Digital Week – July 27

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Roadrunner—A Film About Anthony Bourdain

This week’s roundup is highlighted by two poignant new documentaries about giants who left us too soon: “Roadrunner,” about chef and raconteur Anthony Bourdain, and “Ailey,” about groundbreaking choreographer Alvin Ailey. On 4K, there’s the latest gruesome “Saw” entry, “Spiral,” with a wisecracking Chris Rock, and on Blu-ray, there’s the remarkable 1974 film “Mirror,” by Russian visionary Andrei Tarkovsky, from the Criterion Collection.

In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week

Roadrunner—A Film About Anthony Bourdain (Focus Features)

RoadrunnerWhen Anthony Bourdain committed suicide in 2016, it was a shock but not really a surprise—he was a man who always lived by his own rules, and although he had a gregarious appetite for knowledge, travel and food, there was also a dark side, as Morgan Neville’s powerful documentary shows. There are many clips of Bourdain filming his various TV shows, along with glimpses of him interacting with friends and colleagues, sometimes generously, other times petulantly. And some of those close to him point to his final relationship with actress Asia Argento as a kind of breaking point (especially after she supposedly, and brazenly, cheated on him)—but there’s no denying that despite his zest for living and fatherhood, he left it all behind and left many people (his daughter, ex-wife, colleagues and friends like Josh Homme, Eric Ripert and Rod Lurie—and millions of fans around the world) bereft. “Roadrunner” might not explain why Bourdain killed himself, but it does explain him—to an extent.

Ailey (Neon)

AileyOne of the most influential choreographers of the 20th century, Alvin Ailey was important in many ways: as the first Black American to found his own company, he and his legacy stretch far beyond modern dance. Director Jamila Wignot shapes Ailey’s story (filled with innovation, originality, creativity, and also—almost inevitably—tragedy and sadness, since he died of AIDS in 1989 at age 58—through the prism of his singular achievements. But this is no hagiography: it’s an honest and accessible look at Ailey, the man and the artist. Including interviews with his colleagues, friends and admirers (in many cases, all three), “Ailey” leaves one feeling exhilarated.

Casanova, Last Love (Cohen Media)

Casanova Last LoveThe life of the irascible seducer Casanova is perfect fodder for the movies, as directors like Federico Fellini and Lasse Hallstrom have told his story as either psychological fantasia or costume romp; now French director Benoit Jacquot enters the fray, with typically uneven results. As usual with Jacquot, the film looks sumptuous, and Vincent Lindon is a perfect Casanova, a middle-aged libertine desperate to relive past glories with one final conquest, irresistibly played by the winning Stacy Martin. But Jacquot’s gaze is nearly always unsteady, and what might have been an incisive and even touching portrait of old age remains blurry, gauzy, distant.

Mama Weed (Music Box Films)

Mama WeedIsabelle Huppert might be taken for granted since she always brings her A game, even to less original creations—which is not to say that Jean-Paul Salomé’s grittily involving comic policier about a police translator embroiled in an illegal drug trade right under the nose of her boyfriend the police chief is second-rate. Huppert works hard and often hilariously to bring off this borderline implausible and densely plotted film, helped by Salomé’s assured and stylish direction, which hints at socioeconomic complexities that the inevitable American remake will most likely jettison.

Masquerade (Shout! Factory)

MasqueradeI don’t remember the last time I saw a movie so disingenuous and cynical that it enraged me, but this forgettable piece of masochistic filmmaking displaying sheerly irrational behavior—no one in this movie is remotely believable, not even the teenage heroine—did it. In only 80 minutes, writer-director Shane Dax Taylor is so intent on being brutally awful to the victims (even allowing the young daughter of the couple whose home is invaded by a trio of art thieves to be tortured) that it seems 80 hours long. Poor Bella Thorne once again gives a credible performance in a lousy movie.

4K/UHD Release of the Week

Spiral (Lionsgate)

SpiralThe latest entry in the “Saw” franchise starts with an intriguing premise—corrupt cops are being offed by a copycat killer—but instead of making a twisty and clever thriller, director Darren Lynn Bousman follows earlier “Saw” flicks by wallowing in risible, gory deaths-by-torture that include cut-off tongues and fingers, skinned bodies, suffocation by scalding wax and being slowly bled to death. It’s too bad, for Chris Rock’s confident jokiness works well in this context and his interactions with Max Minghella (his new partner) and Samuel Jackson (his retired police chief dad) are entertaining. Bousman and writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger are more interested in the blood quotient than in credibility or originality. The film looks great on UHD; extras include commentaries and a making-of on the 4K disc and other featurettes on the Blu-ray.

