The latest Digital Week roundup leads off with the 4K release of Baz Luhrmann’s loopy “Elvis,” along with Blu-ray releases of Paul Newman’s memorable 1968 directorial debut, “Rachel Rachel,” and a violent Ukrainian war flick set during the 2014 Donbass conflict, “Sniper—The White Raven.”
4K Release of the Week
Elvis (Warner Bros)
Director Baz Luhrmann has said this is NOT a biopic of Elvis Presley—instead, it’s a glimpse at American pop culture of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Well, if that’s true, why title the film “Elvis”? Why not something else, like “Colonel Parker”? After all, it’s Elvis’ conniving manger and mastermind (played disastrously by a ridiculously hammy Tom Hanks) who is the main character in this flashy, gaudy, empty spectacle. That’s not to say that Austin Butler isn’t a bad Elvis—in fact, he’s quite good: personable, charismatic and not just a big impression of the King—but Butler is secondary to Luhrmann’s frantic style, which buries, for the most part, any humanity or sympathy. The film looks great in 4K; the accompanying Blu-ray also includes several making-of featurettes.
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
The Book of Delights (Film Movement)
As Lóri, a grade-school teacher in her early 40s who enjoys unattached sexual relationships with men and women, Simone Spoladore gives a ferocious performance that’s simultaneously sexy and sorrowful, intelligent and intoxicating. Director Marcela Lordy demonstrates a real gift for personalizing Lóri in this alternately amusing and dramatic character study, and the sex scenes—including one that climaxes the film with an exclamation point—are among the least gratuitous in any film in awhile. But it’s Spoladore who makes Lóri—and the film itself—utterly and humanly real.
Loving Highsmith (Zeitgeist/Kino Lorber)
Author Patricia Highsmith—best known for her haunting mystery novels that were made into films as disparate as Strangers on a Train, The American Friend and The Talented Mr. Ripley—had mainly love affairs with women, which are recounted and analyzed in Eva Vitija’s interesting if thin documentary. Only 80 minutes—and crammed with clips from the film versions of her books—Vitjia’s documentary doesn’t have enough material for its worthwhile subject, although interviews with family members, friends and past lovers (along with archival footage of the writer herself) suggest some of the complexities in Highsmith’s personal life and work.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Rachel Rachel (Warner Archive)
Joanne Woodward’s expressively subtle performance as a school marm living with her mother in a small New England town whose sexual awakening and pregnancy scare make her reevaluate her life is the main reason to see this 1968 drama, the first feature directed by Woodward’s husband, Paul Newman. Newman’s direction is often impressive but sometimes serves up visual and narrative clichés: but with Woodward’s fiery portrayal at its center—and good supporting turns by Kate Harrington as her mom, James Olson as her first beau and Donald Moffat, seen in flashbacks, as her father—it’s a substantive character study. The film gets a nice-looking hi-def transfer yet looks a little soft; extras are silent promo footage and a trailer.
Sniper—The White Raven (Well Go USA)
Set in the Donbass region of Ukraine during the 2014 conflict with Russia, Marian Bushan’s violent war movie follows a Ukrainian schoolteacher who, after his house is burned to the ground and his pregnant wife is shot dead by enemy invaders, joins the military and, after training, becomes a first-rate sniper. This gives him the chance to take revenge on those who destroyed his life and also track down and eliminate the Russians’ greatest sniper. There’s no denying the skill that went into making the film, and there are some hair-raisingly exciting moments along the way. There’s a superior hi-def transfer.
DVD Releases of the Week
NCIS: Hawaii—Complete 1st Season
Seal Team—Complete 5th Season (CBS/Paramount)
In the latest spinoff of the vastly successful CBS drama franchise, “NCIS: Hawaii,” Vanessa Lachey plays Jane Tennet, who becomes the first woman to be special agent in charge at the NCIS outpost in Pearl Harbor, where she and her cohorts investigate crimes of a sensitive nature throughout all 22 first-season episodes. In the fifth season of “Seal Team,” David Boreanaz and Max Thieriot lead the Bravo Team in their exceedingly dangerous missions over 14 episodes, including tracking down terrorists close to home and in foreign lands. “NCIS” extras include a crossover episode, extended/deleted scenes, featurettes and a gag reel; “Seal Team” extras are featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel.
The White Lotus—Complete 1st Season (HBO)
Pretentious and highly contrived, Mike White’s multipart series about a group of Americans—a family, newlywed couple, a lonely woman grieving her mom’s death—visiting a Hawaiian resort run by an arrogant Aussie too often stretches itself and its characters thin as it blatantly and obviously moves the sundry subplots from A to B. Yet, even at an unnecessary six hours, it’s entertaining, thanks to standout acting by Connie Britton (mom), Alexandra Daddario (new wife), Murray Bartlett (manager) and Natasha Rothwell, as the spa manager who gets unexpectedly close to the grieving woman (overplayed by Jennifer Coolidge). Extras are on-set interviews.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD I reviewed in this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.