This week’s roundup is highlighted by theater documentaries, both on big screens (the new “On Broadway”) and on Blu-ray (the new Criterion Collection release of “Original Cast Album—Company,” a 50-year-old behind-the-scenes of a Stephen Sondheim classic).
In-Theater/Streaming Release of the Week
On Broadway (Kino Lorber)
Oren Jacoby’s valentine to the Great White Way and how it keeps reinventing itself is only 85 minutes, so it crams too much information and history that could have been presented with more nuance and complexity at a greater length. That Jacoby was only able to get backstage and rehearsal footage from “The Nap,” a British play from the 2018-19 season, doesn’t help, since aside from trans performer Alexandra Billings’ personal story, isn’t very interesting. But vintage footage of Sondheim’s classic “Company” (see below), “A Chorus Line,” the destruction of historic theaters so the behemoth Marriott Marquis Hotel could be built, “Cats,” “Rent” and “Hamilton,” along with new interviews of a cross-section of Broadway talent, producers and columnists, from Tommy Tune to Alec Baldwin and Christine Baranski, make this a must-see for theater buffs.
4K/UHD Release of the Week
The Conjuring 3—The Devil Made Me Do It (Warner Bros)
Based on a supposed true story of a young boy’s exorcism, the latest in “The Conjuring” series metes out more of the same cheap frights, occasional subtlety—thanks to leads Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the brave supernatural battlers—and the promise of another sequel. Director Michael Chaves follows the formula perfected by director-turned-producer James Wan, which might sate its fans but otherwise seems like diminishing returns. The UHD image looks spectacular; the included Blu-ray disc has short featurettes of interviews and onset footage.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (Lionsgate)
For anyone who saw “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”—and I know you’re out there—this sequel is about as clever as its title: once again, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson engage in a battle of retorts and one-liners, with the added bonus of Salma Hayek’s perpetually foul-mouth rants (even more so than her hubby Jackson). As in most comedic action thrillers, director Patrick Hughes has no sense of style or pacing; instead, whenever it all starts start to drag—and the banter among the stars begins to pall—he blows up more things and mows down more bad guys to perk up the audience. It might work for awhile, but not for the full 99 minutes. There’s an excellent Blu-ray transfer; extras are featurettes and a gag reel.
Original Cast Album—Company (Criterion)
One of the Holy Grails for theater buffs, D.A. Pennebaker’s fly-on-the-wall documentary about the all-night recording session of producer Harold Prince and composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s breakthrough Broadway musical in 1970, has finally arrived on Blu-ray; although a mere 51 minutes, its laser focus on the show’s great songs sung by the original performers, all with Sondheim watching intently—and sometimes unimpressedly—is fascinating to watch. As producer Thomas Z. Shepard presides over the marathon session, we see and hear performances of the astonishing patter song “Getting Married Today” or—in an uneasily difficult moment—Elaine Stritch bulldozing her way through her signature “The Ladies Who Lunch” at 4 in the morning. There’s a nice amount of grain in Criterion’s hi-def transfer; extras include Sondheim’s invaluable new commentary; a 2001 commentary by Pennebaker, Prince and Stritch; new interviews with Sondheim and orchestrator Jonathan Tunick; vintage audio interviews with Stritch and Prince; and—for some inexplicable reason—a “Documentary Now!” parody and a discussion by the parodists.
Till Death (Screen Media)
If viewers ignore the hypocrisy and the many howlers in the dialogue, in the plotting and of plain common sense, S.K. Dale’s brittle chiller about a harried wife who is (literally) chained to her husband while the bad guys invade their remote hideaway is certainly an effective contraption. That the glamorous Megan Fox, of all people, plays the wife with her usual self-assurance—always looking like a supermodel no matter how much blood has splattered or how long she spends in the snow and the ice in her bare feet—makes this even more of a guilty pleasure. The film’s wintry, icy locales look sharply stark in hi-def.
DVD Release of the Week
Perfumes (Distrib US Films)
In Grégory Magne’s precisely calibrated character study, Emmanuelle Devos is a perfumer with an exquisite nose for scents but no people or relationship skills whatsoever—until a gruff but affable chauffeur (Grégory Montel)—who needs to keep his job if he has a chance at getting custody of his adorable 10-year-old daughter—begins working for her. Despite the contrived plotting, Magne and his two leads are able to make something honest and even touching out of how these two opposites eventually find common ground professionally and personally.