When not crafting Hollywood studio blockbusters (and sometimes even when doing so, as with ‘The Abyss’ and of course ‘Titanic’), James Cameron has translated a lifelong passion for underwater exploration into any number of special documentaries and side projects, and ‘Sanctum’ — executive-produced by the Oscar-winning filmmaker, and deploying some of the same 3-D technology used in ‘Avatar’ — is his latest filmmaking assist to the nature-discovery, though this time it’s the sub-specialty upon which he throws a spotlight.
Shot on location off the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, and based on true events, the film follows a team of underwater cave divers during a treacherous expedition deep inside the largest and least accessible cave system on the planet. His work funded by adventurist millionaire businessman Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd), master diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) oversees a team that’s been exploring the Esa Ala Caves in Papua New Guinea for over a month. When both an unexpected tragedy down below and a top-side storm and its resultant flash flood force a dramatic change in their exit plans, Frank’s team, including his teenage son Josh (Rhys Wakefield), are forced to navigate an underwater labyrinth and search for an unknown escape route to the sea in an effort to make it out alive.
The movie’s script, by John Garvin and Andrew Wight, trades largely in stock types, but director Alister Grierson nicely juggles the requirements of confined space adventure with the movie’s somewhat more pedestrian human drama. A 2-D home video presentation of ‘Sanctum’ doesn’t necessarily cause one to miss much (the film’s 3-D presentation is able, but inessential), as the nature of its setting is ably delineated, and the stakes clear and engaging.
There’s a sort of charm to the brutally streamlined candor of Frank; as the group starts to make their way through a tight space, he assigns the rear to the least experienced of the bunch, Carl’s wife, noting bluntly that if she starts to panic and gets stuck, anyone behind her is dead. Roxburgh, for his part, is particularly solid; he gives a gruff but charismatic performance, and he and Wakefield evince a believably frayed father-son rapport — one of mutual respect but near perpetual exasperation. ‘Sanctum’ doesn’t prove itself radical or revelatory, either narratively or from the vantage point of technological innovation, but it does hold one’s attention, and make an audience care about the shared plight of its characters. Even if, perhaps, the lesson they take away is but this: “Damn, I’m never going ‘that’ far underground.”
The movie’s Blu-ray release, which includes a digital copy of the film, is a solid one. Presented in 1080p high-definition 1.85:1 widescreen with an English DTS-HD master audio 5.1 audio track, ‘Sanctum’ comes with English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Grierson, Wakefield and Wight anchor a feature-length audio commentary track, and share stories regarding the production and diving minutiae. Around 10 minutes of deleted scenes give extra room and space for some more about Frank and Josh’s relationship, and the film’s three-part making-of documentary, coming in at 45 minutes, blows the hinges off of typical behind-the-scenes featurettes. The Blu-ray also includes another separate, same-length, engaging nonfiction piece, “Nullarbor Dreaming,” which focuses on a funky spelunking expedition in which writer-producer Wight took part.
While film fans love their musical biopics (witness the embrace of ‘Walk the Line’ and ‘Ray’, among many others, as well as an impending Miles Davis film starring Don Cheadle), it’s often some of the lesser known musicians who make for more interesting film subjects. If, as they say, it’s better to have loved and lost than never loved at all, then it certainly makes for more starkly realized screen drama to have labored, briefly grasped the ring of success or relevance, and then faded back into obscurity. How does one cope with that? Written and directed by Thomas Roth, the foreign language film ‘Falco’ centers on Hanz Holzel (Manuel Rubey), a Viennese piano prodigy who, inspired by David Bowie and the glam rock scene, reinvents himself as the single-named new wave star, and, amidst the stylistic excess of the 1980s, unexpectedly takes the United States pop charts by storm with “Der Kommissar” and then “Rock Me Amadeus.”
The film charts the rise and fall, inclusive as it is of all the usual, ‘Behind the Music’-type boozing and overreach. The costumes and production design work here are nice, and Roth tackles Holzel’s alcoholism and problems with the women in his life, but in a sort of check-the-box fashion. It all seems a bit pedantic and repetitive in its thematic sketching. Rubey’s flamboyant, pansexual performance is what holds this film together, for fans of ’80s music and doomed biopics in general. ‘Falco’ comes to DVD presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, in a German language Dolby digital 2.0 stereo mix with English subtitles. Apart from the included chapter stops, a gallery of trailers, inclusive of other Strand releases, mark the only bonus features.
The NFL may be the dominant professional sports league in the United States, but the manner in which the NBA has grown the game of basketball beyond America’s borders is perhaps even more impressive. The rise of international superstars like Yao Ming and of course Dirk Nowitzki (recently crowned the NBA Finals MVP) has had something to do with this, but homegrown talents like Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony have made sure of basketball’s continued popularity in the aftermath of the retirements of 1980s and ’90s era superstars like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller and John Stockton.
‘When They Were Young’, an NBA-sanctioned title from Bombo Sports and Image Entertainment, is a curious grab-bag of material, but an undeniably action-packed one that hoops fans should spark to and embrace. Running just over an hour, this glimpse-behind-the-curtain documentary trips back in time, and looks at rare high school and even youth basketball footage of some of the game’s biggest stars of today. Yes, that means some funny looking yearbook photos and the like, but also some pretty amazing and candid moments, wherein one glimpses kids coming to realize that something they love avocationally, as a hobby, might one day be the basis for a well-compensated professional life. DVD special features consist of extra footage of Anthony on draft day, a slideshow of Bryant highlights, a look at Wade’s all-star experiences, a collection of O’Neal’s top 10 plays from the 2000 NBA Finals, and more. Who hates a breezy title like this? Well… basketball rims, mainly.
Written by: Brent Simon