Tuesday, October 10, 2017

October '17 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 
Othello
(Criterion)
Orson Welles’ deliriously cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare’s great tragedy was made intermittently over several years, and wasn’t finished until 1952—even then, it has (like several Welles’s films) been shown in varied edits; the new Criterion set includes two—the second from 1955—which have differences but are cinematically and historically worthy. Both versions look sublime on Blu-ray; extras include Welles’s final finished film, 1979’s Making Othello; 1995’s Souvenirs d’Othello, about Suzanne Cloutier (who plays Desdemona); 1953 short Return to Glennascaul; and interviews with Welles biographer Simon Callow and scholars.

Children of the Corn
(Arrow)
Stephen King’s already forgettable short story was stretched to a dullish 85 minutes by director Fritz Kiersch for his woebegone 1984 adaptation, which stars Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton as a couple of benighted travelers stuck in a tiny village overrun by murderous children under a spell of sorts by “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” At least the film has a superior hi-def transfer, and the extras include interviews (including a new one with Hamilton), commentaries, and Disciples of the Crow, a 1983 short also based on King’s original tale.

The Farthest—Voyager in Space 
(PBS)
The amazing journeys of the Voyager spacecraft—which together gave NASA its first fly-bys of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune—is recounted in intelligent and informative fashion in writer-director Emer Reynolds’ documentary, which comprises the still spectacular images both craft provided along with the often emotional reminiscences of those who were involved with the launches and flights through our solar system and beyond. Needless to say, it all looks gorgeous on Blu-ray; lone extra is an 18-minute short, Second Genesis.

A Fish Called Wanda
(Arrow)
This nasty, only fitfully funny 1988 black comedy—written by John Cleese and directed by Ealing Studios veteran Charles Crichton—has not aged well: Kevin Kline’s Oscar-winning performance as a dim-witted American seems excessively shrill and the sight gags and comic situations are strained and obvious. Still, with Cleese and Michael Palin on board, there are some golden comic moments, albeit few and far between. Happily, there’s a nice amount of grain on the new hi-def transfer; extras comprise Cleese’s commentary; 1988 behind-the-scenes documentary John Cleese’s First Farewell Performance; 15th anniversary retrospective featurette Something Fishy; film locations featurette; Cleese’s introduction; and 26 deleted scenes with Cleese commentary.

The House 
(Warner Bros)
Will Farrell and Amy Poehler coast on whatever’s left of their SNL legacy in this shrill, abrasive, and mostly unfunny comedy about parents who turn their home into a casino to raise money for their beloved daughter’s college tuition. Even at 88 minutes, The House feels impossibly stretched out, especially when Jeremy Renner shows up as a tough-guy Mafioso who meets his match in our two stars. The hi-def transfer is fine; extras include two featurettes, deleted and extended scenes, and a gag reel, which shows that at least they had fun making the movie.

Pilgrimage
(RLJ Entertainment)
Director Brendan Muldowney’s historical drama about a dangerous journey from an Irish monastery to Rome to deliver an important religious relic has a formidable visual pedigree (costumes, sets, vistas are all astonishing) but is a bumpy ride nevertheless. There’s enough visceral action to keep it watchable, but it could have been something more. The film does look splendid on Blu, and the extras are behind-the-scenes featurettes and interviews.

Superman: The Movie—Extended Cut & Special Edition 
(Warner Bros)
Richard Donner’s original 1978 Superman movie—a flawed but hugely entertaining superhero movie that’s much more palatable (and memorable) than the more recent Marvel flicks—was originally shown on network TV with an extra 40 minutes of unseen footage, and that 188-minute epic makes its Blu-ray debut in this release, along with Donner’s own 2-1/2 hour “special edition.” Both versions have excellent hi-def transfers; extras include a Donner commentary, featurettes, restored and additional scenes, and screen tests—the best of which are alternate Lois Lanes: Stockard Channing, Debra Raffin, Susan Blakely and (my favorite) Anne Archer.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

October '17 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Legend of the Holy Drinker
(Arrow Academy)
Italian master Ermanno Olmi made this exquisite 1987 adaptation of Joseph Roth’s droll novella about a homeless drifter in Paris who cannot, no matter how hard he tries, return the 200 francs he received as a loan. Olmi’s elegant, dream-like fable is filmed with typically lovely understatement and exacting quietude; Rutger Hauer is superb in the lead, his face precisely etched by Olmi and cinematographer Dante Spinotti. This wonderful, life-affirming drama has been superlatively restored, and contains both Italian and English language audio tracks; extras are a new Hauer interview and a vintage one with co-writer Tullio Kezich. 

