Editor’s Notes: Black Coal Thin Ice, Entourage The Movie, and Aloft are out on their respective formats September 29th.
Black Coal, Thin Ice
Black Coal, Thin Ice (Well Go USA), a Chinese thriller that won top prize at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival, is a downbeat noir film with elements borrowed from Chinatown and The Third Man. Zhang (Fan Liao) is an ex-cop traumatized by a brutal shooting he witnessed five years earlier while on the trail of a killer who left chopped-up body parts in piles of coal. Now on the bottle, with a broken marriage behind him, Zhang works as a coal factory security guard and becomes obsessed with a new case: corpses are being discovered chopped up in the same way but with a bizarre new detail — the feet have ice skates attached. With the cooperation of his former police colleagues, Zhang investigates and becomes fascinated with the first victim’s widow (Lun Mei Gwei).
Director Yi’nan Diao incorporates many elements of classic film noir into this macabre murder thriller. Zhang is damaged goods as a cop but becomes intrigued by a series of new crimes. His detective’s curiosity piqued, he dives in head first in an attempt to solve the case on his own and redeem himself. Set in wintry urban northern China, the movie benefits from production design that contributes significantly to the dark tone by its use of frost, fog, and dim streetlights.
With a pace that tends to plod, Black Coal, Thin Ice uses a gruesome series of crimes as its hook. Once involved, we’re held by the performances, the numerous allusions to classic Hollywood thrillers, a variation on the femme fatale character, and the moody, evocative cinematography.
There are no bonus features on the Blu-ray release. The unrated film is in Mandarin, with English subtitles.
Entourage The Movie
Entourage The Movie (Warner Home Video) picks up the action six months after the HBO TV show ended in 2011. Movie star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) was divorced on his honeymoon. E (Kevin Connolly) has broken up with Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui) but she’s pregnant with his baby. Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) has lost considerable weight and has become a multi-millionaire as a tequila mogul. Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) is still seeking a movie role that will bring him respect in the industry, and Vincent’s former agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), is now the powerful head of a movie studio.
Ari approaches Vincent to star in what is hoped to become a blockbuster franchise, but Vincent wants to direct. Conflict heightens when the film’s Texas financier, Larsen McCredle (Billy Bob Thornton), sends his son Travis (Haley Joel Osment) to Hollywood to oversee his investment.
Assorted sub-plots feature Vincent’s pals. Drama is trying to be taken seriously as an actor despite a shaky resume. Turtle tries to date mixed martial artist and actress Ronda Rousey (playing herself). And Ari applies his same no-holds-barred approach to running a studio as he did as a super agent. Unfortunately, the plot lines never really converge and the episodic nature of the show appears designed only to showcase each of the original entourage members. Celebrity appearances by Piers Morgan, Warren Buffett, Mark Cuban, Gary Busey, Bob Sagat, Jon Favreau, Andrew Dice Clay, Mike Tyson, Kelsey Grammar, Ed O’Neill, David Spade, Jessica Alba, and Tom Brady do nothing to elevate the proceedings.
Entourage: The Movie may be appreciated by fans of the TV series. For others, the film will seem little more than a celebration of a hedonistic lifestyle, since Vincent and his pals live in luxury, basking in the glow (or reflected glow) of stardom. The screenplay by show creator Doug Ellin attempts to cram too much into too little time. The main plot offers plenty of opportunity to explore the dark facets of celebrity, yet the movie seems content to float along on the tinsel-town misadventures of its stars.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include “The Making of Hyde,” a behind-the-scenes look at the film within the film; “The Gang — Still Rockin’ It,” a featurette with the cast discussing how things have changed since the TV series (2004-2011); deleted scenes; gag reel; and a profile of the newest member of Entourage, Lucas Ellin as Jonah Gold. A digital HD copy is also enclosed.
Aloft (Sony Home Entertainment) focuses on Nana (Jennifer Connelly), a single mom who arrives with her two sons at a remote gathering in the middle of a wintry prairie in the frozen Arctic. Younger son Gully (Winta McGrath) suffers from an unspecified untreatable, fatal ailment. Older son Ivan (Zen McGrath), who’s resentful of their trip, is an accomplished juvenile falconer. The family has come in search of some form of faith healing being administered by a mysterious individual known as The Architect (William Shimell). Nana discovers that she, too, possesses the power of healing, but tragedy strikes. The film then shifts 20 years later. Ivan (Cillian Murphy) has become a professional falconer. Though married, with a child, he appears to be one of the loneliest men in the frozen outback. Journalist Jannia Ressmore (Melanie Laurent) arrives to research a story about falconry, but she has an ulterior motive for contacting Ivan.
Peruvian director Claudia Llosa has fashioned a deadly serious, depressing motion picture about people deeply saddened by events in their lives. She switches back and forth between time periods, which can be unsettling, and the icy landscape adds considerably to the movie’s grim atmosphere. Ms. Connelly has not had great success with her recent movie roles and apparently took the part of Nana because it has greater depth than many of the characters she has portrayed. The movie illustrates the role belief in the supernatural and its healing power plays in the lives of some people. However, it distances the characters from the viewer so that they remain as cold and bleak as their surroundings. Pace tends to be slow, even though the movie is only a bit over an hour and a half.
Aloft was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2014, earning a nomination for the highest prize: the Golden Bear Award. It was also shown at the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals earlier this year. There are no bonus features on the Blu-ray release.