Blu-rays of the Week
L’Assassino (Arrow Academy)
Elio Petri’s 1960 debut has its muddy moments, but its cracklingly alive story of a businessman who may have killed his rich mistress deliciously anticipates the director’s own later masterpiece, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. A perfect vehicle for the ever-suave Marcello Mastroianni, this finely-wrought exploration of an era of cultural decay and political sleaze came out the same year as the more famous La Dolce Vita, but notably holds its own on a smaller canvas. Carlo di Palm’s richly-hued B&W photography looks beautiful in hi-def; extras are a 50-minute portrait of cowriter Tonino Guerra and an introduction to Petri.
After Porn Ends 2 (Gravitas Ventures)
This second go-round of “where are they now—the adult-film version” is a sympathetic glimpse at X-rated stars after leaving the business, like legends Lisa Ann (has a fantasy-sports show on satellite radio) and Ginger Lynn (sells her paintings online), along with others whose lives vary from fulfilling to difficult. The final chapter about Janine Lindemulder is heartbreaking: she lost custody of her child to ex Jesse James (with then-wife Sandra Bullock—and we know how that turned out, partly because of her profession). There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer.
The Buena Vista Social Club (Criterion)
Wim Wenders’ joyful 1999 documentary about a group of Cuban musicians performing together at Carnegie Hall remains, nearly two decades after it was made, one of the most beloved music documentaries ever, taking on new resonance in today’s era of U.S.-Cuba relations. The film often looks less than ideal on Blu-ray, but the extras—new Wenders interview, Wenders commentary, musician interviews and additional scenes—more than compensate for fluctuating picture quality.
Donnie Darko (Arrow Academy)
Richard Kelly’s 2001 cult film is an interesting misfire, a combination of fantasy, science-fiction, teen rom-com and anything else Kelly stuffs into it, particularly in the alternately fascinating and boring director’s cut; still, there’s some heady stuff to chew on, even if most of it makes no discernible (or even non-discernible) sense. Arrow Academy has resurrected Donnie with sterling hi-def transfers of both the 113-minute theatrical cut and the 133-minute director’s cut and many extras including Kelly’s commentary, vintage featurettes, interviews and a music video; a hardcover book inside a slipcase tops off an elegant package.
Home Fires—Complete 2nd Season (PBS Masterpiece)
As the Second World War surges on and the Battle of Britain becomes ever more terrifyingly close, the women of the small English town of Great Paxford continue their contributions to the war effort. Despite some contrived writing, the very accomplished acting by a stellar cast (comprising the likes of Francesca Annis, Samantha Bond, Ruth Gemmell and Frances Grey, for starters) makes this six-part mini-series engrossing throughout. The hi-def transfer is excellent.
Ride the High Country / 36 Hours (Warner Archive)
An early Sam Peckinpah effort, 1962’s High Country is a solid if unspectacular Western whose energy makes up for a certain lack of narrative finesse: fine acting by Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea and a young Marietta Hartley as the damsel in distress also helps. The 1965 war drama 36 Hours has a great story—Nazis try to obtain needed D-Day intel from an amnesiac American—but it would have been more trenchant shorter: nearly two hours of James Garner as the Yank and Rod Taylor and Eva Marie Saint as Germans pretending to be American is about 20 minutes too much. Both films have stunning hi-def transfers; Country has a commentary and Peckinpah featurette.
To Walk Invisible—The Brontë Sisters (PBS Masterpiece)
In 1979, French director Andre Techine’s biopic about the literary Brontë sisters starred the unbeatable trio of Marie-France Pisier and the two Isabelles: Huppert and Adjani. Similarly, the new British Brontë biopic has a strong cast—alongside Finn Atkins, Charlie Murphy and Chloe Pirrie as the sisters there’s no less than the brilliant Jonathan Pryce as their father. But despite distinguished acting and lovely location photography, the film remains curiously uninvolving, its final images—showing the Brontë home today, a museum overrun with tourists—outright desperate. There’s an excellent hi-def transfer; extras comprise two short featurettes.
DVD of the Week
The Mafia Only Kills in Summer (Icarus)
This auspicious feature debut by director Pierfrancesco Diliberto (known as Pif, a popular TV satirist) is a blackly comic Sicilian sort-of romance, as our narrator explains how and why he fell for his pretty schoolmate while Mafioso killings punctuated their daily lives. Pif makes a dopily endearing protagonist, Cristiana Capotondi epitomizes the irresistible girl next door, and the film itself cannily balances the simultaneous humor and horror of finding young love while bodies are dropping all around.