Blu-rays of the Week
Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s long but absorbing chronicle of the divergent paths of two female friends—one refusing to leave the convent and the other taking desperate action to change her mind—is as uncompromising as the director’s other films, as the slow-moving and seemingly repetitive sequences pay off by the end in an accumulation of narrative and psychological detail. Criterion’s hi-def transfer is splendid; extras include a Mungiu interview, making-of featurette, deleted scenes and the 2012 Cannes Film festival press conference with Mungiu and his convincing lead actresses Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan.
In Clint Eastwood’s turgid re-telling of a real-life event, three American servicemen disarm a terrorist on a train, avoiding a horrific loss of life—but only after they take a trip to Europe, where they take selfies, flirt with young women and drink heavily. The actual train sequence is tautly shot, but before that we are subjected to 70 minutes of borderline ineptitude to fill the running time, from the heroes’ troubles in grade school and their joining the service to their aborted vacation. And having the three men play themselves—along with a fourth who was shot and badly wounded, unsurprisingly unsettling to watch as he recreates his own near-death experience—is a failed gimmick since no one has any dramatic weight onscreen. This is a strangely remote movie on a highly charged subject. It looks fine on Blu; extras are brief, uninformative featurettes.
The question must be asked again: why isn’t Rachel McAdams the biggest female star in the world? She should be as huge as Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock were in their heyday, but she has never gotten her due, despite an Oscar nomination for Spotlight. Her effortless charm is the main draw of this silly but often funny flick about a couple whose regular game nights are upped several notches by the hubby’s shady brother. Jason Bateman does fine as the husband, but despite his and McAdams’ easy rapport, it all runs out of steam and gets quite ridiculous by the end. The hi-def transfer looks great; extras include a making-of featurette and a gag reel.
Francis Lawrence’s at times plodding but still intense espionage thriller covers too many locales, characters and story threads which threaten to derail the main plot line, and with it Jennifer Lawrence’s commanding performance as a Russian ballerina turned deadly spy. But despite its overlength and unnecessarily extreme violence, the movie works, mainly because Lawrence (no relation to her director) is so indelible an onscreen presence; she helps paper over a lot of flaws, including her lack of chemistry with Joel Edgerton. The film looks terrific on Blu; extras include several featurettes and deleted scenes.
French director Claude Berri’s feature debut with this sentimental but affecting tragicomedy about an eight-year-old Jewish boy sent to live with an elderly Catholic couple during the height of the Nazi occupation. Despite occasional mawkishness, the bond between the boy and the crusty, anti-Semitic old man—enacted with honesty and humor by young Alain Cohen and the great Michel Simon—takes hold of and envelops the viewer until the emotionally charged finale. The restored B&W film is a knockout on Blu; extras include an audio commentary and brief archival interviews with Simon.
DVDs of the Week
Reuben Atlas and Sam Pollard’s cogent documentary recounts a shameful episode in recent political history—the demonizing and ultimate demise of the liberal grassroots organization by the typically disingenuous and misleading campaign headed by the benighted likes of Breitbart and Fox News. Through interviews with ACORN staff and the young woman who pretended to be a prostitute in a video dishonestly edited that helped sink the organization, this film presents a thoughtful and forceful cautionary tale for our fractured, volatile times.
This amusing if slight comedy gets much of its energy from the legendary Isabelle Huppert, slumming but still irresistible as a middle-aged former contestant on the televised Eurovision song contest who meets a young boxer at the factory where she works who coaxes her back in front of a microphone. Director Bavo Defurne smartly keeps Huppert front and center, whether throwing herself into a relationship with the boxer (a deadpan Kévin Azaïs) or singing for the first time in decades. It’s minor stuff made diverting enough for 90 minutes by Huppert’s presence.