when Dame Helen Mirren appears long into the film to perk things up. Seeing her handle a 50-caliber machine gun is a hoot. Mary Louise Parker stars as Sarah Ross, the telephone contact charged with ensuring that Frank’s pension checks arrive on time.

In the sequel, Red 2 (2013), retired black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device. To succeed, they must survive assassins, terrorists, and power-crazed government officials, all eager to get their hands on the devastating superweapon. Anthony Hopkins plays an eccentric scientist and expert at creating bombs who’s been kept under wraps for 31 years because he was deemed too dangerous to be let loose. Director Dean Parisot incorporates lots of action, and sets up precarious situations that endanger the main characters. Once again, the tone shifts between typical action flick and comedy, but the balance works. Catherine Zeta-Jones joins the cast as a Russian agent.

Both films are available for the first time on 4K Ultra HD, which provides over four times the resolution of full HD and delivers the brightest, most vivid and truest color with the greatest contrast. The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray releases also feature Dolby Vision and Dolby immersive audio, providing a theatrical experience for home viewing.

Bonus features on the 2-disc Red 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray release include audio commentary with retired CIA field officer Robert Baer, and deleted and extended scenes. Bonus materials on the 2-disc Red 2 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray release include “The Red 2 Experience” featurette, gag reel, and deleted scenes. Both releases contain a digital HD copy. Each title is sold separately.

Narcos: Season Two

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Narcos: Season Two (Lionsgate) is a historical drama about drug lord Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) and the law enforcement officers responsible for bringing him down. The emphasis is on Escobar far more than in Season One, in which the assorted DEA agents and Colombian police officers dominated and weren’t very compelling. That season dealt with the ways the DEA tried to disrupt Escobar’s distribution networks in the 80s and 90s. Events occurred with breakneck speed. The pacing of events is less frenetic in Season Two and greater screen time is devoted to Escobar.

With his hope of gaining legitimate political power crushed, Escobar is forced into desperate circumstances and responds with greater violence as he’s assailed by rivals, two governments, traitors, and fellow countrymen who initially thought of him as a folk hero. As the authorities close in and more and more of his allies are taken down or killed, Escobar becomes increasingly isolated — a man hunted and on the run, realizing his destiny is clear.

Season Two also emphasizes the lengths to which law enforcement will go to stop Escobar once and for all. Civil liberties are brushed aside, extreme methods of interrogation are employed, and rules of proper police procedure are tossed aside in a full-out effort to nail Escobar. The writers contrast those tactics with the thousands who died at the hands or command of Escobar and the countless lives that would have been lost had he not been stopped.

Wagner Moura makes Narcos worth watching. Though the events in Pablo Escobar’s life are known, the actor manages to create suspense and make him appealing, even though Escobar was an evil, power-crazed man who would stop at nothing — including murder — to extend his drug empire. Showing the human side of such an individual is difficult when the world knows that person only from news reports. Moura allows us to get into the mind of that man and see his weaknesses and insecurities, well hidden beneath a grandiose public image.

Bonus materials on the 3-disc widescreen Blu-ray release include deleted scenes; audio commentary with director Andres Baiz, producer Eric Newman and actor Wagner Moura; and the featurette “Unredacted: Declassifying Narcos: Season Two.”

Monsieur Le President

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Monsieur Le President (Virgil Films) is a documentary that takes place in the immediate aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Volunteer Victoria Campbell encounters Gaston, a voodoo priest who shows leadership during the emergency, and later manages to open a small, much-needed medical clinic with the support of a foreign funder. He becomes a local hero, a symbol of ingenuity in defiance of the failure of conventional relief efforts. Over three years, he also becomes the filmmaker’s close friend until an unexpected development causes Victoria to re-examine her entire experience in Haiti.

The film is fascinating on two levels. First, it provides a portrait of the culture of urban Haiti after the earthquake. But second, and more interesting, is how filmmaker Victoria Campbell sees Gaston as a kind of savior of his dispirited people. The first half of the movie depicts Gaston with endless drive and force of personality reopening a clinic. She presents Gaston as a selfless man doing everything in his limited power to pick up his fellow Haitians from a natural calamity.

The film opens a window to what is happening in Haiti and shows viewers what’s being done to restore the country. As Monsieur Le President progresses, however, Campbell’s perspective on Gaston changes as she realizes he is not the infallible hero she originally thought. The message that emerges is that documentarians have to be wary of editorializing when one view of a person or event seems the only one. Journalistic inquiry and exploration are necessary beyond the recording of events.

There are no bonus features on the widescreen, unrated DVD release.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (HBO Home Entertainment) is an adaptation of the bestselling nonfiction book by Rebecca Skloot. The story is told from the point-of-view of Henrietta Lacks’ daughter, Deborah Lacks (Oprah Winfrey). The film chronicles her search, along with journalist Rebecca Skloot (Rose Byrne), to learn about the mother she never knew and understand how the unauthorized harvesting of Lacks’ cancerous cells led to unprecedented medical breakthroughs, changing countless lives and the face of medicine forever. The tale deals with medical arrogance and triumph, race, poverty, and friendships between the unlikeliest of people.

Henrietta Lacks was 31 and a mother of five children when she died at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins hospital of cervical cancer in 1951. The doctors there took a sample of her malignant tissues as part of their search for a line of cells that were able to survive and reproduce outside the body, and thus make possible medical experiments that they were not able to perform on living bodies. Henrietta’s cells were perfect, and became the basis for new treatments for diseases such as tuberculosis, flu, herpes. Aids, and for the development of chemotherapy.

