Tuesday, June 14, 2016

June '16 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 
Le Amiche
Although one of his lesser works, this 1955 melodrama was an important stepping stone for Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni on his way to cinematic maturity: this study of young women and their relationship troubles hints at his later mastery in L’Avventura and L’Eclisse, for example. Unsurprisingly, Criterion’s transfer of this brooding black-and-white drama is stellar, but its extras are lacking: there’s a relatively mundane conversation on Antonioni between two scholars and a slightly more informative interview with another scholar.

Director Francisco Lara Polop’s 1984 soft-core flick, while it has a certain cache among that era’s B-movie cognoscenti, is merely a competently made, indifferently acted tale of an comely heiress who’s been kidnapped by a band of lesbian terrorists. Nice location shooting and Jewel Shepard’s endearing pseudo-Marilyn Monroe bimbo as our eponymous heroine make it watchable, along with ample—but by no means explicit—nudity and sex scenes. There’s a decent hi-def transfer.

Every Thing Will Be Fine 
German director Wim Wenders has made some clunkers, but his latest, impossibly pretentious exercise in dramatic ponderousness leaps to the top of that list. James Franco sleepwalks through the movie as a writer whose life is altered by a fatal car accident, while Rachel McAdams, Marie-Josee Croze and ever-sullen Charlotte Gainsbourg suffer quietly at his side. It seems like Terrence Malick-lite, but even Malick’s failures like To the Wonder (also with poor McAdams) had lustrous visuals and eclectic music on the soundtrack to compensate. Not so Wenders: Alexandre Desplat’s diverting score notwithstanding, Wenders’ usual impeccable control deserts him, shooting this in 3D for no discernable reason. It all looks fine on Blu; extras are interviews with cast (but not Franco) and Wenders and behind-the-scenes footage.

Grantchester—Complete 2nd Season
In the second season of this offbeat detective series, Reverend Sidney Chambers and inspector Geordie Keating consolidate their personal and professional relationships as they investigate another bizarre series of crimes. If the plots are less than original, it doesn’t matter because the  real reason to watch is the chemistry between James Norton and Robson Green, who invest their parts with as much authenticity and even humor as possible under the circumstances. The hi-def transfer is quite good; extras include featurettes and interviews.

Under the Sun of Satan
(Cohen Film Collection)
Maurice Pialat’s magnificent 1987 chamber film is an intimate character study of a failing priest with a dark side and the young woman who may be his salvation—or damnation. Based on a novel by Georges Bernardos (whose work was also the basis of Robert Bresson’s Mouchette and Diary of a Country Priest), Pialat’s masterpiece has absorbing performances by Gerard Depardieu, Sandrine Bonnaire and Pialat himself as an older priest who gives Depardieu guidance. The film’s grainy hi-def transfer is illuminating; substantial extras—a second disc’s worth—comprise new and vintage interviews, along with an hour of deleted scenes and on-set footage.

A War
In Tobias Lindholm’s powerful drama, parts of a Danish soldier’s life are shown in straightforward yet subtle detail: as he leads his men through horrible firefights, his absence from his family back home forces his wife to raise their children alone; later, he is put before a civilian tribunal after he is accused of war crimes for calling an air strike that kills innocent children. Not in the least didactic, Lindholm’s film is a raging inferno of emotion and adrenaline, culminating in a courtroom sequence remarkable for its nuanced and compelling view of all sides. Pilou Asbæk—so good in the TV series Borgen—is brilliant as our hero, and Tuva Novotny matches him scene for scene as his wife. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; the paucity of extras includes brief servicemen and -women’s reactions, short making-of and Lindholm interview.

DVDs of the Week 
A French Village—Complete 3rd Season
With the war on for several years now, the inhabitants of the Nazi-controlled village of Villeneuve must contend with a new wrinkle: the rounding up of Jews in the local school. The endless greys of wartime have rarely been examined so thoroughly and even entertainingly as in this series, and the cumulative dramatic impact of its third season is enormous. Once again, the acting is superlative from top to bottom, with standouts Robin Renucci as the town’s decent mayor and Audrey Fleurot as his unfaithful wife.

No Home Movie
Belgian director Chantal Akerman’s suicide last fall came directly following the death of her beloved mother, and her poignant if meandering final documentary explores that relationship in depth. Natalia was a Holocaust survivor who was always Chantal’s reservoir of strength, shown in the many conversations between them, whether in person or via Skype. Although the film, like so many others of Akerman, wears out its welcome before it ends, its tragic real-life epilogue gives it a gravitas missing from much of her oeuvre.

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