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Review: This week’s releases are about choices and their consequences (Includes first-hand account)

Colonel Redl (Blu-ray)


Kino Lorber

Set in the lead-up to WWI, the film charts the meteoric rise of Alfred Redl (Klaus Maria Brandauer) from a family of railway workers to his post leading counter-intelligence in the Austro-Hungarian Army, rubbing elbows with the Crown Prince (Armin Mueller-Stahl). His hidden homosexuality, however, is used against him by enemies of the state, putting both his professional standing and his country’s security in dire straits.

The 1986 film was Hungarian director István Szabó’s third of four Academy Award nominations for best foreign language film and was his next feature following his 1981 win for Mephisto. Alfred is essentially lifted out of the gutters by a benefactor and given the opportunity to build a career in the military. It’s not a chance he takes lightly and he becomes a model cadet and, later, a by-the-book ranking officer. However, his power and success attracts a lot of negative attention from people who don’t appreciate his respect for the rules and want to take him down by any means possible. There is a homoerotic undertone underlying the entire narrative in spite of a lot of heterosexual sex, be it casual or marital. The movie ends somewhat brashly with an unusual revolving door of visitors before Alfred meets his unjust fate.

Special features include: “The Central Europe of István Szabó”; remembrance of production designer József Romvári, directed by Sophy Romvari; and trailer. (Kino Lorber)

Confidence (Blu-ray)


Kino Lorber

Set in Hungary during the waning days of WWII, János and Kata (Peter Andorai and Ildikó Bánsági) are forced to act as husband and wife in an effort to stay hidden in plain sight. Though they are both married to others, will they be able to maintain the illusion without giving in to their growing feelings for each other?

This 1980 film garnered Hungarian director István Szabó his first Academy Award nomination for best foreign language film and won him the best director prize at the Berlin Film Festival. The impromptu couple represents two different perspectives. János is a member of the resistance, having knowingly risked his life to oppose the Nazi occupation. Kata, on the other hand, was oblivious to her husband’s resistance activities, but is forced into hiding when soldiers steak out their apartment. János’ actions are calculated and untrusting, while Kata is confused, scared and unprepared to deal with the situation. Much of the film unfolds in a small bedroom where the pair spend most of their time, imposing an unwelcome intimacy on the strangers that gradually pushes them into each other’s arms. The picture is an exercise in restraint driven by two great performances.

Special features include: “The Central Europe of István Szabó”; remembrance of production designer József Romvári, directed by Sophy Romvari; and trailer. (Kino Lorber)

Dispatches from Elsewhere: Season 1 (Blu-ray)


RLJE Films

The series is centred around four ordinary people (Jason Segel, Sally Field, André Benjamin and Eve Lindley) who feel there’s something missing in their lives, but they can’t quite put their finger on what it is. This diverse foursome is brought together by chance — or perhaps by design — when they stumble onto a puzzle hiding just behind the veil of everyday life. As they begin to accept the mysterious ‘Dispatches from Elsewhere’ challenges, they come to find the mystery winds deeper than they imagined, and their eyes are opened to a world of possibility and magic.

This show, which is also created and produced by Segal, is strange, unique, entertaining and hard to explain. Because it’s so unusual, it takes a bit to get into it, but after a few episodes you become as engrossed in this crazy experience/mystery as the four players. Consequently, this bizarre game is also a great way to get to know the very dissimilar characters brought together by their desire to escape the banality of their lives. Richard E. Grant plays the game designer who appears throughout the series to narrate and propose viewers place themselves in one of the characters’ shoes as they are meant to be representative of everyday people. It’s also commendable how the series addresses various stigmas by completely normalizing them within the narrative, including therapy, middle-age, obsession and gender identity. If you’re in the mood for something different and unpredictable, this is certainly it.

Special features include: making-of featurette; “About the Series”; “Character Profiles”; “Inside the Series”; and “A Love Letter to Philly.” (RLJE Films)

The High Note (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital code)


Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Set in the dazzling world of the LA music scene comes the story of Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), a superstar whose talent — and ego — have reached unbelievable heights. Maggie (Dakota Johnson) is Grace’s overworked personal assistant who’s stuck running errands, but still aspires to her dream of becoming a music producer. When Grace’s manager (Ice Cube) presents her with a choice that could alter the course of her career, Grace must choose between playing it safe or listening to her heart in a decision that could change her life forever.

When it comes to musicals and the like, you can have a middling script if you have an exceptional soundtrack — but the reverse won’t work. Luckily, this female-led narrative about making it and then staying on top in the music industry is relatively good thanks to the outstanding performance by Ross and an eager Johnson. Grace Davis is an old school diva that hasn’t had a hit in a few years, but is fighting to stay relevant before her label puts her out to pasture. Maggie is a dedicated music aficionado who’s taken her time attending to Grace’s every whim to learn as much as possible about the business and pave her path to becoming a producer. But most notable is the original R&B soundtrack, which is a throwback to genre classics of the ‘60s that create a feeling of happy nostalgia.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “The Dream Team: Inside the Creation of The High Note”; “Making A Legend: The Grace Davis Story”; and “Like I Do,” original song music video. (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

Mephisto (Blu-ray)


Kino Lorber

Hendrik Höfgen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) is a passionate but struggling actor who remains in Germany during the Nazi regime and reaps the rewards of this Faustian pact by finally achieving the stardom he has long craved.

This was Hungarian director István Szabó’s second Academy Award nomination and only win. Based on Klaus Mann’s 1936 novel, the picture is a masterwork of selfish malevolence and destructive ignorance. Before the Third Reich came to power, Hendrik indulged his fantasies on the stage, performing anything that struck his fancy. When his freedom of expression is stifled by the regime, he has the choice of obscurity abroad or compliant stardom at home. By choosing the latter, he becomes the country’s most revered actor. But in exchange, he must betray his friends and take commands from officers who respect order more than culture. Hendrik gains fame for playing the title character in Faust’s tale, but as time goes on he becomes less recognizable to those who knew him and discovers his moral compromise has actually placed him in the role of Faustus.

Special features include: commentary by film historian Samm Deighan; “The Central Europe of István Szabó”; remembrance of production designer József Romvári, directed by Sophy Romvari; and trailer. (Kino Lorber)

The Room (DVD)


RLJE Films & Shudder

When Kate (Olga Kurylenko) and Matt (Kevin Janssens) leave the city to move into an old house, they discover a secret hidden room that has the extraordinary power to materialize anything they wish for. Their new life becomes a true fairy tale. Yet beneath this apparent state of bliss, something darker lurks as some wishes can have dire consequences.

Finding something that grants your wishes never turns out well for anyone, but it’s a great premise for a thrilling narrative. Fear quickly turns to hedonistic greed as the couple fulfills their every desire and then some. But the house has an unsurprisingly dark past that’s linked to breaking an unwritten rule about such wishes. As Matt explores the limitations of their windfalls, Kate indulges her deepest yearning and puts them in grave danger. The only answers lie with a convicted murderer sentenced to a mental institution, but he’s more interested in seeing how it plays out this time around. Director Christian Volckman hasn’t made a feature film since the 2006 animated sci-fi action movie, Renaissance, but his foray into live action is a stirring success.

There are no special features. (RLJE Films & Shudder)

Street Survivors: The True Story of The Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash (Blu-ray, DVD & Soundtrack CD)


Cleopatra Entertainment

The biopic recreates the story about the ill-fated flight through the eyes of former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle (who narrates the film). He not only survived the plane crash, but also physically pulled the remaining survivors out of the plane wreckage before staggering towards the nearest farmhouse in rural Louisiana to seek help. The accident claimed the life of the band’s founding frontman Ronnie Van Zant and five others.

The making of this film is steeped in some controversy as surviving band members disapproved of the movie and Van Zant’s widow denied it rights to using any of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music. Consequently, the picture includes some original songs by Pyle and is told entirely from his perspective. The film begins a few days before the incident to demonstrate the ongoing mechanical issues that undoubtedly contributed to the fatal crash. A few scenes backstage establish the camaraderie felt by the whole band and the party hard attitude that included groupies and all manner of drugs. Interspersed throughout the story is interviews with Pyle as he recalls what happened and the feelings he experienced. The trauma is undeniable, but the laser focus of the narrative doesn’t necessarily do the subject justice as it excludes valuable points of views and leaves many unanswered questions.

Special features include: feature-length making-of documentary; and trailer. (Cleopatra Entertainment)

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Written By

Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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