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June '19 Digital Week I

4K Release of the Week 

Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin 

(Warner Bros)

The Batman films made between 1989 and 1997 return in new 4K editions that provide more visual clarity than ever. Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns, with Michael Keaton as the caped crusader, are the best of the lot, mainly because the villains are so strikingly original: Jack Nicholson’s Joker, Danny DeVito’s Penguin and especially Michelle Pfieffer’s Catwoman.




The mediocrities Joel Schumacher directed—Batman Forever (Val Kilmer) and Batman and Robin (George Clooney)—suffer from uninteresting heroes and cardboard bad guys. Still, fans will want all four (a boxed set will be available in September for those who can wait). Extras comprise previous bonus features: commentaries, interviews, deleted scenes, featurettes and music videos.



Blu-rays of the Week

Blood—Series 1

London Kills—Series 1 

(Acorn TV)

These bingeable new series are worth checking out, starting with Blood, which follows a black-sheep daughter who returns home after her mother’s death and immediately suspects that her father may have been involved. In London Kills, a group of elite detectives investigate the capital’s most horrific crimes.




Both shows have fine writing, incisive acting (particularly by Carolina Main in Blood) and intriguing atmosphere. There are superior hi-def transfers; extras include on-set featurettes and interviews.







The Bostonians 

(Cohen Film Collection)

The second Merchant-Ivory adaptation of Henry James—following 1979’s The Europeans—is this 1984 melodrama set in 1876 Boston about a suffragette spinster (Vanessa Redgrave) and the vivacious young woman (Madeleine Potter) both she and her chauvinistic cousin (Christopher Reeve) are interested in.




Filmed with solid craftsmanship but lesser inspiration, this dutiful drama is enlivened by Redgrave’s Oscar-nominated portrayal; too bad Reeve and Potter don’t have the same combustibility in their scenes together. There’s a splendidly restored hi-def transfer; extras include new Ivory interviews.


Buster Keaton Collection, Volume I—The General/Steamboat Bill Jr. 

(Cohen Film Collection)

The first Cohen Keaton collection features one of his greatest comedies, The General (1926), a hilarious Civil War-era farce about a Confederate Army reject who becomes a hero after the Union Army hijacks his beloved locomotive. This is a movie you can’t look away from because so much is going on you don’t want to miss anything. The stunts are astounding even by Keaton’s daring, exacting standards.




The other film, Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), ambles along for a while, then pays off late when Keaton is caught in a hurricane and flood, sequences so stunningly audacious (winds blow Keaton about and houses crumble around him, all expertly done by the star, of course—no stunt doubles or CGI) that you watch the final 20 minutes with your jaw on the floor. If you never thought 90-year-old films would look eye-popping in hi-def, think again. Extras are featurettes and Carl Davis’ orchestral scores.







Everyone Stares—The Police Inside Out 

(Eagle Vision)

Early on, the Police’s drummer Stewart Copeland grabbed a camera and proceeded to film Sting, Andy Summers and himself as they toured the world on their way to becoming the biggest band on the planet in the mid ’80s. This intimate portrait of the trio goofing around, arguing, bonding and playing onstage has a home-movie quality that makes it a valuable document of a rock group at its zenith.




Shot using ancient (circa 70s-80s) equipment, the hi-def transfer is adequate; extras comprise Copeland and Summers’ commentary, snippets of live performances and additional footage.


Gloria Bell 


Julianne Moore gives another tremendously affecting and subtle performance in Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s own remake of his 2013 feature Gloria, now following a middle-aged American grandmother who feels alive, if only briefly, by spending evenings dancing, drinking and meeting men.




If Lelio stacks the deck dramatically by letting the man she falls for (a creepily authentic John Turturro) be a scumbag and her own kids be indifferent to her, Moore is unafraid to show this woman physically and emotionally naked, even making a downer ending cathartic and even transcendent. The film has a solid hi-def transfer; extras include Lelio’s commentary and a making-of featurette.







The Kid 


In Vincent D’Onofrio’s diverting western about sheriff Pat Garrett and outlaw Billy the Kid, the kid of the title is not Billy but Rio, a young man who enlists the protection of Garrett to keep his sister’s abusive husband away.




Despite the familiarity of the subject, D’Onofrio’s smart pacing and the fine cast—led by Ethan Hawke as Garrett and Jake Schur as Rio—makes this vivid and memorable. There’s a super-looking hi-def transfer; lone extra is an on-set featurette.


Lost in Space—Complete 1st Season 


This unnecessary reboot of the classic 1960s TV series has erased nearly everything that made the original fun—sympathetic family, delightful robot, wacky villains/sci-fi plotting—and replaced it with self-seriousness bordering on condescension.




Despite the always welcome appearance of Molly Parker as mom Maureen Robinson, there’s little to these 10 episodes other than the elaborate effects to recommend it to fans of the original. The hi-def transfer looks enticing; extras include deleted scenes, featurettes and No Place to Hide, a colorized unaired pilot episode from the original series.







Shaft’s Big Score 

Shaft in Africa 

(Warner Archive)

In anticipation of this summer’s new Shaft movie, Warner Archive releases the two Shaft sequels, both starring Richard Roundtree as the eponymous private eye. Shaft’s Big Score (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973) are grittily, unapologetically violent, with Roundtree in solid form throughout.




Gordon Parks, who helmed the original, directed Big Score and contributed its famously funky music, while vet John Guillermin did the honors for Africa; both films are more entertaining than one might have expected. Both hi-def transfers are quite good.


Tyler Perry’s A Medea Family Funeral 


Although Tyler Perry’s supply of comic vehicles seems inexhaustible, the actual comic worth is problematic, as his latest entry—in which a family reunion turns into a funeral—can attest.




Still, Perry adroitly juggles his usual stable of characters and there is one sequence—a white policeman pulls over a car filled with Medea and family—that makes a cogent point beyond Perry’s usual cheap laughs. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras are deleted scenes, outtakes and featurettes.







A Vigilante 


If you’ve ever wanted to see Olivia Wilde seriously pounding on men for their disgraceful behavior against women, here’s your chance—of course, it turns out her protagonist is assisting other women because of her own horribly abusive relationship (and, natch, he returns to interrupt her avenging angel activity).





Writer-director Sarah Daggar-Nickson’s approach is blunt, nuance be damned—fine as far as it goes, which unfortunately isn’t very far. Wilde does surprisingly well with this cipher, her physicality a prominent, and compelling, feature of her performance. The hi-def transfer is excellent; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

The MET Orchestra Performs Debussy, Ravel & More

The MET Orchestra, photo 2019 Richard Termine
The superb season of orchestral music at Carnegie Hall soon drawing to a close was enhanced by the marvelous appearance on the evening of Monday, June 3rd of the extraordinary musicians of the MET Orchestra under the dazzling direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, in a stunning concert devoted to modernist French music.
The program began exhilaratingly with a mesmeric account of the Claude Debussy masterwork, La mer, first with a sparkling version of the opening movement, followed by a second movement notable for its lightness, and concluding with the most thrilling version of the finale that I have heard in the concert hall, in which Nézet-Séguin pushed the dynamics to a near limit.
The celebrated mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard then took the stage—looking impossibly gorgeous in a lacy white gown—for the Carnegie Hall premiere of the complete version of Henri Dutilleux’s final work, the song-cycleLe temps l’horloge,set to poems by Jean Tardieu, Robert Desnos, and Charles Baudelaire. The orchestrations were impressive and Leonard’s singing was luminous.
For the second half of the program, the singer returned to the stage for a lovely rendition of the beautiful Maurice Ravel song-cycle from 1903, Shéhérazade, set to poems by Tristan Klingsor. Leonard received an enthusiastic ovation.
The evening ended magnificently with a sterling performance of Ravel’s glorious Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2, which has become something of a signature work for Nézet-Séguin. This again elicited enormous, deserved applause. These fabulous musicians return to this venue for a final concert of the season on the evening of Friday, July 14th, along with the fantastic mezzo-soprano, Elīna Garanča.

