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Film and the Arts

January '18 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 


(Warner Bros)
This smash-hit adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a clown terrorizing youngsters is ridiculously bloated, and we’ve also been threatened with a Part II. The problem is that seeing Pennywise, the villain, in the flesh causes uncontrollable giggles; he’s supposed to be scary?
Maybe on the page, King’s sledgehammer dramatics work more effectively, but onscreen, director Andy Muschietti’s numbingly crude 135-minute mess becomes—thanks to the talented teen cast—occasional mindlessly murderous fun. The film looks great on Blu; extras comprise featurettes, interviews and deleted scenes.
Acceptable Risk
This slow-burning but involving Irish TV series explores the convoluted goings-on after the murder of an American in Montreal who worked in Dublin for a Swiss pharmaceutical company (got that?): his shocked wife must deal with his death only a few years after her first husband—who also worked for the company, as did she—also died under mysterious circumstances.
Solid acting and unpeeling layers of intrigue make up for lapses in logic, like a low-down criminal who manages to avoid the police to threaten the widow and her sister before getting his comeuppance. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras include over an hour of on-set featurettes and interviews.
The Apartment 

(Arrow Academy)

Some consider this Billy Wilder’s greatest film, but I prefer Some Like It Hot to this amusing but jaundiced comedy about a low-level functionary who lets company execs use his bachelor pad for their flings, and who discovers that his married boss’s latest mistress is the cute elevator operator he likes.
Despite a flimsy conceit and cardboard characters, this works handily (if obviously), thanks to Wilder’s and I.A.L. Diamond’s funny lines and Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine’s perfection in the leads. On Blu, the B&W photography looks more stunning than ever; extras include commentaries, video essays, featurettes, interviews and an impressive 150-page hardcover book.
Hell Night
(Scream Factory)
Upon its release, this tepid 1981 horror entry was a failure, and with good reason: there’s enough mediocre filmmaking, amateur acting and unoriginal storytelling to ice it from the get-go. It’s not until the showdown between the heroine (a blandly uninteresting Linda Blair) and the murderer—which climaxes with a clever impalement—that genre lovers finally get what they came for.
There’s a solid hi-def transfer; extras comprise new interviews with the likes of stars Blair and Vincent Van Patten, and director Tom DeSimone’s commentary.


We didn’t need a backstory to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but here it is anyway, wallowing in unpleasant nastiness for 90 minutes, carving up villains and victims alike in lugubrious fashion. As a sheriff out for revenge for his teenage daughter’s unspeakable killing, Stephen Dorff shows he’s in a class by himself when it comes to overacting: he even overplays as his innards are ripped out in front of his very eyes.
Directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo show little sense of style, rhythm or pacing, but the blood and guts are all in order, however. The hi-def transfer is good; extras include alternate opening and ending, deleted scenes, making-of and interviews.
The Mountain Between Us
If it wasn’t for the combined star power of Kate Winslet and Idris Elba, this stretching-credulity tale of strangers who survive a mountain plane crash would be more eye-rolling than it is. In director Hany Abu-Assad’s hands—abetted by screenwriters Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe—no cliché is clichéd enough to ignore: Winslet falls through the ice, Elba slides down a snowdrift to the mountain’s edge, the dead pilot’s dog miraculously survives a mountain lion attack; and they eventually find themselves in each other’s arms, especially in a heavy-handed happy ending.
Both stars do what they can, which in the long run is not enough. The film has a fine hi-def transfer; extras are featurettes, deleted scenes and director’s commentary.


