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April '21 Digital Week I

VOD/Virtual Cinema/Streaming/Theater Releases of the Week 
Nina Wu 
(Film Movement)
Actress Wu Kei-Xi cowrote the script of this explosive drama about an actress dealing with exploitative and sexist behavior on the set of her latest film, something that’s definitely not the exception, which director Midi Z unflinchingly shows in a final, disturbing sequence.
Wu is sensational as the young actress navigating sudden notoriety and ongoing abuse, despite the middle of the film sags with a melodramatic subplot about Nina’s close relationship with another actress who enjoys working locally—she’s in a family-friendly staging of The Little Prince—instead of following in Nina’s footsteps toward a popular career. 
Six Minutes to Midnight 
(IFC Films) 
Based on a true story, this pre-WWII drama stars Eddie Izzard as a teacher just arrived at a girls’ school outside London for the daughters of Nazi officials run by a stern headmistress (Judi Dench) who uncovers a plot that puts him and others in mortal danger.
Well-acted by Izzard, Dench, Carla Juri as the girls’ leader and Jim Broadbent as a bus driver who helps Izzard, Andy Goddard’s film is unfortunately so filled with strained and melodramatic silliness that it sometimes approaches self-parody, which is a shame since the material itself is worthy of serious and even exciting exploration.
Blu-Ray Releases of the Week 
The Bermuda Depths 
(Warner Archive)
This 1978 made-for-TV fantasy flick hasn’t aged badly simply because it wasn’t very good anyway: a young man is beguiled by a beautiful woman apparently living in the sea at the same time he assists an old friend tracking an enormous sea creature. It’s as crazy as it sounds, but there are engaging performances by Connie Selleca in an impossible mermaid role, Carl Weathers as a marine biologist and Burl Ives, of all people, as the island’s grand old scientist.
versions of Tom Kotani’s film—which looks terrific in new hi-def restored transfers—are included: the 75-minute U.S. TV version, in the near-square 1.33:1 aspect ratio; and the 97-minute widescreen international theatrical version. The lone extra is an audio commentary.
Breaking News in Yuba County 
(Warner Bros)
With all the talent in front of the camera, you’d think that director Tate Taylor would have been able to get more laughs and emotion out of this satirical black comedy about a mousy middle-aged wife who finds freedom and celebrity after her two-timing husband “disappears.”
But Taylor is unable to corral the likes of Mila Kunis, Wanda Sykes, Awkwafina, Juliette Lewis, Regina King, Ellen Barkin, Matthew Modine and, in the lead, the unbeatable Allison Janney into something more coherent than scattershot moments of hilarity and heartbreak. The film looks great on Blu.
(Warner Archive)
The year 1947 was a breakthrough for American movies: two features dealing with anti-Semitism were both nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. The winner, Gentlemen’s Agreement, which has dated badly, is now little more than a decent melodrama; but Crossfire remains compelling in its study of the investigation into the beating death of a man simply because he was Jewish.
Tautly directed by Edward Dmytryk, Crossfire’s top-notch cast is led by Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Gloria Grahame and Robert Ryan (the latter two nominated for their supporting performances; the film was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Director). The B&W film looks superb on Blu; extras are an audio commentary and vintage making-of featurette.
Isle of the Dead 
(Warner Archive)
Boris Karloff gives this slow-moving but effective 1945 horror flick extra creepiness in his portrayal of a general who desperately tries to contain a plague on a small island—but fails. Although it’s Filmmaking 101 from director Mark Robson, it eventually becomes truly frightening.
There’s a fun side note for classical music fans: the score by Leigh Harline drops hints of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s classic composition Isle of the Dead at certain juicy moments. The B&W flick looks fine on Blu; lone extra is an audio commentary.
Secrets & Lies 
Mike Leigh’s 1996 comedy-drama was a commercial and critical breakthrough—it received several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director—but remains a profound disappointment: a serviceable if unoriginal story about a black woman who tracks down the white mother who gave her up for adoption as a baby is dragging out as if it were the greatest story ever told.
At nearly 2-1/2 hours, there’s far too much dead screen time; Leigh stacks the deck dramatically, then does an about-face and ties everything up so neatly it all comes off as phony rather than credible. Leigh’s customary excellence with actors is in evidence, but Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean Baptiste spend too much time improvising, to the film’s detriment. Criterion’s hi-def transfer is excellent; extras are new interviews with Leigh, Jean-Baptiste and composer Gary Yershon and a 1996 Leigh audio interview.
CD Releases of the Week
Richard Danielpour—An American Mosaic 
(Supertrain Records)
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, American composer Richard Danielpour decided to pour his complicated feelings into a new work. The result, An American Mosaic, was composed last summer, and its 15 movements for solo piano provide a richly expressive musical palette for the superb pianist Simone Dinnerstein.
She sensitively navigates Danielpour’s emotional landscape, which encompasses the many heroes and heroines of the past year, detailed in movements that have straightforward titles like “Caretakers & Research Physicians” and “Doctors & Interns.” Four soothing “Consolations” appear at the beginning, two midsections and the end, demonstrating Danielpour’s debt to Bach, three of whose short keyboard works have been transcribed by Danielpour and beautifully performed by Dinnerstein as a kind of benediction. 
Charles Ives—Complete Symphonies 
(Deutsche Grammophon)
Charles Ives (1874-1954) was the ultimate American maverick: he became a millionaire selling insurance, so his composing career was something he could do on his own terms. This recording of his four symphonies—with committed, visceral performances by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel—starts with the derivative if pleasant Symphony No. 1, composed when he was in his early 20s.
The second symphony brings in American popular and religious tunes, one of Ives’ obsessions, in its final movement, when Stephen Foster’s “Camptown Races” threatens to take over, while the third symphony is a major leap forward, as bits of several hymns are woven into an increasingly complex fabric. Then there’s Symphony No. 4, so difficult in form that it wasn’t even premiered until 1965, a decade after Ives’ death: it begins as a choral symphony (the Los Angeles Master Chorale does the honors here) and moves through the sounds of marching bands, batteries of percussion and, in the finale, what sounds like a celestial ensemble intoning some of Ives’ most monumental music.

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