Saturday, September 29, 2012

September '12 Digital Week V

Blu-rays of the Week
Bait 3D
(Anchor Bay)
When you’re making a shark attack movie, you need a hook (or two) to distinguish yours from the countless other Jaws rip-offs. Voila—this 3D shocker pits a group of clueless people stuck in a flooded store at the mercy of a shark that’s taken over local waters. Despite a few oddly enjoyable meals that the 3D effects present with a certain cleverness, the movie remains a dull, unfortunate example of “concept” beating a sense of decent filmmaking. The Blu-ray imagery maximizes the 3D effects.

(Cohen Media Group)
When Audrey Tautou is onscreen, the camera loves her—even in this terminally cutesy romance in which she plays a dour office exec whose loving husband was killed in an accident, and after a few years of mourning she falls for an ordinary minion at her firm. Tautou does what she can, but the movie continually pulls her toward frolicsome Amelie territory, except it feels arbitrary. The hi-def image is excellent; extras include a Tautou interview and making-of featurette.

The Do-deca-pentathlon
The directing Duplass brothers comically implode with a heavy-handed black comedy about competitive brothers who nearly ruin their marriages and own relationship over a serious “game” they’ve been playing for years. Even though it clocks in at a mere 78 minutes, this mystifying in-joke drags badly, and the brothers are played with little  chemistry by Steve Zissis and Mark Kelly. Now that it’s out of their system, maybe the brothers can make something more interesting like Cyrus and Jeff Who Live at Home. The Blu-ray looks fine; extras include featurettes.

(Kino Lorber)
Co-writer/director Malgoska Szumowska’s study of two prostitutes’ lifestyles affecting the middle-aged, middle-class journalist profiling them sacrifices insight for provocation. If you want to see men treating women badly—urinating on one, jamming a wine bottle up the other’s orifice—then this is for you: but little transcends exploitation. The acting, of course, is excellent; Joanna Kulig and Anais Demoustier are persuasive call girls, and Juliette Binoche brings her customary sensitivity and intelligence to the journalist. But despite much nudity, Elles is figuratively covered up. The hi-def transfer is good.

Freddie Mercury—The Great Pretender
(Eagle Vision)
Rhy Thomas has impressively cobbled together a look at Queen’s flamboyant frontman, including rare interview footage of Mercury. Although the singer is his usual ebullient self, an introspective side is also seen, which—along with comments by Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor, Mercury’s lover Jim Hutton and others—makes this an emotional journey for Queen fans. Footage of his abortive ‘80s solo projects, including his Barcelona collaboration with soprano Montserrat Caballe (also seen in interviews), doesn’t rehabilitate that aspect of his career, but it’s good of Thomas to show the opposite of the gazillion-selling Queen empire. The Blu-ray image is first-rate, despite vintage footage. Extras include a Mercury interview, Caballe interview and Barcelona making-of.

Gerhard Richter Painting
(Kino Lorber)
The title says it all: director Corrina Belz was granted studio access by German artist Gerhard Richter—who was 77 in 2009—to watch him create large canvases for an exhibit. The paintings, which begin as a riot of color, are pared down to become Richter’s familiar abstract images. This important glimpse of an artist at work also shows him as an engaging if occasionally distant presence: when Belz gets him to discuss his life briefly humanize a man most see in the abstract. On Blu-ray, the colors of Richter’s paintings pop off the screen amazingly; extras are a Richter interview and views of his exhibitions.

Hatchet for a Honeymoon
Lisa and the Devil/House of Exorcism
Italian director Mario Bava was at the top of his game in the early 70s: although 1970’s Hatchet was in many ways conventional, there were still shocks aplenty; but nothing could prepare fans for Lisa, a diabolically surreal scare fest with a cast comprising Elke Sommer, Telly Savalas and Alida Valli. Lisa was so bizarre that it was reshot (with Robert Alda as a priest) and recut into Exorcism, less satisfying but deeply disturbing in its own right. The films retain their graininess on Blu-ray; all three features have commentaries and there’s a Bava interview on the Lisa/House disc.

Hawaii Five-O—Complete Season 2
The reboot of one of the most popular TV series of the ‘70s enters its second season with an attractive cast, even more attractive locales but less than attractive storylines. The 23 episodes contain enough action thrills for unfinicky fans, but there’s a spark missing among the cast that was never an issue during the Jack Lord-James MacArthur days. The Blu-ray image is superb; extras include deleted scenes, featurettes, audio commentaries, the ever-present gag reel and a crossover NCIS: Los Angeles episode.

Lone Wolf and Cub
The six films that make up the Lone Wolf and Cub series (made between 1972 and 1974) are by and large enjoyable action flicks, with four of the films directed by Kenji Misumi—including the terrific, and by far the best, original—who contributed most greatly to their visual pyrotechnics and narrative control. Although it’s great that all six features are finally available on Blu-ray, the hi-def transfers are not up to par, with too much digital noise reduction disappointing fans.

Resident Evil—Damnation
Although the live-action Resident Evil movies were fatally antiseptic, this CG fest will either draw you in or annoy you (as it did me). Although it’s not as outright ugly as Robert Zemeckis’s performance-capture flicks (Polar Express, Beowulf), the facial and movement “fakery” is a deal-breaker: just as Pixar’s cartoons do little for me, so do CG films, technically accomplished as they are. If it’s in your wheelhouse, however, go for it. The Blu-ray image is good; extras include making-of featurettes and a gag reel.

DVDs of the Week
The Carol Burnett Show—Carol’s Favorites
(Time Life)
The Carol Burnett Show (1967-78) was one of the funniest and most unconventional of all TV variety programs, due to Carol’s staggering comedic talent, invaluable generosity and costars (Lyle Waggoner, Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman) as prodigiously talented as she. This five-disc set collects several of the star’s favorite episodes, which include guest stars Steve Martin, Joan Rivers, Betty White and Maggie Smith, for starters. The episodes are complemented by choice extras, like a reunion of Lyle, Vicki, Tim and Carol (Harvey, unfortunately, died in 2008).

CSI: New York, CSI: Miami, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
One of TV’s most successful franchises comprises shows that don’t mechanically exploit the glitz of their locales—the 8th season of CSI: New York, the 10th season of CSI: Miami, and the 12th season of the original CSI, set in Las Vegas—and are not compromised by cast changes or dramatic formulas. New York’s season opener about the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 has powerful writing and acting. Extras on all three sets include deleted scenes and featurettes; Miami and CSI include commentaries; Miami and New York include gag reels.

Girl in Progress
Although this coming-of-age, single mother/lonely daughter movie is seriously flawed—suffering from a short, sitcom-ish attention span and featuring “characters” instead of characters—two actresses make it watchable. Eva Mendes, who plays Mom with a single-minded intensity laced with humor, gives her best movie performance. And young Cierra Ramirez, as the daughter who’s 15 going on 30, is a real find: so natural and unaffected, she’s definitely someone to watch. The lone extra is a making-of featurette.

I'm Carolyn Parker—The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful
Over a period of five years, Jonathan Demme profiled Carolyn Parker—resident of New Orleans’ lower ninth ward, the most criminally neglected spot in the city’s post-Katrina revitalization—and the result is this vital portrait that puts a human face on the devastation. Parker herself is always engaging, even when enraged, and Demme presents her story with the sympathetic eye marking his best work like Melvin and Howard and Married to the Mob. Extras include a Demme interview and commentary.

The Salt of Life
Gianni Di Gregorio’s follow-up to his acclaimed Mid-August Lunch is more of the same, which is definitely not a bad thing: another low-key comic exploration of a middle-aged man’s difficulties with several generations of the opposite sex is also a wonderful travelogue through the streets, homes and food of Rome, the world’s largest village. The literal title, Gianni and His Women, was changed to become more universal, although the original title works better as ironic commentary. Extras include a Di Gregorio interview and on-set footage.

CD of the Week
Jon Lord—Concerto for Group and Orchestra
Deep Purple’s keyboardist (who died earlier this year) composed this sprawling composition in 1969, its premiere led by the great composer/conductor Malcolm Arnold. This recording—by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Paul Mann’s baton—is an all-star affair, with Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson on vocals, all-star session man Guy Pratt on bass, guitar parts played by Darin Vasilev, Jon Bonnamassa and Steve Morse, and Lord himself as organist. The 45-minute wayward work goes on too long but remains a listenable mash-up of rock and orchestral music.

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