Blu-ray Releases of the Week

Mirror (Criterion Collection)

MirrorIn many ways, Andrei Tarkovsky’s often inscrutable but always compelling 1974 memory piece is his most fully-realized film: rarely have the innocence of childhood and difficulties of aging been so powerfully evoked, especially in the Russian director’s typically unbroken long takes and dream-like images. The Criterion Collection’s superb package comprises a first-rate hi-def transfer and a plethora of contextualizing extras that include Tarkovsky’s son Andrei A. Tarkovsky’s 2019 documentary, “Andrei Tarkovsky: A Cinema Prayer”; new documentary “The Dream in the Mirror”; 2007 documentary “Islands: Georgy Rerberg,” about Tarkovsky’s cinematographer; new interview with composer Eduard Artemyev; and archival interviews with Tarkovsky and screenwriter Alexander Misharin.

Objective Burma (Warner Archive)

Objective Burma (Warner Archive)Although it takes liberties with the historical facts—like having U.S. armed forces as heroes instead of what was mainly a British and Indian force—this 1945 World War II film effectively dramatizes the dangerous heroics by soldiers stranded in Burma with the Japanese right behind them. Led by a gritty Errol Flynn as their leader, the men are portrayed as realistically as possible given the fact that director Raoul Walsh made the film (shot in California, of all places, by the distinguished cinematographer James Wong Howe) very soon after the events it depicts happened. The B&W images look terrific on Blu-ray; extras are two vintage wartime shorts: 1941’s “The Tanks Are Coming” with Gig Young and 1943’s “The Rear Gunner” with Burgess Meredith.

Rolling Stones—A Bigger Bang Live on Copacabana Beach (Mercury Studios)

olling Stones—A Bigger Bang Live on Copacabana Beach (Mercury Studios)As part of its over-the-top 2006 “A Bigger Bang” tour, the Rolling Stones played one of the most massive concerts of their decades-long career on the famed Copacabana Beach in Rio de Jenairo to an audience of more than 1.5 million, by some accounts. Mick and the boys are in fine fettle throughout the nearly two-hour performance, with highlights being a powerhouse “Wild Horses,” a chugging “Miss You” and a stirring “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” This set includes the entire concert on two CDs and one Blu-ray, with deluxe surround sound on the latter disc; both hi-def video and audio look and sound great.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game (Warner Archive)

Take Me Out to the Ball Game (Warner Archive)Apparently, although this frothy 1949 musical comedy about turn of the century vaudevillians who moonlight as players on the world champion baseball team the Wolves was nominally directed by the legendary Busby Berkley, it really was helmed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. The latter also engagingly plays one of the stars alongside Frank Sinatra, who outsings Kelly but is outclassed in the dancing department. Rounding out the romantic foursome are Esther Williams and Betty Garrett, both game but sadly underused. The colorful musical looks bright on Blu; extras are two deleted musical numbers and a vintage cartoon.

Wrath of Man (Warner Brothers)

Wrath of Man (Warner Brothers)Fast-paced—almost dizzyingly so—Guy Ritchie’s latest testosterone-fueled caper is filled with so many dead bodies that it may set some sort of record for shootings and amount of ammo used, which seems an obvious ruse to make viewers ignore the repetitious plot about armored vehicle thefts that are inside jobs which go spectacularly wrong. Ritchie plays around with showing the events from various points-of-view, but to little avail; the main problem is Jason Stratham’s usual granite personality masquerading as nonchalance. There’s a fine hi-def transfer.

DVD Releases of the Week

Inside the Met (PBS)

Inside the Met (PBS)The year 2020 was supposed to be a banner one for New York’s jewel, the Metropolitan Museum of Art: it was its 150th birthday, after all, and director Ian Denyer’s cameras were welcomed inside the institution to record the celebrations and commemorations as well as to see what makes the Met tick. Then COVID-19 hit and the Met was forced to shut its doors for months for the very first time, and this engrossing three-part documentary follows along as various strategies are put into place to deal with the initial shutdown and the gradual reopening. It might not have been a year worth celebrating, but 2020 became one of the most memorable in the Met’s storied history.

Unforgotten—Complete 4th Season
Professor T (PBS)

UnforgottenThe fourth season of the intelligent crime series “Unforgotten” follows investigators Cassie and Sunny as they attempt to break a 30-year-old murder case that involve four current police officers—including one about to be promoted; Nicola Walker (Cassie) and Sanjeev Bhaskar (Sunny) give persuasive portrayals of exasperated but laser-sharp detectives. “Professor T,” while yet another series about a crime-solver with OCD, transcends its now-clichéd limitations in the character of Jasper Tempest, a Cambridge criminologist who solves cases in each episode, and played by Ben Miller with serious wit. Both discs include several making-of featurettes.