Blu-rays of the Week
For his final masterpiece, French director Robert Bresson adapted a Tolstoy short story about forgery and transformed it into an austere, straightforward, ultimately soul-crushing dissection of how a single act can spiral into an orgy of death and destruction. Made in 1983, it has a timelessly haunting quality that only Bresson could have created; running a precise 80 minutes, it demands repeat viewings, even if it is one of the most downbeat films ever made. Criterion’s hi-def transfer looks immaculate; extras are a 1983 Cannes press conference with Bresson and his cast and James Quandt’s interesting but sometimes silly A to Z video essay on the master.
Feed the Light (Intervision)
Inspired by stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Swedish director Henrik Moller made this extremely unpleasant and disturbing tale about a determined young mother tracking down her abducted young daughter by her former husband to an eerie institution that really test her mettle. Actress Lina Sunden’s gusty performance in the lead gives Moller’s B&W feature debut a shot in the arm that helps gloss over the film’s dramatic deficiencies. There’s nice use of color for the final shot. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras include an on-set featurette and Moller interview.
Pulse / Doberman Cop (Arrow)
Japanese horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa made his best-known film Pulse in 2001: it’s a creepy drama that was prescient in its focus on how the internet and social media divide and conquer society, a harrowing premise for an ingenious thriller. Director Kinji Fukasaku’s 1977 Doberman Cop mixes yakuza, American cop movies and martial arts into a strangely entertaining brew with terrific action sequences that appear whenever the plot turns ho-hum. Both films have superior hi-def transfers; extras include interviews, video appreciation and making-of documentary of Pulse.
Running on Empty (Warner Archive)
A fascinating subject—ex-radicals, on the lam from the feds, try and build a family and new lives—is compromised by Naomi Foner’s superficial script (which somehow earned a 1988 Oscar nomination and won a Golden Globe), substituting sentimentality and contrivance for three-dimensionality and taut drama. Sidney Lumet’s direction is solid, and his cast, especially River Phoenix as the restless teenage son, Martha Plimpton as his restless girlfriend and Christine Lahti as his restless mother, does what it can, but the messy script (and a miscast Judd Hirsch as the restless father) moots any chance at an intelligent and insightful character study. The hi-def transfer is clean if not overly sharp.
The Tunnel: Sabotage—Complete 2nd Season (PBS)
In their second go-round, British DCI Karl (Stephen Dillane) and French investigator Elise (Clemence Poesy) find themselves tracking down a particularly insidious terrorist group that begins with a Eurotunnel kidnaping and a shocking crash of an airliner by jamming its onboard computer. What starts provocatively and thrillingly turns, about halfway through, anticlimactic: after the main villains are taken care of, the drama becomes diffuse and wanly limps to the end. But Dillane and Poesy are a still-formidable team, and Elise’s new relationship—which may or may not impact a future season of the show—is an intriguing wrench thrown into the works. There’s an excellent hi-def transfer; extras include a making-of and interviews.
DVDs of the Week
My Mother and Other Strangers (PBS)
Set in a northern Irish village during World War II, this absorbing Masterpiece mini-series follows the interactions of the locals—the men, their wives and children—with the Americans in their midst from a nearby army air base. Although the plotlines approach soap opera, the drama is always watchable thanks to the sterling cast, which is led by a luminous Hattie Morahan as the mother of three and faithful wife who takes a shine to the U.S. commander. Extras comprise on-set interviews.
Norman (Sony Pictures Classics)
Joseph Cedar’s low-key comedy about a minor Manhattan operator who hits the big time after an unknown Israeli operative he connects with becomes prime minister is really just a remake of Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose, with Richard Gere subbing for Allen’s small-time talent agent who loses his biggest client. This one-joke movie is stretched painfully thin, and Cedar’s ostentatious visuals are a desperate attempt to bring variety into an essentially static and repetitive story. Still, Gere is very good in an atypical role. Extras are a post-screening Q&A with Cedar and Gere and red-carpet interviews.