Dog Eat Dog
Paul Schrader has always been a humorless filmmaker, and his new flick’s attempts to be funny are so witless and ham-fisted that every single moment feels forced, false and amateurish. Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe are reduced to doing little more than striking inept crook poses, so they can’t be blamed for Schrader’s failure to mine blackly comic gold out of the killings of various innocent people (hardy har har). The film looks great on Blu-ray; extras comprise a Schrader commentary, Cage introduction and Cage/Schrader Q&A.
Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s 1975 melodrama about a working-class homosexual and how his lottery win affects his already lopsided relationship with his new middle-class lover (whose arrogant friends also take advantage of him) is, as usual with this prolific but painfully uneven director, a mishmash of well-observed moments and mediocre filler, not helped by indifferent acting. Criterion’s hi-def transfer is excellent; extras include interviews both archival (Fassbinder and composer Peer Raben) and new (actor Harry Baer and an appreciation from filmmaker Ira Sachs).
Because of Hurricane Katrina, one of New Orleans’ biggest industries—its wide-ranging and vital music scene—took a massive hit, as so many musicians and the places they played were displaced by the raging waters. That its music scene rose anew (even as it temporarily relocated to other towns) is what director Robert Mugge’s entertaining and hopeful documentary is about, through interviews with and performances by local luminaries as Dr. John, Cyril Neville, Marcia Ball and Theresa Andersson. There’s a decent hi-def transfer; extras include featurettes and additional performances.
DVDs of the Week
Command and Control
In this gripping American Experience documentary, director Robert Kenner adroitly visualizes Eric Schlosser’s massive book recounting a near-disastrous nuclear accident in Arkansas in 1980, including interviews with many of the principals and nice use of a mixture of archival footage and re-enactments. The DVD comprises two versions of the film: the two-hour version shown on PBS, and a 90-minute edit shown in theaters. Either way—though more so in its longer version—Command and Control is an unmissable (and scary) experience.
Steve Cantor’s engaging portrait of Ukrainian dancer Sergei Polunin introduces us to one of the youngest stars of The Royal Ballet, a celebrity who now has millions of fans worldwide thanks to YouTube videos showing off his dexterous technique and astonishing agility. Although a little thin at 80 minutes, it does delve into his difficult childhood (his parents are divorced) and how his decision to leave Ukraine to dance affected his extended family. Extras include 15 minutes of deleted scenes.
Spheres—Claremont Trio (AMR)Performing the chamber music of American composer Robert Paterson—whose work I was heretofore unfamiliar with—the Claremont Trio displays unflagging energy and tastefulness. His two trios, 1995’s Sun and its 2015 follow-up, Moon, are wistful yet muscular works with a surfeit of melodic and harmonic ideas enchantingly realized by the Claremont’s members (Sun was recorded with its original pianist Donna Kwong; Moon with its new pianist Andrea Lam). Sisters Emily and Julia Bruskin play violin and cello, respectively, with exquisite sensitivity, and Julia teams with Lam and fellow cellist Karen Ouzounian for Paterson’s pinpoint Elegy.