Friday, February 1, 2013

February '13 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
Bob Fosse won the Best Director Oscar for his decidedly adult 1972 adaptation of the classic Kander & Ebb musical about pre-Nazi Germany, as did Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey for their indelible performances. (The film lost Best Picture to a crime drama named The Godfather.) For its belated 40th anniversary Blu-ray edition, Warners has released a rewarding hi-def transfer with an appropriately dark and grainy look. In addition to a perfect film, the disc includes historian Stephen Tropiano’s commentary and new and vintage featurettes with cast and crew extolling the virtues of director Fosse.

Ciaran Foy’s routine thriller is set in a run-down apartment complex where a widowed new dad gets revenge for a vicious attack that left his poor (and pregnant) wife with fatal wounds. With its shadowy darkness, fancy camera angles and standard-issue villains, the movie tries to obscure the less than compelling storyline, acting and thrills: even the explosive finale fizzles. The actors can’t do much with the thin gruel they’ve been fed. The movie looks good in Blu-ray; extras comprise interviews and an on-set featurette.

Wim Wenders’ affecting elegy for modern-dance choreographer Pina Bausch (who died in 2009) alternates between reenactments of signature pieces—like a scintillating Rite of Spring—and touching reminiscences from colleagues, a truly international group: German, French, British, Spanish, Russian, Japanese. Wenders intercuts among Bausch’s dances, staged in a theater and outdoor places ranging from Berlin street corners, public transit and even a picturesque hillside. Shot in 3D—which looks marvelous on the Criterion Collection’s first 3D Blu-ray release—Pina is a lasting memorial from one artist to another. Extras include Wenders’ commentary and interview, deleted scenes with Wenders’ commentary, 45-minute making-of featurette and behind the scenes footage.

Tales of the Night
(New Video)
In this fantastical animated film, director Michel Ocelot tells a series of folk tales set in different cultures and eras—from Tibet to Africa to Medieval Europe—with a stunning, highly original visual style. The characters’ silhouettes are set against fabulous backdrops that are a riot of color: this is the jumping off point for a memorable trip into several glorious new worlds. Needless to say, on Blu-ray, the movie looks absolutely dazzling; extras are two director interviews.

That Obscure Object of Desire
Luis Bunuel’s final film, from 1977, was among his least interesting, even more so than the overpraised ones that preceded it (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Phantom of the Liberty). The arbitrary surrealism palls early on, and though suave Fernando Rey tries hard as an ambassador who falls hard for a beautiful young woman—played alternately by Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina, an unfunny conceit less amusing and more pointless in execution—this is probably the most forgettable Bunuel film in a storied but checkered career. The Blu-ray image is decent; extras include interviews with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, Bouquet, Molina and director Carlos Saura, and a Bunuel featurette.

DVDs of the Week
Dirty Energy
(Cinema Libre)
Bryan D. Hopkins’ documentary startlingly documents the aftermath of the infamous BP Gulf oil spill, and—through interviews with those most affected by the disaster—arrives at the conclusion that there was a massive cover-up. Based on this film, it seems indisputable that BP’s grievous misdeeds were covered up by a complicit government which did not want the corporation look bad in everybody’s eyes. Extras include an update, Three Years After the Spill, and a gulf shrimp featurette.

Hello I Must Be Going
Although it often flounders badly, with too many pratfallish scenes of its divorced (and depressed) heroine’s overtly physical responses of her difficulties, Todd Louiso’s portrait of a 30ish woman regaining her self-esteem through an affair with a much younger man—and keeping it from her busybody family—is certainly not the disastrous indie flick it could have been. In the lead, Melanie Lynskey is frisky and endlessly resourceful, while Blythe Danner is a powerhouse as her overbearing mom. Extras include Louiso and Lynsky interviews.  

Seven Psychopaths
Martin McDonough returns with another twisted tale of crazy gangsters, this time with a dollop of dog napping. McDonough’s problem (as in In Bruges) is that what works onstage in his plays (notably A Behanding in Spokane) sits inertly onscreen as various idiots out-mock one another before shooting one another dead. It’s a yuckfest in both the comic and violent senses that its cast obviously enjoys—in a better movie, Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson would not quickly turn annoying, while invaluable Abbie Cornish and Olga Korylenko are mercilessly wasted. Extras include featurettes and interviews.

17 Girls
Based on a true story of a group of Massachusetts high school students who got pregnant around the same time and scandalized their town, sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin’s debut film relocates to their grubby hometown of Lorient in northern France. Although Jean-Louis Vialard’s photography gleamingly captures the lives of those stuck in this nothing town, the sisters’ insistence on refusing to take a stance (moral or otherwise) on their na├»ve teen protagonists prevents 17 Girls from taking flight. Their actresses, led by The Class’ Louise Grinberg, are superb, but they can’t overcome stereotypes.

Whores’ Glory
In this scrupulously non-judgmental examination of prostitutes across several continents and cultures, director Michael Glawogger simply records how these women are treated by johns and madams alongside how they perceive one another outside of work. Similar to Frederick Wiseman, Glawogger simply sits back and observes, although by film’s end, 120 minutes of much repetitiveness makes the whole much less than the sum of its parts.

CDs of the Week
(Channel Classics)
This fine recording of a trio of Benjamin Britten’s most enduring compositions—the song cycles Les Illuminations and Serenade and the orchestral Frank Bridge Variations—begins the Britten centenary (he was born in 1913) auspiciously. Soprano Barbara Hannigan sounds exquisite in the lovely Illuminations, tenor James Gilchrist and horn player Jasper de Waal wax lyrical throughout Serenade, and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta under Candida Thompson’s leadership give the  Bridge Variations a great workout. The spacious surround sound underlines Britten’s orchestral writing genius.

In the 90s, Entartete musik (degenerate music)—by composers killed or displaced by the Nazis—was in vogue with dozens of welcome recordings: this new CD of works by four of them returns their vital voices to listeners. Hans Krasa’s delightful suite from his children’s opera Brundibar, Viktor Ullmann’s piercing String Quartet No 3, Gideon Klein’s playful String Trio and Pavel Haas’s absorbing and monumental String Quartet No. 2 are brilliantly played by members of the immensely talented Nash Ensemble, which brings this forgotten music front and center again.

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