King of Devil’s Island

This Week in DVD

Welcome back to This Week In DVD! This is actually the third anniversary of my stewardship of the column, and I want to thank all of you for stopping by each and every Tuesday to check out the week’s best and worst DVD releases. I’ve discovered countless fantastic films over the last three years, and I hope some of you can claim the same. Or even just one of you. This week’s releases include an utterly terrible biopic (with great makeup!) of Margaret Thatcher, Werner Herzog’s best documentary from 2011, a bland alien invasion flick set in Moscow, a powerful boys-in-prison drama from Norway and more! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Conversation Piece Burt Lancaster plays a retired American living in Rome whose quiet life is interrupted by a quartet of rude and rambunctious neighbors. They talk their way into renting his upstairs apartment, and over the course of the months that follow they worm their way into his life with interruptions, destruction, seduction and endless conversation. Luchino Visconti’s film is a beautifully shot tale of clashing ideals and intellects unafraid to mix political discussion with homoerotic undertones and black comedy with a sexy teenage seductress. Raro Video has done a fantastic job with the film’s first widescreen, English language release in the US, and while the link here is for their new Blu-ray transfer a DVD version is also available.


The doors of Norway’s Bastoy Residential School remained open from 1900 to 1953, and in that half century hundreds of wayward boys called it home. They found themselves there for crimes big and small, but the goal was the same for all of them. Find the “honorable, humble, useful, Christian boy” inside the criminal, and then return them to society. But while this small chunk of rock adrift just south of Oslo was a home it was never meant to feel like one. A biting cold pervaded the place, inside and out, and it was as prevalent as the rigid discipline, hard labor and overall oppressiveness that was the school’s daily routine. And as inescapable as the island itself. King of Devil’s Island is based on the true story of a student uprising that occurred at Bastoy in 1915. An incident triggered by sexual abuse but fueled by pent-up rage led to the boys overthrowing their guardians and rioting until a unit of the Norwegian army arrived to quell the situation. The film is an affecting drama that mostly overcomes a familiar story with strong acting by Stellan Skarsgard and others, atmospheric cinematography and a core message of integrity and solidarity.

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published: 12.23.2014
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