Sunday, August 21, 2011

August '11 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
Bambi II (Disney)
Even contemplating a sequel to one of Disney’s all-time classics reeks of heresy, which is probably why 2006’s Bambi II, which follows the motherless fawn after a rocky reunion with his father The Great Prince, seems so casual and effortlessly winning. While a mere gloss on the original, it works nicely on its own terms, and at 72 minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome. The animation for this direct-to-video movie, which is reminiscent of without slavishly imitating the classic look of Bambi, looks better on Blu-ray than last week’s Fox and the Hound II, and the extras include a deleted song, making-of featurette and interactive games.

The Bang Bang Club (e one)
Based on real accounts, Steven Silver’s tense drama follows a quartet of photographers who are recording for posterity the volatile end of apartheid in South Africa. Their exciting but dangerous exploits are front and center in a film that persuasively explores their moral dilemmas of interfering when people’s lives are at stake. Good performances by Ryan Philippe, Taylor Kitsch, Frank Rautenbach and Neels Van Jaarsveld as the men and Malin Akerman as their editor are key to this honest, dramatic expose. The movie has a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras comprise Silver’s commentary, deleted scenes, making-of featurette and cast/crew interviews.

Cul-de-Sac (Criterion)
One of Roman Polanski’s most diabolical features, his 1966 follow-up to Repulsion stars Catherine Deneuve’s sister, the late, lamented and gorgeous Francoise Dorleac in the lead role in another twisted tale of the self-destructive physical and mental injury that an unlikely trio commits together and to one another. Filled with typical Polanski black humor, the movie doesn’t hang together but deserves a look. Criterion’s superb-looking Blu-ray edition has extras comprising Two Gangsters and an Island, a documentary about the film’s making; and a 1967 Polanski television interview.

A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More (Fox/MGM)
Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti westerns propelled Clint Eastwood to stardom as the stoic gunfighter, “The Man with No Name.” The 1964 original Fistful introduced the quiet hero in a fast-paced western, while 1965’s follow-up Dollars consolidated his characterization with more contemplation in between the gunplay. Both movies have received a good Blu-ray transfer, with adequate grain present throughout. There are many extras on both discs including commentaries, interviews, featurettes and deleted scenes.

The Killing (Criterion)
Stanley Kubrick’s first mature film, this cracklingly good 1956 heist picture pioneered the fractured narrative structure that Quentin Tarantino somehow got credit for nearly 40 years later with his overrated Pulp Fiction. Kubrick’s splendid pacing, hair-trigger editing and excellent cast (Sterling Hayden, Joe Turkel, Elisha Cook Jr., Timothy Carey) make for a formally innovative and viscerally entertaining thriller, which helped pave the way for Kubrick’s controversial and uncompromising directorial careers. Criterion’s excellent Blu-ray package includes a top-notch digital transfer of The Killing and Killers’ Kiss, Kubrick’s minor 1955 film noir, interviews, reminiscences and video analysis.

Mars Needs Moms (Disney)
Based on The Far Side’s Berkeley Breathed’s book, this badly misfiring and unfunny adaptation was among Disney’s biggest flops at the box office. The tired motion-capture technique isn’t to blame, and neither is the clever visual imagination (which transfers well to Blu-ray); however, the repetitive jokiness and utter predictability of characters and storyline equal a fruitless attempt to make a hip animated film that will appeal to both parents and their children. Extras include interviews and on-set featurettes.

Meet Monica Velour (Anchor Bay)
With Kim Cattrall as an over-the-hill porn star making ends meet by stripping, I was hoping this would be an appealingly sleazy B movie. Although Cattrall gives a strong portrayal of a middle-aged woman hoping to stave off the inevitable (she’s a white-trash version of Sex and the City's Samantha), the movie spends too much time with its pimply, geeky protagonist (Dustin Ingram) and shortchanges Monica herself. The Blu-ray image is sharp; extras include Cattrall and writer-director Keith Dearden’s commentary and deleted scenes.

Priest (Sony)
This graphic-novel adaptation’s kick-ass 90 minutes are gone through with all the subtlety of a lead pipe smashing a car window: if you don’t stop to think about the gaping plot holes and the idiotic (or non-existent) characterizations, you might have an unfinicky good time watching it. Fans of the genre will lap this up, especially on Blu-ray with its flashy sci-fi visuals and pulse-pounding soundtrack taking things to the next level. Extras include a commentary, deleted and extended scenes and making-of featurettes.

DVDs of the Week
Dear Uncle Adolf and The Wrong Side of the Bus (First Run)
These fascinating documentaries chronicle two of the most loathsome and hated regimes in modern history. Adolf shows vintage Nazi-era clips as letters of love and affection from ordinary German citizens to the Fuhrer are read, pointedly showing how much his racist ideology permeated “normal” citizens. The equally powerful Bus introduces a Jewish doctor from Australia who returns to South Africa, where he grew up, with his son to see first hand how apartheid’s legacy is still hurtful and haunting to those it affected.

Robert Plant’s Blue Note (Sexy Intellectual)
From his Led Zeppelin days to his popular collaboration with country babe Allison Krauss, Robert Plant has always confounded musical expectations. This comprehensive documentary includes nicely chosen video clips to showcase all phases of his pre- and post-Zep career, including his first three solo albums with inventive guitarist Robbie Blunt, interviewed along with journalists and his late 80s/early 90s songwriting partner, Phil Johnstone. Plant also speaks in various interview clips in a satisfying glimpse at one of rock’s renaissance men, with a bonus featurette on Plant’s debt to Leadbelly’s music.

CDs of the Week
Julia Fischer: Poeme (Deutsche Grammophon)
Julia Fischer has never been a show-offy violinist, which her vibrant new disc of orchestral works proves. Aside from Vaughan Williams’ soaringly ecstatic The Lark Ascending, the other works are more contemplative but equally technically difficult. Ernest Chausson’s lyrical Poeme, Josef Suk’s bristling D-minor Fantasy and Ottorino Respighi’s lovely Poema autunnale are all putty in Fischer’s musical hands, which bring a poetic quality to each and every piece for her favored instrument.

Krenek: Symphony No. 4 (CPO)
Ernest Krenek’s career can be divided between Germany and, after fleeing the Nazis, the U.S. The prolific composer (who died in 1991 at age 90) wrote works ranging from solo piano music to grand operas, and the pairing on this disc (which continues CPO’s traversal of Krenek’s symphonies) come from both eras. The neo-baroque Concerto Grosso No. 2 (1924) is effervescent and instantly hummable; the darker Fourth Symphony (1947), on the other hand, is full of the atonality that was characteristic of post-war music, but with a much freer, expressive hand than that label implies. Both works are beautifully played by the NDR Radio Philharmonic of Hanover, Germany under the baton of Alun Francis.

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