April 10, 2013

DVD Releases

'Hyde Park on Hudson' / 'The Sorcerer and the White Snake' / 'Boss: Season Two' / 'Merlin: The Complete Fifth Season'


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Olivia Williams, left, Bill Murray and Laura Linney in “Hyde Park on Hudson."

Nicola Dove/Focus Features

“HYDE PARK ON HUDSON,” starring Bill Murray and Laura Linney. Somewhere between lush period piece and quirky character study lies “Hyde Park on Hudson,” a curious affair in more ways than one and a film that asks us to buy Murray as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a bit of seemingly stunt casting that pays off in a wise and warm performance. The film gives us an alternately introspective and voracious portrait as FDR retires to his mother’s New York estate for a much-needed change of scenery, taking along his staff, his wife (Olivia Williams) and his impoverished and impressionable distant cousin, Margaret (Linney), a starstruck companion with whom he develops an unexpected and not altogether advisable relationship. Rated R. Running time: 1:34

Suggested retail price: $29.98; Blu-ray $34.98

“THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE,” starring Jet Li and Eva Huang. The latest from director Ching Siu-tung, this eye-popping, effects-heavy fantasy pits Buddhist “Sorcerer” Li against “White Snake” Susu (Huang), who, while in human form, has unexpectedly fallen in love with a human (Raymond Lam), complicating an otherwise straightforward good-vs.-evil conflict. Those unfamiliar with the chaotic madness of Hong Kong cinema may want a few primer recommendations to ease them in, but otherwise, there’s plenty to entertain fans and newcomers alike. Special features include behind-the-scenes footage. Rated PG-13. Running time: 1:40

Suggested retail price: $26.98; Blu-ray $29.98

“BOSS: SEASON TWO,” starring Kelsey Grammer and Connie Nielsen. Grammer is in fine, furious form as the powerful but now heavily medicated mayor of Chicago, who’s struggling to maintain his grip on both his city and his mind while his family does their best to maintain a semblance of normalcy under constant pressure. An ambitious and entertaining series, “Boss” is worth revisiting for some outstanding performances and a clear willingness to take some risks. Not rated. Running time: 9:23
Suggested retail price: $39.98; Blu-ray $39.97

“MERLIN: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON,” starring Colin Morgan and Bradley James. The fifth and final season of the popular BBC portrait of the wizard as a young man draws to a somewhat controversial close, with the return of Mordred (Alexander Vlahos) and an unexpected betrayal from a major character. An uncompromising finale to a consistently terrific series. Not rated. Running time: 8:56

Suggested retail price: $49.98; Blu-ray $59.98


“GATE OF HELL,” starring Kazuo Hasegawa and Machiko Kyo. Samurai fans may bemoan the comparative lack of action in this 1953 classic from Japanese director Teinosuke Kinugasa, but the usual code of honor is very intact in this beautifully sad tale of a warrior (Hasegawa), who’s deeply in love with a married woman (Kyo), and the inevitably tragic consequences that ensue. Filmmaker and fan Martin Scorsese has pronounced this Oscar winner one of the 10 most beautiful color films ever made, and this typically gorgeous transfer from Criterion certainly lends credence to that lofty claim. Not rated. Running time: 1:29

Suggested retail price: $29.95

“NAKED LUNCH,” starring Peter Weller and Judy Davis. Director David Cronenberg’s gleefully gooey 1991 adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ notoriously and previously thought unfilmable novel retains the unabashedly drug-fueled air of its source. It follows exterminator and Burroughs stand-in Bill Lee (Weller of “Robocop”) in all his laconic glory – a man with bad aim, an oozing cockroach for a typewriter and an unwitting involvement in a far-reaching government plot involving giant insects. Amazingly and impressively, it only gets weirder from there. Special features include commentary from Cronenberg. Rated R. Running time: 1:55

Suggested retail price: $39.95


“ORCHESTRA OF EXILES,” documentary. This affecting and enlightening doc sheds light on the Israel Philharmonic, an orchestra comprised of incredibly talented Jewish instrumentalists brought together by one man: Bronislaw Huberman. A violinist of Polish descent known for bringing Brahms himself to tears through his performances, Huberman began seeking and gathering Jewish musicians throughout Europe during the 1930s, sensing grim times ahead as the Nazis were rising to power. Once organized, Huberman set about absconding his “orchestra” to the relative safety of Palestine, and his efforts in this regard put him on par with the more famed Oskar Schindler. Director Josh Aronson’s extensively researched and excitingly related tale should go a long way to crediting Huberman’s somewhat unsung heroism. Not rated. Running time: 1:25

Suggested retail price: $27.95

“SWITCH,” documentary. An environmental documentary without a political agenda these days sounds like a radical, even impossible, proposition. But that’s exactly what Scott Tinker and Harry Lynch have pulled off with these simple, streamlined series of interviews detailing the need for alternative energy, and the possible results should we continue to avoid the conversation. Without pointing fingers or taking potshots, “Switch” simply consults with professionals, presents the case and takes its leave. What we choose to do with the information is up to us. Not rated. Running time: 1:38

Suggested retail price: $12.99

— Courtesy of Videoport

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