From the Big Screen:
This Week’s Best Bets:
“Jane B. Par Agnes V. and Kung-Fu Master!”: Agnes Varda is the unsung heroine of cinema, a masterful auteur and feminist director who shook up the world of cinema with her “Cleo From 5 to 7” in 1962 and has continued to shake the branches of filmdom with documentaries, fictions, biodramas and autobiographies that focus on women’s issues, social criticism, and the art of filmmaking itself. Cinelicious Pics has brought out today two underseen works by Varda, paired in a two-disc Blu-ray set that counterpoint each other: “Jane B. Par Agnes V,” a phantasmagorical bio-pic of Jane Birkin, actress (“Blow Up”), fashion icon (the Hermes Birkin bag), longtime muse to Serge Gainsbourg, and singer (“Je t’aime … Moi non plus,” with Gainsbourg); and “Kung-Fu Master!”, a seemingly straight-ahead drama also starring Birkin; both were released in 1988. In “Jane B. Par Agnes V,” Vardas uses her camera to paint a portrait of the actress — but not in a traditional way — “It’s like an imaginary bio-pic,” Varda says. Tapping her training as a photographer, Vardas gives us still “photos” that come alive with Bunuelian sequences of expressionistic action, juxtaposing reality with fantasy all while celebrating Birkin’s life as well as the life of films, filmmaking, acting, art, love and sex. Newly-restored from the original 35mm camera negative overseen by Varda, “Jane B. Par Agnes V” is dripping in gorgeous big screen color. “Kung-Fu Master!” is a gentle, bittersweet companion piece to “Jane B. Par Agnes V” that explores the world of a lonely woman facing middle age who may or may not be falling in love with a 14-year old boy (played by Varda’s real-life son with husband Jaques Demy, Mathieu Demy); the film’s title comes from the fact that the boy is a champion arcade video game player. Birkin’s daughters, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon (her child with well-known filmmaker Jacques Doillon) also appear in the film. Long unavailable in the U.S., the film has been newly-restored from the original 35mm camera negative. Extras include an interview with Varda by Miranda July and an essay by Sandy Fitterman-Lewis.
“Paris Belongs to Us” (1961): If critic-turned-filmmaker Jacques Rivette had buttoned-down post-production financing and distribution, his 1957 debut would have been the flagship kickoff to the French New Wave, well before “The 400 Blows” and “Breathless” took the world by storm. Ultimately released in 1961, the diabolically simple film — rich in subtext and the concerns that would steer Rivette’s 50 years of filmmaking (happenstance, the use of theatre pieces and theatrical motifs, conspiracy) — was not as widely hailed as those by Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut; still it’s a swirling maelstrom of a film that follows a young literature student (Betty Schneider) who gets involved with a mixed bag of Parisian twentysomethings — radicals, intellectuals, artists — all united by the apparent suicide of an acquaintance and the possibility of an unknown conspiracy lurking behind things. Rivette would later hone his ideas of serendipity, conspiracy and theatricality in such masterpieces as “L’amour fou” (1969), “Out 1” (1972) and one of the greatest films of modern times, “Celine and Julie Go Boating” (1974). Rivette died January 29 of this year at age 87. “Paris Belongs to Us” has been released by The Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-ray, in a new 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include a new interview with Richard Neupert, author of “A History of the French New Wave Cinema”; Rivette’s 1956 short film “Le coup du berger,” featuring cameos by fellow French New Wave directors Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, and Francois Truffaut; and an essay by critic Luc Sante.
