Blu-rays of the Week
Spaghetti western master Sergio Leone’s first directorial credit was for this bloated and campy 1961 swords-and-sandals epic set on the ancient Greek isle where rebel heroes battle tyrannical rulers, all before the gaze of the huge statue—one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—guarding the harbor. Indifferent acting and cheesy spectacle notwithstanding, there’s a frisson of excitement when the colossal structure is sent to its doom in a devastating earthquake. The film looks fine in hi-def; lone extra is an audio commentary.
Derek Jarman’s 1991 adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s classic play about the lascivious king of England is marked with the director’s eclecticism, his brandishing of obvious anachronisms and his glee at tweaking an established entry in the theater canon with his own unmistakable stamp. Unsurprisingly starring one of Jarman’s discoveries, Tilda Swinton, it works effectively, with several moments of sheer visceral pleasure. There’s a good hi-def transfer; lone extra is a retrospective featurette.
This gentle Tokyo-set character study, a sympathetic depiction of a lonely middle-aged woman who decides to enroll in an English-language course taught by an American, takes a long time to get where it’s going. Though Josh Hartnett is not my idea of an intelligent expat, the Japanese roles are all persuasively performed, particularly Shinobu Terajima in the lead. Director Atsuko Hirayanagi presides over a small-scale comedy drama about ordinary people. The hi-def transfer is fine; lone extra is a Hirayanagi interview.
Wherein Margot Robbie proves that her sex appeal and talent—enough for two characters here—can ride roughshod over even the most ridiculously plotted story of double crossings, killings, and torture. Robbie plays a greasy-spoon waitress and a glamorous femme fatale, while Simon Pegg looks completely lost amidst the convoluted goings-on and Mike Myers comes out of semi-retirement to play a bald villain who gets his comeuppance in a pointlessly torture-porn sequence. It looks impressive on Blu-ray; extras are cast and writer-director Vaughn Stein interviews.
DVDs of the Week
Austrian iconoclast Nikolaus Geyrhalter has made several eye-opening, thought-provoking documentaries over the past couple of decades, and this set collects six of them, all worth seeing for the director’s artfully composed, brilliantly shot and often unsettling images. Included are his stark but beautiful 1999 look at the ruined area surrounding Chernobyl, Pripyat; the massive four-hour epic Elsewhere (2001); his masterpiece, 2005’s Our Daily Bread, on Blu-ray, allowing viewers to better appreciate the pristine compositions of animal factory workers; 2011’s Abendland; 2015’s Over the Years; and 2016’s haunting Homo Sapiens.
Master director Laurent Cantet—whose The Class, Time Out and Human Resources are among the best French imports of the past 20 years—returns with another incisive and pertinent study of class and generational differences. Marine Hands gives a finely shaded portrayal as Olivia, a novelist from Paris who holds summer writing workshops for a diverse group of teenagers at a coastal town. Ethnic and class divisions become more pronounced among the group, and Olivia finds herself drawn to Antoine, an outsider whose talent is hidden by his extremist views. Cantet’s understated direction works wonders with the talented young performers, especially in their supercharged classroom arguments.