This Week’s Best Bets
The Criterion Collection is celebrating the boundless creative vision of Agnès Varda with a comprehensive collection of her genre-blurring, culture-shaping films. Bringing together all 39 of her features, shorts, and documentaries for the first time, the 15-Blu-ray box set “The Complete Films of Agnès Varda” also contains extensive special features – many created by Varda herself – including introductions to the films, interviews with and tributes from family and friends, once-banned and unfinished works, behind-the-scenes footage, archival programs, and more. The edition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated 200-page book, with notes on the films and essays on Varda’s life and work, as well as a selection of her photography and images of her installation art. A founder of the French New Wave who became an international art-house icon, Varda was a fiercely independent, restlessly curious visionary whose work was at once personal and passionately committed to the world around her. In an abundant career in which she never stopped expanding the notion of what a movie can be, Varda forged a unique cinematic vocabulary that frequently blurs the boundaries between narrative and documentary, and entwines loving portraits of her friends, her family, and her own inner world with a social consciousness that was closely attuned to the 1960s counterculture, the women’s liberation movement, the plight of the poor and socially marginalized, and the ecology of our planet. This comprehensive collection places Varda’s filmography in the context of her parallel work as a photographer and multimedia artist – all of it a testament to the radical vision, boundless imagination, and radiant spirit of a true original for whom every act of creation was a vital expression of her very being … With “Diva” (1981 — France), director Jean-Jacques Beineix (“Betty Blue”) launched the Cinéma du look movement and this stylish cult thriller remains as innovative today as when it premiered in 1981. Jules (Frédéric Andréi), a young postal carrier, illegally tapes a concert of a reclusive opera singer (American soprano Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez). Jules’ attempts to woo the diva are interrupted when Taiwanese bootleggers come after the recording. His problems worsen when a prostitute slips another tape, one that incriminates a police chief, into his bag. Now, Jules must escape the police chief, the cop’s henchmen and the bootleggers to keep both precious tapes safe — and to stay alive. Featuring a celebrated chase through the Paris Metro and an early appearance by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“Amélie”) favorite Dominique Pinon, Diva earned César Awards for Beineix, Vladimir Cosma’s (“Le Bal”) sumptuous music and Philippe Rousselot’s (“Henry & June”) eye-popping cinematography. In a Blu-ray Special Edition from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
From TV to Disc:
“The Blacklist Season 7” (2019-20) id s five-disc set with all 19 episodes. After being abducted by Katarina Rostova, Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) finds himself alone in hostile territory, unsure of who, if anyone, he can trust. Surrounded by old enemies and new allies, Red must stay one step ahead of the Blacklist’s most dangerous criminal, who will stop at nothing to unearth the very truth Red wants no one to know about. To find it, Katarina will insinuate herself into the life of Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), who has finally reunited with her daughter Agnes. Katarina’s presence will bring danger to Liz’s doorstep and forever alter her relationship with Red. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Sony … “Gold Digger” (2019) is a two-disc set with all 10 episodes of the BBC One’s romantic drama starring Julia Ormond and Ben Barnes about a woman who meets a much younger man on her 60th birthday. As the pair’s relationship grows, her three adult children and ex-husband wonder if their mother’s new boyfriend is in it for love or for money. A dark family secret has also been buried for several decades -— a trauma that has impacted their personalities and decisions in the present. From Acorn Media …
“Playing for Keeps” (2020) is a two-disc set with all eight episodes of the Aussie murder mystery dramedy set on the sidelines of professional football, told from the unique perspective of the real power players: the wives. The real action is away from the grandstands and locker rooms; it’s on the red carpets, in the beauty salons and in the designer bedrooms. It’s love, power, and status all the way – until the death of a team member adds investigation into the mix. From Acorn Media.
