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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Crisis > Cold War > Cable TV > Mini-Series > Crime > Gangsters > Union > Politics > Romance > Germany > Where I Belong (2014/*both Corinth DVDs)

Chernobyl 4K (2020/HBO/Warner 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray Set)/The Irishman (2019/Netflix/Criterion Blu-ray)/My German Friend (2012*)/Song Without A Name (2019/Film Movement DVD)/Space Dogs (2019/Icarus DVD)/Where I Belong (2014/*both Corinth DVDs)

4K Ultra HD Picture: B+ Picture: B/B/C+/C+/C+/C+ Sound: B/B/C+/C/C+/C+ Extras: C+/B/D/C/C-/D Main Programs: B+/B/C+/C+/C+/B-

Awards season is with us again, albeit fractured by the pandemic, but here are some dramas to consider seeing...

We start with one of the best TV mini-series in the last few years, Chernobyl 4K (2020) is a 5-part series drama about what is considered still to be the world's worst nuclear disaster to date, taking place in 1986. A test at the title nuclear power plant is scheduled and it is expected to go well, but the head of the plant is being difficult and I tis putting everyone else on edge. Conflict arises and the rather young staff is being pushed around a bit.

As the test continues, it reaches a critical point, but when an emergency button is activated to make sure all is well and safe, there is an explosion at the plant instead and it turns out to be an absolute nightmare. Randomly, a scientist (Jared Harris) is called in to 'help' as it were, but he slowly realizes something very wrong has happened. He is eventually paired with an official of the state (Stellan Skarsgard) as the usual lying and cover-ups by the USSR itself keep denying the truth and making it all worse.

Though some aspects were fictionalized for time, et al, the teleplay is very detailed and thorough about how bad this is, how it could have happened anywhere and that so much of this event has been left undiscussed because so many countries and a powerful energy industry do not want anyone to think about the dangers of such energy. It is also about how honest a society needs to be to survive, a question that goes far beyond the events portrayed here.

Emily Watson heads the rest of the remarkable cast telling us a story of how one event ended the reign of a superpower and why we can never be passive about anything nuclear. I was shocked at how well this was paced, acted, edited, written and timed. Another gem from HBO, if you have not seen it, go out of your way for it, especially if you can see it in 4K.

Extras include Digital Code Copy, while the discs add Inside The Episodes for each one, a Script-To-Screen featurette, Behind-The-Curtain featurette, Meet The Key Players piece, What Is Chernobyl featurette and Pivotal Moment - The Trial.

Martin Scorsese's The Irishman (2019) took the great director years to make and a few years ago, after a major studio surprisingly dropped out of producing it, Netflix had the guts and money to pick it up and though it has received mixed responses critically and has been enough of a success to help Netflix build their brand, no doubt the digital de-aging techno9logy did not set well with some viewers. However, Scorsese has never been shy of trying something different or experimental and that results in a unique film that has a new tone, even if it is still in the mode of his previous endeavors in the genre.

A new take on the rise and fall of organized crime and how much they were tied to legendary union boss James Hoffa (Al Pacino in an easy to underrate performance) lands up hiring a one-time trucker (Robert De Niro) as his main assistant named Frank, but Frank is already tied into the crime business via his association with Philadelphia crime boss Russell Buffalino (Joe Pesci back in action) so you can imagine the question being asked? Who killed Hoffa and how did they do it.

Of course, it is not a mystery film, but it is a rare film about mobsters who get to become somewhat older or sometimes, really old and what does that lead to? Do the good in the crime business die young and are they better off? Running about 3.5 hours, the film allows Scorsese and company to revisit some points form their older films (and other film and TV shows in the genre, even by default) and though the digital trickery and a use of hit records that runs oddly counter to what you usually get in a Scorsese film (the songs seem to have a more oddly juxtaposed effect instead of the impact you constantly get in the likes of Mean Streets, GoodFellas or Casino) is the last gangster epic Scorsese intends to make and it seems he is trying to find any ground he had not gone over yet in all his other such films.

One point may be that any film about Hoffa is like any film about or with Richard Nixon or even John F. Kennedy, the real life person was such a character and figure in real life, you are in an uphill battle in portraying them. Of course, Jack Nicholson explicitly played the title role in Danny DeVito's Hoffa, his best directing effort. Yet, it too got very mixed reception despite the great work on the film and by the actors. Nicholson might look a bit more like the real Hoffa than Pacino, yet Pacino is infusing his energy in a Hoffa that is a slightly different take (I think both are accurate) and it works well in its own way. I also buy the film's explanation of what happened to Hoffa (both gangsters and corporations wanted him out of the way, thus all the elaborate rumors of how he was killed and disposed of) and like Casino (with its side story of Mormon power in Vegas), Scorsese hints at the corporate powers behind what happens without going into thew.

Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Carnavale, Anna Paquin, Jack Huston, and Steven Van Zandt are among the solid supporting cast (Scorsese's hit HBO TV gangster series Boardwalk Empire informs this film a bit too) and if you give this film a good chance and your undivided attention for its length, you'll see how good it is.

Extras include an illustrated booklet on the film including tech info and an essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien, while the discs (a second discs has the extras the first does not) add a newly edited roundtable conversation among Scorsese and actors Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, originally recorded in 2019, New documentary about the making of the film featuring Scorsese; the lead actors; producers Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Jane Rosenthal, and Irwin Winkler; director of photography Rodrigo Prieto; and others from the cast and crew, New video essay written and narrated by film critic Farran Smith Nehme about The Irishman's synthesis of Scorsese's singular formal style, The Evolution of Digital De-aging, a 2019 program on the visual effects created for the film, Archival interview excerpts with Frank ''the Irishman'' Sheeran and International Brotherhood of Teamsters trade union leader Jimmy Hoffa, Trailer and teaser.

