Editor’s Notes: Gold, Crimson, Get a Job, Altered Minds, Toni Braxton”: The Movie Event, & The Films of Maurice Pialat: Volume 2 will be released on their respective formats June 14th.
Gold (Kino Lorber) is a 1934 German science fiction film that is often overshadowed by the more famous Metropolis, made seven years earlier by Fritz Lang. Directed by Karl Hartl, Gold stars Hans Albers as Professor Holk, an idealistic scientist working on a process to transform lead into gold. Realizing the implications of such a discovery, Holk’s mentor, Prof. Achenbach (Friedrich Kayssler), keeps everything well secured. On the eve of the definitive experiment, the operation is sabotaged, Achenbach is killed, and shortly thereafter Holk is offered the backing of ruthless businessman John Wills (Michael Bohnen), who plans to corner the market. Convinced that Wills was responsible for his mentor’s death, Holk makes a deal with the businessman to continue the research while privately plotting to destroy Will’s gold-making machinery. As Holk takes his revenge, the millionaire’s daughter (Brigitte Helm, Metropolis) becomes fascinated by the scientists’s selflessness, vision, and integrity.
Sympathy clearly rests with Holk — the pure idealist and loyal colleague out to avenge what he believes is his mentor’s murder. Wills is obsessed with the precious metal and will do whatever it takes to obtain it, however underhanded and morally corrupt. In that respect, he is a precursor of the megalomaniac Bond villain, Auric Goldfinger.
Unlike Metropolis, Gold is slow-paced and lacks the earlier film’s massive cast, but it does feature impressive, imaginative sets designed by Otto Hunte (Metropolis, Woman in the Moon). Gold was made just before the Nazi takeover of Germany. Scenes featuring the gold-making machine would later turn up in the American science-fiction film The Magnetic Monster (1953), directed by German expat writer/director Kurt Siodmak.
The unrated Blu-ray release is in German, with optional English subtitles.
Crimson (Kino Lorber) stars Paul Naschy as a criminal gang leader who undergoes a radical surgery. When a jewel robbery goes awry, Jack Surnett (Paul Naschy) and his fellow thieves take shelter at the home of a scientist experimenting in brain replacement. Through the surgical skill of the doctor’s wife (Silvia Solar), Surnett is restored to health but suffers an irresistible thirst for blood and conventional lust after the brain of a criminal known as The Sadist (Roberto Mauri) is grafted onto his own.
The movie ambitiously blends heist flick, revenge thriller, and mad scientist horror inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein even though the mad scientist aspect had been tapped many times before, primarily in Universal and Columbia B-pictures of the 40s and numerous low-budget science-fiction movies of the 50s. Despite its efforts, Crimson comes off as a tepid effort, lacking either real scares or atmosphere. Naschy is known for more flamboyant roles. In Crimson, he has little to do other than lie half-dead in bed most of the time.
This edition includes both the 89-minute American release version, dubbed in English, as well as the extended 98-minute European version alternately titled The Man With the Severed Head (in French, with English subtitles), which features additional, sexually provocative footage.
The Blu-ray release is mastered in HD from original 35-mm film elements. The only bonus feature is audio commentary by horror film historian Richard Harland Smith.
Get a Job
Get a Job (Lionsgate) stars Miles Teller (Whiplash) as Will Davis and Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) as Jillian Stewart, recent college grads whose goal is to become a power couple. But first they have to get jobs in their desired professions. Will expects things will work out smoothly for him as they always have. His father (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad) has recently been laid off and is having trouble adjusting to the modern work culture. Ms. Kendrick doesn’t have much to do aside from stand by Will however tough the going gets.
Focusing on a character who believes the world owes him a good job doesn’t exactly endear Will to viewers. Rather than providing a seriocomic satire of millennials and the current economy, director Dylan Kidd falls back on cliches and delves no deeper than the next one-liner. If you’re wondering about why these actors bothered with this film, note that it was made in 2012, before they went on to loftier efforts.
There are no bonus features on the R-rated Blu-ray release. A digital HD copy is included.
