Monday, October 29, 2012

October '12 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week
Alcatraz—Complete Series 
This offbeat hybrid of detective and supernatural series, which never had a chance to survive—seeing the first season, it’s probably for the best—follows a group of “detectives” hunting down criminals who disappeared at Alcatraz back in 1963 (its closing was a cover story) and are reappearing in present-day San Francisco, committing crimes decades later. Sound confusing? Join the club. A general stylishness and a cast headed by Sam Neill help, but the show couldn’t escape its own inconsistencies. The hi-def image shimmers on Blu; extras include deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

The Ambassador 
Renegade documentary filmmaker Mads Brugger poses as a racist European colonial who wants to make a bundle of money in Africa, and through hidden cameras, provides proof that the black market and corrupt politicians are alive and well. Brugger, shooting fish in a barrel, is too pleased with his own prankster duplicity to make any truly pertinent points, unfortunately. Brugger’s commentary is entertaining but also lacks insights. The movie looks quite good in hi-def.

Blade Runner—30th Anniversary Edition 
Ridley Scott’s 1982 dark drama about “replicants” and the bounty hunter tracking them down has become, after an initial bumpy ride, one of the seminal sci-fi films. This 30th anniversary Blu-ray set, is essentially a re-do of the film’s 25th anniversary Blu-ray set, has made improvements: the upgrade makes the film’s stunning images even more stunning. The myriad versions are still present—the original version and international cut, the 1991 directors’ cut, the workprint version, and Scott’s preferred 2007 final cut—and there’s also Scott’s commentary, a crew commentary, and the documentary Dangerous Days.

Exorcism and Female Vampire 
These steamy Jess Franco horror flicks are typical of his work: both 1973’s Exorcism and 1975’s Female Vampire provide ample opportunities for Franco’s gorgeous and buxom companion Lina Romay to show off her assets in the name of terrorizing audiences, but the silly stories mitigate any real eroticism. The Blu-ray images of both films, while far from perfect, are the best representations of these films so far on home video; extras include shorter, blander re-edits of both films, a retrospective documentary and tribute to Romay, who died earlier this year.

Magic City—Complete First Season 
(Anchor Bay)
This new series, set in a Miami hotel in 1959, is another TV nostalgic trip riding the coattails of Mad Men. That it’s on Starz lets it get away with nudity and language still not allowed on other networks. There’s dramatic intrigue aplenty in these eight episodes as the mob wants its claws in the hotel, along with Frank Sinatra, the Kennedy clan, and clusters of comely women. This stylish soap has the period sets and costumes down pat—but the characters lack depth. The Blu-ray image looks fine; the extras are featurettes.

Magic Mike 
In Steven Soderbergh’s latest on-the-fly character study, that some of the hottest guys in movies (re: my wife), like Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey, play strippers overshadows the fact that this is Soderbergh’s third enjoyable movie in a row (after Contagion and Haywire), a sympathetic, non-condescending look at how regular folks make ends meet during economic troubles. That Olivia Munn shows her bare breasts is a very fair trade-off for my having to endure the female-scream inducing dance moves. The hi-def image is first-rate; extras are extended dance sequences and a making-of featurette.

Neil Young—Journeys 
Director Jonathan Demme accompanied Neil Young to his old haunts in and around Toronto and filmed him at a solo show in grand old Massey Hall. There are unguarded moments of Neil driving through his old neighborhoods, but most of the film rightly takes place onstage, where Young delivers incendiary versions of tunes both new and old. Classics like “After the Gold Rush” and “Ohio”—where the only explicitly political propaganda is inserted by Demme as he shows photos of the college students killed at Kent State by the National Guard—are front and center. The Blu-ray image is very good; extras include two Demme and Young interviews and a making-of featurette.

Peter Gabriel—Classic Albums: So 
(Eagle Vision)
Peter Gabriel’s So turned a cult artist into a superstar in 1986 with hits “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time” (“In Your Eyes” became a smash later in the movie Say Anything). In this fascinating look at So’s creation, Gabriel, co-producer Daniel Lanois, engineer Kevin Killen and musicians Tony Levin, Jerery Marotta and Manu Kache discuss the recording of Gabriel’s seminal record. I’m still unconvinced “In Your Eyes” should be the last song, because it upsets the familiar balance, but if Gabriel wants it there, who am I to argue? The 60-minute program is reinforced by 35 minutes of additional interviews.

