Tuesday, June 27, 2017

June '17 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week 
Joe Versus the Volcano
(Warner Archive)
In 1990, this must have seemed like a sure-fire hit: Oscar-winning screenwriter John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck) makes his directing debut with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a romantic comedy. But the result is a movie that wrong-foots it every step of the way. There’s a thin line that separates charming from cloying and Shanley and his leads rarely find themselves on the right side of it, leading to many wincingly awful situations that are not nearly as romantic, dramatic or comedic as they think. Shanley would later become a major playwright (Four Dogs and a Bone, Doubt, Outside Mullingar), so this bit of treacle can be considered a mere bump in his road. There’s an outstanding hi-def transfer; extras are a brief featurette and music video.

(Opus Arte)
One of the most beguiling of all ballet scores is Sergei Prokofiev’s timeless take on the classic fairy tale, and with such a sturdy piece of music to work with, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has created an absorbing and entertaining two hours of dance in his 2012 staging for the Dutch National Ballet. The dancing and movement are sublime, the sets, costumes and visuals (by Julian Crouch and Basil Twist) are charming and Prokofiev’s unbeatable music leads the way. Hi-def video and audio are impeccably rendered; extras comprise Wheeldon’s commentary and interviews with Wheeldon and dancers.

The Golden Cockerel 
This colorful production of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fantastical final opera about an aging Tsar who receives the title bird to warn him of any dangers is a smashing musical and dramatic success, thanks to Anna Matison’s excellent direction, which features clever use of CGI. Conductor Valery Gergiev leads the orchestra in a lush musical performance of one of the composer’s most attractive scores, while the singers—led by young Russian soprano Kira Loginova in the title role—provide first-rate vocals. The Blu-ray audio and video are in spectacular hi-def.

(Strand Releasing)
Writer-director Amat Escalante’s relentlessly downbeat drama throttles viewers with its depiction of the lawlessness running rampant in a Mexico overrun by drug wars, corrupt police and beaten-down ordinary people, including the young man who tries to help his 12-year-old sister, only to trigger horrible events that include abduction, torture, rape and murder. It’s serious stuff, and exceedingly well-made, but there are diminishing returns to a film that displays grotesque acts of violence, inuring viewers from caring about what happens to its onscreen characters. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; lone extra is a half-hour on-set featurette.

DVDs of the Week 
All Governments Lie
(First Run)
Fred Peabody’s incisive chronicle of our broken politics features the usual talking heads—Noam Chomsky, Carl Bernstein, Matt Taibbi—but it’s more than mere preaching to the choir: its subtitle, Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone, alludes to the legacy of one of the great progressive journalists, whom we desperately need more of today. Hearing journalists like Jeremy Scahill take on Stone’s mantle of fighting the good fight against a deceptive government—whether Bush, Obama or Trump—shows that there is hope that we the people can overcome what our leaders have become. Extras are extended interviews.

Unlocking the Cage
(First Run)
For their latest documentary, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus tackle a subject not on currently on anyone’s radar, but which may soon generate huge controversies: are animals (especially primates) sentient, which makes them eligible for personhood, like corporations? The filmmakers follow attorney Steven Wise, who works with animal-rights groups to find cases (apes being held in captivity) to bring before the court and try to get favorable rulings. It’s an eye-opening glimpse at what the future of legal rights for individuals (humans and non-humans) may hold, however problematic or nonsensical it might seem to some right now. The lone extra is a music video.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Film reviews—Bertrand Tavernier Retrospective and Documentary “My Journey Through French Cinema”

My Journey Through French Cinema
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier
Bertrand Tavernier: Film and Nothing But
Through June 29, 2017
Quad Cinema, 34 W 13th Street, New York, NY

Bertrand Tavernier in My Journey Through French Cinema 
In his New York Times review of Bertrand Tavernier’s Safe Conduct at the 2002 New York Film Festival, Elvis Mitchell actually penned the following line: “Bertrand Tavernier is not often thought of as a man of passion.”

