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Blu-rays of the Week
It Chapter Two
Although as overlong as the first film and bloated with relentless and often redundant flashbacks, Andy Muschietti’s follow-up is more engaging, mainly because the lead actors, from Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader to Sophia Lillis, Jaeden Martell and Finn Wolfhard as their younger selves, dramatize Stephen King’s juvenile material with no-nonsense professionalism.
There’s still the ridiculous, inane finale as the clown Pennywise morphs into other murderous creatures, but that’s to be expected from the rarely subtle King. The hi-def transfer is impressive; extras include a two-part making-of doc, featurettes and Muschietti’s commentary.
An Elephant Sitting Still
The story behind Chinese director Hu Bo’s first (and only) feature is as saddening as his nearly four-hour, slow-burning drama about several downcast and defeated characters in modern-day China.
After finishing the film, Hu Bo committed suicide at age 29, leaving behind the question of what-could-have-been for a talented filmmaker but also a sense that perhaps this magnum opus summed up his outlook on life and death and nothing else would have the same impact. Either way, this monumental film is flawed and repetitive but consistently fascinating. A magnificent hi-def transfer elevates the lacerating closeups even higher. Lone extra is his short, Man in the Well.
Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic
(Film Movement Classics)
In the two films making up Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic—The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb—the exoticism of the Far East is colorfully if somewhat ploddingly brought to life by the legendary German director. Tiger is almost infuriatingly slow-paced, but the better-paced Tomb more organically delves into a culture unknown to many westerners.
A sparkling restoration gives the colors saturating depth on Blu-ray; extras are two commentaries, The Indian Epic documentary, and a video essay on star Debra Paget.
Donna Tartt’s bloated and enervating novel somehow won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, likely because its plot intersected the worlds of art and terrorism to nod toward being highbrow, even though Tartt’s is a distinctly middlebrow sensibility. Still, I held out hope for John Crowley’s film version since he showed such sensitivity and tact with 2015’s Brooklyn.
But this messy adaptation is a Cliffs Notes’ selection of highlights, nicely shot and acted (especially by Oakes Fegley as the younger self of hero Theodore, whose mother died in a Met Museum blast and who stole a small painting by a Dutch Master in the confusion) but narratively diffuse and often too literal-minded. The film looks superb in hi-def; extras are deleted scenes with Crowley’s intros and two featurettes.
Joan the Maid
(Cohen Film Collection)
I’ve never been a Jacques Rivette fan, except for the two films he made in the early ‘90s: 1991’s magnificently intimate, four-hour artist exploration, La belle noiseuse, and this even longer two-part study of Joan of Arc, released in 1994.
Starring Sandrine Bonnaire, in one of her greatest performances as the 14-year-old Joan (the actress was 26 while shooting), Rivette’s consistently engrossing historical drama clocks in at 5-1/2 hours, yet there’s not a dull or inopportune moment. The film’s restored hi-def transfer is richly detailed; too bad there are no contextualizing extras.
Michael Anderson’s 1965 World War II drama gives a mainly fictional spin to the Allied operation where spies infiltrated a German factory involved in making the V1 and V2 rockets that were heavily damaging London and might do so to New York if the war continues.
Still, despite melodramatic touches (like Sophia Loren’s grieving but acquiescent widow of a man whom one of the spies is imitating), the film is entertaining and even at times exciting, and it authentically allows the actors to speak English, German or Dutch. It’s rare to hear so many bilingual name actors (George Peppard, Tom Courtenay, Anthony Quayle, Sophia Loren, Jeremy Kemp), providing welcome verisimilitude, which helps to smooth over the occasional silly moments. The film looks great in hi-def; lone extra is a vintage making-of.
Ready or Not
After a young woman marries her sweetheart at his family’s estate, they tell her she must partake in a “game” of hide and seek with her armed in-laws as a rite of passage that soon turns malevolent and murderous.
Samara Weaving makes for a most appealing heroine, but even she cannot save this benighted and obnoxious attempt at mixing humor and horror. There’s a very good hi-def transfer; extras include a making-of featurette, gag reel and a directors’ and star’s commentary.
DVD of the Week
Raise Hell—The Life and Times of Molly Ivins
Molly Ivins—the finest progressive journalist/political analyst of the late 20th century—is sorely missed in this era of corruption and gaslighting by the tRump administration that made the George W. Bush years look tame in comparison.
Director Janice Engel’s loving documentary portrait presents Ivins’ life, career and unique perspective (including her spicy sense of Texas humor) in its proper context, showing how progressivism has been in an uphill climb against entrenched corporate and conservative concerns in politics and media. Some of Ivins’ most stinging bits are included, along with heartfelt reminiscences by colleagues and figures who were the butt of her barbs. Extras are additional Ivins clips.
CD of the Week
Idina Menzel—Christmas: A Season of Love
Idina Menzel—known by the public as the “Let It Go” singer from Frozen the movie and by those in the know as one of Broadway’s best singing actresses—returns with her second holiday album, matching her vibrant soprano with familiar yuletide tunes, from boppy openers “Sleigh Ride” and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” to classic hymns “Oh Holy Night” and “Auld Lang Syne.”
She also brings friends on board for fun duets on lesser-known ditties, including Billy Porter (“I Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”), Josh Gad (“We Wish You the Merriest”) and Ariana Grande (“A Hand for Mrs. Claus”). Other favorites are her take on the Peanuts standard “Christmas Time Is Here” and a song that name checks are young son, “Walker’s 3rd Hanukkah.”
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