Animated Leonardo, ‘Waitress’ the Musical, and Cuba Before Castro | Fast Scans

This month’s top foreign and indie picks include an animated depiction of visionary Leonardo da Vinci, stories dramatizing Cuba’s pro-Castro movement, and Barbara Stanwyck as a laid-off newspaper reporter who spawns a social movement. 

I Am Cuba (“Soy Cuba”). b/w. 141 min. In Spanish & Russian w/English subtitles. Criterion Collection. 1964. Blu-ray UPC 715515294812. $39.99. DRAMA

Four stories set just before the overthrow of the Batista regime dramatize the pro-Castro movement growing among an oppressed working class. This Soviet coproduction, helmed by Mikhail Kalazatov (The Cranes Are Flying) and envisioned as agitprop, turned out to be too artistically made to serve its purpose. Still, the film was denied a Stateside release until after the Cold War, when Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese backed its long-overdue recognition. Given a 4K restoration showing off its stunning imagery and sweeping camerawork, the film makes its case for posterity. VERDICT Art transcends political purposes in this portrayal of the island nation.

The Inventor. 92 min. Breaking Glass. 2023. DVD UPC 850038210502. $24.99. Rated: PG. ANIMATION

The complete Renaissance man, 16th-century artist/inventor Leonardo da Vinci runs afoul of the Pope before forming an uneasy alliance with the king of France while pursuing his dream of the ideal city. Directors Jim Capobianco and Pierre-Luc Granjon employ quaintly appealing stop-motion animation in recreating the late-career pursuits of a visionary who declined to act like a good little artist in the face of religious and political pressure. Featuring the voices of Daisy Ridley, Stephen Fry, and Marion Cotillard. VERDICT More for grown-ups than kids.

Meet John Doe. b/w. 123 min. ClassicFlix. 1941. DVD UPC 850049732147. $24.99; Blu-ray UPC 850049732154. $29.99. DRAMA

A laid-off newspaper reporter (Barbara Stanwyck) causes a sensation with her final column: a fictional letter from “John Doe” decrying treatment of the “little people” in America. Rehired and tasked by her editor with milking the story for circulation, the columnist finds an out-of-work minor-league baseball player (Gary Cooper) to pose as John Doe, spawning a love-thy-neighbor social movement with a likable face—before her greedy publisher takes political advantage. VERDICT Director Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life) will have his admirers grabbing their tissues.

Plan 75. 117 min. In Japanese w/English subtitles. KimStim. 2022. DVD UPC 698452218038. $29.99. DRAMA

An increasingly aging near-future Japanese society encourages, even incentivizes, its older citizens to consider euthanasia as a worthy sacrifice for the greater good in cowriter-director Chie Hayakawa’s dystopian vision. Michi (Chieko Baishô), a lonely but not ailing 78-year-old woman whose apartment is slated for demolition, signs up and is offered the kindly assistance of a young woman whose job it is to ensure clients follow through on their decision. VERDICT A quietly moving, low-key (almost to a fault) drama that offers thoughtful speculation for adult viewers.

Waitress: The Musical. 144 min. Decal Releasing. 2023. DVD UPC 810134946835. $22.49; Blu-ray UPC 810134946842. $25.49. Rated: TV-MA. DRAMEDY

Sara Bareilles stars as an inconveniently pregnant small-town waitress/pie-maker desperate to escape her abusive marriage. Shot before a live audience, the movie-inspired Broadway hit, based on Bareilles’s lyrics and music, retains its theatrical origins while benefiting from close-ups that only a multi-camera production could offer. Funny, charming, and touching, this transposition of Adrienne Shelly’s 2008 film keeps the late director’s memory alive. VERDICT A surefire crowd-pleaser, save for viewers put off by bawdiness.

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