Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Broadway Review—“The Present” with Cate Blanchett

The Present
Adapted by Andrew Upton after Chekhov’s Platonov
Directed by John Crowley
Performances through March 19, 2017
Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street, New York, NY

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh in The Present (photo: Joan Marcus)

A teenaged Anton Chekhov wrote an unwieldy, untitled play that was never produced during his lifetime. It resurfaced after his death and has been adapted by fine British writers like Michael Frayn and David Hare under the titles Wild Honey and Platonov, the latter the drama’s eponymous protagonist. Chekhov’s original runs over five hours in performance, and that we are spared an extra two hours of one of the few reasons to be thankful for Andrew Upton’s adaptation, pointlessly titled The Present, starring Upton’s wife, Cate Blanchett and a host of hard-working Australian performers from the Sydney Theater Company.

Still, that means that, for three hours, we are harangued by a fatiguing group of Russians gathering for a weekend in the country to celebrate widow Anna’s 40th birthday, including her stepson Sergei and his wife Sophia; Mikhail Platonov and his wife Sasha, and Nikolai and his girlfriend Maria. Mikhail, Sergei and Nikolai are lifelong friends, and Anna has been close to all of them: but she is closest to Mikhail, who also had a fling with Sophia years ago—a dalliance which seems about ready to continue—is looking to seduce Maria and (why not?) Anna herself.

Although it has the usual Chekhovian ingredients—including one of the most important, a loaded gun—the messy stew that is The Present isn’t entirely the original playwright’s fault, for his humanity occasionally peeks through the mishmash. Instead it’s Upton’s: the adaptation (which at least whittles the head count down to a more manageable baker’s dozen) is scuttled by an inability to make any sense of the many narrative and emotional layers the young Chekhov piled on. And updating the setting to late 1980s glasnost-era Russia, whose oligarchs have their own set of complications, doesn’t make things any clearer.

Director John Crowley does Upton no favors by ratcheting up the performances to the point where even an A-1 scenery chewer like Blanchett seems downright dour as Anna, perking up only when she holds a gun or flails around lewdly to the dance hit “What Is Love?” in a ridiculously pointless scene. Other music choices are also suspect: there are Clash songs blaring at the beginning and end of scenes, but why would these Russians listen to the Clash? Just because Mikhail hands Anna a cassette of the group’s London Calling album doesn’t justify the aural intrusions.

The opening moments, after the first-act curtain rises, are lively and amusing as these people wander onstage after they arrive for the weekend celebration. But it all quickly palls for the audience as endless discussions of life, love, betrayal—and even a certain American movie Mikhail saw—are indistinguishable and anything but illuminating.

In a solid cast of thirteen, Jacqueline McKenzie (Sophia) and Anna Bamford (Maria) score best as they nearly create full-blooded characterizations, while Blanchett and costar Richard Roxburgh—our erstwhile stars—give workmanlike but uninspired performances in roles they are too old for, especially Roxburgh, whose middle-aged Mikhail is never a convincingly irresistible 27-year-old heartthrob.

The Present
Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street, New York, NY

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

January '17 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 
Dog Eat Dog 
Paul Schrader has always been a humorless filmmaker, and his new flick’s attempts to be funny are so witless and ham-fisted that every single moment feels forced, false and amateurish. Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe are reduced to doing little more than striking inept crook poses, so they can’t be blamed for Schrader’s failure to mine blackly comic gold out of the killings of various innocent people (hardy har har). The film looks great on Blu-ray; extras comprise a Schrader commentary, Cage introduction and Cage/Schrader Q&A.

Fox and His Friends 
Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s 1975 melodrama about a working-class homosexual and how his lottery win affects his already lopsided relationship with his new middle-class lover (whose arrogant friends also take advantage of him) is, as usual with this prolific but painfully uneven director, a mishmash of well-observed moments and mediocre filler, not helped by indifferent acting. Criterion’s hi-def transfer is excellent; extras include interviews both archival (Fassbinder and composer Peer Raben) and new (actor Harry Baer and an appreciation from filmmaker Ira Sachs).

New Orleans—Music in Exile 
Because of Hurricane Katrina, one of New Orleans’ biggest industries—its wide-ranging and vital music scene—took a massive hit, as so many musicians and the places they played were displaced by the raging waters. That its music scene rose anew (even as it temporarily relocated to other towns) is what director Robert Mugge’s entertaining and hopeful documentary is about, through interviews with and performances by local luminaries as Dr. John, Cyril Neville, Marcia Ball and Theresa Andersson. There’s a decent hi-def transfer; extras include featurettes and additional performances.

