Sunday, July 22, 2012

July '12 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
American Reunion
The fourth go-round for the American Pie teens find them at their 13th high school reunion, when horny hell breaks loose again, despite their being older and (supposedly) wiser. It’s surprisingly easy to take, since the performers are comfortable in their characters’ skins as they embarrass themselves again. Add to that a real find in Ali Cobrin as a horny 18-year-old whom Jason Biggs’ character once babysat, and the stage is set for more goofy but harmless lunacy. The Blu-ray image looks fine; extras include commentaries, featurettes, interviews, deleted and extended scenes and a gag reel.

Dirty Pretty Things
(Echo Bridge)
Stephen Frears’ engrossing 2002 thriller follows illegal immigrants working at a London hotel who find themselves caught up in a bizarre body-parts-for-sale scheme. With persuasive performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou and Sophie Okonedo and a skillful script by Steven Knight, Frears’ best film since The Snapper and The Grifters slowly but surely crawls under your skin. The Blu-ray image is good, not great; extras are a Frears commentary and a making-of featurette.

Down by Law
After his no-budget 1984 breakthrough Stranger than Paradise, Jim Jarmusch two years later made this deadpan romp about small-timers breaking out of a Louisiana jail together: Roberto Bengini, Tom Waits and John Lurie are an unlikely trio, and even the sumptuous visual palette (thanks to Robby Müller’s B&W photography) can’t liven the comedic deadness. The Criterion Collection impressively brings the film back to life with its hi-def transfer; extras include Jarmusch and Muller interviews, outtakes, Cannes Festival footage, Jarmusch Q&A and phone conversations between Jarmusch and stars.

The Fairy
The Belgian trio of Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy wrote, directed and star in this intermittently amusing tribute to classic cinematic comedians like Chaplin, Keaton and Tati, the latter of whose fingerprints are all over this self-conscious, near-silent farce with physical comedy galore. There are a few glorious visual moments, but the trio—despite its lithe onscreen gracefulness—never approaches the true masters. The hi-def image is superb.

Friends with Kids
Jennifer Westfeldt wrote and directed this busily innocuous time-waster about couples who mate, fight, split up and (sometimes) make up with an increasingly large brood of children growing up around them. As in most contemporary comedies, every character is improbably with-it and witty; but Westfeldt writes occasionally zingy dialogue, and directs Megan Fox in her least mannequin-like performance. Otherwise, this is typical rom-com fare that looks quite good on Blu-ray; extras include a commentary, making-of featurette, bloopers and deleted scenes.

Sanctuary—The Complete 4th Season
(e one)
For its fourth season, the creators of Sanctuary decide to up the dramatic quotient as the heroic scientific crew (and even the real Bigfoot) goes into emergency assist mode for the monsters it’s trying to keep safe, ending with a two-part fight for survival at season’s end. Essentially ludicrous, but the program gets by on the chemistry of its actors and bizarre monster make-up. The whole thing looks particularly splendid on Blu-ray; extras include featurettes, interviews, audio commentaries, deleted scenes and a blooper reel.

Singin’ in the Rain
Gene Kelly’s 1952 musical is a joy from start to finish: no one’s been able to equal Kelly’s extraordinarily cinematic choreography—with the exception of Bob Fosse—and Kelly’s co-stars Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds are unmatched, even by their director’s exacting standards. Warners has pulled out all the stops for its 60th anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition: this classic looks luminous on Blu-ray; extras include a new documentary, vintage documentaries, a deleted musical number and an audio commentary; along with goodies like an umbrella (!), 48-page hardcover commemorative book and lobby card facsimiles.

The Turin Horse
(Cinema Guild)
Bela Tarr once made interesting pictures about Hungarian life under the Communist regime, but after discovering Profundity with his exasperating seven-hour Satantango, he became the Hungarian David Lean (whose best films were the early, shorter ones). Tarr’s supposedly last feature is another glacially paced, magnificently photographed non-story about the titular horse from a Nietzsche anecdote and its owners; if Tarr mesmerizes you, then by all means see it. Fred Kelemen’s B&W photography shimmers on Blu-ray; extras include critic Jonathan Rosenbaum’s commentary, Tarr’s 1978 short, Hotel Magnezit; Berlin Film Festival press conference; and a Tarr interview.

Under the Tuscan Sun
In this chipper 2003 adaptation of Frances Maysle’s memoir, Diane Lane gives an un-self-conscious, winning portrayal of an American divorcee who rebuilds her life in beautiful Italy—and, at the end, falls in love: but not with whom you think. The main draws are Lane’s innate dazzlingness—when she breaks into a smile, she becomes even more so—and the rolling Tuscan hill towns, all receiving an upgrade to hi-def. Extras include featurettes, interviews and director-writer Audrey Wells’ commentary.

DVDs of the Week
The Code and This Is Civilization
These impressive British TV documentaries display a remarkable ability to make dense subjects into something informative and endlessly fascinating. The Code, narrated with engaging authority by Marcus du Sautoy, unravels the mathematical and numerical patterns that allow the world to function as it does, with evidence ranging from cicadas and serial killers to Chartres Cathedral and Grand Central Station. This Is Civilization, an equally erudite but approachable dissection of art through the centuries, from the Greek, Roman and Muslim worlds to painters David, Goya and Picasso, is hosted by Matthew Collings. Civilization extras comprise a trio of shorts.

Don Quichotte
Belgian bass-baritone Jose Van Dam culminated his towering 50-year career by singing one of literature’s great characters in French composer Jules Massenet’s 1910 opera based on Cervantes’ classic novel. Laurent Pelly’s centenary production, while it has ludicrous modern touches, keeps Don upfront, and van Dam responds with a physically and emotionally authentic portrayal of a daunting role. Marc Minkowski conducts Van Dam’s operatic swan song with extraordinary sensitivity; an hour-long documentary about the production is the lone extra.

Johnny Carson: King of Late Night
This excellent American Masters program profiles the long-running late-night king who ruled the airwaves for 30-plus years as host of The Tonight Show. Aside from being a valuable bio of the notoriously reclusive Carson—along with surprising information about his selflessness and altruism—the show is filled with innumerable delightful anecdotes about the master from many of his disciples and acolytes (Letterman, Leno, Conan, Kimmel, Shandling, Rivers, Rickles). Extras include a featurette about narrator Kevin Spacey and additional interviews.

Leverage—The Complete 4th Season
Tim Hutton and his intrepid crew of Robin Hoods on the trail of “real” bad guys entertain several dangerous cases during the season, which opens with a near-death experience while tracking down crooked businessmen who are off mountain climbing. Alongside Hutton is a solid supporting cast led by Gina Bellman, and the scenarios continue to be clever without condescension. Along with all 18 episodes, there are audio commentaries on every episode, deleted scenes, making-of featurettes and a gag reel.

Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones—Live at the Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981
(Eagle Rock Entertainment)
On a night off during their 1981 U.S. tour, the Stones go to hear Muddy Waters at his Chicago club: after a few great tunes to start things off, the master invites the students to the stage for amazing jams like “Hoochie Coochie Man, “Mannish Boy” and “Got My Mojo Working.” Other guests include Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, but Waters remains front and center, even with Mick, Keith and Ron Wood (and touring keyboardist Ian Stewart) crowding the cramped stage. This legendary one-night-only show finally gets a legitimate release, at long last. An accompanying CD has most of the songs, but the DVD contains the entire performance in a new surround sound mix by Bob Clearmountain.

No comments: