Editor’s Notes: Inferno, The Men’s Club, Black Girl, Black Girl, Sabotage, USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, The Monster, Passage to Mars, The Light Between Oceans, The IT Crowd: The Internet Is Coming, Black Society Trilogy, & The Man Who Fell to Earth are out on their respective formats Tuesday January 24th.
Inferno (Sony Home Entertainment) is the third installment of the franchise based on Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. This time around, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in a Florence hospital room with a head wound and amnesia. He doesn’t know why he’s in Italy or what caused his injury. When a female assassin shows up at the hospital, Langdon and his doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), make their escape…and never stop running. Attempting to figure out what’s happened to him, Langdon searches his clothing and finds a Faraday pointer — a laser pointer that projects an image of Botticelli’s “Abyss of Hell,” a painting of Dante’s vision of the underworld in the “Divine Comedy.” So begins yet another race to save mankind from obliteration, as Langdon deciphers numerous clues along the way.
The formula by now is pretty stale, and Inferno is little more than an extended chase movie, with only brief exposition breaks for Hanks to explain the cryptic messages. Then it’s on to the next clue as the clock ticks. Director Ron Howard provides nice shots of Florence, Venice, and Istanbul, adding local color to the humdrum proceedings. For a thriller, the movie is surprisingly devoid of excitement. We simply don’t care as much about the mystery as Langdon does.
Director Howard fails to develop any semblance of suspense and too often makes the narrative confusing. Hanks does his best with the material, but even a good actor can get just so much out of a poorly written role and a mediocre script. Even if you’re a fan of thrillers, you can skip “Inferno.” Its two-hour running time seems endless despite its picturesque locales and breakneck pace.
Bonus features on the 2-disc 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD edition include deleted and extended scenes; Ron Howard’s director’s journal; profiles of Robert Langdon and Sienna Brooks; a featurette about the location filming; and “Visions of Hell,” showing how Hell has been depicted in art through the ages. The film is also available in single-disc Blu-ray and single-disc DVD editions.
The Men’s Club
The Men’s Club (Olive Films), directed by Peter Medak (The Ruling Class), is based on the novel of the same name by Leonard Michaels. Meeting at the Berkeley home of Kramer (Richard Jordan, The Mean Season), a psychotherapist with shaky credentials, several men of various ages and backgrounds assemble in support group-like sessions where they share their innermost fears, regrets, and desires. On one key evening, tensions will flare and deep-seated hostilities will emerge, culminating in shocking revelations.
Cavanaugh (Roy Scheider) is a former Major League baseball player who has anger issues toward women, Solly Berliner (Harvey Keitel) is a high-powered real estate businessman, and Phillip (David Dukes) is a pretty wholesome family man and professor. Terry (Treat Williams) is a hedonistic doctor, Harold Canterbury (Frank Langella) is an attorney with a sexual fetish, and Paul (Craig Wasson) is content to smoke a joint and just listen to the others.
Each of the men takes a turn complaining about what bothers him in their group gripe session. The actors hold our attention by very good performances but, as the film goes on, it gets weirder and even surreal as the action splinters in assorted directions, and central focus is lost. Cavanaugh has a threesome with two women half his age, Solly is obsessed with French kissing, Harold makes love to a woman while she paints his face in a Kabuki-like look, and Terry beats a woman for taking food from his plate.
The film is more like a stage play with its abundance of dialogue, limited changes of location, and general claustrophobic feel. As the yuppie types deliver monologues about how difficult their lives are, they become increasingly annoying and seem more like chronic cry babies than grown men. The quality of the performances makes it seem as if the film is profound as it delves into the rather shallow lives of these guys. The concept of people opening up to one another in a confined setting worked in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club with teenagers as the main characters, but seems contrived and overly theatrical in The Men’s Club.
There are no bonus features on the widescreen Blu-ray release. The film is rated R.
Black Girl (The Criterion Collection), directed by Ousmane Sembene, focuses on Diouana (M’Bissine Therese Diop), a young woman from a lower-class district in Dakar, Senegal, who is brought to the French Riviera to work as a nanny and maid for the family of a young French bureaucrat and his wife, identified only as Monsieur (Robert Fontaine) and Madame (Anne-Marie Jelinek). In France, she finds that their stories of a richer life, a pleasant environment, and good pay turn out to be far different from the reality. There are no children in sight, and she becomes more a slave than employee. Confined to her bosses’ flat, Diouana becomes a veritable prisoner, enduring the petty tyranny of Madame and the overt racism of her employers’ lunch guests. Because of the repeated abuse, Diouana is determined to escape, whatever it takes.
