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Film and the Arts

May '20 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 

Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales 


Between 1963 and 1972, French director Eric Rohmer made several films exploring how a man interested in one woman is tempted by another: these Six Moral Tales are filled with endless talk, sometimes intelligent and insightful, other times pregnant and ponderous, with arid stretches only Rohmer aficionados will appreciate.



The most memorable are 1969’s My Night at Maud’s with the fabulous Francoise Fabian as Maud and 1972’s Love in the Afternoon with its enticing depiction of the sexual aroma in our daily lives. Criterion’s excellent boxed set collects these films in very good new hi-def transfers; extras include four Rohmer short films, archival interviews and a book of Rohmer’s own stories.


The Jesus Rolls 

(Screen Media)

John Turturro’s 2017 remake of Bertrand Blier’s 1974 romp Going Places (with a then unknown Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert) is one of the more unnecessary recent movies, and this disappointment comes after his amusing 2013 Fading Gigolo with Woody Allen.



This vanity project—Turturro stars, directed and wrote—allows the actor to ham it up as Jesus Quintana from The Big Lebowski, but even with a top cast—Audrey Tautou, Bobby Cannavale, Susan Sarandon, Gloria Reuben, Christopher Walken—such a heavy-handed, unfunny misfire makes the occasionally clever original look like a classic in comparison. There’s a superior hi-def transfer; lone extra is a Turturro and Cannavale commentary.


Rachel and the Stranger 

(Warner Archive)

In this straightforward 1948 western, a widowed father (William Holden) raises his young son alone who hires an indentured servant (Loretta Young) to be teacher, mother and wife—until a family friend (Robert Mitchum) comes along and disrupts their arrangement.



The stars make a formidable trio as the servant-owner relationships slowly blossoms into something more intimate, while director Norman Foster leaves no clichéd stone unturned, including a rote Indian attack for a not particularly dramatic ending. There’s a sparkling hi-def transfer of this good-looking B&W film.


Reflections in a Golden Eye 

(Warner Archive)

Carson McCullers’ novel about the tortured relationships of a flirty wife, her closeted army husband and a brazen young enlistee became a compellingly bizarre 1967 character study directed by John Huston and a daring film for its time with male nudity and repressed sexual transgressions.



The cast—Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Robert Forster (in his debut), Brian Keith, Julie Harris—is racily overripe and Huston’s direction combines pretentiousness with stylishness. This two-disc set contains Huston’s original golden-hued vision and the studio-imposed normal-colored version; both look stupendous on Blu. Lone extra is 20 minutes of on-set silent footage.


VODs of the Week 


(Film Rise)

Actor Brian Dennehy—who died last month at age 81—gets a nice send-off in this sensitively performed drama about an elderly vet who forms an unlikely friendship with a shy 8-year-old boy staying next door with his mother as she cleans out the home of her recently deceased sister.


Director Andrew Ahn and writers Hannah Bos and Paul Thurteen map out these grieving characters with wise understatement, and Dennehy’s towering presence is easily matched by youngster Lucas Jaye opposite him. 


Hope Gap 

(Screen Media)

William Nicholson directs his own adaptation of his first-rate chamber play The Retreat from Moscow, which I saw on Broadway in 2003 with the magisterial John Lithgow and Eileen Atkins as a long-married couple about to break up and Ben Chaplin as their son caught in the middle.




In this well-made if too restrained version, Bill Nighy and Annette Bening are persuasive as the couple and Josh O’Connell is decent as their son—but the raw emotions that propelled the play onstage are mostly missing. Instead, we get the scenic Sussex coastline—one of its cliff sides provides the movie’s title—as a lovely postcard backdrop to the marital battles.

May '20 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 

Seire Noire 

(Film Movement Classics)

In Alain Corneau’s provocative 1979 study of lowlifes and delinquents based on Jim Thompson’s novel A Hell of a Woman, Patrick Dewaere—who killed himself six years later at age 35—projects sheer desperation better than anyone this side of Klaus Kinski.



Next to Dewaere’s memorably sketchy turn as a small-town salesman are finely etched performances by Myriam Boyer as his mousy wife and 16-year-old Marie Trintignant (also lost early when she was beaten to death by her boyfriend at age 40) in an astonishing debut as a troubled teen who gets involved with him. Seire Noire remains the second-best Thompson adaptation, runner-up to Bertrand Tavernier’s searing 1982 Coup de Torchon. The film’s grit is well-served on the grainy Blu; extras include 2002 interviews with Trintignant and Corneau and a recent retrospective making-of documentary.


Arrow—Complete Final Season 

(Warner Bros)

Eight seasons of Arrow are wrapped up in satisfying fashion as Oliver Queen (aka the Green Arrow) turns from protecting his beloved hometown Star City to being the last bulwark of safety for the entire multiverse—with several surprising (and even touching) outcomes as the 10 episodes move back and forth thousands of years in the past and into the future.