Mike Hodges’ offbeat 1972 comic mystery yarn has a properly laconic Michael Caine as a trashy novelist caught up in a murder plot on a Mediterranean isle after being hired to ghostwrite a famous actor’s autobiography. Hodges, who knows how to throw curve balls, has the perfect performer in Caine, who rolls with the punches (literally) throughout this enjoyable shaggy-dog story.
The hi-def transfer is good and grainy; extras are interviews with Hodges, assistant director John Glen, cinematographer Ousama Rawi, and producer Michael Klinger’s son Tony.
Time to Die
(Film Movement Classics)
This morally ambiguous 1966 Arturo Ripstein drama, from a tight script by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, moves simultaneously at a snail’s and snappy pace as it heads toward a showdown between a man just released from prison for killing another in a duel, and the victim’s now-adult sons who want revenge.
The engrossing B&W film looks stunning in this restored hi-def transfer; extras include Ripstein’s and actor Enrique Rocha’s commentary and an introduction by director Alex Cox.
DVDs of the Week 


(Film Movement)
Like Basquiat and Keith Haring, artist Richard Hambleton helped found the street-art movement in 1980s New York, and Oren Jacoby’s entertaining documentary chronicles Shadowman’s incredible rise and even more precipitous fall, mainly fueled by a runaway drug addiction.
Jacoby also shows how Hambleton launched a comeback that made his past work even more lucrative, historically and financially; through interviews with the artist and others he worked with or loved, Shadowman is a fine primer of the complex contemporary art world. Extras include 30 minutes of additional scenes.
The White King
(Film Movement)
Based on Gyorgy Dragoman’s novel, directors Alex Helfrecht and Jorg Tittel’s dystopian drama is set in a totalitarian state where a young boy and his mother are desperate to find out whether his father—who has disappeared from sight—is still alive: no one, including his grandfather (a retired general) and the current reigning military leader, is helpful.
This tidy 90-minute film has several persuasive performances, including Jonathan Pryce as the grandfather and Greta Scacchi as the military leader, while young Lorenzo Allchurch’s boy is appealing and complicated and Agyness Dehn is a warmly sympathetic mother

"A Regular Little Houdini" Materializes But With Very Little Magic


Daniel Llewelyn-Williams, tall and wholesomely-handsome in a very proper British way, is a compelling story teller. He’s been performing since 2001, and touring A Regular Little Houdini, which he also wrote, since 2013. Following an international tour, the New York premiere plays in one of 59E59 Theatres’ most intimate space [50 seats], perfect for up-close and personal Houdini sleight-of- hand and illusions.

Set in Newport, South Wales, he tells of a tenacious young dockworker's son, smitten by Harry Houdini's “amazements,” and, in a world where poverty is a heavy weight, dreams of a life of magic to escape the brutal working-class reality of Edwardian Britain.

Llewelyn-Williams is guarded about publication of his age, but since his first TV credit is in 2006, it might be fair to peg him to early-to-mid 30s. He bills himself as a singer, dancer, fight director, writer, and actor; and works in TV, film, radio, video games, and spoken-word books. He boasts that he can do “basically anything, so bring it on!” He can do magic, so there was the hope he’ll bring it on. 

From Newport and trained at LAMDA, the actor/writer’s involved with several theater companies, excelled in The 39 Steps and Tintin on the West End and a Hamlet directed by Terry Hands. He’s been cast in Shakespeare, Shaw, and plays such as Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy, Tennessee WilliamsSuddenly Last Summer, and J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls.

Llewelyn-Williams has won U.K acting awards; three from the Hollywood Fringe Festival. The San Diego Fringe Festival voted A Regular Little Houdini its Best Solo Show. He’s known to fans of Brit TV, for two roles on the long-running, endearing series Eastenders – one in 2007 and as Dr. Rhys Thomas in 2016.

GreatHoudiniIn A Regular Little Houdini, we learn about, undoubtedly, his dock worker grandfather Alan’s coming of age, family struggles, and a very damp run-in with Houdini; not to mention his fascination with Houdini’s Book of Magic, which he’s read “cover to cover, inside out, back to front, upside down” and takes everywhere he goes. There’s even the prospect that one day magic’s “gonna earn us a livin’.” We hear sound bites of Houdini from the Great Beyond urging him to practice.

The two illusions Llewelyn-Williams performs are rather jawdropping; and, of course, whets an audience’s appetite for more. We wait. When, when, when? Then, he segues into suave black tie and tails and produces a top hat. That piece of luggage, the only stage prop, suddenly, magically propels into a magician’s podium. Alright, it’s time! But its blackout. Abracadabra!, finito.

