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Blu-rays of the Week
A Film Trilogy by Ingmar Bergman
The films composing Ingmar Bergman’s so-called “faith” trilogy—1961’s Through a Glass Darkly and 1963’s Winter Light and The Silence, all masterly explorations of placing God and religion in a mainly secular modern world—are as relevant and riveting as ever. Extraordinary performances—Harriett Andersson in Darkly, Gunnar Björnstrand in Light, and Ingrid Thulin and Gunnel Lindblom in Silence—are of a piece with Bergman’s probingly truthful artistry.
Criterion’s hi-def transfers magnificently bring out the shades of grey in Sven Nykvist’s luminous black and white camerawork; extras include Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie, a full-length documentary on the set of Winter Light; interviews with Andersson, Björnstrand and Nykvist; and Bergman’s own introductions to the films.
The committed and generous performance by Barbara Hershey is the best thing about Sidney J Furie’s partly spooky, mainly risible 1982 psychological horror entry about a woman physically assaulted and nearly killed by a mysteriously malevolent spirit.
Supposedly based on a true story, the movie does attempt to give science and medicine their due but soon becomes a relentless accumulation of haunted-house tropes that end up overwhelming Hershey’s otherwise believable and winning presence. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer, new interviews with Hershey, actor David Labiosa, composer Charles Bernstein and editor Frank J. Urioste, and a vintage making-of.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate
Rarely are movies so egregiously pointless as writer-director Daniel Farrands’s proudly arrogant retelling of the Charles Manson murders from the point of view of—get this—the actual victims, particularly actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant with husband Roman Polanski’s baby when she was brutally murdered along with several others by Manson family members in August 1969.
Farrands uses the sordid episode to reenact the killings themselves—twice! First we see the mutilated corpses then, for good measure, the actual killings: as dreamt by Tate herself in a head-scratchingly exploitive moment. The hi-def transfer is excellent, at least; extras are Ferrands’ commentary and a making-of featurette.
In this highly unwanted follow-up to a series of forgettable horror entries from 15-25 years ago, writer-director Steven Kostanski has decided that clever but ludicrous new ways to kill innocent idiots, like having someone cut literally in half horizontally or running over a mailman’s head while it’s stuck in a mailbox, are the sole reason needed to make a movie.
Indifferently acted and shot, this plays like a bad, drug-induced, hazy dream, but actually—and yawningly—sets up yet another Leprechaun entry, of course. It looks decent on Blu-ray; extras include on-set footage and a Kostanski interview.
Minute Bodies—The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith
The microscopic photography of early 20th century British naturalist F. Percy Smith showed off the glories of the unseen world, and his primitive but innovative films remain gorgeous and riveting. Director Stuart A. Staples obviously feels the same way: his hypnotic hour-long feature comprises Smith’s remarkable original footage accompanied by strangely appropriate music by Staples’ band Tindersticks.
The film looks tremendous on Blu; extras are four Smith shorts: The Birth of a Flower (1910), Nature’s Double Lifers—Ferns and Fronds (1932), He Would A-Wooing Go and Lupins (both 1936).
Along with his earlier Funny Ha Ha, this prime example of mumblecore is Andrew Bujalski’s dated (2005), extremely slight comedy about a group of bumbling young adults’ impossible-to-care-about problems.
Bujalski has since graduated to far better fare like last year’s Support the Girls, so this plays like an historical artifact more than a real movie, but as always, your mileage may vary. There’s a sparkling transfer of the shuddery black-and-white movie; extras include a new Bujalski interview; Peoples House, Bujalski’s 2007 short; “Vampira” video intro; and observations from parents of the cast and crew.
A Patch of Blue
Although far too sentimental in its study of a blind white woman—living with her abusive mother (who caused her blindness!) and drunken grandfather—and the perfect black man she falls for, Guy Green’s 1965 romance remains a touchstone for ‘60s movies in its depiction of a loving interracial relationship.