The uniformly appealing cast is led by Stephen Amell’s Oliver and Emily Bett Rickards, Melanie Merkosky, Katherine McNamara and Katie Cassidy as several of the women revolving around him. The hi-def transfer looks excellent.


Fist of Fear, Touch of Death 

(Film Detective)

Matthew Mallinson’s 1980 martial-arts drama is haphazardly cobbled together from undistinguished vignettes shot in Manhattan, footage from karate bouts at Felt Forum and glimpses of the beloved Bruce Lee in early celluloid appearances (he died several years earlier).



But, despite the presence of Blaxploitation vets Fred Williamson and Ron van Clief—and the always interesting Adolph Caesar as our ringmaster of sorts—this never becomes anything other than a curio for desperate Lee fans. There’s a nice, grainy Blu-ray transfer; the lone extra is a retrospective featurette including interviews with Mallinson, Williamson and producer Terry Levene.


World on Fire—Complete 1st Season 

(PBS Masterpiece)

This absorbing seven-episode historical miniseries thrusts viewers headlong into the beginning of the Second World War on a large canvas that includes Germany, Poland, France, England and Belgium.



The story strands follow ordinary people—we don’t see politicians or generals—and although it’s at times marred by clichés, the tenor of lives threatened with total war is generally well-realized, and the weighty cast (Helen Hunt, Lesley Manville, Sean Bean, and an astonishing young Polish actress, Zofia Wichłacz, for starters) easily does the necessary heavylifting. There’s a superb hi-def transfer.


DVDs of the Week 


(Distrib Films)

The title means “Remember?” in Italian, and director Valerio Mieli examines how memory (and, as Milan Kundera has it in his great novel, forgetting) informs a young couple at the center of his messy but intriguing romantic drama.



The performances of the delightful Linda Caridi and brooding Luca Marinelli are the heart of a film that dives into the complexities of how each partner sees the relationship, no matter how contradictory or maddening it may be to the other one.


The Sharks 

(Breaking Glass Pictures)

Uruguyan director Lucia Garibaldi’s slight but engaging character study concerns teenager Rosina’s infatuation with a slightly older boy who works for her father.



Newcomer Romina Bentancur never hits a false note in her portrayal of a smart and headstrong girl dealing with friends and family—and some of best moments occur as Garibaldi observes Rosina’s sister, who has own teen-related difficulties.


CD of the Week 

Reine de coeur—Hanna-Elisabeth Müller 


The shimmering German soprano Hanna-Elisabeth Müller has fashioned a lovely recital out of the great practitioners of German lieder and French melodies—Schumann, Poulenc and Zemlinsky—in a program of love, life and the depths of the soul.



Müller’s clear soprano rings out with authority and aching honesty, and she is sensitively accompanied by the excellent pianist Juliane Ruf. The Poulenc songs, particularly—two sets of his most beguiling works—are the highlights of a superlative recording.

April '20 Digital Week IV

VOD of the Week 

Why Don’t You Just Die? 


Kirill Sokolov’s jet-black kind-of comedy follows a young man who’s egged on by his girlfriend to kill her father—and that’s just the beginning of 90 minutes’ worth of back-stabbings (figurative and literal), double-crossings and some of the most ridiculously over-the-top bloodlettings in a while.



Whether such violence is an acceptable form of entertainment is, of course, the sticking point; but Sokolov’s irreverence keeps one watching to see what lunacy he’s dreamed up, and his cast is game enough to make it seem as real—or at least as surreal—as possible. 


Blu-rays of the Week

Alastair Sim’s School for Laughter 

(Film Movement Classics)

The great British actor Alastair Sim—best known for playing Scrooge in the 1951 movie version of A Christmas Carol—is the focus of this boxed set containing four comedies to which he contributed: the best of the lot are the classic girls-school farce, 1954’s The Belles of St Trinian’s (in which he plays both the headmistress and her gambling brother) and 1960’s hilarious School for Scoundrels.




All four B&W films have been lovingly restored; extras include interviews with scholars, historians and even Sim’s daughter.





The Cremator 


In this caustic 1969 black comedy, the head of a crematorium in 1930s Czechoslovakia follows the Nazis’ agenda to its ultimate end, and his own “final solution”: beginning with his Jewish wife and children.




Czech director Juraj Herz’s allegory of evil might be too heavyhanded, but his dazzling visual slight-of-hand, Rudolf Hrušínský’s tremendously portentous performance and Zdeněk Liška’s scarily perfect score make this an especially potent example of the Czech New Wave. As usual, Criterion has an excellent hi-def transfer; extras comprise Herz’s 1965 short, The Junk Shop; 1993 Hrušínský interview; 2011 featurette of Herz returning to his film’s locations; and a 55-minute documentary about Liška.


