Digital Week – December 23

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This week’s roundup features two new in-cinema and on-demand releases: Promising Young Woman, an uneven black comedy with a virtuoso performance by Carey Mulligan, and Another Round, another uneven black comedy with a great performance by Mads Mikkelsen. There are also new Blu-rays of several vintage films: Oscar-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s feature debut, Amores perros, from Criterion, and a trio of Warner Archive features: the Judy Garland musical, The Harvey Girls; Jimmy Stewart in the romance, The Shop Around the Corner; and It Happened on 5th Avenue.

In-Theater Release of the Week

Promising Young Woman (Focus Features)

With a promising premise—a young woman, Cassie, feigns being drunk and vulnerable in order to get back at “nice guys” who try and take advantage while she’s in a supposed inebriated state—writer-director Emerald Fennell sets up an unsettling mixture of jet-black comedy and demented rom-com, at least until it disintegrates when Cassie’s motives become clear and she homes in on her real target. As Cassie, Carey Mulligan gives another of her unforgettable, psychologically rich portrayals, still compelling even when Fennell transforms Cassie into a clichéd vengeaful monster. Mulligan’s ferocious performance is given top-flight support from Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown as her flummoxed parents, Laverne Cox as her best friend/coffee shop coworker, and Adam Brody as a former fellow med student with whom she lets her guard down.

VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week

Another Round (Samuel Goldwyn)

Mads Mikkelsen—who made Thomas Vinterberg’s 2012 study of a man accused of pedophilia, The Hunt, watchable even when the director’s script went seriously awry—again dominates Vinterberg’s latest blackly comic drama about a quartet of middle-aged teachers deciding to test a psychiatrist’s theory that drinking to slight excess can make someone more creative and relaxed. It’s certainly as provocative as all of Vinterberg’s work but, as usual, he goes both too far and not far enough, wallowing in self-pity and melodramatic flourishes. But Mikkelsen grounds this contrived descent into unsurprising consequences, with even his early dance training coming to the rescue for a virtuosically physical finale.

Through the Night (Longshot Factory)

Loira Limbal’s often wrenching documentary explores, through a 24-hour daycare center in New Rochelle, NY, the difficulties of single moms—especially minorities—juggling having a graveyard shift and needing a place for their children to stay overnight. Focusing on Deloris “Nunu” Hogan, who with her husband takes care of several children in their home, and two mothers who are trying against the odds—and ingrained systematic racism and sexism—to successfully raise their kids while working odd hours, Limbal refrains from making an explicitly political statement. But that this intimate, generous film exists at all is miraculous.

Blu-ray Releases of the Week

Amores Perros (Criterion)

Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2000 feature remains an auspicious debut, introducing what would become his filmmaking signature with its multistory structure and jumbled chronology to tell a trio of fast-paced, often exciting but schematic narratives centered on how their protagonists treat dogs (the title translates to Love’s a Bitch). Iñárritu’s taut direction and accomplished performances obscure the fact that this has no business going on for 2-1/2 hours. Criterion again comes up aces with this release: the film looks splendidly grainy in hi-def; extras comprise a new interview with Iñárritu and filmmaker Paweł Pawlikowski; new conversation between Iñárritu and actors Adriana Barraza, Vanessa Bauche and Gael García Bernal; Perros, amores, accidentes, a new making-of documentary with behind-the-scenes footage; rehearsal footage with Iñárritu’s reflections; new interview with composer Gustavo Santaolalla; video essay by film scholar Paul Julian Smith; and music videos for soundtrack songs by Control Machete, Café Tacvba and Julieta Venegas.

The Harvey Girls (Warner Archive)

Wizard of Oz alumni Judy Garland and Ray Bolger reunite in George Sidney’s 1946 technicolor musical set in the 1890s Wild West about “Harvey girls,” waitresses for a chain of restaurants: Garland gets off the train from Ohio and, unimpressed with the local she’s supposed to marry, signs up as one of the girls; she soon falls for the manager (John Hodiak) of the local saloon that becomes a dangerous rival. Bolger’s tap dances are the highlights alongside the famous “Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” number, but Garland and Hodiak have their moments and Cyd Charisse also dances wonderfully. It’s as sentimentally pleasant as can be, and Warner Archive’s hi-def color transfer looks spectacular. Extras are Sidney’s commentary, three deleted musical sequences, and audio-only scoring stage sessions.

It Happened on 5th Avenue (Warner Archive)

Roy Del Ruth’s 1947 fable about a bunch of squatters in a vacant Fifth Avenue mansion and the ultra-rich owner who surreptitiously hides out among them is overlong and one-note, despite a fine cast and generous dollops of unrepentant corniness. Gale Storm and Don DeFore make an interesting romantic pairing, while Victor Moore is almost too boisterous as the lovable hobo. The B&W film has received a fine-looking hi-def transfer; lone extra is a radio adaptation recorded the same year that the film was released.

The Shop Around the Corner (Warner Archive)

Maybe because I’m a fan of She Loves Me, the 1963 Broadway musical based on Nikolaus Laszlo’s Parfumerie, but Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 Hollywood version of Laszlo’s play about two employees of a Budapest shop who are, unbeknownst to each other, pen pals and (of course) would-be lovers is enjoyable but inessential. If the acting is a bit too broad from the supporting cast, James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as a charming couple make the 99 minutes relatively painless. Warner Archive’s hi-def transfer gives a remarkable sheen to the B&W film; extras are the featurette The Miracle of Sound and two radio broadcasts (from 1940 and 1941) of the story.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (Warner Bros)

Neophyte writer-director-star Jim Cummings’ routine werewolf movie can never decide whether it wants to be a horror film or a black comedy in the style of An American Werewolf in London and ends up stranded in a sort of no-man’s land, where there are neither enough thrills nor laughs to be entertaining. Cummings himself is too nondescript to be winning as a sympathetic hero of sorts, and the rest of the cast doesn’t get much to do in what is basically an unimaginative and unnecessary picture. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras are on-set featurettes and interviews.

DVD Release of the Week

Avenue 5—Complete 1st Season (Warner Archive)

Armando Iannucci, the creator of such movie classics as In the Loop and The Death of Stalin and TV classics as The Thick of It (Veep had its moments but was not in the same league as any of the foregoing), returns with a satirical sci-fi series that has his deadpan comic sense in spades but is far too hit-and-miss, seeming more aimless than on-target. The impeccable cast is led by Hugh Laurie, Veep alum Zach Woods and the gifted and winning Lenora Crichlow, all of whom ring laughs out of even lesser Iannucci lines, but this is one space trip that goes on longer than it should. Extras include a featurette and two commercials (!).

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