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November '20 Digital Week II

In Theaters/VOD and Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week 
Let Him Go 
(Focus Features)
In this pseudo-western written and directed by Thomas Bezucha (from a novel by Larry Watson), Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play grandparents whose sorrow over their son’s death becomes worse when their daughter-in-law remarries a loser and takes their grandson away—and then comes vengeance.
Despite nicely modulated performances by both stars (especially Lane, who steals the film, as usual), this drama is too blunt, too singleminded, too ridiculously over the top to be effective, and that’s epitomized by Leslie Manville’s embarrassing scenery-chewing as the loser’s demented mother who lords it over the grief-stricken grandparents. 
Chick Fight 
(Quiver Distribution)
Although Paul Leyden’s comedy about a female fight club is as crude and obvious as expected, it gives the always delightful Malin Akerman a chance to finally carry a movie: it’s great to report that Akerman’s comic chops, timing and physical adroitness are utilized to their fullest.
Supporting Akerman with equally committed physical performances are Dolce Sloan, Bella Thorne and, in an especially clever bit of casting, Alec Baldwin as the drunk who once trained Sugar Ray (the group, not the boxer)—which may be the best joke in Joseph Downey’s script—and preps Akerman for her big moment in the ring. 
Where She Lies 
(Gravitas Ventures)
Zach Marion’s documentary tells the amazingly sad story of Peggy Phillips, who was told by her mother on her deathbed that Peggy’s newborn that was supposedly stillborn actually was alive. Marion tracks Peggy’s case and the woman she thinks is her grown daughter—but will DNA testing validate the story she wants to hear?
This heartbreaking true tale is almost too agonizingly personal as we watch Peggy go through so many emotional peaks and valleys as she hopes to discover the truth about a huge part of her life taken from her nearly 60 years earlier.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
A Rainy Day in New York 
Woody Allen has been making a film a year for decades now, but when #MeToo went after him because of decades-ago claims of sexual abuse, Amazon dropped it and it went unreleased until a recent theatrical release. 
While it’s no classic, it’s an amusing and consistently engaging romantic comedy with winning performances by Timothee Chalamet, Elle Fanning and even Selena Gomez; and although Rebecca Hall is fine in her single scene, it was disappointingly hypocritical of her to say that she gave her fee from the film to charity because of the abuse claim, even though she clearly had no problem working with Woody in her breakthrough, 2008’s Vicki Cristina Barcelona, when she must have already known the same info. In any case, Vittorio Storaro’s listening cinematography—which catches the golden hues of an alternately sunlit and rain-drenched Manhattan—looks especially inviting on Blu-ray.
Bill and Ted Face the Music 
(Warner Bros)
At this late date, is anyone still laughing at Bill and Ted’s juvenile time-traveling antics? The newest entry—20 years too late—finds the aging duo meeting up with their future and past selves along with the likes of Mozart, Hendrix and Louis Armstrong to help them write a great song.
Why writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon and director Dean Parisot thought this was the plotline on which to build the latest episode of the franchise is unknowable, but Keanu Reeves and Alex Winters look properly embarrassed, and comic gold like Kristen Schaal and especially poor Erinn Hayes are unconscionably wasted. The film looks fine in hi-def; extras comprise a Comic Con Q&A panel and several featurettes.
Death Laid an Egg 
(Cult Epics)
Italian giallo master, director Giulio Questi, made this violent but interestingly offbeat 1968 serial-killer flick with a truly international cast: French leading man Jean-Louis Trintignant as the owner of a boneless-chicken farm (!) who may be murdering prostitutes (!!), Italian siren Gina Lollabrigida as his complicit wife and Swedish sexpot Ewa Aulin as his alluring mistress.
Questi finds the sweet spot between sheer yuckiness and blackly comic irony, particularly in the intentionally ludicrous finale, and his movie-star trio does its job impeccably. There are superior hi-def transfers of both Questi’s 105-minute cut and the 91-minute international cut (each in Italian with an alternate English dub); extras include a Questi interview, an audio commentary, and a 2002 Questi short, Doctor Schizo and Mister Phrenic.
Josie and the Pussycats—The Complete Series 
(Warner Archive)
To someone who watched these cartoons as I did as a kid in the early ’70s, Josie and the Pussycats seemed ubiquitous on morning TV. So it’s eye-opening to realize, via this complete series two-disc set, that there were only 16 episodes of this goofily amusing animated series about an all-female group and its entourage’s bizarre adventures with assorted bad guys.
Of course, it’s all nostalgia (DJ Casey Kasem, of American Top 40 fame, voiced one of the characters!), so your mileage may vary: but on Blu-ray, the show looks like the innocuous fun it’s always been. The lone extra is a featurette about the show’s creator, Dan DeCarlo.
The Mortal Storm 
(Warner Archive)
As war clouds hover over Germany in 1933, a bourgeois family is torn apart when the Nazi takeover forces the patriarch out of his esteemed professorship while his stepsons join up with the jackboots and his daughter is in love with an outsider than a Nazi functionary in Frank Borzage’s still potent exploration of fascism. Made in 1940 and filled with typical Hollywood bombast and melodrama, Borzage’s film still paints a scary and credible portrait of how politics can destroy an entire family from without—and within.
Frank Morgan is superb as the father, and Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart are equally good as the daughter and her beau, who face literal bullets when they attempt to leave. The black-and-white film looks fine on Blu; extremely relevant extras are a touching cartoon, Peace on Earth, and a paean to the U.S. Navy, Meet the Fleet.
CD Release of the Week 
Benjamin Britten—A Ceremony of Carols 
(Harmonia Mundi)
Benjamin Britten’s holiday vocal music is highlighted by the song cycles A Boy Was Born and A Ceremony of Carols, the latter of which is the centerpiece of this excellent recording of holiday music by the Choir of Clare College in Cambridge, England with the superb conductor Graham Ross on the podium.
Surrounding Britten’s lovely, evocative settings of several medieval poems for choir and harp (Tanya Houghton does the honors as harpist) are a selection of carols and sacred music by Britten and British composers John Ireland, Gustav Holst and Frank Bridge, including Britten’s own arrangement of “The Holly and the Ivory” and a song we’ll all be happy to hear as we bid goodbye to 2020, “A New Year Carol.”

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