Big Pacific
(PBS)
Yes, the Pacific is—as our president might say—the “bigliest” of our earth’s oceans, as per this superbly filmed chronicle of the multitudes of life teeming within and around it (whether off the coast of British Columbia, New Zealand, Africa, South America or the U.S.). The truly incredible above- and underwater footage in each of the four episodes—titled “Mysterious,” “Violent,” “Voracious” and “Passionate”—featuring everything from whales and sharks to turtles and the tiniest specimens on the ocean floor is brilliantly edited and narrate for maximum visceral impact and narration filled with scientific insight and analysis. The hi-def footage is, of course, stupendous; lone extra is a 50-minute making-of featurette.

Brigadoon 
Waiting for Guffman
(Warner Archive)
Vincente Minnelli’s classic 1954 adaptation of Brigadoon—Lerner and Loewe’s hit Broadway musical—has the matchless Gene Kelly and Syd Charisse (their song and dance duet on “The Heather on the Hill” is a highlight), tuneful songs and stunning color photography. Like his other mockumentaries, Christopher Guest’s 1996 Waiting for Guffman is well-written, -acted and -staged—but only intermittently funny. Despite a talented cast including Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, cowriter Eugene Levy and cowriter-director Guest himself, this is essentially a 10-minute sketch stretched out beyond its slender means to 84 minutes. Both films have quite good hi-def transfers; Brigadoon extras are musical number outtakes and audio outtakes, and Guffman extras comprise a Guest/Levy commentary and deleted scenes with their commentary.

Churchill
(Cohen Media)
Brian Cox’s intensely gripping Winston Churchill is anything but a caricature in Jonathan Teplitzsky’s mostly melodramatic dramatization of the British prime minister’s pushing against the specifics of the upcoming D-Day invasion. Miranda Richardson is a hoot as wife Clemmie, John Slattery a non-descript Eisenhower and Julian Wadham a tough-as-nails Montgomery in a film that never persuasively illustrates a few very important days during World War II, especially when we know the outcome. There’s a stellar hi-def transfer; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

The Death of Louis XIV 
(Cinema Guild)
Albert Serra’s often mesmerizing but repetitious account of the final days of the French king Louis XIV is a sumptuous-looking attempt at recording history similar to Roberto Rossellini’s The Taking of Power by Louis XIV. Serra emphasizes the inability of the king’s minions to stop his gangrene from becoming fatal; nearly the whole time, Jean-Pierre Léaud—giving his best performance since his debut as Antoine Doinel in Truffaut’s 400 Blows—lies in his royal bed, growing weaker by degrees while trying to retain the last vestiges of nobility he’s had his entire life. The candle-lit imagery looks striking on Blu-ray; extras are last year’s New York Film Festival press conference with Serra and Léaud and Serra’s 2013 short, Cuba Libre.

Don’t Torture a Duckling
Suspicious Death of a Minor
(Arrow)
Two more Italian giallos from the fertile early ‘70s era have been lovingly rescued in hi-def by Arrow. Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture (1972) is an unapologetically violent and seamy thriller about the murders of young boys in a small Italian town, with the Catholic Church hovering over it all. Equally bizarre and compelling is Sergio Martino’s Suspicious Death (1975), which follows an undercover Milan cop trying to make sense of murders of various witnesses to another killing. The films are by turns gritty and ridiculous; extras include audio commentaries, new and vintage interviews, and featurettes.

