Friday, February 15, 2013

February '13 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
Director-star Ben Affleck dramatizes the so-strange-it-must-be-true story of U.S. embassy workers in Tehran during the 1979-80 hostage crisis holed up in the Canadian ambassador’s house while the CIA concocted an elaborate rescue plan. This is solid Hollywood moviemaking: Affleck smartly surrounds himself with top-notch actors and films it straightforwardly. The tension remains even though we know the outcome: it’s just too bad that Affleck can’t resist adding a phony “skin of their teeth” climax. On Blu-ray, it looks superb; extras include Affleck and writer Chris Terrio’s commentary, several featurettes and a documentary about the hostages on the 25th anniversary of their rescue.

Celeste and Jesse Forever
Despite her enormously warm presence, Rashida Jones is defeated in this irritating comedy of a couple that can’t let go despite knowing they should split up. Jones’ costar Andy Samberg’s one-note presence drags the movie down to a sophomoric level whenever he’s onscreen. But Jones is also to blame, since she co-wrote the script with McCormack: the writer lets the actress down. In addition, the delightful Ari Graynor (who plays Jones’ best friend) also deserves better. The Blu-ray image is decent; extras include commentaries, deleted scenes and featurettes.

A lone samurai warrior arrives at his lord’s estate hoping for an honorable death in this latest retelling of the epic swashbuckler immortalized in 1962 by master director Masaki Kobayashi. For this unnecessary remake, director Takashi Miike makes it all very stylish and lush—the original was in black and white, while this version is in vivid color—but not particularly compelling. Needless to say, the splashy visuals look amazing on Blu-ray, but since Kobayashi’s classic is available on Blu-ray from Criterion, this is an expandable release. The lone extra is Geoffrey Gilmore’s brief discussion of the film.

Little White Lies
Writer-director Guillaume Canet’s heavy-handed French Big Chill is a protracted tale of friends who gather at a beach house while one of them is in the ICU seriously injured from a motorcycle accident. The movie keeps stopping dead with scenes that do nothing to further our interest in the characters, who reek of self-indulgence and insufferability for 2-1/2 hours. Marion Cotillard, always intense, cements her rep as cinema’s best crier, while she and good actors like Francois Cluzet and Gilles Lelouche have only stick figures to play. The movie has a warm sheen in hi-def; extras include featurettes.

The Sessions
In Ben Lewin’s comic drama, John Hawkes is fantastic as Mark O’Brien, a man who’s spent most of his life in an iron lung, and who wants a sexual encounter—so he calls a sex therapist, played with astonishing tenderness by Helen Hunt, the rare American actress at ease with plentiful nudity. Lewin’s light touch is perfect for such adult subject matter and ordinary protagonist, but it’s his actors—save William Macy, too Macy-ish as Mark’s father confessor of sorts—who save the day. The Blu-ray image is immaculate; extras include featurettes and interviews.

DVDs of the Week
Diana Vreeland—The Eye Has to Travel
(e one)
Diana Vreeland—a leading fashionista long before that term gained currency—edited Vogue and transformed the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s moribund Costume Institute into something special. Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s otherwise pedestrian documentary of a terrific subject at least includes wonderful archival footage of the woman herself, along with discussions on her career and legacy by Marisa Berenson, Twiggy, Calvin Klein and others. Extras include additional interviews.

Girl Model
(First Run)
The world of high fashion modeling is shown in all its smarmy non-glory in David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s tough documentary portrait. Unblinking cameras follow 13-year-old Siberian Nadya—who goes to Japan for her big break, unable to understand the language—and Ashley, a former model who selects newbies to (possibly) become famous in Japan. Not that it’s revelatory, but seeing how these innocent girls are treated in an industry that spits them out daily is disturbing to watch. Extras comprise deleted scenes.

Gossip Girl: Season 6
The final season of the popular TV series about the young and beautiful on Manhattan’s Upper East Side is a lively, amusingly superficial chronicle of the one percent spending its time insulated from the rest of the world. Still, one could do worse than watch the great Margaret Colin at her snarky best, and the vivacious Leighton Meester and Blake Lively are not to be taken lightly either. Extras include on-set featurettes and a gag reel.

Photographic Memory
(First Run)
In his first feature in several years, master documentarian Ross McElwee again trains his camera on himself—this time, he also returns to Europe to look up a long-ago girlfriend and deals with the difficulties his adult son has separating the virtual and real worlds. As always, McElwee manages to find humor amidst heartbreak and insightfully analyzes the very mediums he uses: photography, film and digital are parsed to reveal their importance to one’s past, present and even future.

Serena and Same Time Every Year
These triple X movies are considered the height of “artistic porn” in the early 1980s; but although Fred Lincoln—the nominal director—was able to keep the camera focused on the correct body parts throughout, he’s no Radley Metzger or Gerard Damiano, to name two better purveyors of erotica. The hardcore scenes are intact—so beware to anyone unfamiliar with these movies—but so are the flimsy storylines: nowadays, the “gonzo” shooting style has done away with pointless “plots.” The lone noteworthy achievement is the genuine beauty of Loni Sanders in Same Time.

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