Life of Riley (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) – It is curious that Alain Resnais, who was the most narratively experimental and ambitious of directors at the birth of the nouvelle vague in France, spent the last two decade of his filmmaking career melding cinema and theater in productions that are both highly theatrical and uniquely cinematic. Life of Riley, the final film from the director (he passed away in 2014, a few months after the film’s debut), is his third adaptation of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn and, like his penultimate feature You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (2012), revolves around the theater. In this case it’s an amateur production, a play within a play that we only get in glimpses of rehearsals interrupted by disagreements and digressions. The biggest digression is their friend George Riley, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He never appears on screen but his presence looms over the film and his actions stir the drama between the three couples of the story: suburbanites Kathryn and Colin (Sabine Azéma and Hippolyte Girardot), wealthy friends Tamara and Jack (Caroline Sihol and Michel Vuillermoz), and George’s ex-wife Monica (Sandrine Kiberlain) now living on a farm with the older Simeon (André Dussollier).
“Drama” may not be the right word. The play itself is a pleasant frivolity, a mix of bedroom farce (without the bedrooms), romantic comedy, and self-aware theater that opens on the first day of rehearsals and ends after closing night, with a coda that brings us back to the themes of mortality and emotional connection. Resnais was 90 when he made the film and it is surely no coincidence that his final two features raise a glass to life by facing death and mortality. Life of Riley is no funeral, though a funeral does take place before it ends. It’s a celebration, albeit a low-key one. It plays out in the gardens and lawns of the characters, represented by stylized, abstracted sets with hanging strips of heavy cloth as backdrops, with footage of driving down real country roads marking transitions and architectural drawings establishing the next location. It’s not necessarily a successful device but it is inventive and playful, just like the stylized performances. All the world is indeed a stage. This story simply takes place in the rehearsals and afterparties of the “official” performance, while between scenes George continues to play the womanizer, using sympathy and the romance of a dying man’s final fling to entice all three women into lending their attentions to his comfort.
It’s the end of a filmmaking career of over 60 years, perhaps not the last word he would have chosen (You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet is more profound, more rapturous, and more stylistically exhilarating), but a pleasant variation on a theme in a rich career, minor but sweet.
Blu-ray and DVD, in French with English subtitles, with a featurette of cast interviews and an accompanying booklet with essays by director Alain Resnais and film critic Glenn Kenny.
Also available on digital and VOD from iTunes.
Listen Up Philip (Cinedigm, DVD) also deals in mortality, albeit in the margins of the story of Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwatzman), an abrasive, narcissistic thirtysomething New York novelist who follows up his acclaimed debut with a sophomore effort he doesn’t want to promote. That’s simply the first of the self-destructive impulses he follows down the rabbit hole of arrogance. Nudging him along the path of self-absorbed entitlement is an aging, resentful literary lion named Ike Zimmerman, modeled on Philip Roth (down to the cover art of his novels) and played by Jonathan Pryce with a smarmy smugness that Philip happily appropriates to justify his contemptible behavior.
Needless to say, there aren’t a lot of characters to like, let alone respect, in this film, the third feature from indie filmmaker Alex Ross Perry and his first with a cast of such pedigree. Elisabeth Moss is Philip’s long-suffering girlfriend, a photographer who gets no support from Philip even as he demands it from her (she is superb), and Krysten Ritter is Ike’s daughter, who takes the brunt of her father’s withering judgments. Ike treats Philip like a protégé, but under the guise of advice on writing he also imparts a general contempt for pretty much anyone who does not reach their level of artistic genius. It would be insufferable if it wasn’t so sharp and witty. Ross draws from the literary tradition of Roth and other serious (and decidedly male) American novelists to point up the gulf between the self-reflection of their work and the distinct lack of same in their lives, and he even provides a novelistic narrator (voiced with perfect feigned objectivity by Eric Bogosian) to slip sly commentary in the poetic observations. It all takes place in modern day New York, city and country, that technology aside feels like it could be 20, 30, or even forty years ago, and Perry directs with a mix of emotional remove and anxious immediacy on super16, a throwback format if there ever was.
