Doctor Strange (Marvel Studios/Disney, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 115 min.). There are several jaw-dropping moments in "Doctor Strange," the 14th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first to explore mystical realms. Rather early in the film there are some world-bending moments -- literally, as buildings curl up as if a scroll -- but the true core of the film is the journey from a self-absorbed neurosurgeon, who will not take on a case if he might fail and therefore lower his success rate, to an enlightened soul, who both perceives the world of magic around us and can harness that magic. That character, of course, is Doctor Strange, played brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch (TV's "Sherlock").
Strange's journey to enlightenment begins when he is in a serious car accident that results in 11 stainless steel pins being inserted into his mangled hands. Being unable to continue his profession due to his unsteady hands, Strange seeks out a man who had been paralyzed but somehow now walks. (The twist is the man, played by Benjamin Bratt, was one of those patients Strange felt he could not cure and therefore should not waste his time on. The man tells Strange of a guru who helped him at Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu, Nepal. That guru turns out to be The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who accepts Strange as a pupil under prodding from Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). (Fans of the comic books will know where Mordo ends up.) She teaches him to "re-orient the spirit to heal the body" and how to reach out and control the mystical arts.
Meanwhile, one of The Ancient One's former pupils -- Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius -- has gone rogue and stolen pages of spells from the book that is a study of time. His goal is to destroy the three earthly Sanctums, located in London, New York City and Hong Kong, so that the lord of the Dark Dimension, Dormammu, can add Earth to his collection. Kaecillius' ancillary gain would be immortality. The special effects make the action scenes magical, including quite the trip through the Multiverse, the battle in the Mirror World and a closing fight that takes place while time is reversing. The Cloak of Levitation, an artifact that literally attaches itself to Strange, is a marvel of its own. Director Scott Derrickson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jon Spaihts ("Prometheus"), brings a lot of humor to the film, even during the fight scenes. The cast also includes Rachel McAdams as Dr. Christine Palmer, Strange's medical co-worker and former girlfriend; and Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Nicodemus West.
The Blu-ray version comes loaded with extras, including audio commentary by Derrickson and five deleted scenes (7:52; the menu names are different than those on the pieces of film). One humorous deleted scene has Strange help a wounded dog. There are five featurettes, including a brief overview of the film (9:42); a look at the cast and director (12:37); a look at the sets with production designer Charles Wood and at the costumes (12:32); the pre-production dance and fight choreography (13:21); and a visit with composer Michael Giacchino and the orchestra during the recording sessions (9:51). There also is the funny part two of the mockumentary "Team Thor," which has Chris Hemsworth, in character, explain his living arrangements with his roommate Darryl in Australia (4:58). Finally, there is a look at upcoming films in Marvel Studios' Phase 3, including "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," "Thor: Ragnarok," "Black Panther" and the two-part "Avengers: Infinity Wars," as well as a gag reel (4:12). Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 3.25 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
New England Patriots: Super Bowl LI Champions (Cinedigm, Blu-ray-DVD combo, NR, 78 min.). The annual release honoring the team that has just won the Super Bowl is so special this time in so many ways. The game itself was the first Super Bowl to go into overtime, and the winning Patriots did not lead in the game until the final play. In fact, the Patriots' 25-point comeback over the Atlanta Falcons smashed the previous record of a 10-point comeback that they had shared with two other teams. Of course, the game also was a record-breaking fifth Super Bowl win and fourth Super Bowl MVP title for quarterback Tom Brady, the fifth Super Bowl win for Coach Bill Belichick and the ninth Super Bowl appearance for the Patriots.
The main features opens with the Patriots' two-point loss at Denver in the2015 season's American Football League Championship game. Then comes 42 minutes on the 2016 regular season, with a few minutes on each of the 16 games, including the first four, when Brady served his Deflategate suspension. The footage from NFL Films often includes players and coaches miked up, as when, against Houston, Coach Belichick briefly visits with former Patriot Vince Wilfork and his former assistant coach Romeo Crennel prior to the game. Next comes 13 minutes on the playoff games against Houston and Pittsburgh, with great audio during the Houston game, including the sounds of players hitting each other. The Super Bowl itself gets 21 minutes and there are two minutes of the celebratory parade in Boston during the closing credits. This is not the complete Super Bowl game, but rather a highlight reel with some sidelines extras.
