the traveler's resource guide to festivals & films
a site
part of Insider Media llc.

Connect with us:

Film and the Arts

August '23 Digital Week IV

In-Theater Releases of the Week 
Liam Neeson is back but he’s not better than ever: this routine remake of a Spanish thriller about a financial guru who is trapped with his children in his car with bombs under their seats has moments of tension and excitement, but mostly it’s Neeson barking at his kids, soon-to-be ex-wife, the bomber, and the cops as he tries to find a way to survive.
Nimród Antal directs with a sledgehammer, and the final twist unmasking the villain is patently ridiculous. While Embeth Davidtz is wasted as Neeson’s wife, their teenage kids are enacted persuasively by Jack Champion and Lilly Aspell.
Blue Box 
(Norma Productions) 
In Michal Weits’ authoritative documentary, the director matter-of-factly rattles the skeletons in her country’s—and family’s—closet by revealing the painful truths behind the actions of her great-grandfather Yosef Weitz, one of the leaders of the Jewish National Fund, which bought up much Palestinian land that led to Arab resistance and his own prescient prediction that Jews and Arabs would not be able to live together.
Using a treasure trove of Weitz’ diaries and letters to bolster the factual evidence she presents, Weits also weaves in several tense interviews with family members that are fraught with uncomfortable conversations underlining the divide between those who believe the “official” history and those who are more skeptical.
In Israeli director Ann Oren’s convoluted but mildly diverting psychological study, a young woman named Eva takes over sound recording on an ad shoot after her sibling Zara suffers a nervous breakdown. Eva starts growing a horse tail after observing one and the previous naïve woman begins a hedonistic sexual relationship with a local botanist.
Oren tosses in bits of Greenaway, Breillat, and even Bunuel, but despite the secondhand imagery and ideas and complete lack of humor, the thought-provoking film is anchored by a formidable performance by the striking actress Simone Bucio as Eva.
4K/UHD Release of the Week
The Blackening 
It’s not surprising that this relentlessly scattershot horror parody was originally a short, since, at 95 minutes, obvious comic moments become numbing after awhile: some viewers might even miss a couple of good jokes during the end credits.
The cast is game—even though the hilarious Jay Pharoah is offed far too early—but defeated by material that’s been done to, um, death, and director Tim Story and writers Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins (who also stars) never bring their A game. The film looks sharp in ultra hi-def; extras include a commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes and several making-of featurettes.
Blu-ray Release of the Week 
Königskinder/Royal Children
This opera by German composer Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921) is filled with complicated relationships and lovely vocal sections that come across beautifully in director Christof Loy’s clarifying 2022 production at Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam.
Of course, excellent lead performances by Olga Kulchynska, Daniel Behle, Josef Wagner and Doris Soffel greatly help, as does the music making by the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Chorus of Dutch National Opera and a children’s chorus, all under the direction of conductor Marc Albrecht. There’s first-rate hi-def video and audio.

August '23 Digital Week III

In-Theater Releases of the Week 
(Re-Emerging Films)
Acerbic, authentic and endlessly antagonistic, Bella Abzug was a thorn in the side of establishment politicians and a way forward for women in politics, and her always fascinating life—she served in the House but lost elections for the Senate and the Mayor of New York—is colorfully recounted in Jeff L. Lieberman’s flattering yet not fawning documentary.
Abzug’s influence and impact as a feminist leader is seen by the many successful women who agreed to sit down and discuss the woman they stood by, revered but maybe clashed with, from Hillary Clinton and Barbra Streisand to Shirley MacLaine and Gloria Steinem. The result is a gruff, tart biopic that mirrors the pugnacious personality of such a singular—and quintessentially New York—character.
(Bleecker Street)
Dramatizing a few tense weeks during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Guy Nattiv’s biopic follows fearless Israeli leader Golda Meir during a vulnerable time for the nation—can it again defeat numerically superior Arab forces, as it did in 1967?—as well as for herself, since she was battling the cancer that would kill her five years later.
Nicholas Martin’s script is no-nonsense if rather routine, unfortunately. But Helen Mirren throws herself into the role of Golda with an aplomb that is contagious; and when she plays off the equally fine Live Schreiber as Henry Kissinger—he has the voice down pat without succumbing to caricature—it gives Golda a gravitas it often lacks.
The Owners 
(Big World Pictures)
In a Prague apartment building, co-op owners assemble for their monthly meeting, which quickly becomes chaotic as competing interests of the members come to a head while they attempt to finalize a seemingly routine sale. Director Jiří Havelka, who adapted his own play for the screen, sets his darkly satiric film almost exclusively in a single room; although the dialogue is alternately lacerating and humorous, nasty and snappy, it often bogs down in visual and verbal repetition.
It’s all enacted expressively by the cast, particularly the sneeringly by-the-books parliamentarian played by Klára Melíšková. Based on the box office returns in its home country, The Owners plays out as an inside joke which most foreign audiences will only “get” in the broadest sense.
Simone—Woman of the Century 
(Samuel Goldwyn)
The astonishingly rich and tragic life of Simone Veil—a French Holocaust survivor who became a politician and progressive activist that was too much for even supposedly liberal France—is dramatized with conviction if a bit schematically by director Olivier Dahan, who also did the same for chanteuse Edith Piaf in 2007’s La Vie en Rose, which earned Marion Cotillard an Oscar for her fiercely intelligent performance. Here Dahan has two such imposing portrayals of Veil: the magnificent Rebecca Marder (young Simone) and the slyly subtle Elsa Zylberstein (older Simone).
Together they give Veil the humanity she deserves, as does the brilliant and too little-seen Élodie Bouchez playing Simone’s beloved mother. It’s too bad, though, that Dahan’s predictable crosscutting to and from concentration-camp flashbacks nearly throws the film out of whack. 
Blu-ray Releases of the Week 
About My Father 
Standup Sebastian Maniscalco’s leading man debut doesn’t stretch him at all—he basically plays a fictionalized version of himself in this dopey but agreeable comedy about a man skittish about introducing his ethnic Italian working-class father to his gorgeous artist fiancée’s WASPy family—especially her parents, a U.S. senator and head of a hotel conglomerate.
Maniscalco doesn’t embarrass himself, but he’s outclassed by Leslie Bibb (fiancée), David Rasche (her dad), Kim Cattrall (her mom) and especially Robert DeNiro as his dad, who gives a garrulously funny performance that hints at a more complicated movie than Maniscalco and director Laura Terruso have made. The film looks good on Blu; extras are three making-of featurettes.
Káťa Kabanová 
Czech composer Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) wrote extremely realistic and compelling character studies without grandstanding arias or other showboating, which still hold the stage thanks to their subtlety and complexity. Among his greatest creations, Káťa examines relationships in a small village rocked by adultery and suicide with music that is restrained but many-shaded.
This 2022 Salzburg production is beautifully performed by by conductor Jakub Hrůša, the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera Choir. Director Barrie Kosky’s smart staging is centered by American soprano Corinne Winters’s elegant and heartbreaking portrayal of one of Janáček’s most tragic heroines. There’s first-rate hi-def video and audio.

Summer 2023 Tanglewood Concerts—Elvis Costello, Robert Plant/Alison Krauss, James Taylor

Elvis Costello and the Imposters
Saturday, July 1, 2023
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Sunday, July 2, 2023
James Taylor
Monday, July 3, 2023
Lenox, Mass.
Performances through September 3, 2023
Nestled in the bucolic Berkshires in western Massachusetts, Tanglewood has been the go-to summer destination for outdoor classical performances for decades; the Boston Symphony Orchestra has made its summer home there since 1937. Occasionally, even rock and pop artists perform there as well; this summer, fortuitously on the first three nights in July, concerts by several veterans were a great reason to go back up there for the long Independence Day weekend.
Elvis Costello at Tanglewood (photo: Hilary Scott)

First up was the return of Elvis Costello and the Imposters—including stalwarts Steve Nieve on keyboards and Pete Thomas on drums as well as special guest Charlie Sexton, who started as a teen guitar whiz and now, three decades later, is simply a guitar whiz—for a scintillating 2-1/2-hour set that comprised every part of Costello’s long and winding, nearly five-decade long career.
From the propulsive opener “Mystery Dance,” Costello gave impassioned renditions of many two dozen songs from his impressive songbook, from early classics “Radio Radio” and “Alison” to middle-period gems “Uncomplicated” and “Everyday I Write the Book” to a trio of tunes from his excellent 2022 album, The Boy Named If (including a raucous “Magnificent Hurt”). Costello’s in-between song patter is as pointed and hilarious as ever, as when he talked about hearing Bruce Springsteen for the first time as a teenager and thinking he was Dutch. The Imposters’ romp to the finish was particularly astonishing: after a weird and overlong “Watching the Detectives” and a thunderous “Lipstick Vogue,” Costello closed with his raw, angry, emotionally naked dirge “I Want You,” which he seemed to know could not be topped. He didn’t try.
Alison Krauss and Robert Plant at Tanglewood (photo: Hilary Scott)