Black Girl (1966) is widely considered the first feature film directed by an African. Made only six years after Senegal received its independence from France, the film is a gripping look at the lasting effects of European colonialism in Africa and prevalent attitudes of the time. Diouana is treated with complacent disdain by the white characters. Most disturbing is the matter-of-fact depiction of the young woman’s abuse by a couple who probably think of themselves as decent, enlightened individuals. Sembene’s pessimistic view is that Diouana and her white employers will exist side by side but on opposite sides of a mutual, misguided cultural chasm. At a mere 59 minutes, the film is a dramatic statement on racial marginalization.
Bonus features on the 4K digital restoration Blu-ray release include Ousmane Sembene’s 1963 short film Borom Sarret; new interviews with film scholars; excerpt from a 1966 broadcast in which Sembene discusses his win of the Prix Jean Vigo for Black Girl; new interview with actor M’Bissine Therese Diop; a 1994 documentary about filmmaker Ousmane Sembene; alternate color sequence; trailer; and a critical essay. The film is in French, with English subtitles.
Sabotage (Olive Films) is a 1939 melodrama in which the main character, Tommy Grayson (Gordon Oliver), is arrested on suspicion of sabotage at an airplane factory. His family and fiancee try to help him, but neighbors and factory workers are not convinced of his innocence. His father, Major Matt Grayson (Charley Grapewin, The Wizard of Oz), a watchman at the plant, is certain that his upright, honest son had nothing to do with the incident, which caused the death of a test pilot. With the help of Tommy’s fiancee, Gail (Arleen Whelan, Young Mr. Lincoln), and a group of his old friends, Major Grayson sets out to prove that his son was framed and bring the true culprit to justice.
There are several similarities to the better-known Alfred Hitchcock film Saboteur starring Robert Cummings, particularly the theme of an innocent man wanted for espionage who has to extricate himself from suspicion by finding the actual culprit. While the Hitchcock film is a stylish thriller with a number of memorable scenes and first-rate supporting performances, Sabotage is a fairly ordinary programmer with a second-tier cast. Back in its day, this kind of low-budget, short (67 minutes) film would play on a double bill with an A picture. With its black and white photography, modest production values, and uninspired direction, the movie resembles an old TV drama.
There are no bonus features on the unrated Blu-ray release.
USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage
USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (Lionsgate) takes place in the Pacific during the closing days of World War II. In 1945, while the U.S. cruiser Indianapolis was returning from a secret mission to deliver pieces of the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was torpedoed and sunk, costing the lives of 300 on board and dumping 900 survivors into the freezing waters of the Pacific Ocean where they suffered exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and shark attacks.
The film is based on a true story that was made famous by Quint’s monologue about the fate of the Indianapolis in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. The event is certainly worthy of a feature film, but it’s clear in nearly every frame that the filmmakers simply did not have the budget to do justice to it or to the men aboard the doomed ship. The computer-generated effects are often so unconvincing that they detract from the narrative. Nicolas Cage, who has had a run of forgettable movies in recent years, stars as Capt. Charles B. McVay III. He does his best, but can’t overcome a weak script filled with every imaginable action flick cliche. Thomas Jane co-stars as a pilot who locates and helps rescue the survivors, and Tom Sizemore plays a badly injured crewman in a life raft. Both actors elevate their scenes considerably.
Director Mario Van Peebles aspires to achieve the gravitas of such war films as Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge but fails to make the project more than a routine war picture.
A segment at the end of the film features real-life survivors of the Indianapolis. The only bonus extra on the Blu-ray release is a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette. A digital HD copy is enclosed.
The Monster (Lionsgate) is set up as a by-the-books cinematic horror film, yet has plenty of surprises in store. A divorced mother (Zoe Kazan) and her headstrong daughter, Lizzy (Ella Ballentine), must make an emergency late-night road trip to see the girl’s father. As they drive through deserted country roads on a stormy night, they suddenly have an accident that leaves them shaken but not seriously hurt. Their car, however, is disabled. As they try to get help, they come to realize that they are not alone on these deserted backroads. Someone or something is lurking in the surrounding woods, intent on never letting them leave.
