Frantz, the new film from Francois Ozon, the noted French director of Under the Sand, 8 Women, and Swimming Pool, is a remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 classic Broken Lullaby, which was the film version of Maurice Rostand’s post-World War I play The Man I Killed.
As with the previous version, Frantz is about a sensitive French soldier who comes to Germany to visit the parents and fiancée of a German soldier killed in the war. In Broken Lullaby we know from the outset why he is there, but in Frantz we are kept guessing until the big reveal halfway through. At that point, Broken Lullaby moved quickly to its happy ending whereas Frantz has another hour to go in which layer upon layer of other secrets and lies are revealed.
For Maurice Rostand, whose father Edmond Rostand wrote Cyrano de Bergerac, The Man I Killed was his greatest success. For Ernst Lubitsch, his Broken Lullaby was a major flop for the nonpareil director of sophisticated comedies like Trouble in Paradise and musicals like The Smiling Lieutenant. Despite generally rapturous reviews, audiences wouldn’t accept the director’s one attempt at seriousness and brokenhearted Lubitsch vowed never to make another dramatic film. He kept his word, going on to make only such idyllic comedies as Ninotchka and The Shop Around the Corner. For Ozon, Frantz is a departure as well. It’s his first film not heavily steeped in sex.
Beauty and the Beast was a tale old as time put to song old as rhyme when Disney’s animated classic first appeared 26 years ago. The first fully animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, it won for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (the beloved title tune). Now it’s been remade as a live-action feature that is 45 minutes longer than the previous version.
While there has been some carping by audiences regarding the additional time taken to flesh out the story, there isn’t a single wasted minute in my estimation. The extra time is diligently used to provide a back story for both Belle (Beauty) and the Beast and includes three new songs, “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” first sung by Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, reprised by Emma Watson as Belle and by Celine Dion over the end credits; “Days in the Sun” sung by the Beast’s household; and “Evermore” sung by Dan Stevens as the Beast and by Josh Groban over the end credits. Three of the songs from the original – “Belle,” “Gaston,” and “Be Our Guest” – have additional lyrics. The additional lyrics used in “Gaston” were written by Howard Ashman for the 1991 animated version, but not used.
Emma Watson turned down the female lead in La La Land to play Belle, while Ryan Gosling, who was offered the role of the Beast, turned it down to play the male lead in La La Land. It turned out happily for both. Gosling received an Oscar nomination for his performance while Watson got to play her favorite childhood character.
Pelle the Conqueror, the 1988 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film, has been given a magnificent 30th anniversary restoration. The new Blu-ray and DVD from Film Movement features a superb narration by film historian and scholar Peter Cowie. Cowie’s narration fills in the blanks that puts into perspective for modern audiences the harsh realities of the time and place in which this Danish masterpiece is set.
Taken from the first volume of a four-part novel published between 1906 and 1910, the Dickensian work by Danish writer Martin Anderson Nexo is about a Swedish boy who emigrates to Denmark with his father after the death of his mother. Unable to find work because he is too old, and the boy too young, the father finds work on a remote farm on which both he and his son attend the farm’s dairy cows and he and his son sleep in a room in the cow shed.
Directed by Bille August, the film stars Pelle Hvenegaard as the boy, Pelle, and Oscar-nominated Max von Sydow as his father, Lasse. The novel takes place over a ten-year period in which the boy ages from 8 to 18, but the passage of time is not specified in the film in which 11-year-old Hvenegaard plays the title character throughout. Selected from over 3,000 candidates for the part, Hvenegaard was named by his mother after the character in the beloved novel, which is part of the curriculum in Danish schools. He does the part full justice, as does the entire cast, led by the incomparable von Sydow as the well-intentioned, but weak father.
Get Out and Logan are two of the best reviewed films of the year so far, and with good reason.
I was initially skeptical of Jordan Peele’s Get Out as the trailer seemed to indicate another in the almost weekly releases of generic horror films cluttering the market. The directing debut of the second named half of the charismatic comedy team of Key and Peele, instead, delivers a welcome surprise.
Get Out ‘s Rotten Tomatoes score of 99% seems to indicate that it might be one of the greatest films of all time, but that’s putting too much pressure on what is essentially a light entertainment. What drives the high score is the unexpected pleasure of finding a horror film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, while at the same time getting everything right, and not leaving the audience with the feeling that they’ve just wasted 104 minutes of their time that will never get back.
The plot of Get Out is a novel one. Young black men are disappearing and our protagonist (Daniel Kaluuya) is on track to be the next victim, but why? What is there about his seemingly perfect white girlfriend (Allison Williams), her welcoming parents (Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford), and slightly off-center brother (Caleb Landry Jones) that screams “run?”