DVDs of the Week 
Cinema Novo
Stray Dog
(Icarus)
Eryk Rocha’s documentary Cinema Novo is a superb primer on the 1960s/70s Brazilian film movement that introduced several original directors to a wider audience: exclusively through clips of classic films like Black God White Devil and archival interviews with artists like Nelson Pereira do Santos, Glauber Rocha (Eryk’s father), and Ruy Guerra, Cinema Novo displays the still reverberating legacy of the Brazilian New Wave. Stray Dog is Debra Granik’s poignant 2014 documentary portrait of Ron Hall, a biker from Mississippi who fought in the Vietnam War, which still affects his life today, more than four decades later.

The Best of The Carol Burnett Show (50th Anniversary Edition)
The Tonight Show: Johnny and Friends and The Vault Series Collector’s Edition
(Time-Life)
Some of the greatest moments in the history of television live on in these new DVD sets. The six-disc The Best of The Carol Burnett Show (50th Anniversary Edition) comprises 16 episodes from each of the 11 seasons (1967-78) of the beloved comedienne’s classic variety show, with many favorite sketches and many guest stars from Ella Fitzgerald to James Stewart. Two new Johnny Carson collections—Johnny and Friends and The Vault Series Collector’s Edition—are must-watches for anyone who stayed up after 11:30 from the ‘60s to the early ‘90s. Friends rounds up 28 episodes with several of Johnny’s best guests, from David Letterman and Burt Reynolds to Don Rickles and Steve Martin. Vault has 12 full shows (with the original commercials), standouts being the 10th and 11th anniversary specials. Burnett extras include interviews, featurettes and bloopers.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

September '17 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Piano Teacher
(Criterion)
One of Austrian master Michael Haneke’s most memorably disturbing dramas, this explosive 2001 character study introduces a repressed middle-aged woman still living with her mother whose masochistic side is displayed when she takes up with a younger man. Haneke unflinchingly depicts a bizarre but all too real relationship usually kept hidden, and he has a willing partner in Isabelle Huppert, who gives another of her scarily authentic portrayals of women acting unlike most of us. There’s the usual superlative hi-def transfer from Criterion; extras are Huppert’s select-scene commentary, new Huppert and Haneke interviews and on-set footage.

The Flesh
(Cult Epics)
Another of late Italian director Marco Ferreri’s provocations, this 1991 entry centers around a desperate man who falls for a voluptuous beauty and cannot stand to be apart from her intense sexuality; so when she decides to leave him, he ends up stab…. Well, of course anyone who’s seen a Ferreri film knows where this is headed, so there are no surprises—except for the tin-eared use of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” and Queen’s “Innuendo”—but Sergio Castellito’s lead performance and Francesca Dellera’s stunning looks keep us interested for 90 minutes. The hi-def transfer is not bad; extras include interviews with the two stars and director.

The Illustrated Man 
Innocent Blood
The Law and Jake Wade
(Warner Archive)
Based on Ray Bradbury stories, 1969’s Illustrated Man is a jumbled farrago of unrelated, supposedly scary tales, but the scariest thing is the tattoos covering Rod Steiger’s body, while Claire Bloom provides a dose of sanity in her too-brief appearance. John Landis has always been a sledgehammer director, and even in his sporadically entertaining gangster vampire flick, 1992’s Innocent Blood, he can’t help but overdo everything, ruining the odd amusing moment and weird thrill. John Sturges’1958 The Law and Jake Wade is a compact western that pits Richard Widmark’s villain against Robert Taylor’s marshal amid the snow-capped Sierra Nevada. All three films have great new hi-def transfers; Illustrated extra is a vintage featurette.

Rare—Creatures of the Photo Ark
(PBS)
National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore has made it his life’s work to create a “Photo Ark”: a voluminous record of countless endangered and near-extinct wild animals that he’s tracked down in as many zoos, natural preserves, sanctuaries as he can—and even in the wild—and this three-hour, three-part documentary explores both his worldwide quest and the reasons why so many species are disappearing off the face of the planet. Sartore’s pictures show off these beautiful creatures in their blazingly bright and colorful clarity, especially on Blu-ray.

