Monday, June 13, 2011

June '11 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
AC/DC Let There Be Rock (Warners)
AC/DC never really took off commercially until 1980’s Back in Black album with vocalist Brian Johnson, but aficionados know that the band was already killer during Bon Scott’s reign. This concert film, shot in Paris during the band’s 1979 tour, shows a group at the top of its game, from Scott’s throaty growl to Angus Young’s killer riffs. AC/DC bludgeons its fans with “Whole Lotta Rosie,” “Girls Got Rhythm,“ “High Voltage” and “Highway to Hell.” The special-edition Blu-ray box includes the film in a stunning new hi-def transfer, complete with awesome multi-track sound; a commemorative book, a guitar pick, collector cards and a 32-page tribute book. Bonuses include an hour’s worth of interviews with the band’s fans like Billy Corgan and rock journalists.

Another Year (Sony)
Mike Leigh’s latest is filled with the warmth of his performers, although there’s much wheel-spinning in his portrait of quotidian British lives: scenes go on too long, in the hopes that Leigh and his actors break through to an illuminating insight. There’s a lot to admire in the performances of Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen as a husband and wife who are an oasis of serenity for the troubled souls who revolve around them. Too bad Lesley Manville, as their friend Mary, overacts mightily—at least until the final shots, when she faces down her own predicament without hamming. The Blu-ray image is first-rate; extras comprise a Leigh commentary and on-set featurettes and interviews.

Biutiful (Lionsgate)
At his best, Alejandro González Iñárritu creates powerful stories about people we care about. But when he falters, he wallows in a mire of obviousness. Both Iñárritus are present in Biutiful, which introduces Uxbal, a shady underground figure who helps illegal Chinese immigrants find menial jobs. When he discovers he has terminal cancer, he tries to reconcile his relationships with his children and estranged wife. Javier Bardem gives Uxbal an intensity and integrity lacking in the ham-handed script: the movie becomes risible when Uxbal starts seeing dead people, and its grimness becomes oppressive when a group of immigrants is found asphyxiated. The movie’s grittiness is well-served on Blu-ray; its extras include cast/crew interviews and director’s “flip notes,” Behind ‘Biutiful.’

The Company Men (Anchor Bay)
Writer-director John Wells’ timely take on the cratering U.S. economy zeroes in on several employees whose American dreams are ruined by the our country’s downsizing. A solid ensemble cast (Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Rosemarie DeWitt) buoys Wells’ uninspired script, giving it affecting emotional weight it otherwise lacks. Still, Wells’ heart is in the right place, and his is one of the few movies to show what happens to ordinary Americans. The Blu-ray transfer is excellent; extras include deleted scenes and alternate ending, Wells’ commentary and on-set interviews.

I Want Your Money (RG)
If you don’t know your facts or history, this cartoonish and clownishly put-together right-wing propaganda might fool you. But if you know that a) Ronald Reagan raised taxes, and b) the deficit went through the roof during the Reagan years, then Ray Griggs’ amateurish attempts to show how Reagan equaled ‘small government’ and Obama equals ‘socialism’ (along with anti-capitalist buddies like Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke) will be good for giggles but little else. The Blu-ray image’s clarity accentuates the one-dimensional animation where presidents and politicians are mercilessly (and unfunnily) lampooned; no extras.

The Man Who Would Be King (Warners)
John Huston’s rousing adventure yarn, based on Rudyard Kipling’s classic story, features Sean Connery and Michael Caine, giving terrific star turns as the Englishmen who attempt to take over and colonize the remote outpost of Kafiristan. Filled with great adventure and equally ample doses of good humor, this is one of Huston’s most unpretentious movies, and with the trio of Connery, Caine and Christopher Plummer (who ingeniously plays Kipling), it’s a must-see for everyone. On Blu-ray, the movie looks splendid, of course; the lone extra is a vintage on-set featurette, Call It Magic.

Marriage Italian Style, Sunflower, Yesterday Today and Tomorrow (Lorber)
A trio of collaborations by director Vittorio De Sica and stars Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni yielded two classic comedies (1963’s Yesterday Today and Tomorrow and 1964’s Marriage Italian Style) and a disastrous dramatic dud (1970’s Sunflower). Marriage and Yesterday show off the stars at their sophisticated and sexy best, while De Sica’s direction has an impossibly light touch; about Sunflower, however, the less said the better. All the movies are given top-notch hi-def transfers; Yesterday includes a bonus disc, Vittorio D., a superb 95-minute documentary on the director’s life and career that includes interviews with an awestruck Woody Allen and Ken Loach, among others.

Passion Play (Image)
A showdown between loser Mickey Rourke and gangster Bill Murray over winged femme fatale Megan Foxx might sound diverting, but writer-director Mitch Glazer’s drama takes itself so seriously that it becomes laughable after Foxx spreads her wings to embrace Rourke after a bout of lovemaking. Even Murray, trapped by the ludicrous script, doesn‘t bark out any one-line put-downs. Rourke looks more leathery than ever, particularly in the sharpness of hi-def, while Foxx has never looked more angelic, even if her wings are particularly foolish conceits. No extras.

DVDs of the Week
Bobbie Jo & the Outlaw, The Ceremony (MGM)
MGM’s “limited edition collection” brings long-forgotten movies to DVD, like these two titles: a ‘70s sexploitation yarn starring Wonder Woman and a routine ‘60s prison drama. The otherwise forgettable Bobbie Jo is the kind of movie you might skip over while channel-surfing late at night, but if you’re a Lynda Carter fan, it’s a must, since she memorably bears her breasts twice during sex scenes with Marjoe Gortner. The Ceremony has Sarah Miles, one of England’s most underrated actresses, but Laurence Harvey isn’t much of a triple-threat producer-director-actor on the evidence of this movie. Neither movie is restored, but no one will mind except diehard Wonder Woman fans.

CD of the Week
Dora Pejačević: Symphony

I’d never even heard of this composer until this CD. Pejačević, a Croatian who grew up in Budapest in an artistic household (politician father and Countess mother), wrote firmly in the post-Romantic tradition of Strauss and Mahler. The works, performe in viscerally immediate versions by the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Orchestra (conducted by Ari Rasilainen), give a sense of her musical intelligence: the 47-minute, four-movement Symphony and 15-minute Phantasie Concertante for piano are hardly earthshaking but eminently worthy compositions that introduce listeners to another rarely-heard voice.

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