DVDs of the Week
Command and Control 
In this gripping American Experience documentary, director Robert Kenner adroitly visualizes Eric Schlosser’s massive book recounting a near-disastrous nuclear accident in Arkansas in 1980, including interviews with many of the principals and nice use of a mixture of archival footage and re-enactments. The DVD comprises two versions of the film: the two-hour version shown on PBS, and a 90-minute edit shown in theaters. Either way—though more so in its longer version—Command and Control is an unmissable (and scary) experience.


(Sundance Selects) 
Steve Cantor’s engaging portrait of Ukrainian dancer Sergei Polunin introduces us to one of the youngest stars of The Royal Ballet, a celebrity who now has millions of fans worldwide thanks to YouTube videos showing off his dexterous technique and astonishing agility. Although a little thin at 80 minutes, it does delve into his difficult childhood (his parents are divorced) and how his decision to leave Ukraine to dance affected his extended family. Extras include 15 minutes of deleted scenes.

CD of the Week
Spheres—Claremont Trio (AMR)
Performing the chamber music of American composer Robert Paterson—whose work I was heretofore unfamiliar with—the Claremont Trio displays unflagging energy and tastefulness. His two trios, 1995’s Sun and its 2015 follow-up, Moon, are wistful yet muscular works with a surfeit of melodic and harmonic ideas enchantingly realized by the Claremont’s members (Sun was recorded with its original pianist Donna Kwong; Moon with its new pianist Andrea Lam). Sisters Emily and Julia Bruskin play violin and cello, respectively, with exquisite sensitivity, and Julia teams with Lam and fellow cellist Karen Ouzounian for Paterson’s pinpoint Elegy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

January '17 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Accountant
(Warner Bros)
In this clever but contrived thriller, Ben Affleck plays an autistic CPA cooking the books for the mob who conveniently has martial arts and weapons training from his military father: so when he becomes the bad guys’ target, he is able to take lethal aim at them as well. Affleck’s taciturn turn works well for his character, while Anna Kendrick contributes her usual amusing bit as a fellow accountant who joins him on the run. Too bad that after the halfway point, the convoluted plotting goes off the rails and turns a guilty pleasure into an aggressively dumb drama. The hi-def image is excellent; extras comprise several short featurettes.

Black America Since MLK—And Still I Rise
Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s impassioned, polemical but pointed personal history of the past half-century of African American life—from the Civil and Voting Rights Acts to Black Lives Matter—consists of four one-hour segments chronicling those five decades in expansive and intimate ways. Gates speaks with everyone from Eric Holder to Jesse Jackson alongside well-chosen footage that spells out the importance of so many of these events. There’s a superior hi-def transfer.

Girls—Complete 5th Season 
I’ve never been a fan of Lena Dunham’s obnoxiously navel-gazing career, beginning with her inept debut film Tiny Furniture and continuing with the consistently resistible Girls. There are decent performances by Allison Williams and Jemima Kirke as the two least annoying characters in the series, but that’s scant compensation for what continues to be egomania run amuck masquerading as an insightful comedy series. The hi-def transfer looks good; extras are featurettes and deleted/extended scenes.

The People vs. Fritz Bauer
(Cohen Media)
Dramatizing how West German prosecutor Fritz Bauer, in the late 1950s against considerable pushback, helped Israel’s Mossad track down and capture Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, this intelligent biopic is anchored by an unshowy bit of superlative acting by Burghart Klaussner as Bauer. Director-cowriter Lars Kraume—who also slyly shows how the repressive sexual politics of the time could destroy careers—has fashioned an important and absorbing lesson about not-so-distant historical events that mustn’t be forgotten. The movie looks sharp and natural on Blu-ray; extras are deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

DVD of the Week 
Eero Saarinen—The Architect Who Saw the Future
Son of a noted architect himself, Eero Saarinen surpassed father Eliel’s talent with his own genius in this engrossing hour-long PBS American Masters episode, narrated by Eero’s own son Eric. Creating iconic structures like JFK Airport’s TWA terminal, Dulles Airport and the St. Louis Arch, Saarinen’s individuality is on display throughout. But even in its longer version—which, unseen on TV, is included on DVD—this program only scratches the surface of what Eero accomplished in his lifetime. Four short featurettes are included as extras.

