Saturday, September 10, 2011

September '11 Digital Week II

Sept. 11 DVDs
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (Scholastic)
The amazing feat of Frenchman Philippe Petit--who walked on the high wire between the two World Trade Center towers in 1974, shortly after they opened--is recounted in this delightfully narrated (by Jake Gyllenhaal) and illustrated (by Mordicai Gerstein) animated short that’s a lovely piece of nostalgic reminiscence about buildings whose destruction created a gash in the Manhattan skyline. A trio of other inspiring tales--Crow Boy, The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, Miss Rumphius--is included, along with interviews with Hawkins’ author and illustrator.

Rebirth (Oscilloscope)
In time for the 10th anniversary of the attacks, director James Whitaker’s documentary follows five people whose lives are forever intertwined with--and were irretrievably altered by--the events of that awful day. Time-lapse photography, illuminating the transformation of Ground Zero into a new landscape that honors the victims and points the way forward for lower Manhattan, makes this an inspirational film showing that, while we should never forget, we must also keep on living. Extras include Whitaker’s commentary, time-lapse project video and 90 minutes of time-lapse footage covering several years at the site.

September 11: Memorial Edition (History)
For this two-disc anniversary compilation, four specials about the devastating events of September 11, 2001 are brought together: 102 Minutes that Changed America, with eye-opening footage shot by various passersby near the disaster that morning; Hotel Ground Zero, about people in the Marriott hotel at the foot of the towers; The Miracle of Stairway B, about 14 people who survived the second tower‘s collapse; and The Day the Towers Fell, an eyewitness story of the tragedy. A valuable extra is I-Witness to 9/11, a short recap of some witnesses whose footage was used in 102 Minutes.

Blu-rays of the Week
Dressed to Kill (MGM)
Brian DePalma’s stylishly sleazy soft-core thriller, which looks like it was shot through Vaseline like those Penthouse photo spreads I looked at as a teenager, caused a minor sensation in 1980 thanks to ‘Police Woman’ Angie Dickinson showing skin. But we’re still stuck with DePalma’s insipid, immature “ideas” and poor script, and camera movements and plot twists “borrowed” from Alfred Hitchcock, among others. The Blu-ray transfer faithfully preserves its gauzy look; extras include DePalma interviews, a look at the various cuts of the film, vintage and recent featurettes.

The Entitled (Anchor Bay)
There’s not much new in this thriller about rich young brats who are kidnapped by a desperate young trio, but it all goes wrong and leads to murder. Tidy and tensely done, the movie tosses in a few twists that help it cross the finish line intact. A solid cast of veterans (Ray Liotta, Victor Garber, Stephen McHattie) and fresh faces (Kevin Zegers, Laura Vandervoort, Dustin Milligan, John Bregar) combine to keep interest in a familiar story. The movie has received an excellent hi-def transfer; extras include an alternate ending and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

Fringe: The Complete Third Season (Warners)
The fiendishly clever sci-fi series that introduced a parallel universe to its viewers takes that plot point and runs with it throughout the 22 episodes of its outrageously entertaining third season. The cast--led by Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv, Blair Brown and John Noble--comes up aces, the dialogue does its job (for the most part), and the visuals are often dazzling--and have been rendered extremely well on Blu-ray. Extras include pop-commentaries and featurettes while watching episodes; featurettes; and a gag reel.

My Life as a Dog (Criterion)
Lasse Hallstrom’s bittersweet 1985 coming-of-age tale is situated perfectly between sentiment and toughness, which is how his hero, 12-year-old Ingemar, can also be described. Played with mature naturalness by Anton Glanzelius, a youngster with a face like a wise adult, Ingemar is the center of one of the most affecting and poignant portraits of childhood ever committed to celluloid. Criterion’s Blu-ray transfer is warmly film-like with a superbly grainy look; extras include a Hallstrom interview and an early Swedish TV film he did, Shall We Go to My or Your Place or Each Go Home Alone?

Orpheus (Criterion)
The 1950 center of the Orphic trilogy, Jean Cocteau’s most problematic film is a significant example of his artistry. Updating the Orpheus/Eurydice myth to Paris’ Left Bank allows Cocteau to work on many narrative and symbolic levels; its fascinating and memorable imagery shows how ingeniously Cocteau uses his beloved “mirror portals” to transport his enigmatic characters to another plane of existence. Criterion’s superb hi-def transfer of this B&W beauty begs the question: are Blood of a Poet and Testament of Orpheus coming on Blu? A plethora of extras (commentary, documentary, vintage interviews, newsreel footage) puts Cocteau’s artistic concerns in context.

