This week’s roundup is highlighted by a trio of excellent new documentaries: “Marx Can Wait,” an intensely personal film by Italy’s Marco Bellocchio, one of our great living directors; “From Where They Stood,” a powerful evocation of the memory of victims of the Holocaust; and “Living Wine,” an eye-opening look at natural winemaking in the vineyards of California.
Streaming/In-Theater Releases of the Week
Marx Can Wait (Strand Releasing)
In this new documentary from Italian master Marco Bellocchio—who has made indelible films for the past six decades, from 1965’s “Fists in the Pocket” to 2019’s “The Traitor”—the director turns his camera on his own family, specifically his twin brother Camillo, who killed himself at age 29 in 1968. That devastating event still has reverberations for the entire family, as Bellocchio interviews his surviving siblings—two sisters and two brothers—and, amid relevant clips from his films (several of which present fraught mother-son relationships), we discover that his entire career has been one long, penetrating psychological study of family complexities.
From Where They Stood (Greenwich Entertainment)
This artful documentary by Christophe Cognet is a different kind of Holocaust film, exploring a series of photographs taken by death camp inmates themselves, which sparks a subtle recounting of how these surreptitious photographs are vital evidence into brutal torture and murder. Some might find it difficult to watch these clinically fascinating explorations, especially the horrifically indelible opening and closing sequences of bone fragments, but this is an important addition to the necessary body of films that preserve such history.
Girls to Buy (VMI Worldwide)
In Maria Sadowska’s playful black comedy reminiscent of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Paulina Galazka gives a star-making performance as Emi, a young woman from a small Polish town who becomes wealthy running an exclusive escort service for rich and powerful men. At 135 minutes, the movie wears out its welcome, repeatedly dramatizing debauched parties and the emotional difficulties and physical distress of the women: again, the obvious role model is the Scorsese film’s morally fuzzy display of immoral behavior as glorious, until it isn’t (and Galazka does look like Margot Robbie). But Scorsese did more with his story than Sadowska ultimately does with hers.
Living Wine (Abramamora)
The pivot toward natural winemaking is the focus of Lori Miller’s illuminating documentary chronicle of four wine producers in California who decide that natural—using whatever grapes are grown annually, no additives, no pesticides, using traditional methods—is preferable and, it’s hoped, profitable. There are harrowing moments as wildfires come very close to destroying crops and even buildings, but there’s an underlying hope that climate change might be mitigated by the ways these wine producers are handling their businesses.
4K/UHD Release of the Week
Raging Bull (Criterion)
Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro’s cinematic collaborations reached their apogee with the underrated “The King of Comedy,” but their previous film together, this 1980 biopic about boxer Jake LaMotta, got all the love, including an Oscar for DeNiro as best actor. However—and I know this is heresy—for all the technical brilliance on display, from the B&W camerawork to the razor-sharp editing and the towering performances by DeNiro and then-newcomers Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty, there remains a hollowness at its core, a cipher in search of illumination. Still, it certainly looks spectacular in all its gritty and grainy glory on this new Criterion 4K/UHD disc; there’s an accompanying Blu-ray disc and many extras including three audio commentaries, archival interviews and featurettes as well as new video essays.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
The Frisco Kid (Warner Archive)
Despite a sparkling pedigree—director Robert Aldrich, stars Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford and a great storyline—this 1979 western, about a Polish rabbi circa 1850 who comes to the U.S. to assume a San Francisco congregation but who falls in with a bank robber, misadventures ensuing, is fairly mild both comically and dramatically. There’s engaging byplay between Ford and Wilder (Wilder is a gem in a role that could have easily been a dull caricature) but Aldrich rarely coalesces the whole thing into a satisfying buddy story. There’s a superior hi-def transfer.
In David Lean’s gorgeously-shot 1955 Technicolor romance, Katharine Hepburn gives a winning portrayal of a single, middle-aged American who doesn’t expect to find love while in Venice but who falls for a local antique shop owner, played charmingly by Rossano Brazzi. Lean’s ravishing use of color and Venice locations, along with Hepburn and Brazzi, make this far more entertaining and uplifting than one would expect. The colors of the film and of the Veneto shimmer on Blu-ray; extras include a 1963 Lean interview, 1988 audio interview with cinematographer Jack Hildyard and a new interview with historian Melanie Williams.
DVD Release of the Week
While its premise is interesting—the survivors of a plane crash involving a girls’ high school soccer team are revisited more than two decades later—the execution of this series’ first season unearths seemingly every cliché imaginable, particularly the antagonisms between the characters that exist for mere purposes of dramatic irony. Although the cast is unbeatable—Christina Ricci, Melanie Lynskey and Juliette Lewis head the adult cast, while Sammi Hanratty and Sophie Nélisse superbly play the Ricci and Lynskey characters as teens—but the script and direction of these 10 episodes lacks originality and invention. Extras are two behind-the-scenes featurettes.