A Hard Day’s Night (Criterion)

Digital Week – January 18

8 shares, 75 points

This week’s roundup is highlighted by the newest Beatles release—not the mesmerizing eight-hour documentary “Get Back” (which arrives in February on Blu-ray) but the Criterion Collection’s 4K version of the Fab Four’s first (and best) film, “A Hard Day’s Night,” which has never looked nor sounded better.

4K/UHD Release of the Week

A Hard Day’s Night (Criterion)

A Hard Day’s Night (Criterion)Nearly sixty years on, the Beatles’ first film remains innovative, hilarious and gloriously tuneful—it’s a happy combination of Alun Owen’s clever script, Richard Lester’s gleefully absurdist direction, the Fab Four’s wittily distinctive personalities and several of their greatest 1964-era songs, from the title tune and “Can’t Buy Me Love” to “If I Fell” and “And I Love Her.” Criterion’s 4K transfer makes the B&W images—the luminous photography is by Gilbert Taylor—literally pop off the TV screen and the audio (overseen by Beatles producer George Martin’s son Giles) is exceptional; there’s an audio commentary, and the accompanying Blu-ray disc has many other extras: archival interviews with and featurettes about the Beatles and Lester; Lester’s breakthrough 1960 short, “The Running, Jumping & Standing Still Film”; and an interview with Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn.

In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week

Delicious (Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Delicious (Samuel Goldwyn Films)In this entertainingly tall tale of the man who opened the first restaurant in France—coinciding with the French Revolution in 1789, naturally—writer-director Éric Besnard has smartly cast Grégory Gadebois as the chef and Isabelle Carré as the woman who starts out as his unlikely protégé, then becomes his confidante and second-in-command: their chemistry gives the film that extra sauce and spice it needs. At times, it’s remindful of such Miramax awards bait as “Chocolat,” but the typically French intertwining of the political, personal and culinary makes this, well, delicious.

Italian Studies (Magnolia)

Italian Studies (Magnolia)As she showed in her Oscar-nominated performance in “Pieces of a Woman” and Emmy-nominated turn as Prince Margaret in “The Crown,” Vanessa Kirby is incapable of a false note as an actress, so writer-director Adam Leon is lucky her presence anchors his occasionally intriguing but mainly pretentious character study. Unfortunately Kirby—as an amnesiac author who falls in with a group of teenagers—can’t save this 78-minute one-note drama that feels much longer than it is.

Who We Are—A Chronicle of Racism in America (Sony Classics)

Who We Are—A Chronicle of Racism in America (Sony Classics)Turning a staged lecture into a stirring documentary worked for Al Gore and “An Inconvenient Truth”; lawyer Jeffrey Robinson goes a similar route for his brutally honest and relevant discussion of how our country arrived at its current predicament: he calls out the obvious racism embedded in the founding fathers’ writings and documents and how difficult it’s been to escape that past because it’s still going on today. Robinson has a chatty but commanding manner while sharing facts and insights onstage (it was shot at New York City’s Town Hall in 2018) and he dives further into our shared history of embarrassment in several location shots, including one of him discussing the myth of the Confederate flag with a stalwart defender of it in Virginia.

Blu-ray Releases of the Week

Ema (Music Box)

Ema (Music Box)Chilean director Pablo Larraín found some mainstream success with a couple of clunky middblebrow biopics, “Diana” and “Spencer,” both making unfortunate hash of the legacies of Jackie Kennedy and Lady Di; much better are the films he made in his native country, like “Post Mortem,” “No” and, now, “Ema,” a chillingly unblinking study of a young woman—an artistic free spirit—who responds to the collapse of her marriage and tragedy involving her son by, literally, burning down her own existence and the world around her. The fresh and vibrant actress Mariana di Girolamo is magnificent as Ema, humanizing a primarily symbolic role, and Larraín visualizes her experiences with wit, sympathy and perceptiveness. The film looks great on Blu; extras are a commentary by the film’s choreographer, Jose Vidal, and music video directed by Larraín.

Expresso Bongo (Cohen Film Collection)

Expresso Bongo (Cohen Film Collection)Val Guest’s 1959 rock-n-roll curio, even more of a time capsule than “A Hard Day’s Night,” chronicles the early, heady days of the pop music biz in the form of the sleazy local talent agent Johnny Jackson (Laurence Harvey), who discovers teen singer Bert Rudge (Cliff Richard) and proceeds to turn him into a sensation. This musical-cum-romantic comedy-cum gritty slice of life comes off as mostly corny now, but it’s definitely a valuable glimpse at the so-called innocent days of the music biz, which don’t look all that much different than the billion-dollar industry it became. The B&W film has a gritty look in hi-def.

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Film Movement)

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Film Movement)In this engrossing triptych of stories about women dealing with the shifting dynamics of relationships, Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi develops, with an almost casual mastery that’s far more accomplished than his forebear, Eric Rohmer (whom Hamaguchi nods to), the near-perfect form for alternatingly amusing and unsettling studies that shudder with palpable tension. The film looks splendid on Blu; extras are a Hamaguchi interview and a short, “The Chicken,” by director Neo Sora.

DVD Releases of the Week

Billions—Complete 5th Season (Showtime/CBS)

Billions—Complete 5th Season (Showtime/CBS)The ongoing war between U.S. attorney Chuck Rhoades and hedge-fund entrepreneur Bobby Axelrod reaches its deliriously absurd apogee in the latest season of Showtime’s alternately spellbinding and silly drama: Axelrod simply gets on a plane and flees to Switzerland in the finale. It’s quite an anticlimax for a showdown that’s been promised for five seasons, and now that Damien Lewis will not return as Axelrod, having Rhoades battle Mike Prince (Corey Stoll) probably won’t have the same frisson. As always, this season had the usual exacting performances by Lewis, Paul Giamatti, Maggie Siff, David Costabile and Condola Rashad to keep us watching.

Historical Drama Collection (Corinth Films)

Historical Drama Collection (Corinth Films)Corinth Films has put together somewhat of a grab bag with this quintet of films made in the last decade or so centering on historical events, from Russia (Marlene Gorris’ “Within the Whirlwind”), France (Volker Schlondorff’s “Calm at Sea”), Germany (Juraj Kerz’s “Habermann”), Latvia (Viesturs Kairiss’ “The Chronicles of Melanie”) and Poland (Anna Justice’s “Remembrance”). Of the five, Gorris’ dramatization of the life of Soviet dissident Evgenia Ginzburg (powerfully played by Emily Watson) and Schlondorff’s recreation of the heroic deaths of French resistance fighters, including 17-year-old Guy Moquet (the expressive Léo Paul Salmain) are the most worthwhile entries.

The Last Tycoons (Icarus Films)

The Last Tycoons (Icarus Films)Florence Strauss’ eight-part documentary profiling dozens of important French film producers might seem excessive in its length, but in reality it’s probably not enough time to give several of these men their proper due, as it was they who allowed such visionary directors as Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Renoir, Luis Bunuel and Jean Eustache to make uncompromisingly personal features. Crammed with a voluminous amount of archival interviews alongside scenes from classics like “Breathless,” “Forbidden Games,” “The Mother and the Whore” and “Z,” this might not be a series that many viewers would binge, but those who are really into French film will find it irresistible.