Taken—Complete 1st Season 
(Lionsgate)
Based on the popular movie (and its unnecessary sequels) with Liam Neeson as a former CIA agent who tracks down his daughter’s kidnapers, this new TV drama provides the backstory of Bryan Mills’ recruitment by a shadowy agency cabal to find international terrorists. The first season’s 10 episodes are occasionally absorbing and exciting, despite a plethora of plotholes. The fine cast is headed by Clive Standen as Mills and Jennifer Beals as his CIA boss. The series looks exceptional on Blu; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

2:22
(Magnolia)
An air-traffic controller suspended after nearly causing a mid-air collision meets a beautiful young woman who was on one of the planes and tries to explore the significance of the time 2:22 in his subconscious and, soon, his everyday reality. Michiel Huisman and Teresa Palmer have fine chemistry as the couple thrown together by bizarre circumstance, but they are dragged down by a ridiculous plot that grows more incoherent as it goes along. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras include three behind-the-scenes featurettes.

DVDs of the Week 
The Stopover
(First Run)
Pop singer turned actress Soko turns in a feisty performance in Delphine and Muriel Coulin’s gritty drama about female French soldiers on their way home from Afghanistan who, while on leave in Cyprus, must deal with horny men—both their compatriots and the Arab locals who don’t often see Western women. This fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of modern conflict demonstrates how cultural misunderstandings can proliferate among allies and foes alike.

Viva La Liberta
(Icarus)
Writer-director Roberto Ando’s blunt political satire might be better appreciated in its homeland of Italy, where the Berlusconi regime is still fresh in the memory, but despite the presence of the great Toni Servillo in the lead—er, leads—as a disgraced politician and his replacement twin brother, the movie wanly attempts to puncture contemporary politics. A few scattered bulls-eyes don’t compensate for treading such familiar territory without distinguishing itself from predecessors from The Great Dictator to Dave

Friday, September 22, 2017

Off-Broadway Review—Simon Stephens’ “On the Shore of the Wide World”

On the Shore of the Wide World
Written by Simon Stephens; directed by Neil Pepe
Performances through October 8, 2017
Atlantic Theater Company, 336 West 20th Street, New York, NY
atlantictheater.org

Ben Rosenfeld, C.J. Wilson and Tedra Millan in On the Shore of the Wide World (photo: Ahron R. Foster)
Simon Stephens’s ambitious plays include The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which daringly got inside an autistic teen’s headspace thanks to Marianne Elliott’s astonishing Tony-winning staging; and Heisenberg, a routine May-September romance between an elderly man and a younger woman whose dullness was saved on Broadway solely by a luminous Mary-Louise Parker. In between sits On the Shore of the Wide World, a 2005 effort titled after a line from a John Keats poem, belatedly getting its New York premiere.

Three generations of the Holmes family muddle through their quotidian 21st century existence in the north of England. There are two brothers—teens Alex and Christopher (smitten with Alex’s new girlfriend, Sarah)—their parents Peter and Alice, and Peter’s own father and mother, Ellen and Charlie. After one of the brothers is killed in an accident, it sends shock waves through the family, and the bulk of the play deals with coming to grips with that loss by taking tentative steps toward rebuilding their lives and relationships.

The major problem with the play is that these are indistinct characters with muddled motivations and a manner that’s subdued to the point of being somnolent. Maybe Stephens is showing the ultimate British stiff-upper-lip sensibility, but when Peter mentions the death of his son to Susan, the mom-to-be whose house he is renovating, it’s the first time the audience has heard about it and it feels like cheating: why is such a momentous event handled in an “oh by the way” manner, and in a conversation with a relative stranger some weeks after it happened?

By omitting immediate reactions to the biggest dramatic incident in the Holmes family’s lives, Stephens shortchanges both the characters and the play they inhabit, ensuring that everything from that point is greeted with audience skepticism: the playwright is playing untrustworthy games.

Too often the characters are mere chess pieces placed by their author into contrived situations. When grandfather Charlie is rushed to the hospital with a seemingly serious ailment, it ends up being for purposes of obvious dramatic irony as his son Peter comes to visit and confess his lifelong love-hate for his own dad. And when Alice meets John, the father of the boy who accidentally killed her son, they embark on an improbable (but platonic!) relationship, replete with delicious home-cooked meals, that exists solely as an inelegant parallel to the equally unconvincing bond between Peter and Susan.

