Sunday, December 23, 2012

December '12 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week
Director Bill Morrison, whose The Miners’ Hymns was a memorably unusual documentary, made this formally rigorous 2002 feature. Another intriguing film, it uses old, “decaying” footage (hence the punning title) that’s unfortunately married to a monotonous Michael Gordon score, which makes it problematic despite its uniqueness. The Blu-ray image is good; the lone extra is Morrison’s 2004 short, Light Is Calling.

Ice Age—Continental Drift
The fourth Ice Age feature is proof of diminishing returns, although its target audience—kids and undiscriminating adults—won’t notice, despite a thin story and labored jokes: mammoth Manny, sloth Sid and tiger Diego find themselves trapped on a floating iceberg. Witty visuals like the opening sequence (which should be a short of its own) and huffing and puffing by Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Ray Romano, Jennifer Lopez and Queen Latifah (among other voices) can’t compensate for comic flimsiness. The Blu-ray image is impeccable; extras include deleted scenes and interactive viewing mode.

Manufactured Landscapes
Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary, stunningly photographed by Peter Mettler, is ostensibly a records of the massive photographs that artist Edward Burtynsky takes of what  are called “manufactured landscapes”—specifically, dams, mines and piles of debris. But as Baichwal follows Burtynsky through China, she also creates an illuminating portrait of the devastating effects of a massive industrial revolution. The amazing clarity of the Blu-ray image is made for this visual feast; extras include 30 minutes of deleted scenes and interviews with Baichwal, Burtynsky and Mettler.

Pelleas et Melisande
(Arthaus Musik)
Claude Debussy’s impressionistic masterpiece is the ultimate tragic opera, and with exemplary lead singers—here, American Rodney Gilfry and Spanish Isabel Rey—we’re halfway there. Conductor Franz Welser-Most beautifully conducts the Zurich Opera House Orchestra and Chorus, adroitly spinning Debussy’s gossamer musical web. But Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s misguided direction horribly butchers such an idealized vision, proving that bad ideas beget bad stagings. The Blu-ray image and sound are tremendous.

Red Hook Summer
In his most absorbing film in years, Spike Lee returns to the neighborhood of She’s Gotta Have It to explore how its residents are surviving in a part of New York that’s had many changes, zeroing in on a young Atlanta boy visiting his granddad. Although overlong with too many characters and subplots and no ending, it’s Lee’s most pointed character study—and Bruce Hornsby’s beguiling piano score is a genuine plus. The fine cast includes actors from She’s Gotta Have It doing their own thing. The Blu-ray image is stellar; extras comprise Lee’s commentary, on-set featurette and music video.

10 Years
(Anchor Bay)
This routine multi-character drama plays out on the day of a high school reunion, as the usual assortment of loners, losers, jocks and brainiacs converge once again on the scenes of their teenage crimes. Making Jamie Linden’s movie tolerable is an attractive cast: Channing Tatum and real-life wife Jenna Dewan Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Ari Graynor, Lily Collins and Max Minghella turn these stereotypes into interesting people. The hi-def image is first-rate; deleted scenes are the lone extra.

Total Recall
This overstuffed remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, directed by Len Wiseman, steals from the dank, dark visuals of Blade Runner and Alien 3. Of course, Wiseman isn’t Ridley Scott or David Fincher, so his movie has a clunkiness that’s especially noticeable in the 130-minute unrated version. Colin Farrell is a decent hero; Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale (the real-life Mrs. Wiseman), are fun action heroines. The Blu-ray image is good; extras are featurettes, director commentary and gag reel.

Trouble with the Curve
(Warner Bros)
Clint Eastwood trots out his crabby old-man number as an aging baseball scout who reluctantly accepts help from his daughter, who’s equally reluctant to leave a cushy job for life on the road—until she falls for an up-and-coming scout. Eastwood is amusing and Amy Adams is delightful, but eternal lightweight Justin Timberlake fatally damages the romantic subplot. Writer Randy Brown and director Robert Lorenz show little, despite mentor Eastwood’s backing. The Blu-ray image is good; two featurettes are the extras.

DVDs of the Week
Rehearsal for a Sicilian Tragedy
and YERT (First Run)
These documentaries chronicle specific cultures that will open eyes to their evocations of history, performance and the green movement. Rehearsal follows John Turturro’s visit to Sicily (his homeland on his mother’s side) as he learns about the lost art of puppetry with Mimmo Cuticchio, while YERT (which stands for “Your Environmental Road Trip) shows a group traveling through all 50 states for a year recycling their garbage. Both films introduce viewers to “characters” in the truest sense, presenting them without condescension but a shared humanity and amusement at our self-inflicted wounds.

Rodion Shchedrin—A Russian Composer
(Arthaus Musik)
In this thoughtful documentary about Russia’s most notable living composer, he and musician colleagues discuss his career, music and friendship with one of the 20th century’s greatest composers—Dmitri Shostokovich. Interestingly, only Russian conductor Valery Gergiev speaks in English: the rest range from speaking Russian (Shchedrin) to German (Mariss Jansons, Lorin Maazel). In addition to the enlightening doc, there are two full-length bonuses: an hour-long interview with Shchedrin and an 85-minute all-Shchedrin concert in Moscow on his 75th birthday in 2007.

The Simpsons—Season 15
This was another season in decline for what was one of the funniest shows on television—but despite that, The Simpsons in decline was better than other shows at their peak. Included in this 22-episode season boxed set are such classics as Treehouse of Horror XIV; celebrity guest voices range from Jerry Lewis, Tony Blair and Jackie Mason to the Olsen twins and Mr. T. Extras include Matt Groening intro, commentaries on every episode, deleted scenes and featurettes.

CDs of the Week
Elgar—The Starlight Express
Sir Edward Elgar is not one of my favorite British composers—I prefer Vaughan Williams, Bax, Bliss, Rubbra, Arnold and of course Britten by far—and his incidental music and songs for a 1916 children’s play encapsulates why: it’s weighted down by Elgar’s proficient but uninspired harmonies and melodies. There are no thrilling moments as the work meanders along, which might work onstage as one watches the play; just listening gets quickly tiresome. The vocal soloists don’t get a chance to impress, Simon Callow’s narration provides needed color, and Sir Andrew Davis adeptly conducts the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Zelenski/Zarebski—Chamber Music
These rarely known chamber works by these late 19th century Polish composers, while typically Romantic, have an original quality that distinguishes them individually. Juliusz Zarebski’s Piano Quintet displays a freshness and melodic brilliance that makes one wonder what he might have achieved if he hadn’t died of TB at age 31 in 1885; Wladyslaw Zelenski’s quartet unveils its composer’s profoundly lyric sensibility, from its folk-tune opening to its rousing flourish at its finale.  

No comments: