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Blu-rays of the Week
Remi Malek’s remarkable transformation into Farrokh Bulsara, aka Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, is the no-brainer reason to see this entertaining if flawed and disappointingly tame biopic about the lead singer of one of the most flamboyant, loathed and loved rock bands of all time. There are some electric moments—the recreation of Live Aid, the hilarious scene with Mike Myers as a record exec who hates the title song—that are dragged down by by-the-numbers filmmaking by Bryan Singer (who was fired with a few weeks left to shoot).
So it’s incredible that Malek digs in so deeply despite the onscreen superficiality, and there are also impressive turns by Gwilym Lee as guitarist Brian May and Lucy Boynton as Mercury’s BFF Mary Austin. The film looks terrific in hi-def; extras comprise featurettes about Malek, the band and how the Live Aid performance was filmed, and the actor’s full LiveAid concert is also included.
All the Devil’s Men
In this middling thriller by director-writer Matthew Hope, a former Navy Seal turned CIA mercenary leads a covert group that’s tracking down “bad hombres” in the darkest, dankest corners of London.
There’s a kernel of a decent action flick in here, but despite a serviceable cast—led by Milo Gibson (Mel’s son), William Fichtner (who’s gone way too early) and Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks—there’s nothing onscreen that hasn’t been done (often far better) hundreds of times before. The Blu-ray transfer is sparkling; lone extra is an on-set featurette.
Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s greatest accomplishment was his 15-hour 1980 adaptation of Alfred Doblin’s classic novel about an ordinary man in 1920s Berlin. Fassbinder provides ample insight and sentiment alongside his usual cynicism and campiness during this gargantuan piece of cinema that’s never less than engrossing. Fassbinder’s actors, such as Hanna Schygulla, Barbara Sukowa and especially Gunter Lamprecht in the lead, give career-best performances.
The Blu-ray transfer is first-rate; Criterion’s voluminous extras comprise two documentaries (from 2006 and 2007) detailing the film’s production and restoration; an on-set featurette showing Fassbinder at work; the 1931 feature adaptation, with Doblin himself writing the script; and 2007 interview with author and Fassbinder expert Peter Jelavich.
The Giant Behemoth
One of a batch of monster movies spawned by the horror and fright over the dawning of the nuclear age, director Eugene Lourie’s bizarrely tranquil 1959 B&W entry concerns a massive irradiated sea creature up from the depths who terrorizes London. It’s a compact 80 minutes but still seems stretched beyond its slender narrative.
The stop-motion effects, needless to say, look laughably amateurish by today’s standards, although that may be what endears them to those at whom this release is targeted. The hi-def transfer is immaculate; there’s a commentary by special effects veterans Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett.
(Cohen Film Collection)
Diane Kurys’ sensitive and lyrical 1977 coming-of-age movie piggybacks on classic school-age dramas like Truffaut’s The 400 Blows and Jean Vigo’s Zero for Conduct without betraying any obvious debts (at least until the final shot).
The central—and autobiographical—character is played with lovely restraint and naturalness by Éléonore Klarwein, a dazzling teenager who never became the female equivalent of Jean-Pierre Leaud, much to our cinematic detriment. The film looks fine in hi-def; extras are archival interviews with Kurys, Klarwein and composer Yves Simon.
DVD of the Week
The Owl’s Legacy
French director Chris Marker’s typically ambitious and eclectic 1989 multi-part project comprises a baker’s dozen episodes, each about a half-hour in length, that each start as a riff on a Greek word like “democracy” or “symposium” and spiral out from there into typically wide-ranging and intelligent discussions about art, politics, history … in short, anything.
With special guest talkers including film directors Elia Kazan and Theo Angelopoulos, this release is another in Icarus’ valuable volumes of Marker works, and since this is one of his most arcane and unknown, it is even more necessary and collectible.
CD of the Week
Martinů—Complete Music for Violin and Orchestra
Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů, one of the most underrated 20th century composers, compiled an estimable musical career that ran the stylistic gamut from solo piano and chamber music to orchestral and stage works.
This superb four-disc set collects earlier Hyperion releases of the prolific composer’s output for violin and orchestra, with Bohuslav Matoušek as the brilliant soloist in 11 works including two vividly scored violin concertos, and melodic and attractive concertos for flute and violin, two violins, and violin and piano. There’s no shortage of arresting music on these discs, given greater immediacy by the Czech Philharmonic under Christopher Hogwood.
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