This week’s roundup features reviews of two new films on demand—a tough WWI drama from Latvia, Blizzard of Souls; and the fascinating documentary MLK/FBI—along with, on Blu-ray, Spanish master Luis Buñuel’s final three films in a boxed set from Criterion.
VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week
Blizzard of Souls (Film Movement)
Unlike 1917, last year’s Oscar-bait stunt set during the First World War, this Latvian drama drops us right into the center of the horrific maelstrom through the eyes of a 16-year-old volunteer who fights the Germans after his mother is murdered in cold blood by them. Despite relying too heavily on coincidence and heightened melodramatics (our baby-faced hero seems to be in the middle of every bloody battle), director Dzintars Dreibergs shrewdly keeps the drama personal, which makes a burgeoning romance with a young nurse the protagonist meets while recuperating from a wound less sentimental than it might have been. This unsparing vision of war’s horrors (a distant cousin to Elem Klimov’s 1985 masterpiece Come and See) is anchored by a superlative performance by Oto Brantevics as the boy who becomes a man as his homeland gains its independence.
MLK/FBI (IFC Films)
That J. Edgar Hoover kept tabs on Martin Luther King Jr. is old news, but how the FBI went about their surveillance and targeted harassment is the eye-opening takeaway from this absorbing documentary by director Sam Pollard. Pollard uses recently declassified files as well as interviews with experts to paint a shocking but unsurprising portrait of how the Bureau treated King, even using nefarious methods like making tapes of his trysts with other women for his wife Coretta to hear. Pollard’s film is a valuable record of how underhanded those in power can be, and it takes on an added relevance in the waning days of trump and (one hopes) trumpism.
Blu-rays of the Week
Three Films by Luis Buñuel (Criterion Collection)
The great Spanish director Luis Buñuel (who died in 1983 at age 83) began his career in the silent era with the anarchic short Le chien andalou and ended it with a trio of surrealist nightmares collected in this Criterion boxed set—1972’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, 1974’s The Phantom of Liberty and 1977’s That Obscure Object of Desire—that are fitful, vastly uneven, and only intermittently successful. Phantom is the best of the three; its playfulness fits the serious social and political ramifications better than does the overrated Charm and clunky Object. Criterion’s boxed set comprises top-notch hi-def transfers of all three films and many extras, including several documentaries about the director’s life and career; archival interviews with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, performers Stéphane Audran, Muni, Michel Piccoli and Fernando Rey, and other collaborators; Lady Doubles, a 2017 documentary with Carole Bouquet and Ángela Molina, who share the role of Conchita in Object; and excerpts from Jacques de Baroncelli’s 1929 silent film La femme et le pantin, an adaptation of the 1898 novel on which Object is also based.
Jonathan Scott’s Power Trip (MPI)
The ways that utility companies put a stranglehold on local municipalities and throw their weight around to not allow solar energy to gain a foothold is explored in this enraging documentary by Jonathan Scott, star of the HGTV network series Property Brothers. Scott shows how fossil-fuel monopolies protect their bottom lines (with the help of government) by helping phase out solar credits and giving utility customers no choice in the matter. Since nothing is being done on a federal level, Scott notes the incremental victories that are occurring locally which provide real energy choice for the public’s benefit. Hi-def video looks great.
DVD Release of the Week
The Twilight Zone—Complete 2nd Season (CBS/Paramount)
Jordan Peele’s reboot of the classic TV series has a second season that’s as up-and-down as the first: for every decent episode (“Meet in the Middle” with Jimmi Simpson and Gillian Jacobs), there are others that either go nowhere (“You Might Also Like,” a hamfisted rewrite of the all-time classic episode “To Serve Man,” wastes a fine performance by Gretchen Mol) or wear out their welcome quickly (“Try, Try” with Topher Grace and the winning Kylie Bunbury). This new iteration certainly doesn’t hold a candle to Rod Serling’s original, which ran for five seasons and produced dozens of episodes that are superior to anything Peele and company have come up with in these 10 attempts. Extras are deleted scenes and a gag reel.