Since there’s little coherence in the story’s strands or emotional resonance in the characters, even a first-rate staging doesn’t help. Director Neil Pepe sensitively paces the action—there are many scenes, some brief, some lingering, in several locales (the canny set design is by Scott Pask)—and gets affecting performances by a mainly American cast whose British accents sometimes waver but whose grasp of these sketchy people feels more lived-in than they deserve.

Blair Brown is a subdued but transfixing Ellen, Peter Maloney his usual ornery self as Charlie, Mary McCann a riveting bundle of raw nerves as Alice, C.J. Wilson a trenchantly expressive Peter, Ben Rosenfeld and Wesley Zurick finely wrought as the brothers, and Tedra Millan just right as Sarah—this, her first stage appearance after she nearly stole Present Laughter from Kevin Kline, confirms her as one of our most promising performers, on and off Broadway.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

September '17 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Vietnam War
(PBS)
For the formidable team of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, it was only a matter of time before they got to the Vietnam War—following Burns’ famous The Civil War and The War (on World War II)—and, over 10 episodes and 18 hours, theirs is a thorough and informative history lesson in the usual Burns way, with clear-eyed chronicling and analysis from fascinating talking heads and sobering archival footage. It might not be the last word on such a divisive, disastrous war, but what could? On Blu, the series looks and sounds fantastic (big late ‘60s-early ‘70s hits are heard throughout); extras include a making-of featurette and extra scenes.

The Big Knife
(Arrow Academy)
Erik the Conqueror
(Arrow)
Clifford Odets’s intriguing but overly melodramatic play The Big Knife—on Broadway a few seasons ago with Bobby Cannavale—was adapted by director Robert Aldrich in 1955, an unsatisfying exploration of a Hollywood superstar’s difficulty balancing his personal and professional lives, despite strong work from Jack Palance, Ida Lupino and Shelley Winters. Italian schlockmeister Mario Bava’s 1961 Erik the Conqueror—an often risible but mainly watchable swords-and-sandals epic—has its moments, especially whenever stunning twins Alice and Ellen Kessler are onscreen. The films look pleasing enough in new hi-def restorations; extras include commentaries and Erik’s original ending.

Festival 
(Criterion)
Murray Lerner—who died earlier this month at age 90—directed this classic 1967 time-capsule about the Newport Folk Festival, with performances by luminaries Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, Johnny Cash and Pete Seeger. Criterion’s Blu-ray features a superbly restored print with excellent sound, bonus musical performances, When We Played Newport, a new program of archival interviews with Lerner, music festival producer George Wein, Baez, Seeger, Judy Collins, Buffy Saint-Marie, and Peter Yarrow, and Editing "Festival," with Lerner, associate editor Alan Heim, and assistant editor Gordon Quinn.

Madonna—Rebel Heart Tour
(Eagle Vision)
Although her career has gone on longer than I expected for a celebrity of scant musical and artistic worth—notwithstanding a brilliant PR machine—Madonna does hire the best in the business, so this two-hour concert from her most recent tour is well-paced, -staged and -performed by her band and sundry dancers. That she’s always been arrogantly unsubtle has served her well with her many fans, and she gives them what they want: “shocking” sexual come-ons and a “daring” potty mouth. Hi-def video and audio are top-notch; extras include a CD of the concert, excerpts from another concert and a performance of “Like a Prayer.”

The Slayer 
The Ghoul
(Arrow)
In 1982’s The Slayer, two couples find themselves at the mercy of a killer in a remote vacation house; director J.S. Cardone’s slasher flick is heavy on atmosphere and gore but light on true chills, despite a game, attractive cast and photogenic locale (Tybee Island, Georgia). Dime-store psychology gives way to absurdity in The Ghoul (2013), Gareth Tunley’s would-be thinking-person’s thriller about a detective investigating bizarre murders, with an accomplished cast unable to overcome bumpy dramaturgy. Both films have first-rate hi-def transfers; extras include commentaries, interviews and making-of featurettes.

