Blu-rays of the Week
All the President’s Men (Warners) – This classic 70s-paranoia thriller by director Alan Pakula is far more memorable—and scarier—than his earlier The Parallax View because it’s true! Pakula’s low-key, documentary-like style perfectly fits this exploration of reporters Woodward and Bernstein going after the Watergate story no one else cared about, eventually toppling the Nixon White House. There are superb performances by Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, and so on down to the tiniest bit parts. The Blu-ray transfer, though a little soft-looking, retains the graininess that underscores its effectiveness as a shadowy—and cumulatively exciting—mystery story. Extras include a Redford commentary, a 70-minute retrospective documentary, and a Dinah Shore talk-show episode featuring Robards.
Due Date (Warners) – I barely chuckled during that desperate laugh-fest The Hangover, so I didn’t hold out hope for director Todd Phillips’ follow-up. I was right: despite a hard-working Robert Downey, Jr., Due Date is even less funny, as it tries grafting sentiment onto zaniness with much more middling results. Add to the fact that Zach Galifianakis comes across as a second-rate Jack Black, and Michelle Monaghan and Jamie Foxx are wasted as Downey’s pregnant wife and best friend and you have a bummer of a time-waster. For what it’s worth, the movie receives a first-rate Blu-ray transfer, but the extras merely comprise a few minutes’ worth of deleted scenes, an endless gag reel and a clip from Two and a Half Men that extends a not particularly funny gag from the movie.
Raging Bull—30th Anniversary Edition (MGM) – Martin Scorsese’s pummeling 1980 portrait of boxer Jake LaMotta might not be top-notch film biography, but when you have Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty in top form, why quibble about what’s essentially a one-note biopic about a human (and decidedly unsexy) beast? The fight scenes still startle, the B&W photography is still extraordinary, and the razor-sharp editing still inventive: and on Blu-ray, the film has more immediacy—I hesitate to say it packs a bigger punch—than ever. Although several extras (like the three highly listenable audio commentaries) were included on the original Blu-ray release, there are four new interview featurettes, totaling nearly 50 minutes: Marty and Bobby, Raging Bull—Reflections on a Classic, Remembering Jake and Marty on Film.
Wild Target (Fox) – This rather mild black comic romp about a coldblooded hit man whose heart melts when, through crazy circumstances, he finds himself protecting rather than offing a flighty museum attendant nevertheless is worth 90 minutes of your time thanks to the potent comic chemistry between the always-watchable Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt (who gets better with every role). The movie knocks around for a good half hour or so before throwing them together, but once it does, hearty laughs ensue. Ruperts Grint and Everett provide good support, but this Nighy and Blunt’s show all the way. The movie looks about as good as it’s going to look on Blu-ray, but this is not a film of visual pleasures anyway. The lone extra is a brief featurette about Emily Blunt.
DVDs of the Week
Bill Moyers: A World of Ideas—Writers and Bill Moyers: In Search of the Constitution (Athena/Acorn Media) – Here are two more additions to the rapidly expanding catalogue of Moyers programs that are being given the deluxe treatment they deserve on DVD. Television’s best and most open-minded interviewer presents discussions, in A World of Ideas, with various authors ranging from E.L. Doctorow to Tom Wolfe, including several who are no longer with us such as Isaac Asimov, Joseph Heller and August Wilson (the series was taped in 1988). In Search of the Constitution—from 1987—is an in-depth, 10-episode series chronicling the living, breathing document our Founding Fathers created two centuries ago, with important observations from scholars and Supreme Court justices O’Connor, Brenna and Blackmun.
Room in Rome (IFC) – Although Julio Medem never realized his potential following Cows, his promising 1993 debut film, he has remained an unapologetic voyeur of the female form and explorer of sexuality. Sex and Lucia is only the most obvious example of his soft-core proclivities, but his new film—surprisingly never released in the U.S., instead going straight to DVD—comes pretty close. Two gorgeous women, one Spanish and one Russian, spend a memorable evening in a hotel overlooking St. Peter’s Basilica doing things to and with each other that most men would envy. It’s blatantly shallow and often silly, but the astonishingly fearless actresses, Elena Anaya and Natasha Yarovenko, and Medem’s caressing camera make it worth seeing. It’s too bad IFC nixed a Blu-ray release, which it received in Europe.
CDs of the Week
Janine Jansen: Beau Soir (Decca) – Janine Jansen has already proven herself one of our most exciting young violinists, so this excellent disc of quintessential French music comes as no surprise. The fiery Jansen and her sensitive pianist Itamar Golan play exquisite Gallic chamber music, with the inspired sonatas by Debussy and Ravel as sturdy bookends. Elsewhere, the pair performs miniatures like Debussy’s title track (in an arrangement by Jascha Heifetz), Faure’s lovely Après un reve and even a gem of a Nocturne by ill-fated Lili Boulanger, sister of the famous music teacher who died far too soon at age 25. Rounding out this adventurous set are three short pieces by contemporary composer Richard Dubugnon which don’t sound out of place (high praise indeed) and Olivier’s Messiaen’s hypnotic Theme et variations.
Paul Galbraith Performs Mozart, Bach and Britten (Mashulka Productions) – Paul Galbraith plays a specially-made guitar with a unique, cello-like set-up, and his inventive, arresting technique works wonders with his chosen repertoire: there are vigorous transcriptions of a Mozart piano sonata and a Bach cello suite, along with short “encore” pieces by Albeniz, Ravel and, again, Bach. But the emotional centerpiece of this disc is Britten’s sublime Nocturnal, ingeniously based on baroque music by John Dowland. This masterly suite has movement titles like “musingly,” “restless” and “dreaming,” and Galbraith plays them true to form, making Britten’s difficult exploration of the limits of guitar technique sound easy and natural.