Sunday, August 19, 2012

August '12 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
(Anchor Bay)
Director/co-writer Jesse Baget tries copying a Coen brothers movie like their debut Blood Simple with this bloody, double-crossing crime drama about two women who must get rid of one’s husband’s body after the wife offs him. The unsurprising twists keep coming, and close-ups of body parts and other gore are part of the jokey, bad-taste milieu. To add insult to injury— and I’m no Coen fan—a game cast dives headfirst into the kind of overdone but undercooked performances typical of Coen movies: Gina Gershon, Ray Liotta, Val Kilmer and Kelly Giddish keep it watchable, however tawdry. The Blu-ray image is very good; extras include a commentary and making-of featurette.

Kill List 
Director Ben Wheatley tries too hard to shock with his hard-hitting drama about a hot-headed hit man with personal problems: the film is marred by gleeful visualizations of the man’s anger—in which he beats victims to a literal pulp—and a ridiculous final subplot that’s positively giggle-inducing (with shades of better films like Eyes Wide Shut and The Wicker Man). That twist is so insanely loopy that it’s actually interesting to watch the movie go off the cliff right before one’s eyes: blame Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump. The image is flawless; extras are commentaries, interviews and making-of featurettes.

Life and Death of a Porno Gang 
Mladen Djorojevic’s blackly comic drama, while not as nasty as the infamous A Serbian Film, critiques a destroyed Yugoslavia’s scattered shards by showing a group of burned-out playwrights and actors becoming a traveling porno carnival, which soon morphs into “snuff” shows (actual killings). Theoretically, this theme fits the mentally dead people of a shattered nation following a murderous civil war, but watching it enacted may incense or bore most viewers. The Blu-ray image is fine; extras are a 101-minute film about Serbian porn makers, Made in Serbia, making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

(Breaking Glass)
Margo Martindale bulldozes her way through this unsubtle, crass study of a strained relationship between a brain-damaged young man, his overprotective mother and the female college student who’s his caretaker. Reining it in would help Martindale’s performance immeasurably—contrarily, Adam Scarimbolo and Hanna Hall are nicely understated as her son and the student. Director Zack Parker’s conscientious drama is too melodramatic to be much more than a shallow thriller. The hi-def image is first-rate; extras include a 3-1/2 hour making-of documentary (!) and featurettes.

Titanic: 100 Years in 3D 
A century after its sinking by an iceberg—or, if you believe James Cameron, because Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet kissed on the deck—stories of the Titanic show no sign of abating, and this 45-minute documentary chronicles a recent diving expedition to the wreckage, displaying found artifacts as actors narrate survivors’ tales. Such stories of struggle and survival are compelling; needless to say, the 3-D footage is spectacular.

DVDs of the Week
Art Is the Permanent Revolution 
and The Callers 
(First Run)
These documentaries provide windows into worlds most people don’t know: Manfred Kirchheimer’s Art Is recounts the fascinating history of draftsmen and women who draw the B&W artworks that geniuses like Rembrandt, Goya and Picasso made famous; Susan Sfarra’s The Callers profiles several auctioneers whose fast talking is their singular achievement. Despite their brevity, both films feel padded by slow sections, yet are eye-openers anyway. Extras include deleted scenes (Callers) and additional interviews (Art).

The Beatles: Their Golden Age 
Yet another Fab Four sentimental journey, this hour-long documentary comprises cobbled-together footage and interviews, strung together by producer-narrator Les Krantz’s narration (which includes such howlers as “comprised of”). Beatles completists will be enthralled by rarely-seen footage set to a score that riffs on—but doesn’t outright plagiarize—Beatles songs, but overall this is another cash grab in a cycle of never-ending, unauthorized Beatles cash grabs. Extras include additional footage.

Foreign Letters 
(Film Movement)
Ela Thier’s sensitive memoir of herself as a pre-teen moving with her Israeli family to the U.S. chronicles her struggles to learn the language, fit in and gain an unlikely best friend: Thuy, daughter of a Vietnamese refugee. Their’s story is told with minimal sappiness and maximum emotion, thanks to young Noa Rotstein and Dalena Thuy-Anh Le’s formidable acting and Thier’s marvelous insights into young people. Extras include an interview with Thier and her real-life best friend; two deleted scenes; and A Summer Rain, a short that led to Their’s splendid feature.

Jay and Silent Bob Get Old 
Director Kevin Smith and sidekick Jason Mewes head to the British Isles for live shows in front of their raucous fans, and this two DVD set contains their London, Manchester and Edinburgh appearances in their entirety. As usual with Smith, the shows are crude, sometimes hilarious and mostly redundant, but since Smith and Mewes have real chemistry and the crowd is obviously into every single word they say, there’s an “event” quality despite the specter of Smith’s hi-or-miss movies. Extras include bonus footage.

Mary Marie 
This self-indulgent 75-minute feature by director-writer Alexandra Roxo and writer Alana Kearns-Green (both of whom play the leads) shallowly explores two sisters who, after the death of their mother, discover intimate feelings for each other. There’s plentiful nudity but the relationship remains superficial, as neither actress conveys the needed depth of this difficult emotional situation. Extras include deleted scenes, making-of featurette.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory 
A remarkable study of human culpability, stupidity and redemption, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s latest documentary follows the West Memphis 3 from their trumped-up trial for killing three young boys to their recent prison release despite proclaiming guilt in exchange for time served. The film ties together narrative strands from the previous two, creating a landmark study of American justice and religious obsession. It also raises a troubling question: if these men (mere teens when jailed) are innocent, then who’s the killer? Tantalizingly, signs point to a dead boy’s stepfather, but it doesn’t reach Thin Blue Line chillingness. Does anyone still care? Extras include deleted scenes and interviews.

CDs of the Week
Birtwistle: The Triumph of Time 
and Stockhausen: Gruppen 
Karlheinz Stockhausen’s seminal 1958 Gruppen is better seen than heard—as the New York Philharmonic’s great performance in June proved—but hearing the Berlin Philharmonic and three conductors (Friedrich Goldmann, Claudio Abbado, Marcus Creed) play this unyielding and daunting score so brilliantly is also revelatory. But at only 22 minutes, Gruppen is padded by three Gyorgy Kurtag works, when another Stockhausen piece would make more sense. Harrison Birtwistle’s equally difficult Triumph of Time (1972)—well performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Ensemble Modern Orchestra under conductors Pierre Boulez and Andrew Davis—is the composer’s defining musical moment, alongside his later opera The Mask of Orpheus.

Schreker: Der Schmdied von Gent 
Austrian composer Franz Schreker was known for his luscious, Straussian operas; this valuable recording presents another of his criminally neglected stage works (from 1932), whose typically fantastical story revolves around a blacksmith, fairies, angels, hell and heaven. The plot is as ludicrous as they come, but the glorious music’s wide-ranging melodic lines give ample opportunities for the singers and a chorus worth their salt. The fine-sounding Robert Schumann Philharmonic is ably conducted by Frank Beermann.

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