Anybody who could write such an obvious howler has no business reviewing films, for it is so patently untrue. If anything, Tavernier is overzealous in his passion about the films he makes, the characters who populate them and the stories they find their way through. Seeing even one of his films in the Quad Cinema’s current retrospective, Film and Nothing But—or his new, endlessly fascinating My Journey Through French Cinema, also showing at the Quad this week—will put the lie to Mitchell’s foolish statement.

Tavernier’s passionate film knowledge is evident in every second of My Journey Through French Cinema, which runs a staggering 190 minutes but flies by more quickly than anything playing in the local cineplex. The director’s personal chronicle of what has most moved him onscreen since he became besotted with movies in his youth is done so beautifully, so charmingly, so admirably, that you wish it would go on for several more hours. As always with Tavernier, there are marvelous anecdotes, superb insights, treasured observations: when discussing composer Maurice Jaubert among the greats of ‘30s and ‘40s cinema, Tavernier’s enthusiasm comes through so forcefully that you feel his warmth, his embrace, his marvelously attuned personality to all things cinematic.

As the retrospective Film and Nothing But demonstrates, Tavernier is impossible to pigeonhole, which may be why he’s not held in the high esteem he should be. His debut was a splendid adaptation of a novel by Georges Simenon, 1973’s The Clockmaker, but he’s also made historical epics, science-fiction films, war dramas, period pieces, intimate character studies, etc. What these films all have in common is the Tavernier Touch, which offer fractured narratives that rarely provide the sort of closure most audiences expect, along with an affection for his flawed, ordinary, and all too human characters.

The great actor Philippe Noiret was Tavernier’s alter ego for several of the director’s best films, from The Clockmaker to 1989’s devastating World War I epic Life and Nothing But (June 26). Tavernier’s masterly The Judge and the Assassin (1976; showing June 29) stars Noiret as a judge who must decide an insane murderer’s fate, and the cat-and-mouse between the men (Michel Galabru is also magnificent as the killer) is brilliantly observed.

Other must-sees this week are 1980’s A Week’s Vacation (June 29), a beautifully realized look at a young woman’s mini-breakdown that showcases Natalie Baye’s subtle performance; Captain Conan (June 26), a stunning 1996 drama of French soldiers fighting in the Balkans after World War I; ‘Round Midnight (June 29), Tavernier’s 1986 valentine to be-bop jazz, starring the inimitable Dexter Gordon in an Oscar-nominated performance; L. 627 (June 27), a dark and moody 1992 study of French cops trying to clean up the streets of drugs; 1995’s Fresh Bait (June 27), Tavernier’s superior riff on the Natural Born Killers theme; and his most recent features, 2010’s The Princess of Montpensier (June 27), a tough-minded but ultimately heartbreaking historical romance, and 2013’s The French Minister (June 28), an unabashed and witty satire of French—and, by extension, international—politics.

More than four decades into a first-rate career, Bertrand Tavernier continues to make highly personal, extremely sophisticated films that defy easy categorization. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

June '17 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Marseille Trilogy
Marcel Pagnol, one of the greatest writers in early French cinema—along with his work for the stage and on the page—created a classic cinematic trilogy in the 1930s: Marius (1931), Fanny (1932) and Cesar (1936), the first directed by Alexander Korda, the second by Marc Allegret and the last by Pagnol himself, whose humanity, and love for both life and ordinary people is shot through all three films, which feature wonderfully vivid acting by Pierre Fresnay (Marius), Orane Demazis (Fanny) and Raimu (Cesar). Criterion’s magnificent new transfers show off the pristine B&W compositions by three different cinematographers; extras include an ingratiating intro by Bertrand Tavernier; interview with grandson Nicolas Pagnol; segments of a 1973 documentary series Marcel Pagnol: Morceaux choisis; Marseille, a 1935 documentary short produced by Pagnol; and archival interviews with Fresnay, Demazis and Robert Vattier.