My King
(Film Movement)
As writer-director, French actress Maïwenn makes intense films about passionate characters: following her previous feature, the hard-hitting drama Polisse, is an exquisitely intimate study of what must be one of the most dysfunctional relationships ever captured on film. Overlong and with too many emotional and plot detours, My King nevertheless displays Maïwenn’s fierce talent behind the camera and the equally committed performance of Emmanuelle Bercot as a woman who can’t drop the man in her life (a one-note Vincent Cassel). Extras comprise outtakes, deleted scene and Maïwenn’s debut short, 2004’s I’m an Actrice, with the director herself in the lead.

CDs of the Week
Ginastera: One Hundred
(Oberlin Music)
Tania Stavreva: Rhythmic Movement 
The 2016 centenary of Argentine master Alberto Ginastera’s birth went by with nary a whimper, a shame considering the exceptional works he composed before his death in 1983. A few recordings nodded to the anniversary, like Sony’s re-issue of his opera Bormazo. But the best is Ginastera: One Hundred, which showcases top-flight soloists in first-rate performances of some of his most renowned compositions. Yolanda Kondonassis (with Oberlin Orchestra) plays the  Harp Concerto; Gil Shaham and sister Orli Shaham the violin-piano duet Pampeana No. 1; Jason Vieux, the Sonata for Guitar; and Orli Shaham, the set of solo piano pieces, Danzas Argentinas. As satisfying as this recording is, it’s too short: at 55 minutes, there was surely room for another substantial Ginastera work.

Bulgarian pianist Tania Stavreva also pays tribute to Ginastera on her new CD, Rhythmic Movement: excerpts from his piano music are thrillingly performed by this monstrously talented musician, who illuminates Ginastera with works that exploit the rhythmic aspect of the keyboard, including her own pieces and Bulgarian folk tunes. The final track, taken from the final movement of Ginastera’s Piano Sonata, has Stavreva and drummer Will Calhoun exploring rhythm in fascinating ways.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

January '17 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 
Downton Abbey—The Complete Collection
The most watched PBS Masterpiece offering in history is this six-season series created by Julian Fellowes, who meticulously recreated the insular worlds of both masters and servants on a British estate, stretching from pre-World War I to the roaring (but still ominous) ‘20s. What began as a sort of Upstairs, Downstairs for a new generation soon became an absorbing soap opera in its own right, with the likes of Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville playing the gentrified family members whose own domestic dramas are played out while their servants’ own lives undergo scrutiny. This 21-disc set comprises all 52 episodes from the half-dozen seasons, as well as plenty of bonus features that include on-set featurettes, interviews and five hours of previously unseen material.

(Opus Arte)
Young British actor Paapa Essiedu was one of the highlights of the recent Shakespeare Live! at Stratford for the 400th anniversary of his death (shown on PBS), speaking Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech with clarity and power, so it’s heartening that he plays the part with intelligence and charisma in Simon Godwin’s otherwise unexciting staging at the Royal Shakespeare Company. The supporting cast is undistinguished except for Natalie Simpson’s emotive Ophelia, while directorial liberties obscure rather than illuminate. At least Essiedu shows he’s one of Britain’s great acting hopes. Hi-def video and audio are good; extras are Godwin’s commentary and behind the scenes featurette.

Hermann Prey—The Schubert Song Cycles 
(C Major)
One of the best German lieder singers of the past half century, Hermann Prey was especially compelling performing his beloved Franz Schubert, and this disc brings together video recordings of him singing the three great Schubert song cycles: Die schone mullerin, Schwanengasang and Winterreise. He’s in peak vocal form, and his piano accompanists (Leonard Hokanson on the first two, Helmut Deutsch on Winterreise) are with him every step of the way. Audio and video (these are recordings from 1984 and ‘86) are adequate; extras are Prey’s intros for all three cycles and a 50-minute documentary about his career.

La Traviata
(C Major)
Recent stagings of two classic 19th century operas are distinguished by top-notch casts, beginning with Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele, brought into the musical stratosphere by peerless bass-baritone Rene Pape as the devil, tenor Joseph Calleja as Faust and a riveting Kristine Opolais as Margherita. Verdi’s Traviata has at its center Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko, who makes the courtesan Violetta her own and may be well on her way to becoming the new Anna Netrebko, now that Netrebko has settled into a comfortable middle age. Both discs feature first-rate hi-def video and audio.

