Saturday, November 27, 2010

November Digital Week IV

Blu-Rays of the Week
America Lost and Found: The BBS Story (Criterion) – BBS (Bert Schneiderman, Bob Rafelson and Steve Blauner) released some of the most ambitious, adult films of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. This boxed set comprises seven of its titles (Head, Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Drive He Said, A Safe Place, The Last Picture Show, The King of Marvin Gardens) which, while hit-or-miss artistically, are an interesting snapshot of American cinema four decades ago. The MVPs are Jack Nicholson, who stars in four films, wrote one and directed one; and Rafelson, who directed two and wrote one. Criterion’s set, with a superb booklet of historical and contextual essays, also features first-rate transfers and lots of extras, including audio commentaries and both new and vintage interviews and footage. Even if the films don’t make the grade individually, this important compilation chronicles one of the great game-changing periods in film history.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (Anchor Bay) – This inventive thriller starts out with a misdirection as we see a young heiress being kidnapped by two men and taken to a soundproof room. The rest of J. Blakeson’s film tensely depicts the shifting dynamics among Alice and her kidnapers, and even throws a few wrenches into the mix that, while implausible, keep our interest as Alice shows that she doesn’t plan to play the helpless victim. Exciting young actress Gemma Atherton (also terrific in Tamara Drewe) literally throws herself into this physically punishing role, baring herself literally and figuratively; Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston are excellent as her kidnappers. Extras include extended and deleted scenes with director commentary and a storyboard featurette.
DVDs of the Week
The Six Million Dollar Man: The Complete Series (Time Life) – The bionic man became one of the most popular TV characters during the mid 70s in a country that, paranoid after Vietnam and Watergate, was mistrustful of the government. The Six Million Dollar Man, an instant classic, brought together man and machine, law and order and conspiracy theories in one action-packed hour-long drama. Lee Majors’ Steve Austin was a new type of hero, with Richard Anderson his slippery boss and Lindsay Wagner as his lovely romantic interest, who got her own spin-off, The Bionic Woman. This massive (and heavy!) boxed set comprises all 100 episodes on 40 DVDs, with 17 hours of extras including new interviews with Majors and Anderson. The set is available for purchase exclusively at
The Winning Season (LionsGate) – Before it turns into a feel-good, sappily uplifting melodrama, this story of a down-and-out single father picked to coach the low-wattage local high school girls’ basketball team juggles offbeat insights into the male-female dynamic with an intriguing look at a beaten man trying to pick himself up off the mat. Sam Rockwell gives another of his subtle portrayals in the lead role, and there’s superb support from Rob Corddry as the principal and Emma Roberts, Rooney Mara, Emily Rios, Meaghan Witri, Shareeka Epps and Melanie Hinkle as his team. Writer-director James C. Strouse has an ear for piercing and truthful dialogue, but lets sentiment to creep in toward the end, which is too bad. No extras.
CDs of the Week
Bejun Mehta: Ombra Cara—Handel Arias (Harmonia Mundi) – One of today’s premier countertenors, Bejun Mehta tackles a nicely-chosen selection of Handel arias that are designed to show off the male soprano voice. Mehta makes it sound easy, giving these vocal excerpts from several Handel operas the needed power and finesse, with highlights from Agrippina and Orlando the most memorable. Smartly paired with the always sympathetic conductor Rene Jacobs (who leads the Freiburger Barockorchester), Mehta is in superbly controlled voice throughout. Also included is a bonus DVD with a making-of featurette about this fine recording.
Nono: Intolleranza 1960 (Erato) – The uncompromising Italian modernist composer Luigi Nono (who died in 1990) composed his first stage work in 1960 (the pemiere came in Venice the following year) in his own singular musical idiom. Intolleranza 1960, a rabidly anti-fascist work that includes documentary texts by Bertolt Brecht and French poet and resistance fighter Paul Eluard, has an atonal sound, but amazingly Nono coaxes drama out of what could have been merely dry didacticism. This 1995 recording, performed by the Stuttgart State Orchesta in Germany, features soloists and a chorus sympathetic to Nono’s music, led by conductor Bernhard Kontarsky in what is one of the major achievements in opera from the second half of the 20th century

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