American Epic
Digging deep into our country’s musical past, this three-hour documentary narrated by Robert Redford recounts how ordinary people with extraordinary talent had their music recorded and preserved for the first time. All three episodes are crammed with great songs and rarely-seen (and rarely-heard) archival footage. The second disc, The American Epic Sessions, comprises 90 minutes of joyous musicmaking as contemporary artists record new tunes using the only surviving piece of working recording equipment from the 1920s; among them are Elton John, Los Lobos, Nas, Steve Martin & Edie Brickell, and Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard. The hi-def transfer is first-rate.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage 
(Arrow Academy)
Italian giallo master Dario Argento made his debut in 1970 with this tense murder mystery about an American writer in Rome who, after witnessing an attempted murder, is swept up by a serial killer on the loose. Tony Musante (from TV’s Toma) is perfectly cast as the American out of his element, and Argento suggests without being explicit, which he later frequently abandoned. Bonuses are gritty cinematography by Vittorio Storaro and a modernist score by Ennio Morricone. Arrow’s hi-def transfer is sensationally good and grainy; extras include an audio commentary, new interviews with Argento and actor Gildo di Marco, archival interview with actress Eva Renzi and video essay on Argento’s films.

King Lear
(Opus Arte)
This 2016 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Shakespeare’s most shattering tragedy stars an overripe Antony Sher as the monarch who gives away his kingdom only to fall prey to insanity and mortality. Director Gregory Doran does nothing egregiously wrong, but never allows the Bard’s taut drama to cohere. There are scattered gems among the cast, notably Antony Byrne’s Kent and Oliver Johnstone’s Edgar; Natalie Simpson is a pleasing Cordelia, but sisters Regan and Goneril are embodied without much distinction by Kelly Williams and Nia Gwynne. The staging is shown in sharp hi-def; extras are Doran’s commentary, Sher interview and costume featurette.

Moses und Aron 
New York City Ballet in Paris
(Bel Air Classiques)
Arnold Schoenberg’s atonal opera Moses und Aron is pretty static dramatically, which is why Romeo Castellucci’s 2015 Paris Opera staging spends much of its time concentrating on offbeat, even bizarre visuals, including the sight of an actual ox standing onstage for several minutes (without being sacrificed). Philippe Jordan conducts orchestra and chorus to a perfect 12-tone maelstrom; the leads are enacted vividly by Thomas Johannes-Mayer and John Graham-Hall. A record of the company’s 2016 tour to the City of Lights, New York City Ballet in Paris dazzlingly shows off several classic Balanchine dances set to music by French masters Gounod, Ravel and Bizet, played boisterously by the Orchestre Promethee led by Daniel Capps. Hi-def video and audio are excellent.

Monday, June 19, 2017

"Brits Off Broadway" Theater Review—“Invincible” by Torben Betts

Written by Torben Betts; directed by Stephen Darcy
Performances through July 2, 2017
Brits Off Broadway, 59 East 59th Street, New York, NY

The cast of Invincible (photo: Manuel Harlan)
Torben Betts has been called the new Alan Ayckbourn. Too bad, then, that Betts’s play Invincible is messy, heavy-handed and pandering, turning everything that Ayckbourn does so effortlessly in his class-conscious plays into fodder for cheap, easy laughs.

In a northern England neighborhood, Emily and Oliver—a newly downsized couple from London—preps for a visit from Alan and Dawn, the husband and wife next door. Although Betts gives his foursome separate identities, he never allows these men and women to become both comprehensible and humane. And right from the beginning, Betts stacks the dramatic and comedic deck.

Emily and Oliver open the play discussing Oliver’s dying mum, an apparently horrible (and politically conservative) woman who so offends the socialist sensibilities of her daughter-in-law that she refuses to even consider marrying Oliver to appease his mother before she dies. Emily immediately becomes one of the most unlikable stage characters I’ve yet encountered, and Betts doesn’t stop there. After Dawn and Alan—both working-class caricatures—arrive, Emily mocks Alan’s lack of talent when he shows his paintings of his beloved cat Vince (named after the ship HMS Invincible, and giving the play its title), then gives a shallow defense of socialism and critique of capitalism so that even the most liberal audience member will find her irritating.