Many will still find the film as insufferable as its main characters, and this is clearly not an audience pleaser. If you need to like the characters of your movies, or at least see some sort of evolution or redemption, this isn’t for you. But there is a savage, brutal humor in the film’s exploration of male vanity and artistic entitlement on the road to emotional isolation, and Perry’s cinematic interpretation of certain American literary traditions is both enlightening and knowing.
The DVD (there’s no Blu-ray edition) features commentary by writer/director Alex Ross Perry, behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, and a promotional featurette, but the coolest supplement is the gallery of covers created for the books written by our characters.
It’s also available to stream on Amazon Prime, and on digital and VOD from iTunes, Amazon Instant, and Vudu.
The Soft Skin (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), Francois Truffaut’s cool, creamy smooth melodrama of a doomed affair, channels the director’s love of Hitchcock into a film that you wouldn’t otherwise associate with the work of the master of suspense. It’s not a thriller in any generic sense of the term, but Truffaut sets the lush romanticism of exciting indiscretion in a world where sudden stabs of ominous music hint at a tragedy in the making.
Literary critic Jean Desailly doesn’t have adultery on his mind when he becomes entranced with a lithe, lovely young stewardess (Francoise Dorleac) who keeps crossing his path on a speaking engagement—he’s happily married with a wife (Nelly Benedetti) and a daughter—but he plunges ahead with an affair that, despite his best efforts, begins to unravel all of their lives. Truffaut invests it with Hitchcockian echoes of guilt and fear of discovery as well as stylistic touches both effective (a meticulously plotted sequence of just-missed connections) and merely offbeat (a drive to the airport backed by a Psycho-like violin theme). Pulling back the veneer of chic elegance and attractive confidence, Desailly emerges not so much sordid as vain and pathetic, and his wife comes into her own with her heartbreaking discovery of his lies, at once angry, hurt, threatened, and grasping at reconciliation while sabotaging her own efforts with frustrated attacks. It’s an unusual film with sudden changes in tone that does little to prepare the viewer for the dark climax: the tragic side of Truffaut’s fascination of philandering men that runs throughout his career. Watch for the scene with the kitten who licks off the plate set out for room service; Truffaut recreated it for his film-within-a-film in Day For Night.
Previously only been available on a poorly-mastered (and long out-of-print) DVD in the U.S., it’s been remastered for Blu-ray and DVD from a new digital HD digital transfer from the original camera negative. It features commentary (in French, with English subtitled) by Truffaut’s co-screenwriter Jean-Louis Richard and Truffaut scholar Serge Toubiana (originally recorded in 2000), the half-hour 1999 documentary Monsieur Truffaut Meets Mr. Hitchcock (about the famous interview book), a new video essay by film critic Kent Jones, and an archival interview with Truffaut from 1965 about the film, plus a leaflet with an essay by Molly Haskell.
The Criterion restoration is also available to stream for Hulu Plus subscribers, but an HD stream can’t match the quality of a high-quality Blu-ray.
New and recently arrived TV titles will be featured later this week, including the excellent Sundance original series The Red Road: The Complete First Season (Anchor Bay, DVD) with Martin Henderson, Jason Momoa, and Julianne Nicholson and the cult Supermarionation show Fireball XL5: The Complete Series (Timeless, DVD).
Also new and notable:
Low Down (Oscilloscope, DVD), based on the memoir by Amy-Jo Albany, stars Elle Fanning as Amy-Jo and John Hawkes as her father, jazz musician and heroin addict Joe Albany, in 1970s Hollywood. The DVD features commentary by director Jeff Preiss with composer Ohad Talmor and film critic Ed Halter, a making-of featurette, a Q&A with author Amy-Jo Albany and Flea, and an excerpt from her memoir. Also available as digital download and VOD rental from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and Xbox.
The Liberator (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD) stars Édgar Ramírez as 19th century South American revolutionary Simon Bolivar, who fought for South American independence from Spain in Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, and Peru. Alberto Arvelo directs the Venezuelan production.
