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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Comedy > Docudrama > Fantasy > Lesbian > Gangs > Literature > Personal and Political: The Films Of Natalia Almada (2001 - 2021/Icarus DVD Set)

Asteroid City (2023/Universal Blu-ray w/DVD)/Being Thunder (2021)/Calejo Blanco (2021/both Film Movement DVD)/The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954/MGM/Warner Archive Blu-ray)/Personal and Political: The Films Of Natalia Almada (2001 - 2021/Icarus DVD Set)

Picture: B & C/C+/C/B-/C+ Sound: B & C+/C+/C+/B-/C+ Extras: C/D/B-/C-/C+ Films: C+/B/B-/B-/B

Here is a mix of documentaries, dramas and sometimes, both...

Wes Anderson's Asteroid City (2023) is yet another one of his films with a huge name cast (likely working for scale to get this film done,) multiple film looks and multiple aspect ratios. This time, it is the title locale in the 1950s near where the U.S. Government is doing nuclear testing with people nearby not knowing how bad it is, the gaudy, flashy side of the decade barley making it out in the middle of this nowhere and more developments that may or may not surprise you.

Unfortunately, the comedy jumps the shark a bit when some events happen that are not as realistic and the film loses itself. This has led people to ask where Anderson is going as a filmmaker and is he running out of ideas. Maybe? I can point to two things affecting his work now. One is increasing fragmentation in his narratives that might remind one of Kubrick, but without being able to hold it together. The other is that his close collaborator Roman Coppola, an incredibly talented filmmaker not directing his own films enough, is as much of an auteur and his ideas and senses might be starting to mix (if not overwhelm) Anderson's vision.

Either way, this is worth a look at best and I was more with the disappointed crowd. Cheers though to the cast for doing this and getting a version of the 1950s look with interesting accuracy.

The cast (as listed in the press release) includes Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright ('Westworld', No Time To Die), Tilda Swinton (Suspiria remake, Michael Clayton), Adrien Brody (The Pianist, The Darjeeling Limited), Bryan Cranston ('Breaking Bad', Trumbo), Edward Norton (Glass Onion, Birdman), Liev Schreiber ('Ray Donovan', X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Hope Davis ('Your Honor', 'Succession'), Stephen Park (The French Dispatch, 'Fargo'), Rupert Friend (The Young Victoria, Pride & Prejudice), Maya Hawke ('Stranger Things', Do Revenge), Steve Carell ('The Office', 'The Morning Show'), Matt Dillon (There's Something About Mary, The House That Jack Built), Hong Chau (The Whale, The Menu), Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man franchise, The Florida Project), Margot Robbie (Barbie, Suicide Squad, I, Tonya), Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Marvel Cinematic Universe's Spider-Man franchise), Jake Ryan (Moonrise Kingdom, Eighth Grade) and Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park franchise, Independence Day). Enough curio power for you?

Extras include Digital Code, while the disc (per the press release) adds The Making of Asteroid City: with Wes Anderson as your guide, take a personal tour behind the scenes of ''Asteroid City'' and get insider's access into set creation, performer preparation, music rehearsals and more.

    • Desert Town: Wes Anderson pulls back the curtain on the creation of Asteroid City with an intimate look at what goes into building a town in the middle of a desert and bringing its quirks to life.

    • Doomsday Carnival: Go even further inside Asteroid City as period costumes, classic cars, and camera tricks combine to create a bustling midway of carnival rides and lookie-loos anticipating an alien arrival.

    • Montana and Ranch Hands: Witness a quiet prayer evolve into a hand-clapping country hoedown as the film's fictional band inspires a sudden dance number through their banjo, bass, and washboard.

    • The Players: Go behind-the-scenes with the stars of Asteroid City.

  • The Alien (Digital Exclusive): Designers come up with the concept and Jeff Goldblum suits up in the costume to create the captivating look and mesmerizing movements of the movie's extraterrestrial creature.

  • and The Roadrunner (Digital Exclusive): Get a peek at the planning, puppeteering, and careful camera positioning that animates an artificial animal with scene-stealing personality.

Stephanie Lamoore's Being Thunder (2021) is a documentary that chronicles both a coming-of-age story and the coming out of sorts for Sherente Harris, a Rhode Island teen who is - as many teens are - simply looking to create an identity.

Sherente is a transgender 17-year-old who is also part of the Narragansett tribe. The film recounts events during Sherente's senior year of high school that relate to being transgender, being Native American, and being a typical teen.

Elements of gender identity are layered with nuance as they relate to cultural identity, making for an interesting blend of stories. Sherente - as a Narragansett - believes in the spirit of the man, the spirit of the woman, and the realm of in-betweenness that exists within the middle of that spectrum. As a two-spirited person, Sherente still goes by male pronouns and eschews the idea of surgery, but enjoys elements of womanhood, such as makeup and dressing for powwows in the traditional Narragansett female attire.

The film predominantly is focused on Sherente's experiences at home, in the community, and at school. There are typical teenage stressors to contend with - applying to colleges, dealing with media and societal pressures to confirm - as well as cultural stressors. Sherente likes to perform in dance competitions that the Narragansett tribes hold at their powwows, but - though presenting as female - is oftentimes discriminated against.

