The Banshees of Inisherin (Searchlight Pictures, Blu-ray or DVD, R, 114 min.). In this reunion of writer-director Martin McDonagh and actors Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, the stars of his “In Bruges” (2008), the two actors play longtime friends on an island off the west coast of Ireland who suddenly fall apart when one – Gleeson as Colm — decides he no longer likes the other — Farrell as the naively sweet Pádraic — because he is too dull and chatting with him is a waste of time. The more simple — more uneducated than stupid — Pádraic refuses to accept his dismissal, but then Colm says he will cut off a finger for each day Pádraic bothers him.

Pádraic is a milk farmer who lives with his sister (Siobhán) in a modest cottage and has a favorite miniature donkey, named Jenny. He is in the habit of meeting Colm just about every day at two for a pint at the local pub. However, Colm now believes he has better things to do with his time, like compose tunes on his fiddle, as music can last for centuries. We also know that Colm has been suffering from despair from one of his confessions with the visiting priest.

Pádraic’s only other semi-friend is Dominic (a humorous, winning performance by scene-stealer Barry Keoghan), the rather rude son of the local constable, who actually makes Pádraic seem like a good conversationalist, but has a vulnerability beneath his brashness. Dominic has a bit of a thing for Siobhán, who not only is having none of it but is planning changes in her own life.

The film is set in 1923, with sounds of the civil war on the mainland being heard on the island, but the insular islanders are not particular about who is winning. In some ways, the split between the two friends is supposed to mirror that conflict, but that is background. The foreground is the wit in the often-sharp exchanges between Colm and Pádraic, until Colm actually cuts off a finger and flings it at Pádraic’s door and the film descends into sadness.

The acting and writing is tremendous and the island views, captured by cinematographer Ben Davis, are gorgeous. The film won the Best Screenplay award at the Venice Film Festival, where Farrell won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor. It has been nominated for eight Golden Globes, including best picture, writing, directing and all four main actors. Extras include a making-of featurette (17 min.) and five deleted scenes (4:52). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

The Ambush (2021, United Arab Emirates, Well Go USA, Blu-ray or DVD, R, 111 min.). This superb military action film, directed by Pierre Morel (“Taken”), is based on a real 2018 incident in the Yemen War during which three Emirate soldiers — Ali, Bilal and Hindasi — are pinned down in a canyon by heavily-armed insurgents. A large Quick Response team is sent to rescue them and experiences heavy gunfire, rocket attacks and land mines. The film has a very basic, how-they-did-it approach, but the action cinematography by Thierry Arbogist is excellent. There are no bonus features and the end credits take nine minutes. Grade: film 3.5 stars

So Ji-Yeol plays a bounty hunter/sorcerer in 14th century Korea in “Alienoid.” Courtesy Well Go USA Entertainment.


Alienoid (South Korea, Well Go USA, Blu-ray or DVD, NR, 142 min.). This is a wild, highly entertaining ride that is set in two different time periods so both sword play and science fiction elements can be introduced. In the present, alien Guard (Kim Woo-bin) and his robot Thunder (voiced by Kim Dae-Myung), who can fly around, become a car, and take Guard’s appearance when looking human, supervise their species’ implantation of criminals’ essences into the brains of humans, where they stay until they die when the human does. Sometimes, an alien escapes, which is what happens in the year 1380 prologue.

Back in the past at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty, we see an SUV fall out of the sky, with Guard and Thunder arriving to capture a prisoner who has broken out. The retrieval is successful, but the host woman dies and Guard, against protocol, brings her infant child back to the future, where we meet her as 11-year-old Ean (Kim Tai-ri). Ean has been telling school officials her father is an alien. Shortly thereafter, she finally meets Thunder.

Back in now 1391, humorous bounty hunter/sorcerer Mureuk (So Ji-Yeol), whose hand fan is decorated with two cats that come to life and take human form as fighters, seeks the time-bending Divine Blade. His quest leads to some fight sequences and Madame Black and Mr. Blue, the sorcerers of Twin Peaks.

Switching to the present, Ean sees the unloading of a shipment of 107 new alien prisoners. One alien criminal, the Great Controller, tries to change Earth’s atmosphere by releasing spheres of alien air. A bit later, it seems both Ean and the Great Controller have returned to the past. The film can be a bit confusing, but just go with the enjoyable ride.

Despite the film’s length, it turns out to be only the first half of the adventure. The sequel already is in post-production. The making-of extra (2:31) shows some of the extensive wire work and says that while the first film was the present to the past, the sequel will be the past to the present. The film also can be viewed with an all-new English dub. Grade: film 3.5 stars

Blood and Diamonds (Italy, 1977, 88 Films, Blu-ray, NR, 102 min.). The film is a poliziotteschi follow-up of sorts to writer-director Fernando Di Leo’s “Caliber 9” (1972). Here, Guido (Claudio Cassinelli) serves a five-year prison term for an attempted diamond heist, after someone tipped off the police. Guido believes it was the Mafia gang run by Rizzo (Martin Balsam of “12 Angry Men,” “Psycho”) and he is determined to get revenge, especially after two men attack the bus he is on and kill his girlfriend Maria (Olga Karlatos). Maria’s adult son Enzo (Alberto Squillante) hates Guido and is being steered by his stripper-dancer girlfriend Lisa (Barbara Bouchet) to pull off a diamond heist of his own.

The film takes too long to get to the point. There is a bit of sadism in the Tony character (Pier Paolo Capponi), a henchman of Rizzo’s who also has a brutal fight with Guido.

Extras include audio commentary by Tony Howarth; a 96-minute documentary on Di Leo; actor Luc Merenda discussing Di Leo (19:20); a mini-poster; and a 24-page booklet with writings on the film. Grade: film 2.25 stars; extras 3.5 stars

A Christmas Story (1983, Warner Bros., 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray, PG, 93 min.). This is one of four Christmas-themed movies making their 4K Ultra HD debut from Warner Bros., with the original extras contained on the accompanying Blu-ray discs. Set in 1940s Indiana, the film is told from the viewpoint of 9-year-old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), who wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas and mounts a full-scale hint-dropping, Santa-begging campaign, with numerous calamities along the way. Grade: film 3.75 stars

Elf (2003, Warner Bros., 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray, PG, 97 min.). Will Ferrell plays Buddy, who, as a young orphan child, accidentally crawled into Santa’s bag of gifts and ended up at the North Pole, where he was raised as an elf. Learning he is not really an elf, Buddy travels to New York City to uncover his true identity. The film costars Ed Asner as Santa, Bob Newhart as Papa Elf and James Caan, Peter Dinklage, Andy Richter, and Mary Steenburgen. Grade: film 3.5 stars

The Polar Express (2004, Warner Bros., 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray, G, 100 min.). A doubting young boy (voiced by Tom Hanks, who also voices five other characters) takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole in a journey of self-discovery that shows him the wonder of life never fades for those who believe. Also on the train are Hero Girl (Nona Gaye), Lonely Boy (Peter Scolari) and Know-It-All (Jimmy “Jax” Pinchak). The film is made through performance-capture, mixing live action with animation. Grade: film 3.25 stars

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989, Warner Bros., 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray, PG-13, 97 min.). This third installment in the “Vacation” series has Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) trying for the perfect family holiday, helped by wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo). Things, of course, go hilariously awry, especially when Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) shows up with his family unexpectedly and they start living in their camper on Clark’s property. There also are two sets of feuding in-laws and a peculiar aunt and uncle. Grade: film 3.5 stars

Tom Von Malder of Owls Head has reviewed music since 1972, just after graduation from Northwest-ern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has reviewed videos/DVDs since 1988.

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