Elizabeth Hartman and Sidney Poitier’s exceptional portrayals triumph over Jerry Goldsmith’s sappy score and Green’s syrupy underlining to keep racists at bay—apparently the kissing scenes were excised in theaters in the South—but only Shelley Winters’ blustery overacting was what earned an Oscar. The B&W film looks great on Blu; extras include a vintage featurette, A Cinderella Named Elizabeth, especially poignant since Hartman killed herself in 1987 at age 44.
Young People's Concerts with the New York Philharmonic, Vol. 1
While leading the New York Philharmonic, conductor Leonard Bernstein—musical polymath and brilliant teacher, easily able to discuss music to audiences aged 7 to 70—hosted concerts for children in which the orchestra plays works familiar and unfamiliar and he describes what makes the music relevant and entertaining.
This four-disc set collects 14 episodes from the series that CBS aired (in prime time!) from 1958 and 1972, as music by Mahler and Stravinsky is heard alongside jazz and folk, with Bernstein’s illuminating commentary leading the way. The ancient televised episodes look fine though unspectacular on Blu; extras are three Young Performers excerpts.
DVD of the Week
The devil Steve Bannon is chronicled in Alison Klayman’s straightforward documentary that shows how his brand of right-wing populism is not organic, genuine or reality-based; instead, it’s the latest charlatan’s guise donned to keep himself relevant and rich.
He’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams but the world is unfortunately being remade in the image of those who follow him, from tRump and Breitbart to clueless sycophants who don’t realize (or care) that they’re voting against their own interests. This evenhanded portrait is simultaneously sobering, depressing and horribly addictive. Extras are additional interviews and scenes.
CD of the Week
George Benjamin—Lessons in Love and Violence
George Benjamin’s follow-up to his breakthrough opera, Written on Skin—whose spiky music and intense dramatics were satisfyingly coupled with committed collaborators and interpreters—is a static drama based on Christopher Marlowe’s play Edward II.
Benjamin is merely marking musical time here, and the lack of visuals (the Blu-ray of a performance was released several months ago) doesn’t help with the lack of any dramatic urgency. At least there are reliable singers Barbara Hannigan and Stephane Dagout to help elevate the work vocally whenever it sags.
4K Release of the Week
Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin
The Batman films made between 1989 and 1997 return in new 4K editions that provide more visual clarity than ever. Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns, with Michael Keaton as the caped crusader, are the best of the lot, mainly because the villains are so strikingly original: Jack Nicholson’s Joker, Danny DeVito’s Penguin and especially Michelle Pfieffer’s Catwoman.
The mediocrities Joel Schumacher directed—Batman Forever (Val Kilmer) and Batman and Robin (George Clooney)—suffer from uninteresting heroes and cardboard bad guys. Still, fans will want all four (a boxed set will be available in September for those who can wait). Extras comprise previous bonus features: commentaries, interviews, deleted scenes, featurettes and music videos.
Blu-rays of the Week
London Kills—Series 1
These bingeable new series are worth checking out, starting with Blood, which follows a black-sheep daughter who returns home after her mother’s death and immediately suspects that her father may have been involved. In London Kills, a group of elite detectives investigate the capital’s most horrific crimes.
Both shows have fine writing, incisive acting (particularly by Carolina Main in Blood) and intriguing atmosphere. There are superior hi-def transfers; extras include on-set featurettes and interviews.
(Cohen Film Collection)
The second Merchant-Ivory adaptation of Henry James—following 1979’s The Europeans—is this 1984 melodrama set in 1876 Boston about a suffragette spinster (Vanessa Redgrave) and the vivacious young woman (Madeleine Potter) both she and her chauvinistic cousin (Christopher Reeve) are interested in.
Filmed with solid craftsmanship but lesser inspiration, this dutiful drama is enlivened by Redgrave’s Oscar-nominated portrayal; too bad Reeve and Potter don’t have the same combustibility in their scenes together. There’s a splendidly restored hi-def transfer; extras include new Ivory interviews.
Buster Keaton Collection, Volume I—The General/Steamboat Bill Jr.
The first Cohen Keaton collection features one of his greatest comedies, The General (1926), a hilarious Civil War-era farce about a Confederate Army reject who becomes a hero after the Union Army hijacks his beloved locomotive. This is a movie you can’t look away from because so much is going on you don’t want to miss anything. The stunts are astounding even by Keaton’s daring, exacting standards.
