Blu-rays of the Week
Faces Places (Cohen Media Group)
This typically headstrong and humane documentary shows once again that the now 89-year-old French director Agnes Varda continues to make beautiful, humble but insightful films that display real people as themselves, with no condescension or artifice. For this journey, Varda has been joined by 33-year-old photographer and provocateur JR, who shares her indomitable spirit; the result is a joyful, lovely valentine to humanity in all of its manifestations. The 90-minute movie is very funny, thoughtful, touching, and makes viewers yearn for more cinematic travels from these kindred souls. The hi-def transfer is as transfixing as the film is; extras include a 45-minute interview with Varda and JR and three extended scenes.
Godard + Gorin—Five Films 1968-1971 (Arrow Academy)
After making his seminal 1967 classic, Weekend, French director Jean-Luc Godard went down the rabbit hole of polemical politics, joining with leftist critic Jean-Pierre Gorin for a series of strident and increasingly insular snapshots of radical French socialism after the 1968 student riots through 1971. The five films collected here—A Film Like Any Other, British Sounds, Wind from the East, Struggles in Italy and Vladimir and Rosa—are often inscrutable, naïve and poseurish, but they are also valuable historical documents from ground level, so to speak. Most intriguing is seeing the Maoist radicals in British Sounds making up new lyrics to then-current Beatles songs like “Hello Goodbye” and “Honey Pie” to more closely reflect their fight against the establishment. Arrow’s restoration makes these 16mm films look splendid; extras are A Conversation with JLG, a two-hour 2010 Godard interview; Godard’s hilarious 1971 Schick aftershave commercial; and critic Michael Witt’s 90-minute explication of this period in Godard’s career.
Lady and the Tramp (Disney)
One of Disney’s true—if perennially underrated—classics, this 1955 animated masterpiece gets a new lease on hi-def life through Disney’s Signature Collection: although what was on the 2012 Blu-ray release is present and accounted for, including featurettes, deleted scenes, music video, storyboards and interviews, there are a few add-ons. Mainly, these comprise two new ways to watch the film aside from the original theatrical version (in ultra-widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the first animated feature shot and shown that way): a sing-long version and one that allows the viewer to access Walt Disney story meetings.
Pique Dame (Queen of Spades) / La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny) (C Major)
In Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s opera Queen of Spades, based on a story by Alexandr Pushkin, gambling and card-playing takes center stage, and the sumptuous music conjures up portraits of ordinary and extraordinary madness: Stefan Herheim’s 2017 Amsterdam staging accentuates its dramatic intimacy, with superb orchestral playing and strong performances by Misha Dibyk and Svetlana Aksenova. La Forza del Destino, Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic epic, receives a crackling 2008 Vienna production that stars Nina Stemme and Salvatore Licitra at their vocal peak. Both discs include superlative hi-def video and audio.
Tom Jones (Criterion)
Tony Richardson’s rollicking adaptation of Henry Fielding’s classic novel about a bastard battling 18th century English society may have won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1963, but don’t hold that against it. It’s a splendid, visually and aurally witty ride (John Addison’s harpsichord-laden score also won an Oscar), with a veritable British who’s who in supporting roles—Hugh Griffith, Susannah York, and its three Oscar-nominated Supporting Actresses, Diane Cilento, Edith Evans and Joyce Redman—all held together by Albert Finney’s charismatic and charming portrayal of the devilishly rakish Tom. Criterion’s typically first-rate release includes stunning new hi-def transfers of Richardson’s original cut and a pointless (and seven minutes shorter) director’s cut, archival interviews with Finney and Addison, and new interviews with Vanessa Redgrave (Richardson’s widow) and Robert Lambert, who edited the director’s cut.
DVDs of the Week
The Coming War on China (Icarus)
In John Pilger’s timely and sadly relevant documentary focuses on the complicated relationship between the United States and China, from the first U.S. hydrogen bomb test at Bikini atoll to the recent ramping up of U.S. missile bases within striking distance of the Chinese mainland. Through incisive interviews and archival footage, Pilger’s analysis might not be completely on-target—he tends to poo-poo China’s own political and moral shortcomings in order to keep shining a light on what the U.S. has wrought through its double-dealing—but it’s provocative enough to make one worried about what the future might bring, now that we have an incurious, easily swayed president in the White House.
Sunstroke (Icarus/Distrib Films)
Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov has made several distinct and memorable films in the past 40 years—highlighted by 1980’s Oblomov and 1994’s Burnt by the Sun—and his latest, if not up to their level, is an engrossing if old-fashioned costume drama combining romance and war’s stark reality. A pro-Soviet lieutenant in a Bolshevik prison camp in 1920 reminiscences about a beautiful stranger he met 13 years earlier; obvious parallels between pre-Soviet bliss and Communist-era non-bliss notwithstanding, Mikhalkov knows how to tell an absorbing story with his perfectly-matched leads Martins Kalita and Victoria Solovyova. Two caveats: a pro-Tsar stance seems strongly pro-Putin in the current climate, and the film—which has a three-hour running time elsewhere—runs only 160 minutes in this release.