From TV to DVD:
“The Bible Stories” (1994-96), a series of full-length films presenting powerful and moving tales from the Old Testament, was originally broadcast on TV from 1993 to 1996. These films are newly restored and remastered from high-definition sources. “In the Beginning” is a four-disc set with four titles: “Abraham,” “Jacob,” “Joseph” and “Moses,” featuring Ben Kingsley, Richard Harris, Barbara Hershey, Sean Bean and Christopher Lee; $19.99. Also available separately: “Abraham” and “Moses,” $9.98 each.From Shout! Factory … “Community: The Complete Final Season?” (2015) is a two-disc set with all 13 episodes. Hacked emails, virtual reality, schlocky sci-fi filmmaking, grifting, forbidden paintball, a giant hand, a wedding and a stage adaptation of “The Karate Kid.” Though the Study Group-turned-“Committee to Save Greendale” has succeeded in their mission (well, almost), Dean Pelton has hired a by-the-books administrative consultant to help improve the school’s day-to-day operations. This, of course, doesn’t exactly sit well with everyone in the group and, as a result, they’ll see changes good and bad at their beloved school. On DVD from Sony … “The Heavy Water War” (2015) includes all six episodes of the Norwegian miniseries about the Nazis’ efforts to develop an atom bomb and the Allies’ desperate struggle to prevent it from happening. The series starts in Stockholm in 1933 as German scientist Werner Heisenberg is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, and although considered “unreliable” by the Nazis, he is allowed into the secret Nazi nuclear energy project, “Uranverein.” Heisenberg’s work reveals that the atom bomb can only be made with the use of heavy water, which could be produced in sufficient quantities by the Norsk Hydro factory in Rjukan, Norway. After Norwegian professor Leif Tronstad catches wind of Germany’s interest in heavy water, he escapes to England to enlist Allied help in thwarting the plan. Despite numerous sabotage attempts by the Allies against the factory, the atomic research continues and Heisenberg brags in a speech that the Germans will soon have a bomb no larger than a pineapple that will destroy London. Featuring leading English, Norwegian and German actors. From MHz Home Entertainment … “Hogan’s Heroes: The Complete Series” (1965-71) is a 28-disc set with all 168 episodes from all six seasons. Set in a World War II German POW camp, Bob Crane stars as Col. Robert Hogan, an irascible wise guy who leads his fellow prisoners in a variety of mad escape plots. The butts of the jokes are the starched-stiff Germans, particularly Col. Wilhelm Klink (two-time Emmy Award winner Werner Klemperer), whose exasperated cry of “Hogan!” became one of the show’s many repeatable catchphrases. The all-star ensemble cast also includes John Banner, Robert Clary, Richard Dawson, and Larry Hovis. From CBS/Paramount … “Mammon – Season 1” (2014) is a three-disc set with all six episodes of the conspiracy-thriller Norwegian TV series about a newspaper journalist who, after revealing fraud in a large multinational company involving the country’s financial and political elite, finds that his family is suspect, and ends up ruining his career, his family relations, and entangles him in a world of greed and corruption. From MHz Home Entertainment … “Manhattan: Season 2” (2015) includes all 10 episodes of the series that follows the tangled lives of the residents of Los Alamos, New Mexico, as they race to create the first nuclear bomb. Locked away in the world’s most secretive city, the scientists and their families surrender their freedoms, compromise their marriages, and even sacrifice their sanity to end one war and usher in another – the Cold War, waiting just over the atomic horizon — all while embedded spies and a climate of paranoia threaten to destroy the project from within. Three-disc DVD, two-disc Blu-ray from Lionsgate … The IFC mock miniseries “The Spoils of Babylon” (2015) is a satirical six-part saga that sends up the overblown TV movie events of the ’70s and ’80s and the pomposity behind them. Legendary author Eric Jonrosh (Will Ferrell), the undisputed master of dramatic fiction, introduces audiences to the brilliant adaptation of his best-selling novel, a sweeping chronicle of the provocative and captivating exploits of the Morehouse family. Patriarch Jonas Morehouse (Tim Robbins) shepherds his daughter Cynthia (Kristen Wiig) and adopted son Devon (Tobey Maguire) from meager beginnings in the oil fields of Texas to powerful boardrooms in New York City. From Anchor Bay … “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season One” (2015) is a two-disc set with all 13 episodes. Rescued after 15 years in an underground doomsday cult, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) decides to rebuild her life in New York City armed with only a fifth-grade education and a firm belief that truly anything is possible. She quickly finds a roommate, Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess), a job working for a spoiled Manhattan mom, Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski), and a new beginning. From Universal … “When Calls the Heart: It Begins With Heart” (2015) is the latest episode in the series based on the work of author Janette Oke (“The Love Comes Softly” series); originally broadcast under the title “A New Year’s Wish.” Big revelations are in store for Hope Valley as Elizabeth moves into her own rowhouse, dismaying Jack, who has been planning to build a new home for the both of them. Rosemary discovers that Lee has taken out a loan and worries that he’s in financial difficulties. And Jesse, the young drifter who works in Abigail’s kitchen, has information that could ruin Pastor Frank’s good standing in Hope Valley. From Shout! Factory.