Straw Dogs (MGM)
Sam Peckinpah’s ultra-violent (and deeply satisfying) revenge drama had the misfortune of being released the same year as A Clockwork Orange--1971--and many critics who raved about Stanley Kubrick’s film didn’t give Peckinpah the same courtesy. But this unremittingly bleak drama about a mild-mannered professor whose basest impulses are triggered by his wife’s rape and the threats to his own manhood is revelatory, with top-notch performances by Dustin Hoffman, Susan George and David Warner. Peckinpah’s subliminal editing tricks work wonders on the viewer’s psyche, and are given new life in this Blu-ray transfer; amazingly, there are no extras, so keep Criterion’s out of print DVD.

DVDs of the Week
The Arbor (Strand Releasing)
This strange, disjointed documentary mirrors the strange, disjointed life of its subject: British playwright Andrea Dunbar, whose first work was done at age 18 and who died at age 29 of a drug overdose, after having borne three children with three different men. Director Clio Bernard imaginatively uses real actors to lip-sync to actual audio interviews by Dunbar, her children, and others who were involved in her private and professional lives. Although the style is initially off-putting, it makes formal and psychological sense to more fully explore such a sad (and sadly short) creative life.

Cold Fish (Vivendi)
Prepare yourself for an unexpurgated blast of nuttiness in this overlong, choppy but utterly watchable psychological shocker that probably shouldn’t be described too thoroughly. Suffice it to say that this blunt exploration of a truly insane mind and the extremely bloody extremes to which he puts his murderous impulses is not for the squeamish, and even if it gleefully rubs our noses in its explicitness, it’s worth hanging in there for a final “see it to believe it” sequence. The lone extra is an interview with director Sion Sono.

If a Tree Falls (Oscilloscope)
The exploits of the militant environmental group the Earth Liberation Front are explored in director Marshall Curry’s documentary, concentrating on Daniel McGowan, one of its members who decided to partake in the group’s arsons and other destructive efforts in protest over what they considered corporate evildoers and their governmental enablers destroying the earth. The incendiary subjects of environmental activism and eco-terrorism (members were put on trial as domestic terrorists, the first such defendants in our post-9/11 world) are handled perceptively and scrupulously. Extras include updates on the principals, commentary by and Q&A with Curry and co-director/cinematographer Sam Cullman, deleted scenes and extended interviews.

It Rains in My Village and A Quiet Place in the Country (MGM)
These obscure European classics deserve better releases than they’re getting here, but in today’s topsy-turvy digital world, we should thank MGM for at least getting them out so they’re available to be discovered--or re-discovered, for anyone saw them once will want to revisit them. Aleksander Pretrovic’s bleak It Rains in My Village (1968) is a blackly comic Yugoslav tragedy, while Elio Petri’s dazzling A Quiet Place in the Country (1969) is a surreal journey through a talented artist’s wounded psyche. Both films feature veteran directors at the top of their form.

CDs of the Week
Godspell: 40th Anniversary Celebration (Masterworks Broadway)
With the October opening of the Broadway revival around the corner, this two-disc set pairs the original 1971 off-Broadway cast album and the original 1973 soundtrack for the film version. Stephen Schwartz’s music and lyrics, by far his most popular until he hit upon Wicked over 30 years later, are highlighted by the Top 10 pop hit “Day by Day” and the movie-only song “Beautiful City.” Sung by then-vibrant young voices like Robin Lamont and David Haskell (off-Broadway) and Victor Garber and Lynne Thigpen (movie), this nostalgic souvenir will do until the new production is up and running.

Ravel/Lekeu: Music for Violin & Piano (Hyperion)
One of the 20th century’s great composers is smartly paired with one of the least known of the 19th century, a contemporary who died prematurely: Maurice Ravel’s brittle but elegant music for violin and piano, including his jewel-like Violin Sonata No. 1 and the over-played but still beautiful Sonata No. 2, is heard alongside the intimate but expansive Violin Sonata by Guillaume Lekeu, whose death at age 24 in 1894 robbed the world of a composer who may have become a true giant. Heartfelt and skillful playing by violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cedric Tiberghien give both composers their due.

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