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February '23 Digital Week IV

In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week 
(Bleecker Street)
In her writing and directing debut, the superb Australian actress Frances O’Connor tackles a not undemanding subject—a biopic of English writer Emily Brontë, who wrote her classic novel Wuthering Heights in 1847 before dying the following year at age 30—with passion and intelligence, if not always a discerning artist’s eye.
She invents a relationship out of whole cloth that gives Emily the writerly passion needed for her poetic demise, but it turns the film into a high-gloss melodrama. Still, O’Connor does some impressive work here, and Emily is anchored by a gripping and multi-faceted portrayal by Emma Mackay, who serves the material brilliantly.
Amy’s F It List 
(Indie Rights)
In this hamfisted comedy, director/cowriter Mark S. Allen’s single heroine with a fatal brain tumor decides to live out her final days getting revenge on people who have wronged her—along with having one-night stands, because, of course she does.
It’s a promising if unoriginal premise that Allen does little with: there’s nary a laugh or anything pointed in what unfolds, as Amy dumps food on a male junk-food drive-thru employee or damages the huge pickup of a male driver who cuts her off. As Amy, Alyson Gorske is a charming and capable comic performer who deserves better. 
Devil’s Peak 
(Screen Media)
Billy Bob Thornton hams it up as a crime boss in rural Appalachia, where opoids probably take away more victims than do his own minions—or himself, when he’s in the mood. Unfortunately, that’s about the extent of originality in Ben Young’s minor crime drama/romance.
Then there’s Hopper Penn (son of Sean Penn and Robin Wright, who shines in a thankless role as Thornton’s ex and Penn’s mom), who morosely walks through the film as his character falls for a forbidden gal played by the winning Katelyn Nacon. 
(Open Road Films)
Despite its undeniable visual sheen, Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Benjamin Black’s novel The Black-Eyed Blonde—following Raymond Chandler’s creation, private detective Philip Marlowe at the center of a missing-person investigation in 1930s Los Angeles—is pretty lackluster, beginning with the surprisingly flat turn by Liam Neeson as Marlowe.
There’s nicely turned support by Diane Kruger as the femme fatale as well as Jessica Lange as her mother, but Jordan and Neeson’s entry into the Marlowe canon is glossy but awfully lightweight.
The Other Fellow 
(Mission Brief)
How do people who share the same name as a famous person, real or imagined, handle it? In the case of James Bond, Ian Fleming’s immortal agent 007, director Matthew Bauer interviews several namesakes who share stories of humor, regret and even the dangers they’ve faced when others (notably, policemen) find out.
Bauer soon, however, narrows his focus to an American birdwatcher who gave Fleming his hero’s name as well as Gunnar Schäfer, who changed his name to James Bond to make his life more exciting—which it may well be, especially after he gets to star in a documentary about James Bond!
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Rolling Stones—Grrr Live! 
Part of the Stones’ 2012-13 50th anniversary tour, this December 2012 show in Newark, New Jersey—of all places—finds the band putting on a terrific 2-hour, 20-minute performance highlighting their most fertile period, from the opening “Get Off of My Cloud” to the closing “Satisfaction”; there’s even a runthrough of “Midnight Rambler” with old friend Mick Taylor.
Best of all are a choir-enhanced “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and a turbo-charged “Gimme Shelter,” which is relegated to the “extras” section. The video and audio—which includes surround-sound and Dolby Atmos mixes—are spectacular; other extra songs are “Respectable” with guest John Mayer and “Around and Around.” The concert is also on two audio CDs.
Eine Winterreise 
This messy hybrid of music-theater and recital from creator-director Christof Loy presents a rather unimaginative dramatization of the tragically short life of composer Franz Schubert, set to his own extraordinary songs and chamber music.
Ageless Anne Sofie von Otter sings Schubert’s lieder elegantly while marvelous pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout accompanies her and plays excerpts from Schubert’s graceful piano pieces—but Loy’s vision doesn’t cohere in any exciting or memorable way. There’s excellent hi-def video and audio; too bad there are no contextualizing extras.
Venus & Adonis/Dido & Aeneas
(Opus Arte)
Two of the earliest operas by English composers—John Blow’s Venus & Adonis (1683) and Henry Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas (1689)—are paired in this austere and poignant staging by William Relton in the intimate confines of Sweden’s Confidenten Theatre.
The same singers portray all four leads: Bernt Ola Volungholen is in fine form as Adonis and Aeneas, but it’s Swedish soprano Ida Ränzlöv’s showcase as Venus and Dido, singing beautifully throughout, especially in her heartrending rendition of Purcell’s greatest aria, “When I Am Laid in Earth.” There’s first-rate hi-def video and audio.
DVD Releases of the Week 
Adieu Paris 
(Distrib Films US) 
Cowriter-director Édouard Baer’s uneven comedy brings together several veterans of French cinema—including Pierre Arditti, Gérard Depardieu, Bernard Le Coq, Daniel Prévost and Belgian Benoît Poelvoorde—for a frantic and funny if overbearing display of nastiness as a group of aging “Kings of Paris” get together at their usual haunt for their annual “roast” that is crashed by a foreign (Belgian) interloper.
It’s silly and repetitive but the accomplished ensemble propels the crude jokes and insults through sheer force of habit.
A Family for 1640 Days 
(Distrib Films US)
As Anna, a mother who wants the best for her adopted young son Simon when his real father returns to get him back, Mélanie Thierry gives a fierce and intensely moving performance in Fabien Gorgeart’s raw drama that hearteningly provides a balanced account of both sides in the battle for custody of Simon—the family he’s known his whole young life or the absent biological father who has the law on his side.
Although Thierry is the film’s unforgettable heart, Lyes Salem as her husband Driss, Félix Moati as Simon’s father Eddy and Gabriel Pavie as Simon give stellar support in an emotional but cathartic journey worth taking. 
CD Releases of the Week 
Lili/Nadia Boulanger—Les heures claires 
(Harmonia Mundi)
French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger—an important teacher to countless prominent European and American composers—was also a composer, although her more talented sister, Lili Boulanger, was an accomplished composer whose death at age 24 in 1918 is one of the great tragedies in music history. (Nadia died at age 92 in 1979.)
This marvelous three-disc set collects all of the mélodies (songs) composed by both women: since Lili’s career was so suddenly cut short, her songs make up only one disc, with Nadia’s encompassing the other two. Lili’s songs are more memorably intimate, but mezzo Lucile Richardot and pianist Anne de Fornel give them all impassioned readings. Also included are some of the sisters’ solo piano and chamber music to complement the vocal works, which Fornel and other musicians also dispatch pleasingly.
Sandrine Piau—Voyage Intime 
(Alpha Classics)
Two Lili Boulanger songs also make a brief appearance on French soprano Sandrine Piau’s latest recital disc, in which she and her exceptional French piano partner David Kadouch explore the title’s “intimate journeys” through a carefully curated group of songs that start and end with Franz Liszt.
In between, Piau and Kadouch visit vocal works by Hugo Wolf, Clara Schumann, Franz Schubert, Henri Duparc, and Claude Debussy, all of which are performed sensitively and intelligently. As a nice bonus, piano pieces by Clara and Lili are also programmed. 

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