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May '18 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 

Les Girls 

(Warner Archive)

This clumsily executed 1957 musical comprising Cole Porter’s beguiling tunes recounts the friction among the partners in a famous cabaret act, with Gene Kelly doing his usual razzle-dazzle alongside his main ladies Mitzi Gaynor, Kay Kendall and Taina Elg, who all are worthy of the praise Porter showers on them.

 

 

 

Too bad George Cukor’s curiously flatfooted direction keeps this from taking off like the best movie musicals of its era do. The colorful widescreen compositions look excitingly alive in hi-def; extras are an archival featurette hosted by Elg and a vintage cartoon.

 

The Insult 

(Cohen Media)

In Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri’s volatile Beirut-set feature, hurled insults between a local and a Palestinian laborer spiral into a national case that is judged in the media and the courtroom. Doueiri’s taut story raises the stakes between the two men at first, but then becomes more strident and contrived, so much so that its power is diminished.

 

 

 

Still, Doueiri’s formidably authentic actors lend the film the gravitas it needs. There’s a superb hi-def transfer; lone extra is an informative 33-minute interview in which Doueiri discusses (in English) his film’s genesis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame In Concert 

(Time Life)

This invaluable two-disc set for music fans collects the most recent quartet of Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies: 2014, 2016 and 2017 in Brooklyn and 2015 in Cleveland.

 

 

 

Not surprisingly, the highlights are many: 2014 features the remaining members of Nirvana with singers Joan Jett, Kim Gordon, Annie Clark and Lorde; 2015 brings a Ringo and Paul reunion for Starr’s belated solo induction; 2016 finally admits both Deep Purple and Cheap Trick; and 2017 does the same with both ELO and Yes (with Geddy Lee playing bass in place of the late, great Chris Squire). Hi-def video and audio are first-rate.

 

12 Strong 

(Warner Bros)

After the Sept. 11 attacks, an elite troop of U.S. Special Forces goes to Afghanistan to kick-start the War on Terror by (at first begrudgingly and later more willingly) teaming with the North Alliance to battle the Taliban and al Qaeda.

 

 

 

This straightforward and effective dramatization of the group’s heroics has been directed by the workmanlike Nicolai Fuglsig, and the heroes are enacted with true grit by Liam Hemsworth, Michael Shannon and Michael Pena, among others. The hi-def transfer is exceptionally good; extras comprise two behind-the-scenes featurettes.

 

DVDs of the Week

Capitalism 

(Icarus)

Ilan Ziv’s exhaustive six-part feature documents the history of capitalism, from Adam Smith’s incisive and misinterpreted insights (like his legendary phrase, “invisible hand”) to the 2008 global collapse, which—according to many renowned economists—wasn’t supposed to happen.

 

 

 

Through interviews with sundry experts and witty sequences explaining integral concepts, Ziv has made a thorough, impactful look at what, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, is the worst of all possible economic systems—except for all others.

 

A Violent Life 

(Distrib Films)

The Mediterranean island of Corsica (Napoleon’s birthplace) isn’t usually in movies, especially as shown in Thierry de Peretti’s gritty drama, whose protagonist returns from Paris to the raw, violent isle he grew up on after his best friend (and fellow gang member) is murdered.

 

 

 

Through clever flashbacks, de Peretti trenchantly explores the underbelly of a modern society whose everyday life is gripped by crime and a regional fractionalism so severe that it’s led to a separatist movement against the arrogant French state.

Broadway Review—Lucy Kirkwood’s “The Children"

The Children

Written by Lucy Kirkwood; directed by James MacDonald

Performances through February 4, 2018

 

Ron Cook, Francesca Annis and Deborah Findlay in The Children (photo: Joan Marcus)

The ponderous The Children arrives in New York after raves in London, as Lucy Kirkwood’s risible drama about the after effects of a devastating nuclear plant disaster wastes its topnotch cast.

 

Post-meltdown in rural England, 60-something marrieds (and retired nuclear engineers) Robin and Hazel live just outside the radioactive danger zone. When former colleague Rose arrives out of nowhere, scaring the bejesus out of Hazel—who smacks Rose’s nose in fright, causing a torrent of blood staining Rose’s shirt—Robin and Hazel find themselves dealing with a past that includes infidelity, along with figuring out the kind of future (if any) they’ll have.

 

The play’s title refers to the couple’s unseen offspring, whom Rose asks Hazel about more than once, along with referring to the play’s strident plea not to ruin our world for our children’s benefit. Kirkwood strains at understatement in her characters’ small talk and British stiff-upper-lipped reserve, however wrongheaded for her creaky melodrama. It's obvious that all three of them are aware of past indiscretions, so why the continued dancing around the subject?

 

And to extend what might have been a taut fifty-minute one-acter into a flabby one-hundred minute one-acter, Kirkwood drops in irrelevancies like a dance sequence to a song the trio loves, along with a pointless conversation that finds Hazel constantly questioning Rose if she only did number 1 in the loo instead of number 2, which causes the toilet to clog. Rose replies that she only did number 1—and when water comes streaming into the kitchen, (un)hilarity ensues.