Sunday Bloody Sunday 
Director John Schlesinger and screenwriter Penelope Gilliat’s account of a bi-sexual triangle was groundbreaking in its onscreen depiction of homosexual lovers back in 1971. But it seems tame today, a snapshot of an era when being gay was swept under the rug. If Schlesinger and Gilliatt do little more than update romantic movies with a twist, the splendid trio of Glenda Jackson, Murray Head and Peter Finch is the main reason to watch. The Blu-ray gives an accurate representation of talented cinematographer Billy Williams’ intention; extras include interviews with Williams, Head, Schlesinger’s lover Michael Childers and biographer William J. Mann. 

DVDs of the Week
DL Hughley—Reset 
For this latest standup appearance, D.L. Hughley performs in New Jersey for an hilarious hour of uproarious observations and stinging wit. Although the ear-opening section of Hughley’s hour-long routine centers on his autistic son—whom the doting father has no compunctions about mocking, albeit lovingly—he also takes on other, less incendiary topics, all to his audience’s fall-out-of-their-chairs amusement.

The Firm—Complete Series 
(e one)
Picking up 10 years after the original John Grisham novel (and Sydney Pollack film) left off, this 22-episode series follows lawyer Mitch McDeere leaving the witness protection program with his wife and daughter and trying to start a new life—and law career. There are twisty turns galore, and the characterizations are fairly complex for once; the actors, including Josh Lucas and Molly Parker as Mitch and his wife, are up to the task. Extras include interviews and featurettes.

Great Museums 
This thorough four-disc set comprises 24 programs that show off our best depositories of art, history and culture: along with obvious choices like MOMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there’s a good mix of regional museums like the Delta Blues Museum and California Surf Museum and national museums like the National D-Day Museum and American Indian Museum. The 30-to-60 minute programs provide informative overviews of such uniquely American museums as Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame or New York’s Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

Il Postino 
(Sony Classical)
The immensely charming 1995 film with Philippe Noiret and Massimo Troisi—about an ordinary postman who befriends Chilean poet Pablo Neruda while falling in love with a beautiful waitress—has been transformed into a lovely opera by composer Daniel Catan. Placido Domingo (Neruda), Charles Castronovo (postman) and Amanda Squitieri (waitress) are wonderfully affecting both vocally and histrionically, which makes the story so personal and profound. In an awful parallel, Troisi died right after the film finished shooting and Catan died just months after his opera premiered in Los Angeles.

The Invisible War  
This powerful documentary by Kirby Dick—who also made This Film Is Not Yet Rated—shockingly recounts our military’s worst secret: that female soldiers have a better chance of being raped or sexually abused by fellow soldiers than they do of being wounded or killed on the battlefield. Several courageous women step forward to discuss what happened to them and how their bosses stonewalled their complaints (in at least one instance, because he was involved). It’s a sadly enlightening commentary on a male-centric world. Extras include a commentary, extended interviews and a deleted scene.

Wish Me Luck—Complete Series 
This British made-for-TV drama series, originally telecast in 1988-9, tells the gripping true story of English women who were Allied secret agents while France was occupied by the Nazis. These 6 discs include 23 hour-long episodes from all 3 seasons, beginning with the fall of France and leading up to D-Day, as the London home office gives the female spies orders for dangerous missions to keep the Germans occupied. A superlative cast is led by Jane Asher (who is best known to Beatles fans as Paul McCartney’s pre-Linda fiancée) as the embattled chief of the home office.

CD of the Week
Salonen: Nyx/Violin Concerto 
Soloist Leila Josefowicz sizzles on Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Violin Concerto, a technically formidable work in which she plays almost constantly, easily dispatching its many runs and bringing intensity to a less than impassioned piece. The disc is rounded out by Nyx, an interesting if disjointed workout for the musicians of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, led persuasively by the composer himself.

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