The next night, it was Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ turn to grace Tanglewood’s Koussevitzky Music Shed stage. Plant and Krauss together took the music world by storm when their 2007 album of rootsy bluegrass/country/folk hybrids, Raising Sand, was a huge success, selling millions and winning Grammys. The pair released a solid second album, Raise the Roof, in 2021; the 90-minute concert was what you’d expect: 15 tunes that hinged on the beautiful blending of Plant’s weathered but still supple voice and Strauss’ gracefully twangy soprano and supplemental fiddle stylings.
Although the boisterous crowd roared loudest for the four Led Zeppelin tunes placed throughout the set—of which the elegiac duet “The Battle of Evermore,” sung sublimely by both, was the obvious highlight (although a thumping “Gallows Pole” came close)—each song was an exquisitely crafted gem, including a non-Zep Page/Plant original, “Please Read the Letter,” and the closing “Gone Gone Gone.” 
Henry Taylor and James Taylor at Tanglewood (photo: Hilary Scott)

James Taylor’s Tanglewood appearances have become an annual event—or events: he performed  July 3 and July 4—bringing fans both young and old, parents and their kids (and even grandkids) together for joyful singalongs. To start the show, on screens there’s a video spanning Taylor’s 50-plus years singing his debut single, “Something in the Way She Moves,” from 1968 to the present day, when he takes the stage to finish the song live. His voice is noticeably strained but still a versatile instrument, and his humorous side came through in his chatty patter throughout the performance.
Featuring an ace backing band that included his wife Caroline and son Henry on backing vocals, Taylor’s career-spanning concert mixed enduring classics like “Sweet Baby James,” “Carolina in My Mind” and the lacerating “Fire and Rain” with lesser-known tunes like “Mona” (about a pig) and “Secret o’ Life.” He ended the show singing with just Henry, two generations of Taylors sharing vocals on the father’s lovely lullaby, “You Can Close Your Eyes.”

August '23 Digital Week II

In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week 
Ira Sachs has made sympathetic and insightful portraits of relationships, but his latest is not among them. In Paris, selfish German film director Tomas leaves his longtime English husband Martin after falling for Agathe, a young French woman from around the set whom he has sex with after the wrap party. Soon, however, he comes back to Martin—then back to Agathe…rinse repeat.
There’s no denying Tomas is a manipulative narcissist, but the response to his antics by Martin and Agathe (who gets pregnant immediately, of course) are so preposterous that they become risible. Very little of this is in any way fascinating—even the lengthy and explicit sex scenes are quite boring—and the acting is a mixed bag. Adele Exarchopoulos is always an honest and humane performer, Ben Wishaw does what he can with an impossible part and Frank Rogowski trots out his tiresomely surly number whatever the role calls for. 
Lady Killer 
The Strange Mister Victor 
Two films by the masterly but barely known French director Jean Grémillon have been fully restored, each showcasing the filmmaker’s singular observational skill within the context of intelligently tweaked genres. 1937’s romantic saga Lady Killer stars the great Jean Gabin as a seducer who falls in love with his latest conquest, played by the exquisite Mireille Balin.
The following year, Grémillon’s crime thriller The Strange Mister Victor stars actor Raimu as a shopkeeper working secretly for the underworld whose criminal activities soon catch up to him. Here’s hoping more of Grémillon’s features are restored and rereleased.
Love Life 
Like his last drama, the diverting A Girl Missing, Japanese director Koji Fukada tells a downbeat story that’s filled with redemption in his usual slowly evolving manner, anchored by Fumino Kimura’s elegantly restrained performance as a woman who, after a tragic family accident, starts to care for her former husband, who’s deaf and homeless.
As is the case once again here, Fukada makes messy but heartfelt films that are closely observed and deal with sorrowful subject matter quite convincingly.
Mob Land 
Writer-director Nicholas Maggio said that Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs made him want to make similar movies when he saw it as a teen in the early ‘90s—but on the basis of this turgid crime drama, whatever originality Tarantino brought to the genre is completely missing in Maggio’s hands.
Unlucky rural Louisiana robbers are tracked down by a brutal New Orleans mob fixer, and the bodies start piling up. Stephen Dorff has fun playing the horrible hitman but John Travolta, Shiloh Fernandez and Ashley Benson are defeated by their director’s caricatures and his unoriginal melodramatic flourishes.
Winter Kills 
In this completely whacked-out 1979 political thriller-cum-satire, Jeff Bridges plays the younger half-brother of an assassinated president trying to find out who killed him—but he’s up against the deep state, which might include his own father, a Joe Kennedy-type tycoon played with gusto by John Huston.
Director William Richert, adapting a novel by Richard Condon, is somehow able to walk the tight rope between straightforward drama and jokey lunacy, although another 20 minutes would flesh out the contorted conspiracies a la The Parallax View. Bridges is in his usual fine form and the colorful ensemble includes the smashingly good Belinda Bauer as an atypical femme fatale.
4K/UHD Release of the Week
Fast X 
The 10th “fast and furious” feature might have some fury but not much that’s fast in a lumbering two-plus hour adventure that repeats the car chase/close combat sequences done to death in the series’ other entries.
Director Louis Leterrier makes things fancier with some amusing destruction of Rome, particularly at the Spanish Steps, but with so many random characters being introduced the usual cast can’t get any traction. Even luminary guest stars like Helen Mirren, Rita Moreno and Charlize Theron have embarrassingly little to do. The film looks terrifically detailed in 4K; extras include over an hour’s worth of featurettes and a gag reel.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week 
Broken Mirrors 
(Cult Epics)
In Dutch director Marleen Gorris’ provocative 1984 drama, several female sex workers at a brothel must deal daily with their anonymous, enervating, antagonistic male clients; meanwhile, one of those men is killing random women and has kidnapped a housewife off the street.
As her other films (such as A Question of Silence and Antonia’s Line) have shown, Gorris is unafraid to bluntly explore and raise unsettling questions about what it means to be a woman in a brutish man’s world. There’s a decent new restoration; extras are a commentary by film scholar Peter Verstraten and archival interview with sex worker Margo St. James.
Kill Shot 
(Well Go USA)
Shot in the beautiful, rugged terrain of Montana’s Big Sky country, Ari Novak’s thriller doesn’t have much else to recommend it, beginning with its by-the-numbers plot about a grieving Navy seal accompanying a young woman to bury her father’s ashes finds trouble after stumbling on a cache of cash murderous terrorists are after.
Novak stages the shoot-‘em-up sequences with little distinction, while his actors can barely read their lines. Leads Rib Hillis and Rachel Cook were obviously cast for how good they look sans clothing—Rib is ripped while Rachel is often stripped down to her bra and underwear—which might make for a fun drinking game to get through the 90 minutes of amateurish storytelling that desperately throws in easily guessable twists to wrap up. The film looks great on Blu, at least.
Other People’s Children 
(Music Box)
Winner of the César (the French Oscar) for best actress for her brilliant performance in Revoir Paris as a mass-shooting survivor, Virginie Efira performs a similar miracle in this intensely intimate study as Rachel, a childless schoolteacher who loves Leila, the young daughter of her boyfriend Ali (Roschdy Zem), as if she was her own—until his ex-wife initiates a reunion that might squeeze Rachel out of their lives altogether.
Rebecca Zlotowski’s delicate writing and directing provide Efira with another showcase for her emotionally shattering acting; ideally, she should have won the César for both of her draining portrayals. There’s an excellent Blu-ray transfer; extras include a featurette with Zlotowski, Efira and Zem interviews as well as a Toronto Film Festival Q&A with Zlotowski and Efira.
CD Release of the Week
Sounds and Sweet Airs—A Shakespeare Songbook 
Soprano Carolyn Simpson and pianist Joseph Middleton’s recital discs are always meticulously curated—and their latest might be their most impressive and enjoyable yet. They’re joined by baritone Roderick Williams for a wide-ranging literary and musical journey through songs written to texts in Shakespeare’s plays. The three artists move through three centuries of great composers—programmed as a prologue, acts I-V and an epilogue—from the 18th century’s Thomas Arne to two powerful 21st-century pieces: Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s “They Bore Him Barefaced on a Bier” from Hamlet and Hannah Kendall’s song-cycle Rosalind based on texts from As You Like It, in which Simpson not only sings stirringly (alone and duetting with an equally strong Williams) but also plays the music box and harmonica.
We also get the chance to hear composers tackling the same text, like The Tempest’s “Full Fathom Five,” set by John Ireland (as a duet!) and by Michael Tippett (for baritone). My favorites are settings by Vaughan Williams, Parry and Honegger, along with Rosalind, where Kendall captures the deepest emotions in Shakespeare’s luminous poetry. 

Newsletter Sign Up

Upcoming Events

No Calendar Events Found or Calendar not set to Public.