Saturday, October 9, 2010

October Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
Beauty and the Beast (Disney)
Disney’s 1991 animated fairy tale—which has a visual palette that strikingly (and liberally) borrows from Jean Cocteau’s classic surrealist film from 1946—is colorful (in both senses) and entertaining enough on its own terms to click with both grouchy parents and their fidgety kids. As usual, Disney has outdone itself with this Blu-ray release, with a new “director’s cut” that’s about seven minutes longer than the original theatrical release, which is also included on the Blu-ray disc. (On the standard DVD, those two cuts plus a work print are included.) The difference in visual quality between the DVD and Blu-ray is astonishing, as the bold, hand-painted animation cels literally leapfrog over one another. The extras are minimal (deleted scene, commentary, interviews, music cues), but the movie—as always with Disney releases—is the thing.

The Exorcist (Warners)
Still as shocking as it was in 1973 (or 2000, when it was re-released), William Friedkin’s adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s crassly entertaining novel is a huge punch to the gut that works brilliantly, even after many viewings, because of its artful misdirection. You expect nasty shocks, but the slow build-up lulls you into believing you’re watching a docudrama about a young girl whose odd behavior eventually has no other explanation but the supernatural. When the horror arrives, it’s been grounded in such vivid reality that more is at stake than simply watching good battle evil: it’s personal. The triumphant Blu-ray release contains the original cut and 2000 re-release, which look splendid: Friedkin and camera wizard Owen Roizman have made The Exorcist look more documentary-like than ever, which accentuates the eeriness. Friedkin’s brilliantly chosen music (Penderecki, Henze, Webern, “Tubular Bells”) also sounds superb. The documentaries and interviews from earlier editions are included, along with a new 40-minute making-of and Warner’s now-standard 38-page digibook.

DVDs of the Week
Fantomas (Kino)
This five-part, 5-½-hour silent espionage tale looks completely different from anything that came since. To be sure, Louis Feuillade’s serial (made in 1913-4) is filled with hammy acting and less-than-exciting action, but the cumulative power of the endless pursuits and double-crossings is extremely satisfying, especially after you’ve watched all 337 minutes’ worth. Kino’s release spreads the five parts of Fantomas across three discs, and includes noteworthy extras such as two commentaries by film historian David Kalat, which supplies needed background material; two Feuillade shorts; and a documentary featurette about the French director.

Mid-August Lunch (Zeitgeist)
Gianni Di Gregorio’s debut feature is a slight but effortlessly charming comedy of manners about a middle-aged man’s “adventure” with four elderly women (including his mother) at his Roman home in the middle of a hot summer. Nothing much happens, except conversation and delectable food and drink…which is all you need to be entertained for 75 leisurely minutes. I’d call this a light soufflé if it was a French movie, but since it’s Italian we’ll have to come up with something else—how about a light sfmorata? Extras comprise short interviews with the quartet of delightful non-actresses who co-star with writer-director Di Gregorio, who also discusses the movie in a separate interview. There are even two of the movie’s mouthwatering recipes included in the booklet.

CDs of the Week
Anne Akiko Meyers: Seasons… Dreams… (E1) A scintillating player and accomplished artist, violinist Anne Akiko Meyers has a golden-hued tone that brings depth and charm to anything she touches. So it is with this wide-ranging recital disc, in which Meyers and musical partners—pianist Reiko Uchida and Emmanuel Ceysson, who nearly split the accompaniment duties 50-50—play sublimely enjoyable music from the 19th and 20th centuries. Beginning with Debussy’s ubiquitous Clair de Lune and ending with Faure’s lovely Après un Reve, Meyers is in her element whether playing Beethoven’s Spring sonata or Alfred Schnittke’s Silent Night. With Wagner, Gershwin, Vernon Duke and young American composer Gene Pritsker in the mix, Seasons… Dreams… is never less than highly listenable.

Respighi: Piano Concerto, Fountains of Rome (Ondine)
Ottorino Respighi was a highly accomplished composer who wrote several operas, exquisite chamber music and brilliant orchestral works like his Roman Trilogy. This recording of his piano concerto, Concerto in modo misolidio (Concerto in the Mixolydian Mode) shows off a dazzling, substantial 35-minute work based on medieval musical modes. Superb pianist Olli Mustonen shines throughout, easily handling Respighi’s tonal shifts and colorful keyboard writing, while conductor Sakari Oramo and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra—who keep up Mustonen’s pace throughout the concerto—round out the disc with a solid reading of the Respighi warhorse The Fountains of Rome. Why not use the extra time to record another Respighi rarity?

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