Jem Cohen’s gentle, meandering tale of two middle-aged strangers who meet in the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum in Vienna, could be a Lost in Translation for an older generation. It’s also a meditation on art and how we interact with it and understand it, in this case in a museum setting, and you could even call it a travelogue of the museum, though a very idiosyncratic one that finds as much interest in people watching as browsing through the masterpieces of Rembrandt and Bruegel and the Dutch and Flemish that dominate this collection.
Our tour guide is Johann (Bobby Sommer), a gentle Austrian museum guard in his sixties who enjoys communing with the artworks and likes the contemplative pace of his job. In his younger days he was the road manager for a hard rock band, he explains in voice-over. Now he’s happy with the simple pleasures of monitoring the museum, watching the crowds shuffle through, and offering assistance to the stray patron who needs a little direction.
Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara), a Canadian woman who has traveled to Vienna to watch over a cousin who has fallen into a coma, is one such patron. She’s adrift in city she doesn’t know that speaks a language she doesn’t understand.
Elysium (Blu-ray Combo, DVD, Digital HD, On Demand) showed up more than any other film in the Criticwire survey of Biggest Disappointments of 2013. Don’t get us wrong; Elysium is a fun film with a slightly subversive political message, but its commentary plays out in the most conventional ways. Matt Damon is a former car thief trying to go straight as a factory worker in a Los Angeles of the future turned third world slum, who gets a death sentence thanks to technical glitch and a system that treats him like a disposable piece of equipment. He’s no revolutionary but he is desperate and angry and he takes on the 1 percent by invading their space station penthouse in the sky to unlock their protected technology for all.
This is a dystopian science fiction thriller rooted in the fury of income inequality and loaded with a plea for universal health care. The disappointment is how director / writer Neill Blomkamp (District 9) failed to capitalize on the premise, turning a potentially whipsmart sci-fi thriller into a conventional spectacle where technology is a gimmick, the action blurs into messy scenes of hyperkinetic editing and the battle against the system becomes an action cartoon. Jodie Foster is the ice queen security chief villain plotting a virtual coup during the chaos and Sharlto Copley plays the mangy bounty hunter as a sociopath handed a license to kill.
The DVD includes two featurettes and an UltraViolet Digital HD copy for download and instant streaming. Exclusive to the Blu-ray are four additional featurettes and an extended scene.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (MPI, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital) plays like the cinematic answer to an outlaw folk song. Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck play lovers Ruth and Bob, separated when Affleck heads to prison (taking a murder rap to protect his pregnant love). Ruth settles down to raise their daughter, looked after by Bob’s shady but loyal father figure (Keith Carradine) and looked in on by a lovesick policeman (Ben Foster), when Bob decides he can’t live without seeing her and escapes lockup.
Director David Lowery’s filmmaking is assured, with a portrait of rural Texas slipped out of time, straddling the entire era from the Great Depression to the seventies recession and smudging any clues that would definitively set the year. He has an attention to tone and atmosphere, to the nowness of the moment, letting it all settle into the image and the narrative, while the quality of light (from the magic hour exteriors to interiors lit by hurricane lamp and incandescent bulbs) warms the film while coloring it like a yellowed memory. Comparisons to Terrence Malick are not misplaced, but this has more in common with Altman’s Thieves Like Us than Badlands, with Affleck as both a wild kid and cold killer and Mara as devoted mother and lover balancing her heart’s desire with her realist’s understanding of how his desperate prison escape is destined to end. For all the poetry of his filmmaking, this isn’t the romance of outlaw innocents on the run. This life doesn’t offer happy endings, but these people do have a kindness and compassion that makes the effort worthwhile.
Blu-ray and DVD editions feature a documentary and deleted scenes among the supplements, but the more interesting bonus is Lowery’s debut feature St. Nick, never before released on disc.
More releases, including Museum Hours (Cinema Guild, Blu-ray, DVD), The Lone Ranger (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, On Demand), and Prisoners (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD, Cable On Demand), at Cinephiled.
All those nudes hanging on the walls of museums. All those clothed people standing around staring. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the spectators were naked as they looked upon the ample flesh hanging coyly on the walls?
Maybe you’ve had that daydream while wandering through a room of unabashed Titians. So, apparently, has writer/director Jem Cohen, whose Museum Hours contains such a scene, amusingly staged. The remainder of the film is quite chaste, as Cohen takes a wisp of plot and arranges it around two lonely strangers who meet at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, a stately repository of art.