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November '17 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 
Poldark—Complete 3rdSeason
(PBS Masterpiece)
The hit series’ third season finds eponymous hero Ross grasping defeat from the jaws of victory again and again, refusing to do anything that would help him—and others—and stop his hated adversary George in his tracks.
The men’s adversarial relationship—which also brings in their wives Demelza and Elizabeth—is the engine that drives the series; there’s also whip-smart acting by Aidan Turner (Ross), Eleanor Tomlinson (Demelza), Heida Reed (Elizabeth) and Jack Farthing (George). The hi-def transfer is gorgeous; extras are short featurettes and interviews.
Gun Shy
This surprisingly sprightly comedy relates the troubles of a retired but pompous rock star (the amusing Antonio Banderas) whose gorgeous supermodel wife (the typecast Olga Kurylenko) is kidnaped while they are vacationing in Chile.
Although director Simon Grey pushes things too far with jokey killings and needless crassness, there’s enough genuine humor in the writing and performances to make this an agreeably nutty 90 minutes. There’s a fine hi-def transfer; extras are a making-of featurette and music montage.
Hans Zimmer—Live in Prague 
(Eagle Vision)
Hans Zimmer is the pre-eminent film-score composer among buffs and nerds thanks to his association with overrated director Christopher Nolan on Interstellar, The Dark Night and Inception.
This concert before an adoring audience in Prague presents Zimmer and his flashy, talented ensemble—including scantily clad string players and even Johnny Mars on guitar—in an entertaining overview of the man’s career, which even includes subtle work on underrated gems as The Thin Red Line. Hi-def video and audio are excellent.
Land of the Dead
Dawn of the Dead
(Scream Factory)
Zombie legend George A. Romero recently died at 77, so these collector’s editions are in their way posthumous tributes. Romero’s own Land of the Dead (2005), while not up to earlier series entries, contains the usual dry humor amid gory entrails. 
Dawn of the Dead is Zach Snyder’s unfortunate 2004 remake, not Romero’s original, even though there are eerie scenes and a clever if downbeat end-credit sequence. Both releases—which have first-rate hi-def transfers—include the R-rated theatrical and unrated director’s cuts, commentaries, featurettes, interviews and deleted scenes.
DVDs of the Week
Gray Matters
(First Run)
Irish architect and designer Eileen Gray lived to be 98 (she died in 1976) and was a towering figure of modernism all but erased from art history thanks to men like Le Corbusier who took a lot of credit for her original designs.
Marco Orisni’s documentary returns Gray to her proper place in the echelon of the greats of 20th century architecture and design, and the many talking heads buttress that argument, returning Gray to her rightful place in the firmament.
The Journey
In this engrossing reenactment of a seminal event in the history of the Northern Ireland troubles, two splendid actors—Colm Meaney and an unrecognizable Timothy Spall—play, respectively, ex-IRA leader Martin McGuinness and conservative British pol Ian Paisley, who shared a car for a 2006 meeting about the age-old conflict in the Scottish countryside.
Meaney and Spall, onscreen together for nearly the entire movie, are delightfully ornery as they creep to the edge of caricature but never overstep; their outsized portrayals make Nick Hamm’s earnest but light-footed speculative drama work handily.

Off-Broadway Review—Richard Nelson's "Illyria"


Written and directed by Richard Nelson

Performances through December 10, 2017


The cast of Illyria (photo: Joan Marcus)

Playwright Richard Nelson—who was written elegantly about the most inelegant era in our country’s recent history with his cycles The Apple Family Plays and The Gabriels—has now turned to a previous era in Illyria, a dramatization of the bumpy beginnings of Joseph Papp’s free Shakespeare Festival.


In his signature quiet and conversational way, Nelson provides three glimpses of Papp and colleagues dealing with the fallout, in 1958, when they began undergoing internal strife and butted heads with Robert Moses and the New York City Parks Department over keeping summer Shakespeare free for all theatergoers. 


There are three scenes: Papp’s director Stuart Vaughan auditioning a young actress and Papp’s own wife Peggy, the latter returning to acting after their child’s birth, in the Festival’s office; defector Vaughan arriving at a tension-filled dinner at the apartment of actress Colleen Dewhurst and actor George C. Scott; and a post-park performance discussion among Papp and colleagues.


As usual, there’s much to admire in Nelson’s artful writing in which a group of like-minded people is sensitively presented. But despite the backstage intrigue, there’s a decided lack of urgency and drama in Nelson's relaxed tone: it’s telling that the most compelling characters are George C. Scott and Robert Moses, neither of whom appears in the play.


