Digital Week – January 19

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Acasa, My Home

This week’s roundup includes two fascinating new documentaries (Acasa My Home and Some Kind of Heaven) and a superb new drama starring one of Europe’s finest screen actresses, Nina Hoss (My Little Sister), all on demand; the latest seasons of three fantasy series—The 100, Legacies and Manifest—are also available on disc.

VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week

Acasa My Home (Zeitgeist/Kino Lorber)

Romanian journalist Radu Ciorniciuc’s feature debut is an exceptional and compelling documentary portrait of a large family whose off-the-grid home in the Bucharest Delta is destroyed when the local community decides to reclaim the area as a nature preserve. Ciorniciuc sympathetically chronicles the difficulties the parents and their nine children encounter when social services and other government representatives enter the picture, with some of them taking to modern society better than others. This lacerating, at times brutally depressing study culminates with a haunting final sequence on the river that displays Ciorniciuc and crew’s glistening cinematography as an undeniable asset.

My Little Sister (Film Movement)

Nina Hoss, whose gloriously complex portrayals in German director Christian Petzold’s Jerichow, Barbara and Phoenix are already the stuff of legend, is sublime and affecting in Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond’s powerful drama about a playwright who abandons her work in order to take care of her twin brother, who’s dying of leukemia. The directors refuse to succumb to sentimentality in their exploration of this involving relationship—and the fraught one with their frosty mother, gracefully played by Marthe Keller—and Hoss and Lars Eidinger as her brother give the kind of emotionally naked acting that awards are too puny for.

Some Kind of Heaven (Magnolia)

The Villages, Florida, is the largest retirement community in America—comprising more than 130,000 people, married, single, divorced, widowed—and Davis Oppenheim’s captivating documentary introduces some of those who have decided to make lives there. Of course, things are not all rosy and sunny for his chosen subjects despite their locale, and Oppenheim sometimes amusedly (and other times bemusedly) records what happens to them, from meeting new people to being arrested for cocaine possession, but never denigrates them and their choices. Oppenheim mines a rich ore of the complexities of the human animal, and his bracing 82-minute film could have gone to Frederick Wiseman lengths in running time and number of subjects with no appreciable loss of impact.

Blu-ray Releases of the Week

Giant from the Unknown (Film Detective)

This clunky, amateurish, would-be thriller from director Richard E. Cunha was made in 1958 and concerns a 500-year-old Spanish conquistador who comes back to life and terrorizes small-town folk after his armor and other artifacts are discovered. Cunha’s attempt at terror is as risible as anything this side of Ed Wood: for that reason, I guess, it too was resuscitated for hi-def. The simple B&W images look nice enough on Blu-ray; extras comprise two commentaries—including one with actor Gary Crutcher—and a featurette about the film’s producer.

The 100—Complete Final Season (Warner Archive)

This adventurous sci-fi series wraps up its seventh and last season with 16 episodes that provide closure to the expansive storylines of the dozens of characters whose fates are intertwined with one another and with the society they helped destroy on Sanctum, their sixth-season home after the obliteration of civilization on earth. Wormholes, Disciples, the Dark Commander—all make their mark on the survivors, but it’s the visual trappings—special effects, sets, locales—that are far and away more interesting than the many protagonists. Unsurprisingly, it all looks terrific on Blu-ray.

Romeo and Juliet Beyond Words (Opus Arte)

The Royal Ballet’s vivid dramatization of the classic ballet by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev—whose music tells the tale of the “star-crossed lovers” as memorably as Shakespeare’s prose—is set on actual Hungarian locations that give even more immediacy to the story. Directors Michael Nunn and William Trevitt shrewdly use Kenneth MacMillan’s original choreography, while the two leads are superb: William Bracewell’s Romeo and the astonishing Francesca Hayward’s Juliet are heartbreaking. Hi-def video and audio are first-rate; extras are on-set interviews and featurettes.

Spacewalker (MPI)

This big-budget Russian epic about the cosmonaut who was the first to walk in space in 1965 was directed with vigor by Dmitry Kiselev, who unabashedly harnesses the outsized drama—often shamelessly embracing sentimentality and flag-waving—that such a patriotic historical event obtains. There’s little of the nuanced satire and jaundiced insight that Philip Kaufman brought to America’s version of the space race, The Right Stuff, but since this is so well-done from the actors to the technical side, there’s little to complain about. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras are two making-of featurettes.

DVD Releases of the Week

Legacies—Complete 2nd Season
Manifest—Complete 2nd Season (Warner Archive)

These sci-fi/fantasy series consolidated the offbeat directions they took their characters and viewers in their sophomore seasons (both have been renewed for new seasons, by the way). The supernatural Legacies—which spun off from both The Vampire Diaries and The Originals—continues the strange adventures of Hope and other witches, werewolves and vampires who attend the Salvatore School for the Young and Gifted, hoping to harness their extraordinary abilities and impulses. Manifest continues to somehow make hay of its one-note premise (which would have made a superior Twilight Zone episode) and the passengers from a long-lost flight are still dealing with the emotional fallout of their return on themselves and their families. Legacies’ extras are featurettes.

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