The other film, Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), ambles along for a while, then pays off late when Keaton is caught in a hurricane and flood, sequences so stunningly audacious (winds blow Keaton about and houses crumble around him, all expertly done by the star, of course—no stunt doubles or CGI) that you watch the final 20 minutes with your jaw on the floor. If you never thought 90-year-old films would look eye-popping in hi-def, think again. Extras are featurettes and Carl Davis’ orchestral scores.
Everyone Stares—The Police Inside Out
Early on, the Police’s drummer Stewart Copeland grabbed a camera and proceeded to film Sting, Andy Summers and himself as they toured the world on their way to becoming the biggest band on the planet in the mid ’80s. This intimate portrait of the trio goofing around, arguing, bonding and playing onstage has a home-movie quality that makes it a valuable document of a rock group at its zenith.
Shot using ancient (circa 70s-80s) equipment, the hi-def transfer is adequate; extras comprise Copeland and Summers’ commentary, snippets of live performances and additional footage.
Julianne Moore gives another tremendously affecting and subtle performance in Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s own remake of his 2013 feature Gloria, now following a middle-aged American grandmother who feels alive, if only briefly, by spending evenings dancing, drinking and meeting men.
If Lelio stacks the deck dramatically by letting the man she falls for (a creepily authentic John Turturro) be a scumbag and her own kids be indifferent to her, Moore is unafraid to show this woman physically and emotionally naked, even making a downer ending cathartic and even transcendent. The film has a solid hi-def transfer; extras include Lelio’s commentary and a making-of featurette.
In Vincent D’Onofrio’s diverting western about sheriff Pat Garrett and outlaw Billy the Kid, the kid of the title is not Billy but Rio, a young man who enlists the protection of Garrett to keep his sister’s abusive husband away.
Despite the familiarity of the subject, D’Onofrio’s smart pacing and the fine cast—led by Ethan Hawke as Garrett and Jake Schur as Rio—makes this vivid and memorable. There’s a super-looking hi-def transfer; lone extra is an on-set featurette.
Lost in Space—Complete 1st Season
This unnecessary reboot of the classic 1960s TV series has erased nearly everything that made the original fun—sympathetic family, delightful robot, wacky villains/sci-fi plotting—and replaced it with self-seriousness bordering on condescension.
Despite the always welcome appearance of Molly Parker as mom Maureen Robinson, there’s little to these 10 episodes other than the elaborate effects to recommend it to fans of the original. The hi-def transfer looks enticing; extras include deleted scenes, featurettes and No Place to Hide, a colorized unaired pilot episode from the original series.
Shaft’s Big Score
Shaft in Africa
In anticipation of this summer’s new Shaft movie, Warner Archive releases the two Shaft sequels, both starring Richard Roundtree as the eponymous private eye. Shaft’s Big Score (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973) are grittily, unapologetically violent, with Roundtree in solid form throughout.
Gordon Parks, who helmed the original, directed Big Score and contributed its famously funky music, while vet John Guillermin did the honors for Africa; both films are more entertaining than one might have expected. Both hi-def transfers are quite good.
Tyler Perry’s A Medea Family Funeral
Although Tyler Perry’s supply of comic vehicles seems inexhaustible, the actual comic worth is problematic, as his latest entry—in which a family reunion turns into a funeral—can attest.
Still, Perry adroitly juggles his usual stable of characters and there is one sequence—a white policeman pulls over a car filled with Medea and family—that makes a cogent point beyond Perry’s usual cheap laughs. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras are deleted scenes, outtakes and featurettes.
If you’ve ever wanted to see Olivia Wilde seriously pounding on men for their disgraceful behavior against women, here’s your chance—of course, it turns out her protagonist is assisting other women because of her own horribly abusive relationship (and, natch, he returns to interrupt her avenging angel activity).
Writer-director Sarah Daggar-Nickson’s approach is blunt, nuance be damned—fine as far as it goes, which unfortunately isn’t very far. Wilde does surprisingly well with this cipher, her physicality a prominent, and compelling, feature of her performance. The hi-def transfer is excellent; lone extra is a making-of featurette.
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