This week’s roundup features the Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray release of 1950’s Oscar-winning Best Picture, All About Eve, along with Blu-rays of the final season of the hit PBS series Poldark and two obscure old films, one deservedly forgotten (Eegah) and one that should be better known (Olivia).
One of the all-time Hollywood classics, Joseph Mankiewicz’s nasty, hilarious and witty satire of theater, movies and celebrities swept the 1950 Oscars and remains one of the most watchable movies ever made about show business. Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter are pitch-perfect, while Mankiewicz’s endlessly quotable script is a marvel of concision and bitchiness. Criterion’s hi-def transfer is similar to Fox’s from 2011 and many extras from the Fox release (Mankiewicz documentaries, interviews, etc.) are included. Shockingly, Criterion’s packaging is shoddy: my booklet was torn since it was stuck to the foam knobs that hold the discs in place, and it’s difficult taking the discs out without worry about breaking them. It’s a rare whiff from what’s usually the best video company for packaging.
French composer Ambroise Thomas premiered his adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in 1868, and it’s a spectacle of pageantry, tragedy, drama—along with a happy ending (Hamlet survives and becomes king). Despite that central absurdity, it’s a sturdy example of 19th century French grand opera, and director Cyril Teste’s 2018 Paris Opéra-Comique production looks and sounds terrific, including its use of onstage video. Conductor Louis Langrée ably marshals the forces of the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées and Choeur Les Eléments, and the formidable cast is headed by baritone Stéphane Degout as Hamlet and a searing and emotional Sabine Devieilhe as the ill-fated Ophélie. The hi-def video and audio are tremendous.
Nicholas Merriweather’s shoddy 1962 low-budget attempt at horror about a caveman who terrorizes a young woman, her boyfriend and her father is in Plan Nine from Outer Space territory as one of the worst movies ever made. That’s apparently the selling point: this cheesy, laughable flick—containing several of the all-time amateurish performances—has been given a splendid hi-def transfer; extras include the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode where the hosts crap all over it and interviews with MST3K creator Joel Hodgson and actor Arch Hall Jr.
What starts as a shape-shifting Twilight Zone episode soon turns lugubrious as a cabbie and the young woman who keeps getting in—and disappearing from—the back seat try to discover why they’ve been thrown together. Leading lady Brinna Kelly, also the scriptwriter, shows little facility in either role; leading man Gino Anthony Pesi is better but can’t create a character out of fragments; and director D.C. Hamilton can’t prevent the story from disappearing into the ether. There’s a crystal clear hi-def transfer; extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes, alternate opening, featurettes, interviews and commentaries.
In Jacqueline Audry’s 1950 drama, a young women’s boarding school is the setting for a series of physical and psychological clashes between factions of students and their headmistresses. Audry’s fresh and exuberant lesbian study never feels forced or false even when she’s up against the constraints of her era. Her filmmaking is original enough for viewers to want to see what else she did—including her Colette-approved 1949 adaptation of Gigi—so one hopes more restored Audry films are forthcoming. The hi-def transfer of a new restoration is sparkling in B&W; lone extra is a vintage Audry interview.
In the engrossing final season of the latest television incarnation of Winston Graham’s classic novels, several years have passed since we last saw these characters, but the internal dramas and external political forces driving them remain forcefully and rivetingly intact. As always, the remarkable cast—led by Aidan Turner (Ross), Eleanor Tomlinson (Demelza), Luke Norris (Dr. Enys), Gabriella Wilde (Caroline Enys), Jack Farthing (George) and Ellise Chappell (Morwenna)—propels eight hours’ worth of melodrama in the best sense. The directing, writing and physical production values are also first-rate. The hi-def transfer is transfixing; extras are several making-of featurettes.
In his first outing as music director, Simon Rattle conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in a sizzling program of British music from the 20th and 21st centuries, beginning with the delectable concert opener, Helen Grime’s Fanfares, and moving right into Thomas Adès’ Asyla and Harrison Birtwistle’s meaty, exceptionally difficult Violin Concerto, dispatched with aplomb by Christian Tetzlaff. Rattle then guides his forces through Oliver Knussen’s thornily satisfying Symphony No. 3 before finishing with Edward Elgar’s magisterial Enigma Variations. Hi-def video and audio are top-notch.
Maria Semple’s 2012 novel about a middle-aged wife and mother who takes off after her artistic creativity has been stifled has been made by director Richard Linklater into a cutesy, enervating dramedy. Cate Blanchett gives an unfocused performance in the title role and Kristen Wiig trots out her usual mannerisms as a next-door neighbor, while Billy Crudup and Emma Nelson’s earnest portrayals of Bernadette’s husband and teenage daughter are wasted. Even a finale set in Antarctica can’t save this wishy-washy display. There’s a fine hi-def transfer; extras comprise two making-of featurettes.
Fred Peabody’s documentary ponders the corporatization of America—not only obvious stuff like Citizens United, but also the incremental ways that Democrats and Republicans have allowed individual liberties to erode and take a backseat to corporations and billionaires, setting us up for the disaster that is the tRump presidency. You don’t have to agree with everything in the film by an array of talking heads from Matt Taibi to Cornel West to be incensed at how much in tatters our 200-plus year-old experiment in democracy is.
Trine Dyrholm gives her usual masterly performance as a lawyer for battered and abused victims who has a torrid affair with her troubled 17-year-old stepson. Although director/cowriter May el-Toukhy doesn’t develop the intricacies of such unethical behavior as penetratingly as possible, Dyrholm’s incisive characterization greatly compensates. Also noteworthy are Gustav Lindh as her young lover and Magnus Krepper as her husband, along with the raw but redundant sexual explicitness in the couple’s first encounter.