Friday, September 10, 2010

September Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
Red Riding Trilogy (IFC)
Three separate films made by three different directors, the Red Riding Trilogy dramatizes David Pearce’s quartet of novels about a serial killer on the loose in northern England. The films, titled after the year each covers—1974, 1980 and 1983—present the frustrating investigations into the killer of several young women. Although each film introduces us to the police, journalists and townspeople who are tied to the killings, the cumulative impact of all five hours is less enthralling than it should be. The problem is that none of the three directors—Julian Jerrold, James Marsh and Anand Tucker—transcend “serial killer movie” stereotypes, particularly the hoarily sentimental shots of 1983's finale. The actors, including Paddy Considine, Rebecca Hall, Peter Mullan and Saskia Reeves, are uniformly good, although it becomes comical watching skinny Andrew Garfield getting beaten up by everyone he meets as 1974’s crusading journalist. The films were shot in different formats—16mm, 35mm and digital video, respectively—but the Blu-ray transfers faithfully preserve each film’s unique, grainy look. A second disc has a truckload of extras like deleted scenes and interviews with directors and actors.

Solitary Man (Anchor Bay)
Michael Douglas gives his best-ever performance as an unrepentant heel who cannot stay away from women; though it's ruined him, he seems unable to stop. Playing the car salesman who has sold lemons to the women in his life—his ex-wife, his daughter, his current girlfriend, her college-age daughter—Douglas painfully shows how charisma and charm can destroy a man. Directors Brian Koppelman (who also scripted) and David Levien are unafraid to hang their “hero” out to dry—especially when he beds his girlfriend’s daughter without a second thought—even if their shaggy-dog ending leaves a monumental decision unresolved. As a bonus, the movie is well-acted across the board, as playing opposite Douglas are a gaggle of great actresses: Susan Sarandon, Mary Louise Parker, Jenna Fischer, Imogen Poots and Olivia Thirlby. The sharp Blu-ray transfer is full of detail; the extras include a making-of featurette and a commentary by Koppelman and Levien.

DVDs of the Week
The Exploding Girl (Oscilloscope)
Actress Zoe Kazan's career has been on a semi-meteoric rise onstage, where she has become a fixture on and off Broadway. Too bad that the movie The Exploding Girl doesn’t allow her to create a memorable onscreen character. Kazan flits around this meandering portrait of a young, epileptic woman in New York City trying to sustain her relationships. Kazan has been good in supporting parts, but at this stage in her young career, leading roles seem beyond her reach. And Bradley Rust Gray’s film, though it has moments of quiet introspection (beautifully shot on digital), remains undramatic and lacking in any insight. Extras include Gray’s short, Flutter, a music video and an interview with Kazan and Gray.

Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection (Acorn Media)
Although she’s been splendid in numerous movie roles—including her Oscar-winning turn as Elizabeth II in The Queen—Helen Mirren’s greatest triumph will always be Jane Tennyson, the police inspector at the heart of Prime Suspect. When it first debuted on PBS nearly 20 years ago, little did we know that, within the space of a dozen years, we’d watch with increasing awe and admiration how Mirren made Tennyson not only an unglamorous human being but an exciting, new kind of detective, as well as applaud her ability to solve crimes, work on an unfulfilling personal life and tame her male partners' sexist attitudes. This excellent multi-disc set contains all seven Prime Suspects—which, along with Mirren’s brilliance, also showcase superb performances by a pre-Schindler's List Ralph Fiennes, Peter Capaldi, Tom Wilkinson, David Thewlis and many others. Aside from these sublimely crafted crime dramas, there are two extras: a behind-the-scenes featurette and a longer (50-minute) making-of encompassing all seven episodes.

CDs of the Week
Julia Fischer: Paganini’s 24 Caprices (Decca)
Niccolo Paganini’s 24 caprices are considered the Mount Everest of Virtuosity for any violin player, so it’s no surprise that Julia Fischer—one of our most engaging young classical fiddlers—gives them a go on her new recording of these two dozen essential snapshots of wide-ranging violin technique. Although Fischer obligingly sets a fast pace, she also finds the meaning behind the material. The two longest caprices in the set (Nos. 4 and 6) run the gamut from slow introspection to speed-demon displays, but Fischer makes them sound like coherent dramatic statements, not just exercises in whiplash. Still, the sense of excitement in these high-wire string acts is encapsulated by the dazzling runs of No. 15, which Fischer dispatches without breaking a sweat.

Panufnik: Symphonic Works, Volume 2 (CPO)
Composer Andrzej Panufnik, who died in 1991, wasn't one of Poland’s 20th century masters like Lutoslawski, Szymanowski and Penderecki. But at their best, Panufnik’s scores are solid and imaginative, and this new disc is a nice overview of a quarter-century of the composer's career, performed with alternating forcefulness and finesse by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra under conductor Lukasz Borowicz. The early, evocative Lullaby and folk-based Polonia suite sound marvelously rich and full, while the two symphonies—No. 1 and No. 4—are Panufnik at his best: Sinfonia Rustica is a vigorous, expressively dramatic work (to steal the composer’s own details for two of its movements), while the Sinfonia Concertante for Flute, Harp and Strings is a lovely two-movement work which Panufnik wrote for his wife as a 10th anniversary gift. She was no doubt pleased.

No comments: