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Recent video releases

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The following are capsule reviews from Catholic News Service of new and recent video releases available on DVD and/or Blu-ray — as well as for online viewing. Theatrical movies have a Catholic News Service classification and Motion Picture Association rating. These classifications refer only to the theatrical version of the films below and do not take into account any extra content.


International Velvet (1978)


Lavishly produced and entertaining sequel to "National Velvet" (1944) now has the adult Velvet (Nanette Newman) living with a writer (Christopher Plummer) and her newly orphaned niece from America (Tatum O'Neal) who goes on to win the gold medal in the Olympic equestrian competition. Directed by Bryan Forbes, there is a little violence and the unmarried state of the two adults raises questions of propriety for younger viewers.


Rated: A-II, adults and adolescents; MPAA: PG. (Warner Archive)


1917 (2019)


Gripping historical drama, set in the midst of World War I, in which two British soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) are dispatched across enemy territory to call off an attack by an officer (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose men are about to fall into a German trap, a mission made more urgent by the fact that the brother (Richard Madden) of Chapman's character is among those facing slaughter if they fail. By turns harrowing and lyrically beautiful, and deeply humane throughout, director and co-writer Sam Mendes' film displays both the horrors of trench combat and the endurance of fundamental decency and spiritual striving. Unsparing in its portrayal of misery and desperation, it's also luminous in its affirmation of civilized values and the triumph of faith, broadly considered, over cynicism.


Watch out for: Much combat violence with gore, numerous gruesome sights, slightly irreverent humor, a fleeting sexual reference, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, several rough terms, occasional crude and crass language. Spanish language and titles options.


Rated: A-III, adults; MPAA: R. (Universal Studios Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)


Underwater (1955)


Feeble Caribbean adventure directed by John Sturges finds treasure hunters (Gilbert Roland, Richard Egan and Jane Russell) vying with larcenous locals in trying to salvage the gold aboard a sunken 17th-century Spanish galleon. Stylized violence and romantic situations.


Rated: A-III, adults; MPAA: not rated. (Warner Archive; also available on Blu-ray)



Black Christmas (2019)


Sorority sisters (most prominently Imogen Poots) are preyed on by hooded assailants who seem to be connected to a fraternity on campus. Director and co-writer Sophia Takal uses the horror genre as a vehicle for a preposterously overblown feminist message, the bottom line of which is that the only good white male is a dead one. If frights are few and some of the plot elements incoherent, at least the mayhem is mostly kept under wraps.


Watch out for: Much stylized violence with some gore, a scene of nonmarital sensuality, a few sexual jokes, at least one profanity, a single rough term, occasional crude and crass language. Spanish language and titles options.


Rated: A-III, adults; MPAA: PG-13. (Universal Studios Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)


A Hidden Life (2019)


Luminous, though deliberately paced, fact-based drama recounting the events leading up to the 1943 martyrdom of Austrian farmer Franz Jagerstatter (August Diehl). Motivated by his deep Catholic faith, Jagerstatter, who was beatified in 2007, refused to swear the oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler that was demanded of all those drafted into the Wehrmacht during World War II. Writer-director Terrence Malick focuses on the happy home life his gentle protagonist sacrificed in order to be obedient to his conscience, especially his spiritual and emotional bond with his wife, Franziska, known as Fani (Valerie Pachner), under whose influence he first became serious about his religion. Beautiful both to look at and to contemplate, Malick's film requires patience since it largely consists of scenes of ordinary domestic activities and farming chores, many of them overshadowed by the dread of what, at first, may lie ahead and later certainly does. Yet, by accretion, he builds a sturdy bridge of sympathy between the audience and the central duo, and his movie will be prized by believing viewers, its ambivalent portrayal of Jagerstatter's parish priest (Tobias Moretti) and bishop (Michael Nyqvist) notwithstanding.


Watch out for: Mature themes, scenes of physical violence, an ambiguous portrayal of Catholic clergy.


