Editor’s Notes: A Hologram for the King, The Tiger, Marguerite, Lazer Team, Guernica, House of Cards: The Complete Fourth Season, The Blacklist: The Complete Third Season, and iZombie: The Complete Second Season will be released on their respective formats August 9th.
A Hologram for the King
A Hologram for the King (Lionsgate) stars Tom Hanks as Alan Clay, a middle-aged, divorced American businessman who travels to Saudi Arabia hoping to sell King Abdullah a holographic telecommunications system. Nearly broke, Alan is depending on a big commission if the sale goes through. But the King delays seeing him for days, leaving him in a state of uncertainty in a strange land with unfamiliar customs. Alan has little to do but wait and hope.
Among the people Alan encounters as he waits for his audience with the King are his driver, Yousef (Alexander Black), who provides comic relief; Hanne (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a Danish consultant who knows where to find booze and loose women in the restrictive nation; and Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), a Saudi doctor.
Based on a novel by Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King portrays a man out of his depth, worrying not only about his upcoming meeting but also about a mysterious growth on his back. He has plenty of time to take a hard look at his life, come to terms with the local culture, and realize that there are ways to live different from his own back in Iowa.
Writer/director Tom Tykwer has cast the movie well. Hanks’ Alan is likable, and we sympathize with him as he struggles with Saudi bureaucracy. The role suits the actor well but the script doesn’t give him a lot to do other than look perplexed, frustrated, and mildly annoyed at being in limbo, not knowing when — or if — he will meet with the King. So the film fails to adequately engage us. There is little action and many sequences drag. Were it not for Hanks’ star power and charisma, the film would be forgettable.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include two featurettes: “From Novel to Screen: The Adaptation of A Hologram for the King,” and a behind-the-scenes making-of mini-documentary. A digital HD copy is included.
The Tiger (Well Go USA) stars Choi Min-sik (Oldboy, Roaring Currents) as Chun Man-duk, a hunter in early 20th-century Korea, during the Japanese colonial period, who’s training his son to follow in his footsteps. The Japanese have set about killing every native Korean animal they can find on orders from a bloodthirsty commander. Along with other hunters, Chun is charged by the commander to hunt down the last remaining tiger on the Jirisan Peninsula. The almost mythical beast of the title seems able to differentiate between nationalities. Though he mauls whomever comes in his path, it’s the Japanese oppressors who receive his most savage attacks.
The CGI tiger is quite realistic, reminiscent of the incredibly real tiger in Life of Pi. Like monster movies of the 1950s, the tiger is seen fleetingly at first until its full form is dramatically revealed. Also rendered with computer artistry are wolves and tiger cubs. Cinematographer Lee Mo-gae provides some lovely images of the area’s natural beauty, but it’s the action sequences that are the film’s strength, with the struggle taking on an epic quality.
The unrated widescreen Blu-ray release contains no bonus features. The film is in Korean, with English subtitles.
Marguerite (Cohen Media Group) is set in 1921, not far from Paris, where Marguerite Dumont has invited an array of music lovers to a party at her castle. No one knows much about the host except that she is wealthy and has devoted her entire life to music. Marguerite (Catherine Frot) is an amateur soprano who loves opera but sings terribly out of tune. Because her audience never summons the courage to let on how awful she is, Marguerite lives in a bubble, acting the role of diva. When a journalist writes a rave tongue-in-cheek article on her latest performance, Marguerite starts to believe even further in her talent, giving her the motivation to follow her dream.
Though fiction, Marguerite is inspired by the real-life story of American socialite Florence Foster Jenkins, who will get soon her own big-screen biopic, starring Meryl Streep. Writer/director Xavier Giannoli incorporates lots of funny moments predicated on Marguerite’s sincere self-delusion, but also manages to make her sympathetic. Reminiscent of the fairy tale The Emperor’s New Clothes, the movie shows how her social circle maintains and feeds the illusion that she is a superb artiste.
Ms. Grot conveys a sad vulnerability and innocence, making us feel for the woman beneath the cartoonish surface. Interestingly, director Giannoli has given his leading character nearly the same name as Hollywood’s own Margaret Dumont, hapless foil for the Marx Brothers in numerous 1930s films.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include an interview with writer/director Xavier Giannoli, 4 deleted scenes, and theatrical trailer. The film is in French, with English subtitles.
Lazer Team (Anchor Bay) is a science-fiction comedy about four small-town Texas guys called upon to save Earth from alien invaders. When they stumble across an alien crash site containing an amazing battle suit, they realize it can be a formidable weapon against the enemy. With this new equipment genetically bound to them, and the government after them, the quartet have little choice but to work together as one to save humanity. All they have to do is learn to use a battle suit intended for one person, train to vanquish a powerful enemy, and not kill each other in the process. They are not strong and certainly not smart, but the hope of the world rests on their shoulders.
Herman (Colton Dunn) still holds a grudge against Hagan (Burnie Burns), that goes back to their high school football days. Hagan, now a local sheriff’s deputy, is hostile toward Zach (Michael Jones) because Zach is dating his daughter. Woody (Gavin Free) is simply a general-issue nincompoop. Mutual cooperation is essential if they are to save the world.
The movie reminded me of the original Ghostbusters, but in that film, you had very talented comic actors with terrific chemistry and a good script. In Lazer Team, the personalities and talents of the four leads simply aren’t enough to sustain the ha-ha factor. There are some mildly amusing scenes but too often the actors try too hard to milk laughs that never materialize.
