Sunday, June 19, 2011

June '11 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
Battle: Los Angeles (Sony)
The latest sci-fi film in which aliens arrive, bent on the world’s destruction, B: LA at least doesn’t bother with dime store psychology: the aliens show up, and the explosive fun begins. Breathlessly moving to its bang-up conclusion, Jonathan Liebesman’s movie doesn’t need subtlety from its actors, but Aaron Eckart tries to give it more weight. The special effects-laden action sequences come off best on Blu-ray; the extras comprise behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews and storyboard comparisons.

Hair and New York New York (MGM)
These late ‘70s musicals were flops for directors coming off their biggest successes. Martin Scorsese had made Taxi Driver before his ambitious failure starring Robert DeNiro and Liza Minnelli, New York New York, in 1977; Milos Forman won the Oscar for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest before making his extravagant version of the classic hippie musical, Hair, in 1979. What’s best are these films’ visual imaginativeness, which looks splendid on Blu-ray. Hair has no extras; NY, NY extras include Scorsese’s commentary/introduction, alternate/deleted scenes, two-part retrospective documentary, Minnelli interview, and scene commentary by cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs.

Just Go with It (Sony)
Another ordinary Adam Sandler vehicle, this bumpy remake of Cactus Flower has Sandler using Jennifer Aniston to help him reel in hottie Brooklyn Decker. A few laughs are scattered in the dross, but the movie too often settles for pointless scenes, like every one featuring a grossly overdone Nicole Kidman, stretching the running time beyond endurance. There's clever use of Police and Sting songs, and the parts shot in Hawaii look splendid on Blu-ray, but the comedy department never amounts too much. Extras include deleted scenes, blooper reel and on-set featurettes.

The Makioka Sisters (Criterion)
Kon Ichikawa’s 1983 quiet, contemplative chamber drama studies a quartet of sisters that have taken over the family kimono business before the outbreak of World War II. Not nearly as incisive as Ichikawa’s best films (due in part to a horribly dated synthesizer score), The Makioka Sisters still has its creator’s affection for his characters in spades. The gorgeous cinematography, in which the four seasons play a big role, remains highly effective on Blu-ray. Unfortunately, there are no extras on this major Criterion release.

The Outlaw Josey Wales (Warners)
Clint Eastwood’s 1976 western, which he directed and starred in, finds the star as a man seeking revenge against the Union soldiers who killed his family and destroyed his homestead. In many ways a standard western, the movie utilizes the Civil War to add tension to the hero tracking down the killers. While blatant, this effective drama showed that Eastwood’s directing career would continue. The Blu-ray image is luminous; extras comprise critic Richard Schickel commentary and three Eastwood featurettes.

Red Riding Hood (Warners)
With an eye toward her Twilight success, director Catherine Hardwicke tries jump-starting a new fantasy franchise by bringing werewolves into the fairy tale for good measure. Amanda Seyfried makes an appropriately wide-eyed title character, and Julie Christie, Virginia Madsen and Gary Oldman lend able support, but the CGI wolf is neither scary nor believable enough for the conceit to work. Grittily shot by Mandy Walker, the movie looks excellent on Blu-ray; extras include a gag reel, alternate scenes, music videos, audition tapes and director/performers commentary.

Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology (Warners)
Christopher Reeve revived the Man of Steel franchise in the first two Superman movies, but numbers three and four sullied everyone’s reputation. That quartet takes up most of this eight-disc set, which also includes Bryan Singer’s 2006 reboot with Brandon Routh; director Richard Donner’s “director’s cut” of the original, and his own cut of the sequel, which had been taken over by Richard Lester. The Reeve movies look superb on Blu-ray, considering their age: 30-35 years old. Extensive extras on a separate disc include full-length documentaries Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman and You Will Believe: the Cinematic Saga of Superman; vintage featurettes; TV specials; complete 1940s Max Fleischer cartoons; commentaries; and TV pilot.

36th Precinct (Palisades Tartan)
Director Olivier Marchal’s 2004 policier pits two of the biggest French stars, Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteil, against each other as police superintendents hoping to inherit the soon-vacated commissioner’s job. A nail-biter throughout, the movie has twists and turns that don’t always make sense, but the stars’ towering presence help smooth over rough spots. The movie has a solid Blu-ray transfer; extras include making-of featurettes and director interview.

DVDs of the Week
If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Film Movement)
Romania’s film renaissance continues with co-writer/director Florin Serban’s tough-minded portrait of an 18-year-old delinquent putting his life in order the only way he knows how: kidnapping a beautiful social worker. George Pistereanu and Ana Condeescu’s raw, emotional performances provide Serban’s film with the backbone it needs to give a sense of a nation trying to survive in an increasingly factitious 21st century. The lone extra is a 20-minute Dutch short, Kiss.

Vanishing of the Bees (True Mind)
With Queen of the Sun, this film makes a one-two punch exploring what’s happening to bees thanks to man’s messing with nature. Narrated by Ellen Page, George Langworthy and Maryam Henein’s documentary explores various theses about how bees are dying by the millions due to Colony Collapse Disorder. More clinical than Queen, which was a more poetic meditation on a horrible situation, Vanishing shows what happens and how it can be stopped. Brief extras include deleted scenes and an animated short.

CD of the Week
John Adams: Son of Chamber Symphony/String Quartet (Nonesuch)
John Adams, America’s premier living composer, returns with 2007’s Son of Chamber Symphony and 2008’s String Quartet, performed by International Contemporary Ensemble (conducted by Adams) and St. Lawrence String Quartet, respectively. Son of Chamber Symphony is a raucous, exhilarating work that shows how expressive Adams’ musical language has become since his original Chamber Symphony in 1992. The String Quartet is less formidable but is played with passionate precision by the St. Lawrence quartet.

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