As mother and daughter wait in the car for a tow truck and ambulance, director Bryan Bertino shows us flashbacks to illustrate their relationship. Odd sounds, mysterious shadows, and the remote location all help to build suspense and contribute to an atmosphere of dread. As in the best horror films, we feel the suspense building as we await the appearance of the title character. But the monster itself pales in comparison to the artful way in which Bertino provides backstories for Lizzy and her Mom, and the fine performances of Kazan and Ballentine.
Rather than make the two lead characters generic horror flick types, the script takes pains to make them real, flawed individuals. We get insight into what their lives were like before their fateful car trip and we fear for their well-being. The movie also keeps things disturbingly vague. Is the monster supernatural? Is it a Godzilla-type behemoth? Can it be an alien presence? Keeping it an enigma makes it far more scary than if things were spelled out too literally. There is considerable blood and gore, which should please horror fan aficionados.
The only bonus feature on the R-rated Blu-ray release is the behind-the-scenes featurette “Eyes in the Darkness.” A digital HD copy is enclosed.
Passage to Mars
Passage to Mars (IFC Films) is a documentary that traces how six men embark on a treacherous 2,000-mile journey across the perilous sea ice of the Northwest Passage to prepare NASA astronauts for an eventual mission to Mars. Test driving a prototype Martian Humvee Rover, the crew makes it way over icy landscapes in frigid weather. Expected to take a only few weeks, the expedition stretches into a two-year trek as the crew battle seemingly insurmountable challenges and life-threatening conditions. Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) narrates the adventure from the participants’ own journals, delivering his voiceovers with considerable excitement.
The film tries to achieve a level of profundity through high-sounding pronouncements and purple language. The trek itself is not that exciting and becomes repetitive long before its 95-minute running time ends. Though director Jean-Christophe Jeauffre tries to make the ordeal dramatic, there isn’t enough going on to make that happen. To break up endless images of the frozen landscape, there are occasional digital “explorations” of Mars itself as well as some actual footage taken on the Red Planet.
Bonus features on the unrated DVD release include a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette, director’s commentary, and theatrical trailer.
The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans (Touchstone Home Entertainment) is set in post-World War I Australia. After serving in the war, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs) seeks a quiet life and accepts a job as lighthouse keeper. It is clear that Tom has been emotionally scarred by his experience on the Western Front. The lighthouse is situated on the fictional island of Janus and faces two seas, though it’s never clear which seas they are.
Before heading out from the mainland, Tom meets Isabel (Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl). After he leaves for Janus, they correspond and, when he returns, she proposes to him. After initial self-doubts about his worthiness, Tom accepts Isabel’s proposal and they set out for Janus as newlyweds intending to start a family. They are the only inhabitants of the island.
Fate is unkind to the couple and Isabel undergoes a series of miscarriages. One is brought on by a ferocious storm that strikes with Isabel outside the lighthouse, pounding on the door as wind blows and rain pours down mercilessly. When a small boat containing a dead man and a baby floats up on the island, Isabel, who has given up having a child, is filled with renewed hope.
Director Derek Cianfrance has crafted a weepy melodrama with very effective performances by Fassbender and Vikander and breathtaking cinematography by Adam Arkapaw. But the movie is overlong and often drags. There doesn’t seem to be enough story to justify 2 hours and 13 minutes. The period setting and the isolation of the couple contribute to a romantic but ultimately very sad mood. When the small boat is discovered, the movie takes on an energy that it lacks earlier. It’s clear why Tom longs for a normal life after the upheaval of war, but it’s somewhat perplexing why a woman as lovely as Isabel would be attracted not only to the morose Tom but also to a life of solitude hundreds of miles from other human beings.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include a featurette about director Cianfrance’s directing style and the cast and crew’s location filming in Cape Campbell, New Zealand; a history of the Cape Campbell lighthouse and a look at what a lighthouse keeper’s life was like in early days; and audio commentary.
The IT Crowd: The Internet Is Coming
The IT Crowd: The Internet Is Coming (MPI Media Group) is a special- episode finale to the popular British sitcom. Set at the help desk of a huge corporation, The IT Crowd is built around Roy (Chris O’Dowd) and Moss (Richard Ayoade), socially inept fellows working in the basement, quietly but grudgingly helping the technologically inept, until a new boss is hired. Jen (Katherine Parkinson) knows nothing about computers, and the guys have little interest in being managed. Their misadventures in and out of the office spanned four six-episode seasons. This finale was announced a few years after The IT Crowd left the air in 2010.
