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Film and the Arts

April '17 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 

Rogue One—A Star Wars Story

(Disney)
This latest episode shares the series’ tendency toward self-importance and overlength (135 minutes for such a thin tale of rebellion!), along with dollops of sophomoric humor in the form of a C3PO-like robot named K2SO. Like Episode 7’s heroine Rey, female rebel Gyn (nicely played by Felicity Jones), offspring of legendary Garen (the always welcome Mads Mikkelsen), has her own galactic adventures. Director Gareth Edwards doesn’t particularly distinguish himself, but doesn’t embarrass the franchise either, which is all that counts. The hi-def image is striking, unsurprisingly; the second disc of extras comprises several behind-the-scenes featurettes.
 
Ascent to Hell
(Gravitas Ventures)
This grisly ghost story takes place in a vacant NYC building that houses the disturbed specters of those killed in a fire a century earlier—shades of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire that claimed over 100 young women’s lives in 1911—which take it out on the business group looking to buy it.The movie grinds on predictably as it never finds a compelling or even non-ridiculous reason for the undead to take it out on their visitors.The movie does look good on Blu.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Being 17

(Strand)

This perceptive study of two antagonistic teens who discover there’s a real attraction between them was directed by the discerning but uneven André Téchiné and co-written by Céline Sciamma, whose originality in presenting young people sympathetically is seen in her own films Girlhood and Water Lilies. Kacey Mottet Klein and Corentin Filai are impressive and realistic as the boys, and Sandrine Kiberlain notable as Klein’s mom, dealing with her awkward but maturing son and his close friend. The film has a glorious hi-def transfer.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Brokenwood Mysteries—Complete 3rdSeason
(Acorn)
In the third season of this entertaining New Zealand-set detective series, sleuths Mike Shepard and Kristin Sims solve several crimes in their no-nonsense, deadpan manner, like the murder of a diabetic woman—running a scam “Lord of the Rings” tour with her husband—from a rare spider bite. The comedy is sometimes heavy-handed, but the knowing performances of Neill Rea (Mike) and Fern Sutherland (Kristin) help balance the levity and seriousness. The four 90-minute episodes look quite fine on Blu; extras are cast/writer interviews.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Ludwig

(Arrow Academy)

Luchino Visconti’s 1972 biopic about the mad king of Bavaria—who bankrolled composer Richard Wagner’s Bayreuth—has narrative problems, even in its four-hour original cut (for Italian television), but it’s an engrossing and intimate epic as offbeat as its subject and just as compulsively watchable, especially in Trevor Howard’s civilized Wagner. Arrow’s splendid hi-def presentation includes the entire film on two discs (and in its theatrical and TV versions) in sublime new transfers with an English-dubbed option, vintageLuchino Viscontidocumentary, archival portrait of actress Silvana Mangano, archival interview with screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico, and new interviews with lead actor Helmut Burger and producer Dieter Geissler.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
DVDs of the Week
The Curious World of Hieronymus Bosch
(Seventh Art)
The great artist and favorite son of his namesake Dutch town was commemorated last year at the Noordbrabants Museum with an exhibition for the 500thanniversary of his birth, and David Bickerstaff’s documentary presents an exemplary overview of his work, legacy and genius, with illuminating comments by several experts (like idiosyncratic film director Peter Greenaway). It’s most interesting when we get to study Bosch’s bizarrely modern-looking paintings in close-up, which leaves one wondering why this wasn’t released on Blu-ray also. Lone extra is a short featurette about the Hermitage’s own Bosch-like painting.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A French Village—Complete 6thSeason

(MHz)

It’s the fall of 1945, the war is finally over, but the difficult postwar wrangling between collaborators and former resistance fighters has begun: season 6 brilliantly dissects the ongoing personal and political wounds that continue to fester through inventive use of flashbacks for the various characters affected. As usual, first-rate writing and directing are complemented by superlative acting across the board, and these six episodes make one hope that the series’ final season arrives sooner rather than later.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Suspects—Complete 5thSeason

(Acorn)

This gritty British detective series opens its fifth season with a twist out of nowhere, as one of its main characters is killed off right at the beginning of the first episode, something that only the rare show can survive. But not only does it avoid the built-in trap of jumping the shark, the new characters are as intriguing and worth watching as the regulars: those newcomers are played by the eminently able Lenora Crichlow, Perry Fitzpatrick and James Murray.
 