Buzzin’ the ‘B’s:
In “Monstrous” (2020), starring Anna Shields, Rachel Finniger and Grant Schumacher, Sylvia, a lonely 20-something, goes searching for answers after her friend mysteriously vanishes in Whitehall, NY, an Adirondack town known for its Bigfoot sightings. She sets off with a mysterious, charming young woman, Alex, hellbent on getting to Whitehall for different reasons. Sylvia soon learns that hiding in the woods is an evil more sinister than she could ever imagine. From Uncork’d Entertainment … “The High Note” (2020), starring Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Bill Pullman, Zoë Chao, Eddie Izzard and Ice Cube, is set in the dazzling world of the LA music scene and tells the story of Grace Davis (Ross), a superstar whose talent, and ego, have reached unbelievable heights. Maggie (Johnson) is Grace’s overworked personal assistant who’s stuck running errands, but still aspires to her childhood dream of becoming a music producer. When Grace’s manager (Ice Cube) presents her with a choice that could alter the course of her career, Grace must choose between playing it safe or listening to her heart in a decision that could change her life forever. On DVD, Blu-ray,from Universal … In “The Wretched” (2019), starring John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Azie Tesfai, Zarah Mahler, Kevin Bigley and Jamison Jones, following his parents’ separation, a rebellious teenage boy, Ben, is sent to live with his father for the summer. The idyllic tourist town offers little solace for him, however, as he is forced to deal with the local, privileged teens and his father’s new girlfriend. Ben’s problems grow increasingly disturbing when he makes a chilling discovery: a thousand year-old witch is living beneath the skin of and posing as the woman next door. On DVD, Blu-ray, from IFC Midnight … “Valley of the Gods” (2019), starring Josh Hartnett, Bérénice Marlohe and John Malkovich, is a fantasy thriller that contrasts abundance and poverty through three separate storylines, featuring a middle-class writer, an eccentric trillionaire and a struggling Navajo community. Post-divorce, copywriter John Ecas undertakes the biography of the richest man on earth, who is dead-set on mining sacred lands for uranium. When modernity runs afoul of long-dormant guardians from ancient legend, even the most unimaginable wealth may soon meet its match. On DVD, Blu-ray, from Well Go USA … In “G-LOC” (2019), starring Stephen Moyer, Tala Gouveia, Shayne Ward, Casper Van Dien and John Rhys-Davies, the Earth is virtually destroyed and Bran Marshall flees to the Rhea, a planet hostile to Earthlings. Escaping onto a Rhean supply ship, he finds the crew slaughtered, with the only survivor a female warrior named Ohsha. As the two try to kill one another, the ship is damaged by meteorites. Bran and Ohsha must join forces to salvage the craft before it impacts the planet below — and the humans that live there. From Lionsgate … In “The Phantom of the Opera” (1962), Herbert Lom stars as The Phantom in Hammer Films’ celebrated production of Gaston Leroux’s horror classic. Mysterious mishaps bedevil a London opera house, but when tragedy strikes during an opening night performance, it’s clear that these “accidents” are the deliberate work of a deranged madman – The Phantom. When Christine, the young star of a new musical is contacted by the shadowy specter, her producer investigates, tracking the ghostly Phantom to his secret underground lair. A new 2K scan from the interpositive, with both 1.85:1 and 1.66:1 aspect ratio options available. On Blu-ray from Scream Factory … In “I Am Vengeance: Retaliation” (2020), starring Stu Bennett and Vinnie Jones, former professional wrestler Bennett stars as ex-special forces soldier John Gold in this sequel to “I Am Vengeance” (2018). When he’s given the chance to retrieve Sean Teague —- the man who betrayed Gold’s team on their final mission in Eastern Europe —- and transport him to a military prison, Gold, who’d rather kill Teague, is reluctant. But when a government operative promises to expunge the crimes that’ve forced Gold into a life on the run, Gold agrees —- and prepares for the fight of his life against Teague’s band of mercenaries and a mysterious sniper.On DVD, Blu-ray, from Lionsgate.
On the Indie Front:
In “How to Build a Girl” (2019), starring Beanie Feldstein, Alfie Allen, Paddy Consindine, Chris DOd and Emma Thompson, Johanna Morgan is a bright, quirky, 16-year-old who uses her colorful imagination to regularly escape her humdrum life in Wolverhampton, England, and live out her creative fantasies. Desperate to break free from the overcrowded flat she shares with her four brothers and eccentric parents, she submits an earnestly penned and off-beat music review to a group of self-important indie rock critics at a weekly magazine. Despite being brushed off initially, Johanna clamors to the top of the 90s rock music scene by reinventing herself as Dolly Wilde, a venerable, impossible-to-please music critic with an insatiable lust for fame, fortune, and men. On DVD, Blu-ray, from IFC Films.
In “A White, White Day” (2019 — Iceland), starring Ingvar Sigurdsson, Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Sara Dögg Ásgeirsdóttir, an off-duty police chief (a chilling Ingvar Sigurdsson, who received Cannes Critics’ Week award for Best Actor for his performance) in a remote Icelandic town begins to suspect a local man of having had an affair with his late wife, who died in a tragic accident two years earlier. Gradually his obsession for finding out the truth takes over his life and inevitably begins to endanger himself and his loved ones. From Film Movement … In “Night Out” (2018 — Germany) , starring Mara Scherzinger, Katerina Clark and Thomas Kellner, it’s Saturday night in Berlin and a bunch of friends go out to have fun. Others are also out exploring the city and their relationships. A colorful mix of singles, couples, heteros, gays, poly-amorous. Different personalities, for different reasons, give a spectrum of contemporary approaches to nightlife. They go all the way, exceeding their limits. An erotic dramedy written and directed by Stratos Tzitzis and winner of the “Achtung Berlin! – New Berlin Film Award” at the Berlin Film Festival. From Corinth Films.
For the Family:
“Arthur: The Ultimate Friendship Collection”” (2020) is a three-disc set with 48 episodes — more than 10 hours — of friendship-themed Arthur adventures. Arthur learns how to work with teams, look out for friends and family, and navigate the everyday situations that he and his friends find themselves in. Arthur plays on a baseball team, Muffy temporarily stays with her friend, Francine, where she has to share a room (and even eat leftovers), Buster returns home after a long exotic vacation, and Arthur gets nervous their friendship won’t be the same, among many other classic episodes. From PBS Kids.