Air Doll (Dekanalog)

Digital Week – February 8


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This week’s roundup includes “Air Doll” (in theaters and streaming), a provocative 2009 fable by the veteran Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, and “King Richard” (Blu-ray), a worshipful biopic about Venus and Serena Williams’ father, with a scenery-chewing—and Oscar-nominated—Will Smith in the lead.

In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week

Air Doll (Dekanalog)

Air Doll (Dekanalog)This 2009 drama from Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda doesn’t have the resonance or emotional pull of many of his other films—“Like Father Like Son,” “Shoplifters” and “After Life,” for starters—but its story of a middle-aged loner’s sex doll who has her own separate life and relationships while he leaves the house is too diffuse to be anything more than an only occasionally effective portrait of loneliness, especially coming right after his sublime drama about grieving, 2008’s “Still Working.” Bae Doona gives a sublimely understated performance in the title role, but the sympathy she engenders can’t completely overcome the surprising one-note shallowness of Kore-eda’s work here.

Breaking Bread (Cohen Media)

Breaking Bread (Cohen Media)In this bracing documentary set at the A-Sham Arabic Food Festival in Haifa, Israel, director Beth Elise Hawk introduces us to Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, a microbiologist who won the Israeli reality series Master Chef, and who presciently founded the food festival in order to foster the beginning of social change among Israelis and Arabs. The director and the Master Chef winner both show us the scrumptious-looking meals made by chefs from traditional recipes and ingredients, helping to foster the (maybe outlandish) notion that—just perhaps—satisfied stomachs could be the key to the common ground that has yet to be found in the Middle East.

Blu-ray Releases of the Week

Fidelio (Opus Arte)

Fidelio (Opus Arte)Beethoven’s only opera, a magnificent but messy masterpiece, concerns liberty, equality and love in its story of a woman, Leonore, who disguises herself as a man, Fidelio, to free her husband, Florestan, a political prisoner. The music is as glorious as anything Beethoven ever composed, but the dramaturgy is a little clunky; luckily, this 2020 Royal Opera House (ROH) production from London, adroitly staged by Tobias Kratzer, has in place the superb ROH orchestra and chorus, led by veteran conductor Antonio Pappano. In the leads, there are the magisterial voices of Lise Davidsen (Leonore) and David Butt Philip (Florestan). There’s first-rate hi-def video and audio; extras are short interviews with cast and crew.

Gold Diggers of 1933 (Warner Archive)

Gold Diggers of 1933 (Warner Archive)This nearly perfect display of singing and dancing is the apogee of Busby Berkeley’s onscreen and onstage style: with his story of a producer creating a Broadway musical amid the Great Depression, Berkeley creates a series of exhilarating production numbers like the risqué “Pettin’ in the Park.” Then there’s “The Shadow Waltz,” a showstopper featuring several chorus girls in hooped skirts dancing with violins, and their movements are choreographed, shot and edited with skill and precision. Warner Archive’s typically superior hi-def transfer presents the film in all its B&W glory. Extras are a retrospective featurette and several vintage shorts and cartoons.

King Richard (Warner Bros)

King Richard (Warner Bros)In a frightfully overlong biopic that comes perilously close to hagiography—at least it’s not titled “Saint Richard”—Will Smith plays Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena and who’s shown as the architect of their championship-caliber careers, in a bizarre, unfocused performance that drops this would-be inspirational drama down a few notches. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green and writer Zach Baylin try in every way to make Richard the hero of his daughters’ tennis achievements, with surprisingly little nod to their own talent and perseverance. Far better are the portrayals of Aunjanue Ellis (the girls’ mother Oracene), Saniyya Sidney (Venus) and Demi Singleton (Serena). There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras comprise on-set featurettes and deleted scenes.

Paranoiac (Shout/Scream Factory)

Paranoiac (Shout/Scream Factory)Madness, death, suicide were themes in several Hammer Studios movies, and this 1963 entry, cleverly directed by Freddie Francis (and moodily photographed in B&W by Arthur Grant), takes advantage of its spooky plotline to create some arresting images and eerie moments. The 80-minute flick reaches maximum lunacy at its climax, while finely calibrated performances by Oliver Reed, Janette Scott, Sheila Burrell and Alexander Davion finesse its clumsier aspects. The film looks great in hi-def; extras include an audio commentary, a making-of featurette and new interviews with Hammer film experts.

Stargirl—Complete 2nd Season (Warner Bros)

Stargirl—Complete 2nd Season (Warner Bros)What’s the JSA (Justice Society of America)? Stargirl, also known by her civilian name, Courtney Whitmore, is part of the teen JSA and has difficulty balancing her superhero work with being a normal high school kid. In fact, she has to go to summer school to make up the classes she failed. But when adversaries Eclipso and the Shade appear, the JSA kids band together to stop them. With the right amount of humor and drama, the series balances silly and heartfelt, and a cast led by young Brec Bassinger as Stargirl and Patrick Wilson and Amy Smart as her stepfather and mother make this an appealing entry in the superhero canon. All 13 episodes look terrific on Blu; extras are two featurettes and the ubiquitous gag reel.

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