This week we begin with a huckster: The Master (***) Rated R, 138 minutes. Available Tuesday in DVD and streaming formats.
In this rich psychological drama from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, Oscar-nominated actor Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, an enigmatic cult leader in the early 1950s. Among his budding acolytes are Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, also Oscar-nominated), an unstable ex-serviceman.
Eventually, Freddie lands on a cruise ship with Dodd and a large group. Once ashore, Freddie sees Dodd draw gullible weaklings into his mind-control cult that tests participants on their sincerity and submissiveness.
Anderson paints impressionistic portraits, giving short glimpses of Freddie’s destructive lifestyle, as well as gradually demonstrating how his instability plays into Dodd’s manipulations. The thinly drawn Dodd draws obvious parallels to L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, as followers fawn at his feet while he spouts pseudo-intellectual nonsense.
The often-beguiling film benefits from its evocative period costumes and its excellent cast, particularly the two leads as well as Amy Adams as Dodd’s wife.
The DVD, in all formats, includes 20 minutes of outtakes and additional scenes, an eight-minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette, and Let There Be Light, John Huston’s 58-minute 1946 documentary on returning military veterans.
Chicken With Plums (***) Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, the creators of the Oscar-nominated animated film Persepolis, have steeped their beguiling live-action follow-up in magical realism and lush romanticism.
Mathieu Amalric plays Nasser-Ali Kahn, a depressed violinist whose dreams and daydreams transport him out of himself when his beloved violin is broken. He can find relief from his moribund state only when aided by the love of a woman, Faringuisse (Maria de Medeiros), but not before he converses with the Angel of Death and learns about his future and the future of his family. The directors keep the mood dreamlike and fanciful.
Rated PG-13, 97 minutes. The DVD includes commentary from the directors, and a 32-minute filmed question-and-answer session at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Bullet Collector (***1/2) This Russian import marks the debut of writer-director Alexander Vartanov. The budding talent spent six years making this striking black-and-white film, one that never received theatrical release in Russia because of its often-grim, uncompromising approach to his story of a 14-year-old boy who learns brutality from his stepfather as well as from schoolmates who bully him.
The boy suffers his abuse early as Vartanov then shifts focus, filming the later parts in a boys reformatory. The director has stated that the film pays homage to Francois Truffaut’s 400 Blows, and it does in the final shot, but the early part looks more out of David Lynch’s nightmarish Eraserhead. The film is a measured yet often stunning voyage through various mental states to render shifting consciousnesses.
Not rated, 121 minutes. The DVD contains a 25-minute “making of” featurette, a three-minute deleted scene, and brief cast-audition interviews with three boys. Plus: a 12-page booklet on the film.
Othello (***1/2) Laurence Fishburne stars and turns in a credible performance as the title character, “honorable and valiant” Othello, in Oliver Parker’s 1995 film based on Shakespeare’s play. The director takes his production out of stage-bound restrictions and opens them up enough to allow for rapid movement and exciting action.
Kenneth Branagh plays “honest” Iago — “a viper,” an “inhuman dog.” Irene Jacob is fair Desdemona, the “gentle, true and loving wife.” Nathaniel Parker appears as “handsome, young” Cassio — “framed to make women false” — and look for Michael Sheen as Lodovico, “a proper man, a very handsome man.”
The disc is manufactured on demand from the Warner Archive Collection. Rated R, 123 minutes.
Special Forces (**1/2) In this fairly standard action-caper directed and co-written by Stephane Rybojad, Diane Kruger stars as a French war correspondent nabbed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Lucky for her, a crack crew of soldiers, headed by Djimon Hounsou, is out to rescue her. Some good action sequences, and the good guys always win.
Not rated, 109 minutes. The DVD contains five minutes of deleted scenes and a four-minute segment on the character Marius.
Freaky Deaky (**) Because this often-craftily plotted caper-comedy finds its origins in an Elmore Leonard novel, it keeps hinting of better things that never arrive. Detective Chris (Billy Burke) lands in the middle of a con job and a potential heist among a group of addle-brained schemers, including a pair of wealthy brothers (Crispin Glover and Andy Dick), a bomb-loving movie director (Christian Slater) and his predatory girlfriend (Breanne Racano). It’s a shaggy dog story that never barks.
Rated R, 93 minutes. The DVD includes a five-minute “making of” featurette.
Nobody Gets Out Alive (**) Routine slasher sordidness based on a man whose daughter dies when hit by a drunken driver. He then comes back to haunt, and kill, numbskull teenagers who dare to venture into some local woods. We repeat: Do not go in the woods.
Not rated, 78 minutes. The DVD contains commentary, seven minutes of outtakes and a 23-minute “making of” featurette.
Africa This riveting six-part BBC series, hosted and narrated by David Attenborough, explores the vast African continent.
A team of filmmakers, led by producer and creator Michael Gunton, veers from usual tourist haunts and captures such exotic subjects as fighting chimpanzees, acrobatic frogs, hordes of rhinoceroses gathering, and more. They also travel through jungles, the beautiful and picturesque Bale Mountains, an underground lake, and bleak deserts and barren valleys.
The series makes perfect family entertainment as it can be picked up and dropped at any point for visual and intellectual engagement.
Not rated, 6 hours. The two-disc DVD set includes five interviews with the crew, including Gunton and Attenborough, totaling 70 minutes. Plus: five minutes of outtakes and two deleted scenes. The Blu-ray comes on two discs and includes additional supplements, such as “making of” featurettes.
And now, something for the kids this week:
Phineas and Ferb: The Perry Files — Animal Agents Twelve episodes of this popular Disney series arrive with a decided emphasis on animal adventures. The members of OWCA (Organization Without a Cool Acronym) — including Phineas (voice of Vincent Martella), Ferb (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Candace (Ashley Tisdale) — set out to fight crime in the tri-state area. Rated TV-G, 168 minutes.
Barney: Barney Loves You and Thomas & Friends: Full Steam Ahead These three-disc sets each contain three episodes of about 45 to 60 minutes featuring the two popular children’s series. And each disc also holds individual bonus supplements, including read-along and sing-along options, as well as games, puzzles and more. The gift set package of Full Steam Ahead also includes a toy train.
Barney: 144 minutes; Thomas: 140 minutes.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: Border Run, Chasing Mavericks, Girls Against Boys, Holy Motors.