Lost Illusions (Music Box)

Digital Week – June 14

This week’s roundup features a superb adaptation of a sprawling Balzac novel, “Lost Illusions,” directed by the always-adventurous French filmmaker, Xavier Giannoli. Also in theaters and/or streaming are the weird thriller set in Romania, “Watcher,” and an uplifting Italian music documentary, “We Are the Thousand.”

In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week

Lost Illusions (Music Box)

Lost IllusionsFrench director Xavier Giannoli—whose masterly 2003 debut, “Eager Bodies,” remains criminally unseen in this country—now turns his considerable talents to costume epics in the form of this sumptuous adaptation of a Balzac novel about a provincial young man, Lucien, in 1820s France whose affair with an older, married noblewoman, Louise, changes his life in ways he couldn’t dream of. Lucien eventually becomes one of Paris’ most popular (and feared) newspaper writers—and Giannoli perceptively shows the seductive parallels between yesterday’s yellow journalism and today’s “fake news.” A superior cast led by Benjamin Voisin, Cecile de France, Jeanne Balibar and Gerard Depardieu, stunning photography by Christophe Beaucarne, expert editing, costumes and sets, are harnessed by Giannoli on a large social, political and personal canvas that fills every one of his film’s 150 minutes with intelligent and grandly entertaining storytelling.

After Blue (Altered Innocence)

After Blue (Altered Innocence)French director Bertrand Mandico’s sci-fi adventure, set on the title planet populated entirely by women, follows the journey of Roxy and her mother Zora, who stumble upon a villain named, inexplicably, Kate Bush. (There are no allusions to the real Kate Bush or her music; it’s a coincidence that her newfound fame thanks to “Stranger Things” happened at the same time.) Mandico creates several dazzling set pieces, his visual imagination running riot throughout, but after awhile, the endless parade of surrealistic visuals and situations becomes numbing, and the film simply peters out after two-plus hours. Under the circumstances, that Paula Luna (Roxy) and Elina Löwensohn (Zora) make any impression at all is something of a triumph.

Watcher (IFC Films/Midnight)

Watcher (IFC Films/Midnight)Despite the winning presence of Maika Monroe, Chloe Okuno’s thriller about a young woman who begins to suspect that a nosy neighbor might have malign intent is pretty much rote and uninteresting. Okuno and writer Zack Ford’s film is set in Bucharest, and Monroe plays Julia, the American girlfriend of Francis, a Romanian-American man who has a new job that’s brought them to Romania, and there is a certain tension in her inability to understand or comprehend not only the language but also the customs of her new locale, but the mystery itself isn’t very compelling, and the denouement dropped in after 90 minutes is faintly ridiculous.

We Are the Thousand (Breaking Glass Pictures)

We Are the Thousand (Breaking Glass Pictures)In 2015, an Italian musician named Fabio decided to lure his favorite group, the Foo Fighters, to perform in his hometown of Cesena by bringing together the “Rockin’ 1000”—one thousand drummers, guitarists, bass players and singers all performing the Foos’ hit “Learn to Fly”—and hoping the video goes viral. It did, of course: and Anita Rivaroli’s wonderful documentary shows how dreams can come true through sheer perseverance. There’s a great cameo by Foos headman Dave Grohl, who surprises Fabio and his cohorts when he responds to their plea in Italian, and of course, the band does perform for delirious fans. The film goes on too long as it’s hoped lightning strikes twice by putting together a full set of “Rockin’ 1000” performances, which dilutes the original idea somewhat.

Blu-ray Releases of the Week

I Capuletti e I Montecchi (Naxos)

I Capuletti e I Montecchi (Naxos)Staged in 2015 in the same Venice opera house where it premiered in 1830, Vincenzo Bellini’s bel canto adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet—which always rises or falls on the female singers who portray the star-crossed lovers—has a pair of sublime singing actresses: Australian soprano Jessica Pratt (Giulietta) and Italian mezzo Sonia Ganassi (Romeo). Arnaud Bernard’s direction keeps the focus on the tragic love story, while Omer Weir Wellber conducts a forceful reading of Bellini’s melodious score. There’s first-rate hi-def audio and video.

The Clock (Warner Archive)

The Clock (Warner Archive)The first of three Judy Garland vehicles this weeks—see the musicals “For Me and My Gal” and “Ziegfeld Girl,” below—is this schlocky 1945 romance with Garland and Robert Walker, who meet cute in Manhattan (he’s a milkfed soldier on 48-hour leave) and proceed to improbably fall in love while having more improbable NYC adventures. Directed spiffily by Vincente Minnelli and enacted ingratiatingly by the two stars, the film still comes across as cloying, despite some charming moments. The B&W images look superb on Blu; extras are classic short and cartoon as well as a radio adaptation with Garland and John Hodiak.

Eraser—Reborn (Warner Bros)

Eraser—Reborn (Warner Bros)I doubt the original “Eraser” (with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vanessa Williams) is so fondly remembered that we needed a reboot 26 years later, but here we are: a U.S. marshal specializing in “erasing” high-profile witnesses (moving them into a witness protection program) takes the case of a crime lord’s beautiful wife who wears a wire for the FBI. The pair are soon on the run to Cape Town, South Africa, of all places. John Pogue has directed a derivative chase movie from Michael Weiss’ turgid script, with a dull Dominic Sherwood as our hero; only Jacky Lai, as the heroine, provides needed liveliness. The Blu-ray transfer looks fine; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

For Me and My Gal (Warner Archive)

For Me and My Gal (Warner Archive)Busby Berkeley directed this charming 1942 musical romance with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly (in his film debut) as vaudevillians who decide to work together and get married after they get their big break onstage in New York, but Kelly is drafted after the U.S. enters World War I. Although there are several splashy song-and-dance numbers, the underlying tone is melancholic, and even if we don’t quite get a true downer of an ending, its sobering finale fits with the fact that we just started fighting World War II when this was released. It looks superb—and in sparkling B&W—on Blu-ray; extras include an audio commentary, two vintage musical shorts, two deleted musical numbers, radio adaptation with Garland and Kelly, and a radio promo for the film.

Nerone (C Major)

Nerone (C Major)Although better known as a librettist for Verdi’s masterly final operas (“Otello” and “Falstaff”), Arrigo Boito also composed operas: “Mefistofele” was his lone success, but “Nerone”—about the infamous Roman emperor Nero—has drama and sweep to spare, along with unsavory yet fascinating characters. Only Boito’s music is a bit of a miscalculation. Olivier Tambosi’s 2021 staging at the Italian summer festival in Bregenz is populated with first-rate performers who persuasively embody these people, led by Mexican tenor Rafael Rojas’ Nerone. (Sadly, Rojas died earlier this year.) Dirk Kaftan leads the Vienna Philharmonic and Prague Philharmonic Choir in a fine reading of Boito’s uneven score. There are superb hi-def audio and video.

9 Bullets (Screen Media)

9 Bullets (Screen Media)Writer-director Gigi Gaston’s crime drama follows a stripper, Gypsy, with a heart of gold who protects a young boy who saw his family murdered in cold blood by goons hired by a mob boss she fools around with. Notwithstanding Lena Headey’s always watchable presence—even if Gypsy has as many contradictions as Headey has tattoos on a body she unapologetically shows throughout—this vacuous flick wastes a couple of ‘70s holdovers (Barbara Hershey and Colleen Camp) and foregoes plausibility in the characters and their relationships. It’s fairly risible stuff, even for Headey fans.

Vive L’amour (Film Movement)

Vive L’amour (Film Movement)One of the key films of the Taiwanese New Wave, Tsai Ming-liang’s 1994 drama follows a trio of alienated young people who are part of an at times enervating but mostly absorbing love triangle of sorts. Setting his film primarily in a vacant apartment where a man and woman meet for anonymous trysts (while another man watches), Ming-liang eschews conventional narrative—there’s scant motivation and occasional dialogue, all recorded by long takes—to visually mirror his protagonists’ isolation in sleek, soulless Taipei, culminating in the final extended shot of actress Yang Kuei-mei in tears. Ming-liang’s images look spectacular in hi-def; lone extra is a new director interview.

Ziegfeld Girl (Warner Archive)

Ziegfeld Girl (Warner Archive)This overlong 1941 musical, directed efficiently by Robert Z. Leonard, has its characteristic Busby Berkeley dance set pieces, but the busy plot—three young women take differing routes to showgirl stardom—was old-hat even then. Still, it’s worth watching three of Hollywood’s greats at the top of their game as the main trio: Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr. The restored B&W hi-def image looks sumptuous; extras include an intro by Garland biographer John Fricke, “Our Gang” short, vintage short “We Must Have Music,” with a segment of the missing original finale of the film, and two audio-only outtakes.