Rated: A-II, adults and adolescents; MPAA: PG-13. (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; Blu-ray only)


Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)


Playful gender-bending within the context of a video-game alternate universe mingles with an unexpectedly somber message about approaching death in this follow-up to the 2017 original. Director Jake Kasdan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg, has made, in spite of the sight gags about physical abilities and regenerated characters, a reflection on adult responsibilities, mortality and self-esteem. Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan are the most prominent of the avatars into whom the core cast of the kickoff (Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Ser'Darius Blain and Madison Iseman), among others, are transformed before embarking on a quest during which they take on the brutal leader (Rory McCann) of a violent empire. An old game, a familiar plot and eternal verities are a potent combination.


Watch out for: Intense action sequences, fleeting sexual references, three profanities, occasional crude language. Spanish language and titles options.


Rated: A-III, adults; MPAA: PG-13. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)


A Pure Formality (1995)


Found dazed and running from a nearby murder site, a novelist (Gerard Depardieu) is closely questioned in a crumbling police station by a sly inspector (Roman Polanski) who, over the course of a storm-tossed, candlelit night, gets the author to reveal shameful secrets. Finely acted and mystery-drenched, director Giuseppe Tornatore's intriguing, surreal drama is left open to interpretation as it explores the subtle nature of memory in submerging the recollection of past failures. In French. Subtitles.


Watch out for: Some violence and fleeting nudity.


Rated: A-III, adults; MPAA: PG-13. (KL Studio Classics; also available on Blu-ray)


Richard Jewell (2019)


Director Clint Eastwood's sympathetic profile of the titular security guard (Paul Walter Hauser) who quickly went from hero to villain in the public mind when he was accused of planting the three pipe bombs that he himself first discovered, and helped to save people from, during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Dogged by an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) convinced of his guilt and a relentless mob of journalists led by a newspaper reporter (Olivia Wilde) who's out for a sensational story at any cost, he turns for help to his former boss, a maverick attorney (charismatic Sam Rockwell). The canny, hard-bitten lawyer and his naive client make for an interesting odd couple and Kathy Bates is in fine form as Jewell's doting mother. But a seamy subplot and other factors make Eastwood's fairly gripping film, which draws on both a book and an article, best for grown-ups.


Watch out for: An implied nonmarital encounter, brief violence, mature references including to homosexuality, about a dozen uses of profanity, frequent rough and crude language. Spanish language and titles options.


Rated: A-III, adults; MPAA: R. (Warner Home Video; also available on Blu-ray)


Bombshell (2019)

The real-life story of the sexual harassment scandal that swamped the Fox News organization in 2016, helping to launch the #MeToo movement, is given a documentary-like treatment by director Jay Roach, with actors portraying actual TV moguls and personalities as well as fictional composites. Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) oversees a corrosive workplace environment and a conservative media empire that seeks, in his words, to "frighten" and "titillate." He draws an ambitious recruit (Margot Robbie) into his intimate circle, as he deals with the outspokenness of two of his anchors, Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman). When Carlson is fired, she decides to sue Ailes, igniting a media firestorm and incurring the wrath of Ailes' boss, Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell). Although the film blurs the line between fiction and reality and contains raw and unsettling dialogue and situations, it has a vital story to tell for discerning adult viewers about respect, integrity and the law. 

Watch out for: Strong sexual content, including a harassment theme and an offscreen lesbian encounter, pervasive profane and crude language. 

Rated: L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; MPAA: R. (Summit Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray) 

Charlie's Angels (2019) 

This third film iteration of the iconic 1976-81 television series turns out to be, overall, a charmer, an old-fashioned popcorn movie overstuffed with preposterous action sequences, exotic locales and good humor. A secret organization recruits women from around the world to serve as spies, or "Angels." When the outfit's leader (Patrick Stewart) retires, he is succeeded by a former agent (Elizabeth Banks, who also directed and wrote the screenplay). Two of her operatives (Kristen Stewart and Ella Balinska) join forces with an engineer (Naomi Scott) whose invention, a sustainable energy source, has been stolen by her wicked bosses (Nat Faxon and Sam Claflin) who plan to weaponize it. A globetrotting game of cat and mouse ensues, with enough twists and double-crosses to keep viewers guessing until the very end (though the message of female empowerment and equality is a bit heavy-handed). One of the Angels is coy about her sexual preference. While the matter is dealt with obliquely, at least some grown viewers may want to steer clear. 