An incident involving spilled coffee, a homeless person, and Roy and Jen looking despicable is recorded on a cellphone and goes viral on the Internet. Once Jen and Roy are identified, their reputations and that of Reynholm Industries are at risk. And everything they do only makes matters worse. Meanwhile, before Douglas (Matt Berry) goes off to Secret Millionaire, he shares with Moss his secret of self-confidence and Moss is transformed. A confident Moss devises a plan to help Jen and Roy recover their reputation, but it all seems too good to be true.
Since the original show was episodic, rather than serialized, there technically was no need for a finale, but it’s always fun to see the exploits of these characters as they negotiate the world of business as awkwardly as ever. This installment may not rank among the program’s best, but it has all the comedic elements that made it a hit. The show is not as well-known here in the United States and the humor depends less on rapid-fire jokes than American sitcoms. Because the show takes its time building gags, the pace is not as fast as in comedies made for American TV.
Bonus features on the unrated DVD include commentary with writer Graham Lineman and the featurette “Random Access Memories.”
Black Society Trilogy
Black Society Trilogy (Arrow Films) is a collection of three thematically connected, character-driven films by Japanese director Takashi Miike. These are crime stories about violence, the underworld of Japanese society, real and surrogate families, and the difficult task of finding one’s place in the world.
Set in the bustling Kabuki-cho nightlife neighborhood of Tokyo, Shinjuku Triad Society (1995) is a very violent film about gang culture that follows a family feud separating two brothers, both of whom are Chinese/Japanese. Elder brother Tatsuhito Kiriya is a cop desperate to take down Wang, the leader of a homosexual gang, and will do anything to get his man. But younger brother Yoshiko has recently graduated from law school and has taken the job of representing the cruel crime boss.
Rainy Dog (1997), shot entirely in Taiwan, is about exiled yakuza Yuuji who begins working for a local crime boss, taking jobs wiping out rival gang members. One day, a former lover appears with a young mute boy she claims is his son and leaves him there for Yuuji to raise.
Ley Lines (1999) moves from the countryside to the city and back, as three Japanese youths of Chinese descent seek their fortune in Tokyo only to run afoul of a violent gang boss. Director Miike combines crime-related action, grim sex, and reprehensible characters.
All three films have a gritty look. Their themes relate to one another and reinforce Miike’s point of view. He tackles compelling ideas about family relationships, racial pride, and the isolation and alienation of modern society. Made on modest budgets with plenty of action, the Trilogy films offer an alternative to the Hollywood action picture.
Bonus extras on the unrated widescreen 2-disc Blu-ray release include new interviews with director Takashi Miike and actor Show Aikawa; new audio commentaries for all three films by a Miike biographer; original theatrical trailers; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork. The films are in Japanese, with optional English subtitles.
The Man Who Fell to Earth
The Man Who Fell to Earth (Lionsgate), directed by Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now), is about an androgynous alien visitor (David Bowie) who, in the guise of billionaire Thomas J. Newton, is on a mission of mercy to develop technology to transfer some of Earth’s water to his drought-stricken home planet where his wife and kids’ lives depend on his success. His goal is sidetracked by human interference, lack of scientific foresight, complacency, and human weakness. He attracts attention from the media, jealous business rivals, and a lovesick chambermaid with an alcohol problem.
The film is reminiscent of The Day the Earth Stood Still, made 25 years earlier. In both, an alien on a mission of peace is misunderstood, suspected of ulterior motives, and regarded with fear and discontent by the citizens of Earth, bringing out their worst. As Bowie’s visitor is subjected to painful experiments and the petty agendas of bureaucrats, he becomes a Christ-like figure.
Bowie is perfectly cast, since his shock of red hair, pale complexion, and vitreous eyes give him an other-worldly appearance. He’s not the best actor, but he sells the role through sheer oddness. The supporting cast includes Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry, and Bernie Casey. Director Roeg tends to meander, especially in the film’s second half, making for a bloated two-and-a-half-hour running time.
Bonus extras on the 3-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include a 1977 David Bowie interview for French TV; new interviews with costume designer May Routh featuring original costume sketches, photographer David James featuring behind-the-scenes stills, producer Michael Deeley, and fan Sam Taylor-Johnson; new “Lost Soundtracks” feature; interviews with actress Candy Clark, director Nicolas Roeg, writer Paul Mayersberg, and cinematographer Tony Richmond; 72-page book; press booklet; four art cards; and mini-poster.