Blu-rays of the Week
Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner is not a movie that was begging for a sequel, and Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up obliges by being an often pointless piece of work, simultaneously too plot-driven and portentously symbolic to work on its own or as a continuation of Ridley Scott’s iconic—if flawed—1982 original. Superbly photographed by Roger Deakins and with eye-popping sets and special effects, Villeneuve’s film nonetheless fails on basic levels, from glacial pacing—Scott was right that a half-hour should have been cut—to monotonous acting by Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright and Harrison Ford and a truly execrable score by Hans Zimmer. Unsurprisingly, the film looks ravishing on Blu-ray; extras include several featurettes and three “prologue” shorts.
I, Daniel Blake
(The Criterion Collection)
Ken Loach has never shied from wearing his heart on his sleeve; even his most didactic filmmaking is filled with justified anger, like this brutal story of a middle-aged man put through an emotional and physical ringer by the horribly inefficient British welfare bureaucracy. It threatens to but never becomes melodrama thanks to its unflinching honesty and humanity. Loach’s unsentimental direction and Paul Laverty’s curt script are bluntly effective, and Dave Johns’ acting is devastatingly truthful in its depiction of how to retain dignity while caught in grinding government machinery. The grit onscreen is especially memorable on Blu-ray; extras are Loach and Laverty’s commentary; deleted scenes; and two documentaries: the making-of How to Make a Ken Loach Film, and Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach, a career-spanning feature by Louise Osmond.
DVDs of the WeekCERN
Director Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s latest fascinating documentary is set in Switzerland, where the mammoth Large Hadron Collider resides at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in a sterile-looking but astonishingly vital environment. Geyrhalter talks with several of the particle physicists who work on the Collider, men and women who maintain the efficiency of the machine and routinely discover new things, and we come away awestruck by their ability to use the latest in technological know-how to help mankind learn more and move forward.
Götz Schauder’s fly-on-the-wall documentary about the Georg Solti competition—the world’s most prestigious for up-and-coming orchestra conductors, held every two years in Frankfurt, Germany—takes us behind the scenes to watch the competitors deal with judges, musicians, opponents and their own nerves in hopes they’ll make it through the preliminary rounds. Of the five contenders Schauder follows, Mexican-American Alondra de la Parra comes across as the most competent and self-assured; that she’s taking over Australia’s Queensland Symphony Orchestra means her not getting to the finals hasn’t derailed a successful career.
What begins as an intriguingly off-center family drama slowly morphs into an unsettling psychological study and finally becomes a nastily sadomasochistic tragedy in which director Koji Fukada sadistically puts his characters through the ringer for no apparent reason other than he can. It’s exceedingly well-acted and there are forceful and insightful moments, but the horrific turn both plot and characters make simply leaves a bad aftertaste, however artfully done it all is. Extras are an interview with actor Kanji Furutachi and Fukada’s short Birds.
In Jan Hrebejk’s droll comedy set during the 1980s in Communist Czechoslovakia, a party leader is the new teacher at the local school, coercing her students’ parents into various favors so she won’t give their kids failing grades. What could have been a heavy-handed conceit works handily and hilariously thanks to Hrebejk and writer Petr Jarchovsky’s clever conception of intercutting in-class back-and-forth between kids and teacher with a meeting between parents and school officials and the families’ own fraught home lives. Zuzana Maurery makes a gleefully grotesque villain in the title role. The lone extra is Christophe M. Saber’s short Sacrilege.