Sunday, October 14, 2012

October '12 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
Bones—Complete Season 7
In the 13 episodes of the seventh season of this odd but compelling medical drama, the brilliant forensic analysts who led by Dr. Temperance Brennan pore over variously gruesome homicide cases. The series’ accomplished cast is led by Emily Deschanel (Zooey’s older sister) as Brennan and David Boreanaz as FBI agent Booth. The Blu-ray’s image is excellent; extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel, featurettes and an audio commentary.

Dial M for Murder
Strangers on a Train
Two 50s Hitchcock thrillers have finally been elevated to hi-def: 1951’s Strangers is an ultra-creepy adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, while 1955’s Dial features the elegant Grace Kelly in a minor Hitch suspense flick based on Frederick Knott’s play. Both films look absolutely splendid on Blu-ray, especially the B&W compositions of Strangers and the amusing 3-D effects of Dial, which looks less good in 2D. Strangers extras include the preview version with two extra minutes, a commentary, making-of and other featurettes; the lone Dial extra is a retrospective featurette.

Downton Abbey—
Complete Seasons 1 & 2
This masterly mini-series, written by Julian Fellowes, meticulously recreates the insular worlds of both masters and servants on a British estate before, during and after the carnage of World War I. This Upstairs, Downstairs for a new generation has international stars like Dame Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville. This special Blu-ray set contains the complete seasons 1 & 2, both featuring dramatically realized storylines and characterizations. Of course, the stunning physical production looks flawless on this stellar hi-def release. Extras include a full-length episode Christmas at Downton Abbey, and on-set featurettes Making of Downton Abbey, A House in History, Fashion & Uniforms, Romance in a Time of War and House to Hospital.

Iron Sky
(e one)
This lunatic sci-fi fantasy imagines a Sarah Palin-alike in the Oval Office who starts a war with Nazis who have been living on the moon since WWII ended. (Don’t ask.) This demented but sometimes funny parody does have its share of easy jokes about Hitler and Palin. There’s also a relatively restrained performance by blonde bombshell Julia Dietze as an idealistic Nazi who learns the error of her ways thanks to a black US astronaut turned white by the bad guys (again, don’t ask). The Blu-ray image looks quite good; extras include an audio commentary, making-of featurette and on-set footage.

The Lady
(Cohen Media)
Luc Besson’s typically ham-handed directing dents but doesn’t ruin a gripping true account of Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of a Burmese patriot who led the democracy movement against the dictatorial regime. Besson tries turning her poignant story into one of his typical action flicks, but Michelle Yeoh’s elegant presence and a touching supporting performance by David Thewlis as her suffering British husband (and his twin brother!), The Lady scores dramatic and political points. The Blu-ray image is stellar; the lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Peace, Love and Misunderstanding
This mild generation-gap comedy is as dated as the aging hippies that populate it, and director Bruce Beresford—long removed from his best films, from Breaker Morant to Black Robe—can do little more than skillfully direct his fine actresses, hampered as everyone is by Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski’s flaccid and melodramatic script. Jane Fonda (hip grandma), Catherine Keener (square mom) and Elizabeth Olsen (precocious granddaughter) are good enough to help viewers make it through 90 minutes. The Hudson Valley looks gorgeous on Blu-ray; the lone extra is a brief making-of.

Although this Alien prequel wasn’t necessary, Ridley Scott’s stylish directing makes discovering what happened on the planet that the spaceship Nostromo landed on in the original film go down easy. A nasty self-abortion sequence isn’t for the squeamish, but Prometheus shrewdly favors mythmaking over scares, and with a solid cast—led by Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba—and big-budget effects, Scott has made a diverting and even intelligent Hollywood movie. The Blu-ray image looks superb; extras include commentaries by Scott and by the writers, 36 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes and featurettes.

Rock of Ages
This brainless adaptation of the ridiculously dopey Broadway musical is basically a karaoke jukebox of trashy ‘80s rock tunes: you haven’t lived until you’ve seen (especially in the extended version, which lasts an unconscionable 135 minutes) Tom Cruise and Malin Akerman almost have sex while warbling Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is.” It was shocking that the movie flopped at the box office: for once the American moviegoing public showed their wisdom. The Blu-ray image looks fine; extras include several featurettes.

