DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: SECRET STATE
Originally titled Coup, this intelligent, timely British mini-series is “inspired by” Chris Mullin’s 1982 best-seller, previously adapted into a 1988 mini-series. Secret State is as much a re-imagining as a remake, but no less compelling or credible as a result.
Gabriel Byrne’s in top form as Britain’s new Prime Minister Tom Dawkins who is immediately thrust into the international spotlight after the death of his predecessor and forced into a figurative minefield of deception, treachery and corruption within the corridors of power “” one that could potentially lead to another war in the Middle East.
Director Ed Fraiman ratchets up the suspense with irresistible momentum, anchored by Byrne’s performance as an honest but flawed man determined to do the right thing, even if it means making waves in his own government.
Charles Dance, Gina McKee, Rupert Graves, Stephen Dillane, Anna Madeley, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Ruth Negga, Nicholas Farrell and Lia Williams round out a fine supporting cast. The two-DVD set collection ($39.99 retail) includes bonus interviews.
AI WEIWEI: THE FAKE CASE (Alive Mind Cinema/Kino Lorber): Andreas Johnsen’s award-winning documentary examines the efforts of the Chinese government to discredit the controversial political activist and artist Ai Weiwei by prosecuting him on tax-evasion charges. In Mandarin with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $29.95.
THE BEST OFFER (IFC Films): Giuseppe Tornatore’s award-winning pseudo-mystery (originally titled La migliore offerta) stars a fussy, first-rate Geoffrey Rush as a repressed art auctioneer obsessed with a supposedly agoraphobic heiress (Sylvia Hoeks) who hired him to appraise her furniture and artwork. Plenty of twists and turns follow, some telegraphed in advance (for attentive viewers). Ennio Morricone’s elegant score is a standout, and the cast includes Jim Sturgess, Philip Jackson, Dermot Crowley and a shaggy Donald Sutherland. Rated R.
THE DAY THAT SHOOK THE WORLD (VCI Entertainment): Events leading up to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (Christopher Plummer) and his wife (Florinda Bolkan), which led directly to World War I, are dramatized in this stodgy historical melodrama filmed on location in Yugoslavia, which spends too much time with the would-be assassins, who aren’t very interesting. Maximilian Schell appears as the assassins’ mentor, who tries to persuade them to abandon the plan. (Obviously, they didn’t.) Filmed in 1975 as Sarajevski atentat, this was briefly released “” by American International, no less “” in 1977, but rarely seen since. Rated R.
FAVORITES OF THE MOON (Cohen Media Group): A 30th-anniversary special edition of Otar Iosseliani’s award-winning, absurdist 1984 comedy (originally titled Les favoris de la lune) about the various people who come into possession, however briefly, of rare 18th-century china and a priceless 19th-century portrait. In French with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $29.98; the Blu-ray for $39.98.
FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (Sundance Selects/MPI Media Group): Writer/producer/directors John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s fascinating, award-winning documentary delves into the life of Vivian Maier (1926-2009), a nanny who found posthumous fame when her photographs and 100,000 undeveloped negatives were procured by Chicago art collector, Maloof, who then delved into her past “” with surprising results. A surprise arthouse hit that earned an Oscar nomination as Best Documentary Feature.
A FIVE STAR LIFE (Music Box Films Home Entertainment): Margherita Buy’s award-winning performance anchors this picturesque but obvious comedy/drama about a globe-trotting career woman who critiques the world’s elegant hotels but wonders if her personal life hasn’t sufferered as a result. In French with English subtitles.
FRANK (Magnet Label/Magnolia Home Entertainment): Director Lenny Abrahamson’s oddly endearing, awardwinning black comedy stars Domhnall Gleeson as an aspiring keyboardist who joins a (very) avant-garde rock band fronted by a dynamic and delightful Michael Fassbender as the title character, who chooses to hide his face by wearing an oversized fake head. Maggie Gyllenhaal also scores as a virulently over-protective bandmate. Not for all tastes, but cult possibilities are endless. The DVD retails for $26.98; the Blu-ray for $29.98. Rated R.
“A HORSEMAN RIDING BY” (RLJ Entertainment/Acorn): A four-DVD collection ($59.99 retail) the 13-part 1978 BBC mini-series based on R.F. Delder field’s novel, starring Nigel Havers as a Boer War veteran who becomes a country squire in Devon and is torn between two women (Fiona Gaunt and Prunella Ransome), but World War I looms on the horizon …
IDA (Music Box Films Home Entertainment): Pawel Pawlikowski’s award-winning, black-and-white drama stars Agata Trzebuchowska (in her screen debut) as a novice nun who embarks on a journey of discovery “” and self-discovery “” accompanied by her aunt (Agata Kulesza) in ’60s-era Poland, with the scars of World War II further inflamed by Soviet domination. Intricate and well-acted, this won several awards at the 2014 RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem and has earned Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film. In Polish with English subtitles. Rated PG-13.
“LOVEJOY”: SERIES 4 (RLJ Entertainment/Acorn): Ian McShane returns as the smooth-talking antiques dealer and sleuth in all 13 episodes from the 1993 season of the popular BBC crime series. The three-DVD collection retails for $49.99. d Emile Hirsch as brothers on a guilt-riddled road trip in the late ’80s. It’s well-meaning and sincerely acted (Dakota Fanning and Kris Kristofferson also appear) but dour and depressing. Rated R.
PAY 2 PLAY: DEMOCRACY’S HIGH STAKES (TDC Entertainment): John Ennis’ documentary examines the influence of big money on politics, featuring interviews with authors Noam Chomsky and Marianne Williamson, politicianturned-TV-host Jerry Springer and even convicted lobbyist (and movie producer) Jack Abramoff. The DVD retails for $19.98.
THAT GIRL IN YELLOW BOOTS (IndiePix Films): Searching for her father, Kalki Koechlin is swept up in the dark underbelly of Mumbai in writer/ director Anurag Kashyap’s Hindi drama. The DVD retails for $24.95.
THE TRIP TO ITALY (IFC Films): Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon return as “themselves” under the direction of Michael Winterbottom, savoring Italy’s sights and cuisine as they continue their adventures abroad in this follow-up to 2010’s The Trip. If you enjoyed the first film, this is more of the same “” including their uproarious celebrity impressions. The DVD retails for $24.98; the Blu-ray for $29.98.
WE ARE THE BEST! (Magnolia Home Entertainment): Newcomers Mira Barkhammar, Liv LeMoyne and Mira Grosin are a delightful trio in Lukas Moodysson’s award-winning screen adaptation of his wife Coco’s graphic novel (originally titled Vi ar bast!) as teenaged girls in ’80s-era Stockholm who form a punk band. This is a charming coming-of-age fable with a beat all its own. In Swedish with English subtitles.
LE WEEKEND (Music Box Films Home Entertainment): Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan are as appealing as the sights of Paris in director Roger Michell’s sweet but sharp comedy about a couple spending time where they honeymooned years before. Jeff Goldblum livens things up as an expatriate American, and Broadbent even sings Bob Dylan. Rated R. !
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. ‘© 2015, Mark Burger.