This week’s roundup is led by two new films helmed by female directors that showcase terrific actresses: the Helen Reddy biopic I Am Woman by Australian Unjoo Moon stars Tilda Cobham-Hervey; and the psychological comedy Sibyl by Frenchwoman Justine Triet stars Adèle Exarchopoulos.
VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week
I Am Woman (Quiver Distribution)
Australian Helen Reddy, one of the biggest pop stars of the 1970s, had several hits including “Delta Dawn,” “Ruby Red Dress” and her biggest, “I Am Woman,” which became an international anthem during the era of the Equal Rights Amendment (which failed to pass, although a belated push for its ratification is happening now). Director Unjoo Moon’s biopic hits all the predictable notes—early failure followed by huge success, which leads to a messy marriage and a reevaluation of how fame affects one’s personal life—but is held together by an authentically great performance by Tilda Cobham-Herveym who makes Helen more complicated and sympathetic than the naïve woman thrown to the showbiz lions that the script points toward.
Sibyl (Music Box Films)
At first, director Justine Triet is in complete control of this humorous study of a therapist gradually drawn into the world of moviemaking when neurotic actress Margot demands Sibyl become her therapist to finesse the on-set tenseness with her costar and on-set lover Igor and the director (Igor’s real-life lover). The cast includes Virginie Efira as Sibyl, Gaspard Ulliel as Igor and Sandra Hüller as the director—the latter overdoes it, ruining would-be funny and piercing sequences—but is led by the exquisite Adèle Exarchopoulos, who breathes such luminous life into the caricatured Margot that she dominates the movie, even when it takes a turn into increasingly implausible territory no reputable therapist would be dragged into, leading to a disappointing copout ending.
Blu-ray Release of the Week
Flying Leathernecks (Warner Archive)
Nicholas Ray made this standard-issue 1951 war movie about a marine air squadron fighting the latter stages of the war in the Pacific against the Japanese, who must deal with their own leaders and one another as well as the enemy. In essence, it’s a nominal John Wayne vehicle, as Wayne—as large a piece of non-acting granite as there ever was—butts heads with Robert Ryan, who’s his superior (both in the film and as an actor). Ray’s most interesting contribution is using actual color combat footage to give a sense of verisimilitude the rest of the movie lacks. On Blu-ray, the vividness of the Technicolor process really jumps off the screen.
DVD Releases of the Week
The Best of Cher (Time Life)
This nine-disc set collects the TV specials, episodes from her variety show and televised concerts that Cher starred in from the ‘70s through the ‘90s, including 10 episodes of her 1975 show Cher; her specials Cher…Special (1978) and Cher…and Other Fantasies (1979); and her 1991 and 1999 Las Vegas extravaganzas. Best is the very first episode of Cher, which aired on February 9, 1975 and guest-starred Elton John, Bette Midler and Flip Wilson; where else can one experience Cher and Elton duet on “Bennie and the Jets” and Cher, Bette and Elton trade vocals on “Mockingbird” and “Proud Mary”? The many extras include disc nine’s full-length documentary, Dear Mom, Love Cher (2013); clips of Cher on Dick Cavett’s and James Corden’s talk shows; interviews with Bob Mackie (of course), Cher’s executive producer George Schlatter and Cher herself; and her performance of the national anthem at the 1999 Super Bowl.
For They Know Not What They Do (First Run)
In this heartrending documentary, Christian families struggle with the fact that—to their eternal horror—loved ones sometimes come out as gay, upending their safe, religiously self-satisfied lives, sometimes even (as we see happening to one family) with fatal consequences. Director Daniel Karslake compassionately allows these people to discuss how they processed their reactions and the nearly impossible to reverse consequences that came afterwards. But there are also hopeful stories, like Sarah McBride, a young trans woman who has overcome difficulties and tragedy to finally get her parents’ love and support and speak at the 2016 Democratic Convention.
A Tramway in Jerusalem (Film Movement)
Israeli director Amos Gitai, always unafraid to tackle thorny questions about his home country that have no easy answers, returns with this episodic and typically complex journey, literally: the tram is on a rail line that connects Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods. Alongside glimpses of the locals who share the trams—who interact at times cordially and at others antagonistically—there are foreigners like French actor Mathieu Amalric, who plays a tourist visiting with his young son, both of them mesmerized by an oud player aboard the tram. Amalric is later laughed at for his naïve views on Israel. The lone extra is a substantial one: a 35-minute film by Gitai, A Letter to a Friend in Gaza, another sober reflection on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.