Guns Akimbo 


Daniel Radcliffe plays a nerdy video-game developer who becomes the prey in a terminal live-streamed death match in Jason Lei Howden’s pointlessly—and repetitively—ultra-violent actioner that’s heavy on blood, guts and flying bullets but light on everything else.




Radcliffe is unsurprisingly unable to fashion an interesting character out of someone with guns welded onto his hands; Samara Weaving persuasively plays the professional killer tracking him down, but how expert is she if 99.9 percent of her shots miss? The film looks fine on Blu.


CD of the Week 

La Passione—Barbara Hannigan 


The remarkably daring Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan returns with another spectacular recording, as she does double duty as a singer—on two fiendishly difficult modernist works of the mid and late 20th century—and conductor, on Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 49, which gives this album its title.




Hannigan attacks the swooping and chattering vocal line of Luigi Nono's disturbingly raw five-minute solo Djamila Boupacha (1962) with her customary ease; but that brief work is a mere prelude to her mesmerizing tour de force as vocalist and conductor of Gerard Grisey's 1998 masterwork Quartre Chants Pour Franchir le Seuil (his last completed composition). Hannigan and the versatile Ludwig Orchestra forces bring it all home with a propulsive and—in the atypically mournful opening movement—somber reading of Haydn's minor-key symphony.

April '20 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week



In director William Eubank’s efficient if wholly derivative thriller, shaven-headed Kristen Stewart leads a group of people working at the bottom of the ocean for an oil company who fatally discover several heretofore undiscovered (and lethal) creatures. Most of the dramatic beats are lifted directly from the original Alien, but Eubank and his writers aren’t bothered enough to disguise them, which mitigates their effectiveness. A more serious problem is the difficulty differentiating among people in underwater suits, so there’s not much at stake except to watch who goes next. The hi-def transfer looks warm and inviting.



Action of the Tiger 

(Warner Archive)

The title comes from as lofty a perch as Shakespeare’s Henry V, which is far too exalted for such a routine 1957 adventure, directed in a rather desultory manner by Terence Young (who would helm the first Bond film, Dr. No, five years later, with an actor who has a small role here, Sean Connery). As a mercenary boat captain, Van Johnson has an abrasive manner that’s a mismatch for French actress Martine Carol in one of her few English language roles; their romantic scenes together are faintly ludicrous. With splendid locations in Greece and Spain, the film has a ravishing color palette that looks great on Blu.







Tin Cup 

(Warner Archive)

This 1996 reunion of Bull Durham writer/director Ron Shelton and star Kevin Costner is an enjoyably breezy if overlong tale of another brash and veteran underdog, a golf club pro who enters the U.S. Open to win the hand of the current squeeze of a vain and obnoxious pro. Costner is always charming and Don Johnson makes a good foil, but I’ve never had much use for Rene Russo, even though she tries hard and has some good moments. The problem is that, at two-plus hours, this drags itself to the 18th hole; shorn of 20 minutes, Tin Cup would have been a hole in one instead of a mere birdie. There’s a terrific hi-def transfer.



VOD of the Week

Pot Luck 

(Giant Pictures)

Just in time for 4/20, Jane Wells’ documentary (engagingly narrated by Robin Quivers) engages with all sides of the current cannabis debate in Colorado, which legalized it in 2012: those who sell, grow, use, are against, and must deal with the consequences of it. Wells’ interview subjects range from the thoughtful to the humorous to the banal, but since the film is only 75 minutes, it seems too thin and superficial to gain any lasting insights from. Still, it is an intriguing peek at what’s going on in ground zero for legalized weed.







DVD of the Week 


(Film Movement)

Slick Woods gives a magnetic performance as a Bronx teen fancying herself a future dance star in hip-hop videos who must deal with current reality when she has to make sure her younger sisters aren’t taken away to foster care after their mom is arrested. Too bad Sam de Jong’s mainly routine drama only has infrequent flashes of insight and local color to compensate. The lone extra is U.K. director Dionne Edwards’ short film, We Love Moses



CD of the Week

Korngold—Violin Concerto/String Sextet 


Erich Wolfgang Korngold composed some of the greatest and grandest film scores of the ’30s and ’40s (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk), and his only violin concerto often sounds like the very best film music, especially as played by soloist Andrew Haveron—whose fluid tone perfectly mirrors Korngold’s melodic genius—and accompanied by the RTE Concert Orchestra under the stable hand of conductor John Wilson. Korngold’s string sextet, one of his towering chamber pieces, also has a symphonic grandeur that the superior Sinfonia of London Chamber Ensemble on this disc captures beautifully.

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