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Film and the Arts

September '18 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 

Cold Water 


French director Olivier Assayas’s 1994 breakthrough was this cutting, insightful exploration of disaffected youth, circa 1972; part of a series of films about young people, Cold Water goes far beyond that, and not only is it Assayas’s triumph—his use of period songs far betters Scorcese’s—but also that of his leading lady, Virginie Ledoyen, who was a then 17-year-old stunner bringing the director’s vision to vivid life.




The film looks sharp on Blu; extras are new interviews with Assayas and cinematographer Denis Lenoir, and a vintage TV interview with Assayas, Ledoyen and actor Cyprien Fouquet.


The Looming Tower 

(Warner Bros)

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.

This riveting multi-part Hulu limited series, based on Lawrence Wright’s brilliant book, recounts the events, mishaps and unlucky breaks that allowed the Sept. 11th attacks to happen while the FBI and CIA spent too much time squabbling.




Superbly directed, concisely written and filled with nuanced performances by Jeff Daniels, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlberg, Tahar Rahim and Bill Camp, this is essential viewing, even—or especially—if you know what inevitably happens. The hi-def transfer looks immaculate; extras comprise several featurettes and audio commentaries.







The Miniaturist 

(PBS Masterpiece)

From a novel by Jessie Burton that a mash-up of The Girl with a Pearl Earring (17th century Holland setting) and The Draughtsman’s Contract (an artist unmasks a family’s dark, hidden secrets), this three-part mini-series is an intermittently absorbing 2-1/2 hour-long costume drama encompassing homosexuality, interracial relationships, malicious patriarchy and—finally if most implausibly—21st century feminism.




It’s well-done and extremely well-acted by a cast led by Anya Taylor-Joy and Romola Garai, but the underwhelming plot makes it a chore to watch at times. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; lone extra is a 45-minute behind the scenes featurette.


The Naked and the Dead 

(Warner Archive)

Based on Norman Mailer’s first novel about soldiers battling the enemy and one another in World War II, this 1958 adaptation has solid directing by Raoul Walsh and a fine ensemble cast that includes Cliff Robertson, Joey Bishop, Aldo Ray, Raymond Massey and Richard Jaeckel.




But since the script has little bite and the men are given typically melodramatic problems, this ends up as a good-looking but defanged war film. Warner Archive’s Blu-ray makes Joseph LaShelle’s color cinematography look sumptuous.







Ocean's 8 

(Warner Bros)

In this breezy gender-reversed Oceans 11, eight women plan a daring heist during the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Fashion Gala, which allows for some tongue-in-cheek overlapping between the characters in the movie and the actresses who play them, notably fashion mavens like Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Rhianna.




The movie itself is so wispy as to be forgotten right after watching it, but it’s still enjoyable despite the shortcomings. The film has a superior hi-def transfer; extras include 2 brief deleted scenes, interviews and featurettes.


Supergirl—Complete 3rd Season 

(Warner Bros)

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.

In the latest season of adventures for the 20-something cousin of Superman, Kara Zor-El has difficulty keeping her alter ego (Daily Planet reporter Kara Danvers) and real identity separated, as she also deals with losing Mon-El twice and the appearance of a new nemesis called Reign.




The fetching performance of Melissa Benoist gives this juvenile series its main attraction, now that actress Laura Benanti—who had played Kara’s mom, Alura, with spirited urgency—is gone. Still, the season’s 23 episodes fly by, and the hi-def transfer is superb. Extras are four DC Comics crossover episodes, excerpts from DC TV’s Comic-Con Panels San Diego 2017, featurettes Inside the Crossover: Crisis on Earth-X and She Will Reign!, a gag reel and deleted scenes. 


CD of the Week 

Leonard Bernstein—Wonderful Town 

(LSO Live)

Celebrating Leonard Bernstein’s centenary, the London Symphony Orchestra under conductor Sir Simon Rattle gives the Bernstein/Adolph Green/Betty Comden Broadway musical a whirl, providing effervescent orchestral accompaniment to some of Bernstein’s most playful melodies.




The cast, especially Danielle de Niese and Alysha Umphress as the Ohio sisters trying to make it in the big city, has sass in spades; highlights include de Niese’s “A Little Bit in Love,” Umphress’s “Conga” and Nathan Gunn’s “A Quiet Girl.”