The film opens with a scene that features one character and then forgets about him as it turns to the main story, signaling the audience that this could be a Scream rip-off. Far from it. If anything, the winking narrative goes back to the comedy-horror glory days of the likes of James Whale’s The Old Dark House and Charles Barton’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, films that were produced by Universal, the studio responsible for releasing Get Out.
Universal Classic Monsters Collection, released in September 2015, was supposed to be the be-all and end-all of Universal’s classic monsters on Blu-ray. Well, not exactly. Although collectors were happy to have the eight greatest monster films from Universal’s vaults all in one Blu-ray collection, many were disappointed that Universal didn’t also upgrade the subsequent films in their Frankenstein, Dracula, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon franchises.
The eight films in the initial Blu-ray collection were 1931’s Frankenstein and Dracula, 1933’s The Invisible Man and The Mummy, 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein, 1941’s The Wolf Man, 1943’s The Phantom of the Opera, and 1954’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon. In September 2016, Universal released Frankenstein: Complete Legacy Collection and The Wolf Man: Complete Legacy Collection. Newly released are Dracula: Complete Legacy Collection and The Mummy: Complete Legacy Collection. Blu-ray releases of The Invisible Man and The Creature from the Black Lagoon complete legacies will presumably see forthcoming releases. 1943’s The Phantom of the Opera did not become an ongoing franchise, but it’s possible that we may see a combined Blu-ray release of the 1943 and 1962 versions of the classic tale combined in a future release, as both are owned by Universal.
Things to Come, the new to home video film from Mia Hansen-Love, is not a remake of William Cameron Menzies’ film of the same name from H.G. Wells’ classic novel that captivated audiences eighty years ago. Rather, it is a wistful French film about an aging philosophy professor coping with the changes in her life.
Isabelle Huppert, an Oscar nominee for last year’s Elle, might just as easily have been nominated for this performance. As in that film, Huppert defies the ravages of age as she plays a forthright woman who must cope with her now grown children being out on their own, her difficult mother giving up on life and her husband having found someone else. She is just as strong a teacher as she’s always been, but the times have changed and her methods may not be what those in charge want these days. Nevertheless, her former students still revere her. Can that be enough as she loses nearly everything in life that has been dear to her? Perhaps it can.
Huppert is extraordinary in the role, and receives strong support from André Marcon as her husband, Roman Kolinka as her favorite former student, and Edith Scob as her mother
Things to Come is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Although it was shown at numerous U.S. film festivals in 2016, Iran’s The Salesman did not have an official run in the U.S. until January 2017, making it ineligible for most 2016 year-end awards. Perhaps that’s why its Oscar nomination and win came as a surprise to many who thought that Germany’s multi-honored, Oscar-nominated Toni Erdmann would be an easy Best Foreign Language Film winner, especially since France’s submitted Elle and Spain’s submitted Julieta failed to make the list of nominees. South Korea’s acclaimed The Handmaiden, which also took many U.S. year-end awards, was not submitted by for consideration by its country of origin.
The Salesman became only the second Iranian film to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film after 2011’s A Separation. Both films were directed by Asghar Farhadi whose works shed a spotlight on Iran’s average working people who are generally ignored by the country’s state run media. This one is about an actor/teacher whose life takes a dark turn while he is performing in a local version of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
In the middle of the night, he and his actress wife are awakened by an order to evacuate their apartment building as it is starting to collapse. While badly damaged, the building does not collapse, but is nevertheless uninhabitable. A fellow actor in the play offers to sublet one of his apartments to them. They accept and move in, but are uneasy because the previous tenant has left most of her belongings there while hunting for a new apartment of her own. One night, while waiting for the actor to return, the wife is about to enter the shower when the buzzer sounds. Assuming it’s her husband, she buzzes the door to the building open, unlocks and opens her apartment door, and goes to her shower. As anyone who has ever seen a movie would know, it wasn’t her husband buzzing, but someone looking for the previous tenant. The wife is severely beaten, setting up a moral dilemma as the film becomes a tale of revenge and retribution. Parallels to the play being performed are many. Both Shahab Hosseini as the actor and Taraneh Alidoosti are outstanding as is the supporting cast including the numerous young men who play the actor’s students.
La La Land, the movie critics and the Oscars went gaga over, is now available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD. The film was so popular that it is almost considered uncouth not to like it. Just the other day I read a review by an esteemed critic who said either you get it or you don’t. Well, I get it, but I don’t like it.
I like what it tries to do in binging back memories of those gorgeous looking early 1950s Hollywood musicals, An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain, and The Bandwagon and those equally dazzling 1960s French musicals, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort. Like those films, La La Land is a celebration of contemporary life set against the background of a fanciful world that exists more in mind than reality. It even evokes memories of those spectacular old black-and-white 1930s musicals like Gold Diggers of 1933 and Dames among others.
