Monday, September 17, 2012

September '12 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
The Big Bang Theory—The Complete Fifth Season
For the fifth season, the hopeless computer geeks and nerds find themselves dealing with one subject they can never get a handle on: women, mainly in the form of next door neighbor Penny (sexy Kelly Cuoco). Despite a limit to the amount of “clueless genius” sex jokes one can hear in one's life, the show remains funny thanks to its terrifical batch of performers, led by Cuoco—one of our best and most underrated comediennes—Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons. The hi-def image is crystal clear; extras include featurettes and a gag reel.

Fringe—The Complete Fourth Season
The creators of Fringe have, in their series' fourth season, gone for broke: characters move between two separate universes, plots are becoming ever more twisty, and the characters are threatening to become swallowed up the sci-fi miasma. But whenever they reach the edge, they pull back and allow the relationships to overpower the gadgetry, always a good thing. The Blu-ray image is stellar, of course, while the extras include interviews, featurettes and a gag reel.

The Heineken Kidnapping
What I assumed would be a merely dry recreation of the powerful Heineken magnate's kidnapping in Amsterdam is, in director Maarten Treurneit's hands, a tautly-scripted, screws-tightened thriller with the twists and turns of a typical actioner—but far more exciting because it's true. Rutger Hauer is astonishingly impressive as Heineken, a man whose harrowing experience might or might not change him permanently. The hi-def image is excellent; extras include a making-of featurette.

Holy Flying Circus
Monty Python going up against the Church and its political allies over the 1979 biblical parody Life of Brian is dramatized in this fitfully funny but too-clever film by writer Tony Roche and director Owen Harris. The actors are game, but Python allusions (e.g., men playing women) are too in-jokey, obscuring the story of what happened and why. Strongly satiric scenes between the boys and the clueless clowns who wanted Brian banned alternate with overdone, Rutles-type stuff that elucidates little. The Blu-ray image is strong; extras are deleted scenes and outtakes.

Lola Versus
The latest indie darling, Greta Gerwig, stars in this familiar tale of a young woman trying to make it—both personally and professionally—in the oh-so-difficult city of New York. Despite humorous visual and verbal touches, writer-director Daryl Wein and co-writer Zoe Lister-Jones too often fall into the “cutesy” trap in both dialogue and relationships, and the result is that their nominal star—Gerwig, who seems a less interesting Chloe Sevigny—is swallowed up by excessive cleverness. It's too bad, for Gerwig is a decent actress, if not the goddess she's been painted as. The Blu-ray image is quite good; extras include commentary, deleted scenes, gag reel, and featurettes.

Mother's Day
(Anchor Bay/Troma)
This seminal low-budget 1980 horror film is some sort of litmus test for the genre's fans, who may or may not respond to its skin-crawling, slightly despicable lunacy. Still, there is something bizarrely watchable about the whole thing, like viewing a snuff film or an especially horrific car accident. The restored image is grainy, often sharp but occasionally soft; extras are several featurettes and director Charles Kaufman's enjoyable commentary.

National Parks Exploration Series—
Yellowstone and the Great Smoky Mountains
(Mill Creek)
These discs give excellent overviews of two of our country's national parks: Yellowstone, which became the first national park in 1872, and Great Smoky Mountains, which joined the club in 1934. Stunning vistas, vast amounts of wildlife, flora and fauna and natural wonders like Old Faithful are shown in all their spectacular beauty in high-definition; both programs also gives brief histories of each park. Best about these discs is their low price point: less than $10, pretty much a steal these days.

Snow White and the Huntsman
An ungodly hybrid of several strands of fairy tales (for gals, I guess) and action adventures (for their guys, I guess), Huntsman ends up in cinematic no-man's land. The antics of the paranoid queen (an icy Charlize Theron) bleed into the other subplots so dominantly that they make Snow White herself (a rather pale Kristen Stewart) a subordinate charcater in her own movie. Director Rupert Sanders' balancing act, doesn't serve up much much narrative or dramatic interest. The Blu-ray image is very impressive but it's the extensive make-up and special effects that come off better than the performers; extras include several making-of featurettes and an audio commentary.