Watch out for: Frequent but bloodless action sequences, some sexual innuendo and fleeting references to homosexuality, occasional profane and crude language, an obscene gesture. Spanish language and titles options. 

Rated: A-III, adults; MPAA: PG-13. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray) 

The Left-Handed Gun (1958)

Western misfire in which Billy the Kid (Paul Newman) kills the four men who ambushed his English employer, after which his onetime friend and now sheriff Pat Garrett (John Dehner) tracks him down. Directed by Arthur Penn from Gore Vidal's TV drama, the choppy narrative is disappointing. 

Watch out for: Hard-edged violence and sexual innuendo. 

Rated: A-III, adults; MPAA: PG. (Warner Archives Collection) 

Spies in Disguise (2019) 

In this animated comic adventure, a superspy (voice of Will Smith) and a tech geek (voice of Tom Holland) team up to fight an international group of villains (the most prominent voiced by Ben Mendelsohn). But their mission is complicated by the fact that one of the lab whiz's experiments has gone awry, transforming the agent into a small blue pigeon. The pace is rapid while the premise is vapid, but small children are unlikely to mind. Directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, working from a screenplay by Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor, somehow manage to let learning take place, too, even if that means occasional lessons in pigeon ingestion. 

Watch out for: Some intense action sequences and digestion-themed dialogue. Spanish language option. 

Rated: A-II, adults and adolescents; MPAA: PG. (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)     

By the Grace of God (2019) 

Hard-hitting fact-based drama about priestly sexual abuse. Decades after being molested by Father Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley) a group of survivors in Lyon, France, band together to bring him to justice and to compel the archbishop of that city, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin (Francois Marthouret), to reveal what he knew about Preynat's evil deeds and when. The effort is initiated by a still-practicing Catholic businessman (Melvil Poupaud), then joined by a combative atheist (Denis Menochet) and by an emotionally ravaged lost soul (Swann Arlaud). Writer-director Francois Ozon uses an ensemble cast to give viewers a sense of the impact one serial predator can have and of the varied reactions to trauma that may result from his crimes. Though this crowded canvas sometimes makes his film seem slightly diffuse, its understated tone and comfort with ambiguity only increase its ultimate emotional impact. A challenging but subtly crafted piece of cinema. In French. Subtitles.  

Watch out for: Mature themes, including the sexual abuse of children, drug use, cohabitation, upper and rear nudity, an obscured image of full nudity, at least one use of profanity, considerable rough and crude language. 

Rated: L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; MPAA: not rated. (Music Box Films) 

Dark Waters (2019)

Fact-based drama about poisoned water, similar to 2000's "Erin Brockovich," has a single crusading lawyer (Mark Ruffalo) taking on a powerful company — in this case, DuPont — that's been dumping industrial waste from the manufacture of Teflon around Parkersburg, West Virginia, the loyal company town where the coating is made. The ambitious attorney, who used to represent chemical companies, becomes involved in the situation at the urging of a stubborn local farmer (Bill Camp) who knows his grandmother (Marcia Dangerfield). Director Todd Haynes and screenwriters Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan limn a rural landscape where the sun seems never to shine and the wealthy exploit and poison the poor with seeming impunity. 

Watch out for: Some rough and profane language, occasional animal gore. Spanish language and titles options.

