Sunday, July 17, 2011

July '11 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
Bloodrayne: the Third Reich (Phase 4)
Uwe Boll’s video game adaptation about a vampiress who battles the Nazis could have been down and dirty B-movie fun, but in Boll’s leaden hands, there’s little excitement, humor or competent pacing. It’s too bad, because this could have been good and campy fun. The Blu-ray image is appropriately grainy; extras include commentary by Boll and writer Michael C. Nachoff, a Nachoff interview and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

The Lincoln Lawyer (Lionsgate)
This slickly entertaining courtroom drama, which keeps viewers off-balance by piling on plot twists that actually make sense in context, follows an iconoclastic attorney defending an arrogant rich kid on troubling sexual assault charges. With a mostly terrific (and terrific-looking) cast led by Matthew McConaughey and Marisa Tomei, this enjoyable lark provides little more than popcorn entertainment. The glossy-looking movie keeps its sheen on Blu-ray; extras include making-of featurettes, interviews and deleted scenes.

Louie—The First Season (Fox)
Louis CK’s comic sensibility is not for everyone, and I must admit that his abrasiveness in this eponymously-titled series is off-putting, even if that is the point. There are uncomfortably funny moments throughout along with moments that are just uncomfortable, with no discernible comic insight. Still, it’s worth watching, especially if you find his humor is on your wavelength. The Blu-ray image is noticeably sharper than the DVD image on the flip side, not that it matters much; extras include CK’s goofy commentaries, deleted scenes and a behind-the-scene featurette.

Marple and Poirot (Acorn Media)
These Masterpiece Mystery series dramatize Agatha Christie whodunits starring two of her most famous and intrepid detectives: Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Julia Mackenzie plays Marple delightfully in this quartet of stories about her discovering killers and other criminals, while David Suchet is almost unrecognizably Belgian as Poirot in the trio of stories featured in that box set. The stories are still serviceably twisty, and the sumptuous productions help keep the atmosphere of dread popping. The atmospheric mysteries gain immeasurably from their hi-def transfers; there are no Poirot extras, but Marple includes an earlier adaptation of The Pale Horse, a 66-minute documentary, Agatha Christie’s Garden, and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Miral (Anchor Bay)
You can’t say Julian Schnabel rests on his laurels. After making the brilliant biopic The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, he turns to a pro-Palestinian drama by writer Rula Jebreal. Although the movie deserves plaudits for tackling another side of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the characterizations and politics are too one-dimensional to make an impact. As Miral, the excellent Freida Pinto (who looks like Jebreal’s twin) can’t overcome the superficiality. Schnabel’s pungent visuals glisten on Blu; extras include a Schnabel/ producer commentary; Schnabel interview; deleted scenes; and a making-of featurette.

Naked (Criterion)
Mike Leigh’s least effective film, this blunt and brutal attack against Thatcher-era consumerism in England shows some ugly people doing ugly things to one another; the problem is there’s no insight or poetry, just crass indictment. The actors, led by David Thewlis and the late Katrin Cartlidge, are exemplary, and Leigh’s directing is very fine, but there’s little incisiveness in his scattershot script. The film’s relentless darkness is well-served on Blu-ray, with extraordinary film grain; extras include a Leigh, Thewlis and Cartlidge commentary, Neil LaBute interview, vintage Leigh interview and Leigh’s hilarious 1987 short, The Short and Curlies.

The Sacrifice (Kino)
Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky died after finishing his 1986 psychological drama that ranks as his most direct assaults on human frailty. Ravaged by war and disease, the protagonist hopes for a peaceful death surrounded by family, but human nature intervenes. Sven Nykvist’s expressive cinematography perfectly mirrors Tarkovsky’s interiorized character study; Erland Josephson is sublime as the fatally flawed hero. The softness of Tarkovsky’s stunning images and Nykvist’s remarkable photography is seen to great advantage on Blu-ray. A bonus DVD includes Michal Leszczylowski’s documentary Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, shot during the making of The Sacrifice.

DVDs of the Week
Damages—The Complete 3rd Season (Sony)
ER—The Complete Final Season (Warners)
These releases showcase one drama at its peak and another petering out. The third season of Damages is the most riveting yet, with excellent acting by Glenn Close, Rose Byrne, Lily Tomlin, Campbell Scott, Ted Danson and even Martin Short. The final season of ER is, by contrast, disappointingly routine, with the 22 episodes going through the motions trying to recreate what once made it the pinnacle of all medical dramas. Damages extras include commentaries, deleted scenes, gag reel, episode introductions and behind-the-scenes featurettes; ER’s special features include deleted scenes and interview panel.

Illegal (Film Movement)
In this tense psychological thriller, Russian émigré Tania protects her teenage son Ivan so much that she sacrifices herself when Belgian police discover she has no identification papers—Ivan escapes while she’s thrown into a detention center. This harrowing journey is director Olivier Masset-Depasse’s heartfelt and articulate plea for justice that, despite dramatic missteps, is helped by Anne Coesens’ devastating central performance. Paced with crackling urgency and packed with authentic acting down to the tiniest parts, Illegal ends with a reunion that, after so much physical and emotional debasement, is less a happy ending than a needed catharsis. The lone extra is a 20-minute Italian short, Rita.

Orgasm, Inc. (First Run)
Liz Canner’s documentary zeroes in on the female sexual dysfunction “problem” (supposedly 43% of American women have sexual problems, a number the movie debunks) that has convinced women to take pills and undergo genital corrective surgery. Canner’s informative, breezily entertaining film does paint expert Laura Berman as being on the take by the big companies and a font of misinformation. The film also touches on how our government has allowed the big pharmaceutical companies to tout unnecessary drugs that doctors are writing out piles of prescriptions for. Extras include bonus footage.

CD of the Week
Rautavaara—Summer Thoughts (Ondine)
Einojuhani Rautavaara is best known for operas and orchestral works, so when a chamber music disc comes along, it’s imperative to hear a more intimate side of this legendary Finnish composer. Although the title track is an evocative 1972 piece reworked three years ago (same with the equally haunting April Lines, now bearing the dates 1970/2006), it’s the autobiographical Lost Landscapes (from 2005) that stands out: violinist Pekka Kuusisto and pianist Paavali Jumppanen beautifully perform Rautavaara’s musical memoir. Jumppanen also excels with the 1952 piano suite The Fiddlers, marred only by Kuusisto playing actual folk tunes Rautavaara used before each movement, interrupting the musical flow and making it tough for listeners to hear it as written.

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