Sunday, June 3, 2012

June '12 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
(Anchor Bay)
Jon Voigt’s tendency to overact is thankfully muted in this mostly vacuous supernatural thriller about a young girl gone missing in snowy Anchorage. Too bad that somnambulant performances by Teri Polo, Dermot Mulroney and Julian Morris still make Voigt seem to be a bit jumpy, and the unoriginal storyline does none of the cast any favors. Visually, at least the dreary and snowy Alaskan environment, well-captured by the photography, has been transferred nicely to Blu-ray. 

The Cinema of Jean Rollin: The Demoniacs, The Rape of the Vampire, Requiem for a Vampire (Redemption)
These Jean Rollin films continue Kino’s exploration of one of the true demented geniuses of cinema. 1968’s Rape, Rollin’s feature debut, is fearless and insane horror, and 1973’s Requiem and 1974’s Demoniacs follow suit, adding dollops of bitter black humor. This trio isn’t for everyone, of course, but those in the mood will find them shocking. The movies have good and grainy transfers on Blu-ray, whether Rape’s B&W images or the others in color. Extras include interviews with Rollin, casts and crew; Rollin shorts; and additional footage.

John Mellencamp: It’s About You 
Kurt and Ian Markus’ documentary follows John Mellencamp recording his 2010 album No Better Than This and on tour. There’s first-rate performance footage: Mellencamp plays solo acoustic guitar on the strong “Clumsy Ol’ World,” and his crack band shreds tunes like “Pink Houses” onstage. But there’s annoying self-indulgence: Kurt Markus took Mellencamp’s aside seriously before filming to make it about himself instead of Mellencamp. So Kurt’s sophomoric, pretentious narration dominates: too bad he didn’t leave the wit and wisdom to the songs and simply remain behind the camera. Markus’ 8mm imagery strikingly parallels Mellencamp’s lyrical concerns about the country’s direction; the footage has been beautifully transferred to Blu-ray.

Memorial Day 
Battlefield stories of two generations of one family—grandfather in World War II and grandson in Iraq—are paralleled in this sincere, didactic patriotic drama. At least the film has the courage of its convictions, which mitigates obvious jingoism. Winning portrayals by James Cromwell (granddad), his son John Cromwell (granddad as young man), Jonathan Bennett (grandson in Iraq) and Jackson Bond (grandson as young boy) make it watchable despite its simplistic characterizations. The movie looks excellent on Blu-ray; extras include a commentary and behind-the-scenes featurette.

New York Stories 
(Mill Creek)
This 1989 omnibus film of shorts by world-famous New York-based directors is typically hit or miss. Martin Scorsese’s Life Lessons is a finely-detailed study of a difficult painter (Nick Nolte) who loves his long-time assistant (a magnetic Rosanna Arquette); Francis Coppola’s Life without Zoe is a mawkish travelogue co-written with his daughter—and overrated director—Sofia; and Woody Allen’s Oedipus Wrecks is a perfectly pitched farce about a henpecked middle-aged lawyer (Woody, of course) whose overbearing mother disappears, to his initial delight. The movie’s grainy Blu-ray transfer looks quite good.

River of No Return 
Isaac and Bjornmen Babcock’s’ year-long “honeymoon” in Idaho—the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness area, to be exact—has been brilliantly captured by the couple, who spent time among the area’s many wild animal inhabitants, especially the wolves brought back locally for the first time in half-century. Needless to say, the photography and scenery are spellbinding (doubly so on Blu-ray), but danger—for animals and the couple—is always around the corner.

Rookie Blue—The Complete 2nd Season 
(e one)
Even though the cops on the beat are no longer rookies, the drama’s second season sees still-green policemen and women whose inexperience continues to show, professionally and personally. Shot in Toronto, the show stars a group of personable young actors and actresses, led by Missy Peregrym, Gregory Smith, Charlotte Sullivan and Enuka Okuma. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes along with cast and crew interviews.

Summer Interlude and 
Summer with Monika 
Ingmar Bergman’s international reputation began with these anything but sunny films. 1951’s Interlude is a forceful drama marked by Maj-Britt Nilsson’s heartbreaking portrayal of a prima ballerina living with the loss of a young lover, while 1953’s Monika made a sensation of Harriet Andersson as a free-spirited young woman who cannot settle down when she becomes pregnant. Bergman’s focus on his female protagonist’s psyches points the way to his later masterpieces. The Criterion Collection’s splendid transfers accentuate Gunnar Fischer’s shimmering B&W images. Monika extras include Bergman’s intro, a new Andersson interview, documentary on Bergman’s early career and discussion of a re-edited Monika as an exploitation flick in America.

We Need to Talk about Kevin
Lynne Ramsey’s uninvolving adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel about a mother dealing with her teenage son as a high school killer is both too much and not enough, as scrambled chronology and obvious symbolism—there's red, red, everywhere!—create a distancing effect that makes the story melodramatic instead of tragic. That the boy is played by Ezra Miller with a blank stare shows that Ramsey toyed with making this a monster movie but instead pulled back. Intermittently strong moments and Tilda Swinton as the mother are not enough. The movie has a first-rate Blu-ray transfer; extras include interviews and a featurette.

DVDs of the Week
Burn Notice—Complete Fifth Season and
White Collar—Complete Third Season (Fox)
The 18 episodes in the fifth season of Burn Notice continues the adventures of former CIA agent Michael Western, who tracks down those responsible for framing him for murder. Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar have combustible chemistry, something sorely lacking in the third season of White Collar, in which a former criminal joins the FBI’s team. Matt Bomer makes a decent hero, but the otherwise entertaining show remains unfocused. Both sets include deleted scenes, gag reel and commentary; Burn also includes an extended episode.

My Perestroika 
Robin Hessman’s profoundly fascinating documentary chronicles the last Russian generation growing up during the end of the Soviet Union. An American who lived in Russia, Hessman asks the right questions, and her subjects—who went to school together—are candid and even fearless, making the point that Putin, as loathsome as he is, is a substitute for someone even worse. Hessman effectively uses her subjects’ home movies and archival footage to present a portrait of a country that’s badly adrift. Extras  include interviews with Hessman in English and in Russian (but with no subtitles!).

(Tribeca Film)
I must admit that Edward Burns tries. But this well-meaning but inept director-writer-actor’s latest film is ersatz Woody Allen, filled with self-absorbed Tribeca residents and none of Allen’s coruscating wit or cinematic sense. These characters fight, make up, flirt, fall for and fall out of love with one another, but aside from nice Tribeca locations, it’s pointless. Burns remains a cipher onscreen, the women (Kerry Bishe, Caitlin Fitzgerald) are marginally better, but it’s like being stuck on a movie line with someone like Burns behind you: where’s Marshall McLuhan when you need him? Extras include deleted scenes and brief Burns interviews.

Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston 
(Tribeca Film)
Whitney Sudler-Smith’s flimsy bio-doc about America’s first famous—and later infamous—designer has little inight into its subject: even more surprising is that the fascinating era Halston has come to symbolize—the swinging, Studio 54 and disco ‘70s—is reduced to simplistic platitudes. Even interviewees like Liza Minnelli try to get  Sudley-Smith on track, but he rarely does, resulting in a pleasant but forgettable movie experience. Extras include a brief interview with Sudley-Smith and his producer and a deleted scene.

CDs of the Week
Bachman & Turner: Live at the Roseland Ballroom, NYC
and Foreigner: Alive and Rockin’ (Eagle Rock)
Like all classic rockers, ‘70s and ‘80s hitmakers Bachman Turner Overdrive and Foreigner, are still on the road; these discs feature then-current lineups. Bachman & Turner, now a duo with a crack backing band, play their best-known tunes in a rousing 2010 Manhattan concert, with special guest, fellow Canadian Paul Shaffer, joining for a trio of encores culminating in their biggest hit, “Takin’ Care of Business.” Foreigner —now founder Mick Jones and backup musicians—has a big hole in the vocal department: Kelly Hansen has the pipes but none of Lou Gramm’s soulfulness. At least Jason Bonham’s thunderous drumming is in evidence during this 2006 German concert. These discs, for better or worse, are what fans apparently want—or will at least accept.

Britten/Finzi: Song Cycles
(Harmonia Mundi)
Marc Padmore goes up against stiff competition by recording Nocturne and Serenade, Benjamin Britten’s masterly song cycles for tenor and orchestra: I have discs by Peter Pears—Britten’s partner in life and art, for whom they were composed—and Ian Bostridge, and there are others. But Padmore’s lively, lovely interpretations, with the Britten Sinfonia (and, on Serenade, Stephen Bell on horn) providing sensitive support, is also worthwhile. Rounding out this superlative disc is Gerald Finzi’s rarely heard but fine Dies Natalis, which Padmore & Co. perform wonderfully.

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