BlackBerries, Boys’ Schools, and Basement-Dwellers | Fast Scans

This month’s top indie and foreign film picks include a history of the rise and fall of the BlackBerry, a cautionary tale about an undesirable basement tenant, and a boys’ school with no authority in sight. 

BlackBerry. 120 min. IFC Films. 2023. DVD UPC 014381001976. $18.99. Rated: R. DRAMEDY

The rise and fall of this forerunner of the Apple iPhone (the one with the clicky keyboard) gets a seriocomic treatment told at a brisk pace. Developed by a bunch of nerdy engineers led by Doug Fregin (Matt Johnson, who also directs) under two disparate CEOs—the naïve company cofounder (Jay Baruchel) and a ruthless corporate suit (Glenn Howerton)—the “CrackBerry” gets users hooked until Steve Jobs one-ups it. While taking dramatic liberties with historical details, this film really rocks. VERDICT A crowd-pleaser with wide appeal despite its abundance of f-bombs.

Corsage. 113 min. In German, French, Hungarian & Italian w/English subtitles. IFC Films. 2022. DVD UPC 014381152135. $18.99; Blu-ray UPC 014381152296. $21.99. DRAMA 

Celebrating her 40th birthday in 1877, Austria’s Empress Elisabeth (Vicky Krieps) is considered “old,” fit only for ceremonial duties, not childbearing. She rebels at the prospect of her changing public image. At odds with her philandering husband, Elisabeth flirts with her riding instructor in a vain effort to shore up her self-esteem before resorting to self-destructive behavior. Writer-director Marie Kreutzer avoids genre tropes with this handsome, well-acted film whose subject’s upraised middle finger sums up her attitude. VERDICT Not for purists expecting historical fidelity.

The Man in the Basement (L’Homme de la cave). 114 min. In French w/English subtitles. Kino Lorber. 2021. DVD UPC 738329261757. $19.99. DRAMA

A Jewish couple (Jérémie Renier and Bérénice Bejo) sell their storage cellar to an erstwhile history professor (François Cluzet) but try to rescind the deal when they find out he traffics in antisemitic conspiracy theories. Making matters worse, the Holocaust denier—who’s actually utilizing the rough-hewn property to live in—strikes up a friendship with the sellers’ unwary teen daughter. Based on a real-life incident, cowriter-director Philippe Le Guay’s thrilling drama is a cautionary tale on property sales. VERDICT Provocative for viewers so inclined.

Unman, Wittering and Zigo. 102 min. Arrow. 1971. Blu-ray UPC 760137128014. $39.95. THRILLER

A group of unruly adolescents at a privileged boys school defy their idealistic new teacher (David Hemmings), culminating in a claim they killed their previous instructor, who allegedly fell off a cliff. After an attempted sexual assault on the schoolmaster’s wife (Carolyn Seymour), the perpetrators’ culpability is exposed. Based on a play but not betraying its origins, John Mackenzie’s (The Long Good Friday) film adaptation offers a disturbing meditation on out-of-control authority. VERDICT Fans of British films especially should like discovering this obscure curio.

The Worst Ones. 99 min. In French w/English subtitles. Kino Lorber. 2022. DVD UPC 738329262624. $19.99. DRAMA

In casting for his cinéma vérité film, Belgian director Gabriel (Johan Heldenbergh) auditions young residents from a housing project in northern France. Looked down on by the townspeople, the variously troubled teens bring personal experience to their roles, in addition to instability that threatens the production. Codirectors Lise Akoka and Romane Gueret secured Un Certain Regard honors at the Cannes Film Festival for their gripping “behind-the-scenes” look at the dilemmas posed by non-professional actors. VERDICT For inquisitive audiences up for a little challenge.

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