Earlier this year, I wrote about Criterion's Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits and declared it one of the greatest Blu-ray releases of all time. Less than two months later, the producers of Criterion have already outdone themselves with the 15-disc collection The Complete Films of Agnes Varda, which offers a comprehensive insight into the work of one of the great masters of French New Wave. The set contains 39 feature films and short films arranged not in chronological order but in a series of intelligently curated programs, as if the films were being shown in a public retrospective. There are CDs devoted to Varda's early work, her time in California and work, films about marriage, and more, with Criterion's usual plethora of insightful additions. In the last few years of her life, Varda has been showered with awards, including an Oscar for her life's work and an honor palm d & # 39; Or. However, if you look at her entire work, it quickly becomes clear that she is rather underestimated – the breadth and depth of her output is only achieved through its originality and the refusal to be tied to existing categories. There are very few films here that can be clearly defined using traditional terms, with the boundaries between fiction, documentary and essay films not only blurring, but virtually eliminated. The continuities are not those of the genre, location, or even subject, but more fundamental concerns that have to do with Varda's bottomless empathy and curiosity. In one of the interviews included on the box, Varda talks about the impossibility of reconciling our private and public lives, and this is indeed a constant concern in her work. The irony is that no filmmaker has ever united her private and public selves more successfully than Varda, who examined her personal and political worries with unwavering honesty and involved so many of her friends and family members in her work that her filmography was something akin to a 100- hour-long documentary about her own life. I can think of few directors worth studying carefully as Varda, and Criterion's fantastic collection is the celebration of the careers she so richly deserves. It's also the most satisfying and fun experience I've seen at home in 2020.
Moving from Agnes Varda to a TV series based on a DC comic might seem like a bit of a leap, but Batwoman is no ordinary comic book show. Like Agnes Varda, Batwoman showrunner Caroline Dries is obsessed with the divide between our private and public selves, and while this is a common theme in comics, Dries re-explores the idea on Blu in new and rewarding ways in the first season of Batwoman -ray available. In a Gotham City where Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman have disappeared, Batwoman follows Wayne's lesbian cousin Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) as she picks up his coat and transforms into the title character. The fact that Kate is gay allows Dries to delve deeper into the usual questions of identity and social responsibility that are often raised in superhero stories, and she and her writers rigorously examine every ramification of their material. There are plenty of rich metaphors here, like in a story about Kate hiding the fact that she is Batwoman from her powerful father (Dougray Scott), who addresses the complications of getting out with great wit and insight, and whether the show is on one Allegorical or literal level (as in a painfully moving love story between Kate and the woman who escaped) is always very aware of the intricate connections between the personal and the social. It's also one of the most formidable television series in its pitch range, often shifting from a light comedy to an agonizing tragedy and returning within the same episode. The episodes of Don Whitehead and Holly Henderson, whose work I've loved since Smallville, are particularly graceful in their juxtaposition of whip-wise comic book dialogue and real pathos. Additionally, Batwoman is as diverse in her visual approaches as she is in writing. Directors like Holly Dale – one of the best action writers out there right now – cleverly mixes up images from martial arts films, horror films, and the Christopher Nolan Batman films, which remain the gold standard for these kinds of things, recapturing the elements to make them something Create something new and exciting. The Batwoman: The Complete Season One Blu-ray shows this work beautifully through beautiful broadcasts, and includes some nifty deleted scenes and other extras, making it a great way to discover the series.
Just as Batwoman breathes new life into the DC Universe, Alex Kurtzman's Star Trek: Discovery absorbs the philosophical and aesthetic sentiments of the original Star Trek (as well as many of its subsequent incarnations), suggesting bold new directions in the process, offering many delights for the uninitiated, without leaving the loyal fans of the franchise behind. When it premiered as the first scripted series on CBS All Access in 2017, I was immediately struck by the sleek look of the show (which I interviewed director David Barrett about for this site) and the psychological complexity and variety of characters. Under Kurtzman's guidance, Star Trek: Discovery just got better and better, spawning several new Star Trek iterations. One of the most interesting offshoots was a series of "Short Treks", stand-alone 15-minute episodes that expand the universe and give several supporting characters the opportunity to be at the center of the story. These shorts were originally conceived as a kind of placeholder between the first and second seasons of Discovery while the post-production team worked on the series' extensive visual effects. In the end, they offered the series' writers and directors valuable opportunities to experiment. In "Calypso," for example, writers Michael Chabon and Sean Cochran tell a calm, contemplative story that is essentially two-handed for actors Aldis Hodge and Annabelle Wallis, the latter of whom are never actually on screen. Director Olatunde Osunsanmi, who has made many of the best Discovery episodes, finds subtle rhythms and nuances in the material, offering both a surprising amount of emotional weight for a 15-minute story and a lesson in how to get visual dynamics with a limited number finds of characters and places. Chabon (who would eventually become the showrunner of the great Star Trek: Picard series) also writes the script for "Q&A," a similarly intimate short film that shows Spock's (Ethan Peck) first day aboard the Enterprise and the bond , whom he forms with his new colleague "Number One" (Rebecca Romijn). Chabon and director Mark Pellington transform the meeting into a lively science fiction twist on classic romantic comedies like It Happened One Night; The tingling chemistry of the actors and Pellington's infallible instinct for visually conveying their inner feelings result in a wonderfully playful encounter that invites and rewards repeated observation. These and seven other “Short Trek” rates are now available on the Star Trek: Short Treks Blu-ray, which includes an outstanding selection of extras – Kurtzman, Osunsanmi, Chabon and many other writers and directors of the short films are interviewed and Kurtzman and the author / executive producer Jenny Lumet provide a spirited comment track for the first short film.
I'd like to end today's column with a quick recommendation for a movie that will be out on all major streaming platforms in a few weeks but that opens in drive-ins and cinemas today. The first time director Luis Iga plays Murder in the Woods is an intelligent, fun and very effective horror film that is reminiscent of classics of the genre like Friday the 13th and Scream, but has its own voice and style, like Iga takes over the old premise of a group of friends trapped in a remote cabin and filling it with so much enthusiasm and energy that he makes all the old conventions appear new again. It's a great ride for horror fans. So if you are one, I highly recommend finding it.
Jim Hemphill is the writer and director of the award-winning film The Trouble with the Truth, which is currently streamed on Amazon Prime and Tubi. His website is www.jimhemphillfilms.com.