The Night Has a Thousand Desires 
(Mondo Macabro)
Spanish softcore auteur Jess Franco made this 1984 pseudo-erotic thriller, characterized—as always—by his leading lady’s penchant for frequent disrobing, which, since the actress in question is Lina Romay (who’s easy on the eyes, whatever her merits as a thespian), it’s a not unpleasant way to spend 94 minutes. Dramatically, Franco’s style is inert and turgid, but he does occasionally make things interesting if not entirely engrossing. The film looks decent enough on Blu-ray; extras comprise a Franco documentary and interview with horror-film buff Stephen Thrower.

DVDs of the Week
Britain’s Bloody Crown
Historian and English monarchy expert Dan Jones has made an engaging four-part document of royal history, essentially going over the same Wars of the Roses territory that the recent PBS Masterpiece series The Hollow Crown did via Shakespeare. But even though Jones makes such red rivers of royal blood—through corruption, double-crossing and endless wars—come alive, he’s hamstrung by one of my own betes noires, re-created historical events, which even when done well as they are here seem inadequate to illuminate historical events.

The Secret Agent 
This adaptation of one of Joseph Conrad’s classic novels (albeit not as well-known as Heart of Darkness or Lord Jim) is centered by an accomplished performance by Toby Jones as a British businessman and family man who doubles—to the behest of no one, not even his wife—as a Russian spy. This sumptuous three-hour adaptation, originally made for British TV, has several sequences where it spins its wheels dramatically and narratively, but overall it’s a stimulating, even at times gripping, piece of work.

CD of the Week
Manon Lescaut
(Deutsche Grammophon)
Giacomo Puccini’s tragic romance doesn’t really need another recording at this date, but when the lead role of that fatal beauty is sung by none other than Russian superstar Anna Netrebko at the top of her considerable vocal game, then why not? Marco Armiliato sensitively conducts Puccini’s ravishing score in this performance from the most recent Salzburg Festival; too bad Netrebko’s husband, tenor Yusif Eyvazov, is not up to snuff as Des Grieux, Manon’s bewitched lover.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Broadway Review—New Musical “A Bronx Tale”

A Bronx Tale
Book by Chazz Palminteri; music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Glenn Slater
Directed by Robert DeNiro and Jerry Zaks; choreographed by Sergio Trujillo
Opened December 1, 2016
Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street, New York, NY

Nick Cordero and Hudson Loverro in A Bronx Tale (photo: Joan Marcus)
Of all the musical adaptations that have cluttered the Broadway landscape recently, I didn’t have much hope for A Bronx Tale. Based on Chazz Palminteri’s autobiographical one-man stage show—itself turned into a 1993 film directed by and starring Robert DeNiro—it follows a young Italian boy, Calogero, befriended by a Mafia hood who becomes his strangely credible second father of sorts.

But despite such innately unmusical material, A Bronx Tale works handily onstage. Palminteri’s book nicely balances the comic overtones of a streetwise kid’s growing up in the 1960s with the serious undertones of Sonny’s violent way of life. Even the romantic subplot between teenage Calogero and his girlfriend Jane plays out in an era of racial strife—Jane is black—giving added weight to what would otherwise be frivolous high school happenings.

Director Jerry Zaks’ forte is the zestiness of the staging, although the sudden violence and intense confrontations may be co-director DeNiro’s contribution. Always a clever hand with stage movement, Sergio Trujillo provides shapely and vigorous choreography. If Glenn Slater’s lyrics are passable at best and shopworn at worst, Alan Menken’s songs remain pleasantly entertaining al a Jersey Boys, which the framework of this show vaguely resembles.

The large cast is uniformly good, even if Richard H. Blake and Lucia Giannetta, both engaging as Calogero’s parents, have too little to do. Ariana Debose makes a winning Jane, and if Bobby Conte Thornton is a little too on the nose as the grown-up Calogero, Hudson Loverro is an irresistibly appealing presence as the young boy.

Best of all is Nick Cordero as Sonny, whom Palminteri played in the movie. In a bit of serendipity, Cordero also played Cheech in the Broadway version of Bullets over Broadway, which Palminteri had also played in Woody Allen’s classic movie. So Cordero has always shown adeptness at portraying hoods with a brilliantly uncanny way of simultaneously playing into the mobster stereotype and hilariously, even touchingly, transcending it.

