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Kindness of strangers

Profile image for By Boo Allen / Film Critic
By Boo Allen / Film Critic
Scott Aukerman, left, appears with guests Andy Daly and Amy Pohler in an episode of “Comedy Bang! Bang!” The first season of the IFC show is coming to DVD.IFC
Scott Aukerman, left, appears with guests Andy Daly and Amy Pohler in an episode of “Comedy Bang! Bang!” The first season of the IFC show is coming to DVD.
Absent mother Julie (Jessica Lindsey) comes back into the lives of Valentin (Eugenio Derbez) and daughter Maggie (Loreto Peralta) in “Instructions Not Included.”Pantelion Films
Absent mother Julie (Jessica Lindsey) comes back into the lives of Valentin (Eugenio Derbez) and daughter Maggie (Loreto Peralta) in “Instructions Not Included.”
Pantelion Films

Allen relies on familiar plot line for moody ‘Jasmine’

This week we begin with the Woodman:

Blue Jasmine

3.5 stars

Rated PG-13, 98 minutes.

Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray. Available now in various download formats.

In Woody Allen’s latest, Cate Blanchett plays the title character, a decidedly blue lady of that name whose real name is Jeanette — but the character might be best recognized by the name Blanche DuBois.

Jasmine’s moniker could also derive from the song “Blue Moon,” as it played the night she met her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) and she has never forgotten it. In this hard-to-classify hybrid of a film, Allen has rendered a dramatic, mostly purloined plot filled with Allen humor, sometimes incongruously so.

Allen does not make Jasmine a remake of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, but many plot points coincide. A visibly high-strung Jasmine arrives penniless in San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine immediately acts as she is above Ginger — even though years before, Hal criminally mishandled the lottery winnings of Ginger and her husband, Augie (a surprisingly effective Andrew Dice Clay).

Once Hal’s misdeeds have been presented, Allen jumps chronologically back and forth to establish Jasmine and Hal’s luxurious New York lifestyle. But now, Jasmine causes problems for Ginger and her current boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale, persuasively channeling Stanley Kowalski).

Allen orchestrates a few telling sequences to reveal Jasmine’s Dubois-like inner turmoil and confusion, and these sequences help to explain Jasmine’s lying, drinking to excess and frequent popping of Xanax pills. Among the humor and shifting moods, Blanchett serves as the film’s solid anchor, staying focused on portraying the states of a fragile woman. And she does it so well she has already won a Golden Globe and has just received a Best Actress Oscar nomination — which she could and should win.

The DVD includes the six-minute featurette “Notes From the Red Carpet” with several cast interviews, and a 25-minute filmed press conference moderated by Jenelle Riley with Blanchett, Clay and Peter Sarsgaard.


Nostalghia (3 stars) Russian maestro Andrei Tarkovsky directed only seven feature films in his 54 years, but those he left behind were haunting, dreamlike voyages. Kino Lorber now gives a remastered high-definition Blu-ray debut to this meditative 1983 puzzler, Tarkovsky’s penultimate film.

As usual in a Tarkovsky work, it takes a while for the viewer to tune in to the narrative, here a story about a Russian writer, Andrei (Oleg Yankovskiy), and his translator girlfriend Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano) traveling to a small Italian town for his research.

Once there, they bicker and reconcile, all while wandering aimlessly around town, captured in Tarkovsky’s signature long shots, often filled here with haze and fog to complete his eerie atmospherics. In his walks, Andrei eventually encounters Domenico (Erland Josephson), who may, or may not, guide the Russian on his quest.

Tarkovsky challenges his viewers to remain focused during this meandering dream. But in a good way. Not rated, 125 minutes.


The Prey (3.5 stars) and Terraferma (3.5 stars) Cohen Media Group releases two fine yet vastly different imports.

The French-language The Prey is a beguiling comic strip of a movie with constant action: car chases, foot chases, a jailbreak, a fall over a cliff and more. Franck Adrien (Albert Dupontel) sits in jail for robbing a bank and then hiding the money. He thinks he can trust his meek cellmate, Maurel (Stephane Debac), who leaves when his conviction is overturned.

Turns out, Maurel is a sadistic serial killer who then kills Adrien’s wife and kidnaps his child as he searches for Adrien’s hidden loot. Adrien breaks out of jail and tracks down Maurel in picturesque Provence while an army of cops searches for them both.

Director Eric Valette keeps up a breakneck pace filled with white-knuckle scenes. The disc also includes a 13-minute interview with Valette and a 38-minute “making of” featurette.

The engrossing drama Terraferma takes place on a small Mediterranean island near Sicily. A family looks like it may split when grandfather Ernesto (Mimmo Cuticchio) wants to keep fishing on his outdated boat, usually with his grandson Filippo (Filippo Pucillo). But the adult son and daughter want to concentrate on making a living from the island’s tourist trade.

All problems change focus one day when Ernesto takes in some drowning illegal aliens from Ethiopia. This illegal act costs the grandfather his boat, and it sets into motion a chain of events that will affect everyone on the island.

The disc holds a 24-minute “making of” featurette.


Instructions Not Included (3 stars) This film, mostly in Spanish but with some English, became the highest-grossing Spanish-language film ever in this country last year. Well-known Mexican performer Eugenio Derbez directed and co-wrote this dramatic-comedy, and he also plays Valentin, a scruffy single man in Acapulco who enjoys the constant companionship of women.

One day, a previous fling, an American, shows up and then disappears — but not before dropping off a year-old daughter he never knew about. He tries to track down the baby’s mother in Los Angeles — a diversion that not only provides plenty of fish-out-of-water gags, but opens the door for Valentin to become a successful Hollywood stuntman.

Flash ahead seven or eight years, and Valentin, never having found the mother, continues to raise Maggie (Loreto Peralta), who’s well adjusted and bilingual. The long-forgotten mother naturally reappears and wants custody of Maggie, which sets off a custody battle while enabling Valentin to show what a good father he has become.

It ends about as amiably as possible, but not before director Derbez includes every possible tear-jerking scene. He also includes enough humor and some clever stop-motion animation that aids the film’s overall buoyant tone.

Rated PG-13, 115 minutes. The film includes commentary from Derbez.


Touchdown Charlie Brown!: Peanuts Deluxe Edition This single-disc unrated collection includes the animated treat It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown, which has been remastered and now arrives with three episodes from The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show. The episodes center on Charlie Brown’s always comical attempts at football.


Comedy Bang! Bang!: The Complete First Season The 10 episodes, of around 30 minutes each, of this IFC series, arrive on two discs. In its first season, this strange hybrid spoof-sketch-satire-interview show scored some major guest stars who all seemed to want in on the joke: Andy Samberg, Jack Black, Elizabeth Banks, Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, Amy Poehler, Zach Galifianakis and others.

Scott Aukerman co-created the show and acts as the default “host,” quizzing his guests on his talk show, which manages to incorporate improvisations, sketches, short films and just about anything else he and co-creator and partner-in-mayhem Reggie Watts can conjure up.

Not rated, 230 minutes. The collection holds abundant supplements, such as commentaries, deleted scenes, and featurettes on test shoots for special effects, Watts’ introductions, another cut of The Assassin, an alternate title sequence and more.


Also available Tuesday on DVD: Captain Phillips, Machete Kills.