This week’s roundup includes reviews of the new Korean War drama, “Devotion,” and “Memories of My Father,” an intense political and personal memory piece about the dangers of Colombia in the ’70s and ’80s.
Streaming Release of the Week
This true story of Jesse Brown, the U.S. Navy’s first Black fighter pilot during the Korean War, is turned into an earnest, well-made but overlong drama by director JD Dillard—in between some exciting aerial sequences, there’s an almost reverential treatment of Brown (and his family), which makes for heavy going over 135 minutes. There are wonderful moments when Jonathan Majors (Jesse) and Glen Powell (wingman Tom) are shown bonding while training for their missions, and Christina Jackson as Jesse’s devoted wife does well with an underwritten part. But “Devotion” is content to be a straightforward biopic rather than a challenging one.
4K/UHD Release of the Week
Invaders from Mars (Ignite Films)
This obscure 1953 sci-fi thriller directed by William Cameron Menzies, both low-key and low-budget, effectively tells the story of an alien invasion through the eyes of young David, who is initially disbelieved then helps mankind fight back after his parents are transformed by the malevolent visitors. The effects are chintzy—the “Martians” are risibly bad—but the air of naiveté and innocence from David’s POV actually works. The film’s new 4K restoration is spectacular; extras include a featurette on Menzies, interview with actor Jimmy Hunt (David), a look at the restoration led by Scott MacQueen, and a documentary about the film’s legacy featuring directors Joe Dante and John Landis.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
The Gang of Four (Cohen Film Collection)
I’m no Jacques Rivette fan, but the French director did make two standout films in the early ’90s: 1991’s magnificent, four-hour chamber drama “La belle noiseuse” and the even longer but intimate two-part 1993 study of Joan of Arc, “Joan the Maid.” But this 1988 feature is what I’ve come to expect from Rivette: an overlong, meandering and superficial chronicle of a quartet of young actresses living in Paris and rehearsing a play by 18th century French playwright Marivaux. Even at more than two and a half hours, Rivette never gives these women any plausible individuality, and he never makes the most obvious connections between reality and performance cohere. The film looks fine in a new hi-def restoration; the lone extra is an informative commentary by film scholar Richard Pena.
Memories of My Father (Cohen Media)
Spanish director Fernando Trueba’s heartfelt 2020 drama about Héctor Abad Gómez, a doctor and human rights advocate in a war-ravaged part of Colombia in the ‘70s and ‘80s who was murdered in cold blood for taking on the regime and Catholic Church, is centered on a beautifully nuanced performance by Javier Cámara as Gómez. Almost as good are Juan Pablo Urrego as his son Héctor as an adult and Nicolás Reyes Cano as Héctor as a child—the son’s book, Oblivion: A Memoir, was the basis for this emotional movie. Trueba loses his way near the end with melodramatic sequences surrounding the assassination, but that’s a small quibble. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras include interviews with Trueba and Cámara as well as five making-of featurettes.
DVD Release of the Week
The Celluloid Bordello (First Run)
Made by Juliana Piccillo, an sex-worker advocate, this alternately enlightening and enraging documentary dissects how movies have treated sex workers—often as victims, outcasts, killers, or simply easy punchlines—but rarely as real human beings. Piccillo interviews several people in the sex industry, including former porn actress Annie Sprinkle, and they engagingly discuss what Hollywood gets right and (mostly) wrong. (Piccillo herself has the most insightful things to say.) The myriad clips on display demonstrate how over the map filmmakers have been when it comes to dramatizing a subject that’s a lot more nuanced than what’s seen onscreen: the movies range from “Gone with the Wind,” “Pretty Baby” and “Taxi Driver” to “Risky Business,” “Trading Places” and “Pretty Woman.”