Thursday, September 16, 2010

September Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
Killers (LionsGate)
A movie with Ashton Kutcher is automatically suspect, so imagine my surprise when, for awhile, Killers is a spry, tongue-in-cheek caper about an ex-CIA killer embracing domesticity when he marries the girl of his dreams, whom he met in Nice, France for what was his last hit job. Kutcher smirks less than usual, Katherine Heigl is always a delight, and Catherine O’Hara and Tom Selleck are a hoot as her parents. Then, once Kutcher’s past catches up to him and he confesses his previous life to his wife, Killers goes completely off the rails before limping to a lamely happy ending. Watching Killers on Blu-ray, especially for Heigl or Kutcher fans, is the way to go, since the hi-def transfer is top-notch and the DTS-HD audio pops throughout. The fairly flimsy extras comprise a behind-the-scenes featurette with interviews, a gag reel and deleted, alternate and extended scenes.

The Player (New Line)
Robert Altman’s 1992 Hollywood satire about a young studio exec who literally gets away with murder is never as clever as it thinks, since its best moments come at the very beginning: the astonishing opening eight-minute tracking shot is a masterpiece of choreography on par with the classic opening of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. As for the rest, with so many cameos of the famous and not-so-famous-any-more people, The Player plays more like an extended in-joke than a real movie. New Line’s Blu-ray edition looks much better than the original DVD, even if Jean Lepine’s soft-focus photography has a haziness to it: that may have been Altman’s intent, but it points up the limitations of this hi-def transfer, unfortunately. The extras are all from the original DVD release: a chatty commentary by Altman and screenwriter Michael Tolkin, an Altman interview and a handful of deleted scenes.

DVDs of the Week
Legends of the Canyon (Image)
Many of the musical artists that came out of the Southern California area in the late 60s and early 70s, from the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Mamas and the Papas to Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills & Nash and America, were photographed by lensman Henry Diltz, whose own remembrances are the basis of this terrifically entertaining documentary. Along with Diltz’s thoughts about the artists whom he admired and befriended, there are also interviews with the likes of David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills and Gerry Beckley from America. Even if you’re a not a fan of this music (and why aren't you?), you’ll appreciate the insights into these carefree and creative days. This excellent DVD release includes a 20-page full-color booklet with reproductions of Diltz’s seminal photos and extras including extended interviews and vintage home-movie footage from the era.

Looking for Eric (IFC)
Ken Loach’s gently comic study of Eric, a huge soccer fan and postman whose a failure at fixing the holes in his empty life might not resonate with Americans because of the person who pops up to help him. Out of the blue, Eric Cantona, one of Manchester United’s big stars, becomes Eric’s guardian angel and helps him get the guts and guile to sort out his problems, including a daring raid on a local hood’s crib. Though not top-drawer Loach, once you get past the fantasy aspect—never a Loach forte—Looking for Eric has much to enjoy, from screenwriter Paul Laverty’s typically zingy dialogue to the persuasively unactorish performances of the entire cast, from Steve Evets to footballer Cantona. Too bad the lone extra is a selection of deleted scenes; the British release—a Blu-ray, by the way—also included a Loach commentary, Q&A with the director and his two lead actors, a featurette on soccer fans and two Loach shorts!

CDs of the Week
Rhys Chatham: A Crimson Grail (Nonesuch)
The background of Rhys Chatham’s monumental minimalist composition A Crimson Grail is more interesting than the finished product: originally slated to premiere at Lincoln Center Out of Doors in 2008, the piece—which uses over 200 guitarists and bassists as an orchestra that Chatham himself rehearsed and conducted—was cancelled due to a huge thunderstorm right before the start time. It finally went off without a hitch the following summer. A Crimson Grail, in three parts, lasts nearly 70 minutes, and its droning sounds will either hypnotize or paralyze listeners. The recording is superb, however, with the layers of guitars sounding impressively massive in Chatham’s original conception. This is one work, however, where experiencing the original event is preferable to hearing it later on.

Gidon Kremer: De Profundis (Nonesuch)
Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer and his ensemble, Kremerata Baltica, have been making profoundly moving music since its founding in 1997, and their latest recording—a collection of shorter works—illustrate music’s universal profundity. Kremer’s urgent, provocative liner notes assail the current worldwide oil oligarchy that ignores the spiritual, and he dedicates the CD to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a billionaire currently incarcerated in Siberia for fraud. Politics aside, music makes the most profound statements here, from Sibelius’ Scene with Cranes, to Schnittke’s Fragment (from an unfinished cantata). In between, masters like Schumann, Schubert, Piazzolla and Shostakovich rub shoulders with living composers from Arvo Pärt, Lera Auerbach, Michael Nyman and Lithuania’s Raminta Šerkšnytė, whose emotional 12-minute work gives this superbly-played disc its title.

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