Saturday, June 23, 2012

June '12 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week
A Bag of Hammers
This indifferent comedy is another “who-cares” look at annoying people who act unlike anyone in the real world (at least I hope so, for our sake). They insult and cajole one another and other innocent people, but when the chips are down, director Brian Crano and co-writer Jake Sandvig desperately attempt to inject humanity to gain sympathy from viewers. However, I can’t see how any viewer cannot be left unmoved. The lone interest comes from Rebecca Hall, who creates a lovely character with no help from Crano and Sandvig. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; the lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Eugene Onegin (Opus Arte)
and Lakme (Opera Australia)
A pair of 19th century operatic masterpieces gets the hi-def treatment: Tchaikovsky’s greatest stage work Eugene Onegin and Hector Delibes’ lone hit Lakme. Onegin, from 2011 in Amsterdam, is hampered by director Stefan Herheim’s goofy concept, but the glorious music—conducted by Mariss Jansons—compensates. Lakme—filmed at Opera Australia last year—is more traditionally exotic, in keeping with the work’s mysticism, and sung beautifully by Emma and Dominica Matthews, who sing a duet on the famous “Flower Song.” The operas look and sound splendid on Blu-ray.

My Afternoons with Margueritte
(Cohen Media Group)
At age 77 in 2010, director Jean Becker created this affecting portrait of enduring friendship in this sweetly sentimental tale of two lonely people—middle-aged, barely literate laborer and elderly but vigorous woman—who bond over the glories of discovering new worlds through reading. As the mismatched pair, Gerard Depardieu (appropriately downtrodden) and Gisele Casadesus are wonderful, with a radiant assist by Maurane as Depardieu’s loving but confused girlfriend. The unassuming drama is matched by its subdued photography, which gets a first-rate hi-def transfer.

Nature: The White Lions
and Nova: Hunting the Elements
Another stunning PBS Nature program, Lions sympathetically chronicles the difficulties of two lionesses to survive in the wild with tell-tale white fur; Nova’s equally superb Elements provocatively shows the world of science harnessing elements from inert gold to malevolent phosphorus. Both programs utilize hi-def visuals to their full: Lions’ superlative nature photography and Elements’ engrossing breakdown of minute particles.

Project X
I know I’m not the target audience for this empty-headed flick about high school losers whose popularity rises when one of them hosts a huge party while his parents are away. Is there a shred of redeeming value to a movie that simply shows brainless teens doing what brainless teens have done since time immemorial? That hack director Todd Phillips produced this unwatchable mess is unsurprising; that several comely young women consented to take their clothes off for it is saddening: it’s a paycheck, I guess. Undoubtedly, Projects Y and Z are next. Extras comprise three featurettes with interviews.

Red Scorpion
Dolph Lundgren became an action star in this mindless 1985 flick about a dirty rotten Commie who sees the light and helps defeat the pesky Russians (the same year he was as the ultimate Russian fighting machine in Rocky IV). While the movie is negligible, the Blu-ray is excellent: a terrific new hi-def transfer, new interviews with Lundgren and make-up ace Tom Saviani, on-set footage and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

Seeking Justice
(Anchor Bay)
Old pro Roger Donaldson directed this flimsy thriller with welcome verve, despite its silly story about a mild-mannered teacher (Nicolas Cage, of all people) who consents to have his wife’s rapist be offed in exchange for “future payment,” which comes when he must kill someone he doesn’t know. Cage is surprisingly subdued, January Jones (the wife) is gorgeous, and the action competently done; but it falls apart at the end. The Blu-ray image is fine; the lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Stone Temple Pilots: Alive in the Windy City
(Eagle Vision)
This 2010 reunion concert on the heels of the band’s lackluster eponymous CD shows off STP at its hard-rocking best, with Dean DeLeo’s charged guitar stylings, brother Robert’s booming bottom end on bass and Eric Kretz’s blistering drums. Vocalist Scott Weiland is agile physically—his non-stop movement is on display—and vocally, hitting every note and then some. New tunes “Between the Lines” and “Huckleberry Crumble” stand alongside classics like “Big Empty,” Plush” and “Interstate Love Song,” which has one of the all-time great hooks. The hi-def image is good; a 15-minute interview is included.

DVDs of the Week
Athina Rachel Tsangari’s deadpan study of a young woman’s sexual inexperience gets much right about the terrifying world of adulthood. But despite the artistry of her rigorous compositions and the strikingly natural performances by Ariane Labed in the lead and Evangelia Randou as her best friend, Tsangari’s film hits an artistic dead end after making its points early, then recycles them for 97 minutes to mute their power.

How Much Does That Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?
(First Run)
The cantankerously inventive British architect Norman Foster’s artsy profile by directors Norberto Lopez Amado and Carlos Carcas does the job in a succinct 80 minutes. Many of Foster’s brilliantly original designs—like the Hearst Tower in midtown Manhattan and the stunning, towering Millau Viaduct in France—are shown with spectacular aerial photography, while we get to know what makes such a unique artist tick. (Shockingly, the DVD’s back cover notes that the movie is “honing,” not “homing,” in on Foster’s works.)

A Matter of Taste
(First Run)
Paul Liebrandt, wunderkind chef, is profiled in this entertaining documentary covering nearly a decade in the career of a temperamental genius whose goal is to get three stars from the NY Times for his first restaurant venture as a co-owner. Considering her film’s only 69 minutes, director Sally Rowe covers a lot of ground, interviewing Liebrandt, other chefs and even the Times’ reviewers William Grimes and Frank Bruni. The result is a gastronomic feast that reveals the pressure these people put themselves under in such a rarefied world. Extras include additional chef interviews and two shorts.

CD of the Week
Dmitri Shostakovich: Orango
(Deutsche Grammophon)
Dmitri Shostakovich never finished his satirical opera Orango, only getting through the prologue. In Simon McBurney’s orchestration, it’s a daffy, derivative piece of fluff by one of the 20th century’s Soviet masters. The 30 minutes of music are rarely original but always fun to listen to. Both Orango and a compelling account of Shostakovich’s massive Fourth Symphony—written in the mid-‘30s but not premiered until 1961—are performed by the L.A. Philharmonic under conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen.

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