This week’s roundup features reviews of Ralph Fiennes’ tour-de-force reciting of T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” Japanese director Naomi Kawase’s best film, “Radiance,” and the new film about the religious hippie movement, “Jesus Revolution.”
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
Four Quartets (Kino Lorber)
Actor Ralph Fiennes could recite from the phone book and make it riveting, so it’s no surprise that his recitation of T.S. Eliot’s set of poems “Four Quartets” is a colossal achievement, meaningful and animated throughout. Weirdly, though, his sister Sophie Fiennes, who directs, doesn’t think her brother speaking grippingly is enough to hold our interest for 84 minutes, so she keeps cutting to nicely photographed outdoor scenes that not only don’t complement the words but end up separating us from them. Ralph, and Eliot, come off brilliantly at least.
Radiance (Film Movement)
Japanese director Naomi Kawase, who sometimes wavers in her sentimentality and contrived plotting, made this memorable film in 2017, about a young woman who crates audio descriptions for films who begins a strange but intimate relationship with a photographer who’s nearly lost his sight. The contrivance of their meeting and becoming close isn’t an issue when it’s been so compellingly and poetically rendered by Kawase, with formidable performances by Ayame Misaki and Masatoshi Nagase that give a sense of bittersweet melancholy.
Blu-Ray Releases of the Week
Ariadne auf Naxos (Dynamic)
Richard Strauss’ sidesplitting comic opera about a composer’s serious theatrical work being ruined by the burlesque that will be performed simultaneously—on orders from the richest man in Vienna, whose dinner party has run too long. Too bad that Matthias Hartmann’s messy 2022 Florence, Italy, staging seems more confused than the characters in the opera. Happily, Strauss’ remarkable music comes to the rescue, played by the orchestra under conductor Daniele Gatti, and sung marvelously by Sophie Koch (composer), Krassimira Stoyanova (Ariadne) and even, in the punishing tenor role, A.J. Glueckert. There’s first-rate hi-def video and audio.
His Dark Materials—Complete 3rd Season (Warner Bros)
The final season of HBO’s fantasy series—based on “The Amber Spyglass,” the third novel in Philip Pullman’s winning trilogy—satisfyingly wraps up the cosmic adventures of teens Lyra and Will, who must travel where no one has returned from in order to save multiple worlds—and each other. As always, there are visually thrilling moments, especially the fantastical scenes with anthropomorphic beasts. Maybe because it’s the higher stakes, but this season hits more directly than the earlier two, which were technically impeccable but emotionally distant. All eight episodes look spectacular in hi-def.
Jesus Revolution (Lionsgate)
The true story of a group of young men and women led by a charismatic “savior” that starts a counterrevolution of believers in the late 60s and early 70s has become an engaging drama by the people who earlier made less interesting artifacts as “I Can Only Imagine” and “I Still Believe.” Directors Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle and writers Erwin and Jon Gunn have made a movie that doesn’t bludgeon you over the head with its smugness—at least until the end. The fine acting from Kelsey Grammer, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Joel Courtney, Anna Grace Barlow and Jonathan Roumie (as the Christ-like leader) is a plus. There’s a good hi-def transfer; the extras—interviews with the filmmakers and cast members, an audio commentary and deleted scenes—are where the sanctimony really goes overboard.
Joseph W. Sarno Retrospect Series, Volume 5 (Film Movement Classics)
Among director Joseph W. Sarno’s would-be titillating features are a pair of 1966 features—“Moonlighting Wives” and “The Naked Fog”—making up a set that’s more historically than cinematically interesting. “Wives” (in color) and “Fog” (in B&W) contain many naked female breasts that, for some viewers, might compensate for the shallow acting, paper-thin plotting and threadbare characterizations. The hi-def transfers look OK, although there’s still much visual noise; extras comprise a Wives commentary by film historian Tim Lucas and interviews with Sarno (2006) and cinematographer Jerry Kalogeratos (2007).
DVD Release of the Week
Music Under the Swastika—The Maestro and the Cellist of Auschwitz (C Major)
The awful contradiction between the lip service the Nazis paid to high culture (especially music and musicians) and their heinous acts of wholesale slaughter is explored in Christian Berger’s insightful documentary that contrasts esteemed conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler—whose reputation was soiled by being a useful idiot for Himmler and his cohorts—and one who paid dearly: Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, a Jewish musician taken to Auschwitz and cellist of the women’s camp orchestra. Plentiful and often moving interviews with Lasker-Wallfisch, along with music writer Norman Lebrecht, conductors Daniel Barenboim and Christian Thielemann and others provide necessary context and testimony that makes this a valuable historical document.