The Gothic Romance of "Jane Eyre" on Stage with The American Ballet Theatre

Isabella Boylston and Thomas Forster in Jane Eyre. Photo: Gene Schiavone.
A thus-far strong season at American Ballet Theatre continued memorably on the evening of Wednesday, June 5th, of the fluidly staged, dramatically effective Jane Eyre, a 2016 adaptation of the eponymous Charlotte Brontë novel, which received its company premiere the night before, in a co-production with the Joffrey Ballet.
Originally presented by Northern Ballet in the U.K., the work is inventively choreographed, although in conformity to classical norms, by Cathy Marston. The score, here conducted by Charles Barker, largely consists of music by Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn, and Frank Schubert, arranged by Philip Feeney, who composed some excellent original music. The production is visually striking, impressively exploiting the possibilities for effects of depth in the staging, with costumes and set design by Patrick Kinmonth, who collaborated on the scenario, and lighting by Brad Fields.
The evening I attended featured a fine cast with the talented Isabella Boylston in the title role, ably partnered by a dashing Thomas Forster as Rochester, although one could have imagined a more dramatically weighty pairing with, for example, David Hallberg and Natalia Osipova. The secondary cast included: Skylar Brandt, replacing Breanne Granlund, as the young Jane; Duncan Lyle as St. John Rivers; Blaine Hoven as the Headmaster; Cassandra Trenary as Mrs. Fairfax; Hee Seo as Blanche Ingram; and Stephanie Williams as Bertha Mason, Rochester’s mad wife. The admirable corps de ballet was characteristically superb.
This production is an interesting addition to the company’s repertoire and it will be worth revisiting in future seasons.

Off-Broadway Review—Susan Sarandon in Jesse Eisenberg’s “Happy Talk”

Happy Talk
Written by Jesse Eisenberg; directed by Scott Elliott
Performances through June 16, 2019

Susan Sarandon, Marin Ireland and Tedra Millan in Happy Talk (photo: Monique Carboni)
Susan Sarandon’s first New York stage appearance in a decade (when she was on Broadway in Ionesco’s Exit the King) is the obvious reason to see Happy Talk. In Jesse Eisenberg’s slight comic drama, Sarandon plays Lorraine, a narcissistic actress—is that redundant?—who tries to ignore life’s awfulness from intruding on her well-being in her own home: her (unseen) elderly mother is in a sick bed and her husband Bill, suffering from M.S., often sits in a state of near-catatonia in the living room.
Helping out is Ljuba, an illegal Serbian immigrant who takes care of everyone, even Lorraine, who needs to be needy while acting if she’s doing the caretaking. When Ljuba says she’s been saving money for years to pay for a green-card marriage, which would make her legal and let her bring her teenage daughter over from Serbia, what little plot there is kicks in as Lorraine decides to play matchmaker for Ljuba with Ronny, an actor in her local JCC troupe rehearsing a production of South Pacific (the play’s title comes from one of that show’s songs). No matter that Ronny is gay and unavailable: Lorraine thinks he’s perfect for the part, and various mishaps accrue.
The women’s codependent relationship, initially shown as amusingly off-kilter, becomes malevolent as Lorraine lords it over Ljuba until, by the end, the younger woman is spent, both financially and emotionally. But Eisenberg never makes this relationship plausible; instead, Lorraine’s shenanigans are a playwright’s contrivance, a lazy shortcut instead of allowing things to grow organically from the characters themselves. 
Eisenberg’s extremely messy script does have two juicy roles: one obvious, the other not. Sarandon unsurprisingly delves into Lorraine with glee, viscerally playing up her theatricality and sunny exterior hiding inner turmoil. That Ljuba is no match for Lorraine is the combined fault of writer and actress: Eisenberg smothers her with clichéd writing and the usually dependable Marin Ireland plays her with a curious sing-song voice and risible Balkan accent that sound like Gilda Radner’s SNL characters Roseanne Roseannadanna and Lisa Loopner. 
The other good role is Jenny, Lorraine and Bill’s estranged adult daughter, who arrives late one night and—thanks to a terrific Tedra Millan—foulmouthedly steals the show. But in Eisenberg’s shaky hands, Jenny’s appearance merely underlines what we already know: Lorraine is nastily (even dangerously) self-centered. Millan gives Jenny a dimension that overshadows everyone else, save for Lorraine, and when she exits, interest in the rest of Happy Talk drops precipitously, despite director Scott Elliott’s usual savvy effort.
Our last image is of Lorraine sitting alone, smirk on her face: Sarandon slyly looks at the audience and waves, an acknowledgement of complicity not in the script. Would that Elliott had more such intrusions up his sleeve to give more depth to a desperately creaky vehicle.
Happy Talk
The New Group, Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, New York, NY

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