My latest Digital Week roundup includes two films now in theaters: “Breaking,” with John Boyega in a real-life tragedy about a desperate veteran who attempts to rob a bank; and French director Alain Resnais’ classic 1966 psychological study about Franco’s Spain, “La Guerre Est Finie (The War Is Over).”
In-Theater Releases of the Week
Breaking (Bleecker Street)
The profoundly sad story of Brian Brown-Easley, a forgotten veteran at the end of his rope who decides to rob a bank one day in 2017 when he realizes the VA withholding his benefits might make him homeless, is recounted in Abi Damaris Corbin’s straightforward drama, which unfortunately too often feels rote and predictable, despite the messiness of Brown-Easley’s life. What prevents it from becoming routine are intense performances by Michael Kenneth Williams (in his last role before his untimely death last year) as hostage negotiator, Olivia Washington as Brown-Easley’s ex-wife and John Boyega as Brian Brown-Easley. Boyega, in fact, gives a master class in subtle acting, his understated presence all the more powerful for the rage he keeps bottled up after the many frustrations and disappointments he’s forced to deal with.
La Guerre Est Finie/The War Is Over (Film Desk/Film Forum)
French master Alain Resnais (1922-2014) made several classics, including “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” “Muriel,” “Love Unto Death” and “Private Fears in Public Places.” This 1966 drama, recently restored and showing at Film Forum in Manhattan, was written by Jorge Semprún and follows Diego, an anti-Francoist entering middle age who feels the bombings and threats of yesteryear are no longer effective while confronting a younger generation that disagrees, including Nadine, the daughter of a man whose identity he’s borrowed. Yves Montand is commanding as Diego, Genevieve Bujold irresistible as Nadine and Ingrid Thulin equally good as his lover, Marianne—and Resnais memorably juggles Diego’s memories and realities, including love scenes with both women. Sacha Vierny’s splendid B&W photography and Eric Pluet and Ziva Postec’s adroit editing pull the viewer further into this absorbing exercise in politics as an abstract and a concrete reality.
4K Release of the Week
Cat People (Shout Factory)
Paul Schrader’s bloated 1982 remake of the 1942 classic movie turns the gore, tastelessness and crudity up to 11 as Nastassja Kinski wanders around in various states of undress while Malcolm McDowell, playing her brother, makes incestuous passes at her. Meanwhile, killings and maulings keep occurring; could it be the feline-like siblings? Schrader makes it all as urgent and compelling as a trip to the dentist, although there are beautiful-looking sequences and an intriguing electronic Giorgio Moroder score (featuring David Bowie’s title tune, which sounds better on his subsequent album, Let’s Dance). The visuals look eye-poppingly good in 4K, which also includes a Schrader commentary; the accompanying Blu-ray disc also includes several new and vintage interviews with director, cast and crew.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Jenufa (Opus Arte)
The first wave of Czech composer Leoš Janáček’s great operas centered on tragic heroines: together with “Kata Kabanova” and “The Makropulos Case,” which followed it, “Jenufa” is a triumphant and insightful music drama, as Oliver Mears’ 2021 staging at London’s Royal Opera House shows. Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian plays the demanding title role sensitively and intelligently, the great Finnish soprano Karita Matilla is just as powerful as Kostelnicka, her stepmother, and conductor Henrik Nanasi leads the orchestra and chorus in a gripping account of Janáček’s intense score. The hi-def video and audio are first-rate.
Symphony of a Massacre (Cohen Film Collection)
In Jacques Deray’s electrifying 1963 crime drama, the double and triple crossings happen so numerously that at times one might not keep up with who’s betraying whom—the title perfectly describes the plot, shrewdly without giving anything away. There’s gritty B&W cinematography by Claude Renoir, a finely tuned musical score by Michel Magne and a terrific cast comprising Jean Rochefort, Charles Vanel, Michel Auclair and Jose Giovanni (who co-wrote the script with Deray and Claude Sautet). Some of Cohen’s French finds are less than stellar, but this one is worth seeing. There’s an excellent Blu-ray transfer; lone extra is a 28-minute appreciation of the film.
DVD Releases of the Week
Blue Bloods—Complete 12th Season (CBS/Paramount)
In this, the most recent season of the surprisingly long-running police drama (it’s just been renewed for a 13th season) that explores the family of NYC police commissioner Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck)—whose sons are NYPD detectives, daughter an assistant DA and father a retired commissioner—a cold case and an infant’s killing are among the many investigations. Throughout this season’s 20 episodes, the always reassuring stoic presence of Selleck is balanced by the more interesting Bridget Moynihan (daughter) and Len Cariou (father), to carry this derivative but well-paced procedural. Extras include deleted scenes, featurettes and a gag reel.
Donbass (Film Movement)
In Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa’s 2018 antiwar drama set during the 2014 conflict in his home country, the insanity of fighting among neighbors and—most excruciatingly—taking horrific advantage of whatever humanity is left is displayed truthfully and unflinchingly through a series of interrelated vignettes. They range from the brutally shocking to the blackly comic, but Loznitsa is in supreme control throughout, daringly ending his film with a heinous massacre followed by an interminably long static shot that keeps us on edge right through the final credits.