Bonus features on the widescreen DVD release include deleted and extended scenes and bloopers. The film is also available in the Blu-ray format, with the same bonus features.
Guernica (Sony Home Entertainment) takes place in 1937 in the Basque area of Spain at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Citizens of the village of Guernica live with the daily realities of the war. American journalist Henry (James D’Arcy), known for his talent of discovering the truth behind a story, has recently become cynical and opportunistic, interested only in his reputation and the prestige it carries. As he covers the republican side of the fight, he meets and secretly joins forces with local press-office censor Teresa (Maria Valverde) to work against the stringent restrictions that are becoming more common. She knows his early work and confronts him, accusing him of losing his passion for ferreting out facts to put together a compelling news story. But everything changes when German forces attack the town and the freedom of the press becomes a vital weapon.
The film harks back to historical dramas of an earlier era, placing a romantic tale against a major event that changed history. Like Gone With the Wind, Paths of Glory and Casablanca, the actual political and social turmoil serve as dramatic background, and are treated unsentimentally by director Koldo Serra. The movie has relevance today because it raises the issues of human rights violations as well as the media’s responsibility to report a story, untainted by bias.
The romantic story of Henry and Teresa is told against the actual bombing of Guernica, carried out on April 26, 1937 at the behest of the Spanish nationalist government by its ally Germany that set the stage for World War II. The bombing is considered one of the first raids on a defenseless civilian population by a modern air force, and is the subject of a famous painting by Pablo Picasso.
Bonus features on the widescreen DVD release include deleted and extended scenes.
House of Cards: The Complete Fourth Season
House of Cards: The Complete Fourth Season (Sony Home Entertainment) continues the saga of Frank and Claire Underwood as they connive, plot, and claw their way to the top of Washington’s power pyramid.
Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), now President, is determined to seek a second term. At the end of Season 3, the Underwood’s marriage was on shaky ground. This season, Claire (Robin Wright) is more aggressive in following her own political agenda and hires a high-powered assistant (Neve Cammpbell) but is sidetracked to Texas to visit her estranged, ailing mother, Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn).
Frank has a formidable challenger for President in New York governor Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman). He also faces a terrorist hostage situation, considerable machinations within the White House, and a life-threatening situation that keeps him out of commission for a time.
Francis and Claire Underwood are two of the most Machiavellian characters on TV, and it is great fun to watch their ambition drive nefarious plots to move their opponents methodically and deliberately like chess pieces. The writing is excellent and juggles lots of characters, assorted subplots, and twists and turns. Some of the situations mirror the current Presidential campaign. Truth aping fiction, or vice versa?
There are no bonus features on the 4-disc, 13-episode Blu-ray set.
The Blacklist: The Complete Third Season
The Blacklist: The Complete Third Season (Sony Home Entertainment) finds FBI Agent Elizabeth “Liz” Keen (Megan Boone) a fugitive on the run with criminal mastermind Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader). With assistant FBI Director Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) under investigation, a conflicted Agent Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) leads the FBI task force on a massive hunt for Liz and Red. As they struggle to stay one step ahead of their former colleagues, Liz immerses herself in Red’s underworld of disreputable contacts and covert operations.
The primary appeal of The Blacklist is James Spader. His Red is one of the best-written characters on network TV — complex, unpredictable, arrogant, and annoyingly self-assured. We always get the impression he’s the smartest guy in the room, making his intricate machinations and ability to operate on the fence between the law and the underworld believable. Spader has always been able to convey an off-center personality. His Red is yet another portrayal that captivates as it repels, making him fascinating to watch.
Guest stars in Season 3 include Tony Shalhoub (TV’s Monk), Leslie Jones (Ghostbusters, Saturday Night Live), Brian Dennehy (TV’s Death of a Salesman), and Famke Janssen (X-Men).
The 5-disc Blu-ray set contains 23 episodes. Special features include episode commentaries, deleted and extended scenes, and several making-of behind-the-scenes featurettes including “From the Shadows: Villains of Season 3,” “Creating the Stunts: Script to Screen,” and a compilation of Red’s memorable lines from Season 3.
iZombie: The Complete Second Season
iZombie: The Complete Second Season (Warner Home Video) takes place a few weeks after the events of Season 1. The first season breathed new life into the zombie genre by focusing on the human within rather than the marauding monster. The show’s gruesome scenes are balanced with a sense of humor, witty writing, and an excellent performance by Rose McIver as Liv, a brain-eating morgue assistant who helps detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin) solve cases through her visions while she simultaneously searches for a zombie cure with her boss, Ravi (Rahul Kohli). Liv takes on the characteristics of her various victims shortly after consuming them. These sequences are among the most entertaining of the season, since Ms. McIver is able to display the range and versatility of her acting chops.
In the second season, emphasis is increased on Liv’s family background and we get insight into her damaged relationship with her mother in the season premiere, “Grumpy Old Liv.” We also get to see Liv’s unfortunate track record with boyfriends, as she is torn between sexual attraction and a voracious appetite.
Blaine (David Anders) has found a different career. Because he’s no longer a zombie, there’s a different kind of relationship between him and Liv.
The season provides greater detail about the zombie world and its mythological background. The two-part finale ties plot points together and sets the stage for Season 3.
Special features on the 4-disc unrated widescreen Blu-ray release include deleted scenes and an iZombie 2015 Comic-Con Panel discussion.