This week’s roundup includes several vintage titles, from “Hail Mary,” a 1985 masterpiece by Jean-Luc Godard (who died last month at age 91) at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan to a performance of “Three Tall Women,” Edward Albee’s masterly 1994 play—showcasing Martha Henry’s final stage appearance before her death at age 83—that’s streaming starting this week.
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
Hail Mary (Cohen Film Collection/Quad Cinema)
Jean-Luc Godard’s second film from 1985—the other, “Detective,” is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the film noirs he grew up watching—is among the just-deceased master director’s most remarkable creations. Banned and picketed when it was first released by those who believed it sacrilegious, the film is a typically Godardian exploration of a young virgin mother, and shows how faith, beauty and art have been co-opted by the chaotic everyday existence of modern life. “Hail Mary” is preceded by the short “The Book of Mary,” an equally stunning study of a young girl by Godard’s frequent collaborator—and life partner—Anne-Marie Mieville.
My Old School (Magnolia Pictures)
It’s not often you can say that truth is really stranger than fiction than in this diverting documentary about Brandon Lee, whose time at a Glasgow High School in the 1990s is dissected by many classmates (including the film’s director, Jono McLeod), and includes no less than actor Alan Cumming, who lipsynchs Brandon’s responses in a recorded interview. Just what Brandon did I won’t divulge, but the reveal is surprising enough that McLeod’s trickery—Cumming’s deadpan appearance and the animated sequences a la Daria—at times makes this intriguing character study less than the sum of its often illuminating parts.
Three Tall Women (CBC Gem/Stratfest@Home)
In Edward Albee’s last great play (which I saw at its 1994 New York premiere), that remarkable actress Martha Henry gives a colossal performance in the central role of A, a 92-year-old looking back on her life—and, amazingly, she gave her brilliant portrayal just weeks before she died, a year ago, at age 83. Albee’s wit has rarely been so razor-sharp, and his verbal infelicities are kept to a minimum, which was not the case for many of his other post-“Virginia Woolf” dramas. Director Diana LeBlanc’s Stratford Festival revival also has superior acting by Lucy Peacock (as B) and Mamie Zwettler (as C), but this is a powerfully emotional memorial to one of Canada’s grand dames of the theater.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
“Jaws” transplanted to the African bush, Baltasar Kormákur’s thin but tense feature clocks in at an economical 90 minutes, and the first 30 are actually a fairly clever setup for the ensuing hour of monstrous lion attacks on Idris Elba and his daughters, which unfortunately become increasingly repetitive as we go along. Still, the CGI that transforms stunt doubles into marauding big cats is impressively done, as Elba proves his bona fides as an action hero. The hi-def transfer looks terrific; extras include a deleted scene and on-set featurettes.
Going Places (Cohen Film Collection)
French director Bertrand Blier would win 1978’s Best Foreign Film Oscar for “Get Out Your Handkerchiefs,” an aimless, coarse satire about a frigid wife who can’t respond sexually to either her husband or the stud he brings on board yet a callow teenager does the trick. But Blier made his initial splash with this 1974 comic drama, a similarly dishonest film about a pair of aimless drifters who physically and emotionally demean every woman they come across. Despite winning performances by Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere as the men and a redoubtable trio of actresses—Bridgette Fossey, Jeanne Moreau and the spectacular Miou-Miou—as their marks, Blier’s first attempt to shock middle-class audiences out of their complacency—which he would try to do to diminishing returns throughout his career—mostly falters. There’s a fine hi-def transfer; the lone extra is an engagingly informative commentary by film professor Richard Pena.
Mack & Rita (Lionsgate)
Diane Keaton is her delightfully daffy self in Katie Aselton’s middling reversal of “Big” or “13 Going on 30,” as a young woman turns 70 after undergoing a past-life regression. There’s not much to writers Madeline Walter and Paul Welsh’s conceit, but Keaton—who not only looks smashing in her uniquely inspired Annie Hall-ish outfits but displays her still potent comic chops—is assisted by an able group of performers from Wendy Malick, Lois Smith and Loretta Devine to Elizabeth Lail, who’s likeable and winning as Keaton’s younger self to make this enjoyable. The film looks good on Blu; extras are two on-set featurettes that pointedly don’t feature Keaton.
The Mark of the Vampire (Warner Bros)
In this terse 1935 vampire flick, director Tod Browning supplies humor and thrills in equal measure, including a terrific fade-out joke featuring Bela Lugosi, and there’s an eerie atmosphere that’s nicely balanced by a light-heartedness that fits the material. In addition to Lugosi, there are nicely observed portrayals by the likes of Lionel Barrymore. The excellent hi-def transfer accentuates the moody B&W imagery captured by cinematographer James Wong Howe; extras include an audio commentary as well as a vintage cartoon and short.
DVD Releases of the Week
Ed Sullivan’s Rock and Roll Classics (Time-Life)
This worthwhile 10-disc set, although only skimming the surface of the riches residing in The Ed Sullivan Show’s vaults, demonstrates how valuable Ed’s Sunday night variety show was as a showcase for the best and most popular pop/rock/soul/R&B artists of the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s. The discs are broken down by theme: the British Invasion, Psychedelic Rock, etc., but they’re just an excuse to include performance clips—most live stage appearances but some primitive versions of what were later called music videos—by everyone from the Beatles to the Beach Boys, the Temptations to the Supremes, Vanilla Fudge to Steppenwolf, and the Rolling Stones to Herman’s Hermits. The video and audio quality isn’t great, but these clips are mainly for historical purposes anyway. Only eight discs feature Sullivan Show music clips; the ninth disc features “The All Star Comedy Special,” with dozens of Sullivan’s comedian guests, and the tenth comprises two episodes from the series “The History of Rock’n’Roll.” Interview extras include the Lovin Spoonful’s John Sebastian, the Mamas and the Papas’ Michelle Phillips and the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn.
Melrose Place—The Complete Series (CBS/Paramount)
This evening soap opera about young people living in a West Hollywood apartment complex—executive-produced by Aaron Spelling (who did the same for “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Charmed” in the final decade of a legendary career stretching back to the ’60s)—became a hit during its initial run from 1992-99 and either jumpstarted (or reignited) the careers of such performers as Courtney Thorne-Smith, Josie Bissett and Heather Locklear. If you’ve always wanted it, this gargantuan boxed set collects every single episode (226 in total) from all seven seasons on 54 discs, along with many extras including featurettes and audio commentaries by series creator Darren Star.