Sunday, July 3, 2011

July '11 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
Black Moon and
Zazie dans le metro


Two of Louis Malle’s more experimental films are given typically excellent Criterion releases. 1975’s Black Moon, a surrealist take on Alice in Wonderland, is enlivened by Sven Nykvist’s usual sumptuous photography, while Zazie dans le metro, a 1960 adaptation of Raymond Queneau’s supposedly unfilmable novel, has a free-form style that fit in well with the then-emerging New Wave. Malle, whose eclectic career was cut short by cancer at age 63, took on any project and made it his own. Both movies have a sumptuous “sparkle” on Blu-ray; extras include vintage Malle interviews on both releases and additional interviews and a video piece on Zazie.

Ceremony (Magnolia)
Writer-director Max Winkler’s young protagonist, still in love with his older ex, decides to crash her upcoming wedding to see if there‘s anything still there between them. Although the attractive, talented cast (Michael Angarano, Uma Thurman, Lee Pace, Reece Thompson) make the characters believably confused, Winkler is unable to make Ceremony more than intermittently clever and charming. The movie looks good on Blu-ray; extras include deleted scenes, outtakes, extended scene, making-of featurettes and behind-the-scenes footage.

Happythankyoumoreplease (Anchor Bay)
Stop me if you’ve seen it before: twenty-somethings are negotiating their relationships, finding themselves no closer to an epiphany at the end than the beginning. The essential problem with Josh Radnor’s sketchy glimpse at several interchangeable New Yorkers is that it doesn’t have much more depth than a typical TV sitcom. Happily, there are enjoyable performances by Kate Mara and Malin Akerman; too bad Pablo Schreiber, Zoe Kazan and Radnor himself are not up to snuff. There’s a decent Blu-ray transfer; extras include Radnor commentary, music featurette and deleted scenes.

Lebanon, Pa. (Monarch)
Ben Hickernell’s restrained character study chronicles a man returning from the big city to the small town where his father died, only to get involved with a teenage neighbor’s problems and have an affair with a local married woman. Hickernell’s excellent dialogue and believable characters are given great support by Josh Hopkins, Rachel Kitson (amazing as the pregnant teen) and Samantha Mathis, who is so natural and unaffected as the married woman that it’s a shame she isn’t seen more. There’s a fine Blu-ray transfer; extras include an alternate opening, deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Extended Edition (Warners)
Peter Jackson’s masterly trilogy, based on Tolkien’s classic fantasy novels, is now on Blu-ray in the Jackson’s own extended versions adding more than an hour’s worth of material to each film, which may be too much for most viewers but will be just right for real Rings aficionados. As in the previous Blu-ray release of the theatrical versions, the images are spectacular in high definition, and there are several discs’ worth of massive extras that comprise 26 hours’ worth of special features, from documentaries to commentaries.

Mega Python vs. Gatoroid and Wild Cherry (Image)
If cheesecake is your thing, then you could do worse than these two B flicks. Former teeny-bopping pop singers Debbie Gibson and Tiffany square off in the ridiculously silly monster movie Mega Python, while Lost’s Tania Raymonde makes a teen’s attempt to lose her virginity appealing in Wild Cherry. Although these are not the kind of movies you watch for their (non-female) visual appeal, but both have sharp Blu-ray transfers. Mega Python includes a making-of featurette; there are no Wild Cherry extras.

Nature: Bears of the Last Frontier (PBS)
Naturalist Chris Morgan’s enthralling journey through Alaska explores the remaining habitats of all of North America’s bear species (black, brown and polar). In these three hour-long Nature episodes, Morgan lives among the bears for a year in Alaska’s five vitally distinct ecosystems, providing astonishing insights into their behavior and unique adaptability. I first watched this series on PBS in HD, but the more visually magnificent Blu-ray version is the way it should be seen.

Season of the Witch and The Warrior’s Way (Fox)
Swords feature prominently on the covers of both of these films, the Middle Ages-set thriller Season of the Witch and the high-flying martial arts adventure The Warrior's Way. Nicolas Cage finally finds a role to suit his crazed look, even if Season ultimately fails to make witches, werewolves and other supernatural beats classier than usual; Warrior, similarly, is too familiar in its plot and its stunt-filled action sequences. Both films have a trendy dark “look” that transfers nicely to Blu-ray; Season’s extras are deleted scenes, an alternate ending and making-of featurettes; Warrior’s extras are deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes montage.

DVDs of the Week
Another Man, Another Chance and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (MGM)
More MGM vault releases: French director Claude Lelouch’s 1977 romantic western with James Caan and Genevieve Bujold and Sir Peter Hall’s 1971 adaptation of Shakespeare’s sparkling comedy. Lelouch’s Another Man Another Chance centers on Bujold’s wonderful portrayal of a French widow who finds love with fellow widower Caan. Alternately sentimental and tough-minded, the movie is typically schizophrenic Lelouch. Hall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream stars a bevy of British beauties (Diana Rigg, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench) who steal the show from their uninspired male cohorts, except for Ian Holm’s puckish Puck. Though neither film has been restored, both look decent.

Eclipse 27: Raffaello Matarazzo’s Runaway Melodramas (Criterion)
Criterion’s Eclipse line was made for releases like this: an unfamiliar director given an introduction through several films. Italian Raffaello Matarazzo plied his trade when the neo-realist movement was taking hold: unlike Rossellini and de Sica, however, Matarazzo made hits that audiences flocked to. Why? Popular stars (Amedeo Nazzari and Yvonne Sanson are in all four films) and engrossing soap-opera plots made audiences shed copious tears. Stories and characterizations are often risible, but these four films, Chains, Tormento, Nobody’s Children and The White Angel, made between 1949-55, open a window into the kind of cinema gripping Italian audiences for years after World War II.

Living in Emergency (First Run)
The extensive sacrifices made by the humane, brave members of the organization Doctors Without Borders are recounted in Mark Hopkins’ intelligent, sobering but ultimately life-affirming documentary. In worldwide trouble spots like Liberia and Congo, these doctors do what they can with the tools at their disposal, and daily choices and challenges often lead to bitter self-examination when patients are not saved. Hopkins shows the limits of idealism when confronted by extreme poverty, warfare or remote locations. Extras include an interview with Hopkins and a roundtable discussion led by Elizabeth Vargas.

CD of the Week
Knickerbocker Holiday (Ghostlight)
This recording of Kurt Weill’s infrequently-done1938 Broadway show (from last year’s concert at Manhattan’s Alice Tully Hall) has a starry cast, chorus and orchestra. Weill’s charming music, which includes the all-time classic “September Song,” coupled with Maxwell Anderson’s clever lyrics, masks the flimsiness of a silly book about 17th century Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam. Victor Garber, Kelli O’Hara and Ben Davis lead the capable cast, with O’Hara’s and Davis’ duets “It Never Was You” and “You Remember Me” as standouts. The Collegiate Chorale gets the chance to let it rip in “May and January” and “Dirge for a Soldier,” among other numbers, while the Chorale’s James Bagwell also leads the excellent American Symphony Orchestra.

No comments: