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Film and the Arts

July '19 Digital Week V

4K/UHD of the Week 

The Doors 


Oliver Stone’s 1991 biopic tries to turn the Doors lead singer Jim Morrison’s drug-fueled personality—which culminated in his death at age 27 in a Paris bathtub—into something more than a simple biopic, but its ambition might be more of a liability, since Stone’s visual busyness at times overshadows Val Kilmer’s superb central performance as Morrison (unsurprisingly ignored by the Oscars).




For this 4K release, Stone has fashioned a new “final cut” three minutes shorter than his earlier director’s cut (included on the accompanying Blu-ray disc). The film looks—and sounds—great in ultra hi-def; extras comprise a commentary by and new interview with Stone and new interview with sound engineer Lon Bender.


Blu-rays of the Week

Body at Brighton Rock 


Writer-director Roxanne Benjamin’s would-be intense drama pits Wendy, a green national park ranger, at the mercy of the elements after she gets lost…and must remain overnight with a dead body she discovered in a remote area of the park.




At first, it seems that Benjamin is setting us up for a comedy about stupidity—Wendy does the exact things to make her predicament worse—but by the end, after Wendy fends off a crazed visitor and a bear, it’s obvious that Benjamin’s movie is about heroism arriving when least expected. Karina Fontes does wonders making Wendy relatable even in her benightedness. There’s a fine hi-def transfer; extras are interviews and a Benjamin and Fontes commentary.







Bronco Billy 

(Warner Archive)

This 1980 feature about a traveling Wild West show is considered one of star-director Clint Eastwood’s most lighthearted films, and it may well be—but also, thanks to Billy’s horrible mistreatment of a jilted wife Antoinette (whom he lets join his crew and share his bed), which she of course loves, is awfully misogynistic and unfortunately played for laughs.




Sondra Locke’s amateurish acting doesn’t help, and Eastwood and she have no chemistry. At least there’s the always welcome presence of Scatman Crothers—and a superior hi-def transfer.




Brian De Palma’s latest thriller plods along with static and stagnant action sequences that are as static and stagnant as his earlier ones were fast-paced and even occasionally thrilling.




This ISIS-infused drama is set in Copenhagen and includes several fine Scandinavian actors (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Paprika Steen and Søren Malling) and the great Dutch actress Carice van Houten, but with a flimsy script, derivative directing and Pino Donaggio’s old-hat score, one of America’s former preeminent stylists has delivered a clinker. There’s a terrific hi-def transfer.







Footlight Parade 

(Warner Archive)

This classic 1933 musical might feature Jimmy Cagney, Dick Powell, Joan Blondell and Ruby Keeler in a story of a desperate director trying to keep audiences’ spirits up during the dark days of the Depression, but there’s a much bigger star on hand: Busby Berkeley.




The dazzling set pieces Berkeley created are his very best, including the most breathtaking of all: a sequence of precisely synchronized movement in a swimming pool by dozens of female aquatic dancers that’s worth the price of admission all by itself. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras are archival featurettes and cartoons.




In this true-life crime tale, Martin Clunes gives a forceful portrayal of Detective Sergeant Inspector Colin Sutton, who becomes so wrapped up in solving the murders of young women by a serial killer that he all but neglects his home life and his loving but frustrated wife.




The three-part mini-series is done with vigor and intensity, even its secondary characters—like the grieving parents of a French victim—strongly felt. The hi-def transfer is excellent; lone extra is an interview with Clunes and executive producer (and Clunes’ wife) Philippa Braithwaite.


CD of the Week 

Hindemith Conducts Hindemith

(Urania Records)

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) composed orchestral music striking in its vitality, variety and vigorousness, along with a deep appreciation of the German composers who preceded him.




These two discs—recorded with the eminent Philharmonia Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic in 1955 and 1956—feature exciting performances of his greatest works, from the extraordinary Mathis der Maler symphony (extracted from his brilliant opera of the same name) to the visionary sounds of Noblissima visione and what’s probably his most famous composition, Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. Soloist Dennis Brain dynamically dispatches the enchanting Horn Concerto, while Hans Otte is the estimable piano soloist in the lively The Four Temperaments

New French Films at FIAF—Bruno Dumont’s “Coincoin and the Extra-Humans” and Louis Garrel’s “A Faithful Man”

Coincoin and the Extra-Humans 

Directed by Bruno Dumont

A Faithful Man

Directed by Louis Garrel


Screenings through July 28, 2019

FIAF, 22 East 60th Street, New York, NY 


Bernard Bruvost (right) in Bruno Dumont's Coincoin and the Extra-Humans

Coincoin and the Extra-Humans, the unlikely sequel to Bruno Dumont’s unlikely first foray into comedy, L'il Quinquin, returns to the coast of Northern France to reprise the adventures of Quinquin, now the teenaged Coincoin, whose girlfriend Eve has found love with Corinne, prompting the borderline inept police captain Van Der Weyden to comment on Corinne’s androgyny with a bemused shrug. 