A Family Freeze-Out Over Aging Addressed “In the Bleak Midwinter”


“In the Bleak Midwinter”
Writer: Dorothy Lyman
Director: Katie McHugh
Cast: Dorothy Lyman, Abigail Hawk, Tim Bohn, Brennan Lowery, Jeanne Lauren Smith, and Shannon Stowe
Running through September 23rd

Shetler Studios & Theatres 12th Floor - Theatre 54
244 W. 54th St.

In a taut 75 minutes, veteran actress/playwright Dorothy Lyman addresses the impact aging has as one loses control of life and home through no fault of one’s own. Drawing on her own autobiographical experience, the play details how recently widowed Elizabeth Gladstone (Lyman) copes with managing her Catskills-based farm, her daughter and grand daughter  now that her decades-lomg marriage is gone. As she faces aging, daughter Betsy (Abigail Hawk) and her husband (Tim Bohn) wants to sell the property and cash out bringing mom to Florida. Granddaughter Liz (Jeanne Lauren Smith) and her boyfriend (Brennan Lowery) think she should hang on to the farm, as the two want to try to make a go of it for grandma. As the winter days wear on, the frayed situation makes everyone at odds with each other. For Elizabeth, can she see a future beyond the Gladstone Family farm?

Produced on a shoestring budget, Emmy-winning Lyman’s a skilled playwright and actor who has lots of experience under her belt having been in “Mama’s Family,” “All My Children” and “The Nanny.” She’s also directed scores of television episodes, done films and written several other plays. But the subject of aging has been a personal concern of hers being addressed in a yet-to-be released doc and this play.

She enlisted several fine local actors including Hawk, who has been a regular on “Bluebloods” as police commissioner Frank Reagan’s adjunct — and has starred in several features. The other experienced cast members offer sturdy support and the design  -- including Johanna Pan’s very authentic-feeling set design  -- makes for a realistically well-worn homestead. 

Rarely does a play so unflinchingly coped with the onslaught of aging and loss, addressing how it affects everyone in the family circle.  And though the play has its rough edges and an ending that comes up on you in somewhat abrupt fashion — this affecting drama really addresses some bleak issues all of us will have to cope with someday.

September '18 Digital Week II


Blu-rays of the Week 


(Warner Bros)

With Ed Helms in the lead, this mainly inane comedy about grown men acting like children (based on a true story) tries to equal the vapidity of Helms's biggest hit, The Hangover; indeed, there are several moments that reach that movie’s embarrassingly crude lows.




But however often it scrapes the bottom of the comedic barrel, it has just enough energy from a game cast that throws itself into the lunacy with aplomb, especially Jeremy Renner’s proto-Bourne character; the exaggerated use of slo-mo gets the most laughs. The film looks pristine on Blu; extras comprise a featurette, deleted scenes and gag reel.


Found Footage 3D 


Do we need yet another found-footage horror flick? Well, maybe: this one is as unnecessarily crude, dully-acted and predictable as the others—with the added bonus of it being in gimmicky 3D, if anyone still wants to watch with those stupid glasses on—but at least it injects some self-referential humor into the proceedings. It doesn’t always work, but it remains halfway entertaining even while it clumsily falls apart, which is something, I guess. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras include deleted scenes, etc.







One of the most imbecile horror movies I’ve ever seen, writer-director Ari Aster’s risible drama is as ridiculously silly as they come, with the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure. Not only does he steal brazenly from The Shining’s visuals and music (the opening shot, among others, is a direct Kubrick rip-off, and the score by Colin Stetson is nothing but an empty lift from Penderecki and Ligeti), but he has none of Kubrick’s artistry or originality.




Poor Toni Collette’s performance is pitched so high that she makes Nicholson’s Shining work look positively understated. And the bizarrely insane ending must be seen to be disbelieved, coming after two hours of complete nonsense. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras are deleted scenes and a featurette.


The Last Hunt 

(Warner Archive)

Shot on the actual locations in South Dakota—scenic Custer State Park and foreboding Badlands National Monument (now National Park)—Richard Brooks’ familiar but efficient 1956 western follows hunters shooting down magnificent bison during the area’s annual bison cull (which is actually shown in the film).




Stewart Granger is fine as the hunter whose last hunt this is, but the drama of the puny humans is secondary to the majesty of the locales and the animals themselves in living color. The hi-def transfer is transfixing.