That Cordero also has a fantastic stage presence—which he puts to thrilling use in his solo number, “One of the Great Ones”—earns him the overused sobriquet “show-stopper.” A Bronx Tale is a fun diversion, but Cordero makes it well-nigh unmissable.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Leading Ladies On Stage—Sutton Foster in “Sweet Charity”; Laura Osnes at 54 Below

Sweet Charity
Music by Cy Coleman; lyrics by Dorothy Fields; book by Neil Simon
Directed by Leigh Silverman; choreographed by Joshua Bergasse
Performances through January 9, 2017
The New Group @ Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street, New York, NY

Laura Osnes: The Roads Not Taken
Performances through November 30, 2016
54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, New York, NY

I’ve said it many times: we are in a golden age of sublime theater singer-actresses, and two of our very best are Sutton Foster and Laura Osnes. It’s always a treat whenever either of them are on stage, and when they appear in smaller spaces, so much the better. That’s what we get as Foster is killing it in Sweet Charity in the cozy confines of the Signature’s Linney Theater, while Osnes recently performed her captivating cabaret show at the intimate club 54 Below.

Sutton Foster (center) in Sweet Charity (photo: Monique Carboni)

Foster and director Leigh Silverman must deal with long shadows in Sweet Charity, based on Federico Fellini's classic 1956 tragicomedy The Nights of Cabiria, which starred the director’s beloved wife Giulietta Masina in the title role; Bob Fosse’s original Broadway production starred the director/choreographer’s beloved wife Gwen Verdon. So four legends of film and theater tower over this proto-feminist musical, whose tuneful and hummable score is by Cy Coleman, clever lyrics by Dorothy Fields and amusingly sassy book is by Neil Simon.

Foster’s Charity—the put-upon but endlessly optimistic dance hall hostess whose every romantic relationship ends in tears—is a dazzling creation, filled to the brim with the star’s bottomless well of charisma, pizzazz, charm and spunkiness. She can drop Simon’s sharp one-liners like nobody’s business, she can sing like a dream and her dance moves can put most of her peers to shame. As one example of many, her scintillating tap number during “If My Friends Could See Me Now” is such a show-stopper in every sense that it threatens to topple the tenuous hold Silverman has on the material.

Apparently, Sweet Charity must now be tweaked to make it palatable today: no one would believe such a beguilingly sweet thing as an almost willing doormat for men, so this hopeless romantic has been turned into a slightly more hopeful realist. Foster’s sass is less naïve ingénue and more bruised lover, and the show’s final number has become “Where Am I Going?”, originally sung by Charity before, not after, her final amorous entanglement ends in disappointment.

Such directorial intrusion doesn’t totally destroy the show: Derek McLane’s spare set, Jeff Croiter’s moody lighting, Joshua Bergasse’s serviceable choreography, the solid supporting cast and tight six-piece (all-female!) band contribute to its entertainment quotient. And Silverman knows enough to leave her star front and center, and she makes Sweet Charity as much her own as she did Anything Goes, Violet and The Wild Party. No one can do it all quite like Sutton Foster.

Laura Osnes

Minnesota native Laura Osnes made her auspicious Broadway debut in 2007’s revival of Grease, then consolidated that with winning turns in shows as varied as South Pacific, Bonnie and Clyde, Cinderella and Bandstand (coming to Broadway in the spring). For her current solo show at 54 Below—which she’s performed several times in the past couple years—she has looked at other musicals which, for various reasons, ended up not panning out for her, under the cute title Laura Osnes: The Roads Not Taken.

Opening with “Not for the Life of Me” from Thoroughly Modern Millie—which gave Foster her first Tony in 2002—Osnes proceeded through an alternate career that, in its offbeat way, is almost as impressive as what she ended up doing. Punctuated by thoroughly charming explanations of why this or that show didn’t turn out right for her (something else came along, she didn’t get called back, etc.), Osnes beguiled the audience with her bright, clear soprano in numbers from classic musicals like Fiddler on the Roof, Brigadoon, My Fair Lady and a pair of Sondheims, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd—all of which sounded tantalizingly right when she performed songs like “Show Me,” “Soon” and “Green Finch and Linnet Bird.”

