Sunday, August 26, 2012

August '12 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week
Black Magic Rites (Dimension/Kino Lorber)
Witches are burned at the stake while others have their hearts torn out in this crazed but watchable 1973 horror film directed by Renato Polselli. Wind machines, lots of fake gore and plentiful nudity are the calling cards of this lunatic movie, but anyone who already has a hankering for such Eurotrash gems as Lisa and the Devil or Suspiria should make a beeline for this immediately. The movie retains its film-like grain on Blu-ray.

Cinema of Jean Rollin: The Living Dead Girl and Two Orphan Vampires (Redemption/Kino Lorber)
Two of French macabre director Jean Rollin’s weirdest films are on display: 1982’s The Living Dead Girl is an insane gothic horror about an innocent young woman raised from the dead who kills everyone in sight; 1997’s Two Orphan Vampires chronicles blind twin sisters who regain their sight at night and go on murderous rampages. That Rollins films these bizarre stories straightforwardly is their redeeming feature. Hi-def imagery is appropriately grainy; extras include interviews and featurettes.

Jersey Shore Shark Attack (Anchor Bay)
You get what you expect in a movie like this: crude, inept parodies of both Jersey Shore and Jaws mashed together in an unholy union. The breathtaking stupidity on display may be the point, but you shouldn’t have to sit through this to affirm it. Why veterans like William Atherton and Paul Sorvino appear is anyone’s guess; the money can’t be that good. The Blu-ray image is decent; extras include commentary and making-of featurette.

Lonesome (Criterion)
This unique 1928 mixture of silent and sound film was made by neophyte director (and multi-disciplinarian) Paul Fejos; despite melodramatic trappings, it’s an eye-opening time capsule of New York—Manhattan and Coney Islands look especially enticing. The Criterion Collection has made the film look quite good on Blu-ray, and excellent extras include Lejos’ other extant films, The Last Performance and Broadway; a 1963 featurette, Fejos Memorial; audio commentary; and Broadway audio interview.

A Separation (Sony)
In Asghar Farhadi’s provocative drama, a married couple tries to formalize their divorce, but in fundamentalist Iran, nothing is that easy. In addition to bureaucratic and ultra-religious difficulties, they discover they’re tied together in any number of ways, including their children and respective families. Farhadi isn’t the most imaginative director, so the film is visually static, but his strong writing has sharply delineated characters and a critical look at a crushing society. The Blu-ray image is well-defined; extras include Farhadi’s commentary and two Farhadi interviews.

Staind: Live at Mohegan Sun 
(Eagle Rock)
Staind had a mainstream hit, “It’s Been Awhile,” in 2001; this high-energy concert, shot in Connecticut last November, demonstrates that the band and its fans still have a great rapport. The big hit is near the end of the rapturously received 18-song set, of course, but tunes like “Eyes Wide Open” and “Mudshovel”—much heavier-sounding than the single—show that singer Aaron Lewis, guitarist Mike Mushok, bassist Johnny April and new drummer Sal Giancarelli haven’t lost it. The hi-def image is clean, the sound awesome, and there’s a 30-minute band interview.

DVDs of the Week
Crisis at the Castle and Megacities 

These British TV programs of historical and scientific interest are unlike most reality shows: the intelligent Crisis at the Castle has the usual “bickering family” premise, but its three clans try to hold onto and even make money from a trio of England’s most glorious private estates in hard economic times. Andrew Marr’s Megacities insightfully studies five of the world’s largest metropolitan areas—London, Mexico City, Shanghai, Tokyo and Dhaka in Bangladesh—and how they deal with this century’s uncompromising difficulties.

(Cinema Libre)
In 1968, Saul Landau was allowed to film Fidel Castro in Cuba, and the resultant look at the communist leader shows that Landau seems to have fallen for the canard that Castro’s socialist rule was good for Cuba rather than the isolated society it’s become the past 50 years. In his commentary, Landau discusses some of this but still sounds enamored of the man who allowed him rare access, and the result is a portrait that skirts hagiography. The lone extra is a short, Cuba and Fidel.

Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment 
(First Run)
Toby Perl Freilich’s documentary chronicles the uniquely Israeli society known as the kibbutz—begun in the early 20th century and continuing today—a socialist experiment that has endured for 100 years. Freilich enlighteningly shows the kibbutz’s long and storied history that has even reached into the United States, as one of the most prominent of the current kibbutzim is composed of Americans who have moved to Israel. Extras include deleted scenes.

Lula, Son of Brazil 
(New Yorker)
Fabio Barreto’s excitingly done biopic captures the amazing-but-true life story of Brazil’s beloved, charismatic leader, Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva. Showing how he climbed the ladder from the worst slums in Sao Paolo to become the proud president of his nation, Barreto falls into the hagiographic trap but is helped by Rui Ricardo Diaz’s portrayal of Lula, immersing himself in the role to such an extent that the movie resembles a documentary. Extras include cast and crew interviews and behind the scenes footage.

(e one)
Despite its committed central performance by Jennifer Connolly—an actress incapable of making a false move—Dustin Lance Black’s writer/director debut suffers from an inability to commit itself to either psychoanalyzing its emotionally distraught heroine or simply watching her from afar.  Ed Harris, Yeardley Smith, Emma Roberts and especially Harrison Gilbertson as her son lend strong support, but the movie never  comes together as a convincing portrait. Extras include a making-of featurette.

CD of the Week
Penderecki: Symphonies and Orchestral Works 
Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki has had an astounding career: he began as one of music’s foremost avant-gardists in the late ‘50s and gradually morphed into a classicist. The seven symphonies on this five-disc set (numbered 1 through 8—there’s no number 6) run the gamut from the astringent First and large-scaled Fourth to the choral Seventh. The focused and intense performances by conductor Antonin Wit, National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra include Penderecki orchestral works like his classic shriek, Threnody.

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