Who can forget Gene Kelly dancing down the street in An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain or Fred Astaire going for a shine on his shoes in The Band Wagon? Who can forget the palpable romance and heartbreaking breakup of Catherine Deneueve and Nino Castelnuovo in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg or the soulful singing of Jacques Perrin and impassioned dancing of George Chakiris and Grover Dale in The Young Girls of Rochefort?
Woman of the Year is one of the best Criterion Collection Blu-ray releases ever. Not only do we get George Stevens’ classic 1942 film, the first of nine films over a twenty-six-year period starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, we get loads of significant extras.
The extras include a new on-camera interview with George Stevens Jr., a 1967 audio interview with George Stevens, a new interview with George Stevens biographer Marilyn Ann Moss, an appropriately titled 20-minute documentary on Katharine Hepburn called Woman of the Century, and two of the best feature-length film show biz documentaries of all time, 1984’s George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey by George Stevens Jr. and 1986’s The Spencer Tracy Legacy: A Tribute by Katharine Hepburn.
The film itself won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and a much-deserved nomination for Hepburn. Oddly enough, neither Hepburn nor Tracy received a nomination for any of their other collaborations until their last, 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, for which Tracy was nominated posthumously and Hepburn finally won her elusive second Oscar.
Women at preview audiences found Hepburn’s feminist character too smug so they re-filmed the ending which made her character more human by having her made vulnerable by not knowing how to fry an egg. For a time, more modern women scoffed at that, as women being successful in the kitchen as well as the office have become commonplace. Maybe it’s time to relax and just enjoy the film for what it is, one of the smartest comedies ever made.
Nominated for a total of ten Oscars between them, Lion with six, Hidden Figures with three, and Toni Erdmann with one, all walked away empty-handed, but all three should add to their haul of fans now that they are available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Garth Davis’ Australian film, Lion, is that rare film about lost and homeless children with a happy ending. It’s based on the true story of a five-year-old Indian boy who falls asleep on an empty train and ends up on the other side of the country when the train finally stops in Calcutta two days later. Unable to correctly spell or even pronounce his name, the place he comes from, or provide a name for his mother other than “Mum,” he is eventually adopted by an Australian couple and twenty-five years later, having become a successful Australian businessman, begins a Google search for his place of birth and reunites with his mother with the blessing of his adoptive parents.
Sunny Pawar carries the film’s first fifty minutes or so on his very capable young shoulders, while Oscar-nominated Dev Patel supplies his usual expertise to his portrayal of the older version of the character. Fellow Oscar nominee Nicole Kidman tops the supporting cast as his adoptive mother. The only flaw in the film is that the main character goes from little boy to grown man with no in-between, leaving a lot of questions unanswered. Despite that, it’s worth your time. Greig Fraser’s Oscar-nominated cinematography is especially noteworthy.
Taken on its own, Rogue One might prove confusing to the uninitiated, but in the context of the Star Wars saga, it makes perfect sense. It’s the missing link between the original three films in the franchise and the later prequels. Featuring a literate script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy and astute direction by Gareth Edwards, the almost constant CGI isn’t as annoying as it would be in a lesser work.
The narrative takes place just before the events of the original Star Wars, now known by the convoluted title of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, take place.
The first half of the film centers on the search for a kidnapped scientist. The second half centers on the Rebel Alliance’s mission to find the plans for the Death Star before it can destroy whole planets. The cast is headed by Felicity Jones as the daughter of the kidnapped scientist (Mads Mikkelsen) and Diego Luna as a rebel pilot. The supporting cast includes Riz Ahmed as another pilot, Alan Tudyk as the voice of the resourceful K-2SO, Ben Mendelsohn as the arch villain of the piece, and an underused Forest Whitaker as a wise rebel elder. Best, however, are James Earl Jones, back as the voice of Darth Vader, and a perfectly done CGI version of the late Peter Cushing superimposed over the face of Guy Henry.
Rogue One is available in various Blu-ray packaging, including 3-D, as well as standard DVD.
It was ten years ago this week that my first DVD Report appeared on CinemaSight. At the time, DVD was the king of home media, having been around for more than ten years and having long since supplanted VHS as the preferred format for renters and collectors. Ten years later, Blu-ray is the preferred format for collectors, whereas renters are more inclined to stream than rent an actual disc. How long will it be before DVDs and Blu-rays are totally extinct? No one knows, but so long as there is demand from sufficient numbers of collectors, that won’t be for a while.
The decline in DVD and Blu-ray sales has stopped the major studios from releasing all but new films in disc format. New DVD and Blu-ray releases of classic films have become the province of boutique labels such as Criterion, Twilight Time, and Kino Lorber. Only Warner Bros, mostly through its Warner Archive, continues to consistently release films on disc from its deep catalogue, which includes old MGM and RKO films in addition to the studio’s own output.
