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Blu-rays of the Week
A Bread Factory
Patrick Wang’s mammoth two-part, low-key comedy displays intelligence and wit in its depiction of a small town’s arts center whose 40-year reign is in trouble when the arrival of a Chinese avant-garde duo threatens to upend the community’s artistic status quo. The excellent ensemble plays it straight but also deadpan enough to lighten the load when some plotlines take a turn toward the absurd.
Led by Tyne Daly, the large cast features Brian Murray, Amy Carlson, Janeane Garofalo and Nana Visitor. Wang’s loyalty to them—and to his own vision—helps smooth over occasional rough patches, like scenes of theatrical rehearsal that are uncomfortably reminiscent of Jacques Rivette. The film has a strikingly grainy look in high-def; extras on a DVD include a conversation between Wang and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, a making-of featurette and a music video.
Days of Wine and Roses
Hard-hitting performances by Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick as an alcoholic husband and wife who falls into his spiral with devastating results are the main reasons to see Blake Edwards’ perceptive but at times dated 1962 adaptation of JP Miller’s 1958 television play.
Despite melodramatic bits, Lemmon and Remick are on-target throughout, especially in the unforgettable scene when the sober Lemmon visits the drunk Remick and slowly proceeds to fall off the wagon. Philip H. Lathrop’s expressive B&W photography looks especially impressive on Blu; extras comprise an Edwards commentary and vintage Lemmon interview.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
This 1973 TV movie, creepy and silly in equal terms, dramatizes a bizarre tale of spirits in a house trying to lure a housewife who’s just moved in with her otherwise occupied husband to their grasp, with terrifying results.
Director John Newland has made one egregious mistake: actually showing the monsters, who look like badly dressed gremlins and are quite risible. Otherwise, this is taut and effective—and, at 75 minutes, satisfyingly compact. The film looks good in hi-def; extras are two commentaries.
From Beyond the Grave
Five strange tales of terror make up director Kevin Connor’s 1973 omnibus film, with Peter Cushing as the owner of an antique store whose perceived slights give several customers—especially those who try to con or steal from him—awful payback, like a suicide prodded by a spectre or a horrible death at the hands of the proprietor himself thanks to a coffin studded with spikes.
It all goes down quite effectively thanks to an energetic cast, including David Warner, Lesley Anne-Down, Donald Pleasence and Ian Bannen. There’s a nice-looking hi-def transfer.
This sympathetic portrait introduces photographer Jay Maisel, who lived in a landmark building, The Bank, on the corner of Spring Street and the Bowery for the past half-century (he bought it for a song back in 1966).
Director Stephen Wilkes gives us an eye-opening glimpse at how Maisel had to move his voluminous collection of artifacts after he sold the building in what was the largest private real estate sale in the city’s history. There’s a fine hi-def transfer; extras include additional interviews with Maisel and his colleagues, along with outtakes.
Based on a graphic novel, this rambunctious tale of a trio of Mafia wives taking over from their husbands after the men are sent to prison has its intermittent pleasures, but first-time director Andrea Berloff has decided that a surfeit of violence—even dismemberment—is entertaining. Hint to Berloff (who also wrote the movie): it isn’t.
Such gratuitous scenes detract from a well-made if not groundbreaking mob movie, and as the wives, Elisabeth Moss, Melissa McCarthy and especially Tiffany Haddish—who underplays superbly—keep it afloat. Grimy Hell’s Kitchen locations look great on Blu; extras are a deleted scene and a two making-of featurettes.
Artist Jill Magid has directed a fascinating if obviously frustrating documentary about how the archives of the great Mexican architect Luis Barragán ended up in Switzerland, almost completely unavailable to scholars and the general public.
When she wants to mount her own exhibition about the architect, Magid tries to get through to Federica Zanco, who oversees the archive, by proposing ever more desperate schemes—building to a diabolical one at the end—but the bulk of the film is taken up by ethical quandaries: who owns another artist’s legacy? Does the public deserve to see it? There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras comprise a commentary and Magid interview.
CD of the Week
Magnard—Symphonies 3 and 4
French composer Albéric Magnard is known, if at all, for his death: in 1914, at age 49, he was killed by German soldiers defending his home. The army also set the place on fire, which ended up destroying several of his unpublished scores. Magnard's music, which should be far better known, is powerful and even majestic, as his great opera Guercoeur demonstrates.
But the summit of his oeuvre are his four symphonies, and this recording of the third and fourth displays his brilliant orchestration, his long, flowing musical lines and simultaneous nodding back to Wagner and anticipating Mahler. Fabrice Bollon conducts the Freiburg Philharmonic Orchestra in an illuminating account of these seminal works.
Written by Tracy Letts; directed by Dexter Bullard
Performances through November 10, 2019
"It Chapter Two"Director: Andy MuschiettiCast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgård
Since Summer’s season of horror has ended, Fall's anticipated shock surprises should have been around the corner all the way into Halloween. Yet, “It Chapter Two” won so many fans this September, that it outsold other horror movies and is still stirring fans of the Losers Club, the kids featured as the survivors in the first “It.” Now they aren't kids anymore, and “It Chapter Two” delivers memorable scares as a terrific companion to the previous film.
While “It Chapter Two” offered enough moments of fright and shock to serve up the scares, there was more to my experience of the film. Enhanced by the roller coaster ride of the Regal’s 42nd Street E-Walk Cinema’s 4DX screening room, seeing this movie provided a perfect opportunity to try out a new style of motion picture-viewing. Using a technology owned and developed by a South Korea’s the CJ Group, 4DX, as their literature describes it, “allows a motion picture presentation to be augmented with environmental effects such as seat motion, wind, rain, lights, and scents along with the standard video and audio.”
Well, it did just that, almost stimulating even more terror thanks to a feeling of nearly falling out of my seat every few minutes. Both “Its” are directed by Andy Muschietti, written by Gary Dauberman and are based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel. Split into two sections 27 years apart from each other, the second is set in 2016, when evil Pennywise the Dancing Clown (again brilliantly rendered by actor Bill Skarsgård) returns to terrorize Derry, Maine. Now adults, the childhood friends who made up the Losers' Club — which defeated him those many years ago are forced back together. Gone their separate ways, they are still trying to recover from their first encounter. But when people start disappearing, Mike Hanlon calls the others back home to make one final stand because he believes he’s found a way to fully defeat this seemingly supernatural monster who feeds on human fears. Though damaged by their past, the united Losers must conquer their fears to destroy the shape-shifting Pennywise -- more powerful than ever — once and for all.
Starring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, and Andy Bean as the adult versions of the Losers' Club, it’s fun to see how they all compared to their childhood counterparts — played by Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Wyatt Oleff reprise their roles as the younger Losers.
Once “It Chapter Two” runs through its plethora of terrifying scenes, audiences start to get a sense of where Pennywise came from and what it really is. Then the film shifts into being more of science fiction thriller. Though the movie offers an internal logic to Pennywise torturous antics, it offers more answers than necessary.
But much like its predecessor, “It Chapter Two” garnered praise for the acting (particularly Hader, Skarsgård and Chastain) and faithfulness to King’s tome. Though more predictable shocks — at least compared to its predecessor — may have diminished the sequel a bit, it nonetheless make for perfectly horrific fare — whether viewed in that special screening space or not.
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