Friday, December 30, 2011

December '11 Digital Week V

Blu-rays of the Week
Apollo 18 (Anchor Bay/Weinstein Co)
This faux found-footage documentary apes predecessors like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity by setting up a decent premise of a secret, disastrous moon mission that discovers lunar horrors later covered up by authorities and doing little with it. Since the movie comprises “previously unseen” footage from 1974, the format is academy ratio, and it’s grainy and decidedly “un” hi-def, so Blu-ray isn’t that superior to watch. Extras include director/editor commentary, deleted/ alternate scenes and alternate endings, none of which are appreciably better or worse than the one that was chosen.

Archer: Season 2 (Fox)
This animated spy spoof, which follows the adventures of the world’s most dangerous spy and those with and against him, has a Ralph Bakshi tone to its visuals and its humor, so it’s obviously cartoonish in every sense. All 13 episodes of the show’s second season are included; the amusing voice actors include H. Jon Benjamin as Archer and Aisha Tyler as his sometime companion Lana Kane. Too bad this is merely a cartoon, for it would be great seeing Tyler doing her stuff in the flesh instead of mere voiceover; extras include several featurettes.

Capriccio (Decca)
In Richard Strauss’s final stage work, a regal Countess must choose between two men--a composer and a writer--making this the ultimate (and most memorably melodious) opera about the endless argument of words vs. music. Renee Fleming magically brings the Countess to life with her immaculate voice, the perfect Straussian instrument, while Andrew Davis conducts the Met Orchestra with precision if not a full sense of Strauss’s dramatic sweep. The Met Live in HD broadcast has an immaculate clarity on Blu-ray; soprano Joyce DiDonato briefly interviews Renee during her introduction.

Final Destination 5 (New Line)
In the fifth and probably cleverest of this unnecessary series, several teens find that, after surviving a fatal bridge collapse, an unknown force wants them dead. So they are picked off one by one in improbably amusing ways, until the final scene, which brings the series full circle…for those who cares. The multitude of gruesome deaths--especially one during Lasik eye surgery--are almost too vividly displayed in hi-def; extras include alternate death scenes, clips from all five movies’ killings and special effects featurettes.

Futurama: Volume 6 (Fox)
Unlike the season boxed sets for Matt Groening’s other, better hit show The Simpsons, Futurama’s volumes feature 13 unrelated--and typically uneven--episodes, all new to hi-def. This hit-or-miss compilation includes humorous shows with punning Groening titles like Ghosts in the Machines, All the President‘s Heads and Silence of the Clamps. The show’s visuals gain in color and texture on Bluray; extras include commentaries on all episodes, deleted scenes and featurettes.

Glee: The Concert (Fox)
I’ve never been a fan of Glee, which annoyingly elevates crap like Journey and Madonna to classic status. The recent tour by the show’s cast--singing in character for thousands of adoring, mostly young fans--is showcased in this 80-minute performance, with Broadway veteran Lea Michele the easy stand-out, singing Katy Perry (why?), a Streisand tune from Funny Girl and the show finale of Queen’s "Somebody to Love." Michele is far too talented to be stuck on Glee for long (one hopes). The concert looks OK on Blu-ray; extras include two unseen songs, extended performances and introductions by cast member Jane Lynch.

Going Places (Kino Lorber)
Bertrand Blier’s 1974 success de scandale stars a young Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere as a pair of louts objectifying and degenerating woman all over France. Despite the rampant misogyny, it’s amazing how forceful the presences of Miou-Miou, Jeanne Moreau, Bridget Fossey and another young starlet, Isabelle Huppert, are: perhaps because they aren’t onscreen long, they don’t grate like the men do. Blier’s well-made, superbly shot (by Bruno Nuytten) and scored (by Stephanie Grappelli) journey is entertaining if you ignore the nasty ramifications. Visually, the Blu-ray is first-rate; no extras.

The Moon in the Gutter (Cinema Libre)
Jean-Jacques Beineix’s visually striking 1983 drama is the last word in moody atmospherics and confused storytelling. Gerard Depardieu, Nastassja Kinski and Victoria Abril are lost in a morose study of murder, rape, suicide and the impossibility of love. Beineix is a gifted stylist but, as Diva and Betty Blue demonstrate, he’s not much for plotting or credible characterization. Supposedly, the original four-hour version made more coherent psychological sense, but that’s not what we get here. The movie has a muted loveliness on Blu-ray; extras include Beineix’s debut Mr. Michel’s Dog and an interview.

DVDs of the Week
Brighton Rock (IFC)
Graham Greene’s classic crime novel, also a probing psychological study of good and evil, has been updated to 1964 by writer-director Rowan Joffe, which retains the sleazy Northern England atmosphere, and the acting--from Sam Riley (villain), Andrea Riseborough (innocent ingĂ©nue), Helen Mirren and John Hurt--is impeccable. But the story plays out uninvolvingly, remaining distant and aloof. Extras include a making-of featurette, on-set footage and cast/crew interviews.

Elusive Justice (PBS)
Jonathan Silvers’ incisive and absorbing documentary about the decades-long global manhunt of escaped Nazi war criminals by a loosely linked network of committed individuals shines a necessary light on the ongoing battle between good and evil. Actress Candice Bergen narrates this two-hour long film, which is not only one of the best programs to ever come out of the PBS stable of documentaries, but also another reminder of how important it is not to give up fighting the good fight.

A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy (Sony)
This silly sex fantasy by writers-directors Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck about a group of friends deciding to have an orgy “like they did in the 70s” has moments of comedic bliss, but the mostly coarse and derivative humor seems directly out of the current stable of Saturday Night Live performers-writers, of whom Jason Sudekis and Will Forte are here. Happily, the women--Leslie Bibb, Lake Bell and delectable Michele Borth--make it worth watching the promise of an orgy. Extras include writer/director/star commentary, deleted scenes, gag reel and How to Film an Orgy featurette.

CDs of the Week
Mariusz Kwiecien, Slavic Heroes (Harmonia Mundi)
Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien has headlined at places like the Metropolitan Opera, where he’s performed Mozart roles including Don Giovanni. For his first solo recital CD, Kwiecien has chosen a selection of arias from Russian, Polish and Czech operas, and the results are impressive. Accompanied by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra under sympathetic conductor Lukasz Borowicz, the singer storms through arias both familiar (Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Mazeppa) and unfamiliar (a trio from Stanislaw Moniuszko’s operas), with the standout finale--from Karol Szymanowski’s masterpiece King Roger--a perfect fit for Kwiecien’s powerhouse but subtle voice.

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