Unlike in the original 200-minute TV mini-series, which was a murder mystery, this time Van Der Weyden and his stunt-driving sidekick Carpentier are flummoxed by a goopy substance that occasionally rains down onto the picturesque landscape and its denizens. Soon there are alien doubles of several of the characters running around, including rather ridiculously Van Der Weyden himself; this invasion of the body snatchers is paralleled by an “invasion” of actual foreigners who reside in a nearby shantytown and cause uneasiness among the “real” (read: white) citizens by simply by their presence.


For more than three amusing but aimless hours, Dumont pitches frenzied physical comedy at the same level as he does his usual dour dramas (his recent feature fiasco, Slack Bay, with Juliette Binoche and Fabrice Luchini, no less, was also an out-and-out farce). Bernard Bruvost’s array of facial twitches and contortions as Van Der Weyden remain astonishing to watch, but when two Bruvosts start doubling up such tics onscreen, it’s less entertaining than enervating. 


With the arrival of a right-wing group, a la Marine Le Pen’s National Front, as a subplot, Dumont mocks the casual racism in today’s politics, but by the end—when the cops, the locals, and aliens both terrestrial and extraterrestrial dance awkwardly to a jaunty marching-band tune, an obvious reference to Fellini’s 8-1/2 finale—it’s clear that Coincoin and the Extrahumans has been one long, occasionally diverting shaggy-dog story.


Lily-Rose Depp in Louis Garrel's A Faithful Man

Louis Garrel is the son of Philippe Garrel, one of the most dispensable French directors. Unfortunately, Garrel fils seems a chip off the old block. His latest directorial effort, A Faithful Man, strains to be an adult comedy but Garrel and his co-scenarist, the legendary Jean-Claude Carriere, are too coy and lazy to exploit the material for more than its shallow surface 


Garrel plays Abel, who is dumped by his girlfriend Marianne after she tells him she’s pregnant with the child of his best friend Paul. Some years later, Paul dies and Abel hopes to rekindle his relationship with Marianne when, look who appears: Paul’s younger sister Eve—all grown up and a looker, naturally—who has decided she wants Abel for herself. 


With so little at stake—Abel gets to move between two equally enticing women—A Faithful Man seems unnecessarily extended even with its short 75-minute running time, and Garrel isn’t a savvy enough director or magnetic enough screen presence to make his character’s “dilemma” diverting. It’s too bad, for Laeticia Casta as Marianne and Lily-Rose Depp (Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis’ daughter) as Eve give wonderfully frisky performances, making this love triangle dramatically, comically and romantically lopsided.


Coincoin and the Extra-Humans 

A Faithful Man

FIAF, 22 East 60th Street, New York, NY

July '19 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week 

The Baker’s Wife 


In Marcel Pagnol’s hilarious and affecting 1938 classic, a baker in a French village stops making bread after his beloved wife leaves him for a local shepherd; meanwhile, desperate villagers decide to find her and bring her back so the baking can continue as before. As silly as it sounds, it’s also profoundly funny and serious, with that extraordinary actor Raimu nothing less than perfect as the baker. Pagnol, whose Fanny trilogy is a masterpiece, very nearly repeats that feat here.




The B&W film has been dazzlingly restored in hi-def; extras are Pagnol expert Brett Bowles’ commentary; 1966 Pagnol interview; 1967 TV intro by Pagnol; and 1977 French TV segment about Le Castellet, the village where the film was shot.




When John, a rebellious teenager, falls through the ice and isn’t rescued for a good 15 minutes, it appears improbable that he can survive: but his mother, congregation and schoolmates are praying for him, so who knows?




This earnest if clumsily handled religious drama has its moments—especially the tense ice rescue sequence—and emotional performances by Chrissy Metz (mom), Josh Lucas (dad), Dennis Haysbert (doctor) and Topher Grace (pastor), which help alleviate the nearly unrelenting sanctimony. There’s a splendid Blu-ray transfer; extras include a commentary, featurettes and deleted scene with optional commentary. 







Buster Keaton Collection, Volume 2—Sherlock Jr./The Navigator 

(Cohen Film Collection)

Two more restored Buster Keaton classics make up the second volume of Cohen’s Keaton Collection, starting with Sherlock Jr., the hilarious and wizardly 1924 comedy whose dazzling visual inventiveness has influenced filmmakers from Luis Bunuel to Woody Allen (whose lovely The Purple Rose of Cairo directly lifts from this). 




The Navigator (also 1924) suffers by comparison from padding and unevenness, but some of its set pieces are as funny and daring as anything Keaton ever did. Both films look immaculate in hi-def; extras include featurettes and scores by Timothy Brock (Sherlock) and Robert Israel (Navigator).


Critters Attack!

(Warner Bros)

Warner Bros. provided me with a free copy of this disc for review.

