Blu-rays of the Week
Francois Truffaut's tenderly funny valentine to cinema was an award-winning hit in 1973, but today it might be hard to see what the fuss was about, since Truffaut shows the behind-the-scenes machinations, squabbles and love affairs on the set of a commercial movie, which showed how far he’d come from his earlier auteurist works as one of the French New Wave of the ‘60s. Still, this is accomplished and effective filmmaking, with in-jokes galore and the calm presence of Truffaut himself as the movie-within-movie director: Day for Night also kickstarted the careers of glamorous European actresses Jacqueline Bisset and Nathalie Baye. Criterion's transfer is immaculate; extras include vintage and new interviews, a 2003 documentary and a segment about the Truffaut/Jean-Luc Godard fracas touched off by Godard’s loathing of this film.
A masterly dissection of the “new” Russia—in which oligarchs outpace the working classes at a rate even greater than the U.S.—Andrey Zvyagintsev’s 2012 drama is best when extraneous details fall away and we are left with the naked pain and desperation of the title character, a former nurse (now married to a gazillionaire) whose own family is ignored by her rich husband. Too bad Philip Glass’s self-parodic music trashes every scene it’s heard in; sensibly, Zvyagintsev (who more recently made the interesting if fatally flawed Leviathan) builds the most powerful moments—beginning with the evocative opening shot—with silence that speaks volumes more than broken Glass. The movie's immaculate compositions are given new life on Blu-ray; extras are a 30-minute Zvyagintsev interview and 40-minute making-of.
Italian provocateur Marco Ferrari's infamous 1973 black comedy purports to satirize Western culture's mass consumerism by chronicling a quartet of middle-aged male friends who decide to eat and screw themselves to death: it's a pretty feeble idea which Ferrari does little with except have the men overindulge in food and women until they give up the ghost one by one. There's amusement in watching four of Europe's most civilized actors—Philippe Noiret, Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli and Ugo Tognazzi—act brutishly and barbaric, but the 130-minute movie wears out its welcome by repeating itself until it, too, dies an overdue death. The film has been wonderfully restored in hi-def; extras include vintage interviews and featurette and an audio commentary.
NCIS—Complete 12th Season
For the fourth season of Hell on Wheels, the sturdy Anson Mount as our hero Cullen and colorful Colm Meaney as head of the Union Pacific Railroad make this down-and-dirty depiction of the post-Civil War West worth watching. In its 12th season, NCIS continues its pursuit of evildoers from international pirates to cyberterrorists with a solid cast led by Mark Harmon, Emily Wickersham and Pauley Perrette. Both series look terrific on Blu; Hell extras are featurettes and interviews, while NCIS extras are featurettes, deleted/extended scenes and audio commentaries (a Best Buy exclusive includes an extra DVD with more bonus features).
Eugene Green has been a favorite on the festival circuit for years, but his latest feature demonstrates his empty stylishness: ostensibly a study of two couples—one middle-aged and on the outs, the other young and just starting out—La Sapienza comprises 100 minutes of stilted, vacuous dialogue, stiff, emotionless acting, nicely-photographed exteriors and interiors of sublime Italian buildings (the protagonist is an architect) and Monteverdi vocal music that wells up on the soundtrack to give an air of artiness to the proceedings. The movie looks luminous on Blu, at least, and could be a travelogue of gorgeous Italian architecture; extras are a Green interview and 2006 Green short, Les Signes, which in 32 minutes makes that usually expressive actor Mathieu Amalric as zombie-like as the rest.
Abel Ferrara has taken the torn-from-sordid-headlines story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, French presidential hopeful accused of raping a maid at a Manhattan hotel, and turned it into a fierce and even moral drama about a sex-crazed man with power finally being called to account for his actions. A gigantic Gerard Depardieu (in girth as well as stature) bares all in a commanding performance, while Jacqueline Bisset gives the man's wife a knowingly icy elegance. For once, Ferrara has found a sordid, nasty tale worth telling that he doesn't muck with. The hi-def transfer is impressive.
These 45-minute documentaries are semi-serious glimpses at the ultra-serious American epidemic of plastic surgery—the obsession with, in the first, big butts and, in the second, everything else—which amateurishly use talking heads who alternate one-liners with more cogent observations, and a plethora of video footage and photographs, mostly of celebrities but occasionally of “regular” people who went too far in their quest for physical perfection. There are a few moments that are genuinely disturbing—as, most notably, when we see a bit too much of a woman's butt enlargement operation—but too much of this is superficial and jokey, their abbreviated running times militating against any in-depth analysis.
In this wish-fulfillment fantasy by writer-director Victor Levin, a 20ish writer meets a gorgeous and oh-so-willing French housewife on Fifth Avenue and begins an affair in which he discovers how the French deal with adultery: unlike puritanical Americans, her husband and children welcome him as a friend of the family. Although Anton Yelchin is too dull to deserve his character's lucky fate, Bérénice Marlohe is so exquisite, elegant, refined—in other words, so French—that she makes this threadbare 90-minute rom-com seem more substantial than it is. Well-used Manhattan locations (this is also, of course, a Woody Allen homage) are another plus. A short making-of is the lone extra.
The ongoing discussion of campus rape is not going away, even if shoddy journalism like that in Rolling Stone forced it to unfairly take a hit, since—as this strong documentary shows—male college students continue to rape female college students. Director Lisa F. Jackson follows several victims who are forthcoming after initial reluctance at sharing their stories, their clear-eyed truth-telling and activism permeate the film, especially when they come up against obvious circling the wagons from clueless institutions like the University of Connecticut, whose (female) president defended the school against their accusations.