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DVDs of the Week
The 2018 Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest is another of his brilliant observational dramas about how fluid are the definitions of family—this one is in the form of several individuals helping one another get through poverty by resorting to petty crime, mainly stealing, to make ends meet.
As always, Kore-eda’s gaze is both sympathetic and unflinching: we watch as these people go through their daily grinds, and the sublime cast gets right to the heart of their complex characters and their often troubled journeys. It’s too bad that Magnolia has released this magnificent film only on DVD.
The Last Race
Set at Riverhead Raceway, the last bastion of stock-car racing on Long Island, Michael Dweck’s breezily entertaining documentary shows the last gasp of what seems to be a lost cause, as the land the raceway sits on is worth millions to developers.
The raceway’s managers, Barbara and Jim Cromarty, are deciding if they will yield to what’s probably the inevitable shutdown, and the racers themselves are hoping to have one last spin around the track—literally and figuratively. Extras include additional interviews and scenes.
The Sunday Sessions
Richard Yeagley’s wrenching documentary displays a tactful restraint that helps relay how abhorrent and destructive gay conversion therapy can be to everyone involved.
Following a young religious man, Nathan, as his therapist, Chris, tries to revert him back to heterosexuality, the film is often too painfully intimate to watch, especially when Nathan deals with reconciling his own nature with his own belief system.
Blu-rays of the Week
Backbeat (Shout Select)
Iain Softley’s engaging 1994 biopic of Stu Sutcliffe—John Lennon’s best friend who never had real musical smarts and who got kicked out of the Beatles, died tragically of a brain hemorrhage at age 21—tells Stu’s story with humor and honesty. Stephen Dorff is a fine Stu, Sheryl Lee a revelation as Astrid Kirchherr—the German photographer who fell in love with Stu while the Beatles were in Hamburg—and Ian Hart a terrifically visceral John.
The film looks great in hi-def; extras are a conversation with Astrid Kirchherr, deleted scenes, Softley and Hart interviews, audio commentary with Softley, Hart and Dorff, featurette and casting sessions.
Frantz Fanon—Black Skin White Mask
(Film Movement Classics)
This provocative 1995 hybrid of biopic and documentary about the celebrated anti-colonial philosopher and theorist (who was born in French Martinique and who died in 1961 at age 36) was made by British director Isaac Julien, whose formal structure—juxtaposing interviews with people close to Fanon with readings from his works, archival footage and reenactments of episodes in his life—is inspired and inspiring.
There’s a sparkling new Blu-ray transfer; the lone extra is Mark Nash’s fascinating 1992 short Between Two Worlds.
Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s 5-hour, 17-minute opus about a quartet of 30ish female friends living quotidian lives is, at the start, off-putting, then becomes—very slowly but quite fully—entrancing.
Hamaguchi gives his epic-length film, and its realistic, sympathetic characters, ample room to breathe, and if there are sequences (like one at an author’s reading) that could have been excised or, at the very least, trimmed, there’s also an appreciation for and understanding of life in all its ordinariness and extraordinariness. Then there’s the superlative acting by the four actresses, which easily matches Hamaguchi’s humanism. The film, spread over two discs, looks ravishing in hi-def—it’s too bad it wasn’t released originally on Blu-ray alongside the DVD release in 2017—and the extras comprise cast interviews.
Tarzan Goes to India
Tarzan's Three Challenges
These two programmers have colorful remote location work to help prop up tried-and-true storylines that at least allowed the African resident to leave the continent.
Tarzan Goes to India (1962) finds our hero coming to rescue of elephants endangered by a dam being built, while Tarzan’s Three Challenges (1963) pits him against the evil uncle of a young heir to an East Asian throne. Both films look colorfully impressive in hi-def.
French director Henri-Georges Clouzot made masterpieces like The Wages of Fear and Diabolique and other estimable films like Le Corbeau and Quai des Orfèvres, but this 1960 potboiler is not among them.
Brigitte Bardot plays a woman on trial for killing her lover in his West Bank flat: this took six writers to cobble together? Clouzot’s unflashy direction does little to illuminate the back-and-forth between the courtroom and flashbacks to the incidents in question. Bardot pouts with the best of them, as always; this by-the-numbers melodrama is mainly for Clouzot completists. The hi-def B&W transfer looks glorious; extras comprise an hour-long 2017 Clouzot documentary, excerpt from a 1982 Bardot interview and 1960 Clouzot interview.
CD of the Week
James Ehnes—Kernis/Newton Howard Violin Concertos
James Ehnes, a true virtuoso, tackles three recent works for his instrument in this engaging listen—and a disc that recently won a Grammy for Aaron Jay Kernis’ Violin Concerto, which is the most substantial piece here.
But that’s not to say that James Newton Howard’s own concerto—the work of a composer best known for his dozens of film scores—isn’t attractive-sounding or that Bramwell Tovey’s Stream of Limelight isn’t a winning piece of chamber music. Ehnes plays with refinement and robustness throughout, and he’s ably supported by the Seattle (Kernis) and Detroit (Newton Howard) symphonies and pianist Andrew Armstrong (Tovey).
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