Monday, March 25, 2013

March '13 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
(Anchor Bay)
Leslye Headland, directing her own adaptation of her own off-Broadway play, dilutes it with crass humor and little insight. By pitching the performances so high—Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fischer, Lizzy Kaplan and Rebel Wilson are equally annoying—Headland undermines a potentially rich comedic statement; like Lena Dunham’s Girls, it superficially looks at superficial people. The Blu-ray image is good; extras comprise Headland’s commentary, deleted scenes, bloopers and a making-of featurette.

In many ways, Terrence Malick’s 1973 debut—loosely based on the Starkweather killings in the ‘50s—is more impressive than the brilliant films that followed. In this deceptively simple but psychologically incisive dissection of alienated youth, Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen are tremendously compelling; coupled with Malick’s stunning visual and verbal control, it all adds up to a true classic. The Blu-ray image is gorgeous; extras are Making Badlands, featuring interviews with Spacek, Sheen and Spacek’s husband Jack Fisk, the film’s art director; interviews with editor Billy Weber and producer Edward Pressman; and an episode of the TV series American Justice about Starkweather.

Beautiful Girls
(Echo Bridge)
Ted Demme—who died an untimely death after 2002’s Blow—directed this diverting 1996 comedy-drama about a small New England town in which men and women hook up with and separate from one another. The solid ensemble includes Matt Dillon, Tim Hutton, Uma Thurman, Michael Rapaport, Mira Sorvino, eternally underrated Annabeth Gish and wise-beyond-her-years 14-year-old Natalie Portman, even more precocious than in her debut The Professional. The Blu-ray image is OK; extras include cast interviews.

The Devil’s in the Details
(Anchor Bay)
This out-of-control, frequently ludicrous thriller pitting a returned Iraqi vet against vicious drug cartel members begins decently but falls apart so quickly that even committed acting by Emilio Rivera, Joel Matthews and Ray Liotta can’t keep it together. There’s a demented satisfaction watching such onscreen lunacy for awhile, but the suspect plotting is so unbelievable that it’s tough to stay with it. The Blu-ray image looks impeccable; the lone extra is a behind-the-scenes featurette.

Glacier and Voyageurs National Parks
(Mill Creek)
These shot-on-HD travel programs display the natural wonders awaiting visitors to two of our most unique national parks. Glacier NP, located in Montana, is filled with huge mountain peaks, thick forests and receding glaciers; Voyageurs—comprising land and water around Lake Superior—includes the Lower 48’s most pristine wilderness. Discussed are each park’s history and geology, and included are interviews with historians and park rangers. The hi-def transfer looks so good you’ll want to visit both places immediately.

That Alfred Hitchcock treated his actresses as mere props is no surprise at this late date, so this 90-minute feature about the making of Psycho is flimsy at best. Its fun stems from director Sacha Gervasi recreating Hitch’s most outrageous Psycho bits; most disappointing are rote impersonations by Anthony Hopkins (Hitch), Helen Mirren (his wife) and Scarlett Johansson (Janet Leigh). Sienna Miller’s Tippi Hedren and Toby Jones’ Hitch in HBO’s The Girl (about The Birds and Marnie) are better. The Blu-ray image is excellent; extras comprise featurettes, a deleted scene and Gervasi’s commentary.

Hollywood Homicide
and Hudson Hawk
(Mill Creek)
This double feature pairs two big financial misfires. Josh Hartnett and Harrison Ford play mismatched cops in Ron Shelton’s amusing but forgettable 2003 comic caper, Hollywood Homicide, which at least has interesting peripheral characters played by  Lena Olin and Lolita Davidovich, the director’s wife. Then there’s 1991’s infamous Hudson Hawk, the slapdash criminal caper that nearly derailed Bruce Willis’ career. The Blu-ray images of both films is decent, not top quality.

Life of Pi
This diffuse if visually arresting adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel somehow won the Best Director Oscar for Ang Lee; it’s a clunky movie that lamely and explicitly explains its narrative and thematic intentions with a sledgehammer. It also won Oscars for Best Score for Mychael Danna’s unoriginal potpourri and Best Cinematography for Claudio Miranda, even if it looks like 90% of the visuals are special effects. There’s a decent short here stretched out beyond endurance. The movie looks stunning, naturally, on Blu-ray; extras include an hour-long making-of doc and featurettes on the effects and the tiger(s).

Monsieur Verdoux
Charlie Chaplin’s problematic “masterpiece” is a black comedy about a Bluebeard who can’t seem to murder his latest rich wife. Although the scenes of Chaplin failing to off Martha Raye are quintessential slapstick, the movie’s obvious if effective screed against modern society’s upside-down morality and ethics is sometimes wince-inducing. However, Chaplin’s natural cinematic genius wins out. The Criterion Collection’s hi-def transfer looks flawlessly film-like; extras include a half-hour featurette (from Warners’ DVD), a new one about Chaplin’s relationship with the press and an audio interview with actress Marilyn Nash.