Emily’s tone-deafness is one of a series that Betts takes to extremes. Emily and Oliver discuss 16th century British composers Byrd and Tallis with authority and have an oversized, coffee-table volume of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. Alan is so dense that he sees that book and thinks the writer was one of the Marx Brothers, leading to a painfully unfunny interlude where he impersonates his favorite comedy team, Laurel and Hardy. Alan is also a huge fan of football while Dawn and Oliver commiserate over how much they hate it. (Cricket was Oliver’s college sport.) The two women even look blatantly opposite: bespectacled Emily has her hair in a bun and wears no makeup; Dawn improbably wears a tiny dress to show off her bosom and legs, then becomes embarrassed when she’s being leered at.

What in Ayckbourn are endearing eccentrics are in Betts’s hands easily manipulated chess pieces: this is most evident in act two, when both couples deal with tragedies involving their sons, an adulterous interlude rears its head and Alan’s beloved cat disappears.

Director Stephen Darcy makes it all go by in a whirlwind, and his expert cast—Elizabeth Boag (Dawn), Emily Bowker (Emily), Graeme Brookes (Alan) and Alastair Whatley (Oliver)—both gets laughs and finds the poignance missing from Betts’s script. Boag, a veteran of previous Ayckbourn plays at Brits Off Broadway, does so much with a mere raised eyebrow or a simple shrug that she makes Dawn sympathetic rather than silly, nearly making Invincible a must-see despite the writing’s deficiencies.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

June '17 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Ballad of Cable Hogue
(Warner Archive)
Sam Peckinpah’s 1970 follow-up to his violent masterpiece The Wild Bunch was this often comedic character study of the fiercely independent Cable Hogue’s Old West travails, including a pair of outlaws who are his arch enemies and a “ladiest damn’d lady” he falls for. The material is weak, and Peckinpah dawdles too often throughout an already overlong two-hour running time, but Jason Robards is always worth watching, and the top-notch supporting cast includes Strother Martin, Slim Pickens, David Warner and Stella Stevens. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras are a commentary and a vintage Stevens featurette.

The Blood of Fu Manchu/The Castle of Fu Manchu
(Blue Underground)
By the time of these fairly bland horror hybrids (1968-9), Christopher Lee was already an established name in schlocky B-movies, and he does provide both of these diffuse melodramatic thrillers with their liveliest moments. Director Jess Franco would also find better mixes of blood, thrills and scantily-clad women in his later movies, but he at least enlivens Castle with his unhinged appearance in front of the camera. Both films have solid if uneven hi-def transfers; extras are archival interviews with Franco, Lee and others.

The Lego Batman Movie 
(Warner Bros)
If mindless animated movies are your thing, then this sequel to the surprising smash Lego Movie might just be the ticket. True, there are scattered amusing visual jokes amidst the mainly groaning puns and punch lines and in-jokes, but did it really take five writers to cobble this together? The ace voice work of Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis and Rosario Dawson provides most of the fun throughout The Blu-ray looks quite good; extras include deleted scenes, featurettes and new animated shorts.

This unsettling horror yarn about a young woman being tortured by her own insane twin sister, who is preparing a feast for our unsuspecting heroine. There’s a certain cleverness to director Ovidio Assonitis’s cinematic madness, and shooting in Savannah, Georgia makes it less remote and more plausible, despite its many deficiencies. Kudos to Trish Everly, who gives an effectively understated performance in the lead role. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras include new interviews, an audio commentary and alternate opening titles.