The title says it all in this tongue-in-cheek horror flick about a litter of gremlin-like creatures who tear apart everyone in sight, except for a bunch of resourceful teens who finally beat back their invasion.




There are truly hilarious moments amid the encroaching goofiness and blood spurting, but director Bobby Miller knows that 89 minutes is about the furthest he can stretch this, and he does that job efficiently, with an assist from Dee Wallace (the mom from E.T.), having a blast blasting away critters. The hi-def transfer looks good; extras comprise Miller’s commentary and featurettes.







DVD of the Week 

Manifest—Complete 1st Season 

(Warner Bros)

Warner Bros. provided me with a free copy of this disc for review.

In this tense series, passengers on a plane that took off in 2013 land in 2018, yet they feel that it was only a few hours. From this Twilight Zone premise comes myriad plot strands both personal and professional, including deaths in families, new relationships and marriages, and other rude intrusions of life.




Throughout these 16 episodes, the seeds of an involving drama are planted, and if some subplots end up as dead ends, there’s enough of interest here to make the trip worthwhile—at least until the survivors return to the airport to look at the fateful plane. 


CDs of the Week

Berlioz Odyssey—The Complete Sir Colin Davis Recordings 


Colin Davis, who died in 2013, was the go-to conductor for the big, sweeping music of the great French composer Hector Berlioz. This essential 16-disc set includes Davis’ final recordings of several Berlioz masterpieces, including his operas—the towering epic Les Troyens, the gorgeous-sounding bio Benvenuto Cellini and the gossamer Shakespearean adaptation Beatrice et Benedict—and his massive orchestral and choral works, from the ubiquitous Symphonie fantastique and beautiful Harold in Italy to the thunderous Messe des morts. 




Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra, various choruses and soloists bring this Romantic (with a capital “R”) music to thrillingly vivid life, and the recordings (supervised by James Mallinson, who died last year, a great to loss to the industry) are amazingly detailed, especially the discs that are also SACDs.

July '19 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 


(Warner Bros)

David F. Sandberg’s dopey but disarming superhero movie smartly doesn’t take itself too seriously—except when it annoyingly piles on endless false endings, dragging things out 20 minutes longer than they should be, and threatening an inevitable sequel during the end credits.




Asher Angel and Zachary Levi are in fine form as teenage Billy and his superhero alter ego, Mark Strong is amusingly villainous as Dr. Sivana and Jack Dylan Grazer is a born scene-stealer as Billy’s foster brother Freddy. It all looks splendid on Blu; extras include a commentary, gag reel, featurettes, deleted scenes, and alternate opening and closing.




BRD Trilogy

(Criterion Collection)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s three melodramas about postwar Germany are highlighted by three great actresses: Hanna Schygulla (1979’s The Marriage of Maria Braun), Barbara Sukowa (1981’s Lola) and Rosel Zech (1982’s Veronika Voss) give glorious performances that raise the level of these otherwise strident films.




There’s also visual luster in the rich cinematography of Michael Ballhaus (Braun) and Xaver Schwarzenberger (Lola and Voss, with its enticing B&W images). Criterion’s hi-def transfers look tremendous; voluminous extras include commentaries, interviews, archival footage of Fassbinder interviews and on-set workings, and I Don't Just Want You to Love Me, a full-length career-spanning doc about the director.


Fast Color 


Cowriter-director Julia Hart’s pretentious sci-fi drama, set in an arid Midwest in a near-future, follows a young woman with supernatural powers, on the run from the shadowy authorities, who returns home to see her estranged mother and young daughter.




Despite inventive flashes, Fast Color bogs down in confusion in lieu of interesting character development; luckily, the cast—led by the extraordinarily compelling Gugu Mbatha-Raw—provides the humanity the script and direction lack. There’s an excellent hi-def transfer; extras are a commentary and making-of featurette.


DVD of the Week



In Italian director Matteo Garrone’s latest, vengeance takes the form of a put-upon dog groomer who finally has enough of the town bully, after spending a year in jail for refusing to implicate him in a robbery.




Despite Marcello Fonte’s entirely believable performance in the title role, Dogman is an entirely predictable fantasy that contents itself with scenes of vicious but repetitive violence, set in a crumbling town where I doubt such a dog grooming saloon could stay in business. Fonte won Best Actor at Cannes last year, but his intensity isn’t enough to rescue Dogman from the dog house.






CD of the Week 

Romance—The Piano Music of Clara Schumann 


Composer Clara Schumann (best known as the wife of 19th century master Robert Schumann) is on a roll! This disc—played with beauty and precision by Isata Kanneh-Mason—is the third in the last few months containing her romantic music that I’ve reviewed, but it’s the first that’s all Clara from start to finish.




Kanneh-Mason delicately tackles several lovely miniatures (Romances for piano and for piano/violin, along with two transcriptions of Robert’s lieder), but reserves her greatest strengths for traversing Clara’s A Minor concerto and G Minor sonata, both substantive, engrossing works which deserve wider currency.

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