Monday, June 14, 2010

June Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
Absolute Power
New Clint Eastwood Blu-rays (Warners)
Warners’ Clint Eastwood: 35 Films, 35 Years celebrates his many achievements as actor and (mainly) director, including two Oscars for helming Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. Included are films making their Blu-ray debuts. Neither The Enforcer (1976) nor Sudden Impact (1983)--two belated and inferior Dirty Harry sequels--have much to recommend them, except for the latter’s famous catch phrase, “Go ahead, make my day.” The ill-humored Heartbreak Ridge (1986) seems a prequel to Clint’s Archie Bunker fantasy Gran Torino, as a hard-ass army vet whips a bunch of wimps into shape, just to in time for our historic invasion of Grenada. Absolute Power (1997), in which Clint is a reluctant witness to a murder in which the U.S. president is implicated, is an taut but forgettable thriller. Eastwood completists will want to have all of these films: on Blu-ray, they look top-notch, even if the oldest entries have excessive grain and less sharpness. There are no extras; worth seeking out a bonus is The Eastwood Factor, a 90-minute documentary by former critic Richard Schickel that takes a loving look at the man and his career, narrated by Morgan Freeman.

DVDs of the Week
Word Is Out (Milliarium Zero)
This landmark 1977 documentary explores the histories of 26 gay and lesbian Americans, who without embarrassment discuss their outed lives. The subjects’ openness remains heartbreakingly real today, showing the film’s continued unhappy relevance, considering the political climate of the country right now. Still, one can only hope that this DVD release introduces Word Is Out to new and more open audiences, on whom its enlightened stance can continue to enlighten. Extras include a featurette about the subjects today, along with an appreciation for the leader of the filmmaking group, Peter Adair, who died from AIDS complications in 1996.

Youth in Revolt (Sony)
Today’s teenage movies make John Hughes’ unsubtle comedies seem like Noel Coward elegance. Case in point is Youth in Revolt, in which high-school nerd Michael Cera assumes a suave alter ego to help him in his budding relationship with a willing young woman. This gimmick could be handled adequately in a five-minute sketch, but over the course of a 90-minute movie--which iincludes unnecessary animation--it’s quite interminable. Cera has been playing the same role since Juno and remains charming, but he’s going to the well once too often. The cast comprises others like Steve Buscemi, Zach Galifinakis, and Jean Smart who are neither amusing nor sympathetic; only Portia Doubleday scores as Cera’s love interest. Extras include deleted and extended scenes and animated sequences, along with audition tapes for those who like that sort of thing.

CDs of the Week
Anna Netrebko: In the Still of Night (Deutsche Grammophon)
The dazzling Russian soprano Anna Netrebko teams with pianist Daniel Barenboim for an enticing recital of music by Netrebko’s countrymen, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Peter Tchaikovsky, in a performance recorded last summer at Austria’s Salzburg Festival. Although Netrebko, now a huge star, has greater demands to appear all over the world--which might cause her to simplify her repertoire--it’s heartening that she’s chosen obscure songs by composers better known for their symphonic and theatrical music. She’s also in lovely voice throughout, with supple tone and beautiful enunciation of her native Russian language. Barenboim, by contrast, is too much in evidence; instead of being an accompanist, he seems to be competing with Netrebko for attention, which detracts from--but never ruins--a sterling vocal showcase.

Dutilleux: Piano Works (ECM)
France’s greatest living composer Henri Dutilleux is now 94, and although his best works are orchestral (his two symphonies are masterpieces), he’s also composed formidable chamber music, including brilliant solo piano pieces, all included on this scintillating, adventurous recital by pianist Robert Levin, who’s especially compelling and persuasive on the composer’s Sonata--a high point of post-WWII piano music--as well as the keyboard duet Figures de resonances, performed with the equally brilliant Ya-Fei Chuang. Interestingly, Dutilleux didn’t want Levin to perform his all-but-disowned early works--in a compromise, Levin put them at disc’s end after a pause, which separates them from the mature works but still lets us hear a living legend’s musical journey from youthful precocity to modern master.
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