Saturday, July 7, 2012

July '12 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
Bachman and Turner—Live at the Roseland Ballroom, NYC
(Eagle Vision)
Bachman & Turner, now a duo with a crack backing band, play their best-known tunes in this rousing 2010 Manhattan concert, from the opener “Let It Ride” to the final “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.” Special guest, fellow Canadian Paul Shaffer, joins them for a trio of encores culminating in their biggest hit, “Takin’ Care of Business.” I saw Bachman Turner Overdrive in 1986 and they seemed an oldies band then; a quarter century later, little has changed except that they look even greyer than they did then. The hi-def image is fine; the surround sound is pummeling.

Chesty Morgan’s Bosom Buddies
The mother of all cult movie stars was Chesty Morgan, she of the 73-inch breasts—not really an actress, but her bazooms were lethal weapons and that’s how director Doris Wishman treated them in the cheekily titled Deadly Weapons and Double Agent 73. The scene in 73 when she literally smothers Harry Reems to death is worth the price of admission by itself. The third movie, The Immoral Three, doesn’t star Chesty: instead, a trio of babes (Cindy Bourdreau, Sandra Kay and Michele Marie) takes a turn cavorting for the camera. There’s a nice amount of grain in these hi-def transfers.

The Decoy Bride
Right after seeing this tepid romantic comedy, I pretty much forgot everything about it, except for the presence of the appealing and gifted actress Kelly Macdonald, who has to steel herself against routine writing, directing and rom-com clichés. There is another small compensation—the Scottish locations are absolutely luminous—but other than that, this is little more than a blip on anyone’s radar. The Blu-ray transfer is very good; extras include 45 minutes of interviews, a behind-the-scenes featurette and a deleted scene.

The Devil’s Needle—and Other Tales of Vice and Redemption
In the 1916 cautionary tale The Devil’s Needle, Norma Talmadge plays a loose woman (an artist’s model!—tsk tsk) who falls prey to a morphine addiction. Also included are two more specimens of the era: 1913’s The Inside of the White Slave Traffic, showing women enslaved and forced into prostitution, and 1915’s Children of Eve, uncovering shocking factory conditions. These movies definitely look their age, and the Blu-ray image does them no favors, but it’s nice to see such historic documents. Extras include additional footage from Children and Traffic.

Earth from Above: Food and Wildlife Conservation
(Mill Creek)
Acclaimed French environmentalist and photographer Yann Arthaus-Bertrand hosts two multi-part programs that combine stunning hi-def camerawork with enlightened commentary on the state of our planet. Each program consists of two parts: “6 Billion People to Feed” and “Do Wild Animals Still Exist?” are self-explanatory titles, yet Arthaus-Bertrand’s fascinating footage and intelligent explication show how precarious is our future—and that of the animals we share our earth with. Visually (and this is obviously no surprise), the Blu-ray disc is stunning.

Mirror Mirror
This misfired jokey “Snow White” riff has a juicy role for Julia Roberts as a hectoring queen: too bad that she seems to be having gleeful fun but the audience isn’t, as would-be jokes fall flat, continuously. By trying to be both myth and spoof, this fantasy flick falls somewhere in between. Lily Collins doesn’t bring much more than perkiness as Snow White, Armie Hammer has little charm as the charming prince, and Nathan Lane desperately camps in hopes of saving what’s essentially an unsalvageable movie. The Blu-ray transfer is excellent; extras include deleted scenes and on-set featurettes.

DVDs of the Week
Love in a Cold Climate
This absorbing 1980 BBC adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s 1949 novel about love among the British upper-crust in between the two world wars is one of the most successful of any of the mini-series that appeared on the original Masterpiece Theatre on PBS. The eight-part, nine-hour series might only be high-class soap opera, but it’s performed by a top-flight cast (Judi Dench, Lucy Gutteridge, Rosalyn Landor, Michael Aldridge, Vivian Pickles, Jean-Pierre Cassel) and includes exterior scenes shot on breathtaking locations.

This succinct documentary persuasively makes its point that, for a sustainable planet, our eating habits must change. Experts advocate for diets that depend on plants rather than animals, and there are commonsensical things that can be done at the local level, i.e., preparing certain foods and avoiding others. Directors Shelley Lee Davies and Or Shlomi smartly (and gently) hit their main points without hitting it all over our heads. Extras include deleted scenes, a shorter version of the film and directors’ message.

Welcome to Rockwell 
In 2009, a collection of British musical legends and current stars joined together for a concert benefiting the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy. The best are Robert Plant with strikingly rearranged versions of old Zep chestnuts “Black Dog” and “Whole Lotta Love” and Joss Stone with her charged bluesy tunes “Free Me” and “Super Duper.” The Beatles’ “Let It Be” finale is performed by Stone, Tom Jones, David Gray and others in a grand sing-along. The well-photographed concert needs more than a simple stereo mix at this late date.

Windows and The Outside Man
These latest releases in MGM’s Limited Edition Collection (on burned, unreliable DVD-R discs) are nearly forgotten ‘70s thrillers. Gordon Willis’ first (and only) film behind the camera, Windows, bombed in 1979 thanks to a ludicrously plotted story of a mousy woman spied on by her lesbian neighbor: despite Willis’ customarily excellent photography, the movie is eminently forgettable. French director Jacques Deray’s The Outside Man (1972) has an impressive cast (Jean-Louis Trintignant, Roy Scheider, and Angie Dickinson) in an otherwise frivolous action flick. The movies look decent enough, considering they look like unrestored prints.

CD of the Week 
Evita: New Broadway Cast Recording 
(Masterworks Broadway)
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s musical about Juan and Eva Peron is famous for the lovely lament “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” whose memorable melody is overused as a pseudo-Wagnerian leitmotif that weaves in and around other tunes during the show. The problem is that, when we finally hear it properly, its emotive power has been diluted. Rice’s usually sophomoric lyrics are clever in Evita’s dress-up number, “Rainbow High” and hubby Juan Peron’s sardonic “The Art of the Possible.” Broadway vet Michael Cerveris (Peron) has a magnificent voice, Ricky Martin (Che, our Everyman narrator) sings superbly with flawless diction, but Argentine actress Elena Roger (Evita) is too shrill, notably in her upper register.

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