Film review—Documentary “Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg”

Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg
Directed by Marshall Fine
 
Robert Klein and Fred Willard
 
Robert Klein was one of the first comedians I saw on HBO in the late ‘70s, when it was still called Home Box Office. And forty years on, he’s still one of the funniest men on the planet, as shown in Marshall Fine’s fond chronicle of Klein’s career and legacy, Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg.
 
The title refers to one of Klein’s signature bits, as well as pointing to his continued longevity in a field that eats its practitioners through attrition, drugs, irrelevance or simply old age. Klein seems to be one of the few comics who’s lived a comparatively normal existence—about the worst you could say is that his first marriage ended in divorce—and Fine, who structures the movie as a dozen chapters that take moment s from Klein’s life, doesn’t need to take any pains to show how normal he really is.
 
Klein grew up in the Bronx, and some of the film’s most amusing moments have him going back to the old neighborhood and tossing off his sardonic observations. His comedy has roots in his personal life—we meet his son, also a comedian, as well as his sister, with whom he reminisces about their parents—and the absurdity in the everyday, and many of his routines are classically comic riffs on such topics, but always with humanity peeking through the craziness.
 
But what’s most surprising (and heartening) about the movie—even amid seeing Klein’s hilarious stand-up and appearances on shows from Carson to Letterman and beyond—is discovering how many of the later generations of comics and performers name Klein as one of their biggest influences, if not the biggest: everyone from Billy Crystal, Bill Maher, Jerry Seinfeld and Jon Stewart to Jay Leno, Richard Lewis, Eric Bogosian and Ray Romano has a Klein tale to tell.
 
There’s even more touching reminiscences from the likes of actress Luci Arnaz—with whom Klein had a successful Broadway run in the musical comedy They’re Playing Our Song, for which he was nominated for a Best Actor Tony—and comic peers David Steinberg, Fred Willard and Don Rickles. But the focus rightly remains on Klein, whose five decades at the pinnacle of the comedy business are commendably summarized in Fine’s very fine portrait.
 
Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg
Premiered March 31, 2017 on Starz
starz.com
 

Austrian Overtures & More at Carnegie Hall

Franz Welser-Möst

On the evening of Friday, February 24th, the first of three extraordinary concerts were given at Carnegie Hall by the superb musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the masterful direction of Franz Welser-Möst, one of the greatest living conductors.

The program—aptly devoted to Viennese music, which dominated all three concerts—opened with the lovely, uncharacteristically Rossinian Overture to Die Zauberharfe, by Franz Schubert, heard here in a sterling account. This was followed by the American premiere of Time Recycling by contemporary composer, René Starr, which was notable for its accomplished orchestration.

The second half of the evening was devoted to the brilliant tone-poem, Ein Heldenleben by Richard Strauss, magnificently rendered by the musicians. Enthusiastic applause brought forth a delightful encore, the Frühlingsstimmen Waltz of Johann Strauss Jr.

The program on the following evening opened with a dazzling performance of the great Piano Concerto No. 1 of Johannes Brahms, featuring the deservedly celebrated Rudolf Buchbinder as soloist who rewarded the audience's spirited ovation with a marvelous encore, “Soirée de Vienne,” Op. 56, Concert Paraphrase on Waltzes from Die Fledermaus (after Johann Strauss II), of Alfred Grünfeld.

The second half of the concert was just as remarkable, opening with a glorious account of Schubert's exquisite, if ubiquitous, "Unfinished" Symphony in B Minor. This was followed by an equally impressive performance of the excellent The Miraculous Mandarin Suite by Béla Bartók. Another round of excited applause elicited another enjoyable encore, the "Frauenherz" Polka-Mazurka, Op. 166, of Josef Strauss.