(Anchor Bay)
In this unoriginal mish-mash of Rudy, Hoosiers, Heaven Can Wait and Back to the Future, a middle-aged loser living in the small town he grew up in has a second chance when he fails to commit suicide: he's returned to high school, where he gets to replay the big game as star QB: will he hurt himself again and ruin the rest of his life? It's much inspirational ado about not much, with a script filled with cardboard characterizations. The acting is a mixed bag: Kurt Russell is fine as the coach, Melanie Lynskey is wonderful as the hero's wife, but Brian Presley is too stiff as the time traveler. The hi-def image is fine; extras include a commentary and making-of featurette.

The Vampire Diaries—The Complete Third Season
In the third season of this mash-up of True Blood, Twilight, Interview with a Vampire and probably some other movie/TV show/novel I'm missing, the area around Mystic Falls, Virginia runs red with blood and becomes ground zero for a vampire hunter extravaganza as the charismatic creatures go up against their mortal—or immortal—adversaries. Although it's as risible as it sounds, but the performers are so darned cute—led by Paul Wesley, Joseph Morgan and Jennifer Love Hewitt lookalike Nina Dobrev—that its target audience of teens will keep watching to see these pretty people sucking blood, among other things. The Blu-ray image is excellent; extras include featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

Where Do We Go Now
Writer-director-star Nadine Labaki's disarming, sometime musical fantasy about women in a Lebanese town who try to end a disagreement between local Christian and Muslim men that threatens to explode into something deadly. Daringly, triple threat Labaki takes a sensitive subject and distills it to its simple, even charming essence: if the movie doesn't break down religious barriers—what could?—it shows that common ground might eliminate antagonism in this volatile region. The Blu-ray image is very good; extras include commentary by and interview with Labaki and her composer, and featurettes.

DVDs of the Week 
(Film Movement)
What begins as a low-key family drama morphs into an absurdist comedy as a friendly business owner allows a man associated with his mentor to live with his family: soon, the interloper brings his Brazilian wife and her “family” of dozens. Director Koji Fukada actually makes everyone plausibly human, so when the odd behaviors start escalating, it's believable and slyly funny. The sequences of “relatives” helping out in the shop are priceless. The lone extra is Will McCord's short Miyuki.

John Leguizamo—Tales from a Ghetto Klown
Although John Leguizamo has starred in dozen of movies, he's most at home onstage performing hilarious one-man shows about his life and career, most recently Broadway's Ghetto Klown. This hour-long documentary shows Leguizamo preparing that show, and includes interviews with its director, Fisher Stevens, friends like Rosie Perez, his wife and, of course, the man himself, who is as witty and cutting offstage as he is on. Extras include additional scenes.

Paul Simon—Live in New York City
(Hear Music)
Paul Simon's 90-minute concert at Manhattan's Webster Hall on June 6, 2011 (why does it take so long to release live recordings?) is preserved on this DVD/CD set that showcases the 70-year-old singer-songwriter's top-notch band playing 20 tunes from all phases of his career, from Simon and Garfunkel (“The Sound of Silence,” “The Only Living Boy in New York”) to solo hits like “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Late in the Evening.” True fans will appreciate exemplary versions of deep cuts like “The Obvious Child” and “Hearts and Bones,” and, of course, Graceland is represented more than the other records, save the new one.

Queen—Greatest Video Hits
(Eagle Vision)
This is a re-release of the DVD sets that came out several years ago: 33 videos, from “Killer Queen” to “The Miracle,” spanning 15 years of the most original, creative and hilarious work done by any musicians before, during and after the MTV era. Although restoring the videos to widescreen is problematic—surely most were not shot in 16:9—the superb 5.1 surround sound mix and guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor's informative commentaries compensate. The only quibble: where are the Innuendo and Made in Heaven videos? They should be on this reissue.

Two Broke Girls—The Complete First Season
A sitcom created by tart-tongued Whitney Cummings and Sex and the City alum Michael Patrick King would obviously be smart-ass and a little smutty: exactly what Two Broke Girls is. A bimbo blonde and witty brunette move in together in Brooklyn to make ends meet while waitressing at a local dive, and the double entrendres, innuendos and words not often heard at 8 PM on network TV (“vagina”) fly fast and furiously. The silliness is worth watching for Cummings' sharp banter and how Beth Behrs and Kat Dannings make it sound utterly natural. Extras include interviews, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

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