Friday, January 11, 2013

January '13 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
The Blue Angel
(Kino Lorber)
In Josef von Sternberg’s classic tragedy, Emil Jannings plays a professor who falls in love with Lola-Lola, a popular cabaret performer, played by none other than Marlene Dietrich. Their bizarre relationship—which ends in death, natch—is recounted by Sternberg with his usual expressionistic touches, and his two stars give powerful performances. For an 83-year-old film, the Blu-ray image is superbly detailed.

Driving Miss Daisy
(Warner Bros)
The Best Picture that directed itself (Bruce Beresford was shamefully not nominated), this genteel but touching 1990 adaptation of Alfred Uhry’s play also won a Best Actress Oscar for Jessica Tandy’s feisty portrayal of the Southern lady unable to drive any more. That Morgan Freeman (her chauffeur) and Dan Aykroyd (her loving son) are also good is a tribute to Beresford’s rapport with actors; his low-key style, while perfect for the material, was too subtle for the Academy. The Blu-ray image is first-rate; extras are Beresford, Uhry and producer Lili Zanuck’s commentary; new and vintage featurettes.

Tim Burton’s original 1984 half-hour live-action short was perfectly macabre. Now that he’s busying doing lazy remakes of Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows, Burton returns to this youthful short for an 85-minute stop-motion animated feature, a pleasant time-waster that strains to fill its extra running time with material that doesn’t feel padded. Burton’s arresting visual sense helps to an extent. The hi-def image looks good in both 3D and 2D; extras include the original shorts and making-of featurettes.

Inventing David Geffen—American Masters
The remarkable life and career of the movie-music-theater mogul is recounted in two immensely entertaining hours, as Geffen gives a blow-by-blow description of his rise from Jewish kid in Brooklyn to head of major record labels, producer of Broadway smash hits and one-third (alongside Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg) of DreamWorks movie studio. There are many talking heads from the Eagles’ Don Henley and Glenn Frey to Jackson Browne and Yoko Ono, who figures in the show’s most poignant moment: John Lennon’s 1980 murder. The hi-def transfer is fine; extras include bonus interviews.

Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg
(Opus Arte)
Richard Wagner’s mammoth opera—only he could compose a five-hour “comedy”—has complex characters (mastersinger Hans Sachs, upcoming singer Walther, his love Eva), despite the anti-Semitism of comic foil Beckmesser. David McVicar’s Glyndebourne staging smartly avoids obvious nastiness by taking these characters at face value: the portrayals by Gerald Finley (Sachs), Marco Jentzsch (Walther), Johannes Martin Kranzle (Beckmesser) and Anna Gabler (Eva) let us enter Wagner’s world sans baggage. The Blu-ray image is excellent, the music—by the London Philharmonic and Glyndebourne Chorus under conductor Vladimir Jurowski—sounds splendid, and extras are featurettes about the opera’s problematic legacy.

Nova—Mystery of Easter Island
The eternal riddle of 900 moai statues populating Easter Island have taxed historians, scientists and everyone else for centuries, and in this Nova special—which shows how difficult it was moving the large carved stones to their current positions—a team of volunteers recreates how they think the stones were moved. The eye-opening result gives credence to one of many theories that explain how those massive objects sit there today. The Blu-ray image is first-rate.

Purple Noon
In Rene Clément’s superior 1960 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley—later made into an overwrought 1999 epic by Anthony Minghella—Alain Delon was at the height of his star power as the amoral protagonist who casually destroys lives while on an Italian holiday. The beautiful vistas of Italy and of the performers (lookers Maurice Ronet and Marie Laforet costar) are ravishingly recreated in the Criterion Collection’s terrific hi-def transfer; extras are vintage Delon and Highsmith interviews and a dry overview of Clément’s career by Denitza Bantcheva.

