This week’s roundup includes a new documentary on demand, the latest Criterion Collection volume of Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project on Blu-ray, and the absorbing series Penny Dreadful: City of Angels on DVD.
VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week
Aggie (Strand Releasing)
Agnes Fund, one of the art world’s most illustrious benefactors, is the subject of a shining profile by her daughter, director Catherine Fund; Agnes candidly discusses her astonishing legacy as art collector and philanthropist—she sold a Roy Lichtenstein painting for $165 million to help fund the Art for Justice Fund to address mass incarceration—as well as trustee and leader of institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, where she was president for 11 years. There are also revealing interviews with artists and associates like Marina Abramović, Abigail Disney and Dorothy Lichtenstein, Roy’s widow, along with family members, all in awe of Aggie, who’s still going strong at age 82.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Babyteeth (IFC Films)
The plot is all too familiar—teenager Milla falls for a shady older guy, causing her parents no end of consternation—but writer-director Shannon Murphy transcends her story’s typical trajectory by injecting it with humor, trenchant observation and an extraordinary performance by Eliza Scanlen as Milla, whose relationship with her family has already been strained by her cancer diagnosis. At two hours, the film is way overlong and repetitious, but the realness that Murphy and Scanlen bring to Milla’s plight is impressive. The film looks fine on Blu.
Don Quichotte/Don Quixote (Unitel)
French composer Jules Massenet’s thoughtful, dramatic opera of Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel comes across, in Mariame Clement’s 2019 Bregenz Festival staging, as a ridiculous and unintelligent gloss. Each scene takes place in different settings (the opening adheres closest to the original, then we get a windmill scene in a bathroom, the Don in a Spiderman suit and a final scene in a modern office), which only confuses the issue. Singers Gabor Bretz as Quixote and Anna Goryachova as Dulcinea, his love interest, are wonderful but are diminished by Clement’s self-indulgent deconstruction of a classic work into a #MeToo screed. Hi-def video and audio are first-rate.
Eskapist (BelAir Classiques)
Danish choreographer Alexander Ekman’s full-length modernist work might have been revelatory in the theater, but its use of film, narrator and a dream-like state seem oddly piecemeal and stridently eclectic on video, and set to music by Mikael Karlsson that’s less descriptive than distracting. Still, Ekman’s movements are often beautiful and thrilling, and his dancers are uniformly terrific, which mitigates the silliness of the overall Concept (with a capital C). Hi-def video and audio are superb; lone extra is a short Ekman interview.
Genesis II/Planet Earth (Warner Archive)
These made-for-TV features from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry follow Dylan Hunt, a scientist who awakes from suspended animation in the year 2133 to find a world trying to rebuild decades after a devastating nuclear war. The actors are different—Alex Cord in 1973’s Genesis II and John Gavin in the 1974 followup Planet Earth—but it doesn’t much matter since the focus is on the group PAX (descendants of the 20th century NASA scientists with whom Hunt worked), an underground group trying to rebuild civilization. For their era, both films are watchable sci-fi entertainment but Planet of the Apes they are not. Both films have fine new hi-def transfers.
Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project—Volume 3 (Criterion)
In the latest volume of Criterion’s worthy ongoing project of international films getting a deserved resurrection, there are two flat-out masterpieces: from Cuba’s Fernando Solas, the intensely dramatic and political 1968 triptych Lucia; and from Brazil’s Hector Babenco, the chillingly potent look at a young boy on the streets of Rio, 1980’s Pixote. The other four films are less memorable but still worth a look: from Indonesia, Usmar Ismail’s After the Curfew (1954); from Mexico, Juan Bustillo Oro’s Dos Monjes (1934); from Mauritania, Med Hondo’s Soleil O (1970); and from Iran, Bahram Beyzaie’s Downpour (1972). All six films have brand-new hi-def transfers; some (Lucia, Pixote, Soleil O) look better than others (After the Curfew, Dos Monjes, Downpour), depending on existing materials. Extras include Scorsese intros for each film, new and archival interviews and Babenco’s prologue for the U.S. release of Pixote.
The Secret—Dare to Dream (Lionsgate)
Based on the runaway best-selling “power of positive thinking” book, this mawkish romance stars two engaging performers, Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas, who do their best to sell an eye-rolling love story that hits all of its shopworn bases without any style, originality or even helpful humor. Instead, writer-director Adam Tennant is content to let it all putter along sans any plausibility in the wooden characterizations and one-note relationships. There’s a pleasing hi-def transfer; lone extra is a brief making-of.
DVD Releases of the Week
Beyond Perfection (Unitel)
The great Italian pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, who has a mythical status among dedicated fans, is the focus of this illuminating and even amusing documentary by German filmmakers Syrthos J. Dreher and Dag Freyer, who started this project 30 years ago. Their frustration getting an interview with the notoriously reclusive and controlling Michelangeli leads to them contacting his friend and sometime conductor Cord Bargen (Michelangeli died in 1995 at age 75), who opens his own vaults to discuss the performer’s perfectionism—which one time led to him forcing a video/audio team to destroy all recordings of one of most celebrated performances. The resulting documentary insightfully studies the private sphere of a world-class artist.
Penny Dreadful—City of Angels (CBS/Paramount)
In this spinoff of Penny Dreadful, malevolent forces clash in 1930s Los Angeles, raising hell in a provocative drama about fascism and racism that also seems subtly influenced the classic film Chinatown. City of Angels’ 10 riveting episodes are so superbly directed and acted (by a formidable cast led by Nathan Lane in one of his best performances as a cynical Jewish detective with a Mexican-American partner—Daniel Zovatto, also quite good—and Natalie Dormer, excellent in three very distinct roles) that they would work handily even without the ultimately superfluous supernatural frame. Extras are three brief featurettes.