Altered Minds (Entertainment One) stars Judd Hirsch as ex-CIA psychiatrist Nathaniel Schellner, renowned for his work with war orphans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He and his wife (Caroline Lagerfeld) have adopted several such children. About to succumb to cancer, Nathaniel welcomes the entire family — including adoptees Harry (C.S. Lee), Julie (Jaime Ray Newman), and Tommy (Ryan O’Nan) — back to their home for a final gathering. But the intended warm reunion is derailed when tormented horror novelist Tommy accuses his father of having adopted kids not out of love, but for experiments in mind control. Haunted by frightening visions of secret labs, underground cells, and implanted electrodes, Tommy attempts to save his sanity by uncovering dark family secrets.
Director Michael Z. Wechsler portrays Nathaniel sympathetically as a selfless humanitarian. The fact that he’s dying adds to the sympathy we feel. Hirsch plays Nathaniel as a kind, generous family man who desires one final get-together with his family. Tommy’s accusations turn the celebration dark and we wonder whether they are genuine repressed recollections coming into focus or the product of a troubled mind.
The film shifts gears as other secrets are revealed. The picture-perfect family image develops fissures, then cracks, as we get a deeper picture of the characters, their lives, and how Tommy’s allegations affect the family dynamic.
Bonus features on the unrated DVD release include deleted scenes; two audio commentary tracks with director Michael Z. Wechsler and composer Edmund Choi, who share anecdotes about filming and post-production; and director’s video logs from pre-production and table reads through day-to-day shooting and post-production.
Toni Braxton”: The Movie Event
Toni Braxton: The Movie Event (Lionsgate) is based on Braxton’s memoir, Unbreak My Heart, and stars Lex Scott Davis as the R & B singer. Following the multi-Grammy winner from her discovery by L.A. Reid (Greg Davis, Jr.) and Kenneth Babyface Edmonds (Gavin Houston) to her battle with lupus, this Lifetime biopic includes her public divorce, her son’s autism and family struggles, and how she overcame the challenges to become a pop sensation.
Biopics about musical entertainers sometimes go wrongheaded, as in 2015’s Whitney, which cast an actor who doesn’t come close to resembling the late Whitney Houston and didn’t use a single note of that singer’s own voice. In the Braxton film, however, we get to hear the singer’s actual vocals lip-synched by Ms. Davis. As a bonus, Toni Braxton herself appears at the end playing the piano and singing Unbreak My Heart.
As with many biopics, events and time frames are jumbled a bit for dramatic effect, but this one follows Braxton’s memoir fairly closely. The film unfortunately glosses over her cult-like religious upbringing, racial politics that caused her to pay her own expenses during her first tour with Kenny G, and battles with her manager that caused considerable disruption of her career.
The overall thrust of the movie is inspirational. If anything, it paints Braxton as perhaps too iconic. Everyone has flaws and they tend to show human frailty. As portrayed in this film, Toni Braxton is a legend whose sheer will led her to forge through adversity to the heights of show biz fame.
There are no bonus features on the unrated DVD release. A digital copy is enclosed.
The Films of Maurice Pialat: Volume 2
The Films of Maurice Pialat: Volume 2 (Cohen Film Collection) contains the 1987 feature “Under the Sun of Satan,” an adaptation of Catholic novelist George Bernanos’ 1926 novel. Father Donissan (Gerard Depardieu) is an ardent man of God haunted by Evil and the failure of his divine mission. He mutilates his body, desperately seeking sanctity, and is unable to establish any rapport with his parishioners. The priest’s faith and morals are tested by a roadside encounter with Satan, a truth-telling session with a 16-year-old murderess, and a challenge to raise a deceased child from the dead.
Director Pialat appears as Donissan’s superior, Menou-Segrais, at the beginning of the movie having a discussion about Donissan’s future, but it is essentially the start of an ongoing theological debate about the struggle between good and evil. Pialat deals with this ages-old conflict rather routinely, considering its significance to men of the cloth, in particular, and to religious individuals in general. For a movie steeped in religious meaning, it is neither overly didactic nor overwhelming. Pialat keeps his focus on Donissan, and Depardieu’s performance keeps us involved, but even at 98 minutes, the film does drag in places. Some judicious editing would have improved the pace.
Bonus features on the 2-disc Blu-ray release include a 2012 interview with star Gerard Depardieu, 2012 interview with cinematographer Willy Kurant, 2012 interview with production designer Katia Wyszkop, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, and 2 trailers. The unrated film is in French, with English subtitles.