 

Rose isn’t settling old scores or putting their mutual past in proper perspective: instead, she’s asking her fellow scientists to join her at the stricken plant to take over cleanup from the much younger workers currently there. After all, since they’re pushing 70, it makes sense for them to risk their twilight years than those with decades ahead of them. It's a worthy sentiment, but Kirkwood drops it in so heavy-handedly that it has little of the sense of urgency or mortality she was aiming for.

 

It’s up to three superior performers—Deborah Findlay (Hazel), Ron Cook (Robin) and especially Francesca Annis (Rose)—and James MacDonald’s sympathetic direction to make this shrill message play palatable.

 

The Children

Samuel Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York, NY

ManhattanTheatreClub.com

Why the best "Best Animated Short Subject" nominee won't win.

Last September, I was at the Ottawa Animation Festival, which is the main thing that happens in Canada’s capitol aside from government bureaucracy, and on the last day I was there, there was a long gap between screenings, so I went down to the Arts Center where some events I hadn’t noticed before were still going on, and I when I got there, I saw that there was a long, long line.

 

This was for Pearl, a 360° short film released as part of Google’s Spotlight Stories project. Now what this thing was, was not one of those 3D things where you need special glasses for, but something more important: A narrative Virtual Reality experience.

 

It blew me away. This is the future of cinema. It told a story (about a guy, his kid, and their car), and it did what VR was supposed to do, put you in the middle of the action. You had to put on the goggles and headphones to see it, and that’s fine, it’s the way we’re going to watch movies in the ’30s and ’40s. We have to start somewhere.

 

In the early 1930s, a two-reeler called La Cucaracha got an Oscar for Best Short. It wasn’t very good in and of itself, but it was the first film to use 3-strip Technicolor, and as such looked gorgeous. So it was, for the time, a technical marvel.

https://youtu.be/qx7VYcSPNoU

Pearl is that sort of film. Not something that will thrill viewers 30 years from now. But something like, Dire Straits’ music video Money for Nothing back in the ‘80s, something that was really cool and somewhat visionary at the time, but soon become dated. That thing looked kind of primitive when it came out. So did FDR’s television from 1939. State of the Art doesn’t seem “state of the art” for very long.

https://youtu.be/lAD6Obi7Cag

And thus it is for Pearl. The first successful experiment of something that would show the world the possibilities of the next phase in the evolution of the art form.

 

The people who make the nominations pretty much all saw the 360° version, and yes, that version deserved all the accolades it can get. But here’s the rub. The nominees have to be seen on the silver screen, which means the people who voted on the Oscar itself won’t see it. They will see a  “cinematic” cut down version that’s nowhere near as good, and these people will wonder how this nice, but by no means exceptional, little film earned a nomination in the Best Animated Short category.

https://youtu.be/WqCH4DNQBUA

 

So it will lose. Which is sad.

 

Canada Cool Comedy Tour Launches Comedic Invasion of NYC

Father and Guns

Canada has given us so much in comedy, whether it is from writers, TV shows, and movies. Now on September 18 - 25, 2015 at Cinema Village (22 E 12th St, New York, NY), the Canada Cool - Comedy Tour, presented by Telefilm, celebrates the comedic legacy of the northern territories. A curated selection of ten Canadian films that have not yet reached American theaters, plus two classics.

Films include:

  • Being Canadian (opening night)
    Robert Cohen’s (The Simpsons, The Big Bang Theory) hilarious, insightful journey full of true patriot love from Canadian-turned-Hollywood comedy writing guru.

  • Two 4 One
    A bittersweet comedic drama that sees a transgender hero in an unimaginable predicament.
  • Father and Guns
    The highest grossing Québécois film in Canadian history about mobsters, sleazy lawyers, cops in hot pursuit, and dads with angry lads is a delightful firecracker of a comedy.
  • Henri Henri
    Orphaned and forgotten by all, shy and unassuming Henri has created the perfect job to suit his unique talent. He maintains the lamps and light fittings at the convent he has called home for his entire life. When he is forced to leave the protective walls of the institution, he is suddenly thrown into a foreign environment and the real world quickly overwhelms him.
  • Relative Happiness
    Plus–sized woman (Melissa Bergland, Best Actress Award, 2014 LA Comedy Festival) is a feisty B & B owner desperate for a date to her sister’s wedding.
  • Sunflower Hour
    Puppeteers audition for a children's TV program produced by a lapsed pornographer in this “cheerfully non-PC mockumentary“(Variety)
  • Bang Bang Baby
    A 1960s teen thinks her dreams of becoming a singer will come true when a famous musician (Justin Chatwin, Shameless) is stranded in town. But a chemical plant leak turns people into mutants and her dream turns into a nightmare.
  • Asphalt Watches
    Asphalt Watches is a true story. A feature-length animation based on a real-life hitchhiking trip taken by the two filmmakers, Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver, Asphalt Watches details the hilarious and harrowing journey of Bucktooth Cloud and Skeleton Hat as they travel eastward across Canada in the summer of 2000.

For more info and showtimes, visit: http://www.cinemavillage.com/

Canada Cool - Comedy Tour

September 18 - 25, 2015

Cinema Village
22 E 12th St.
New York, NY 10003

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