Wonder Woman
(Warner Brothers)
If it wasn’t for Gal Gadot—an Israeli actress who dominates the screen with personality, charisma, charm and fierce strength—as the title character, this overlong, overstuffed, underwritten and self-important superhero movie would be as redundant and pointless as all the others from the past decade or so. Director Patty Jenkins harnesses what she can of Gadot’s uniqueness but 40-50 minutes of bloat needed to be shorn from this 2-hour, 20-minute slog. The movie looks great on Blu; extras are extended scenes, blooper reel, alternate scene and several featurettes.
                                                                                                                
DVDs of the Week
Abacus—Small Enough to Jail
(PBS)
Anyone still outraged that no big bank executives were punished for actions leading to the 2008 financial meltdown—except for several billions of dollars in fines, more than offset by taxpayer bailouts and bonuses—will be enraged anew by director Steve James’ probing look at how tiny Abacus Bank in New York’s Chinatown was the only financial institution hauled into court. As James deftly demonstrates, overreach by the New York attorney general’s office was the bigger story: it tried for at least one conviction, however miniscule in the grand scheme of things, to show it was tough on the big bad bankers. This is also a tale of the togetherness of a family banding together to fight to clear the name of the institution it’s run for generations.  

The Treasure
(Sundance Selects)
Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu loves shaggy-dog stories, which he once again pursues in his latest dryly droll feature, of a piece with his earlier, accomplished but flawed Police, Adjective and 12:08, East of Bucharest. A treasure hunt undertaken by a man and his neighbor serves as a metaphor for post-Communist, post-capitalist Romanian society—one with lots of skeletons in its historical closet—with priceless moments of deadpan observation alternating with arid stretches.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Off-Broadway Review—Sarah Ruhl’s “For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday”

For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday
Written by Sarah Ruhl; directed by Les Waters
Performances through October 1, 2017
Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, New York, NY
phnyc.org

Kathleen Chalfant (center, arms upraised) in For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday (photo: Joan Marcus)
Sarah Ruhl’s plays are an ungainly hybrid of whimsy, tragedy, absurdism and sheer absurdity—and her latest to arrive in New York, with the equally ungainly title of For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday, is no exception. (The haphazard capitalization is Ruhl’s own.) Its protagonist is Ann—which rhymes with Pan, of course—a former grade-school player of Peter, who introduces herself, is seen at her father’s agonizing deathbed with her four siblings, then at the booze-fueled wake with their father’s ghost wandering in and out of the proceedings with the family dog, and finally in a fantasy sequence donning the green outfit and flying harness one last time as her brothers and sister enact roles from J.M. Barrie’s beloved saga, like Captain Hook, Wendy and the Lost Boys.

The idea of an elderly woman stepping into Pan’s shoes to replay her childhood certainly has promise, but Ruhl bludgeons it to a premature death with countless side trips into forced whimsy and heavyhanded dialogue, right from Ann’s opening monologue in front of the curtain, and continuing with the deathbed scene, where it’s not the physical and emotional turmoil of waiting for someone to die that’s excruciating but the paucity of the writing and meaningless conversations. The wake, too, suffers similarly: would a group of middle-aged Midwesterners from Iowa boisterously start singing “O Canada” simultaneously? The other song interludes—including one of the brothers picking up a trumpet to play not “Taps” but “The Saints Go Marching In”—are additional desperate padding.

For 90 intermissionless minutes, Ruhl’s play meanders both obviously and pointlessly. Unsurprisingly, she has explained that she wrote it for her mother, which is fine as far as it goes, but For Peter mines territory similar to her other work, as willful weirdness and irrational characters and their relationships pile up onstage in order to stretch out a play whose ideas barely pass muster for a 10-minute curtain-raiser.

What’s disheartening is that Les Waters directs persuasively, David Zinn’s sets are beguiling, Matt Frey’s lighting is often dazzling, and Kristopher Castle’s costumes are amusing. Fully on board is the entire cast, led by Kathleen Chalfant, who plays Ann with her usual resourcefulness and intelligence. But nothing can disguise that For Peter Pan—even more than her previous play seen in New York, How to Transcend a Happy Marriage—is all dressed up with no place to fly.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

September '17 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Man with Two Brains
(Warner Archive)
Director Carl Reiner and star-writer Steve Martin collaborated for the third time on this lunatic 1983 comedy about a brain surgeon who falls in love with a brain in a jar (voiced by Sissy Spacek) and hopes to plant it into the head of his luscious but hateful wife. Despite many stretches of silliness, it’s the most sustained and funny comedy the pair made together—following The Jerk and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid—thanks to Martin’s prodigious comic skills and the fearlessly funny performance by Kathleen Turner, who simultaneously sends up and revels in her own sexpot image. There’s a great Merv Griffin cameo as well. The hi-def transfer is good.

