Current batch of new releases offer some keen observations
This week we begin in Israel:
Rated PG, 103 minutes.
Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray.
This Israeli Oscar nominee, for Best Foreign Language Film, examines the delicate balancing act between a domineering father and his complacent son.
In the cleverly rendered tale by writer-director Joseph Cedar, the son (Lior Ashkenazi) learns that a prestigious prize for scholarship was mistakenly given to his father (Shlomo Bar-Aba), landing the younger man in a moral quandary. The son, a Talmudic scholar, then struggles with telling his father, hiding the discovery or even moving on to another option.
The well-paced, minutely observed film maintains a healthy dose of often raucous humor, while also pungently commenting on universal human behavior.
The DVD includes a 24-minute “behind the scenes” featurette and a 10-minute conversation with Cedar.
BBC Home Entertainment releases two separate discs of its fine dramas, and they both focus on unusual relationships while also being based on notable pieces of literature.
The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (****) In this colorful historical drama, Maxine Peake plays Anne Lister, a free-spirited woman who left behind diaries outlining her then-scandalous life in the early 1800s. The journals were written in code, using Greek and algebra symbols, and were not decoded until the 20th century and not published until about 20 years ago.
The diaries, and the film, chronicle Lister’s daily life with her aunt and uncle. When he dies, leaving her as owner of a large estate, she ignores society’s restraints and lives as she wants. Consequently, she takes various lovers and virtually ignores public opprobrium. Director James Kent convincingly conveys the mores of the times, while Peake gives a convincing performance as an independent and intelligent yet passionate woman.
Not rated, 91 minutes. Plus: a 60-minute documentary on Lister’s diaries along with nine minutes with Peake talking with Kent.
Madame Bovary (****) In the sumptuous production of Madame Bovary, Frances O’Connor plays French novelist Gustave Flaubert’s great creation, with Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey’s Earl of Grantham) as her boorish country doctor husband. Director Tim Fywell, with help from a spirited performance from O’Connor, renders an earthy Emma Bovary, filled with ardor and sexual desire, particularly for her succession of two lovers (Greg Wise and Hugh Dancy).
Not rated, 152 minutes. Plus: a 30-minute analysis on Flaubert, his life in his native Rouen, and the novel widely considered the first great modern novel.
Jean Gremillon: During the Occupation: Remorques (***1/2), Le Ciel Est a Vous (***) and Lumiere D’Ete (***1/2) On its movie-only Eclipse label, the Criterion Collection has individually assembled three fine films by a now-overlooked French director.
Made during Germany’s World War II occupation of France, the trio of films displays the versatility Jean Gremillon learned from his many years in film, starting during the silent era and going through his years as an editor and documentarian.
In Remorques (Stormy Waters, 1941, 81 minutes), Jean Gabin stars as Andre, the rough-edged owner of a tugboat who leaves a wedding party, along with most of the male guests, to rescue a floundering vessel during a storm. The other boat’s captain swindles Andre, who, while his wife (Madeleine Renaud) suffers at home, takes revenge later by becoming involved with the man’s wife (Michele Morgan).
In Le Ciel Est a Vous (The Woman Who Dared, 1944, 107 minutes), a former World War I pilot and now small-town mechanic (Charles Vanel) begins flying again, much to his wife’s (Madeleine Renaud, again) disapproval. But their relationship — as well as their home life — takes a dramatic turn when she becomes an even more obsessed pilot.
In Lumiere D’Ete (1943, 110 minutes), considered Gremillon’s best film, he mixes unequal parts Rules of the Game, Grand Hotel and a Feydeau farce. When a group gathers at a mountain resort, five members become involved in an ongoing romantic drama, with one woman (Madeleine Robinson) being pursued by a local nobleman (Paul Bernard), a construction worker (Georges Marchal) and her artistic boyfriend (Pierre Brasseur).
The Nazis would not let the film remain in circulation, censoring it until after the war.
Like last year’s Another Earth and Melancholia, the following two films use an impending apocalypse to tell a personal story, and they both take place almost entirely in an apartment. In the first, it is done for quirky laughs, while the second succumbs to absurd melodrama.
Extraterrestrial (***) A couple wakes up in a Madrid apartment after a one-night stand to discover a giant spaceship hovering over the city and, reportedly, other places around the world. Soon after, the woman’s boyfriend returns home. Eventually, the trio suspects another neighbor of being an alien. It’s all enjoyable nonsense accentuated by an oblique love story, complemented by minimal special effects.
Not rated, 90 minutes. The DVD includes a 24-minute “making of” featurette and four short films by director Nacho Vigalondo.
4:44 Last Day on Earth (H1/2) Abel Ferrara wrote and directed this dreary story of two people (Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh) in a New York apartment as night bleeds into the next morning when the ozone layer will disappear at 4:44, taking the Earth with it. In the interim, they make love, eat, talk to friends and relatives on the phone, and even leave the apartment to walk on the roof and visit neighbors — empty exercises that lead nowhere.
Not rated, 85 minutes.
Brake (**1/2) Much like Ryan Reynolds in 2010’s Buried, Stephen Dorff, as Jeremy, wakes to find himself enclosed. But instead of a coffin, he is in a transparent box trapped in a car trunk.
Director Gabe Torres gives Jeremy just enough equipment to flesh out the story, providing him with a cellphone, a light and other distractions until he finally leads to surprising discoveries. But while trapped, Jeremy must deal with kidnapped loved ones and co-workers, an assassination plot targeting the presidency and a terrorist attack.
Rated R, 91 minutes. The DVD includes commentary, a 24-minute “making of” featurette and a brief music video.
On the Inside (**1/2) Nick Stahl, a fine actor who always seems perched on the edge of greater stardom, stars as a man who takes revenge for his girlfriend’s rape but mistakenly kills the wrong man. Instead of jail, he ends up in a mental institution where, in a joint program, he meets and connects with another patient, bipolar Mia (Olivia Wilde). While their unlikely love blossoms, various acts of violence by the inmates erupt inside.
Rated R, 90 minutes. The DVD includes commentary.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: Boss — Season One, The Deep Blue Sea and Jiro Dreams of Sushi.