The DVD Report #702

Made in Italy marks the feature writing and directing debut of actor James D’Arcy (Dunkirk). It also marks the first starring role of Micheal Richardson, the actor who legally changed his name from Neeson to that of his late mother with his father’s blessing in 2018.

Richardson plays the soon to be divorced husband of a London art gallery owner who needs money to buy the gallery that he manages from his wife. His only option is to sell a house in Tuscany that he and his father (Liam Neeson) co-own so that he can use his share of the proceeds from the sale. The house, which belonged to his mother’s family, hasn’t been lived in since the death of his mother in a car accident fifteen years earlier when he was seven. It is in severe need of repair.

With little money to pay for outside help, Richardson and his father, a once successful painter whose talent seems to have left him, must do most of the work themselves, giving them a chance to heal the rift caused by their inability to grieve for Richardson’s mother.

The Tuscany locations and the charm of the local residents, most notably Valeria Bilello as a local chef, add to the film’s enjoyment, with Lindsay Duncan on board as a British exile real estate agent.

It all goes as you might expect it to, complete with a happy ending. What makes it special is the family dynamic between Richardson and Neeson. The death of Micheal’s mother Natasha eleven years ago when Micheal was 13 going on 14, was quite different with its headline-making coverage of her accidental skiing death and the public mourning of the two men. Here, they play a father and son who never talked about the mother’s passing, never cried over it in public or private, who are now forced to confront it in the film’s climactic scene. It is obvious that Richardson and Neeson are not acting but summoning genuine familial emotion.

Shout Factory Blu-ray extras include D’Arcy interviewing Richardson and Neeson, the highlight of which is Neeson starting to brag about having worked with Scorsese (Gangs of New York) and Spielberg (Schindler’s List), stopped cold in his tracks by a grinning Richardson with “there he goes again”. Neeson rebounds by praising “the other side” of his son’s family, an acting dynasty that goes back at least five generations, singling out praise for Natasha and her aunt, Lynn Redgrave (Gods and Monsters), “Vanessa’s sister,” whose acting chops he feels his son most possesses.

Summerland marks the feature writing and directing debut of Olivier Award-winning British playwright Jessica Swale. It provides an acting showcase for Gemma Arterton ( Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia).

Arterton plays an emotionally closed off writer who takes in a 12-year-old boy, an evacuee from the London Blitz, against her will. For the first time since her “more than a friend” Gugu Mbatha-Raw has left her, she begins to bond slowly with the boy played by Lucas Bond, whose performance evokes that of 12-year-old Roddy McDowall as a similarly sensitive boy in How Green Was My Valley nearly 80 years ago.

The film is beautifully photographed in the English countryside with memorable scenes taking place over the white cliffs of Dover. Arterton and Bond deliver Oscar-caliber performances with strong support from Mbatha-Raw, with the always reliable Penelope Wilton, Tom Courtenay, and Sian Phillips around for good measure. Child actress Dixie Egerickx is also a standout as Bond’s friend. The last third of the film provides plenty of surprises, all of them earned, before giving us a double-happy ending, one that takes place in 1945, and one that takes place in 1975.

The IFC Independent Film Blu-ray features interviews with all the principals before and behind the camera.

Nominated for 10 Oscars, winner of none, Martin Scorsese’s 2019 gangster epic, The Irishman, suffered from too much pre-release hype and weak critical support outside of its early Best Picture wins from the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics. It also suffered backlash by being a Netflix film, meaning that the only way to see it for most audiences was via streaming instead of in a theatre. That stigma has almost completely gone away in the current pandemic, but it was still a thing at last year’s Oscars when Bong Joon Ho’s theatrical phenomenon Parasite beat if for Best Picture and Director. Now, however, it has landed where practically all theatrical releases and few streaming releases go, on home video.

Criterion’s Blu-ray of The Irishman is stunning, with the performances of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci commanding attention yet again. It’s a two-disc release with the 3 ½ hour film on one and a feast of extras on the other.

Criterion has also released a better-than-ever Blu-ray of Norman Jewison’s surprise 1987 hit Moonstruck, which had the opposite effect on its year’s Oscars, winning three out of its six nominations while the more critically acclaimed comedy, Broadcast News, lost all seven of its nominations including an anticipated one for Holly Hunter as best actress. She lost to Moonstruck’s Cher in what seemed to be the dawn of a new career for the one-name actress in film. Cher has had an enduring musical career, but her post-Oscar film career has been practically non-existent. Still, we can re-watch her any time we want at her best in Moonstruck.

Paramount has released a long overdue Blu-ray of 2000’s Wonder Boys, which won an Oscar for Bob Dylan’s song “Times Have Changed,” but lost its other two nominations for adapted screenplay and film editing. Sadly, there were no nominations for acting, despite career high performances from Michael Douglas as a professor suffering from writer’s block and Tobey Maguire as his protégé. No extras on this one, but it’s a solid transfer.

Paramount has released a Blu-ray of Michael Curtiz’s 1955 film We’re No Angels making it the first classic Christmas film to be re-released to home video this season. The comedy, about escaped convicts from Devil’s Island in the 1890s, betrays its stage origins, but overcomes them with the charming performances of Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, and Peter Ustinov as the convicts, and Joan Bennett, Leo G. Carroll, Basil Rathbone, and more in support.

One of MGM’s most disappointing films in terms of box office, 1948’s The Pirate, has been given a Blu-ray restoration by Warner Archive. Judy Garland and Gene Kelly star in the musical directed by Vincente Minnelli with a score by Cole Porter. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Scoring of a Musical, but not for Best Song, although “Be a Clown” certainly merited consideration.

This week’s U.S. Blu-ray releases include Mister Roberts and The Notorious Landlady.

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