Ms. Winfrey (The Color Purple) turns in a heart-wrenching performance as Deborah, a woman given to violent temper outbursts, frustrated as being unable to obtain information about her mother after years of trying, and yearning for her lost mother. Deborah is a damaged woman from a combination of loss, lies told to her, condescension from the white establishment, and injustice. Ms. Winfrey immerses herself so deeply into the character that, after a few minutes, we accept her completely as Deborah. This is not the smiling, glamorous Oprah we know from TV, but an elderly woman with a limp, closely cropped greying hair, and eyes that convey sadness. She believably captures Deborah’s dramatic mood shifts. It’s startling to watch her having a civil conversation with Skloot and then suddenly turn on her, her mood turning dark and angry. This is a finely nuanced performance that goes well below the surface. Winfrey manages to convey a lifetime of hurt and disappointment.

The film succeeds in bringing to light the story of this nearly forgotten woman who has played such an important part in modern medicine. With Oprah Winfrey’s outstanding portrayal, the film becomes more than a mere documentary-style drama. It is the very personal story of a woman’s quest to learn the truth about a mother she lost at an early age.

The widescreen Blu-ray release contains a conversation with Oprah Winfrey, Rose Byrne, writer/director George C. Wolfe, and members of the Lacks family about the legacy of Henrietta Lacks. A digital HD copy is enclosed.

The Flash: The Complete Third Season

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The Flash: The Complete Third Season (Warner Home Video) opens with forensic scientist Barry Allen, aka, The Flash (Grant Gustin), living his dream life. His parents are alive. He’s dating beautiful, smart Iris West (Candice Patton). And he’s able to stand back and let the new speedster in town, Kid Flash (Keiynan Lonsdale), step in to protect Central City. But the better Barry’s life gets, the more dangerous it becomes. His nemesis, Reverse Flash (Tom Cavanagh), warns Barry of serious repercussions if he remains in the alternate Flashpoint universe. In addition to memory loss, his powers will fade. When disaster strikes, Barry must decide whether to continue life as Barry Allen or return to his universe as The Flash. As Barry deals with his identity crisis, he and the S.T.A.R. Labs team fight off lethal threats from the God of Speed, Savitar (Andre Tricoteux).

The Flash is based on the DC Comics character, a costumed superhero crime fighter with the power to move at superhuman speeds. The series follows Barry Allen, the Flash’s secret identity, a crime scene investigator who uses his incredible speed to fight criminals, including others who have gained superhuman abilities. The Flash was spun off from another DC Comics show, Arrow, and premiered on October 7, 2014. The pilot became the second most watched premiere in the history of the CW Network.

Season Three starts with the exciting episode “Flashpoint,” in which Barry teams up with Wally West/Kid Flash, but Wally is badly injured while the duo do battle with Wally’s nemesis, Edward Clariss. The timeline is reset and Barry’s memories are restored, but back in the present, Barry discovers that the timeline didn’t reset properly, causing new problems. As a whole, Season Three isn’t as sharply scripted as the first two seasons. The writers have put Barry Allen into bad situations of his own making, which brings up questions about his intelligence. It’s interesting to portray a superhero as less than perfect, but when a lead character repeatedly makes bad decisions, he seems unworthy of the amazing power fate has bestowed on him.

Bonus materials on the 4-disc widescreen Blu-ray release include 10 behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel, and a conversation with writers Andrew Kreisberg and Kevin Smith. A digital copy is enclosed.

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete First Season

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Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete First Season (Time Life) introduced TV viewers to a fast-paced, innovative show that created new stars and became a top-rated hit. Premiering in January, 1968, the program was hosted by straight man Dan Rowan and wisecracking Dick Martin, and featured a series of skits, oddball characters, and vaudeville-type comedy.

Laugh-In was first seen as a one-time special in September, 1967. It was such an enormous hit that it led to a regular series, a staple in the Monday, 8 P.M. time slot for its entire run. Blackouts, sketches, one-liners, and cameo appearances by celebrities were all edited into a frenetic whole. The regular cast was large and the turnover high. Original stars included announcer Gary Owens, Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Goldie Hawn, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Jo Anne Worley, and Alan Sues.

Some regular features of the show were the Cocktail Party, Letters to Laugh-In, the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award, Laugh-In Looks at the News, and the Joke Wall at the end of the show during which cast members kept popping out of windows to throw each other one-liners. Phrases that became popular include “Sock it to me,” “You bet your bippy,” and “Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls.”

Favorite regular bits included Arte Johnson as the German soldier peering out from a bush muttering “Very interesting;” Ruth Buzzi as the old lady forever whacking an ancient old man who made suggestive comments as he snuggled close to her on a park bench; Goldie Hawn as the giggly dumb blonde; and Gary Owens as the deep-voiced announcer facing the microphone, his hand cupped to his ear.

All 14 episodes of the show’s premiere season are contained in a 4-disc DVD set. Bonus materials include the Laugh-In pilot, 25th Anniversary Cast Reunion Highlights, new interview with creator and executive producer George Schlatter, and Laugh-In bloopers.

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About Author

For over 25 years, I was the Film and Home Entertainment Reviewer for "The Villadom TIMES," a New Jersey weekly newspaper, and have written for several other publications. I developed and taught a Film Studies program for two New York City high schools that included Film History, Horror/Fantasy, and Film Making.