Digital Week – March 1

9 shares, 72 points

This week’s roundup features reviews of the latest adaptation of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” this time an unexciting musical with Peter Dinklage; the epic Stephen King adaptation, 1999’s “The Green Mile”; the new Kurt Warner biopic, “American Underdog”; and a couple of classics from Warner Archive, the 1943 Nazi thriller “Edge of Darkness” and the 1948 version of “The Three Musketeers” with Gene Kelly.

In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week

Cyrano (MGM)

cyranoIn this highly unnecessary musical knockoff of Edmond Rostand’s classic play, Peter Dinklage gives an underwhelming performance in the title role, Haley Bennett fares slightly better as Roxanne, whom Cyrano secretly pines for, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. is a dud of a Christian, the handsome front for Cyrano’s romantic words to Roxanne. Director Joe Wright displays his usual visual dexterity, and the sets and costumes are rotely spectacular, but Erica Schmidt’s adaptation is an exceedingly bumpy road: her changes don’t help, the songs are interchangeably dull and the story’s tragic arc is missed completely. Better to stick with Fred Schepisi and Steve Martin’s “Roxanne,” which smartly juggled with the play comedically rather than make it into such a risibly self-important mess.

My Best Part (Altered Innocence)

My Best Part (Altered Innocence) In first-time writer-director Nicolas Maury’s self-absorbed melodrama, Maury himself (known to American audiences from the witty French series “Call My Agent”) plays a self-pitying actor whose personal and professional life is destructing who looks to his own complex relationship with his mother to keep himself afloat. A powerful performance by the legendary Nathalie Baye as the mom helps gloss over the flaws in Maury’s writing, directing, acting and general approach to a complicated relationships that should have been more brutally honest rather than merely gimmicky.

4K/UHD Release of the Week

The Green Mile (Warner Bros)

The Green Mile (Warner Bros)For this 1999 crime drama/fantasy based on a novel by Stephen King, writer-director Frank Darabont finds himself afflicted with Martin Brest-itis, a tendency toward unneeded gargantuanism, as a perfectly serviceable 90-minute story has been stretched out of all proportion to an almost stultifying 188-minute epic. But, like Darabont’s previous overrated feature, “The Shawshank Redemption” (also based on a King story), “The Green Mile” has become a cult item. Michael Clarke Duncan is terrific and touching as the noble prisoner on death row, while then-unknown Sam Rockwell is good and nasty as a remorseless prisoner. But the film is too studied, too full of itself to be forceful and honest. There’s a first-rate 4K transfer; Darabont’s commentary is on the UHD and Blu-ray discs, the latter also featuring vintage extras: a lengthy making-of feature, interviews, deleted scenes, Duncan’s screen test and Hanks’ makeup test.

Blu-ray Releases of the Week

American Underdog (Lionsgate)

American Underdog (Lionsgate)In this routine biopic of Kurt Warner, his amazing story—talented QB who never got a shot in the NFL and who was bagging groceries before he finally did make his debut with the St. Louis Rams, then improbably led them to a Super Bowl win in his first season and eventually make the Hall of Fame—is told competently if unsurprisingly. Directors Jon and Andrew Erwin have never been known for their subtle touch, but they’re helped by Zachary Levi (Kurt), Anna Paquin (his wife Brenda), and heart-tugging from Hayden Zaller as Brenda’s young, blind son. The film looks excellent on Blu; extras are a good hour of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with cast, crew and even former Rams coach Dick Vermeil (played by Dennis Quaid in the film), interviewed by none other than “Saturday Night Live” cast member Heidi Gardner.

Boat People (Criterion)

Boat People (Criterion)Hong Kong director Ann Hui’s shattering 1982 film about the crushed lives of so many Vietnamese refugees following the Vietnam War follows a Japanese photojournalist who finds that, the government’s attempts to paint peacetime as a success aside, families are living in a shocking poverty that is being hidden from the rest of the world. Hui’s masterly direction dramatizes the squalor, the corruption and the repression that these people are up against without a trace of condescension or sentimentality. The film looks remarkably good on Blu; extras include a new Hui interview; “Keep Rolling,” a 2020 documentary about Hui’s career; “As Time Goes By,” Hui’s 1997 documentary self-portrait; and the 1983 Cannes Film Festival press conference.

Dancing Pirate (Film Detective)

Dancing Pirate (Film Detective)Lloyd Corrigan’s 1936 Technicolor melodrama has few stars (unless Charles Collins and Steffi Duna are names you’re familiar with) and a ridiculous story that gets more implausible as it goes along, but there’s something about the singlemindedness of arriving at the title character’s solo spot that makes this semi-watchable. There’s a decent hi-def transfer that gives a sense of the early three-strip Technicolor process; extras include an audio commentary along with featurettes on the beginnings of Technicolor and on the film itself.

Edge of Darkness (Warner Archive)

Edge of Darkness (Warner Archive)In this tense wartime thriller set near the beginning of WWII, director Lewis Milestone skillfully draws the various members of the Norwegian resistance against the Nazis and their collaborators in an often vicious and deadly game of cat and mouse. Made in 1943, Milestone’s film mines this endlessly dramatic subject for melodramatics, propaganda and old-fashioned derring-do; his cast, led by Errol Flynn, Ann Sheridan and Walter Huston as resisters, is in fine fettle throughout. The B&W images look spectacular on Blu; extras are a vintage short, “Gun to Gun,” and vintage cartoon, “To Duck…or Not to Duck.”

The Three Musketeers (Warner Archive)

The Three Musketeers (Warner Archive)This colorful 1948 adaptation about the swashbuckling quartet—D’Artagnan joins the other three in their exploits—is better at atmospheric entertainment than at telling a faithful version of Dumas’ story. But who cares, when you’ve got Gene Kelly of all people sword-fighting/dancing with the best of them as D’Artagnan, Van Heflin, Gig Young and Robert Coote as the musketeers, June Allyson as the lovely Constance, Vincent Price as Cardinal Richelieu and even Lana Turner as the duplicitous countess. It’s Hollywood filmmaking at its slickest, courtesy director George Sidney. The film’s vivid colors pop brilliantly on Blu; extras are a vintage travel short, “Looking at London,” and vintage cartoon, “What Price Fleadom.”

Don Giovanni (Opus Arte)
Francesca da Rimini (Naxos)

Don Giovanni (Opus Arte)These stagings of two operas—an acknowledged classic and a less well-known but respectable love story—are illuminated by strong performances in the lead roles. In Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”—seen in Oliver Mears’ stodgy 2019 staging at London’s Royal Opera House—Erwin Schrott is a charmingly roguish Don and Malin Bystrom, Louise Alder and Myrto Papatanasiu are a delightful and sympathetic trio of the Don’s conquests.

Le Chevalier de Saint-George—The Enlightened Violinist (BelAir Classiques)Last year in Berlin, Riccardo Zandonai’s tragic “Francesca da Rimini” was staged impeccably by director Christof Loy, helped immeasurably by American soprano Sara Jakubiak’s varied, versatile, vocally and dramatically flawless portrayal of Francesca. Both operas have excellent hi-def video and sound; “Giovanni” extras are short interviews with cast and creatives.

DVD Release of the Week

Le Chevalier de Saint-George—The Enlightened Violinist (BelAir Classiques)

Le Chevalier de Saint-George—The Enlightened Violinist (BelAir Classiques)This short documentary about the life of a remarkable musician and composer, Joseph Bologne, aka Le Chevalier de Saint-George, fills a hole in part of our history of music—this Black man from Guadeloupe (then a French colony) was born to an enslaved 16-year-old in 1745 and was considered the “Black Mozart” by his contemporaries for his versatility as an instrumentalist and facility as a composer. Several music scholars and musicians discuss his importance both historically and musically, and the accompanying hour-long concert—which features soprano Magali Leger, who also speaks in the documentary—includes some of his well-crafted music alongside works by Haydn and Mozart, providing a necessary corrective to our current musical trajectory.