Sunday, July 10, 2011

July '11 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
Das Boot: Extended Director’s Cut

German director Wolfgang Petersen’s exploration of a World War II U-boat crew achieved “classic” status after its 1982 release, but was also shown as a six-hour TV mini-series in Europe. Petersen re-edited footage from both cuts to come up with his 3-½ hour “director’s cut” that’s his preferred version. Both intimate and epically-scaled, it’s a perfect balance of claustrophobia and expansive battle sequences to satisfy fans of action movies and more modest dramas. The original 2-½ hour feature is also included, and both versions look spectacular on Blu-ray. Extras include a Petersen commentary and several featurettes on the making of the film, its historical background and Petersen’s final cut.

Camille 2000 (Cult Epics) and
The Image
These adult films by Radley Metzger are nicely-photographed trifles that have their felicities (especially The Image’s lovely Paris locations), but are hampered by poor dubbing, less-than-adequate acting and a paucity of erotic moments. (A few explicit instances of fellatio in The Image don’t help.) Metzger is one of the more celebrated directors from porn’s golden age, but the movies haven’t aged well and drag on to no apparent effect. Both movies have been restored, giving them a sheen they haven’t had since their making in 1969 and 1975. Extras are on-set featurettes and restoration clips.

Dialogues des Carmelites (BelAir Classiques)
and Les Tr
oyens (Unitel Classica)
Two classic French operas from the 19th and 20th century are seen in unfortunate 2010 stagings. Francois Poulenc’s 1957 masterpiece Dialogues loses much of its tragic power thanks to Dmitri Tcherniakov’s misguided Munich production, while Hector Berlioz’s mythical epic Les Troyens (composed in the mid 1850s) has been turned into a silly Star Wars-like space opera by Spanish director Carlus Padrissa. Happily, the music of both operas comes through loudly and clearly thanks to superb DTS-HD audio, and there are excellent transfers; no extras on Dialogues, but Troyens includes a making-of featurette.

Hobo with a Shotgun
Blood and guts literally spurt everywhere in this gleefully inane send-up of sleazy B-movies that follows the title bum as he cleans up the streets of a town surprisingly inundated with violent thugs. Rutger Hauer’s craggy, leathery face is the perfect visual of this over-the-top explosion of mayhem that features inventive ways of offing people, even one stolen from Caligula, of all things. Molly Dunsworth makes a perky sidekick to Hauer’s dour hero, although good acting isn’t the point. The movie is given a satisfying hi-def transfer; extras include commentaries, making-of featurettes, deleted scenes, alternate ending and interviews.

Of Gods and Men
Xavier Beauvois’ forceful drama is based on the true story of French monks in a remote Algerian village who were kidnapped and killed by terrorists in 1996. This meditative character study shows men living austerely while helping the poor and sick and giving hope to the destitute. When terrorist threats become real, the men must choose to abandon their calling as God’s helpers or return to safety in France. Smartly refraining from soundtrack music or cross-cutting to heighten suspense or anxiety, Beauvois trusts his material and his audience; the result, while depressing, is spiritually exhilarating. The extraordinary imagery looks glorious on Blu-ray, especially the dazzlingly understated final shots. Extras include a featurette on the real monks and a discussion by two experts.

People on Sunday

A rare Criterion foray into silent film unearths this 1930 German cross between fiction and documentary, a gem about city slickers who plan a weekend outing in pre-Nazi era Berlin. The behind-the-camera crew, filled with future masters like directors Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer, writer Billy Wilder and assistant cinematographer Fred Zinnemann, shows the strength of Germany’s film industry before Hitler. Criterion’s superlatively restored Blu-ray transfer has nary a scratch or mark; extras include two musical scores, a 2000 documentary about the film, Weekend am Wannsee, and a 35-minute short by the film’s cinematographer Eugen Schufftan, Ins Blaue hinein.

13 Assassins
Takashi Miike’s remake of Eiichi Kudo’s elegant 1963 black and white film has the requisite amounts of blood (beginning with the opening scene’s hara-kiri), but two-plus hours of unrelieved, vividly colorful bloodletting and samurai battles palls on the viewer; by its end, we’re left with pretty (and pretty violent) imagery, and little else. The stylish scenes of killing are presented with appropriate clarity on Blu-ray . Extras include a Miike interview and 18 minutes of deleted scenes.

Wake Wood
(Dark Sky)

This short, unsubtle chiller takes its cue from The Wicker Man and Audrey Rose as a grieving couple brings its daughter back thanks to the pagan ritual practiced in the small village they move to after her death. Although the thrills are borrowed from earlier and better sources, the accomplished cast and director David Keating’s unerring eye (this is one of the best-looking Blu-ray transfers I’ve yet seen) smooth over what’s redundant or routine, including the risible final stare at the camera. Deleted scenes are the lone extra.

DVDs of the Week
Lulu (Arthaus Musik) and
Parsifal (Unitel Classica)
These classic productions of two great operas are finally released on DVD. The 2003 Zurich staging of Alban Berg’s horrifying Lulu might be the incomplete version, but soprano Laura Aikin makes a riveting anti-heroine, even handling the not so gratuitous nudity with aplomb. Wolfgang Wagner’s 1999 staging of his grandfather’s final opera, Parsifal, at the Wagner shrine in Bayreuth is dramatically deficient but visually stunning; terrific singers like Paol Elming, Linda Watson and Falk Struckmann are accompanied by glorious musicmaking by the orchestra and conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli.

One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich
(Icarus Films)
Chris Marker’s lovely eulogy for his good friend, Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, who died in 1986 of cancer, is one of three remarkable Russian-themed documentaries on this disc. Also included are Three Songs About Motherland, Marina Goldovskaya’s intimate chronicle of modern Russia still dealing with its tortured past, and In the Dark, director Sergey Dvortsevoy’s moving film about a blind old man, living with his cat in a tiny Moscow apartment, who weaves baskets to hand out to complete strangers on the street.


This documentary about one of the most accomplished progressive rock bands was made during the 2003 reunion tour that brought together singer Jon Anderson, guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and drummer Alan White for the band’s 35th anniversary. Roger Daltrey narrates an interesting three-hour history with a short detour for each of the five members. (Tony Kaye, Bill Bruford and Trevor Rabin, who masterminded the band’s biggest hit years, are out of luck.) Although the concert’s musical numbers are only excerpted, a bonus is the entire concert in Dolby 5.1 audio, so fans can hear full versions of “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “The South Side of the Sky” and “Roundabout.”

CD of the Week
Strauss: Don Juan/Metamorphosen/Songs

As this new disc demonstrates, Richard Strauss (who died in 1949 at age 85) was composing works in his old age as substantial as those he wrote as the new enfant terrible in late 19th century Vienna. Paired are his boisterous early tone poem, 1889’s Don Juan and Metamorphosen, his reflective post-war meditation from 1945, both played by the solid Strasbourg Philharmonic (the string section on the latter) under conductor Jan Latham-Koenig. In between, nine typically luscious songs from early in his career are sung with richness by soprano Joan Rogers accompanied by Latham-Koenig on piano.

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