Blu-rays of the Week
For Colored Girls (LionsGate) - Ntozake Shange’s revolutionary “choreo-poem” about the universal plight of black women has been so clunkily adapted for the screen by Tyler Perry that it becomes one long, stifling soap opera. Perry literalizes everything that gave the original its poetry, defanging Shange’s one-of-a-kind stage work to the point that Shange’s own words intrude on Perry’s melodrama, coming off much worse in the process. The hard-working actresses includes tremendous portrayals by Anika Noni Rose, Kerry Washington and Thandie Newton, but all are hampered by Perry’s shallowness. The transfer is first-rate, at least, and the extras include an interactive making-of documentary and other behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Glorious 39 (E One) – This gripping paranoiac thriller stars Romola Garai as a young woman from a politically persuasive British family whose suspicions about a local Nazi plot is met with derision by everyone else. Writer-director Stephen Poliakoff sets up an intriguing situation that isn’t satisfactorily resolved, but his top-notch cast (Bill Nighy, Julie Christie, Jenny Agutter, Jeremy Northam, Christopher Lee) and authentic pre-WWII atmosphere more than makes up for the lapses in the mystery department. The excellent Blu-ray transfer is accompanied by extras that include on-set footage and brief interviews with the filmmakers and cast.
Still Walking (Criterion) - Hirokazu Kore-eda’s enormously affecting domestic drama takes place during an annual bittersweet family reunion. Like Yasujiro Ozu’s films, we become aware of life’s small victories and larger disappointments as pinpricks to our consciousness, with a devastating denouement at the end of this intensely sad portrait of a family searching to come to terms with loss. The acting is superlative; Kore-eda’s script and direction are finely understated; the muted colors of Yutaka Yamazaki’s cinematography are rendered with Criterion’s usual dazzle on Blu-ray. The extras comprise interviews with the director and cinematographer, along with an on-set documentary.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Sony) - Though not one of his best films, Woody Allen’s humorous morality tale about people whose romantic travails are caused by their acting out on their hopes rather than the all-too-ordinary reality in which they live. Set in London and starring a cast of excellent non-Americans (Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Naomi Watts, Freida Pinto), the movie sags when Josh Brolin bulldozes his way through his “ugly American” role. Still, to compensate, there’s veteran Vilmos Zsigmond’s tangy cinematography (which comes across beautifully on the first-rate Blu-ray transfer) and the cutting wit found in his own short stories in plentiful supply. As usual with Woody’s movies on DVD/Blu-ray, there are no extras.
DVDs of the Week
A French Gigolo (IFC) – This flimsy Josiane Balasko farce about a young gigolo and an older female client who unexpectedly fall in love (to her consternation) is engaging fluff that features the ageless, endlessly classy Nathalie Baye once again doing more with less. Since Balasko's script doesn’t give her much believable motivation as a 51-year-old professional falling for a young stud, Baye makes the movie far more watchable (and funny) than it has any right to be. A solid supporting cast led by Eric Caravaca and Isabelle Carre also helps matters, but A French Gigolo is mainly carried on the back of the brilliant Baye, who makes lowbrow French farce seem elegance personified.
Kings of Pastry (First Run) – Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s delectable account of a baking competition showcases the best French pastry chefs. More than a Gallic “Top Chef,” the movie shows 16 contestants who are true artists, creating spectacular—and edible—sculptures. We follow Jacquy Pfeiffer, who with his coach (and past MOF winner) Sebastien Canonne, runs Chicago's French Pastry Institute. Ultimately, whether Pfeiffer or anyone else is named Best Craftsman is less urgent than the culinary genius on display. Despite a glut of TV food shows, it’s doubtful this competition would receive the same amount of notoriety in America; thank Hegedus and Pennebaker for training their lens upon it. Extras include a filmmaker interview and two behind the scenes featurettes.
CDs of the Week
Rautavaara: The Mine (Ondine) – Still going strong at age 82, Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara is among the 20th—and now 21st—century's greatest opera composers. He's written brilliant bio-operas about Vincent Van Gogh and the infamous Rasputin; this first recording of his very first opera, written a half-century ago, is another ear-opener. A compact thriller clocking in at a fleet 75 minutes, The Mine combines genuine suspense, taut drama and brilliant vocal writing for soloists and chorus. A stellar cast of Rautavaara regulars, led by bass Jorma Hynninen, shines throughout, as does the Kaivos Chorus and Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Hannu Lintu.
Rubbra: String Quartets (Naxos) – Even among connoisseurs of British music, Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) is woefully obscure. Although he composed one of the great symphony cycles of the entire 20th century—11 written between 1937 and 1979—I don't think there’s even been a single Rubbra composition on a concert program in New York. So only recordings will suffice for anyone remotely interested in this accomplished master, and this CD of three of his four quartets—played superbly by the Maggini Quartet—is a must-hear. Alternately muscular and tender, with eloquent slow movements alternately with energetic faster ones, these quartets show Rubbra at his best.