DVDs of the Week
This wavering omnibus film skips around among several couples—from teenagers to long-time marrieds, with a lesbian pair thrown in—trying (or not) to conceive a baby. Director Josh Stolberg writes snappy dialogue that takes the place of credible characterizations, but the acting (especially by Julie Bowen, sexier and funnier than on Modern Family) that makes this 85-minute trifle watchable. Extras include director/producer commentary, 37 minutes of deleted scenes and 25 minutes of outtakes.

Desperate Housewives—
Complete 8th and Final Season
In the final season of the ultimate television fantasy for women (these are empowered female characters) and men (these women are available cougars), the various relationship threads are finally untangled. While Eva Longoria and Vanessa Williams are delectable, Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross and Felicity Huffman appear to go through their well-worn paces. Extras include creator Mark Cherry’s final episode commentary, deleted scenes, gag reel and on-set interviews.

In director Tony Kaye’s first feature since his flawed but haunting American History X, Adrien Brody plays a substitute teacher who keeps clear of relationships with students and everyone else—until two troubled teens enter his life. Despite Brody’s intensity (and good work by Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Hendricks and—as a young prostitute—the remarkable Sami Gayle), Kaye’s film suffers from dramatic overkill, which is his stock-in-trade: the subject matter is already depressing, but Kaye rubs our noses in it until the movie becomes overbearing. Extras comprise brief Kaye and Brody interviews.

Give Up Tomorrow
(First Run)
In a must-see documentary where truth is stranger—and more enraging—than fiction, director Michael Collins tells the incredible story of Paco Larranaga, sentenced to death for a crime that evidence overwhelmingly shows he didn’t commit: the horrific murder of two young women in the Philippines. Collins shows, in painstaking detail, how official corruption, media complicity and a bloodthirsty public teamed to destroy Paco’s (and six others’) lives. Extras include deleted scenes, interviews and an update on Paco’s fate.

Kidnap and Ransom
Trevor Eve’s craggy presence as a cynical hostage negotiator who tackles the most difficult and dangerous cases helps this somewhat formulaic drama score a direct bull’s-eye. In addition, the gritty locations and on-target supporting cast keep the show going through several familiar run-ins with bad guys, politicians and supervisors. Extras include interviews with Eve and writer Michael Crompton.

The League—
Complete Season 3
This fitfully funny comedy about a group of fantasy football “players” too often basks in its crudity, but it shines when guest stars spar with the less-than-awesome foursome. Jeff Goldblum and Sarah Silverman are hilariously profane in one episode, and Eliza Dushku is a kick-ass combatant in another: they are the highlights of the third season. Extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes and featurettes.

The Who—Live in Texas ’75
It’s not often that The Who didn’t give incendiary live performances, and this 1975 Houston show at the beginning of the band’s By Numbers tour, doesn’t disappoint. The intimate cameras let viewers concentrate on each musician in turn, and this quartet—singer Roger Daltrey, guitarist Pete Townshend, bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon—is simply remarkable. Highlights are sparkling versions of “Drowned” and a Tommy medley. The only quibble is lack of surround sound, but if you crank it up, you won’t even notice.

CDs of the Week
Kiss: Monster
At this late date, we probably don’t need a new Kiss album—especially for those of us who thought Ace Frehley was the best musician in the group—but this latest effort from Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and two guys with the same makeup as Ace and Peter is an acceptable facsimile. The opener “Hell or Hallelujah” is a typically anthemic rocker, as is the following “Wall of Sound,” and “Freak,” and “Back to the Stone Age,” etc. It’s not bad for a bunch of aging rockers, but after awhile it sounds like one long song interrupted by a few seconds of silence between tracks. But you didn’t expect Destroyer, did you?

Tchaikovsky: Symphonies 1-3
(LSO Live)
The first three Tchaikovsky symphonies might not have the staying power of his last three—culminating with the sixth, Pathetique—but energetic performances by the London Symphony Orchestra under sympathetic conductor Valery Gergiev (who certainly knows his way around Tchaikovsky’s colorful, melodic and rhythmic music) make the earlier symphonic trio—particularly, the second, Little Russian, and the third, Polish—come off superbly.

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