Top Film Picks on DVD/Blu-ray: Maggie Cheung Plays Silent-Film Star Ruan Lingyu; Benedict Cumberbatch as a Businessman-Turned Spy

LJ’s film columnist picks the month’s top indie, foreign, and classic films, now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Center Stage. b/w & color. 154+ min. In Cantonese, Mandarin & English w/English subtitles. Film Movement. 1991. DVD UPC 850021115296. $29.99; Blu-ray UPC 850021115289. $39.99.
Thirties-era silent-film star Ruan Lingyu (sometimes called the “Chinese Garbo”) gets an unconventional biopic treatment from director Stanley Kwan. Maggie Cheung amazes, playing both herself and the role of the talented but troubled Ruan, who died by suicide at age 25, having made 30 films from 1927 to 1935. Surviving archival footage, or convincingly aged recreations, punctuate the dreamy color palette, dramatizing the life of a performer as well as showing the artifice behind filmmaking. VERDICT In spite of its “meta” approach, Stage turns surprisingly poignant and accessible.
The Courier. 112+ min. Lionsgate. 2021. DVD UPC 031398322634. $16.99; Blu-ray / DVD UPC 031398322658. $22.99. Rated: PG-13.
Mild-mannered British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) is recruited by MI-6 and CIA operatives (Angus Wright and Rachel Brosnahan) to smuggle Russian military intelligence that has been offered to the West by Soviet colonel Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze). Dominic Cooke’s thrilling spy drama (based on actual events) offers a little-known story about efforts to neutralize the Cuban Missile Crisis before it erupted into nuclear war. VERDICT Fans of the versatile, prolific Cumberbatch will find yet another reason to revel in his performing.
Georgetown. 99+ min. Paramount. 2019. DVD UPC 191329200537. $15.99. Rated: R.
In his directorial debut, the Oscar-winning actor Christoph Waltz ( Inglorious Basterds) also stars as Ulrich Mott, an opportunistic social climber who marries a well-to-do, much older woman (Vanessa Redgrave). Exploiting her connections in Washington, DC, he craftily establishes the Eminent Persons Group and becomes its egotistical chairman—until his wife’s skeptical daughter (Annette Bening) fears foul play when her mother turns up dead. VERDICT Inspired by the true story of Albrecht Muth (convicted of the 2011 murder of his wife), this comedic drama offers a fine showcase for Waltz.
Under the Sand (“Sous le sable”). 92+ min. In French w/English subtitles. Kino Lorber. 2000. DVD UPC 738329254520. $19.99; Blu-ray UPC 738329254384. $29.99.
When Jean (Bruno Cremer) disappears during a dip in the sea, his wife Marie (Charlotte Rampling), who’d been waiting for him on the beach, proceeds as if he hadn’t drowned nor gone missing; there’s no sign of his body. Months later, with a new lover (Jacques Nolot) in her life, Marie still imagines her husband is hanging around. Veteran filmmaker François Ozon ( Swimming Pool) adroitly tackles the age-old process of grief, focusing on the act of denial; Rampling provides one of her most finely gauged acting turns. VERDICT Kind of a slow burn with ambiguity, this is recommended for cinephiles.
What Happened Was… 91+ min. Oscilloscope Laboratories. 1994. DVD UPC 850010804347. $34.99; Blu-ray UPC 850010804354. $39.99. Rated: R.
A paralegal (Tom Noonan) and a secretary (Karen Sillas), coworkers at a big-city law firm, nervously share a first date characterized by strained humor and awkward banter at the latter’s apartment. As the evening goes on, each character (first one, then the other) reveals secrets that shift the power dynamic between them. Based on Noonan’s original stage play, his confident directorial debut won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize. VERDICT Gradually building to an intriguing conclusion, this deceptively ambitious chamber piece should appeal to aficionados of intimate drama.
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