Assuming not just New Yorkers might like to see more of what Llewelyn-Williams can materialize, adding another 20 minutes to strut his stuff would seems a sound idea. With signage touting the incredible Houdini’s name in bold print, it’s reasonable to expect magic.

Joshua Richards, an associate actor at the Royal Shakespeare Company, directs. There’s music by Meg Cox. Quick-change artist Adrian Solar and sleight-of-hand magician Tom Silburn created the illusions.

For a sneak peak at A Regular Little Houdini and a four-minute plus video on Llewelyn-Williams’ career, visit


Actors Will Smith and Joel Edgerton Shine On In An Unconvincing Universe in “Bright”

Directed by David Ayer
Starring Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry, Édgar Ramírez, Ike Barinholtz
Debuts December 22nd, 2017

Built around a confusing, complicated plot and premise, director David Ayer’s “Bright” pursues an intriguing premise that ultimately doesn't work. In an alternate universe, the world of “Lord of The Rings” — as conceived by author J.R.R. Tolkien — actually exists. So in this contemporary alt-world Los Angeles, orks, elves, fairies and other denizens of Middle Earth now live side by side with humans. But in such a “modern” world, the orks are some kind of disenfranchised society living on the edge in a ghetto along side the Latino street gangs.

The elves live there as some kind of socially elevated species housed in their own gated communities. On top of that, this world is threatened by a cadre of renegade elves who can command immensely powerful magic wands with the intention of unleashing the ancient Dark Lord upon the Earth again after its defeat 2000 years ago.

Two disputatious LAPD police officers on patrol, veteran Daryl Ward (Will Smith) and a pioneering Orc novice Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), fight off punk orks, hassling fairies and a trio of berserker elves headed by Leila (Noomi Rapace) in order to retrieve one of these world-shattering wands from the evil ones. They fend off human antipathy to orks, corrupt police officers, and elf/human federal agents who are tasked with combating the threatening conspiracy of the renegades who want to unleash evil on the Earth.

Within this fantastical LA, such a duo tries to put aside their differences in order to combat the underworld’s sinister forces. Smith and Edgerton’s flip chatter adds a layer of irony to an ever ridiculous plot line, but Ayer’s gritty, rapid-fire directing — thanks to his long experience at driving action dramas such as "Suicide Squad" and "Harsh Times" — makes it easier for viewers to ignore the idea's absurdities to tumble along for the ride.

Yet, at the end of the day, the brisk action shortcuts and breezy dialogue can’t hide an unconvincing compilation of set pieces that substitute for a fully realized concept and story. Maybe this should have been a limited series rather than one feature, but if it’s ever meant to have a longer life than this one two-hour film, the powers at Netflix need to make this universe feel far more fleshed out rather than being simply clichés draped over clichés from other genres.

December '17 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 


(Warner Bros)

One of the most successful retreats in military history—the British got nearly all of their troops back safely to England, keeping Hitler at bay until the U.S entered the war in 1941—is not tailor-made for a film treatment the way director Christopher Nolan approaches it. Visually, Dunkirk is a marvel, but dramatizing how civilians took their boats into treacherous waters to pick up soldiers at Dunkirk by following one man and his sons who get involved with seemingly everything that happens at sea and in the air reduces the entire film to unrelieved, and implausible, melodrama.

No one—not even Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance—makes an impression, and the final impression is one of technical, not artistic, virtuosity. There’s a superlative hi-def transfer; a second disc of extras include nearly two hours of on-set featurettes.


Auntie Mame

(Warner Archive)

This 1958 adaptation of the stage play about an irrepressible aunt who goes to any lengths to protect her beloved nephew showcases Rosalind Russell’s unsubtle but indomitable performance in the title role.

However, 145 minutes of overwrought attempts at whimsy and charm are badly misdirected by Morton DaCosta, who never gets a handle on things, including blatantly racist characters like the Asian butler. The film has a ravishing hi-def transfer.


Chicago—The Terry Kath Experience 


Michelle Kath Sinclair made this touching documentary portrait of her father’s legacy nearly 40 years after his death: Terry Kath was lead guitarist for Chicago, and he died when he put what he thought was an unloaded gun to his head and pulled the trigger a week before his 32nd birthday in 1978.

