Friday, March 1, 2013

March '13 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
Chasing Mavericks
Until the end credits named the directors—both of them—of this simpleminded surfing docudrama, I assumed it was made by a nobody. I was wrong: it was co-directed by Oscar-winner Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted, which proves that even talented creators have bad days. The watery action is beautifully photographed; far more water-logged are the story, characters, dialogue and acting—it’s sad that Elisabeth Shue has been reduced to this. Two hours is too much invest in such an undramatic spectacle. The Blu-ray image looks great; extras include deleted scenes, commentary and featurettes.

Chronicle of a Summer
This remarkable piece of cinema verite is still relevant, despite comprising interviews with young French adults in 1960, who talk about—engagingly or haltingly but always fascinatingly—their place in a confused world. Anthropologist and director Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin’s document is historically and socially important, and kudos to the Criterion Collection for releasing a restored version that looks striking on Blu-ray. Extras include Un ete + 50, a 75-minute feature made in 2011 that revisits the film; archival interviews with Rouch and participant Marceline Loridan; and an interview with anthropology professor Faye Ginsburg.

The Kid with a Bike
Belgian directors the Dardenne brothers ask us to suspend disbelief as they follow a young orphaned boy who wants his bike back. A selfless woman gets back his bike and becomes his mother/guardian angel; a medical miracle damages the end of a movie that, aside from its fairy-tale female lead, has been intensely realistic. Amid the implausibilities are admirable performances by natural newcomer Thomas Dorset in the title role and the winning Cecile de France as a too-good-to-be-true heroine. Criterion’s Blu-ray image is superb; extras are a substantial directors’ interview, short interviews with Dorset and de France, and a 30-minute documentary, Return to Seraing.

The Master
(Weinstein/Anchor Bay)
Despite pretensions to greatness, director P.T. Anderson fails miserably in his latest attempt to out-Kubrick Kubrick, out-Scorsese Scorsese and out-Altman Altman. This stultifying psychological drama—centering on a damaged WWII vet, a cult leader and his wife—contains threadbare characterizations, pretty but empty compositions and a stubborn refusal to make minimal internal sense. None of these would be particularly damaging on its own: taken together, they end up wasting good actors like Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams. The Blu-ray image is impeccable (Anderson shot his film in 65 mm); extras comprise deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

Sansho the Bailiff
This 1954 tragedy may be Kenji Mizoguchi’s best film, an emotionally devastating drama less stylized and more honest than his other “classics” Ugetsu and Life of Oharu. The brutality of slavery and peasant life is rendered with rigorous economy, making the bittersweet reunion ending more powerfully memorable. The B&W imagery shimmers in Criterion’s first-rate transfer; extras include commentary by Japanese literature expert Jeffrey Angles, and interviews with critic Tadao Soto, Mizoguchi assistant director Tokuzo Tanaka and actress Kyoko Kagawa.

DVDs of the Week
The Client List—Season 1
In her first hit series since Party of Five, Jennifer Love Hewitt’s sexy but desperate single mother goes to work at a massage parlor and soon finds herself giving little favors on the side—for extra cash, natch. It’s silly and sexist—but, done in as middlebrow a way as possible, it avoids bringing up nuances like prostitution. The always game Hewitt is decent, as are Cybill Shepherd and other cast members, and the show is almost too nice about a would-be salacious topic. Extras include deleted scenes and outtakes.

Freaky Deaky
(e one)
This Elmore Leonard adaptation is a missed comic opportunity, despite a cast—led by Christian Slater and Crispin Glover—which contains Breanne Racano and Sabina Gadecki, two of the most appealing new American actresses in years. But despite writer-director Charles Matthau’s actors spouting Leonard’s bizarrely quotable dialogue (beating poseur Quentin Tarantino by light years), the movie’s convoluted plotting too often interrupts the talk. A short making-of featurette is included.

The Loneliest Planet
Julia Loktev’s myopic study features a couple whose relationship starts unraveling while traveling through Georgia’s foreboding Caucasus Mountains with a local guide. Despite her visual mastery, Loktev is unable to handle the psychology of her couple, which causes her to lose dramatic focus almost immediately. We are left to admire the tenacity of stars Gael Garcia Bernel and Hani Furstenberg, who trudge through the film increasingly more dejected and confused. Extras include a making-of documentary and photographs by mountaineer Bidzina Gujabidze (who plays the guide).

Georges Simenon’s classic Parisian detective—for whom he wrote dozens of best-selling novels—is brought to life in this early-‘90s British series starring the imposing Michael Gambon, who’s not very French but in every other way embodies the thorough sleuth humanely and humorously. The 12 episodes on these four discs are delightfully entertaining, as Maigret solves murder and burglary cases, even investigating wrongdoing inside his own department Guest stars include younger versions of Minnie Driver, Michael Sheen and Brenda Blethyn.

Silent Souls
Director Alexei Fedorchenko’s meandering mystical feature follows a middle-aged widower’s journey to return his dead wife’s body to her homeland, with an acquaintance for companionship. Although Mikhail Krichman’s widescreen cinematography is stunning, his compositions obscure the fact that Fedorchenko’s concerns are so sketchy that he tries to compensate by transforming deadly dullness into pseudo-profundity. But even at a brief 75 minutes, this feels like a long slog of a road movie.

CDs of the Week
Nicola Benedetti—The Silver Violin
Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti smartly programmed her movie music disc around Erich Korngold’s fabulous Violin Concerto, which borrows themes from his own film scores, and which Benedetti dispatches with her trademark brilliance. In addition to two excerpts from Korngold’s opera Die Tote Stadt, Benedetti shows her impeccable taste with Shostakovich and Mahler selections alongside mainstream fare like Scent of a Woman, Jane Eyre and the disc’s opener, John Williams’ yearning Schindler’s List theme.

Geza Frid—Fantasia Tropica
This little-known Dutch composer by way of Hungary—a student of Hungarian masters Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly—is represented by four of his five string quartets, all of which are highly accomplished if not sonically earth-shattering. But these works, particularly the third, Fantasia Tropica, show off his assured ear, and the Amaryllis Quartet—comprising four of Germany and Switzerland’s best young players—gives them a rigorous workout that makes one want to hear more of Frid’s chamber music.

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