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September '23 Digital Week II

4K/UHD Releases of the Week 
The Exorcist 
(Warner Bros)
Still as shocking as it was 50 years ago, William Friedkin’s adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s crassly entertaining novel is a punch to the gut that works brilliantly, even after many viewings, because of its artful misdirection. You expect nasty shocks, but the slow build-up lulls you into believing you’re watching a docudrama about a young girl whose odd behavior eventually has no other explanation but the supernatural. When the horror arrives, it’s been grounded in such vivid reality that more is at stake than a simple “good vs. evil” battle: it’s personal.
This terrific 4K release contains the original—and still superior—version and the director’s cut, both looking splendid in UHD: Friedkin and cameraman Owen Roizman’s documentary-like touches accentuate the eeriness. And Friedkin’s expertly chosen music (Penderecki, Henze, Webern, “Tubular Bells”) sounds superb. Extras are commentaries by both Friedkin and Blatty as well as Friedkin’s introduction.
The Trial 
(Criterion Collection)
One of Orson Welles’ most dazzling visual achievements is his 1962 adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel about everyman Josef K., who’s the unwitting target of the totalitarian regime that arrests and condemns him for an unnamed crime. Although the narrative at times gets sticky, the director is in his expressionist element, cinematographer Edmond Richard’s haunting B&W images complementing Welles’ off-kilter and off-putting camera angles, editing and music choices.
The main quibble is a rather stolid Anthony Perkins in the lead. Criterion’s release contains a superb UHD transfer, Welles expert Joseph McBride’s commentary, an archival interview with Richard and two with Welles: one with Jeanne Moreau (who’s in the film) and one at UCLA in 1981.
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week 
American—An Odyssey to 1947 
(Gravitas Ventures)
Danny Wu’s documentary begins by taking a well-trodden path showing Orson Welles’ early life as a child prodigy through his first theater success and infamous War of the Worlds broadcast until it all falls apart following Citizen Kane and his Hollywood career dwindled to nothing after the abortive Magnificent Ambersons debacle. Wu then turns to two little known men: Japanese-American Howard Kakita (who survived the bombing of Hiroshima as a child) and Black serviceman Isaac Woodard (who was beaten so badly upon his return to the South after WWII that he was left permanently blinded).
Wu’s attempt to tie the stories of these disparate men together is often clumsy, for Welles’ artistic genius keeps getting in the way. (Even Welles’ discussion of Woodard is eloquent.) But Wu’s interviews with several talking heads—including Kakita himself—illuminate a necessarily expansive definition of the term “American.”
Hello Dankness
From the mischievous Australian sibling duo known as Soda Jerk, this lacerating critique of America during the Trump years is cleverly reedited from various repurposed scenes from dozens of unrelated films—including American Beauty, Wayne’s World, Robocop (which features the most pointed satire of today’s society), A Nightmare on Elm Street, Peggy Sue Got Married, etc.—which are tweaked to show how trump supporters and Hilary supporters acted during that fraught and, in hindsight, ridiculous and dangerous time.
The problem with the film is that it’s one-note: for all its humor and even insight, after about a half-hour, it starts to become redundant; we all know what happened—the reality was worse than any reedited bunch of film scenes and overdubs could make it—so why subject ourselves to it again?
Invisible Beauty 
The fascinating life of Bethann Hardison, who was one of the first Black supermodels and became an agent and, later, activist who paved the way for the stellar careers of such models as Iman, Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks, is chronicled in this breezy but substantive documentary by directors Frédéric Tcheng and Hardison herself.
Hardison, of course, is refreshingly candid in nearly every sound bite and video clip over the decades; her son, actor Kadeem Hardison, Iman, Campbell, and Ralph Lauren, among others, speak touchingly and honestly about a trailblazer who became a lasting influence on the modeling profession for so many, whether they realize it or not.
Radical Wolfe 
(Kino Lorber)
Iconoclastic author Tom Wolfe—who coined such popular phrases as “the me decade,” “social X rays,” and “radical chic”—is remembered in Richard Dewey’s succinct but too brief (only 76 minutes!) documentary based on a Vanity Fair article by Michael Lewis, one of several admiring colleagues, associates, and family and friends who are interviewed about the author of The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of the Vanities. 
Wolfe died at 88 in 2018, with his best work and cultural relevance behind him, but Dewey’s interviewees are sure his writing will endure; historian Niall Ferguson says it will be reevaluated and rediscovered by readers interested in what America was like in the last half the 20th century.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week 
Don Pasquale 
(Opus Arte)
One of Gaetano Donizetti’s delightful comic operas has been given a rollicking production by director Damiano Michieletto at London’s Royal Opera House in 2019; the humor is intact and the relationships are pointedly presented.
The great baritone Bryn Terfel makes a perfect Pasquale, and he is surrounded by a wonderfully capable cast that’s led by the winning Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko as love interest Norina. It’s all conducted with panache and verve by Evelino Pido, who leads the Royal Opera orchestra and chorus. There’s first-rate hi-def video and audio.
Roméo et Juliette 
(C Major)
French composer Charles Gounod’s tragic opera follows Shakespeare’s classic play fairly closely after beginning with the coffins of the star-crossed lovers onstage—and Gounod’s enchanting melodies magnificently mirror Shakespeare’s poetry, especially in the lyrical scenes between the pair.
Russian soprano Aida Garifullina is a meltingly lovely Juliette and Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu is a charming Roméo, with conductor Josep Pons leading a reliable reading of the music by the orchestra and chorus. Director Stephen Lawless’ 2018 Barcelona staging catches the sense of young romance and impending tragedy. The hi-def video and audio are enticing.
DVD Release of the Week 
Succession—The Complete Series 
(HBO/Warner Bros)
This compelling and hilarious series about ultrarich corporatists chugged along for four always watchable seasons, including the shocking but inevitable plot twist early in the final season that finally provided a real conclusion to what the title hinted at. The tension between a successful media corporation’s founder, Logan Roy, and his adult children, all of whom are in one way or another unworthy to succeed him—sons Kendall, Roman and Connor as well as daughter Shiv—reaches heights of tragicomedy worthy of Shakespeare.
The superb writing is complemented by the magisterial acting, from Brian Cox, who plays the Lear-like Logan, to Jeremy Strong (Kendall), Kieran Culkin (Roman), Sarah Snook (Shiv) and the scene-stealing J. Smith-Cameron as the family’s shrewd associate Gerri. All 39 episodes are included, along with several featurettes and interviews, but it's too bad that this addictive series (which was shot on film) has not been released on Blu-ray, let alone 4K.

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