Kath has since gotten his due as one of rock’s most underrated guitar players, as we find out through encomiums by Joe Walsh, Steve Lukather and Mike Campbell, along with his fellow band members. This is also Sinclair’s personal journey; no posthumous praise can bring her father back, but—along with his music—it helps. Extras comprise additional interviews and featurettes.   


Cosi fan tutte

(Arthaus Musik)

Mozart’s delectable comic opera about two couples who, after many trials and tribulations, are finally reunited is transformed by director-choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker into a roundelay among a dozen performers, six singers doubled by half-dozen dancers, who become a physical manifestation of the indelible Mozart-del Ponte characters.

What begins as an intriguingly different take on a familiar work soon becomes repetitious and even confusing as the dancers basically cover the same ground as the music and words—it’s ultimately redundant, if cleverly staged and impeccably danced and sung. Hi-def video and audio are first-rate.


General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait 


In 1974, French director Barbet Schroeder made this documentary about the infamous Ugandan dictator, who relished the attention of a European filmmaker immortalizing him.

Amin was charismatic and murderous, charming and ruthless; Schroeder catches all of that, but the relatively short 90-minute running time makes this a less than ideal portrait: we see the venom, but not the psychology. The excellent new transfer is buttressed by two Schroeder interviews (2001 and 2017) and an interview with journalist Andrew Rice about Amin.


One Million B.C.


Movie fans know the late ‘60s version starring a loin-clothed Raquel Welch; the 1940 original has a poor substitute in Carole Landis and features a stolid Victor Mature and Lon Chaney Jr. running around looking embarrassed fending off awful-looking dinosaurs and other prehistoric monsters.

Directors Hal Roach and his son’s barely passable entertainment with incredibly chintzy special effects is a mildly diverting (and, at 80 minutes, harmless enough) piece of movie history. The hi-def transfer is decent.


DVDs of the Week 

The Pulitzer at 100

(First Run)

Kirk Simon’s documentary of the history and legacy of the Pulitzer Prize is an uninspired overview of the world’s most important arts and cultural award, and includes interviews with Pulitzer voters and recipients in an attempt to explain how diverse groups of people vote for what they think is the best play, piece of music, journalism, etc., in any given year.

Most interesting are the occasional breakaways to, say, a Natalie Portman or a John Lithgow reciting excerpts from winning plays or poems by winners Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Robert Frost.


Stefan Zweig—Farewell to Europe

(First Run)

The great Austrian writer Stefan Zweig lived out his last years in South America, committing suicide (along with his young wife Lotte) in 1942 in Rio at age 61. His troubled existence was marked by accolades but also exhaustion after Adolf Hitler’s rise heralded a final decade of wandering, homeless and unable to return to his native Austria.

Maria Schrader’s film absorbingly chronicles this period of his life, with convincing portrayals by Joe Haden (Zweig), Barbara Sukowa (first wife Friderike) and Aenne Schwarz (second wife Lotte).


The Unknown Girl 

(Sundance Selects)

The Belgian Dardenne brothers’ incisive character studies over two-plus decades vary wildly in quality—implausibility rears its ugly head more often than not—but their latest is one of their best. Adele Haenel is superb as Jenny, a young doctor who finds out that the title character, a desperate loner who knocked on her office door but was refused entry, is found dead nearby.

We get caught up in Jenny’s plight as she tracks down the dead woman’s identity and family. This is the Dardennes at their most humane, helped enormously by Haenel, an actress capable of mercurial and quicksilver changes and shifts in emotion.


Viceroy’s House


The end of British rule in India is the subject of Gurinder Chadha’s straightforward, tactful docudrama, with Hugh Bonneville as Lord Mountbatten, sent to India by his majesty’s government to secure a peaceful transfer of power; he is surprised by how awful fellow Britons treat the supposed second-class citizens.

Bonneville and Gillian Anderson are a persuasive Mountbatten and wife Edwina, while the usual towering Michael Gambon steals scenes as Mountbatten’s duplicitous chief of staff. The lone extras are several deleted scenes.

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