Saturday, December 29, 2012

December '12 Digital Week V

Blu-rays of the Week
Being Human—Season 2
(e one)
A vampire, ghost and werewolf continue to pass themselves off as “regular folks” in a so-so show that piggybacks off the romantic fantasies of recent monster/horror stories: damn you, Stephenie Meyer! The cast is game—especially Meaghan Rath as the ghost Sally—but the material isn’t original enough or given decent enough twists to make one willing to stay with it over the long haul. The hi-def image looks excellent; extras include an hour-long making-of featurette, a 45-minute Comic Con conference and interviews.

Don DeLillo wrote the ultimate Unfilmable Novel: naturally David Cronenberg leapt at a chance to deal with its compression of time, plot, characterization and locale. But he fails miserably: what DeLillo describes on the page looks ridiculous literalized onscreen; the metaphor-symbolism-allegory of a young Manhattan exec in a limousine has no dramatic impetus. Lead Robert Pattinson is dull, while Juliette Binoche and Samantha Morton are reduced to ciphers in short scenes that must encompass whole characters. The Blu-ray image is good; extras comprise interviews and a making-of documentary.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid—Dog Days
So the third movie’s the charm, as the addition of a time-honored sidekick—a dog, of course—makes this a decent time-filler for anyone but the most resistant curmudgeon. Anyone under 13 will definitely have fun; their parents might also remain interested, thanks to talented young Zachary Gordon and his canine friend. The hi-def image is good; extras include a director commentary, animated Class Clown, featurette, gag reel.

Justified—Complete Third Season
Timothy Oliphant returns as the crusading U.S. marshal who plays by his own rules: this time against a villain named Limehouse…and even his own father. The storylines stretch credulity, a cancer for most television series—ah, for the good old boring shows of yesteryear!—but a good cast and precisely rendered atmosphere make it worthwhile viewing. The Blu-ray image looks tremendous; extras include commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes, interviews and outtakes.

Liberal Arts
Writer-director-actor Josh Radnor is no triple threat a la Woody Allen or Albert Brooks—to name just two more insightful comic filmmakers—but closer to the overrated Judd Apatow. This self-indulgent character study boasts the lovely presence of Elizabeth Olsen as a level-headed college student who messes up an older teacher’s head, but since Radnor plays the teacher so whiningly, it’s hard to see why she likes him. Nicely turned support from Richard Jenkins and Allison Janney is also too little to help. The Blu-ray image is good; extras include a commentary, deleted scenes and short promo.

Rian Johnson’s convoluted sci-fi flick about time-traveling hitmen has an obvious “smartass” factor like Inception, but it quickly palls when attempting to explore characters we have no empathy for, then completely falls off the rails with a subplot about a woman and her young son. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels can’t do much with their flimsy roles, and the special effects are as random as the scattershot script and end up ineffective. The Blu-ray image looks great; extras include a commentary, deleted scenes and featurettes.

Resident Evil—Retribution
To some, Paul W. S. Anderson is an auteur, but he’s really just another director of mindless action flicks with a flamboyant visual sense. This fifth go-round in the increasingly weak R.E. series has stunning action, but also Anderson’s ludicrous (and risible) use of slow-motion. Milla Jovovich has an intense physical presence, but she has literally nothing interesting to do. The Blu-ray image looks terrific; extras include commentaries, deleted/extended scenes, gag reel and featurettes.

Sleepwalk with Me
With little originality, Mike Birbiglia and three other writers—including NPR’s Ira Glass—conjure up this non-story about a man afraid of commitment who tries his hand at standup, keeping his increasingly frustrated girlfriend (a charming Lauren Ambrose) at arm’s length. This might have been funny or insightful if the leading man was interesting; Birbiglia is the exact opposite. The Blu-ray image looks pretty good; extras include Birbiglia and Glass’ commentary and Q&A, outtakes, featurettes, interviews.

The Well-Digger’s Daughter
(Kino Lorber)
Actor Daniel Auteuil’s directorial debut, old-fashioned in the best sense, is based on Marcel Pagnol’s humane story set in his beloved Provençal countryside before World War II. Auteuil—who starred in two Pagnol adaptations, Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring, in the mid-‘80s—creates a moving drama that sidesteps soap opera. How parents respond to the loss of children due to war or social disgrace is marvelously dramatized by Auteuil with appropriate understatement, particularly in his own performance; Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, as the title character sublimely blends teenage naïveté and mature womanliness. The Blu-ray image superbly displays the luscious Provencal visuals.

The Words
In the annals of writer movies, this rates near the bottom: though writers/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal might consider this a touching, involving story of stolen manuscripts, lying authors and relationships among living people and fictional characters, but it wastes a genuinely attractive cast. Literally: Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana are one couple, Olivia Wilde is on hand and exquisite newcomer Nora Arnezeder is a most ravishing Frenchwoman. The Blu-ray image looks fine; extras include brief featurettes.

DVDs of the Week
“Gandu” means “asshole” in Hindu slang, and director Q’s boldly expressionist study of the title jerk makes for—when not gleefully diving into a deep pool of over-the-top visual and musical mush—a truly unique experience, for better and worse. For those so inclined, there’s even a bit of hardcore sex, which probably makes this a rarity in mainstream Indian cinema. Extras include a making-of featurette.

Our Beloved Month of August
(Cinema Guild)
Portuguese director Miguel Gomes plays with narrative tropes to increasingly less interesting degrees in this overlong pseudo-documentary about rural Portugal: after an hour or so of chronicling everyday existence—which includes ubiquitous August music festivals—the movie switches gears, as Gomes and his producer enter to steer the real-life people into a fictional plot. It sounds better than it plays; extras include several Gomes short films and a making-of featurette.

The Trouble with Bliss
(Anchor Bay)
This shallow character study follows Morris Bliss—get the title?—a 30-ish loser who still lives with his father while messing around with a former classmate’s 18-year-old daughter: when a married neighbor comes onto him, things start to really go awry. As usual in this kind of film, the characters are less real than quirky—isn’t anyone ordinary any more? Brie Larson is a bright light as the precocious teen, but Michael C. Hall does indifference too indifferently. Extras include a Hall interview and deleted scenes.

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