This week’s roundup features my reviews of a pair of interesting new films: Stephen Frears’ “The Lost King,” which dramatizes one woman’s fight to dig up of King Richard III’s remains; and the political documentary “What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat and Tears?”
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
The Lost King (IFC Films)
Stephen Frears’ latest slick entertainment stars Sally Hawkins as Philippa Langley, who became obsessed with clearing Richard III’s bad name from Shakespeare’s play and spearheaded efforts to find his remains in a parking lot in Leicester, England, in 2012. It’s a feel-good story of David (Philippa) vs. Goliath (the local university), with serious undertones, like Frears’ own Oscar-nominated “Philomena”; both films were co-written by and costarred Steve Coogan, who here nicely underplays Philippa’s long-suffering former husband. Sally Hawkins is a credible Philippa despite going too often to the well of her trembly acting, undercutting some sympathy. Least successful are the periodic appearances of Richard’s ghost to Philippa, unwelcome intrusions that don’t bring any further depth or insight.
What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat and Tears? (Abramorama)
In this engrossing chronicle of how politics can intrude on music, director John Scheinfeld recounts how, in 1970, the then-huge rock band Blood Sweat & Tears—which had just beaten out the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” for the album of the year Grammy—was recruited by Nixon’s State Department for concerts in Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia. The group’s members—several of whom discuss the events from a half-century’s remove—returned to the U.S. and basically said that, despite the anti-Vietnam and anti-Nixon atmosphere, living here wasn’t bad, especially compared to those behind the Iron Curtain. For such heretic statements, the group was branded “fascist,” and its career never really recovered.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Assassin of the Tsar (Deaf Crocodile)
Russian director Karen Shakhnazarov’s grippingly surreal 1991 drama illuminates the confessions of an asylum patient named Timofyev, who admits responsibility for murdering Tsar Alexander in 1881 and his grandson, Tsar Nicolas, and his family in 1917. Shakhnazarov’s use of the almost square 1.33:1 frame underscores the claustrophia as well as the thin line between sanity and madness, truth and fantasy—and, of course, there is the magnificent Malcolm McDowell, whose Timofyev is intense, ironical and expressive; the actor burrows deep into this troubled man’s psyche. The hi-def restoration looks excellent.
Chilly Scenes of Winter (Criterion)
Joan Micklin Silver’s 1979 romantic comedy subverts the usual rom-com clichés in a smart-alecky story of Charlie, who falls head over heels for Laura, inconveniently married but conveniently ready to separate from her husband. Micklin Silver studies this couple with an amused and bemused eye and, in John Heard and Mary Beth Hurt, she has the perfect performers to make the pair sympathetically real but offbeat. Originally released as “Head Over Heels,” it was a flop, so Micklin Silver cut the happy ending and gave it the same title as the original novel for its 1982 rerelease. It works better that way, but the Criterion release—which has a fine new hi-def transfer—includes the original ending as one of the extras, along with a new interview with producing partners Amy Robinson, Griffin Dunne and Mark Metcalf (the latter two have small parts in the film); a 2005 Micklin Silver interview; and a 1983 German documentary about the director.
Secret Defense (Cohen Film Collection)
French director Jacques Rivette hit his stride in the early ’90s, with 1991’s magnificent, four-hour “La belle noiseuse” and the longer but intimate two-part 1993 study of Joan of Arc, “Joan the Maid.” Though this tense 1998 slow-burn thriller (with the formidable Sandrine Bonnaire—also the star of Joan the Maid—as a scientist searching for the facts behind her father’s death) is overly padded, as too many Rivette films are, there’s a real sense of dislocation and mystery that keep viewers—and Bonnaire’s character—off-balance and desperately searching for meaning, even where there may be none. There’s a solid hi-def transfer; lone extra is Richard Pena’s informative commentary.
Siberia (C Major/Unitel)
Best known for his opera “Andrea Chénier,” Italian composer Umberto Giordano also penned Siberia, a true rarity in performance that may be less so now that two different stagings have been released on Blu-ray within the past year. Although Giordano strains, at times, on the cusp of melodrama, his music is always lovely, and—in this 2022 performance from the Bregenz Festival, adroitly directed by Vasily Barkhatov—our heroine and hero, Stephana and Vissili, are brought to vivid life by the astonishing Canadian soprano Ambur Braid and Russian tenor Alexander Mikhalov. Valentin Uryupin conducts the excellent Vienna Symphony and Prague Philharmonic Choir. The hi-def video and audio is first-rate.
The Walking Dead—Complete Final Season (Lionsgate)
For the series’ 11th and final season, survivors of the zombie plague stumble upon a large community of thousands of other survivors, all in a place called the Commonwealth, along with the tensions with another group named the Reapers. Dark and brooding at times, the season’s 24 episodes provide a satisfying way out of one series as it hints, through several loose ends that remain untied, at other, possible spinoffs to come. As usual, everything looks razor-sharp on Blu-ray; the lone extras are deleted scenes.