Review: Manhunt

“For a better tomorrow,” remarks one character in a rare moment of downtime in John Woo’s Manhunt, drawing a direct connection to Woo’s 1986 break-out hit. Not that he needed to drop so blatant a callback. Released in 2017 across Asian cinemas but debuting on Netflix in the U.S., Manhunt is a self-conscious throwback to the Hong Kong films that made Woo’s reputation among action movie fans around the world––a gleefully overstuffed thriller that races through the greatest-hits-of-Woo trademarks, right down to a hardboiled cop who bonds with his nemesis as he pursues him across the city.

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Review: Anon

Sal Frieland (Clive Owen) strolls down a city street, the anonymous faces in the crowds streaming past him instantly tagged with pop-up IDs. Frieland’s a cop in a future where every brain is connected to a central server, his hardwired Google Glass eyeballs giving him access not just to individuals’ data but everything they’ve seen and heard, all of it recorded for posterity and occasionally self-incrimination. Then, he’s called to a murder scene and finds the mind of the victim has been hacked––the culprit gone without leaving a digital footprint of any kind. Is this ghost in the machine a serial killer, an assassin, or something else?

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Review: Babylon Berlin

The most expensive German TV series ever produced, Babylon Berlin, is Weimar noir, a detective drama turned conspiracy thriller set against the backdrop of decadence, poverty, and corruption in 1929 Berlin just before the Nazi party rode the swell of nationalism to power. Think Cabaret meets L.A. Confidential as produced by UFA, recreating a cultural moment that is about to implode.

Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), a Cologne cop working with the Berlin vice squad, is a World War I vet who conceals his shellshock tremors with black market morphine. He’s a tarnished hero on a covert mission to track down a pornography ring blackmailing a politician back home, but then pretty much everyone has shadows over them.

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Videophiled TVD: ‘The Red Road’ begins

RedRoad
Anchor Bay

The Red Road: The Complete First Season (Anchor Bay, DVD) – Sundance TV (formerly The Sundance Channel) continues to establish its own brand of intelligent, dramatically compelling TV shows with this atmospheric series set in rural New Jersey.

A small town cop (Martin Henderson) enters into a wary partnership with a drug-dealing ex-con (Jason Momoa) from a nearby Native American tribe to cover up a hit-and-run that his wife (Julianne Nicholson), a recovering alcoholic, committed during what seems to be a relapse. In fact, it’s much more, which only makes Henderson more protective (to the point of denial). There’s an uneasy relationship between the town and the tribe, which is fighting for formal recognition from the government while struggling with poverty and crime, that is exacerbated by a forbidden romance between the cop’s teenage daughter and the ex-con’s young half-brother. The physically imposing Momoa, who played both Conan and the barbarian king from the first season of Game of Thrones, adds a dangerous edge to the drama simply by his presence, radiating anger and resentment from his every glance.

Following in the tradition of shows like Rectify and The Bridge, the series is deeply embedded in the cultural and regional specificity of the setting. It’s not just the social politics of the moment but a whole history fraught relations that hovers over the drama, and the idea of heroes and villains gets murky in a drama where the characters share a complicated history that is slowly revealed through the course of the six-episode season.

It has the look and feel of an American independent feature, helped immeasurably by James Grey (The Immigrant) helming the first episode and Lodge Kerrigan (Keane) directing two subsequent episodes of the series. They are instrumental in setting the careful, moody atmosphere. Supporting turns by Tamara Tunie, Tom Sizemore, Mike Farrell, and Lisa Bonet add to the weave of complicating factors.

Six episodes on DVD with three featurettes. It’s also streaming on Netflix.

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Videophiled TVD: ‘Arrow: Season Two’ misses its Netflix mark to push disc and digital sales

ArrowS2
The second season of Arrow, the first major TV superhero success story in the wake of the “Dark Knight” / Marvel Universe revolution, arrives on Blu-ray and DVD today, as well as full-season digital purchase.

It was also supposed to become available on Netflix streaming over the weekend. Originally scheduled for Sunday, September 14, the Netflix release was pushed to October 8 at the last minute. That’s the same date as the Season 3 premiere, which means no binge streaming to catch up before the new season beings. Disc and digital purchase is the only way to see the second season until then (you can watch five select episodes of the second season on Hulu, but that’s it).

It’s proven good business to make previous seasons available a couple of weeks in advance of the new season to build up excitement among fan and entice new viewers to tune in but Warner Bros. Television, which produces the show, has its eye on sales this time. The last minute delay is designed to boost sales on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms.

Arrow is the type of show that generally does well in disc sales—genre-oriented with a passionate fan base that likes to own its favorite series—and the disc editions are packed with supplements and include Digital HD Ultraviolet episodes for streaming.

Fans were not happy and the fan-oriented sites have tripping over themselves to get the details ever since the series failed to appear on Netflix on Sunday.

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Streams and Channels: Beyond Netflix

The Netflix plan was brilliant. Emphasis on was. After defining and dominating the DVD rent-by-mail market, the company dove into streaming video, made deals with Blu-ray and PSP manufacturers to install software to stream Netflix content to TVs and made the service part of the Netflix subscription: a library of thousands of movies and TV episodes available for free instant viewing, as well as New Releases that could be rented for a fee.

And then they alienated a large part of their subscriber base by deciding it was time to charge for the service at the very time households were cutting back on expenses. It was a self-inflicted wound created by bad timing and PR management and they lost 3 million subscribers in the last quarter. Meanwhile Blockbuster has made a play to take some of the rental-by-mail business and launched a streaming service partnership with Dish Network, the satellite service. And then there’s Hulu Plus, the pay component of Hulu, which includes a deal to stream titles from the Criterion library (including films not yet available on Criterion DVD or Blu-ray).

Dave Kehr explored some of the rarities and oddities available via Netflix Instant and Hulu Plus for the New York Times (read it here) and you can add Amazon Instant Video and iTunes to the list of options, with thousands upon thousands of movies and TV shows accessible on a per-title basis, the equivalent of a virtual rental or digital purchase. They are all industry heavyweights who don’t need a plug from me.

Here are a couple of alternate services that offer a different kind of line-up and, unlike Netflix, don’t demand a complete commitment. You can subscribe or simply pick a la carte. But if you are tired of the sameness of the New Release rack, these services offer something different.

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