Saturday, June 30, 2012

June '12 Digital Week V

Blu-rays of the Week
And Everything Is Going Fine
and Gray’s Anatomy
Spalding Gray’s unique theatrical contributions were his subversively funny monologues, and Steven Soderbergh’s films brilliantly take the measure of Gray as performer and human being. 1997’s Anatomy intercuts Gray’s incisive eye-operation monologue with others’ accounts of equally bizarre ocular problems; 2010’s Everything comprises footage of Gray—who killed himself in 2004—that serves as a fine memorial. Soderbergh’s affection for Gray (who starred in Soderbergh’s King of the Hill) is obvious in both movies and in his interviews on these typically superb Criterion Collection discs. The movies have flawless transfers and, as extras, interviews with his widow Kathleen Russo and ex-partner/producer Renee Shafranksy, and—most important—two of Gray’s early monologues, Sex and Death to Age 14 and A Personal History of American Theater.

(Drafthouse Films)
Writer-director Michael R. Roskam’s nifty psychological thriller—whose title refers to cattle steroids our hero injects—is too clever for its own good, especially when Roskam overexplains his hero’s behavior through flashbacks to a horrific injury suffered as a boy. Still, led by a hearty performance by Matthias Schornaerts as “Bullhead,” the movie is, if not unforgettable, at least quite diverting. There’s an impeccably detailed hi-def transfer; extras include Roskam’s commentary, Roskam and Schornaerts interviews, a making-of featurette and Roskam’s 2005 short, The One Thing to Do.

Although it’s inferior to James Dickey’s poetically disturbing novel of four businessmen on a weekend canoe trip gone wrong, John Boorman’s 1972 adaptation is rip-roaring entertainment that’s equally disturbing, superbly directed and starring a first-rate cast of then not-well-knowns (Burt Reynolds, Jon Voigt, Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty). The prodigiously realized photography and editing look equally splendid on Blu-ray, thanks to a terrific transfer. Extras include a Boorman commentary, new featurette reuniting the four principals and vintage featurettes.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
(Cinema Guild)
Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest begins as a group of officers travels to a remote area with murder suspects to find a body. Spending interminable time waiting, they engage in small talk (like buffalo yogurt!); we soon find those involved have their own ethical and personal problems. Magnificent compositions mask a disjointed narrative: would police be so inept and forget a body bag or not have room in vehicles for a body? Would an autopsy be conducted with the victim’s wife and son outside the room? The Blu-ray image is immaculate; voluminous extras include a 95-minute making-of documentary and 50 minutes of Cannes Film Festival footage.

Oranges and Sunshine
(Cohen Media Group)
The shocking true story of thousands of British children being sent to new, orphaned lives in Australia is brought to the screen with the humane anger of Ken Loach—er, that should be Jim Loach, the brilliant director’s talented son. As his father does, Loach fils smartly casts his central role, as Emily Watson (one of those rare actresses believable in anything) beautifully plays the woman who helps the now adult kids discover—or at least find out about—their real families. This nicely understated drama delivers an emotional punch in the usual Loach tradition. There’s a sturdy, understated hi-def transfer; extras include interviews with Loach, Watson, writer Rona Munro and other actors.

Pink Floyd—The Story of Wish You Were Here
(Eagle Vision)
The making of Pink Floyd’s compelling follow-up to the massive-selling Dark Side of the Moon is recounted in new interviews with the three surviving members, Nick Mason, Roger Waters and David Gilmour, along with vintage studio and concert footage. Best of all—since much of the album comprises tributes and allusions to Floyd founder Syd Barrett—are the members’ touching reminiscences of him. The Blu-ray image is fine; extras include added interviews and “dueling” performances by Gilmour and Waters of “Wish You Were Here” and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.”

21 Jump Street
I don’t get how Jonah Hill, basically a one-note amateur, has somehow become a big star. His non-talent is on display in this meretricious reboot of the late ‘80s TV show, with a game Channing Tatum as Hill’s inept cop sidekick who’s the only reason to watch this overlong action-cum-comedy flick. The movie is painful to watch, especially since it promises another unnecessary franchise; that the show’s original stars, Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise, have cameos is depressing. The Blu-ray image looks decent enough; extras include commentary, gag reel, 20 deleted scenes and interviews.

Wrath of the Titans
This sequel to the Clash of the Titans remake has titanic talent—Sam Worthington, Ralph Fiennes, Liam Neeson—and little imaginative drama. Once again, there are fantastic creatures, less than fantastic humans or gods and less than impressive special effects, despite the use of state-of-the-art CGI. At least Neeson and Fiennes try to keep straight faces throughout. The hi-def image, despite—or because of—the extensive CGI, looks a bit too unrealistic, more robotized than human in movement; extras include Maximum Movie Mode, storyboards and deleted scenes.

DVDs of the Week
Damages—The Complete 4th Season
Capable young lawyer Ellen comes into her own during the fourth season as she takes the lead in investigating the smug head of a private military organization, a la Blackwater, doing underhanded things in the Middle East. Damages smartly moves delectable Rose Byrne—by far the best reason to sit through Bridesmaids—into a true co-leading role with Glenn Close (Patty), and the two women’s complex relationship is the main interest of these 10 episodes, although John Goodman chews heavy scenery as the head thug. Extras include outtakes, deleted scenes and featurettes with cast and crew interviews.

The Hedgehog
A real find, pre-teen actress Garance Le Guillermic is a natural as a young girl who’s planning to kill herself on her birthday, but instead builds an unlikely friendship with her family’s building’s concierge (the sweetly hard-headed Josiane Balasko). Writer-director Mona Achache’s engrossing character study never condescends; the result is a fascinating look at a real relationship that you wouldn’t see on our screens except as sappy melodrama. The lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Web Therapy—The Complete 1st Season
(e one)
It’s a clever sitcom premise: a psychiatrist conducts sessions online. Lisa Kudrow is funny in the lead, and there are amusing special guests as her web patients: Courtney Cox, Jane Lynch, Alan Cumming and Rashida Jones. There’s even Victor Garber as her husband and Lily Tomlin as her mom. But despite everyone’s best intentions, the show is extremely hit-or-miss, and the laughs dwindle as the series wears on. Perhaps this could only work as an occasional web series with short episodes, a la Children’s Hospital. Extras include audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurette and outtakes.

CD of the Week
Rising: Music for Flute and Strings
It’s always good news when famous musicians go beyond their comfort zone, and flutist Carol Wincenc’s new CD is a great example. The three flute quintets she plays with an excellent ensemble from the Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival are a cross-section of American composers. She begins with Joan Tower’s new Rising, an atmospheric and memorable work that shows off Wincenc’s formidable technique and the quartet’s sympathetic support. Also performed are two short but flavorful works by Arthur Foote from 1918, and Theme and Variations by the underrated Amy Beach (1867-1944), finally getting her due as a formidable American composer. 

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