Sunday, April 14, 2013

April '13 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
The Bible—the Complete Series
Survivor maven Mark Burnett and actress-wife Roma Downey’s collaborative  Bible dramatization—or, at least, Old and New Testament highlights—is certainly a colossal undertaking. The ten-hour mini-series broke History channel audience records, and if it’s technically polished but dramatically risible that’s because it’s tough to find middle ground between DeMille super-production and Pasolini austerity. That we’re cheated out of Creation (Noah merely mentions it) is an unforgivable sin. The Blu-ray image is, without question, first-rate; extras are behind the scenes featurettes and a music video.

Down the Shore
(Anchor Bay)
Director Harold Guskin and writer Sandra Jennings’ low-key study of the Jersey working-class avoids Sopranos and Jersey Shore caricatures thanks to James Gandolfini’s strong portrayal of a middle-aged man who discovers his sister not only died while in Paris but married a foreigner, who arrives with her ashes and will that he inherits her half of their house. Equally good are Famke Janssen as a married childhood friend he secretly loves; John Magaro as her mentally slow son; Edoardo Costa as his unwanted brother-in-law; and Joe Pope as his friend and boss. The Blu-ray image is impeccable.

Steven Spielberg’s biopic of our greatest president is a labor of love that’s almost too reverent: at times its piousness smothers its artistry. Tony Kushner’s script, distilling 150 years of civil rights fights onto Honest Abe’s lap, is more interesting as research than as drama. Still, Daniel Day-Lewis’ towering Lincoln and Spielberg’s unerring eye make the debate over ending slavery alive enough to show how little has since changed in Washington. Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and David Straithairn provide honorable support. The Blu-ray transfer brilliantly recreates Janusz Kaminski’s luminous cinematography; extras are featurettes and interviews.

Planet Ocean
From the makers of the nature documentary Home comes this lovely plea to save our water-logged planet; Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Michael Pitiot’s wondrous glimpse at our natural environment shows what can be done to keep it pristine for future generations. Narrated by Josh Duhamel, the film has exquisite hi-def photography, on land and on (and under) the water. The Blu-ray image is equally exquisite; extras include 15 minutes of behind the scenes clips.

DVDs of the Week
The Cardboard Bernini
Artist Robert Grashow, who made a cardboard version of Bernini’s sublime Roman Trevi Fountain, is happy when his long-gestating creation is literally washed away by the rain. Art’s transcendence and transience are eloquently shown, along with glimpses of the artist and his family. He’s no Bernini—who is?—but Grashow, who says he felt like he was at his own funeral when his work disappeared, is unpretentious and heartfelt. Extras include featurettes.

Cary Grant Film Collection
One of our most debonair big-screen stars is represented by a half-dozen of his 70-plus movies from a 35-year career, and as usual with such collections—predicated on what’s available for a particular studio—there are more hits than misses. Of course, his seminal 1957 tearjerker with Deborah Kerr, An Affair to Remember, is a must-watch, as is I Was a Male War Bride; but on the debit side are misfires like Kiss Them for Me, which wastes Jayne Mansfield, Suzy Parker and Grant himself in a silly romance during World War II.

I Will I Will…For Now
(Warner Archives)
This forgettable mid-70s sex comedy with little sex and even less comedy wastes the talents of Elliott Gould (then a descending star) and Diane Keaton (then an ascending star). Old-hat and sniggering jokes are courtesy of director/co-writer Norman Panama, while the biggest waste is the appearance of a pre-Dallas Victoria Principal, whose beauty and talent for light comedy were never fully exploited.

Maigret—Sets 7 and 8
French actor Bruno Cremer perfectly nails novelist Georges Simenon’s detective in these taut feature-length adaptations of several enticing crime-solving stories. The juicy atmosphere of Simenon’s original tales is expertly rendered, and the entire project (there are six enjoyable films in each six-DVD set) is don’t-miss viewing for mystery fans and for the fans of the great detective and his immortal creator.

Orchestra of Exiles
(First Run)
This is the remarkable true story of Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman, who convinced many of Europe’s best Jewish musicians to leave for Palestine when Hitler came to power: the result, along with many Nazi-era survivors, is the world renowned Israel Philharmonic. Like Schindler’s List, Josh Aronson’s excellent documentary concerns Holocaust “success”; the dramatic reenactments (as always) don’t work, but interviews with survivors, descendants and experts, along with actual Huberman recordings, make this gripping stuff. Extras include director interviews and featurettes.

Pat Metheny—Live in Japan (Eagle Rock) and
Ringo at the Ryman (Universal)
Jazz-fusion guitarist Pat Metheny’s 1995 tour landed in Tokyo for this highly charged, note-perfect performance. Metheny (whose interview snippets are intercut with the concert footage) is in superb form on “Here to Stay” and “This Is Not America,” among other exceptional songs. In a show from last summer, Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band play two hours of Beatles classics, Ringo solo tunes and hits from  group members like Toto’s Steve Lukather (“Rosanna” and “Africa”) and Santana’s Gregg Rolie (“Black Magic Woman” and “Evil Ways”). Special guest Joe Walsh tears the roof off with “Rocky Mountain Way,” and everyone joins in for a Happy Birthday sing-along to 72-year-old Ringo. Too bad both discs have a stereo-only mix—no surround sound in 2013?

The title tells all: this 1974 Canadian skin flick features an insatiable female who has no qualms about rolling around with men, women or primates. This hardcore feature has lots of explicit sex, the usual bad lighting and choppy editing typical of vintage porn. Star Debbie Collins is a fresh-faced young woman who actually looks like she’s enjoying herself, but the movie is a lame horror/porno hybrid. The accompanying trailer provides the movie with its obvious tag line, “Sexcula is coming—and coming, and coming….”

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