Blu-rays of the Week
The Black Pirate (Kino) – Douglas Fairbanks’ spectacular silent adventure won’t be winning many plaudits as some kind of lost masterpiece, but this 1926 high-seas epic is certainly diverting enough as one of the few remaining specimens of Technicolor two-strip color, which comprises various blendings of orange and green. Kino deserves kudos for once again coming up aces with its superb Blu-ray package, as the 95-minute film looks absolutely splendid for its age (84). The extras include a commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer, the “talkie” 75-minute version of the film with narration by Douglas Fairbanks Jr., two different scores to choose from (one organ, one orchestral), and more than 45 minutes of outtakes, including 18 minutes with Behlmer commentary.
Cyrus (Fox) - Marisa Tomei’s career nose-dived after she won the 1992 Oscar for My Cousin Vinny, but she’s rebounded nicely in a second-act renaissance, consisting of Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, The Wrestler and now Cyrus, in which she plays the single mother of a emotionally stunted grown son who interferes with her new relationship. Tomei’s effortless charm meshes well with John C. Reilly, who plays her new beau as a schlubby everyman; it’s too bad they’re saddled with true dead weight in the form of Jonah Hill, whose amateurishness severely hobbles Jay and Mark Duplass’s would-be black comedy, which fails to realize its subversive potential. Fox’s Blu-ray transfer is first-rate; extras include two deleted scenes and several interview/making-of featurettes.
Micmacs (Sony) – Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has made another Rubik’s Cube movie whose interlocking parts fit, but whose sum total doesn’t. In his bizarre fantasy, a group of misfits (including a man with a bullet in his brain) outsmarts a diabolical consortium of arms dealers, and Jeunet indulges his penchant for the weird and the wacky with often startling (but just as often head-scratching) results. His energetic actors, like Dany Boon, Jean-Pierre Marielle and Andre Dussolier, keep Jeunet from getting carried away completely by his gadgetry. On Blu-ray, Jeunet’s sharply delineated compositions look far more arresting than you would expect: the director’s visual extravagance (like Terry Gilliam’s) was made for hi-def. Extras include Jeunet’s commentary, Q&A with Jeunet and actress Julie Ferrier and a 47-minute making-of featurette.
DVDs of the Week
A Dog Year (HBO) – The old adage that an actor shouldn’t play opposite kids or animals is put to the test by Jeff Bridges, who plays writer Jon Katz in this true story about his initial battle against and ultimate bonding with a seemingly untamable pooch. Sure, it’s too heart-tuggingly sentimental, but the dog is adorable and Bridges keeps his dignity throughout, which is about all you can ask of this always resourceful actor. The lively supporting cast includes Lauren Ambrose, Lois Smith and Elizabeth Marvel, and writer/director George LaVoo makes the most of scenic upstate New York locations. The lone extra is a brief (four-minute) behind-the-scenes featurette.
Exit through the Gift Shop (Oscilloscope) – The celebrated street artist Banksy is the creator of this witty documentary that may or may not be a put-on. Banksy, first profiled by Thierry Guetta, turns the tables on Guetta when he decides that he can also be a big success in Banksy’s chosen field. So Banksy films Guetta starting his own art installation, Mr. Brain Wash, which becomes a hit in the Los Angeles art world. The movie asks intriguing questions about contemporary art, the media, the relentless hype machine, and the possibility that it may all be a complete put-on. That most of the questions aren’t answered directly is one of the movie’s major strengths. This highly entertaining and possibly fraudulent chronicle includes enticing extras like B Movie, an account of Banksy’s art; A Star is Born, about Mr. Brain Wash’s installation; and deleted scenes.
CD of the Week
Honegger: Complete Violin Sonatas (Naxos) – Swiss composer Arthur Honegger, although part of the celebrated avant-garde Les Six movement, was mainly conservative in his musical language. That’s not to denigrate his very real achievements, however: his symphonies, oratorios and film scores are among the most accomplished of any 20th century orchestral body of work. His chamber music is less well-known, but as this disc of his complete violin sonatas shows, he wrote much lasting music for small forces. The D minor quartet, for all intents and purposes a student work, displays a confident young composer. The two numbered violin sonatas, penned during and just after World War I, are elegantly written; the bleak and somber Solo Violin Sonata from 1940 nods to Bach’s solo violin works. Violinist Laurence Kayaleh and pianist Paul Stewart play these still-fresh works with purpose and gracefulness, which is what Honegger’s music demands.