All of the bonus material, which is not all Patriots-centric, is located on the Blu-ray. Best of the bonus material are the player interviews on Opening Night (12:24); an interview with receiver Jason Edelman (3:17; he does have a therapist); some coaching greats talking about Belichick (5:14); and a look at Nate Ebner and his growing up with rugby through his late father and then being an Olympian last summer (4:19). There also are featurettes on the post-game ceremonies , including on-field interviews (10 min.) and Brady as the Forever Man (2:44). Featurettes that look at the whole league include Best Shots (6:58), Follies (5:07), Fantastic Finishes (7:45) and historic Super Bowl plays (4:38). Grade: documentary 3.75 stars; extras 2.5 stars
Rules Don't Apply (20th Century Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 126 min.). Warren Beatty does not often direct, but when he does, the results are usually very noteworthy. For his first directorial effort since 1998 and his sixth overall -- the others have been "Heaven Can't Wait," "Reds, "Dick Tracy" (including a TV movie version) and "Bulworth" -- Beatty offers this wonderful period piece, filled with very good performances and a lot of humor. Beatty, who plays the elusive billionaire Howard Hughes, says, in the extra, that the film is about the consequences of sexual Puritanism in the 1950s, the time when Beatty himself moved to Hollywood and began his career.
In this recreation of 1958 Hollywood, the other two main characters are Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), an aspiring young actress, songwriter (although not a good singer), Apple Blossom Queen and devout Baptist virgin, who arrives in town with her mother (Annette Bening as Lucy Mabrey); and Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), an ambitious would-be real estate mogul who is assigned as her chauffeur, as Marla has come to Hollywood to audition for one of Hughes' movies. Frank also is deeply religious, but a Methodist. Through the weeks ahead, Frank is drawn toward Marla, even though he has a girlfriend at home (since they had sex once, the girlfriend considers them to be married in the sight of God) and Hughes has a strict rule forbidding any employee to have any relationship whatsoever with one of his contract actresses.
Beatty co-wrote the story with Bo Goldman. The film uses as bookends a 1964 incident in which Hughes was to hold a telephone press conference to prove he was sane and merely a recluse, and thus preserve his company's defense contracts. All three leads are great, but particularly Beatty, who brings a lot of humor to the role. Collins was nominated for a Golden Globe. Matthew Broderick has a large role as Levar Mathis, another of Hughes' chauffeurs. By film's end, Mathis and Frank are Hughes' assistants, responsible for running his life. Also in the cast, with notable but shorter turns, are Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Oliver Platt, Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Paul Sorvino, Amy Madigan and Steve Coogan.
The film is not historically accurate -- particularly when it comes to dates -- but historical figures do pop in or, more often, are referenced. Sometimes the plot jumps a bit too much, but on the whole, the film is highly entertaining. The bonus features are a photo gallery; a music video with Collins performing the title song; and an insightful behind-the-scenes look (21:30) that is primarily an interview with Beatty. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2 stars
Jackie (20th Century Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 100 min.). A more factually based historical drama is this look at Jacqueline Kennedy -- brilliantly played by Natalie Portman, who earned an Oscar nomination -- from the day of her husband, President John F. Kennedy's assassination to about a week afterwards. The story is told in multiple flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks as Jackie talks to a journalist (Billy Cruddup) about her reactions to JFK's death and the aftermath. It seems this interview is how the comparisons to Camelot first came up in her famous Life magazine interview. The unnamed journalist is most likely based on author/journalist Theodore H. White.
While on one level, the film might be seen as a bit in bad taste with its narrow focus, and horrific recreation of the actual assassination late in the film, Noah Oppenheim's screenplay deconstructs the normal biography and even goes to create a semi-confrontational aspect to the interview. (In real life, White was a close friend of the Kennedys and already had written "The Making of the President 1960.") A large portion of the flashbacks takes place during Mrs. Kennedy's historic TV tour of the White House, which is recreated both from behind-the-scenes and as a black-and-white TV broadcast (using some of the real TV footage). And while one would probably say that Portman does not look that much like the real Jackie, there are times, such as her getting off the airplane on arrival in Dallas, that really look like the actual moment. Of course, she also wears the iconic pink dress and pillbox hat on that fateful day.
There are the hectic days or preparing for the state funeral, and random cuts in the second half to Jackie discussing things with a priest (the late John Hurt in one of his final roles). The other notable performance is by Peter Sarsgaard as Robert "Bobby" Kennedy, who likewise had to battle through trauma after the assassination. One notable scene has Bobby talking about JFK's legacy with Jackie. President Lyndon Johnson is played by John Carroll Lynch, and his wife, Lady Bird, by Beth Grant. The film hints at some friction between them and Jackie.
The film, which also earned Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design (Madeline Fontaine) and Best original Score (Mica Levi), was directed by Pablo Larrain, who provides audio commentary with Portman on the download version of the film. The disc itself only has a photo galley and a behind-the-scenes featurette (22:25). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 1.5 stars
Resistance (Mnibus/Film Movement DVD, NR, 91 min.). Based on Owen Sheers' alternate history novel, this Welsh film was made in 2010, but only now is seeing home video release. The film is set in the Welsh valley of Olchon in 1944, after D-Day has failed and the German army has invaded Great Britain. One day, Sarah Lewis (Andrea Riseborough), 26, wakes to find her husband and all the other men of the valley have disappeared during the night, presumably to fight the Germans. Soon, a small contingent of German soldiers, led by Commander Albrecht (Tom Wlaschiha) enter the valley.
While noting the absence of the men, the Germans do not seem concerned. We learn later, they have been sent to the valley to look for an ancient map of the world that apparently the Nazi high command believes to have mystical value. This is never really explained well, but it does allow the soldiers to stay in the valley and eventually help the women with their farms. The soldiers generally are portrayed as young men far from home; in fact, Albrecht comes to where he wants his men to stay safe in the valley rather than rejoining any conflict. The film, directed by Amit Gupta, who co-wrote the screenplay with Sheers, is very low key and not at all what one would expect from a war film called "Resistance." The most emotional scene involves the death of an animal. The biggest name in the cast is Michael Sheen, who has four very brief scenes. There are no extras. Grade: film 2.5 stars.
Cold War II (China, Well Go USA, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 109 min.). Unfortunately, I had not seen the first film (2012; apparently it has not been released on home video in the U.S.), of which this is a continuation with most of the same cast. This leads to some confusion in the early parts of the film because of the lack of background. The writing/directing team of Longman Leung and Sunny Luk returns as well. While the film has three major action sequences, the main conflict is political, as efforts are underway to remove new Hong Kong Police Commissioner Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok). Tony Leung Ka Fai plays former cop M.B. Lee, who is drawn into the conspiracy against Lau, primarily because of his son (Eddie Peng as Joe Lee). Lau had imprisoned Joe earlier, but now Joe's release is being demanded and Lau's wife has been kidnapped.
En route to the exchange, Joe manages to escape at the train platform, as the bad guys have left a bomb there. A later action sequence is even better, involving a chase, accident and shootout in a highway tunnel. Near the film's end, there is a more traditional shootout, although the bad guys have several surprises in store for the police. Chow Yun Fat plays Oswald Kan, a councilman who is dragged into the conspiracy through a disciplinary hearing on the train station bomb incident, although he soon realizes he is being used. Overall, there is more talk than action, but the film is well made. I like how the directors often advance two characters' stories at the same time, with quick cuts back and forth between both scenes. I do believe the ending sets up a third film. The only extra is a brief three-part behind-the-scenes look (6:19). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 1 star
100 Streets (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 93 min.). I just could not get into this film that tells three stories of life, loss and love that intersect only slightly. The film, directed by Jim O'Hanlon, is set in London, which is nice. In the film, Idris Elba plays Max Moore, a former rugby star who is estranged from his wife, Emily (Gemma Arterton), a former actress who contacts local thespian Terence (Ken Stott) about getting back into acting. Charlie Creed-Miles plays George, a cabbie who, with his wife (Kierston Wareing as Kathy), is trying to adopt a child, but an early arrest for hooliganism may pose a problem. Franz Drameh plays small-time drug dealer Kinglsey, who is trying to find a way off the street. He meets Terence while completing his community service for a misdemeanor. The only bonus feature is a look inside the film (14:05) with the director and actors. Elba also served as a producer on the film. Grade: film 2.25 stars; extra 1 star
3 Classic Films by Claude Chabrol: Betty, Torment and The Swindle (France, 1992, 1994, 1997, Cohen Film Collection, 3 Blu-ray discs, NR, 308 min.). In "Betty," one of Chabrol's darkest dramas, Marie Trintignant gives an astonishing performance as the title character, a woman whose alcohol-soaked life has finally fallen to pieces. Betty has been found cheating on her husband, whose family immediately arranges a divorce, ousting her from her home and away from her two children. She falls under the care of an older woman (Stephane Audran as Laure) with a similar background, but her benefactor's sympathies may be misplaced as Betty starts trying to conquer Laure's boyfriend, restaurateur Mario (Jena-Francois Garreaud). In "Torment," Chabrol explores the point at which jealousy and obsession turn to madness. Francois Cluzet plays Paul, a young husband who, along with his beautiful wife (Emmanuelle Beart as Nelly), runs a country hotel. Paul soon becomes obsessed with his wife's flirtations, as he hears voices telling him his wife is unfaithful. The viewer never sees Nelly in a compromising position, but that does not mean she is innocent. Finally, in the crime-comedy "The Swindle, " Isabelle Huppert and Michel Serrault star as a couple of small-time con artists who operate out of a camper van while looking for the next big score. The pair, Victor and Betty, usually ply their illicit trade at business conventions. Into their web stumbles a naive financial courier (Cluzet as Maurice), who works for money launderers and has a case with 5 million Swiss francs in it.
Both "Torment" (also known as "L'Enfer," which translates as "hell") and "The Swindle" come with audio commentary by critics Wade Major and Andy Klein. Additionally, the set has a new, 40-minute interview actor Cluzet by New York Film Festival director Kent Jones. Grade: collection 3.75 stars