R100 (Drafthouse, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital) is a subversive comedy about a salaryman dealing with the struggle of single-fatherhood while his wife lays in a coma by submitting himself to the degradations of an S&M club.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
Cymbeline updates one of Shakespeare’s less familiar plays into a modern-day war between an outlaw biker gang and corrupt cops. Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris, Milla Jovovich, and “50 Shades” star Dakota Johnson speak Shakespeare’s lines in black leather. It debuts on video-on-demand the same day it opens in select theaters.
Also arriving same day as theaters is the fantasy comedy The Cobbler starring Adam Sandler as a New York shoe repairer who can transform into his customers when he walks in their shoes. This PG-13 comedy from writer/director Thomas McCarthy was poorly received when it debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last year.
Available for digital purchase in advance of disc release is the remake of Annie (Sony, Digital HD) with Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, and Quvenzhané Wallis (Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD next week), and Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken (Universal, Digital HD) (Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD on March 24)
The PlayStation Network is getting in on original programming with their own superhero show. Powers, based on the comic books series by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Avon Oeming, looks at the unique challenges of being a cop in a world where superpowered beings are part of the celebrity landscape. You can see the first episode on YouTube but you need a PSP and a PlayStation subscription to see the rest of the series. The first three of the show’s ten episodes are now available, with subsequent episodes rolling out every Tuesday through April.
Classics and Cult:
The Bounty (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Solomon and Sheba (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The First Men in the Moon (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Journey to the Center of the Earth (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
U Turn (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The Sound of Music: 50th Anniversary 5-Disc Edition (Fox, Blu-ray+DVD)
John Hughes Yearbook Collection (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Breakfast Club: 30th Anniversary Edition (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Firepower (Scorpion / Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Muthers (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
Don’t Go in the Woods (Vinegar Syndrome, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Evil in the Woods (Massacre, DVD)
Rabid Grannies (Troma, Blu-ray+DVD)
Dixie Ray Hollywood Star (Vinegar, DVD)
Hot Legs / California Gigolo (Vinegar, DVD)
From Asia With Lust Vol. 1: Camp / Hitch-hike (Troma, DVD)
TV on disc:
The Red Tent (Sony, DVD)
The Red Road: The Complete First Season (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Fireball XL5: The Complete Series (Timeless, DVD)
New Tricks Collection: Seasons 6-10 (Acorn, DVD)
Shane: The Complete TV Series (Timeless, DVD)
Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.: The Complete Series (Paramount / CBS, DVD)
Power Rangers Lost Galaxy: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Hey Dude: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Pee-wee’s Playhouse: Seasons 3, 4 & 5 (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Quincy: The Final Season (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Touched by an Angel: Family Reunion (Paramount / CBS, DVD)
The Red Skelton Show: All Time Favorites (Timeless, DVD)
Petticoat Junction: Family Favorite Episodes (Paramount / CBS, DVD)
Matlock’s Greatest Cases (Paramount / CBS, DVD)
A Chef’s Life: Season One (PBS, DVD)
A Chef’s Life: Season Two (PBS, DVD)
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B (Lionsgate, DVD)
Late Phases: Night of the Lone Wolf (Dark Sky, Blu-ray, DVD)
White Haired Witch (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
Remote Area Medical (Cinedigm, DVD, Digital, VOD)
Faith Connections (Alive Minds, DVD)
Pioneer (Magnolia, Blu-ray, DVD)
Bankstas (Arc, DVD)
Stop Pepper Palmer (Level 333, DVD, VOD)
Teeth & Blood (RLJ, DVD, Digital)
Subconscious (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
Dark Haul (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
Devil May Call (Lionsgate, DVD)
Wolfcop (RLJ/Image, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
Teeth & Blood (RLJ, DVD, Digital)
Russell Madness (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD)
Jungle Shuffle (Cinedigm, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD)
Alpha And Omega 3: The Great Wolf Games (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)