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Blu-rays of the Week
Aquaman is the latest superhero to get his due onscreen, and James Wan’s overstuffed but entertaining movie runs headlong into crazily convoluted plotting about underwater plotting among the people of Atlantis, led by our hero’s own half-brother, the ruler of the realm, who wants to make war on humans since they’ve recklessly polluted the oceans.
There’s such a surfeit of effects shots that it doesn’t matter that Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Patrick Wilson and Willem Dafoe are basically cashing a check; and, of course, the ending paves the way for what will assuredly be more than one sequel. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras comprise several behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Uncompromising Mexican director Carlos Reygadas never skimps on what others might consider unshowable, and his 2002 feature debut—in which he features a sex scene between his middle-aged protagonist and the elderly woman who reawakens his manly desires—is no exception. However, although it’s beautifully shot in ultra-widescreen, this story of a profound spiritual crisis remains distant and fuzzy to hold our interest for well over two hours.
Criterion’s Blu-ray features a splendid hi-def transfer; extras include a new conversation between Reygadas and filmmaker Amat Escalante; actor Alejandro Ferretis’ on-set video diary; Maxhumain, Reygadas’ 1999 short film; and a deleted scene.
King of Thieves
Based on an infamous 2015 incident in London, James Marsh’s crime caper follows several elderly ex-cons who get together for a brazen robbery: millions of pounds from the vault of a safe deposit company.
With familiar veterans in the leads—Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone, Michael Gambon—this plays as an engaging lark and déjà vu drama, like something we’ve seen before: at the end, Marsh even cuts to brief shots of the actors in earlier films (all in B&W). It’s offbeat but entertaining nonetheless. The film looks fine on Blu; lone extra is a making-of featurette.
This latest attempt to jump-start Jennifer Lopez’s movie career is another silly rom-com, as she stars as a big-box store assistant manager who gets a plum position at a top Manhattan advertising firm, until it almost comes crashing down when her real background is uncovered.
At least there’s a wisecracking Leah Remini as her sidekick (as she seems to be in real life) and the appealing Vanessa Hudgens as her antagonist at the agency—although the plot twist involving the pair is so ludicrous that it hangs over the proceedings all the way through. Early on, she was impressive in Jack, U-Turn and Out of Sight, but J. Lo has since sailed along on negligible pap. There’s a good hi-def transfer; extras are featurettes and interviews.
DVDs of the Week
Monsieur and Madame Adelman
(Distrib Films US/Icarus)
In this sprawling, too-clever look at the on-again-off-again 40-year relationship between an acclaimed author and his muse, director-writer-actor Nicolas Bedos and writer-actress Doria Tillier—a couple in real life—give marvelous performances, even managing to look and act believably as old-age makeup: Tillier especially is unforgettably complex in a difficult role.
It’s too bad that such a multi-layered character study, studded with moments of ringing insight and invention, is actually eclipsed by its own innovations, making for an increasingly wearying two hours. Still, there’s much to admire, and Tillier is definitely someone to look over for.
Out of Love
These films explore the psychological ramifications of relationships that border on obsession, sacrificing original insights for stereotypes helped by bravura acting. In 2016’s Out of Love, Dutch director Paloma Aguilera Valdebenito’s familiar scenario (couple meets cute and embarks on an intense affair bordering on masochism, leaving physical and mental scars) is propped up by intense performances by Daniil Vorobyov and fearless Naomi Velissariou.
Likewise, in 2013’s Ritual, Giulia Brazzale and Luca Immesi’s melodrama about a young woman and her dominating lover, Désirée Giorgetti gives an emotionally naked portrayal of a woman trying to escape the clutches of a man who repels and attracts her.
The Edith of the title of this arresting documentary is Edith Tudor-Hart, a noted British photographer who—unbeknownst to nearly everyone—was also part of a Soviet spy ring that recruited the famed turncoat Kim Philby, leading to some of the most damaging intelligence failures of the entire Cold War.
Director Peter Stephan Jungk (Edith’s great nephew) overturns every stone in his quest to discover what could have led his great aunt to become a traitor: his investigation leads him to Moscow where he’s stonewalled, but discovers enough to warrant this detailed 90-minute portrait of a woman whose wayward allegiance will forever eclipse her artistic talent.
CDs of the Week
The Romantic Piano Concerto 78—Clara Schumann, etc.
Tasmin Little—Works by Clara Schumann, Ethel Smyth, Amy Beach
Clara Schumann will always stay in the shadow of her husband Robert, but her beguiling music still gets recorded, including two works on new discs. Her enticing piano concerto highlights the 78th (!) volume of the Romantic Piano Concerto series, with Howard Shelley the skillful soloist and conductor of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Minor but attractive works by a trio of obscure Romantic-era composers round out the disc.
On Chandos, violinist Tasmin Little performs works by Clara and two major composers, American Amy Beach and Briton Ethel Smyth, both of whose violin sonatas are substantial by any standard. Clara’s Three Romances for violin and piano are lovely miniatures, and Little gives them a spirited hearing, accompanied by her adept pianist John Lenehan.
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