Supernatural—Complete 13th Season 

(Warner Bros)

(Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.)

It’s rare that a non-Law and Order or Shonda Rhimes drama lasts on network television as long as this lighthearted fantasy that spells out its wide-ranging dimensions in its very title, but after 13 years—and with its 14th season upcoming this fall—Supernatural still churns out not very original but watchable tales of two brothers battling various antagonistic creatures.




You would have thought that Sam and Dean had already gone up against every supernatural being around, but this latest season will set you straight. There’s a fine hi-def transfer; extras are deleted scenes, commentaries, featurettes and a gag reel.


DVDs of the Week

The Escape 


Gemma Arterton gives a touching and subtle performance as a harried wife who decides to leave her husband and son behind and head to Paris, where she meets (natch) the ultimate alluring foreigner, allowing her to contemplate emotional and sexual freedom.




Director-writer Dominic Savage telegraphs everything without arriving at any insight into his heroine’s behavior, except that she’s sick of it all. But Arterton provides the needed subtext through a simple brief look or the mere raising of an eyebrow whenever her director can’t do so.




Laugh-In—Complete Final Season 


The sixth and final season of one of the goofiest but politically astute variety shows to grace the small screen came in 1972-3 when Nixon’s White House fortunes were taking a turn for the worse, and this set captures all 24 episodes led by ringmasters Dan Rowan and Dick Martin.




Among the guests for this last ride include Steve Allen, Jack Benny, Carol Burnett, Johnny Carson, Howard Cosell, Sammy Davis Jr., Angie Dickinson, Phyllis Diller, Jack Klugman, Rich Little, Don Rickles and Sally Struthers—but there’s no Tricky Dick saying “sock it to me,” and the regular cast itself received a makeover into obscurity: I’ll bet you don’t know who Patti Deutsch, Jud Strunk, Willie Tyler & Lester or Sarah Kennedy are.


That Summer 

(Sundance Selects)

Here’s a more celebrated found-footage movie than the 3D one above, put together by director Göran Hugo Olsson from film shot in 1972 at the Beale’s East Hampton compound by famed photographer Peter Beard and others (including one of the Maysles brothers, who returned to make Grey Gardens a few years later).




Mother and daughter Big Edie and Little Edie Beale became celebrities despite—or perhaps because of—their living in a garbage- and cat-strewn home, and there’s a profound sense of sadness that underlies what we watch, especially since we know what happened to both women. Beard and Lee Radziwill (Jackie Kennedy’s sister and Big Edie’s niece) narrate.





CD of the Week 

Anne Akiko Meyers—Mirror in Mirror 


For her latest and arguably most personal album yet, violin virtuoso Anne Akiko Meyers plays music inspired or commissioned by her, including John Corigliano’s lovely Lullaby for Natalie (for the violinist’s first child) and two works by Jakob Ciupinski, which hauntingly combine electronic and acoustic instrumentation. (Elsewhere, Ciupinski’s electronics slightly detract from Meyers’ impassioned performance of Ravel’s Tzigane.)




Front and center throughout is Meyers’ violin, capable of a seemingly unlimited palette of direct emotion and masterly technique that takes even the most minimalist of these pieces (like Philip Glass’s Metamorphosis II or Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Speigel, whose English translation gives the album its evocative title) into the musical stratosphere.


September '18 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 

American Animals 


Brutal and brusque, Bart Layton’s crime drama has enough topsy-turviness to keep one watching, even if it ultimately doesn’t achieve the greatness it could have. Still, seeing the real perpetrators of a botched robbery (of a priceless John James Audubon Birds of America volume, of all things) have their say adds a layer of urgency and immediacy to the story of a bunch of goofs bungling their way to seven years in prison.




An offbeat soundtrack of songs like the Doors’ “Peace Frog,” Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” also helps. There’s a sparkling hi-def transfer; extras include deleted scenes, featurettes and a director/cast commentary.




I know not to expect much in the way of subtlety from such a bluntly titled movie, but I had hopes for writer-director Michael Pearce’s irascible black drama about a young woman infatuated with a bad boy who might be a killer.