Amsterdamned
(Blue Underground)
Dick Maas’s cleverly titled slasher movie is set in Holland’s jewel of a city, whose famous canals provide excellent cover for a rampaging murderer. It’s too bad that, at 113 minutes, the movie is simply too long, sinking under its own weight of too much repetition and false starts. Still, a decent cast does fine work, especially Monique van de Ven, known for her appearances in Paul Verhoeven’s early films. The hi-def transfer looks good and grainy; extras include a making-of featurette and interviews.



Endeavour—Complete 4th Season 
(PBS Masterpiece Mystery)
For this fourth go-round, Endeavour Morse teams with Fred Thursday for more murder investigations, as they prowl the Oxford area in the summer and fall of 1967 to find those responsible. Shaun Evans and Roger Allam again have fine chemistry as the detectives, and there’s an attractive supporting performance by Sara Vickers as Joan Thursday, Fred’s daughter and Endeavour’s unrequited love, returning for the final episode. The four whodunits, set in lovely countryside locales, are well-paced, if not always convincingly argued. The hi-def transfers are excellent; extras are short featurettes and interviews.

Hamlet
(Unitel)
Seemingly forgotten since its 1865 premiere, Franco Faccio’s operatic adaptation of Shakespeare’s play has been heavily if intelligently pared down by librettist Arrigo Boito (who also penned the libretti for Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff), but Faccio’s routine music only comes to life in the pageantry scenes and, surprisingly, the tragic climax. This 2016 Bergenz Festival production is well-staged by Olivier Tambosi, superbly sung by Pavel Chernoch (Hamlet) and Julia Maria Dan (a sympathetic Ophelia), and beautifully performed by the Vienna Philharmonic and Prague Philharmonic Choir under conductor Paolo Carignani. Hi-def video and audio are first-rate.

Maurice 
(Cohen Film Collection)
In 1987, Director James Ivory and producer Israel Merchant followed up the previous year’s Oscar-winning breakthrough A Room with a View with an adaptation of a less acclaimed E.M. Forster novel about repressed homosexuality in early 20th century England. (The script was by Ivory and screenwriter Kit-Hesketh-Harvey.) Sumptuously mounted and smartly acted by a cast led by James Wilby as Maurice and an unknown Hugh Grant as his lover, Maurice is nonetheless too slow-moving and long to have much dramatic impact—even if it was cut down from three hours, as Ivory himself states. The film’s restoration looks exemplary on Blu; a second disc of extras includes several Ivory interviews, deleted scenes and commentary.

DVDs of the Week
Citizen Jane—Battle for the City
(Sundance Selects)
In the 1950s and 60s, urban activist Jane Jacobs fearlessly took on New York City planning czar Robert Moses for, among other things, his feckless attempt to put a highway through lower Manhattan to connect the Holland Tunnel with the Lower East Side bridges, thereby decimating neighborhoods. That fight is entertainingly recounted in Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary, crammed with archival interviews and statements from the adversaries themselves. (Marisa Tomei provides the voice of Jacobs.)


Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In—Complete First Season 
(Time-Life)
The groundbreaking comedy-variety series debuted in 1968, and—as the 14 first-season episodes show—was full of irreverent, topical, and silly humor from the get-go, with ringmasters Dan Rowan and Dick Martin introducing and interacting with a cast featuring Goldie Hawn, Joann Worley, Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Arte Johnson, and Henry Gibson. Among the guest stars willing to send themselves up were Johnny Carson, Tiny Tim and Sammy Davis; extras include the series’ pilot episode, highlights from the 25th anniversary reunion, bloopers, and an interview with creator and executive producer George Schlatter.