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Wednesday, December 17, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 21.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Wilmington on DVD: A Strindbergian dance-duel
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Back in 1951, Miss Julie shared the Cannes Grand Prize with Vittorio De Sica's neorealist fantasy Miracle in Milan.

CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK

Moliere (B-)
France; Laurent Tirard, 2007, Sony

Surly young French leading man Romain Duris is not my idea of the best casting for the role of Moliere -- France's greatest writer of comic plays -- but he does hold the screen (unsmilingly). And there are lots of other compensating factors here: fancy decor, quick quips, romantic high jinks and all the elegant trappings of high Comedie Franaise theatrical style, mixed with cinematic grace and period frou-frou. Costarring Laura Morante and, as Moliere's feckless would-be romancer/rich employer, Fabrice Luchini; in his younger days, Luchini might have been the right Molière. (In French, with English subtitles. Extras: Commentary by Tirard, featurette.)


Miss Julie (A)
Sweden; Alf Sjoberg, 1951, Criterion Collection

August Strindberg, whose psychosexual dramas Dance of Death and The Dream Play, float like dreams and cut like a knife, was Ingmar Bergman's favorite Swedish playwright. But it was Alf Sjoberg, Bergman's onetime mentor and the director of his youthful film script Hets (Torment), who became Strindberg's finest cinematic interpreter. This searingly theatrical adaptation of Miss Julie stars Anita Bjork as the tormented aristocrat's daughter and Ulf Palme as Jean, her embittered seducer of a manservant.

As Julie and Jean wage their sexual and class warfare -- in a Strindbergian dance-duel disguised as a love affair -- Sjoberg cloaks them in a rowdy, vibrant, high-energy style that suggests Smiles of a Summer Night refashioned as a film noir. Servants and farmers (including the young Max Von Sydow) carouse, the lovers hide and disrobe, the past intrudes in nightmarish flashbacks.

Back in 1951, Miss Julie shared the Cannes Grand Prize with Vittorio De Sica's neorealist fantasy Miracle in Milan. It remains a European cinema classic and one of the supreme theater adaptations. Sjoberg also sadly remains a neglected master; the great link between Swedish silent film titans Victor Sjostrom and Mauritz Stiller and the protean Bergman. A great version of a great play; the cast includes a very young Max Von Sydow as a slow-witted farm hand. (Extras: Video essay by critic Peter Cowie, TV interview with Sjoberg, documentary on Strindberg and "Miss Julie," trailer, booklet.)


BOX SET CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK

The John Frankenheimer Collection (A)
U.S.; John Frankenheimer, 1962-1998, MGM

John Frankenheimer was a storied young directorial genius of TV's '50s Golden Age, but his feature film career became haunted by his noir masterpiece The Manchurian Candidate as Orson Welles' was as haunted by Citizen Kane, and his late-career renaissance (with first-class TV films like Against the Wall, Andersonville and George Wallace) is mostly, sadly ignored. But there's more in Frankenheimer's bag than that Sinatra-Leigh-Harvey-Lansbury brainwashed-assassin classic; this box set gives us the Candidate and three others.

He deserves retrospectives. His style was bold and vigorous, his subjects challenging, and his best films still pack a wallop and haunt the mind.

Includes:

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) (A)
From Richard Condon's novel, the great American thriller about the dark side of politics.

The Train (1962) (A-)
Paul Scofield is a Nazi military leader trying to steal a trainful of great French art for himself; Burt Lancaster in the indefatigable Resistance saboteur trying to stop the train. With Jeanne Moreau and Michel Simon.

The Young Savages (1961) (B)
Lancaster again, in a typical but exciting NYC juvenile delinquent drama from an Evan Hunter novel

Ronin (1998) (B+)
A late career move J.F. highlight which I underrated on release: Robert De Niro, Stellan Starsgard, Jean Reno and Michael Lonsdale in a lush, fast French-set guns-and-chase thriller.


4 By Agnes Varda (A)
France; Agnes Varda, 1954-1985, Criterion Collection

One of France's foremost cineastes, the brainy and compassionate Agnes Varda in an excellent package of career peaks. Her magnificent diary film The Gleaners and I calls out for inclusion though. All films are in French with English subtitles. (Extras: documentaries, interviews with Varda, her Bonheur actors and others, futurities, booklet with essays by Amy Taubin, others.)

Includes:

La Pointe Court (B)
1954
Varda's first feature, a landmark precursor of the New Wave, edited by Alain Resnais.

Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) (A-)
A Parisian pop singer named Cleo (Corinne Marchand) endures an agony of suspense, waiting two hours for the possibly fatal verdict of a medical test. Full-blown Nouvelle Vague: Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina and composer Michel Legrand all pop up.

Le Bonheur (A)
1965
Scored to Mozart: Varda's lovely, annihilating look at a romantic triangle that gently leads to tragedy.

Vagabond (A)
1985
Sandrine Bonnaire as an ultimate outsider on a track to doom. Varda's best film.

Also, these Varda shorts: L'Opera Mouffe (1958), Du Cote de la Cote (1958), Les Fiances du Pont McDonald (1961).


OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES

Chancer (B)
U.K.; Alan Grint, 1991, Acorn Media
Clive Owen became a British star in this above-average British TV intelligent-thriller series about an amoral young swindler (Owen) and his rich gulls and cohorts, including the brilliantly degenerate Leslie Phillips. Well written (by Guy Andrews and Simon Burke), acted and directed.

This Sporting Life (A)
U.K.: Lindsay Anderson, 1963, Criterion
Anderson's first feature: A blazing sports drama, written by David Storey, about a brutal, selfish rugby star (Richard Harris) and his sad lover (Rachel Roberts) A classic of the British early '60s New Wave, with a great cast, also including Colin Blakeley, Alan Badel and Leonard Rossiter. (Extras: Anderson's shorts Meet the Pioneers (1950), Wakefield Express (1952) and Is that All There Is? (1992); commentary by Storey and Paul Ryan, documentary, trailer.)

It Came from Beneath the Sea (C+)
U.S.; Robert Gordon, 1955, Columbia
In this Ray Harryhausen movie, he animates a gigantic sea monster who attacks San Francisco and almost hugs the Golden Gate Bridge to death. With Kenneth Tobey and Faith Domergue.

The Kingdom 1 & 2 (B)
Denmark, Lars von Trier, 1994, Koch Lorber
Von Trier's eerie Danish TV series about a hospital plagued by spooks and bad vibes. Alternative art TV in a Twin Peaks-ish mode; repetitive but often gripping. In Danish, with English subtitles, and in four discs.

20th Century Fox Best Actress Collection (B)
U.S.; various directors, 1956-2005, 20th Century Fox
Five semi-classics, all graced by a Best Actress Oscar-winning performance. The actresses all give bravura turns; the films, including the almost-forgotten Eve, are good or okay but somewhat overrated.

Includes:

Anastasia (B)
Anatole Litvak, 1956
Ingrid Bergman returned from scandal and "exile" as the woman who may (or may not) be the long-missing Russian princess Anastasia, victim of the revolution.

The Three Faces of Eve (B-)
Nunnally Johnson, 1957
Joanne Woodward as schizophrenic Eve White, Eve Black and all points between.

Norma Rae (B+)
Martin Ritt, 1979
Sally Field as Norma Rae, a Southern worker turned labor organizer with guts and heart.

Boys Don't Cry (B)
Kimberly Peirce, 1999
Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena, Midwestern girl turned boy and murder victim.

Walk the Line (B)
James Mangold, 2005
Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, country gal songbird-muse to Joaquin Phoenix's Johnny Cash.

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