But so many risible plot twists throughout its 105 minutes that after awhile it becomes a cloying, unholy mess of clichés, ridiculously literal visual metaphors and some of the corniest dialogue you will never hope to hear again. Jessie Buckley is a real find, but I hope to see her in something that allows her to do more than act in primary colors. There’s a superior hi-def transfer; lone extra is a making-of featurette.


The Flash—Complete 4th Season 

(Warner Bros)

(Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.)

In the latest season of the further adventures of the world’s fastest superhero, Barry Allen (aka the Flash) relies on his family and closest associates to assist in his on-going battles against the usual evildoers and other assorted bad guys.




These 26 fast-paced episodes look terrific in hi-def; extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes, several featurettes and four crossover episodes with other DC super hero series: Arrow, Supergirl and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.


Godard Mon Amour 

(Cohen Media Group)

Michel Hazanavicius’ amusingly slight ode to Jean-Luc Godard’s feistiness, circa 1968, around the time he decided to go in the direction of a series of increasingly didactic and politically left-wing films, has a fine performance by Louis Garrel as Godard and a far more incisive one by Stacy Martin as his then-girlfriend, young actress Anne Wiazemsky (on whose memoir this is based). 




Godard Mon Amour—which at least deserves the subtler humor of its original title, Le Redoubtable—is fun for Godard aficionados, less so for the uninitiated. There’s an excellent Blu-ray transfer; lone extra is a conversation with Hazanavicius and Martin.


Home from the Hill 

(Warner Archive)

Robert Mitchum dominates this 1960 adaptation of William Humphrey’s novel about an unrepentant womanizer, his harried wife and two grown sons, one hers and the one another woman’s from an earlier relationship of his.




Vincente Minnelli directs in broad strokes, which makes the plot’s soap–operaish aspects more obvious and even risible, but the 150-minute running time lets us get a handle on these characters, and if Eleanor Parker (wife), Richard Hamilton and George Peppard (sons) and a delightful Luana Patten (both sons’ girl) don’t have much chance to make a mark, Mitchum’s credible cragginess remains front and center. Warner Archive’s hi-def transfer looks pristine.


Memories of Underdevelopment 


Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s classic of Cuban cinema was released in 1968, but didn’t make its mark here until its release five years later with its story of a Cuban intellectual sifting through an idle life of casual sex and empty political gestures after the rest of his family flees to Miami in the wake of Castro’s revolution.




Brilliantly directed by Alea—who uses documentary techniques to great effect—this is among Criterion’s top recent resurrections, from its top-notch hi-def transfer to the extras, comprising interviews and a 2008 documentary about Alea’s career, Titon: From Havana to “Guantanamera.” 


Never So Few 

(Warner Archive)

Shot on location in Burma (now Myanmar) and Thailand, this tough-minded but diffuse World War II drama stars Frank Sinatra as a commanding troop leader dealing with bloody guerrilla warfare that his superiors don’t understand.




Director John Sturges does well with the action sequences and tense moments between battles where the men wonder what’s yet to come, but a romantic subplot involving Sinatra and Gina Lollobrigida (in one of her few English-language starring roles) detracts from, rather than adds to, the overall portrait. The Cinemascope film looks splendid on Blu.


Tucker—The Man and His Dream 


In Francis Coppola’s stillborn 1988 biopic about Preston Tucker, an auto innovator who went up against Detroit’s Big Three with the Tucker Torpedo in the late ‘40s, Jeff Bridges must swim upstream against a tide of clichés, visual gimmickry and everything else Coppola tries to sustain interest in a story that really shouldn’t rely on it.




In a life or death struggle over who dominates the movie, unfortunately Coppola wins. The film looks quite good on Blu; extras include a Coppola commentary and intro, deleted scenes and vintage making-of.


Woman Walks Ahead 


Susannah White’s absorbing historical drama follows Catherine Weldon, a widowed painter from New York who in 1892 traveled across the country to paint the great Sitting Bull. Even if its historical veracity is questionable, the film is filled with gorgeous western vistas and an estimable cast led by Jessica Chastain’s forcefully bull-headed heroine and Michael Greyeyes’s humane, gentle Sitting Bull.




There’s also fine support from Sam Rockwell, Bill Camp and Ciaran Hinds as the men who help—or hinder—Weldon in her seemingly quixotic quest. On Blu-ray, the film looks great; extras are deleted scenes, making-of featurette and White’s commentary.

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