Equally satisfying were her forays into more recent shows: she agily brandished the puppet Kate for “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” from Avenue Q, sang the hell out of the title song from Bring It On (which is not in the show any more, she wryly noted) and dueted with guest star Rob McClure in a sensitive “What I Meant to Say” from My Paris. There was of course the requisite “Popular” from Wicked, but that was offset by “Let Me Your Star” from TV’s Smash and a lovely “What Baking Can Do” from Waitress, which she was in the running to take over from Jessie Mueller. Instead, she’ll return to Broadway in Bandstand, which she gave the audience a taste of with “Worth It.” When I saw it at the Paper Mill last year, Osnes’s emotionally focused performance was the show’s highlight, which it undoubtedly will be on Broadway as well.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

December '16 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 
Creepshow 2
The Driller Killer 
The first Creepshow (1982) was fun, but its 1987 follow-up Creepshow 2 is far less memorably more of the same: its three segments have their moments (especially the third, with Lois Chiles’s manic performance as an adulterous wife who keeps running over the same man), but the overall effect is of desperation and a far cry from the original. Abel Ferrara’s insane Driller Killer (1979) stars the director himself as a tortured artist turned title murderer: if you’re into Ferrara’s twisted worldview, by all means help yourself. Both films have excellent restored transfers; extras are interviews, commentaries and features, with Ferrara’s documentary, Mulberry St., on Driller.

In Order of Disappearance 
Stellan Skarsgard’s intense performance as a grieving father who tracks down those drug dealers responsible for his son’s fatal overdose is the obvious reason to watch director Hans Petter Moland’s muddled but entertaining black comedy. The violence seems real, pouring out of the father’s sorrow and revenge, which Skarsgard plays perfectly, even during the film’s final (and intentionally ridiculous) shootout. There’s a superior hi-def transfer; extras are brief interviews.

The Man Who Skied Down Everest 
(Film Detective) 
Bruce Nydnik and Lawrence Schiller’s Oscar-winning 1975 Best Documentary is a still-astonishing chronicle of the 1970 quest by Japanese daredevil Yuichiro Miura to climb and ski down the world’s highest mountain. Douglas Rain’s narration (from Miura’s own diaries) is at times redundant, but the incredible camerawork, which catches seemingly every moment of this superhuman attempt—including some of the most amazing feats ever shot—is what makes this a classic of its kind. The film looks splendid on Blu-ray.

(Sony Classical)
Giuseppe Verdi’s classic opera might even outdo Shakespeare’s play for dramatic intensity and sorrowful tragedy, and Bartlett Sher’s new Met Opera staging catches all of that, thanks to sensitive conducting by Yannick Nezet-Segun and exceptional playing by the Met Orchestra. Then there are the emotionally rich portrayals of Aleksandrs Antonenko as Othello, Zeljko Lucic as Iago and Sonya Yoncheva as a heartbreaking Desdemona. Both the hi-def video and audio are impressive.

(Warner Bros) 
In Clint Eastwood’s absorbing if not particularly resonant reconstruction of the celebrated “Miracle on the Hudson” in 2009, Tom Hanks gives a functional but unilluminating portrayal of one of America’s most celebrated heroes, airline pilot Sully Sullenberger. Far better because less encumbered by hero worship is Aaron Eckhart as the unsung co-pilot; in the thankless role of the worried wife phoning husband Sully, Laura Linney is all classy understatement. The film, a relatively brief but still padded 96 minutes, looks fine on Blu; extras comprise three making-of featurettes.

DVDs of the Week
Alice Winocour’s involving thriller centers around a wonderfully complicated central relationship: a French Iraq war vet with PTSD becomes a bodyguard for the trophy wife of a wealthy businessman, and when deadly home invaders arrive, his skills come in handy to save her, her child and himself. Deftly combining action with introspection, Winocour has made a volatile drama buoyed by superb performances by Matthias Schoenaerts and Diane Kruger.

Little Men 
Ira Sachs’ latest New York City-set comic drama is a well-observed but meandering study of teenagers who become friends amid the linked difficulties of their family lives: even at 85 minutes, the film feels stretched out, as if it’s little more than a sketch turned into feature length. Sachs’ usual strength is his cast, and Little Men is no exception: the boys are truthfully played by newcomers Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri, and there’s good work from Alfred Molina, Talia Balsam, Jennifer Ehle and Greg Kinnear as the adults in their lives.