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Blu-rays of the Week
Au hasard Balthazar
Among French director Robert Bresson’s most singular films, this 1966 allegory of faith and sacrifice follows a donkey through owners benevolent and malevolent, alongside a young woman’s journey through difficult relationships not unlike the innocent animal’s.
Shot in immaculate black and white by brilliant cameraman Ghislain Cloquet—whose photography looks stunning in Criterion’s new hi-def transfer—Balthazar ends with one of the quietest, most moving moments in the history of cinema. Extras are Un metteur en ordre: Robert Bresson, a 1966 French television program about the film, and a 2004 interview with Bresson expert Donald Richie.
Frank and Eva: Living Apart Together
Director Pim de la Parra’s 1973 drama, a messy, occasionally interesting look at a couple on the rocks—he’s sleeping with everyone while she wants to settle down—has a few fleeting moments of blood and eroticism, sometimes entwined with each other. But there’s the rest of the film—mainly indifferently acted and scripted—that drops it into the mediocre category.
Although Sylvia Kristel of Emmanuelle is prominent on the cover, she barely registers in a marginal role (and feature debut). There’s a decent hi-def transfer; extras are director’s commentary and featurette.
A forerunner of Bonnie and Clyde, this 1950 shoot-‘em-up is as blunt and crude as they come, but director Joseph H. Lewis gets some mileage out of its ludicrously straightforward “they both love guns, fall in love and go on a crime spree” plot line.
In the leads, John Ball is fine as Bart, but Peggy Cummins—who didn’t have much of a career—is a knockout in every way as Laurie, the proto-Bonnie. The B&W film looks good on Blu; extras are an audio commentary and the informative 2006 feature-length documentary Film-Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light.
In this elegant-looking, engagingly performed adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott classic, several veteran performers—Emily Watson as the girls’ mother Marmee, Angela Lansbury as Aunt March and Michael Gambon as neighbor Mr. Lawrence—acquit themselves admirably.
But besting them all is Maya Hawke as a wonderfully level-headed Jo, a role so over-familiar that it’s difficult to make something new out of it (although Sutton Foster was a delightful Jo in the 2005 Broadway musical). The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras comprise three on-set featurettes.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Stanley Donen’s 1954’s CinemaScope spectacular, an original musical based on a book by Stephen Vincent Benét, is splendid old-fashioned entertainment, with inventive choreography by Michael Kidd and memorable songs by Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul. It’s an enjoyable lark, spun together beautifully by Donen.
The colors on the Blu-ray are eye-popping but there’s some softness in the image; extras are Donen’s commentary, cast and crew documentary, vintage featurettes and, on a second disc, the film presented in a different widescreen ratio.
Peace for Mary Frances
Written by Lily Thorne; directed by Lila Neugebauer
Performances through June 17, 2018
Heather Burns, Lois Smith, and J. Smith-Cameron in Peace for Mary Frances (photo: Monique Carboni)
Lily Thorne’s Peace for Mary Frances is obviously a labor of love. Unfortunately, it’s also a labored play that attempts to do too much with too many characters, ending up far less than the sum of its parts.
As 90-year-old matriarch Mary Frances continues physically deteriorating, her daughters Fanny and Alice, son Eddie and granddaughters (Alice’s daughters) Helen and Rosie must come to terms with her mortality while dealing with seemingly everyone’s still-festering animosity. Add to this a loaded family history: Mary Frances’s grandmother was able to get out of Turkey (while pregnant with Mary Frances’s father) while the Armenian genocide was happening a century ago. That’s a lot of baggage for one script.
Although Thorne is sympathetic to her characters, she writes too many melodramatic, even sitcomish confrontations for them: notably, the endlessly bickering Fanny and Alice often nearly coming to blows over the vastly different paths their lives have taken, which their mother’s dying has only exacerbated.
Then there’s their lazy brother Eddie, who comes off as an afterthought compared to his sisters, popping in and out at random, which seems more an authorial intrusion than a believable character arc; indeed, when Eddie happens to be the only one in the house with Mary Frances at play’s end, there’s something artificial about it. That neither Fanny nor Alice is present might be a realistically anticlimactic real-life event, but it still feels like a dramatic cop-out.
The family’s conflicts are contrived and often risible. Helen and Rosie’s appearances don’t add anything, and making Helen an actress in a successful TV show who’d recognized by a hospice employee is good for a stray laugh but not much else. Also, their constant traveling between Manhattan and Mary Frances’s suburban Connecticut home with Rosie’s infant always in tow (no babysitter or significant other available?) smacks of arbitrariness.
Amid such messiness, director Lila Neugebauer has difficulty getting the play to cohere dramatically, comically and emotionally: even Dane Laffrey’s two-tier set, with the living room and kitchen to the left and Mary Frances’s bedroom to the right, is an awkward fit on the cramped stage, which further drains the scenes of their immediacy and intimacy.
Paul Lazar can’t get a handle on the sketchily drawn Eddie; likewise Natalie Gold, who goes through the motions as Rosie. The always winning Heather Burns has heartfelt moments as Helen, Johanna Day fiercely channels Fanny’s simmering anger at herself and others, and the gifted J. Smith Cameron unsurprisingly makes Alice the emotional heart of the play.
As Mary Frances, Lois Smith is by turns cantankerous, irascible and amusing: but, as with Thorne’s play, she’s never as devastating as she should be. Sadly, the final moments of Peace for Mary Frances—which should be quite shattering—pass by with barely a whimper.
The New Group, Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, New York, NY
Beyond the Hills
(Cohen Film Collection)
Page 8 of 263
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