New This Week
Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung grew up on a small farm in rural Arkansas before attending Yale, where he majored in Ecology. Intent on Medical School, he turned to filmmaking instead in his senior year. He studied film at the University of Utah, earning his MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in 2004. His first film, 2007’s Munyurangabo premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to great acclaim. Twelve years and several films later, however, he was ready to give up filmmaking and go into teaching when he had an epiphany. Thinking of novelist Willa Cather who initially wrote about city life but was not fulfilled until she went back to her roots and wrote about her own rural background in such works as O Pioneers! and My Antonia, he began to think about his own early life and wrote down eighty memories which became the basis for one more film. That film was Minari.
Minari, now available on Blu-ray and standard DVD is a film about family, failure, and rebirth. It evokes memories of films of a by-gone era, most notably 1945’s The Southerner and 1946’s The Yearling. Steven Yeun, like Zachary Scott and Gregory Peck in those films, is a dreamer as well as a hard worker, while his wife, Yeri Han, like Betty Field and Jane Wyman in those films, is supportive but wary. The kids in the film, especially Andy Kim as the 8-year-old boy with a hole in his heart, both literally and figuratively, are superb. The intergenerational relationship between the boy and his grandmother (Yuh-jung Youn) brings back memories of a young Dean Stockwell and Gladys Cooper as his great-grandmother in 1946’s The Green Years.
Nominated for six Oscars, including two for Chung for both writing and directing, as well as one for Steven Yeun who became the first Asian-American actor nominated for an Oscar, it also earned one for its score. Yuh-jung Youn became the second Asian actress to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, the first having been Miyoshi Umeki for 1957’s Sayonara. She also became the first actress to win her category for a role that is largely spoken in a foreign language.
Writer-director Florian Zeller’s The Father, from his play, is the first film to win an Oscar for Adapted Screenplay from an existing play since 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy. Zeller’s English translator and co-winner, Christopher Hampton, had won the year before >Driving Miss Daisy for his adaptation of his own play, Dangerous Liaisons, which was itself based on an 1872 French novel.
Anthony Hopkins, who had won the 1991 Oscar for Best Actor for The Silence of the Lambs, became the oldest actor in any category to win an Oscar for The Father at the age of 83.
What makes The Father unique is that it is the first film about dementia to tackle the subject from the perspective of the afflicted party. Hopkins is completely mesmerizing in the film from start to finish and is well supported by a strong cast led by Oscar-winner Olivia Colman (The Favourite), who received her second Oscar nomination for playing Hopkins’ put-upon daughter. The film, which is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD, was also nominated for Best Picture, Production Design, and Film Editing.
Writer-director Moshé Mizrahi’s Madame Rosa won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 1977. Released theatrically in the U.S. in 1978 when it was eligible for Oscar consideration in other categories, it shockingly failed to receive any, not even one for Simone Signoret at her best as the Jewish Holocaust survivor and retired streetwalker who acts as foster mother to working prostitutes’ children. Her favorite is Momo (Samy Ben-Youb), a 14-year-old left in her care as a toddler by his Arab father on his way to jail for murdering his mother. The relationship between the two forms the crux of the film based on Romain Gary’s novel. It was remade with changes to the story as 2020’s The Life Ahead with Sophia Loren.
Long unavailable on home video in the U.S., Kino Lorber has now made it available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Also new to Blu-ray are The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, and Escape from Fort Bravo from Warner Archive, It Happened Tomorrow from Cohen Media, and Merrily We Go to Hell from the Criterion Collection.
The best of these releases is surprisingly 1939’s The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, which has never looked so stunningly beautiful in its Technicolor glory. Made by Warner Bros. in the wake of the huge success of 1938’s Technicolor extravaganza, The Adventures of Robin Hood, this was an adaptation of the Broadway play, Elizabeth the Queen, but couldn’t be made under that title if Warner Bros. were to play up the casting of Robin Hood’s Errol Flynn opposite Bette Davis, which was its intention. Also imported from Robin Hood were Olivia de Havilland and Alan Hale, as well as director Michael Curtiz and composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Also in the cast were Donald Crisp, Vincent Price, Henry Daniell, and Nanette Fabray in key roles.
1948’s Mr, Blandings Builds His Dream House, directed by H.C. Potter, fresh on the heels of The Farmer’s Daughter, provides a strong showcase for Cary Grant and Myrna Loy as transplanted New Yorkers in the wilds of rural Connecticut. The best in a long line of films about the travails of home ownership, the gags as well as the glossed over sorrows of the situation come through loud and clear. Melvyn Douglas as the family friend and lawyer and Louise Beavers as the faithful maid head the supporting cast.
1953’s Escape from Fort Bravo was the first of director John Sturges’ big hit outdoor dramas with Bad Day at Black Rock, The Magnificent Seven, and The Great Escape yet to come. William Holden, Eleanor Parker, and John Forsythe star in this Civil War western with William Demarest, William Campbell, Richard Anderson, John Lupton, and Polly Bergen in key supporting roles. The washed-out color of previous releases has been restored to its original beauty.
René Clair’s 1944 film It Happened Tomorrow is not as well-known as either I Married a Witch, which preceded it, or And Then There Were None, which followed it, nor is it as good. The story about a man who has access to tomorrow’s newspaper so that he can be in the right place at the right time today starts out well but suffers somewhat from its predictability. Still, it’s worth seeing for Dick Powell Linda Darnell and a strong supporting cast.
Dorothy Arzner’s 1932 film Merrily We Go to Hell is a rather tedious pre-code comedy about a straying husband and wife played by Fredric March and Sylvia Sidney. For a sampling of the only female director in Hollywood in the 30s and 40s at her best, spend an evening with Criterion’s release of 1940’s Dance, Girl, Dance with Maureen O’Hara and Lucille Ball instead.
This week’s U.S. Blu-ray releases include Nightmare Alley and Smile.