The Other Son 
(Cohen Media)
What could have been a heavy-handed Israel-Palestine allegory is transformed by director Lorraine Levy and writer Nathalie Saugeon into a gripping, intelligent drama about Jewish and Palestinian parents discovering that their sons were switched at birth. Persuasive acting, lucid writing and sensitive direction create a memorable look at complexities in a part of the world usually shown in a black and white context. The Blu-ray looks terrific; extras are interviews, deleted scenes and bloopers.

Rust and Bone
Jacques Audiard’s aggressively sentimental anti-romance takes enough liberties with Craig Davidson’s short story that leaps of faith are needed to accept its improbabilities—including a miraculous survival underneath solid ice. Happily, Matthias Schoenaerts is a stoically powerful loner with no responsibility to anyone, even his young son, while Marion Cotillard gives a forcefully naked portrayal of a woman whose physical destruction paradoxically leads to her emotional well-being. The movie looks superb on Blu-ray; extras include Audiard’s and writer Thomas Bidegain’s commentary, deleted scenes, and interviews.

DVDs of the Week
Gottfried Heinwein and the Dreaming Child
(First Run)
Wherein Austrian artist Heinwein—known for paintings depicting innocent children—figuratively meets his artistic mirror image when he designs sets for an opera based on late Israeli playwright Hanoch Levin’s The Child Dreams. Director Lisa Kirk Colburn’s fascinating documentary explores the painful intersection of art, politics and historical amnesia. Three bonus deleted scenes include an interesting discussion between artist and visitor to his exhibition about Austrian complicity in the Holocaust.

Hannah Hoekstra is remarkable as a horny teenager dealing with daddy issues. Of course, Sacha Polak’s film contains plentiful nudity, and Hoekstra is unafraid to show her body, but this young woman’s sexuality is part of her entire being, and the movie gets a lot right, despite numerous times when it could go wrong. Thankfully, actress, role and writer-director combine for a trenchant and non-exploitative look at teenage sexuality. Extras are Polak and Hoekstra interviews.

Jay and Silent Bob Get Irish
Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes’s concert tours are cash cows, and this two-disc set preserves their shows in Dublin, with a Vegas performance thrown in. Right off the bat, Smith and Mewes—as themselves, not the now-iconic Clerks characters—start with no-holds-barred zaniness like Mewes’ blow-by-blow reenactment of having sex with a young woman in her new Mini Cooper. Fans will want to see this ASAP. The lone extra is Let Me F@CK.

No Job for a Lady
Penelope Keith is delightfully screwy as a newly elected liberal member of Parliament in this 1989 British sitcom that shows how a middle-aged housewife deals with the entrenched good old boys’ network. Although much of the humor is typical British reserve and Benny Hill bluster, there’s welcome pointed satire. The show’s 18 episodes vary in quality, but Keith, Mark Kingston as her husband and George Baker as her Tory opponent do their best to keep it moving.

South Pacific and Gypsy
(Mill Creek)
Two all-time classic musicals were adapted for TV with indifferent casting in crucial roles. The 2001 version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, despite solid musical credentials for Harry Connick, has a tuneless Glenn Close at its center; I can’t imagine seeing her in the recent Broadway revival with Kelli O’Hara and Laura Osnes. Gypsy (from 1993) is closer to the mark, as Bette Midler is a boisterous Mama Rose and Cynthia Gibb a sweetly appealing Gypsy Rose Lee, but Peter Riegert (Herbie) and Ed Asner (Pop) are expendable.

Zero Dark Thirty
Kathryn Bigelow’s explosive re-enactment of what led to Osama bin Laden’s killing has been accused of being pro-torture by—gasp—showing accused combatants waterboarded by the CIA. Whether that led to key info remains questionable, but Bigelow is more concerned with dramatizing writer Mark Boal’s masterly procedural on agents—strongly embodied by Jessica Chastain—who tirelessly searched for the Sept. 11 mastermind. As in Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, the sheer physicality of war is made palpable, and its subtle treatment is embodied in chilling last words said to the heroine (and us), “Where do you want to go next?” Extras are on-set featurettes.

CD of the Week
Viktor Kalabis—Symphonies & Concertos 
This three-disc set is a true ear-opener: here's a Czech composer who died in 2006 and whose music is virtually unknown outside his own country. This compilation rectifies that situation in a big way: Kalabis' symphonies and concertos show a virtuosity and energy that makes one wonder why his music hasn't been heard more often. These works are serious but never strident, accessible but never banal. And the performances—many of them recorded between 1962-1988, including some conducted by Kalabis himself—pinpoint the sheer attractiveness of the music: why the commanding Sinfonia pacis or the whimsical Concertino for Bassoon and Wind Instruments aren't part of the regular repertoire is beyond me.

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