Sunday, December 26, 2010

December Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week
The Town (Warners) – A gritty, absorbing crime drama set in Boston, Ben Affleck’s second directorial effort is as solid as his debut, Gone Baby Gone, though without the emotional resonance. It’s tough to care about the denizens of The Town, even if Affleck wants us to sympathize with the criminals more than the cops or FBI agents. Luckily, the movie’s atmosphere and performances are authentic enough to transcend that flaw, along with a dumb, far-fetched car chase that seems to have been dropped in from another movie. Affleck as the head crook is okay, but Rebecca Hall is achingly good and the others are up to snuff. Affleck’s extended cut includes another half-hour of footage, not all of which needed to be included. The Blu-ray transfer is first-rate; extras include Affleck commentaries and Ben’s Boston, comprising several making-of featurettes.


Twelve (Fox) – Intended as both provocation and cautionary tale, Twelve follows a group of with-it Manhattan young men and women addicted to a new street drug called, oddly enough, Twelve. The dealer is the one we follow, with his contacts and friends making up the rest of the mainly plotless story. We watch them partying, but there’s no discernible point of view, often a problem with Joel Schumacher movies. The performances are adequate but hardly to-notch; that we get to spy on these affluent losers is hardly a reason to stay with them for 90 minutes. The hi-def transfer is good; there are no extras.


DVDs of the Week
Beautiful Kate (e one) – Who knew that Aussie beauty Rachel Ward (star of TV’s Thorn Birds back in the day) would become a solid writer-director? Her adaptation of Newton Thornburg’s novel about an incestuous relationship whose reverberations are still being felt by a family decades later is adult in subject matter, but non-exploitative in its handling. Ward deftly balances the provocative story with the characters who populate it; she also directs her husband Bryan Brown, Rachel Griffiths, newcomer Sophie Lowe and Ben Mendelsohn to realistic, understated portrayals. Extras comprise deleted scenes and short interviews with Ward, Brown, Lowe, Griffiths and Mendelsohn.


Let It Rain (IFC) – Triple-threat writer-director-actress Agnes Jaoui returns to the well once too often with a brittle but half-baked comedy of manners. In 95 minutes, Jaoui and her usual co-writer/co-star Jean-Pierre Bacri line up an assortment of targets to lightly satirize–female authors turned politicians, novice documentary makers, unhappy housewives, even the mythically perfect Cote d’Azur weather–but scatter most of their shots, the nadir being a rain-soaked visit to a country farm that trades in unfunny stereotypes. It’s acted, written and directed with a fizzy joie de vivre, but finally Let It Rain is all wet. The lone extra is a 55-minute on-set documentary.

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CDs of the Week
Beethoven: Complete Piano Concertos and The Late String Quartets (Harmonia Mundi) – These three-CD sets of Beethoven’s five piano concerts and five final string quartets, while not essential, are certainly worth hearing for the stamp of their interpreters. Pianist Paul Lewis, who performs with the excellent BBC Symphony Orchestra under conductor Jiri Belohlavek, treats the concertos as equal partners, so that the early efforts sound no less substantial than the mighty fifth concerto, the Emperor. The Tokyo String Quartet’s complete Beethoven cycle comes to a close with this recording, which includes determined performances of these forward-looking works which, nearly two hundred years later, still sound like nothing else ever composed for the string quartet. The Grosse Fuge has rarely sounded so otherworldly; the massive Quartets Nos. 13 and 15 are all earthy intensity.

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