Jesus Kid (Brazil, Indiepix Films, DVD, NR, 88 min.). This dark, but ultimately funny satirical film is the second feature from director/co-writer Aly Muritiba, whose debut, “Deserto Particular,” was Brazil’s official entry for the 2022 Best International Film Oscar. The film is definitely tongue-in-cheek and features some fantasy elements as it tells the story of frustrated novelist Eugenio (Paulo Miklos), author of a successful 28-book series about western gunslinger Jesus Kid.

With a change in regime, Eugenio’s publisher must now cater to the Evangelical crowd favored by the new government. Eugenio’s manuscript is rejected sight unseen, and is even stolen, and he rejects an offer from Olavo, the new Minister of Education, to ghost write the new president’s biography. When his apartment is rifled through, Eugenio fears for his life and decides to accept an offer to write a film script about a writer struggling to create his next work. He did not feel he was suitable for the job, but it comes with the proviso that he be put up in a hotel that he cannot leave for three months. Mistakenly, Eugenio thinks that means he will be safe.

At the hotel, Eugenio meets off-putting concierge Chet (Leandro Daniel Colombo), who also runs a scam of stealing bathtub plugs, which he charges $200 to replace, and private nurse Erica (Maureen Miranda), who becomes the model for the love interest in his script, as well as the subject of his real-life flirtations, even in front of her immobilized patient. Of course, Olavo (Helio Barbosa) eventually shows up in his room, but also does the suddenly-come-of-life Jesus Kid (very tall Sergio Marone), both quick on the draw and quick to give advice, especially on how to “land” the nurse.

There is much comedy in Eugenio’s interactions with Chet, and Jesus Kid adds even more comedy and some beefcake to the film. In the background behind the main story, which turns bloody, are references to life in Brazil, including a 22% unemployment rate and efforts to build a wall to stop the influx of Venezuelan refugees, an actual idea stopped in 2018, although a wall was approved in 2007 to stop smuggling from Paraguay.

In one early scene, Eugenio witnesses the result of a car crash, with two passersby filming the altercation between the two drivers on cellphones as one driver pulls a gun on the other. Just another typical scene in the modern world. Grade: film 3.25 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Apples (Greece, 2020, Cohen Media Group, Blu-ray, NR, 90 min.). Yet another dark comedy, but which unfolds in a strictly deadpan style, is director/co-writer Christos Nikou’s debut film, which tells the story of one person affected by a world-wide pandemic that causes sudden amnesia. He is Aris (Aris Servetalis), a middle-aged man who becomes one of the “unclaimed,” as no one has reported him missing.

Aris, who very much likes apples, becomes part of the New Identity government recovery program. He is given an apartment, some money, and instructions via cassette tapes on activities to perform so he can create new memories. He must document his participation by taking a Polaroid, which he then places in a scrapbook.

One assignment is to see a film – his choice is “The Chainsaw Massacre” – and afterwards, he asks a young woman (Sofia Georgovasili as Anna) to take his photo next to the theater poster. It turns out Anna also is in the New Identity program, but several assignments ahead of Aris, which later will become his dismay when he learns an assignment is to go out to a club, have lots to drink and pick up somebody to have sex with, in the bathroom.

Some of the tasks are mundane, like riding a bike (he borrows a tyke’s undersized bike) or dressing up for Halloween (he dons a spacesuit), but another is to drive a car out into the country. As both Aris and Anna crash their cars into trees, one wonders if that was part of the assignment. One nice scene has Aris seem to remember how to dance to “The Twist,” more elaborately as the song goes along.

Extras include two conversations with Nikou: one with director Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit,” and two “Thor” films (24:13); the other with executive producer Cate Blanchett (actress in Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarök”) (28:16). The film was selected as Greece’s Oscar entry but was not nominated. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.5 stars

The Gilded Age: The Complete First Season (HBO/Warner Bros., 3 DVDs, NR, 499 min.). This nine-episode series is set in New York City during the Gilded Age, the boom years of the 1880s. It is created and written by Julian Fellowes, Oscar winner for writing “Gosford Park” (2202) and creator, writer, and executive producer of “Downton Abbey” (2010-2015).

The story centers around two families living opposite each other on 61st Street. On one side lives widow Agnes van Rhijn (a wonderful Christine Baranski) and her sister Ada Brook (a subtle Cynthia Nixon), with Agnes only wanting to deal with the old, established families and not the nouveau riche like the Russells, who have just moved into their ultra-posh, newly built mansion across the street. George Russell (Morgan Spector) is a business genius and railroad magnate, while his wife Bertha (Carrie Coon) is both desperate and determined to become part of the city’s society, even if it means buying her way through charitable donations, including the fledgling Red Cross, run by Clara Barton (Linda Emond).

There are two Russell children: Larry (Harry Richardson), who would rather be an architect than take over his father’s business, and Gladys (Taissa Farmiga), whose life is heavily controlled by her mother. Across the street, the two sisters and Agnes’ son, Oscar (Blake Ritson), are joined by their penniless niece, Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson), who likewise feels stifled by Agnes, but is more wont to do what she likes, including following through on her attraction to lawyer Tom Raikes (Thomas Cocquerel), who helped settle her father’s estate and has professed his love for her. On her trip to New York, she befriends Peggy Scott (Denée Benton), a would-be writer who is black and has parents living in Brooklyn, although she has long disagreed with her father over her career. Peggy becomes a secretary to Agnes and lives among the servants.

Ah yes, the servants. There is very much an “Upstairs, Downstairs” aspect to the story, with almost a dozen servants in each household getting a bit of screentime. Most notable is Turner (Kelley Curran), Bertha’s maid, who makes a play for Mr. Russell and plots with Oscar, who wants to wed Agnes for nefarious reasons. There also are several other society ladies who are anti-Bertha, at least at first, and a lot of deals with George Russell trying to build a new railroad terminal in the city.

Everything is very well written and acted. The show is full of Tony Award winners, including Audra McDonald as Peggy’s mother, Donna Murphy is Mrs. Astor and Nathan Lane as her tastemaker Ward McAllister. Bill Irwin plays a potential beau for Ada, while Michael Cerveris, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Debra Monk play servants with secrets.

A special, emotional moment is when Thomas Edison first lights up a complete building at the end of episode seven. The show, which justifiably received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Production Design, has been renewed for a second season. The costumes are wonderful as well.

There are more than two hours of extras, including looks inside each episode and featurettes on creating the series, looking at the conflict between old money and new money, visiting the set, writing Peggy and looks at who’s who. Grade: season 3.75 stars, extras 3 stars

Summertime (1955, Criterion Film Collection, Blu-ray, NR, 100 min.). With this film, celebrated British director David Lean filmed on location for the first time, in the city of Venice, Italy, which he and cinematographer Jack Hildyard captured magnificently. Lean would focus on location films from then on, including his classics “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Dr. Zhivago.”

The bittersweet tale of romantic longing stars Katharine Hepburn as Jane Hudson, on vacation and hoping for romance, which she unexpectedly finds with shopkeeper Renato de Rossi (Rossano Brazzi). Jane also picks up a young guide in Mauro. Lean has called the film his favorite.

Extras include a 1963 Canadian TV interview with Lean (22:04; he smokes three cigarettes); 1988 audio excerpts with Hildyard (13:01); a new interview with Melanie Williams, author of “David Lean” (21:48); and an essay by film critic Stephanie Zacharek. Grade: film 3.5 stars

Tom Von Malder of Owls Head has reviewed music since 1972, just after graduation from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has reviewed videos/DVDs since 1988.

 

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