Nelson directs assuredly, but his generally fine cast is upended by John Magaro’s pallid and unfocused Papp. Also disappointing is that Rosie Benson, a resourceful and winning actress, has little to do as Colleen Dewhurst: she deserves a meatier part, and if Nelson returns to these characters in a future play, one can only hope that she will get one.



The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, New York, NY

Off-Broadway Review—"The Last Match"

The Last Match

Written by Anna Ziegler; directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch

Performances through December 24, 2017

Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street, New York, NY


A scene from The Last Match (photo: Joan Marcus)

A tennis match as a grand metaphor for life isn’t the most original idea, but playwright Anna Ziegler puts some topspin on it in The Last Match, which takes place during a U.S. Open semi-final between Tim Porter, the world’s greatest player who’s contemplating retirement but making one last run, and Sergei Sergeyev, a young hotheaded Russian talked about as a future champion.


As they play a hard-fought, five-set thriller, the men get on each other’s nerves, admit to their own nerves, and flashback to their off-court lives, which mainly consist of Palmer’s all-American wife Mallory, a tennis pro who gave up her career to marry and give him children (the latter of which was harder than they expected), and Sergei’s feisty fiancée Galina, whose brimming self-confidence helps balance Sergei’s rattling man-child antics.


As a tennis fan, I found it interesting that Ziegler’s players are at least partly based on real pros: Tim seems modeled after Roger Federer, the effortless, beloved G.O.A.T., while Sergei seems a cousin of a younger and more distracted Novak Djokovic. The men’s better halves are stock characters, but Ziegler’s zippy way with dialogue allows all four to play an entertaining doubles match at the same time that the men’s singles battle is going on.


With Tim Mackabee’s clever set showing off the U.S. Open court and the couples’ off-court battlefields, Gaye Taylor Upchurch directs with persuasive finesse, easily juggling the men’s shotmaking with their verbal shots and flashbacks. Of course, her exemplary cast is The Last Match’s ace in the hole. Wilson Bethel’s Tim and Alex Mickiewicz’s Sergei trade witty barbs while they impressively duke it out on the court, while Zoe Winters’ Mallory and Natalia Payne’s Galina are perfect foils who also provide a needed perspective to the players’ battle royale.


The Last Match has its faults: Ziegler, who otherwise has the court lingo down, lets her players serve at wrong times during the match, a huge unforced error on her part. But there’s humor and drama in abundance, which makes her play a down-the-line winner.


The Last Match

Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street, New York, NY

October '17 Digital Week V

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Voice of the Moon
(Arrow Academy)
For his last film, made in 1990 but never released here until now, Italian master Federico Fellini made this flawed but funny and even touching fantasia about a lovestruck young man (Roberto Benigni, before he became insufferably smug) who, while aimlessly wandering, runs into the usual Fellini phantasmagoria of bizarre, weird characters.
Parts of the film come off as pale echoes of earlier and better Fellini, but a bittersweet atmosphere pervades, making this a melancholy and satisfying capstone to a magnificent career. Arrow’s terrific release includes an excellent new hi-def transfer and an hour-long on-set featurette of Fellini directing his final film.
Annabelle: Creation
(Warner Bros)
I never thought that 105 minutes of slamming doors and young women screaming at the top of their lungs would constitute an actual horror movie, but it’s what this risible origin story of the original doll flick Annabelle unfortunately provides.
There’s little rhyme, reason or rhythm to the monotonous filmmaking, not to mention the three or four non-endings. There’s a sleek-looking hi-def transfer; extras are deleted scenes, director commentary, on-set featurette and two short films.
The Durrells in Corfu—Complete 2nd Season 
(PBS Masterpiece)
Wherein the Durrell family—widowed mom Louisa and her four growing (and grown) children—continue living on the remote Greek island where romance is definitely in the air: Mom juggles a couple of suitors, her oldest son has an affair with their sexy landlord, and her daughter decides only foreigners are eligible for her affection.
It’s all handsomely photographed, and if the plotting tends toward cutesy soap-opera antics at times, the cast—led the superlative Keeley Hawes as Mom—keep the series’ six episodes light and frothily entertaining. The Blu-ray looks good; extras are short featurettes.
The Lift
(Blue Underground)
Dutch director Dick Maas made his seminal horror film The Lift in 1983; its malevolent elevator—which kills indiscriminately—is a foolish conceit (why don’t the authorities just completely shut it down?), but it’s a fun ride nevertheless, with satisfyingly nasty endings for several victims.
His own 2001 New York-set remake Down follows the original fairly closely, with a few added gory scenes that go above and beyond—and it’s notable for the presence of a young Naomi Watts. The Lift is preferable, however. Both films have fine transfers; extras include Maas’s commentaries, his own clever 2003 short, Long Distance, a making-of featurette and (on Down) a couple of hours of on-set footage.

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