Digital Week – September 29


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This week’s roundup includes interesting new films on demand (The Artist’s Wife) and Blu-ray (First Cow), vintage features on Blu-ray (Christ Stopped at Eboli, Shivers) and TV series on Blu-ray (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Rick and Morty) and DVD (The Good Fight).

VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week

The Artist’s Wife (Strand Releasing)

Lena Olin gives a forceful, sympathetic performance as the wife of a famous painter who stopped creating her own canvases to be her husband’s muse, maid, lover, secretary, shopper, etc. But now that he is sliding into senility, she is rethinking her own career. Although director Tom Dolby too often lurches to the melodramatic—especially in the predictable dynamic between the artist and his daughter from an earlier marriage (well played by Juliet Rylance) and the wife getting too close to his young grandson’s manny—the relationship between the artist (played with complex brittleness by Bruce Dern) and wife makes up the movie’s bulk, which allows Olin’s warm, enveloping presence to take over.

Public Trust (Patagonia Films)

In the current climate, with trump and his minions decimating so much of our country, losing our precious public lands to development, drilling and mining is one of the most worrisome (if least discussed) issues that David Garrett Byars’ thoughtful documentary explores with the urgency it deserves. By laying out just how trump has reversed so much of what other presidents have done to protect our lands—especially Obama, whose signing into law of the huge Bears Ears National Monument in Utah in 2016 was reduced by trump the following year by 85 percent of its size—Byars provides yet another compelling reason to question trump’s ultimate loyalty…and it’s not to the American people.

Blu-ray Releases of the Week

Christ Stopped at Eboli (Criterion)

One of Italian director Francesco Rosi’s greatest achievements is this nearly four-hour adaptation (made for Italian television in 1979) of socialist Carlo Levi’s memoir about being banished to remote southern Italy during the 1930s as punishment for his Communist leanings. That great actor Gian Maria Volante powerfully embodies Levi’s humanity, and Rosi’s unerring eye for faces and personalities is embodied in the lived-in authenticity of the dozens of perfectly cast amateur—although there are also wonderful turns by Lea Massari and Irene Papas. This is a remarkable film about a journey to discover our shared humanity, even in a place that’s been forgotten by everyone. It’s too bad Criterion didn’t include the 150-minute theatrical version, but that’s a small quibble; the new hi-def transfer is transfixing. Extras are a 1978 Italian TV documentary about political cinema with Rosi and Volante; excerpt from a 1974 doc with Rosi and Levi; 2014 interview with Rosi discussing Volante; and a new interview with subtitle translator Michael F. Moore.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow—Complete 5th Season (Warner Bros)

For its latest season, this fantasy series populated by more superheroes than you even knew existed gleefully (and repeatedly) jumps the shark juggling plotlines about how some of them handle their new-found celebrity and how a time warp allows a new bunch of villains to appear and wreak havoc. It’s ridiculous but knows it, keeping its tongue in cheek while moving quickly, letting these 15 episodes fly by. The series looks exceptionally vivid on Blu-ray; extras include an additional disc of a crossover series, Crisis on Infinite Earths, deleted scenes, featurettes and a gag reel.

First Cow (Lionsgate)

Based on a novel by Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt’s latest—again shot in the claustrophobic 4:3 ratio—follows the travails of two unfortunate men in the mid 19th-century frontier whose fates are tied to the title animal. After an unnecessary introduction set in the present day, Reichardt impressively controls her minimalist treatment of a simple story artfully told, beautifully shot by cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, and authentically embodied by John Magard and Orion Lee as the men and Toby Jones as the cow’s vengeful owner. The film looks quite good in hi-def; the lone extra, A Place in the World, is a making-of featurette.

Der Prinz von Homburg/The Prince of Hamburg (Naxos)

German composer Hans Werner Henze (who died in 2012 at age 88) was an unrepentant socialist, so it’s no surprise that one of his early operas, 1958’s The Prince of Hamburg, was merciless toward the German military mentality in its story of a prince who inadvertently becomes a war hero despite daydreaming about his lover. Filmed last year in Stuttgart, Germany, Stephan Kimmig’s comically stripped-down staging looks like it’s set in a school basement with ladders for the cast to climb on. But the committed singers (led by Robin Adams as the prince and Vera-Lotte Boecker as the princess) and players (Cornelius Meister adroitly conducts the State Opera Orchestra) superbly get across Henze’s relevant pacifist message as well as his ear for combining dissonance with gorgeous melodies. Both hi-def video and audio are excellent.

Rick and Morty—Complete 4th Season (Warner Bros)

This animated series about a mad scientist and his grandson has so much visual imagination that even if its crude toilet humor and excess juvenilia start to pall, the zaniness of what we see makes it worth watching these 10 episodes. Granddad Rick and grandson Morty alternate between trips to alternate realities and dealing domestically with the family (which also pops up in various guises on their interplanetary journeys), all eye-catchingly animated. It dazzles in hi-def; extras include Inside Season 4; inside each episode; several short featurettes.

Shivers (Vestron/Lionsgate)

Canadian director David Cronenberg’s crude, borderline amateurish 1975 debut was the blueprint for many of his later films, which at least had the benefit of bigger budgets and slicker productions. This weak horror entry literalizes contagious sexual diseases as parasites being passed among victims in a Montreal apartment building. A few clever visuals and the no-name performers help with the pervading creepy vibe—especially in the sequences with children—but there’s little here that would mark this as an auspicious start. There’s a fine new hi-def transfer; extras include Cronenberg’s commentary and interviews (new and old) and interviews with other cast and crew.

DVD Release of the Week

The Good Fight—Complete 4th Season (CBS/Paramount)

This solid drama came out unapologetically swinging in its latest season, as Diane Lockhart first found herself in an alternate reality where Hillary won the presidency but not everything is perfect: there’s no MeToo movement and Harvey Weinstein is not disgraced; a later episode brings the Jeffrey Epstein case to Diane’s law firm. The show’s engaging kick comes from the engaged, sometimes enraged Christine Baranski as Diane, while Cush Jumbo, Sarah Steele and Audra MacDonald, among others, provide superior support throughout this season’s seven episodes.