So, here we go into our 11th year with comments on the new (Silence, Julieta, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, A Monster Calls, 20th Century Women, and Patriots Day) and the new-to-Blu-ray (Blow-Up, What’s the Matter with Helen?, and Lifeboat).
This isn’t a particularly good time for political films. With real life events involving crimes in high places taking bizarre turns nearly every day, it’s almost impossible to take a contemporary political thriller seriously on the big screen. Maybe that’s the reason last year’s highly anticipated Miss Sloane flopped at the box-office and with awards voters.
Jessica Chastain gives one of her best performances as the Washington lobbyist who gives her all to the job, and then some. Her title character leaves her long-time firm in disgust when they take on a client who wants them to mount a campaign to stop a modest gun control bill from going through Congress. She’s been recruited by the other side. Her former bosses, led by Michael Stuhlbarg and Sam Waterston, backed by the gun lobby, set out to not only win the argument in Congress, but to destroy her in the process. She has the support of her new boss (Mark Strong) and the loyal staff she’s taken with her (including Douglas Booth), but it’s an uphill battle, especially after she makes vulnerable anew a victim of violence (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) she had befriended. Along the way, she’s lost her best friend (Allison Pill) to the dark side and incurred the wrath of the powerful Congressional Committee Chairman (John Lithgow) who is a tool of the gun lobby. The only bright spot in her life is the call-boy with a heart of gold (Jake Lacy) who lies to protect her at the hearing that will decide her fate.
The film was directed by John Madden, who cut his teeth on British television (Prime Suspect, Inspector Morse) before directing such films as Mrs. Brown, Shakespeare in Love, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. He directs Miss Sloane more in the style of his early TV work than his later, lighter films.
August Wilson (1945-2005) was a celebrated Pittsburgh, Penn.-born African-American playwright who is best known for his Pittsburgh Cycle, ten plays he wrote about black life in his native city, two of which won him Pulitzer Prizes. The first was for Fences in 1987, the second for The Piano Lesson in 1990. Until recently, more people were familiar with the second than the first, thanks to an award-winning 1995 Hallmark Hall of Fame production starring Charles S. Dutton and Alfre Woodard.
While the 1987 Broadway version of Fences won Tonys for Best Play, Director (Lloyd Richards), Actor (James Earl Jones), Featured Actress (Mary Alice), and two additional nominations for Best Featured Actor (Frankie Faison, Courtney B. Vance), its 2010 revival had a higher profile. That version won Tonys for Best Revival of a Play, Actor (Denzel Washington), Actress (Viola Davis) and six additional nominations including Best Featured Actor (Stephen Henderson).
Wilson wrote a draft of his play for the screen, but had insisted since 1987 that it could not be filmed unless it was directed by an African-American. It was only when Washington agreed to direct, that it was finally filmed, earning 2016 Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay (Wilson), Actor (Washington), and winning Best Supporting Actress for Viola Davis in the role that won her a Tony for Best Actress and her predecessor Mary Alice a Tony for Best Featured Actress. Also in the cast were Stephen Henderson, repeating his Tony-nominated role of Washington’s friend, along with Mykelti Williamson repeating his role of Washington’s mentally challenged brother, the part for which Frankie Faison received a Tony nomination in the 1987 version, and Jovan Adepo as Washington’s and Davis’s 17-year-old son, the role that earned Courtney B. Vance a Tony nomination in the 1987 version.
Films about American first ladies are rare, yet there have been more than two hundred theatrical films and TV productions made about just four of them. There have been 38 each featuring Eleanor Roosevelt and Martha Washington and 86 featuring Mary Todd Lincoln. Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis) is in the middle with just 56, but then Mary Todd Lincoln had 100 years more of being famous than she did.
Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s first film in English concentrates on the life of the widow of the 35th President of the United States in the days following his 1963 assassination as she plans his funeral and lays the ground work for his legacy via an interview with a Time Magazine journalist.
Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie is far and away the best thing she’s done on film. She not only gets her look, walk, and idiosyncratic speech patterns down pat, she gets inside the character in one of the most devastating portrayals of grief ever put on the screen. In a year when she and Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea gave the two best Hollywood portrayals of grief-stricken characters since Ordinary People and Terms of Endearment, he won the preponderance of awards for Best Actor whereas she was only able to win a handful of awards for Best Actress. There is some consolation in the fact that she had already won most of the Best Actress awards in 2010 for Black Swan, but this is the film she should have received all that recognition for.
Portman dominates the film, but she receives strong support from Peter Sarsgaard as Robert Kennedy, Billy Crudup as the journalist, and the late, great John Hurt as a priest.
Jackie is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.