Sunday, March 31, 2013

March '13 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week
The Big Picture
In this at times absorbing drama, the excellent Roman Duris is a husband and father escaping his current life after a horrible mistake occurs when he confronts a friend over his wife’s infidelity. Too bad that, once director Eric Lartigau’s effective set-up yields to the plot, the movie becomes much less significant; after the protagonist’s new identity is solidified, it all evaporates from memory. Intelligently made and persuasively acted on well-chosen locations, the whole is less than its parts. The Blu-ray image is good.

Day of the Falcon
Continuing the sad decline of once formidable director Jean-Jacques Annaud—maker of Black and White in Color, Quest for Fire and The Bear—this epic Arabian adventure, while slickly made, nicely shot, acted and edited, is disappointingly routine. It’s always great to see Freida Pinto—one of our most beautiful actresses—at work, but the visual richness only masks the script’s thinness, despite being based on real events. The hi-def image looks spectacular; extras include making-of featurettes.

Killing Them Softly
(Anchor Bay)
Andrew Dominik’s follow-up to his masterly The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is the antithesis of that magnificently slow-burning accumulation of tiny details: a quick-moving, brutal look at modern America through the prism of small-time criminals during the last economic meltdown. Framed by the 2008 election, Killing might not resonate like the earlier film, but Dominik’s stylish eye makes this one of 2012’s most memorable films: the perfect ensemble features Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta. The hi-def transfer is terrific; extras are deleted scenes and a featurette.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
In their 1943 epic—also their biggest and splashiest production—directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger created an indelible dissection of the British imperial state of mind. Roger Livesey’s robust portrayal of the patriotic military man who parallels the history of England’s colonial empire and 20-year-old Deborah Kerr’s captivating trio of women in his life are unforgettable. The Criterion Collection’s exquisite hi-def transfer returns glorious color to this classic; extras include a Martin Scorsese intro, Scorsese and Powell commentary, Thelma Schoonmaker (Powell’s widow) interview and featurettes.

Marvin’s Room and
The Shipping News
(Echo Bridge)
Adapting onstage and on-page hits are problematic, as these films demonstrate. From Scott McPherson’s play, 1996’s Marvin’s Room moves from comedy to tragedy without ever becoming compelling, for which we must blame director James Lapine, who wastes good actors like Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio. Lasse Hallstrom similarly does a disservice to E. Annie Proulx’s best-selling The Shipping News with his scattershot 2001 version featuring by-the-numbers acting by Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore and Judi Dench. The Blu-ray image isn’t bad.

Ship of Fools/Lilith
(Mill Creek)
Two veteran directors in their decline made these middling films. Stanley Kramer’s Ship of Fools (1965) is a well-intentioned but lumbering drama that allegorizes Nazi Germany by an array of passengers in a ship bound for Germany in the 1930s. Robert Rossen’s melodramatic Lilith stars Jean Seberg and Warren Beatty, who struggle through a psychologically damaging love affair. As two-fers go, this might fill gaps in the collections of Kramer and Rossen’s fans. The Blu-ray image is OK.

Waiting for Lightning
(First Run)
I have no interest in skateboarding, so I’m not the target audience for Jacob Rosenberg’s documentary about daredevil Danny Way, who attempts to skateboard off the Great Wall of China. But I was wrong: this is a riveting study of a unique performer discussed with awe even by the likes of Tony Hawk. The footage of Way’s breathtaking stunts, culminating with his Great Wall attempt, is ridiculously entertaining. The hi-def image is first-rate; extras include additional interviews and deleted scenes.

I had forgotten about this fantasy collaboration between director Ron Howard and producer-writer George Lucas until this Blu-ray reminded me why it disappeared from everyone’s radar. This visually striking but empty film—which fails to create a brave new world—has uninspired creatures and special effects alongside forgettable performances. At least Val Kilmer (hero) and Joanne Whaley (villainess turned heroine) got married. (It didn’t last.) The movie looks fine on Blu-ray; extras include deleted scenes with Howard’s remarks, and new and vintage featurettes.

DVDs of the Week
All Together
(Kino Lorber)
In this agreeably ramshackle comic drama, Jane Fonda shines in her first French-language role in nearly 40 years (since Godard’s Tout va bien) as the American wife of a Frenchman who join their aging friends to live together instead of at assisted living facilities. It’s small potatoes, but delightful performances by Claude Rich, Pierre Richard, Geraldine Chaplin, Guy Beros and Fonda compensate, as does writer-director’s Stephane Robelin’s refusal to get sentimental til the end—when it works and all is forgiven.

Easy Money
(Anchor Bay)
Daniel Espinosa’s ingenious thriller follows a student who gets in way over his head when he starts working for organized crime, whose members are involved in drug dealing. For awhile, the movie speeds along, cleverly hiding its narrative holes, but its ending asks us to swallow too much, even for a genre that thrives on implausibility. Still, it’s stylish fun—and two sequels will follow, along with the inevitable American remake.

(First Run)
Nicolas Prividera’s unorthodox documentary looks at Buenos Aries’ La Recoleta cemetery, which has as much history and stunning architecture as Pere Lachaise in Paris. Individuals read from letters and books from different eras of Argentine history as they sit among mausoleums, sculptures and other cemetery markers, while ordinary people who live nearby go about their daily lives. This is a highly individual and anything but whitewashed study of a country whose volatile existence can be traced through those luminaries buried in this, their final resting place.

Oliver Twist
(e one)
This adaptation of Dickens’ famous novel stars George C. Scott as a relatively restrained Fagin—at least when compared to this outsized personality’s usual onscreen bluster—alongside who may be the most cherubic Oliver ever, Richard Charles. James Goldman’s script is faithful but skimpy, and Richard Donner’s direction is merely functional: but the material remains powerful, and the supporting cast, including Michael Hordern, Tim Curry and Cherie Lunghi, props up the familiar tale.

Scavenger Hunt
(Cinema Libre)
The near-extinct California condor is the subject of Matthew Podolsky and Eddie Chung’s informative documentary about how usually opposing groups, the NRA and EPA, agree to help these amazing birds survive in the wild when it’s discovered that they’re getting lead poisoning by eating deer carcasses that are filled with lead bullets. Extras are deleted scenes and outtakes.

Shakespeare Uncovered
This sextet of programs covering Shakespeare’s artistic and humanistic greatness invites  actors and directors to give their personal thoughts on the Bard’s genius. With Ethan Hawke discussing his dream acting job, Macbeth, Joely Richardson talking about Twelfth Night and As You Like It, and Trevor Nunn dissecting The Tempest, and so on, the series provides new insights for Shakespeare veterans as well as an accessible way in for those who find him too daunting to deal with.

CD of the Week
Holmboe—Chamber Music (II)
The gifted Danish composer Vagn Holmboe (1909-96) wrote music in all genres, although mainly orchestral (symphonies and concertos) and chamber music, of which this disc is a representative sample. Never tied down by one format, his intimate works run the gamut on this disc from a solo cello sonata to a sextet for flute, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola and cello, all showing off Holmboe’s effortless amalgam of modernism, classical structure and folk idioms. The five pieces on this disc are dazzlingly played by members of Ensemble MidtVest.

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