This week’s roundup features intriguing new films like “Brokers,” from Japan’s best director working today, Hirokazu Kore-eda; and the unblinking “Blanquita” by Chilean director Fernando Guzzoni.
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s films chronicles the lives of outsiders, those people on the margins who create their own family dynamic, however tenuous. His latest hard-edged drama, and his first shot in South Korea, follows a pair who steal babies from drop boxes, sell them for adoption and eliminate the security camera footage of the thefts; they are soon join by a young woman who wants to meet the family that has adopted the baby she reluctantly left behind, while a couple of detectives are on their tail. Kore-eda is honest and sympathetic to all of his flawed but humane characters, and if Broker falls short of his best films—“Like Father Like Son,” “Shoplifters,” “After Life”—it nevertheless is propelled by his precise observational insights.
Blanquita (Outsider Pictures)
Fernando Guzzoni’s downbeat but powerful drama introduces Blanca, an 18-year-old single mother who accuses a noted politician of rape and imprisonment; this accusation soon provokes people on both sides—those who are supposed to be her advocates as well as those pushing back against her accusation—to question her story. Guzzoni navigates this prickly subject matter with a keen eye, never tipping the balance into exploitation, and the film’s searing indictment of a society that doesn’t (or won’t) protect its children is made more immediate by Laura López’s fearless portrayal of Blanca.
The Treasure of His Youth (Little Bear Films)
The career of the legendary Italian photographer Paulo Di Paolo is recounted by director Bruce Weber in this beguiling documentary that showcases many of his classic images alongside often charming tales of how he started in the business—he’s 94 when Weber starts shooting. Most touchingly, Di Paolo discusses his close relationships with some of his most famous subjects, like actress Anna Magnani along with director Pier Paolo Pasolini, the latter of whom was viciously murdered in 1975 in Rome. Di Paolo’s eyes still well with tears upon discussing Pasolini.
4K Releases of the Week
Elf (Warner Bros)
Will Farrell was never more in his element as Buddy, who was raised by the elves in Santa’s workshop until he discovers that his real father is a rich executive in Manhattan in Jon Favreau’s cute 2003 holiday perennial. Although it goes on a little long, Farrell has moments of supremely silly strangeness, while he’s matched scene for scene by Zooey Deschanel as Jovie, the Gimbel’s employee who falls for his innocence; she’s never been better than she is here. The film looks quite good in UHD; extras include Favreau’s and Farrell’s commentaries, deleted/alternate scenes, a 90-minute on-set doc hosted by Farrell, and other featurettes.
“Laura Hasn’t Slept,” a creepy 2020 short by writer-director Parker Finn was expanded into this crude feature about a psychiatrist haunted by a malevolent entity that is causing its victims to commit suicide. The concision of the original short gives way to a flabbiness that wallows in jump scares—how many wine glasses does the heroine have to keep dropping on the floor?—and contrived situations than even The White Lotus would consider too much. Still, there’s a lively performance by Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick) in the lead, which makes the repetition more palatable. Extras include “Laura Hasn’t Slept” with Finn’s intro, a Finn commentary, deleted scenes, and a making-of and making the score featurettes.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Michael Haneke—Trilogy (Criterion Collection)
Austrian enfant terrible Michael Haneke has made a career out of cleverly devised cinematic provocations, and it his first three films—“The Seventh Continent” (1989), “Benny’s Video” (1992) and “71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance” (1994)—are the most original and memorable of the formal experiments and unsettling narratives he has spent more than three decades creating. The horrors of isolation have never been so savagely dramatized, and the films’ powerful moments outweigh the more obvious ones. The hi-def transfers in this set are immaculate; extras comprise 2005 interviews with Haneke about each film; interviews with Benny’s Video actor Arno Frisch and film historian William Howarth; Benny’s Video deleted scenes; and a 2013 documentary “Michael H., Profession: Director.”
The Ambush (Well Go USA)
Director Pierre Morel has already shown, in “Taken” and “The Gunman,” a talent for ratcheting up tension, which he does in this potent recreation of a real-life firefight during the Yemen War between United Arab Emirates soldiers and the rebels who have pinned them down in a valley. Although the claustrophobic life-and-death situations might become repetitive in lesser hands, Morel is able to keep things moving, which accentuates the drama’s ferocity. There’s a superior hi-def transfer.
Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (Warner Archive)
Nowhere near the top of the list of ’50s sci-fi thrillers, this 1958 B movie about a woman who grows to enormous proportions after an encounter with a giant alien has a cheesy charm that’s undermined by its cheap-looking effects and less than impressive performances. Director Nathan Hertz has a minimal amount of talent, but there’s a campy “so bad it’s good” feel that makes it all watchable—like a 66-minute car crash of sorts. The Blu-ray transfer looks terrific; lone extra is a commentary by actress Yvette Vickers and film historian Tom Weaver.
The Ballad of the Sad Café (Cohen Film Collection)
Edward Albee’s play of a Carson McCullers novella about a domineering woman running the lone café in a small Southern town was turned into a stagey, not entirely convincing film by novice director Simon Callow in 1983, starring Vanessa Redgrave in a physically imposing but emotionally distant lead performance. While Keith Carradine, Austin Pendleton and Rod Steiger give colorful portrayals as the various men in her life, director Callow never finds the proper handle on material that needs a more subtle guiding hand. The hi-def transfer is very good; lone extra is a commentary by critic Peter Tonguette.
Medusa (Music Box Films)
In Anita Rocha da Silveira’s toughminded satire, Mari and a group of likeminded evangelical young women prowl the streets physically abusing those they deem to be too sinful, even while remaining blissfully (or willfully) unaware that they are helping to promote a fascistic, misogynist regime. The problem is that, after setting up this unsettling glimpse of an hypocritical society—with parallels to what is really happening in her native Brazil and elsewhere—da Silveira concentrates on eye-popping colors and stylish visuals, which becomes grating after two hours. But, in lead actress Mari Oliveria, the director has a remarkably vital collaborator. The film looks stunning on Blu; extras include a director Q&A, video essay, deleted scenes and interviews.
Ticket to Paradise (Universal)
Pairing George Clooney and Julia Roberts in a rom-com would have seemed a no-brainer 20 years ago; putting them together now—as the divorced parents of a daughter who surprises them by announcing that she’s getting married to a local guy she met while vacationing in the tropics—seems kind of desperate, as through most of Ol Parker’s movie they basically insult each other while trying to sabotage the wedding. There are a few laughs along the way, as the pair does have chemistry together, but movie has the feel of an extended gag reel (there is one actually shown over the credits). There’s a nice-looking Blu-ray transfer; extras are on-set featurettes and interviews.