This week’s roundup is highlighted by “Call Jane,” the politically relevant new drama about illegal abortions in America before “Roe vs. Wade,” which also alludes to what may start happening now that the Supreme Court has overturned it.
In Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
Call Jane (Roadside Attractions)
Director Phyllis Nagy and writers Hayley Schore & Roshan Sethi delve into the pre-“Roe vs. Wade” era as a network of women steer those in need toward relatively safe abortions. Elizabeth Banks is sympathetic as Joy, a stay-at-home ’60s Chicago wife whose difficult pregnancy forces her to turn in desperation to a group of “Janes,” led by no-nonsense Virginia (a forceful Sigourney Weaver). Joy soon becomes a “Jane” herself, hiding it from her teenage daughter and lawyer husband as long as she can. Nagy effectively guides this social awakening story that’s also a document of a terrible era in our recent history, highlighted by powerful moments in the room where the procedures take place.
For Ever Mozart (Cohen Film Collection)
Jean-Luc Godard remained a provocateur throughout his nearly 70-year directing career (he died last month at age 91), and this muddled but striking 1996 film—screening at Manhattan’s Quad Cinema on October 26—shows him at his most provocative. Exploring, through the disastrous Bosnian conflict, what art can, or can’t, do in response to the modern world’s atrocities, Godard gets on his soapbox to bemoan how the West ignores the tragedies happening under our noses by continuing to make—and watch (gasp!)—movies. He then halfheartedly introduces a rehearsal of a Mozart piano concerto in order to work in the title, but Godard did this sort of thing far better and more poetically with Beethoven quartets in 1983’s “First Name: Carmen.”
Grand Jeté (Altered Innocence)
Isabelle Stever’s incest drama approaches the subject clinically, with mostly dire results that reduce what could have been a penetrating psychological study to the physical. Mother Nadja (played with astonishing nakedness—in both senses—by a remarkable Sarah Nevada Grether) is a dance teacher whose body is wracked by years of grueling practice, while her estranged teenage son, Mario (played stolidly by Emil von Schönfels), is similarly obsessed with his own body. Their sexual relationship, once it begins, quickly becomes enervating, as Stever never deals with the possible moral or emotional consequences. That Nadja’s own mother raised Mario so she could concentrate on her career is brought up, but as presented by Stever, little in the film rings true, especially when Nadja finds herself pregnant. It’s admittedly audacious on a primitive level, with precisely intimate cinematography by Constantin Campean, but almost completely lacks basic insights into these people’s behavior.
Looking for Home (First Run Features)
Alan Govenar’s fitfully satisfying documentary is a glimpse at people in all walks of life and what the term “home” means to them—whether or not they are at home at the time of the interview. Govenar talks to random people on the streets of New York as well as in far-flung places like Dallas, Paris (France) and Buenos Aires (to a young woman we first meet visiting Times Square). Interesting ideas are introduced and pithy observations are made—by both subjects and director—but March 2020’s COVID lockdown intrudes on the exploration: while moving back and forth between pre- and post-pandemic timeframes, Govenar seems to lose focus and his film blurs the concept it intends to elucidate.
Voodoo Macbeth (Lightyear)
The fascinating true story of how actress Rose McClendon (Inger Tudo) shepherded a Black-cast version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth to the Depression-era New York stage through producer John Houseman and 20-year-old wunderkind director Orson Welles (Jewell Wilson Bridges, in his film debut), who gets the idea for a “Voodoo Macbeth,” set on a Caribbean island—it could either be a masterstroke or a laughing stock. A conglomerate of 10 directors, 8 writers and 3 producers as part of the USC Originals project shepherds this dramatization effectively if unsurprisingly: it’s a credible reenactment with fine performances but nowhere near as earthshattering as what Welles and company created onstage (sadly, McClendon never played her dream role of Lady Macbeth, dying of pneumonia soon after the production opened).
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Warner Archive)
Frederic March won the best actor Oscar for his intense performance as the good doctor/bad monster in Rouben Mamoulian’s nervy 1931 adaptation of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story (which, in keeping with Stevenson’s Scottish background, pronounces the deadly Jekyll’s name as JEE-kul, foreign to American ears). If Mamoulian uses the skillful makeup artist Wally Westmore to show the doctor’s transformations, it’s March’s ferocity and the sympathetic portrayal by Miriam Hopkins of the club singer Ivy that’s the dramatic drawing card. The B&W film looks splendid in hi-def; extras are two commentaries, a Bugs Bunny “Jekyll and Hyde” cartoon and a 1950 radio adaptation.
Easter Sunday (Universal)
Standup Jo Koy’s debut starring vehicle goes about as exactly as anyone would predict—it’s a sentimental comedy, centered around Easter Sunday, where everyone in Koy’s Filipino-American family deals with resentments, recriminations and reconciliations throughout a fraught holiday weekend. Koy isn’t much of an actor, but when he takes the mike (so to speak) and does standup—as in the amusing church scene—it doesn’t matter. There’s a fun supporting cast that includes old hands like Lou Diamond Phillips and Tia Carrere, but Elena Juatco as Koy’s sister makes the most of her too-few moments. There’s a good hi-def transfer; extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes, making-of featurettes and commentary by Koy and director Jay Chandrasekhar.
Monsieur Hire (Cohen Film Collection)
Another elegant, tense character study by French director Patrice Leconte, this 1989 chamber drama, based on a story by the great Belgian writer Georges Simenon, follows a loner who spies on his attractive female neighbor, only later to find himself a suspect in the murder of another young woman. With Leconte’s stylish direction and sublime acting by Michel Blanc and Sandrine Bonnaire, you nearly forget that this minutely detailed film is just a 79-minute shaggy-dog story that hinges on an implausible plot point. Here’s hoping that we also get re-releases of Leconte’s dazzling followup features, “The Hairdresser’s Husband” and “The Perfume of Yvonne.” The hi-def transfer looks immaculate; extras are new interviews with Leconte and Bonnaire and an audio commentary.
DVD Release of the Week
The Time Traveler’s Wife—Complete 1st Season (Warner Bros)
Unlike the 2009 film adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s novel about an inadvertent time traveler’s relationship with his wife—whom he keeps meeting during different stages of her life, starting when she’s a young girl—which was turned into a tragic romance starring the delectable Rachel McAdams and charismatic Eric Bana, this six-hour mini-series is a far more self-important slog, with nudity and profanity thrown in, as if the creators knew this was stretching a slender concept fairly thin. Theo James and Rose Leslie are good as the traveler and his wife, but the nonsensical conceit doesn’t help, especially when dragged out to interminable length—and the chemistry of McAdams and Bana is sorely missing. Extras include several featurettes.