Overall, the documentary covers a lot of interesting ideas in a manner that encourages the viewers to think though these issues for themselves. While the concepts covered are interesting in theory, in practice, the events themselves present as banal and a bit boring. Sherente's own self-confidence and determination to be true to himself without.

The film is in English, mostly, with sections in the Narragansett language. A Film Movement film, it runs for a total of 85 minutes. No extras.

Justin Lerner's Calejo Blanco (2021) is about young Sarita (Karen Martinez) quickly figuring out her younger sister never came home because she was involved with a goofy guy in a gang, so eventually, she decides to secretly join it to find her. Of course, it is not going to be easy and that will come with a few tough twists and turns.

Taking place in Guadamala City and with a touch of documentary style, we have seen some of this before, even from the female perspective the screenplay tries out, but this is one of the better such films on the subject of late. Still, we have seen some of this before, but it is so naturalistically well done that it is just a bit better than you might expect. A little of it even stayed with me for a while and the makers and actors definitely have some talent, so those curious should give it a look.

Extras include Screen Tests, a feature length audio commentary track by Director Lerner and Producer Mauricio Escobar and a video chat with Lerner and actress Karen Martinez.

Richard Brooks' The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) is based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel about a couple (Elizabeth Taylor in amazing form and Van Johnson) going to the title city to help their relationship and romance, but only having the opposite happen as he had two sisters (Taylor and Donna Reed) fall for him and then, gets involved with a more sexy threat (Eva Gabor in full glamour mode, proving she can outact sister Zsa Zsa anytime and holding her own against an exceptional cast) though this one-sided madness does not last long.

He starts drinking and she finds another man who is more than up to being his equal. In this case, it is no less than Roger Moore a few years before hitting international fame with the hit TV series classic The Saint. Already, he is more than able to hold his own acting wise and when it comes to stature and the camera favoring him, a star is born!

The film also reflects how things were post-WWII and the screenplay adaption more than retains those ideas as well, though this is not documentary and only gets so gritty. Still, MGM knew what they had in Taylor and she is stunning scene after scene after scene after scene after scene in one of her best films.

Warner Archive has done as much justice to the film as it could here and if you have never seen it or have not seen it for a long time, this is the best time to revisit it in years.

Extras include an Original Theatrical Trailer and the Technicolor Tom & Jerry cartoon Touche Pussycat.

Personal and Political: The Films Of Natalia Almada (2001 - 2021) are a mix of early documentaries and later narrative works exploring an alternate history of Mexico, the various assassinations going way back that have undermined democracy and non-violent self-rule and much more. Per the press release, the five feature films are;

2021 | Documentary | 81 min.
An exploration of the unintended and often dehumanizing consequences of the belief that technological progress will benefit humanity.

2016 | Narrative | 98 min.
's first feature drama follows a solitary lifelong bureaucrat (played by Adriana Barraza) and her inner world.

2011 | Documentary | 72 min.
Night watchman Martin watches over the extravagant mausoleums where many of Mexico
's most notorious drug lords lie.

2009 | Documentary | 83 min.
The complicated legacy of Almada
's great-grandfather, General Plutarco ElĂ­as Calles; a revolutionary general and one-time President of Mexico.

2005 | Documentary | 70 min.
A Mexican musician faces a stark choice between drug trafficking and escaping to the United States.

And also counted as a short film, but still hers, ALL WATER HAS A PERFECT MEMORY
2001 | Documentary | 19 min.
A family tragedy leads to an exploration of remembrance.

She is talented, goes all the way to show and express what she has to say and is as good a documentarian as a narrative filmmaker, but also (as in the short film and Users) is also very effective as a writerly filmmaker in the European style. That is on a level few director operate, though more of them could if they tried, but it fits her, she's doing it and this set shows that, how and why. It is a remarkable set, an inarguable discourse, priceless history and even a very private expression of self and life worth a good, long look.

Extras include a brief on camera interview clip with the Director, Making of Todo Lo Demas and Project 360 featurette.

Now for playback performance. The 1080p digital High Definition image on City has various aspect ratios like recent Anderson films, it is fine, some parts are in black and white, others in color and most in a 1950s color scheme that will remind one of blue skies. It looks good, but can be soft by design and maybe because the disc just cannot totally capture the colors, so maybe a 4K release would work. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 lossless mix fares better and is well recorded and mixed enough to be the default highlight of the disc save some of the acting. The included DVD is here anamorphically enhanced with lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, but the image is really soft and the sound is not as good, so this is here for convenience only.

The 1080p 1.75 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Paris can show the age of the materials used, restored as usual by warner to the best of the available elements and despite that the film was issued in 35mm dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor prints, this is a little softer throughout than it ought to be. Otherwise, color is still impressive. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mix

All other DVDs are anamorphically enhanced including 2.35 X 1 framing on Thunder, Blanco and the two Almada dramas (Todo Lo Demas and Users) then 1.78 X 1 on Almada's outright documentaries and shorts. Blanco is slightly weaker than the rest, but they all look as good as they ever will in this format, low def digital or higher def reduced for the format. Blanco is here in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soundmixes, while Thunder and the Almada films are all in 2.0 Dolby Stereo.

To order The Last Time I Saw Paris Warner Archive Blu-ray, go to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Christen Stroh (Thunder) and Nicholas Sheffo


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