In this stunningly photographed, non-narrative documentary, natural and man-made wonders like Versailles and the Taj Mahal are shown in all their glory. Director Ron Fricke demonstrates mankind's spirituality through the awesomeness of nature and our shared humanity. Shot in 70mm, the best way to watch this is on Blu-ray, where the details of Saint Chappelle’s stained-glass windows are luminosity perfected. Extras include interviews and a making-of featurette.

Seal Team Six—The Raid on Osama bin Laden
(Weinstein Co/Anchor Bay)
Unlike Zero Dark Thirty—which reenacts the raid on the Pakistan hideaway that got bin Laden in its final half-hour—Sea Team Six is a gritty reenactment whose 90 minutes drum up the necessary patriotism and jingoism. It’s done proficiently, and the raid itself looks accurate; simply dramatizing these brave men’s heroism is enough for most viewers. The Blu-ray image is tremendous; the lone extra is a making-of featurette.

DVDs of the Week
Arts and the Mind
In a culture where defunding arts education keeps growing, this two-hour PBS documentary documents, without falling into the usual partisan trap, how the arts are needed more than ever. Lisa Kudrow narrates this elucidating look at how music, poetry, dance, painting and theater are godsends to sick young children, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and even Alzheimer’s patients.

Bloody Flesh
(one 7)
Carlos Mayolo’s eerie 1983 horror entry concerns a family in Colombia whose disintegration leads to incest and murder. Although the scenes between teenage cousins are unsettling (Adriana Herran is especially persuasive as the girl), Mayolo overplays his hand when he turns the insane goings-on into an allegory about his country’s dictatorial government. Still, with a truly horrifying ending, the movie is memorable, even in the crappy-looking transfer on this DVD.

Brooke Burke—Body
As any Dancing with the Stars fan knows, its winner-turned-cohost Brooke Burke is a star because of her physical endowments, not any obvious talent. Her newest exercise workout DVDs, Sexy Abs and 30-Day Slimdown, present Brooke in all her glory showing how this 40-something mother of four got her incredible shape. As an added bonus, included are Brooke’s favorite smoothie recipes!

Doctor Zhivago
This isn’t the gargantuan 1965 David Lean adaptation with Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in one of the big screen’s all-time romances: instead, it’s the 2002 British TV version with a then-unknown Keira Knightley in the pivotal role as the beautiful Lara. Knightley acquits herself well, suggesting more worldliness than the lovely Christie did; her co-stars, Sam Neill as Komarovsky and Hans Matheson as Zhivago are good enough, but Knightley and the expansiveness of the setting are the true stars, even on the small screen. Extras include 70 minutes of on-set interviews and featurettes.

Found Memories
(Film Movement)
Director Julia Murat impressively—and unself-consciously—takes the inhabitants of a remote Brazilian village at face value, recording their lives straightforwardly and giving a valuable sense of life’s unhurried pace. Artfully mixing magic realism with documentary realism by grounding her story’s fanciful aspects in natural goings-on, Murat’s beautiful balance is greatly assistance by her superb editor Marina Meliande and equally fine cinematographer Lucio Bonelli, whose painterly Cinemascope compositions blend reality and magic effortlessly. This assured feature debut, dealing with life, death, and eternity, makes us anxious to see Murat’s next move. The bonus short film, by debut director Sahim Omar Kalifa, is Land of the Heroes.

CD of the Week
Karlheinz Stockhausen—Michael’s Journey Around the World
When he died in 2007 at age 79, German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen had just begun a new project: Sound—The 24 Hours of the Day, following a massive, seven-opera cycle Light, each segment named after a day of the week. One of the biggest of that insanely overambitious series, Thursday, had this 50-minute piece as Act II. This clarinet/horn concerto in all but name dazzlingly pits soloists Marco Blaauw (trumpet) and Nicola Jurgensen (basset horn) against members of Ensemble musikFabrick—led by conductor Peter Rundel—all of whom play this fiendishly difficult music brilliantly.

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