Rated: A-III, adults; MPAA: PG-13. (Universal Studios Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)

Playmobil: The Movie (2019)

Four years after their parents were killed in a car accident, a formerly free-spirited teen girl (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her fun-loving younger brother (Gabriel Bateman) are at odds because of her overprotectiveness. But after they're magically transported to a world inhabited by the titular line of toys, and he is kidnapped, she embarks on a quest to rescue him. She finds an unlikely ally in the form of a laid-back food truck driver (voice of Jim Gaffigan) and also is aided by a James Bond-like spy (voice of Daniel Radcliffe). Mostly animated, but bracketed by live-action sequences, director Lino DiSalvo's meandering musical adventure, which also features voice work by Adam Lambert as a loony Roman emperor, is too frightening for tots and strays momentarily into some questionable dialogue. Still, themes of teamwork, friendship, family bonds and forgiveness go some way toward compensating for its obvious aesthetic shortcomings.

Watch out for: Considerable peril, stylized combat violence, two vaguely crass terms. Spanish titles option.

Rated: A-II, adults and adolescents; MPAA: PG. (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

And Hope to Die (1972)

In a considerably shortened version of a French production directed by Rene Clement (originally titled "The Race of the Hare Across the Fields"), the plot itself seems to have gone the way of the Cheshire Cat. What remains are a series of interesting but capricious scenes involving a gang of colorful cutthroats (Robert Ryan, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Lea Massari and Aldo Ray) that finally culminates in a "kidnapping" from police headquarters in the middle of Montreal. If Clement's intention was to liken this kind of adult entertainment to childhood games, something is missing in the translation.

Rated: A-III, adults; MPAA: PG (KL Studio Classics; also available on Blu-ray)

The Deadly Trap (1972)

Frank Langella and Faye Dunaway play an uneasily married couple living in Paris and troubled by a series of peculiar occurrences that culminate in the disappearance of their two children. Badly failed French suspense thriller directed by Rene Clement, the plight of the two young children might be distressing for some pre-teens.

Rated: A-II, adults and adolescents; MPAA: PG. (KL Studio Classics; also available on Blu-ray)

Frozen II (2019)

When a queen endowed with the magical power to create ice and snow (voice of Idina Menzel) hears a voice calling her into the wilderness beyond her realm and holding out to her the prospect of discovering the origins of her supernatural gift, she responds by embarking on a quest. She's accompanied by her strictly human younger sister (voice of Kristen Bell), the iceman (voice of Jonathan Groff) who would like to make the junior sibling his own and a merry sentient snowman (voice of Josh Gad). Screenwriter and co-director Jennifer Lee and her partner at the helm, Chris Buck, the creators of the 2013 original, deliver an exuberant animated musical adventure stressing teamwork, family solidarity and upright values. Too scary for the littlest patrons, the film's somewhat unscriptural nature mythos may also be confusing for impressionable moviegoers. As for adults, at least some may find the script's exaltation of the life of indigenous people over industrialized societies heavy-handed. These flaws are ultimately outweighed, though, by sympathetic characters, visual flair and skillful, if sometimes overly complicated, storytelling. Watch out for: Stylized combat, considerable peril. Spanish language and titles options.

Rated: A-II, adults and adolescents; MPAA: PG. (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)

Knives Out (2019)

Splendid comic whodunit in which a shrewd Southern detective (Daniel Craig) is hired by an anonymous client to investigate the death of a famous and wealthy crime novelist (Christopher Plummer). Though the police lieutenant (LaKeith Stanfield) and trooper (Noah Segan) assigned to the case insist it was suicide, the sleuth seeks answers among the eccentric members of the deceased's conflict-ridden family (Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson and Toni Collette, among others). He also enlists the help of the late author's caring and sensible Latina nurse (Ana de Armas). Writer-director Rian Johnson's richly entertaining ensemble homage to Agatha Christie has clever twist and turns, abundant humor and sly social commentary. Though strictly for grown-ups, it's a brainy and satisfying movie.

Watch out for: Brief gory violence, a morally complex situation, drug use, sexual references, about a dozen profanities, a few milder oaths, a couple of rough terms, frequent crude and crass language, an obscene gesture.

Rated: A-III, adults; MPAA: PG-13. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020