Tuesday, April 16, 2019

New Blu-rays from Cohen Media Group -- Bogdanovich's lovely Keaton paean, THE GREAT BUSTER: A CELEBRATION, and Julien Landais' gorgeous but rather silly version of THE ASPERN PAPERS

Let's get the silly out of the way first: Julien Landais' adaptation (he is director and co-writer) of THE ASPERN PAPERS, the duly famous Henry James novella, is a goregeous misfire in numerous ways. Set in Venice in the late 19th century, the film is full of delightful sets, costumes and architecture (when, after all, is a movie set in Venice not eye-poppingly beautiful?). It's a pleasure to view, even at its dumbest, which is when Landais (shown below) sees fit to offer up a bunch of soft-core sex scenes showing us the supposed affair
that took place between the younger Juliana and the late and famous, if fictional, romantic poet Jeffrey Aspern. So far as TrustMovies recalls, nothing like this took place in the original novella nor in any of the several theatrical or movie adaptations.

These flashbacks (as below) are not only not needed, they simply move this movie ever closer to downright schlock. Yes, they're somewhat sexy and might slightly induce our younger generation to pay attention awhile longer, but they add nothing at all in the way of character building.

So we're left with our trio of well-known actors to do the heavy-lifting, two out of three of which come through as expected: Vanessa Redgrave (below) as the elderly Juliana, who proves uber-protective of the old love letter exchanged between herself and Aspern,

and Redgrave's real-life daughter, Joely Richardson (below, and the best thing in the film) as Juliana's middle-aged and lonely niece, Tina, who cannot help but grow hopeful and attached to the man who has come to their palazzo in the guise of a wealthy fellow who loves their garden but who only really wants to get his hands on those letters.

As played with but a single pained, uncomfortable expression by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (below), who usually is able to help carry the movies in which he appears, here the actor becomes a real pain to have to endure after only a short while.

And so we move, over and over, between present day scenes and past would-be hot sex and melodrama, with only the beauty of Venice, the costumes and sets, and the talent of Richardson and Redgrave to keep us occupied.

This might well be enough for some, particularly lovers of Venice and the Redgrave family. In any case, this new version of The Aspern Papers, via Cohen Media Group and running 90 minutes, arrived on Blu-ray, DVD and digital streaming last week -- for purchase and/or rental.


Much better in every  respect is the new documentary THE GREAT BUSTER: A CELEBRATION, also from Cohen Media Group, written, directed and narrated by Peter Bogdanovich, about the life, times and art of that great silent film comedian, Buster Keaton. Even if, I think, you know all or much of the films of Keaton, this documentary may still enrich and surprise you -- so well-constructed, lively, and full of facts and fun it consistently is. Bogdanovich, below, weaves archival footage and film footage of Buster in all his glory, along with talking-head comedians and filmmakers (such as Richard Lewis, in the penultimate photo below) who've been inspired by Keaton.

The end product is a keeper -- a movie that informs, entertains and burnishes to glory the reputation of one of cinema's greatest.

Bogdanovich's interesting mapping of Keaton's life and career seems pretty much standard, in that he moves ahead -- until he reaches the point of the 1920s and the comedian's most productive stage. He shows us this in a small dose, with the caveat that we'll be returning to that fertile period later on.

Indeed we do, and by then we've seen Keaton's entire career laid before us. Consequently, when we come back to those glory years and see these films in greater detail, this makes for an almost perfect conclusion to all that has come before.

Though I had seen Beckett's Film (as well as Ross Lipman's Not Film), I had forgotten about the work Keaton did at American International studios during the 1960s (Beach Blanket Bingo, etc.). Ditto many of the details of the performer's life.

Bognaovich's ability to give you so much information in such fine form will have you laughing and appreciating in equal measure. I can't imagine a better tribute to a titan of American comedy than this one.

Also from Cohen Media Group, and running 103 minutes, the documentary hit the street on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital last week -- for purchase/rental. 

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