The concluding program, presented on the afternoon of the following day, was also superlative, opening with a magisterial version of the Arnold Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, one of the masterpieces of late Romanticism, while the second half of the concert enchanted with a wonderful account of Schubert's titanic Symphony No. 9, the "Great." The audience's joyous reception of this performance was reciprocated by one final encore in this thrilling series, the thoroughly pleasurable  "For Ever" Polka, Op. 193, of Josef Strauss.

March '17 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week 

Blow-Up

(Criterion)

In 1966, Michelangelo Antonioni went to swinging London to make his first English-language film, a rare instance of the cultural zeitgeist being recorded, aside from its cinematic brilliance as a mystery and investigation into the power and truth of images. 

 

The Criterion Collection gives this historically important filmic time capsule the hi-def release it deserves: there’s a ridiculously good-looking Blu-ray transfer, and extras include archival interviews with Antonioni and actor David Hemmings, featurettes and a new making-of documentary, Blow Up of Blow-Up; and new interviews with actresses Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Birkin.

Cinema Paradiso

(Arrow Academy)

1989’s Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film, Giuseppe Tornatore’s semi-autobiographical reminiscence is perfectly—and honestly—sentimental, its story of a young boy who befriends the local movie projectionist and who leaves his small Sicilian village to become a world-famous director encapsulated in the yearning violin figures of Ennio Morricone’s most romantic score. 

 

The nearly three-hour director’s cut is repetitious but essential for understanding what Tornatore is after: despite its soap opera leanings, resistance is ultimately futile while viewing, especially when the irresistible Brigitte Fossey shows up near the end to steal the film. Fine hi-def transfers of the two-hour released cut and 173-minute director’s cut are included; extras include a Tornatore commentary, A Dream of Sicily documentary and featurettes.

The Creeping Garden 

(Arrow Academy)

This odd but compelling documentary by directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp is a straight-faced exploration of strands of mold that multiply on their own, and those scientists and several artists who study and use such creeping masses of matter in their fields. 

 

Needless to say, the interviews and glimpses of the actual molds are fascinating throughout. The film looks fine on Blu; extras include directors’ commentary, Grabham short, featurettes and soundtrack CD.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

(Warner Bros)

J.K. Rowling returns with a sort of Harry Potter spinoff based on her book about a British wizard, Newt Scamander, who arrives in 1926 Manhattan with magical creatures in his suitcase only to spend most of the movie trying to recapture them after they escape. 

 

Of course it’s silly and overlong, but there is a sense of tongue-in-cheek fun that permeates the film, especially when the strangely compelling creatures dominate its second hour. The film looks dazzling on Blu; extras are featurettes and deleted scenes.

Patriots Day 

(Lionsgate)

This forceful dramatization of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and aftermath is another skillful recreation of a real-life tragedy from the suddenly formidable team of star Mark Wahlberg—a convincing everyman—and director Peter Berg, collaborators on the true-life oil-rig thriller Deepwater Horizon who balance the larger canvas with humanizing personal stories. 

 

There’s also marvelous support from John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Monaghan, J.K. Simmons and Alex Wolff, who plays the younger Tsarnaev brother with truly frightening intensity. The Blu-ray image is first-rate; extras comprise an hour of interviews and on-set featurettes that give a voice to the real people who were affected by that day and the performers who played them.

DVD of the Week

Just a Sigh

(Icarus/Distrib US)

Jerome Bonnell’s intimate character study of a French actress and a lonely Englishman who meet in Paris while both are in emotional distress has moments of ringing authenticity, but there’s little onscreen resonance despite the flavorful performances by two reliable actors, Emmanuelle Devos and Gabriel Byrne. 

 

The talented pair makes the most of the contrived scenario, providing some laughs, occasional tears and even the odd sighting of a real emotion that go beyond what’s called for in Bonnell’s slight script.

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