Near the end of his long career, Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi made this elegant-looking 1953 ghost story that’s considered one of his best films, its relative brevity (97 minutes) synthesizing his art down to its very essence. The usual gliding camerawork and sumptuous visual design are brought to the forefront by Criterion’s magnificent hi-def transfer. Extras comprise an appreciation by director Masahiro Shinoda; interviews with the film’s assistant director and cinematographer; commentary by Japanese film expert Tony Rayns; and Kaneto Shindo’s 1975 documentary Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director.

A United Kingdom
In this sturdily earnest biopic, Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo give genuinely lived-in portrayals of a white English woman and king of the African nation of Botswana who fall in love during the racist era of the 1940s. Director Amma Asante keeps things straightforward, but this story remains at a certain remove, and it’s not until the real people are shown at the end that we are truly moved, despite Pike and Oyelowo’s fine work. The film does look splendid on Blu; extras are several featurettes.

Vision Quest 
The Gumball Rally
(Warner Archive)
In 1985’s Vision Quest, the gifted Matthew Modine evokes real sympathy as a high school wrestler who falls for his father’s boarder (Linda Fiorentino) in an intermittently entertaining would-be romance with a decent mid-‘80s soundtrack (Sammy Hagar, Don Henley, Dio) that hits its nadir when Madonna (as a bar singer) warbles her hit “Crazy for You.” Both films have fine hi-def transfers. Made in 1976 during the mid-‘70s/early ‘80s car-race mini-genre (including Death Race 2000 and Cannonball Run), Gumball is distinguished mainly for its lack of star wattage—only Michael Sarrazin and Gary Busey are noticeable to most viewers—and for its gritty camerawork in the deserted streets of Manhattan at the beginning of its cross-country race.

DVDs of the Week
Alone in Berlin
Despite Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson as grieving German parents whose ambivalence toward the Nazis is destroyed after their beloved son is killed on Hitler’s front lines, director Vincent Perez’s handsomely-mounted film moves along predictably as the wife and husband make necessary but ultimately futile gestures of protest against totalitarianism. Luckily, the drama is further authenticated by the presence of Daniel Bruhl, an actor who is always persuasive, here as the main investigator into the couple’s covert activities. Extras comprise interviews.

(Warner Archive)
In 1984, Goldie Hawn went to the hallowed corridors of power among Congressmen and other politicians in her inimitable way, disrupting the political system after taking a bullet to her butt when interrupting an assassination attempt on a foreign dignitary. Despite veteran Herbert Ross behind the camera and the always funny Hawn in front of it, a forced sense of humor reigns: occasionally something works, but not enough to justify 95 minutes of increasing desperation.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Theater Review—“Julius Caesar” in Central Park

Julius Caesar
Written by William Shakespeare; directed by Oskar Eustis
Performances through June 18, 2017
Delacorte Theater, Central Park, New York, NY

Tina Benko, Gregg Henry, Teagle F. Bougere and Elizabeth Marvel in Julius Caesar (photo: Joan Marcus)
Subtlety is the last thing anyone expects at Shakespeare in Central Park, but Oskar Eustis’s staging of Julius Caesar carries lack of nuance to new heights. This disjointed update of Shakespeare’s tragedy about the intersection of honor, corruption and patriotism envisions Caesar as Donald Trump, a buffoon who has gained the reins of power (no Russian interference here) and who gets his comeuppance at the hands of nationalist conspirators led by his close friend Brutus.

Whether he deserves to die is something Shakespeare famously juggles; after all, this is a play with no discernible villains. Brutus’s reasons for stabbing Caesar are compellingly explicated, then immediately afterward Marc Antony tells the assembled mourners that he’s “come to bury Caesar, not to praise him”—and proceeds to do the opposite. For his part, Eustis adds three words to “if Caesar had stabbed their mothers…on Fifth Avenue,” which gets a cheap laugh, and has Caesar’s wife Calpurnia speak with a thick Eatern European accent (even if blonde Tina Benko looks more like Ivanka than Melania). Such additions may be superficially amusing, but give little illumination.

Gregg Henry does quite well as Caesar despite being straitjacketed by a laundry list of Trump mannerisms: leering, stalking, gesticulating, bellowing and giving those infamous rough handshakes. Henry is even able to keep his dignity during a gratuitous nude scene. Elizabeth Marvel’s bizarre Marc Antony—the Orange Julius’s associate in a track suit who is referred to throughout as “she” or “her”—has an inexplicable (and wavering) hayseed accent that undercuts the rousing “friends, Romans, countrymen” speech.

As Brutus, Corey Stoll seems like he’s sleepwalking through the early scenes. That reticence is thrown into high relief when Brutus literally finds his voice after grabbing a microphone for his “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more” speech, where he barks out his lines at the assembled throng. But there’s only a distant sense of a man fatally caught between personal friendship and patriotic duty.

John Douglas Thompson’s Cassius, although too excitable—even if this is partly explained by playing opposite Stoll—speaks with his usual fluency and impeccable diction. Impressive in a small part is Nikki M. James, whose powerful Portia provides all of the necessary emotional weight to her husband Brutus’s moral dilemma in a couple of fleet scenes. James deserves bigger roles in Central Park, like Cleopatra, whom she played wonderfully several seasons back in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at Stratford opposite Christopher Plummer.

Eustis stages some marvelously fluid crowd scenes, especially the lengthy dramatics surrounding Brutus and Antony’s post-assassination speeches. Eustis sprinkles members of the ensemble throughout the Delacorte Theater audience to bark out the masses’ impassioned responses, first pro-Brutus, then pro-Caesar and Antony, forcing us to intimately experience how fast such glistening oratory can so swiftly change minds. That’s what comes through most forcefully and clearly in an otherwise off-balance production.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Interview with Marcia Gloster—Author of “I Love You Today”

Marcia Gloster lived through the actual Mad Men days, working in Manhattan advertising and publishing houses in the 1960s, an era in which women had very few opportunities to move ahead in the industry. Such a bottomless well of information and inspiration gave her the impetus to write her first novel, I Love You Today

A compulsive page-turner that introduces Maddie Samuels, who after being hired at a Manhattan firm promptly falls for charismatic creative director Rob MacLeod, who not only steers Maddie toward bigger and better things professionally but also drags her into his own personal problems: excessive drinking, womanizing and the little matter of his being a married father of two. Her experiences with and without Rob allow Maddie the wherewithal to climb her own ladder of success, professionally and personally, at a time when women were usually seen but not heard—and definitely not listened to.

Author Marcia Gloster
Gloster recently sat down to discuss I Love You Today, her opinion of Mad Men, and how she started writing books: her 2014 memoir 31 Days—A Memoir of Seduction recounts an affair she had in the summer of 1963 with a married British professor in an Austrian art school.

Kevin Filipski: I Love You Today flavorfully describes a particular era: 1960s Manhattan, where male bosses pinched women’s behinds and no one thought anything was wrong. Along with your memories, how did you make the book so authentic?
MG: I am very careful with my research. I have to mention the right movies during the right years: what year was Bonnie and Clyde, for example. When I mention a restaurant, I have to make sure that it existed at that time. The basics were in my memory obviously, because I lived it: unlike Mad Men, whose writers were probably born after that era. I lived that life, and discrimination was not in my vocabulary back then: it was just the way it was. The way men spoke to you was the way it is. Luckily, I worked with men who were respectful, but women had no voice at all. 

In London, where I worked at the time, there was a restaurant in the late ‘60s—I forgot the name of a hot Italian restaurant that was there. So I went on Google, but couldn’t find it. So I thought to myself, “Just make it up.” But finally I saw an article that mentioned it, and once I had the name (La Terrazza), it all came flooding back.

KF: What is your own take on Mad Men? Was it accurate to your experience?
MG: I actually wrote an article about watching Mad Men. I saw the first two seasons and thought they were interesting. Then when they concentrated more on Jon Hamm’s character Don Draper, it didn’t interest me that much. But I did watch the final season, and it was accurate in many ways, but there were other things they missed. I thought the costuming was terrible: we were all wearing mini-skirts, bright colors, stuff like that. It was totally “nerdville” on the show: plaids and stripes, which no one wore. There was a scene at a table where two women were having a meeting with two men, who were literally leaping across the table to try and paw the women. I didn’t think that was true, it was too exaggerated: in meetings men were not that blatantly sexist.

KF: How close is Maddie to your own experience?
MG: Maddie is based on me and other people I knew at the time. A lot of my experiences are in the early parts where she’s interviewing at the agency, where she’s told that she can’t be hired because then the men can’t swear. That’s true. You couldn’t make that up. When I was going for my first job in the industry, discrimination wasn’t in my vocabulary, and I thought that’s the way it is: all these guys like swearing! I actually lived those years. Many of my friends and I interacted with people in publishing and advertising on many different levels, so there is a lot of truth there.

KF: Is Rob a composite of real men you worked with?
MG: Rob is the epitome of the bad boy, and there have always been guys like him. There’s never been a dearth of bad boys. He’s a very attractive character, embodying the desire to grow and be really good at what he does, but he’s hampered by his upbringing in the ‘50s and so is unable to deal with the freedom of the ‘60s. I made him a little extreme in some ways, but you do see him evolve, and Maddie gets caught up in it even if she doesn’t want to because he’s her boss and a married man with children. 

But women get emotionally caught up in these kinds of situations. It did happen, a guy leaving his wife for someone he worked with, but he would often go back. I decided to them together because I felt they had a path they needed to tread together. He was supportive of her, she was supportive of him, but he is going to take credit no matter what. I think it’s a very typical story.

KF: Although these events happened nearly half a century ago, there are certain headlines about certain companies today that makes it seem that the old boys’ networks have not changed much.
MG: I always question whether things have changed at all. When I was finishing the book, all of the stuff at Fox News with Roger Ailes was in the news. There was also an article in the New York Times about women discussing the same thing. I wrote a blog about it and wrote a letter in response to the story in the Times, who published my letter. That said to me that what I wrote was still so relevant and evocative that I was blown away. I hadn’t been in an office in 15 years, so I wasn’t really aware that things hadn’t changed that much. It’s a hook that wasn’t meant to be a hook.

KF: Your previous book, 31 Days, which explores your own affair while you were a college student with an older married British art professor, was only written a few years ago. Why did it take so long?
MG: While I was in college, one summer I went to Europe with a friend. I knew that (artist) Oskar Kokoschka had an art school in Salzburg, and I thought that a summer month in Austria sounded pretty good. Kokoschka started a school because he wanted people to see the world in a different way. He would teach them how to see the world through watercolors.  When I got there, there was this man, and I looked at him, and I practically dissolved. He was 17 years older, wasn’t gorgeous but interesting looking—and he exuded sexuality. My first thought was: “Stay away—don’t get involved, he’s a lot older and he’s English.” I promised myself I would avoid him, but I obviously didn’t keep my promise. 

It was an amazing story, and as it started to unfold, I started writing it down. It was so far from any reality I knew that I just took notes. Years later, I happened to be in a store and heard a song: it resonated, making me think back to meeting him. By the time I left the store, I had my title and the makings of that book.

Marcia Gloster’s novel I Love You Today is out now.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

June '17 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 
Beauty and the Beast
Sumptuously designed and stuffed with ostentatious visuals that compete with the glorious 1991 animated film, this live-action Disney remake is certainly enjoyable, even if it goes on too long and the last 15 minutes are a series of anticlimaxes short-circuiting the happy ending. Still, director Bill Condon’s flamboyant production includes some beloved songs (and a few new ones), a winning Belle in the form of Emma Watson, and spectacular singing by Audra McDonald as an opera diva turned into a large wardrobe. The Blu-ray looks splendid; extras include on-set interviews, featurettes, music video and deleted scenes.

What might be Disney’s most beloved film—among close contenders Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia and Dumbo—this 1942 classic returns in a new Anniversary edition (although why isn’t it the 75th Anniversary Edition?) that has, as its best extra feature, a beautiful hi-def transfer of the original 70-minute gem itself. Sure, there are many extras—including deleted scenes, a deleted song, featurettes, etc.—but it’s Bambi the movie that’s the main reason for anyone to pick up another stellar Disney Blu-ray release.

Evil Ed 
Arrow manages to unearth films both worthy and unworthy: the latest unworthy entry is this intentionally ludicrous 1995 splatter-movie parody about an editor who goes murderously bonkers after rewatching so many graphic slasher-flick images. It might have worked handily as a short, but stretching it out to an ungainly 85 minutes is its death knell, despite a few hilariously bloody moments and a hospital room finale so inept it has to be a joke—but an unfunny one. The film—which includes the original cut and the Special “Ed”-ition (get it?)—looks decent in hi-def; extras include filmmakers’ intro, new making-of documentary, deleted scenes and bloopers.

Fist Fight
(Warner Bros)
I’ve seen a lot of movies over the years that stretch their thin premise way past where it should but this ridiculously self-indulgent would-be comedy pitting two teachers against each other on Senior Prank Day—nerdy Charlie Day and tough Ice Cube—takes its five-minute premise and pads it mercilessly with infantile attempts at humor for another 85 minutes. Both actors deserve better, as does Tracy Morgan, who manages to get laughs despite the paucity of good material. The movie looks fine on Blu; extras include deleted scenes.

Rolling Stones—Olé Olé Olé! A Trip Across Latin America 
(Eagle Rock)
The Stones’ recent Central and South American tour was a huge undertaking, since they played places they hadn’t before—notably Cuba—and even if some of this was covered in a previous release, Havana Moon, about the historic Cuba concert, Olé has the added benefit of backstage and behind-the-scenes access to the band’s inner circle and the Stones themselves. Both hi-def video and audio are first-rate on Blu; extras are seven additional full song performances, including a mesmerizing “Sympathy for the Devil.”
Pelle the Conqueror
(Film Movement Classics)
Despite winning the Cannes Palme d’Or and the Best Foreign Film Oscar, Bille August’s intensely epic 1987 exploration of the harsh conditions a young Swedish boy and his elderly father go through after emigrating to Denmark in the early 20th century is a rare film that deserves such accolades. The 150-minute drama is often harrowing, but August displays rich sympathy toward his protagonists, embodied with starkly emotional power by 11-year-old Pelle Hvenegaard and the legendary Max von Sydow (who should have won the Best Actor Oscar that year, not Dustin Hoffman for Rainman). The new hi-def transfer has much authentic film grain, illuminating Jörgen Persson’s photography; lone extra is Peter Cowie’s commentary.

Spotlight on a Murderer 
(Arrow Academy)
Georges Franju’s 1961 Agatha Christie-ish mystery, shot in luminous black and white by cinematographer Marcel Fradetal, stumbles badly at the end, but for much of its 90-minute length it’s deliciously nasty fare. There’s a solidly dramatic score by Maurice Jarre, and the exceptional cast is led by Pierre Brasseur, Pascale Audret, Marianne Koch, Dany Saval and a young Jean-Louis Trintignant. The hi-def transfer is excellent; lone extra is a half-hour French TV episode with on-set cast interviews.

The Who—Live at Isle at Wight 2004
(Eagle Rock)
This concert appearance at the famed Isle of Wight Festival was the first for remaining Who members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend after bassist John Entwistle’s death: Roger is in strong voice and Pete is his usual cantankerous self. The excellent set list balances earlier classics from Tommy and Quadrophenia with a nice mix of latter-day tunes like “You Better You Bet” and “Eminence Front,” along with a couple of then-new songs. But why did it take 13 years for this hybrid Blu-ray/two CD version to be released? The hi-def visuals and audio are quite good.