Jeanine Meerapfel's My German Friend (2012) is a post-WWII tale of a young Jewish woman (Celeste Cid) who falls for the son (Max Riemelt) of a Nazi war criminal. Should the sins of the father be blamed on the son? He is not aware of this connection early on, but when he finds out, becomes a left-wing revolutionary!

The script never allows this to become unintentionally funny or even exploitive, but it also does not do enough with the situations presented and take them into new directions or try something different. A few Godard films came to life, as well as Resnais' The War Is Over (aka La Guerre Est Fin) or even the likes of Zabriskie Point or The Strawberry Statement. The film, is still a decent drama for what it is, but it is a little too safe for its own good, so I was a little disappointed. Otherwise, the actors are good and I bought the period production.

There are no extras.

Melina Leon's Song Without A Name (2019) is a stark drama shot in black and white about a poor woman who has her baby taken from her just after childbirth and her attempt to find her baby with the unexpected help of a journalist who finds out she is not the only Andean woman to encounter this horror story. Set in Peru, it is taking place in the recent past, has some valuable points to make and also explores the dark side of Peru.

I thought this one had its moments in its 97 minutes, but some of this we have seen before and sadly, despite all the dramas, documentaries and news segments on such things, it goes on as women and children are still mistreated and considered exploitable and disposable. The script is not interested in dwelling on this to its credit and to make other points. It seems more relevant than usual considering what has been going on at the Southern U.S. border of late too. Worth a look for those interested.

A director's introduction and short film Sin Cielo by Jianna Maarten Saada are the extras.

Elsa Kremser & Levin Peter's Space Dogs (2019) is an experimental special interest title that wants to be part documentary, but also draw out a portrait of how the former USSR/Soviet Union managed to get the first living earth creatures in space and they chose dogs. Adding older archive footage, some of which I should warn you all can be very graphic and disturbing, shows how the USSR launched their space program this way and they go into all the results.,

The other point in this 91-minutes exercise is that the dogs came from the streets and the current dogs are connected to them literally and at least figuratively. Point taken and the newer footage has its moments, but the original footage is stark, stunning and makes for an interesting counterpoint to the U.S. Space Program efforts. Interesting to see after Chernobyl and worth a look if you can handle the more graphic footage.

A raw stretch of Behind The Scenes video is the only extra.

Finally, we have a sort of surprise in Fritz Urschitz's Where I Belong (2014) with Natalie Press giving a fine performance as the daughter of an Austrian man who was in a British internment camp during WWII (we have not heard much about those) during WWII and how he tries to get his life going. After such an ordeal. He is a little overprotective of his daughter, but she is growing older.

At only 90 minutes, without overdoing any melodrama, the film is very involving as she tries to have a life where she can make a living and have a social life, but it is not always easy and she also lands up with two different men interested in her. I bought most of this and wish it had gone on longer. Urschitz definitely knows how to direct and makes this one very involving, with a density that goes beyond getting the period correct. One of the most realistic and honest foreign films I have seen in a while, it has a few things to say and is more successful than I expected. Definitely worth a look.

There are sadly no extras.

Now for playback performance. The 2160p HEVC/H.265, Dolby Vision/HDR (10; Ultra HD Premium)-enhanced Ultra High Definition image on the Chernobyl episodes look really good, with its wide range of darkness and consistent atmosphere, it is one of the best digitally-shot mini-series to date and just makes it all the more enthralling. The frame chosen is the 2 X 1 frame some TV productions have been trying out. Composition is not bad and the 1080p digital High Definition image on the regular Blu-rays are good, but pale in comparison.

Though one might expect a 12-track mix like Westworld or Game Of Thrones, the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes on these shows are still very impressive, well recorded, mixed and edited. The impact is solid and one should not underestimate a good 5.1 mix.

The Irishman was shot with a combination of 35mm Kodak Vision 3 color negative and the new HD camera developed for the de-aging process without having to mark the actual faces of the actors with anything, resulting in a pure 4K production. The 4K is not here (yet) but the 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer is impressive, except you can tell when the special digital camera is in use. Color suddenly becomes slightly weaker and not as warm, resulting in a viewing experience that is like nothing you have seen before. Many will not notice the difference, but it is well shot as always for any Scorsese film and he tries a different approach from his previous gangster genre films (more laid back) and plays against stereotypes of the genre. Also, he's getting the last word after the end of The Sopranos, a great gangster series that deconstructed the entire genre over its run. Its easy to underestimate what he does here.

In a first for Criterion and only the second theatrical film by Scorsese in 12-track sound (following Silence, though Casino got an excellent such upgrade for its amazing 4K disc release) the Dolby Atmos 11.1 (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 for older systems) is very impressive and though it is laid-back and dialogue-based often enough, it has its moments. The combination is very watchable.

The remaining four DVDs are here in anamorphically enhanced presentations (usually 1.78 X 1, but some of the films are wider) and they all look about as good as each other, though Dogs has some flaws from its location shoot. Friend and Belong are in PCM 2.0 Stereo, Dogs in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and Name in both lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound mixes. Song is the one that I thought was a bit weak and was better in 2.0 Stereo, but they are all equal otherwise, though this is not the best representations of any of their soundmasters.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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