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February '21 Digital Week II

VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week 
(Quiver Distribution)  
Viggo Mortensen makes his writing-directing debut with this heartfelt but mostly mundane drama about a gay man who tries coming to terms with his sexist, homophobic, bullying father, who in his old age is succumbing to dementia.
Mortensen writes terrific dialogue for the antagonistic scenes between father (played with piss and vinegar by Lance Hendricksen) and son (played by Mortensen himself) but as a director he too often settles for tried-and-true melodrama, undercutting the emotional strength of his own intimate study.
A Glitch in the Matrix 
Rodney Ascher’s documentary Room 237 was a playfully rigorous look at the most outlandish explanations of Stanley Kubrick’s classic The Shining, and his latest tries to do the same with something even more outré: that real life is not real but instead part of a computer simulation.
The movie takes as gospel the rantings of author Philip K. Dick and allows several anonymous talking heads—hidden by their video avatars—to spin entertaining bunk about reality vs. virtual reality. It’s interesting for about an hour, then unfortunately spins its wheels for the last 45 minutes; but if glimpses of the original Matrix movie are enough, then this might be the doc for you.
(Dark Sky Films)
Julia Ormond voraciously chews the scenery as the ultimate bad mom in a weird gothic horror flick whose antagonist makes Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest seem like an amateur.
Opposite Ormond is Emma Draper, who gives it her all as the pregnant daughter who returns to see her mother and relives her worst childhood moments in a series of increasingly redundant flashbacks. It’s unfortunate that writer/director Jake Mahaffy scuttles the promise of his two leading ladies, instead wallowing in hackneyed horror tropes without much visual or narrative distinction.
Two of Us 
This tender look at the unbreakable bond between two older women whose loving relationship has been kept secret for years—neighbors in an apartment building, they pass as good friends—is a quietly devastating glimpse at how love can triumph over misunderstanding and even severe physical and mental struggles.
Bolstered by the lovely and subtle performances of Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier in the leads, director Filippo Meneghetti has taken a familiar story and given it a freshness that makes it memorable without being maudlin.
An entertaining if overlong erotic thriller about a young woman whose monthly masquerades can’t mask, so to speak, the difficulties in her personal life, X teases viewers with playful intimations of debauchery and voyeurism.
Director Scott J. Ramsey parades his influences—the masked orgies are out of Eyes Wide Shut, the bathroom sex video is out of A Clockwork Orange, to cite two examples—but that’s part of the fun, along with a cast of unknown faces led by the confident Hope Raymond as the protagonist.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
The Fiery Angel 
Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s powerful opera, based on a novel by Russian author Valery Bryusov, provides a formidable role for its leading actress: Renata, an ordinary young woman beset by visions that cause her to be accused of cavorting with the devil.
In Emma Dante’s strangely potent 2019 production from Rome, Ewa Vesin leads an excellent cast as the disturbed Renata. But with Alejo Perez persuasively conducting the orchestra and chorus, Prokofiev’s intensely dramatic score is the real star of the show. There’s first-rate hi-def video and audio.
Good News 
The Pajama Game 
(Warner Archive) 
Two hit Broadway musicals received colorful adaptations a decade apart, beginning with 1947’s Good News, an enjoyable if innocuous college romance with Peter Lawford and an irresistible June Allyson as the jock and the brain who fall for each other even though football is more important than the library on-campus.
And 1957’s The Pajama Game is so exuberant that at times you want it to stop and take a deep breath—but why quibble when there’s Doris Day at her all-American best, Bob Fosse’s dazzling choreography given vivid oomph by dancer Carol Haney in the numbers “Steam Heat” and “Once-a-Year Day,” and songs like “Hey There” and “I’m Not at All in Love” to hum. Both films have sparkling brand-new hi-def transfers; extras are deleted songs and (on Good News) featurettes.
Madame Claude 
(Cult Epics)
In Just Jaeckin’s 1978 softcore drama, French actress Francoise Fabian plays the infamous Parisian madam—who died in 2015 at age 92—with her usual elegance, grace and intelligence, making this at times slipshod biopic more watchable than it otherwise would have been.
Fabian might be the only actress in the film not to shed her clothes, and for those who like to see ‘70s models in the altogether, there’s Dayle Haddon as the latest of Claude’s “discoveries.” There’s a decent-looking if unspectacular new hi-def transfer; extras are a commentary along with a new interview with Jaeckin, who is also responsible for such glittery ‘70s erotica as Emmanuelle and The Story of O.
Wander Darkly 
Writer-director Tara Miele based her script off a serious car crash she and her husband were involved in—but the resulting enigmatic exploration of the intricate mysteries of love, life and death is more often enervating than enlightening. It also doesn’t help that Miele mimics Terrence Malick in her visual style, which keeps us at a further remove from this couple hovering between life and death—or are they?
In the leads, Diego Luna is good, Sienna Miller is (as usual) spectacular, but we never feel for their predicament or relationship—even if Miele heavyhandedly plants a newborn in their lives right before the crash that starts everything in motion. The stunning images look remarkably strong in hi-def; extras are a Miele commentary and making-of featurette.
CD Release of the Week
Plaisirs illuminés 
(Alpha Classics)
Taking its title from a surrealist Salvador Dalí painting, Spaniard Francisco Coll’s 2018 double concerto for violin, cello and chamber orchestra, Les plaisirs illuminés, is the ebullient final work on a recording that centers around the great Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, represented by a brief Duo Pizzicato for two violins.
Three of Bartok’s students are also featured: György Ligeti and György Kurtág also have short pieces performed, but Sándor Veress—whose accomplished music is too infrequently programmed and recorded—has a major work, the scintillating Musica concertante for 12 strings, played. Rounding out this marvelous disc is the Concerto for Strings by Argentine master Alberto Ginastera. Chamber ensemble Camerata Bern plays brilliantly on the Coll, Veress and Ginastera works, and esteemed soloists Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin) and Sol Gabetta (cello) make invaluable contributions throughout.

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