Digital Week – January 26

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This week’s roundup includes reviews of the latest Buster Keaton double-feature release and the first season of the trippy TV series Snowpiercer, both on Blu-ray; and two new films—French director Philippe Garrel’s latest and a documentary expose of the NFL’s treatment of its cheerleading squads—on demand.

Blu-ray Releases of the Week

Buster Keaton Collection, Volume 4 (Cohen Film Collection)

Two of Buster Keaton’s second-tier features—Go West (1925) and College (1927)—make up the latest volume of Cohen’s Buster Keaton Collection, but even in these scattershot comedies there’s much to enjoy, notably the uproarious sequences in College of Keaton desperately trying out different track and field events to impress a coed. Even second-rate Keaton is worth watching, however, as these both of these films show. There are excellent new hi-def transfers; extras are Hal Roach’s 1923 short, Go West, and a featurette, Buster Keaton: Screenwriter.

Leonore (Naxos)

Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio began life as Leonore before the composer extensively tweaked it, but occasionally the first draft is staged, as it was last March by New York City’s enterprising company Opera Lafayette a week before the COVID-19 shutdown. Nathalie Paulin makes a splendid and valiant title heroine, who dresses as a man to spring her beloved husband from prison, in Oriol Tomas’ spirited staging, and Beethoven’s heroic score is given a spirited reading by the orchestra and chorus under conductor Ryan Brown. Both hi-def video and audio are first-rate.

Snowpiercer—Complete 1st Season (Warner Bros)

Korean director Bong Joon Hoo’s 2013 post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick about a high-speed train circling the globe carrying what’s left of humanity after a disastrous attempt to fix global warming (elites in front, dregs in back) ran off the rails but still spawns this new series starring Jennifer Connolly as the head of Hospitality and Daveed Diggs as leader of the opposition. The series depends less on Bong’s willful weirdness but even with top-notch visuals and acting—Connolly’s ice queen hasn’t been used to such good effect since The Hot Spot—there’s a nagging feeling that Snowpiercer is a gigantic allegory in search of a compelling story to tell. The series’ 10 episodes look dazzling in hi-def; extras are several short featurettes.

VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week

The Salt of Tears (Distrib Films US)

French director Philippe Garrel, who has consistently chronicled relationships that scream male toxicity, creates his most toxic protagonist yet: Luc (Logann Antuofermo), who meets and woos Djemila (Oulaya Amamraon) then discovers his girlfriend Geneviève (Louise Chevillotte) is pregnant then—when he moves for a new job—takes up with Betsy (Souheila Yacoub), only to yearn for the others. Despite obviousness and sense of deja vu, Garrel’s film takes Luc to task in a low-key way, and the acting of the principals (including André Wilms as Luc’s world-weary dad) helps ground things emotionally.

A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem (1091)

When the NFL started getting hit with lawsuits from cheerleaders sick of being paid little or nothing despite working many hours for teams owned by billionaires, the suits were thought of as little more than nuisances, but as Yu Gu’s eye-opening documentary demonstrates, the fearless women behind them are shining a necessary light on the still prevalent belief in the business world that women are worth less than men. The director concentrates on two women—Lacy, a Raiders cheerleader, and Maria, a Bills cheerleader—who pressed on with their fights despite overwhelming odds, including pushback from other (current and former) cheerleaders, pundits and fans, all of whom decided that they should be happy doing what they do for literal pennies.

DVD Releases of the Week

Six in Paris (Icarus)

This 1965 omnibus film set in various Paris neighborhoods is mainly forgettable because none of the filmmakers are able to make their shorts memorable as both narrative and sense of place. In fact, only Claude Chabrol’s final segment, La Muette, despite its heavyhanded O. Henry irony, scores; too bad that someone like Godard whiffs (I expected less from Roach, Rohmer, Douchet and Pollet, and alas got it). Nicely restored in hi-def, the film would at least look much better on Blu-ray, so it’s unfortunate this has been released only on DVD.

Sudden Fear (Cohen Film Collection)

Joan Crawford appropriately chews the scenery as a famous Broadway playwright who falls in love with a middling actor (who’s played with appropriate menace by Jack Palance) in this tautly-made 1952 thriller by director David Miller. Miller shrewdly imbues the film with a palpable sense of unsettling dread through the foggy B&W photography of Charles B. Lang, Jr. along with Elmer Bernstein’s intense musical score. The lone extra is an audio commentary.

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