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DVD reviews: 'The Master,' 'How to Survive a Plague' and 'Holy Motors'

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 6:46 p.m.
This film image released by The Weinstein Company shows Joaquin Phoenix, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a scene from 'The Master.'  The film will be presented at the 37th Toronto International Film festival running through Sept. 16. (AP/The Weinstein Company)
This film image released by The Weinstein Company shows Joaquin Phoenix, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a scene from 'The Master.' The film will be presented at the 37th Toronto International Film festival running through Sept. 16. (AP/The Weinstein Company)

“The Master” (2012, R, 144 min., $29.98). The combination of director Paul Thomas Anderson with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix is the main reason why “The Master” was one of the most-anticipated films of 2012. Much of that anticipation was met, as “The Master” packed in top-notch performances — Hoffman, Phoenix and Adams were all nominated for Oscars — with a heavy story that meshes well with Anderson's usually strong camera work. A problem with the picture is its tough narrative, as the story heads off into some unusual directions, and that's why a couple of viewings might be a good idea. The picture takes place in 1950s, when a World War II vet named Freddie (Phoenix) has just finished up his service. For the most part, Freddie is a drunk, and he needs some direction. Then he stumbles upon The Cause, a religious movement guided by Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) and his wife Peggy (Adams), and they take a shining to Freddie. Anderson's picture follows the relationship established between these three parties. It's an intense association that is always moving toward Freddie's next breakdown. Extras available on Blu-ray and standard DVD include some deleted scenes and a short behind-the-scenes featurette. A John Huston documentary about WWII vets is exclusive to the Blu-ray package. Commentary would have been welcome with “The Master.” 3 Stars.

“How to Survive a Plague” (2012, NR, 109 min., $24.98). Nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary, filmmaker David France's “How to Survive a Plague” is a tremendously important piece of work. It serves as a history lesson to the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic when men and women were dying at an alarming rate, and there was no stopping the disease. In stepped two groups, ACT UP and TAG, founded on the basis of trying to curb the death sentence AIDS carried. Stacked with hard-working activists, the coalitions went after health organizations and drug makers all over the country, pressing hard for someone to listen and take aim at the virus that had killed so many people. Filled with interviews with activists and scientists and plenty of archival footage, “How to Survive a Plague” is a complete picture of the most dire days of AIDS, and the solid movement that made America wake up and demand a cure. France appears to have a nice future in film, as “How to Survive a Plague” is his directorial debut. Special features on standard DVD and Blu-ray packages are the same, including a nice collection of deleted scenes and commentary. Not too much, but the commentary, which includes the director and a handful of activists carries much more info and is worth a look. 3.5 Stars.

“Holy Motors” (2012, NR, 115 min., $19.97). What to make of “Holy Motors,” one of the more popular foreign films of 2012? It's a tough question, because the film carves out its own brand of originality. Written and directed by Frenchman Leos Carax, this weirdly chaotic picture follows a guy named Oscar (Denis Lavant) who rides around Paris for a whole day in the back of a limo. When the limo stops, Oscar emerges from the inside in a different character. He immediately thrusts himself into an appointment in which he plays a role. This happens eight or nine times throughout the movie, and each time, a different genre — from musical to gangster film to horror picture — is covered. Lavant's performance is one of the best of the year, as the veteran actor takes on many roles. It's the centerpiece of a mysterious picture that has captured the attentions of cinefiles around the world. Eva Mendes, Edith Scob and Kylie Minogue, who has a new song in the film, also stand out as members of the cast. Fans of “Holy Motors” will want to go with Blu-ray if they plan on purchasing the film. If not for the movie's rich cinematography and blend of colors, but also the special features that don't really exist on standard DVD. On Blu-ray, a good making-of featurette is available, along with a Minogue interview. 3 Stars.

“Chasing Mavericks” (2012, PG, 116 min., $22.98). Surfing is the focal point for this film that stars Gerard Butler, Elisabeth Shue and Johnny Weston. Directed by Curtis Hanson, it tracks the relationship between a young surfer and a local legend who takes him under his wing on a rough stretch of beach in Northern California.

“Chicken with Plums” (2011, PG-13, 93 min., $30.99). Imaginative filmmakers Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, the folks behind the 2008 classis “Persepolis,” deliver a picture about a depressed musician who loses his beloved violin. As a result, the man decides to pack it in and wait for the end. All is not lost, though.

“Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare” (2012, PG-13, 99 min., $27.98). A documentary that received high marks on the festival circuit, it takes a look at the mighty ups and downs of the American healthcare system. How bad is it? Can it be fixed? Filmmakers Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke try to answer those questions.

“Silent Souls” (2010, NR, 78 min., $29.99). This drama out of Russia explores the journey of a guy named Miron and his buddy, Aist, who hit the road to dispose of Miron's wife's ashes according to the rituals of the Merya people, an ancient tribe from Russia. Cinematography separates “Silent Souls” from the rest of the pack.

“A Simple Life” (2011, NR, 118 min., $24.98). Inspired by a true story, director Ann Hui's picture tells the tale of the relationship between a successful movie producer and his family's long-time maid. When the maid's health begins to drop off, the filmmaker finds himself switching roles, and becoming the caretaker.

“Freaky Deaky” (2012, R, 93 min., $19.98). Crispin Glover, Billy Burke, Michael Jai White and Christian Slater form a talented cast in “Freaky Deaky,” a film from Charles Matthau about a group of misfits looking for their piece of the pie from a rich and powerful man. The film's based on an Elmore Leonard novel.

“Nobody Gets Out Alive” (2013, NR, 78 min., $27.97). Revenge is the central focus of this horror film written and directed by Jason Christopher. When a man loses his daughter to a drunken driver, he falls off the face of the Earth. It isn't until sometime later when a group of rambunctious teens cross the man, who finally tries for his revenge.

“Sushi Girl” (2012, R, 98 min., $26.98). A possibility for the status of cult classic, director Kern Saxton's film centers around a fellow named Fish who's finally getting out of prison after doing six silent years for his partners in crime. Jeff Fahey, Danny Trejo, Mark Hamill, Sonny Chiba and James Duval make up the cast.

“Deadfall” (2012, R, 95 min., $26.98). Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde and Charlie Hunnam star in this film about siblings Addison (Bana) and Liza (Wilde) on the loose after a casino heist. After killing a state trooper, they go their separate ways, only to meet up again in a finale that will test the strength of their friendship.

“The Coalition” (2013, R, 100 min., $26.98). Baltimore Ravens defensive end Terrell Suggs helped to write the screenplay for this film with director Monica Mingo. “The Coalition” follows four unlikely women teaming up to get revenge on a professional athlete and his close friends because of their playboy ways.


“Africa” (reality series, three discs, six parts, $24.98)

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