DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: RICHARD III (The Criterion Collection)
Producer/director Laurence Olivier’s 1955 screen adaptation of the William Shakespeare is high-toned, highly theatrical and highly entertaining. The role of the corrupt, crook-backed king is a feast that Olivier the actor (who earned an Oscar nomination as Best Actor) savors with wicked relish.Olivier is in his element as the malevolent Richard, taking the viewer into his confidence as he shares his insidiously methodical scheme to claim the throne of England as his own, systematically eliminating anyone (including family members) in his way.Olivier’s towering turn is backed by fabulous cast that includes such luminaries as John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, Pamela Brown and Claire Bloom as Lady Anne, the only one who truly perceives Richard’s evil but cannot resist him all the same.The DVD retails for $29.95, the Blu-ray for $39.95. Both contain extensive special features.
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY (IFC Films): Filmmaker Alison Klayman’s award-winning documentary offers an unprecedented look into the life of Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei. The DVD retails for $24.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98. Rated R.
THE ASSASSIN’S BLADE (Well Go USA Entertainment): Echoes of Romeo and Juliet in director Jingle Ma’s martial-arts period piece, with Charlene Choi as a young (female) warrior who disguises herself as a man to study at a prestigious dojo but is then romantically drawn to her teacher (Chun Wu). In Cantonese with English subtitles. Originally released as Mo Hup Leung Juk and also known as The Butterfly Lovers. The DVD retails for $24.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98.
BENSON HENDERSON: RISING UP (Zuffa/Anchor Bay Entertainment): A two- DVD collection ($14.98 retail) featuring 12 heavy-hitting bouts featuring UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson, including matches against Frankie Edgar, Nate Diaz, Mark Bocek and more.
BROADWAY MUSICALS: A JEWISH LEGACY (Athena): Joel Grey narrates this PBS documentary examining the works of such esteemed (Jewish) stage legends as Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, George and Ira Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim and others. The two- DVD boxed set retails for $39.99.
THE DIVIDE (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The collapse of civilization after a nuclear holocaust brings out the worst in survivors barricaded in an underground bunker. Director Xavier Gens milks the claustrophobia and themes of dehumanization to the extreme, but this loses its way in final stretch. An intense ensemble cast includes Michael Biehn, Lauren German, Rosanna Arquette, Milo Ventimiglia, Courtney B. Vance and Michael Eklund. Rated R.
FANNY BY GASLIGHT (VCI Entertainment): Director Anthony Asquith’s genteel but watchable 1944 adaptation of Michael Sadleir’s novel stars Phyllis Calvert in the title role, a woman trying to come to terms with her identity in 19 th century England. Stewart Granger (nice) and James Mason (nasty) are the men in her life. Remarkably, this was banned in some US theaters because the heroine is illegitimate!
“A FINE ROMANCE”: COMPLETE COL- LECTION (Acorn): Judi Dench and real-life husband Michael Williams shine in this award-winning British sitcom as two people who unexpectedly find romance in middle age. This four-DVD boxed set ($59.99 retail) includes all 26 episodes from the series’ 1981-’84 run, which aired in the US on PBS.
HELLO, DOLLY! (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Barbra Streisand plays the titular matchmaker in director Gene Kelly’s expensive, expansive 1969 musical extravaganza, based on Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker and newly released on Blu-ray ($24.99 retail). Walter Matthau, Michael Crawford, Louis Armstrong (in his final appearance) and Tommy Tune (in his screen debut) round out the cast. Matthau and Streisand reportedly did not get along during production. This was one of many big-budget musicals from that era that hastened the genre’s demise, although it won Oscars for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Musical Score and Best Sound, with additional nominations for Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and – thanks to a big studio push – Best Picture. Rated G.
THE HUNT FOR BIN LADEN (Smithsonian Channel/Inception Media Group): A self-explanatory documentary ($19.98 retail) about the long, arduous and dangerous trackdown of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, originally broadcast on the Smithsonian Channel.
JEDI JUNKIES (Docurama Films/Cinedigm): This amusing, affectionate (and slightly alarming) documentary looks at Star Wars fans whose enthusiasm is at a level far, far away… Among the Star Wars actors who weigh in are Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Ray Park (Darth Maul) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), but the fans are the stars of this show. Rated PG-13
LEGO STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES OUT (LEGO/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): The title tells all in this light-hearted children’s DVD ($14.98 retail) based on George Lucas’ Star Wars characters and originally aired on the Cartoon Network. The voiceover cast includes series stalwarts Sam Witwer, Ahmed Best and Anthony Daniels (as C-3PO, of course).
LIFE OF PI (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Ang Lee scored his second Oscar as Best Director for this visually stunning adaptation of Yann Martel’s seemingly unfilmable novel, detailing the arduous survival of a young shipwreck survivor (newcomer Suraj Sharma) and a Bengal tiger in a lifeboat. A little flowery at times, but at least it doesn’t overstate its humanist themes. Additional Oscars for Best Cinematography, Best Original Score and Best Visual Effects, with additional nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Song (“Pi’s Lullaby”) and the big one, Best Picture. Available as a single DVD ($29.98 retail), a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.99 retail) or a 3-D DVD/Blu-ray combo ($49.99 retail). Rated PG.
LUV (Indomina/Vivendi Entertainment): Ex-con Common (also a producer) spends an eventful day in the company of his impressionable 11-year-old nephew Michael Rainey Jr. in director/co-screenwriter Sheldon Candis’ award-winning drama. The climax veers into melodrama, but this is well worth a look, with great use of Baltimore locations and a strong cast (Danny Glover, Dennis Haysbert, Lonette McKee, Meagan Good, Russell Hornsby and Charles S. Dutton). Common and newcomer Rainey are especially good. Rated R.
RED DAWN (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Isabel Lucas and Adrianne Palicki are the young warriors who strike back when enemy forces invade the USA in this unnecessary remake of John Milius’ jingoistic 1984 Cold War shoot-’emup. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Brett Cullen and Michael Beach represent the adult contingent. Flashier than the original film, not surprisingly, but by changing the invading army from Chinese to Korean in post-production tends to render the title somewhat meaningless, doesn’t it? Rated PG-13.
THE TROUBLE WITH BLISS (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Lonely loser Michael C. Hall tries to put his life back together in this adaptation of Douglas Light’s novel East Filth Bliss. Self-conscious comedy gets a boost from a cast including Peter Fonda, Brie Larson, Lucy Liu, Sarah Shahi, Chris Messina and Rhea Perlman. Rated PG-13.
WITNESS: A WORLD CONFLICT THROUGH A LENS (HBO Home Entertainment): Michael Mann served as executive producer for David Frankham’s acclaimed documentary miniseries ($19.98 retail) examining political and social strife throughout the world as covered by photo-journalists Eros Hoagland, Michael Christopher Brown and Veronique de Viguerie.
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2013, Mark Burger.