New This Week
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.
Theodore Melfi directed only one feature film before Hidden Figures, the delightful 2014 comedy St. Vincent. While there’s a lot of humor in his new film, it’s not a comedy, but an uplifting biographical drama about three African-American women working for NASA in the early 1960s. Before IBM, computers were humans, not machines, and at NASA, where the engineers thought computing beneath them, the job was done by a pool of African-American women, among whom these three were the standouts.
The now 98-year-old Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, not only put together the numbers that put John Glenn into orbit, but when the newly installed IBM computer got his re-entry quadrants wrong, it was she who re-did the math while the world watched and waited for his liftoff. Dorothy Vaughan, who died in 2008 at 98, played by Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer, was the unacknowledged supervisor of the computing pool, who, realizing her job and the jobs of the other women in the pool, were going away, took it upon herself to learn how to program the IBM computer and taught the other women everything she learned, thus saving their jobs as well as her own. Mary Jackson, who died in 2005 at 83, took advanced classes and became NASA’s first African-American engineer. The film proves that it wasn’t just the astronauts who had The Right Stuff.
Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann is a two-hour and forty-five minute German comedy that has been greenlit for a Hollywood remake with Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig. Don’t wait for that to happen. Run, don’t walk, to catch the hilarious original.
The title character is the alter-ego of a 65-year-old music teacher who, when his elderly dog dies, decides to visit his serious-minded consultant daughter whose current assignment is in Bucharest, Romania. The visit doesn’t go well, and she thinks he’s returned to Westphalia, but no, he’s waiting for her in disguise at the bar in the restaurant where she’s meeting friends for dinner. He continues to stalk her until she goes to work for another consulting firm that will take her hopefully out of his reach. Peter Simonischek and Sandra Huller star.
Criterion released a six-film collection of films by Jacques Demy in 2014 called The Essential Jacques Demy. Now they have released the two most popular films from that collection, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort, on single Blu-rays. Both are worth discovering or rediscovering, whichever the case may be.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a sung-through musical about a shop-girl (Catherine Deneuve) and a mechanic (Nino Castelnuovo) who fall in love, but are separated when he is drafted and sent to Nigeria for two years. No description does the film justice, you simply have to see it for yourself.
The Young Girls of Rochefort is a more traditional musical about twin sisters (Deneuve and Francoise Dorléac) who join a traveling carnival show (run by George Chakiris and Grover Dale) that will bring them to Paris and hopefully fame and fortune. Danielle Darrieux, who incidentally turns 100 on May 1, is their mother; Jacques Perrin a lovesick artist/sailor; Michel Piccoli is Darrieux’s long-lost lover; and Gene Kelly is his old friend.
Dorléac, who was Deneuve’s older sister by a year, died in an auto accident three months after the film opened in France and ten months before it opened in the U.S. It opened in New York the day after Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour, Deneuve’s most acclaimed film.
Warner Archive continues its output of classic films on Blu-ray with Ride the High Country and 36 Hours.
Sam Peckinpah’s 1962 film, Ride the High Country, was a tribute to its two stars, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott, playing aging lawmen in the twilight of their careers. It was Scott’s last film, and Peckinpah’s best, even topping his better known 1969 film The Wild Bunch.
The Vietnam War began in 1955. The number of American troops deployed tripled in 1961 and again in 1962, but you’d never know from the films Hollywood produced at the time. The big blockbuster war movies from 1961-1963 were still set in World War II. In 1961, we had The Guns of Navarone; in 1962, The Longest Day; and in 1963, The Great Escape. By 1965, the blockbusters gave way to more intimate war dramas, but they were still predominantly about World War II. One of the best was George Seaton’s 36 Hours about a plot by the Nazis to convince an American major (James Garner) that the war is over so they can get details about the Allied invasion of Europe. Rod Taylor and Eva Marie Saint were the doctor and nurse assigned to convince him.
Kino Lorber also continues its output of classic films on Blu-ray with Nicholas Hytner’s 1996 film of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Kevin Reynolds’ 2006 film of the legend of Tristan & Isolde. Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, and Oscar-nominated Joan Allen inhabit 1692 Salem in the former, while James Franco and Sophia Myles bring the Dark Ages to life in the latter.
This week’s new releases include The Founder and the Criterion Edition Blu-ray of Woman of the Year.