Sunday, April 21, 2013

April '13 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
(Anchor Bay)
Campion Murphy’s dull serial killer thriller begins auspiciously: a group of students visits a prison and an inmate makes advances to the most attractive female among them. After that, what should be the meat and potatoes is instead mostly gristle as a murderer outsmarts a bunch of not very smart people. A half-hearted attempt at psychology is risible, and even the bloodlettings are a letdown for those who want that sort of thing. The Blu-ray image is stellar; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Massage Parlor Murders
(Vinegar Syndrome)
This mid-‘70s cinematic artifact ineptly attempts being sexy and scary as a diabolical killer offs a Manhattan massage parlor’s nubile masseurs. What’s watchable is a time-capsule glimpse at New York City: the streets, grime, crime, people, vintage vehicles are fascinating by themselves. The disc contains an original cut and re-release cut, which junks a deadpan opening massage; there are also seven minutes of outtakes. The movie’s graininess remains on Blu-ray, which helps with its frozen-in-amber “look.”

A Monster in Paris
(Shout Factory)
The best thing about this mundane animated adventure is its setting: taking place in 1910 Paris, Bibo Bergeron’s movie has a chase scene on the Eiffel Tower and a shootout on the uncompleted Sacre Coeur church. Too bad the dazzling animation is at the service of a nondescript tale complete with bad guys and a misunderstood creature who ends up a hero. The voice talent (Danny Huston, Vanessa Paradis, Bob Balaban, even Sean Lennon) is capable; the Blu-ray transfer looks terrific in both 3-D and 2-D.

Richard III
Laurence Olivier’s magnificent adaptation of Shakespeare’s early tragedy is not only a cinematic marvel but also contains one of Olivier’s most flamboyant but unhammy performances—Richard is a showboat, which Olivier plays to the hilt. But Olivier the director smartly allows his supporting cast breathing room, and Claire Bloom, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud and Cedric Hardwicke respond superbly. The boisterous colors of this 1955 Vistavision production are captured immaculately in the Criterion Collection’s transfer; extras comprise a commentary, restoration demo, 12-minute trailer with on-set footage and an Olivier interview from a 1966 BBC series Great Acting.

Wings of Life
If you ignore corny narration spoken by Meryl Streep—who must have been gagging during recording—the latest exquisite-looking Disney nature doc shows how the world of plants interconnects with all of earth’s life. The amazing HD photography—which catches the minutest movements and variations among the flowers and insects in a nature dance that’s been going on for billions of years—is the reason to watch, even if the soundtrack (along with Meryl’s silly speech, there are lame songs of uplift) is less than sound. The Blu-ray image is unsurprisingly perfect-looking.

DVDs of the Week
Childrens Hospital—The Complete Season 4
(Warner Archive)
Rob Corddry’s whacked-out satire is undoubtedly the best 10-minute show on TV each week, and this disc brings together 14 hilarious episodes from the series’ fourth season. Along with wickedly imaginative writing, the cast is a comic dream, a group of actors—Malin Akerman, Erinn Hayes, Megan Mullally and even the Fonz himself, Henry Winkler—that’s exactly what Corddry (who’s insanely funny as a clown doctor who believes in the healing power of laughter) and his show needs.
Eclipse 38—Masaki Kobayashi Against the System
Masaki Kobayashi is a Japanese master known for a trio of masterworks: the three-part The Human Condition (1959-61); 1962 samurai epic Hara-kiri; and 1964 eerie ghost tetralogy Kwaidan. This set comprises four films by a director unafraid to tackle pressing, even controversial social issues. The Thick-Walled Room (WWII war criminals), I Will Buy You (baseball corruption), Black River (American postwar occupation)—all released in 1956—and 1962’s The Inheritance (amoral affluence) are further proof of Kobayashi’s exceptional prescience and formidable cinematic style. Now if Criterion releases his later films—Hymn to a Tired Man, Fossil, Tokyo Trials—I’d be forever grateful.

Erroll Garner—No One Can Hear You Read and
The Last Flight of Petr Ginz
(First Run)
These documentaries introduce two individuals—a stellar musician and teenage artist—whom history has forgotten about. Erroll Garner is a tangy portrait of an unsung jazz great whom director Atticus Brady chronicles as an important, overlooked purveyor of uniquely American music. And directors Sandy Dickson and Churchill Roberts’ Petr Ginz stunningly demonstrates that a talented 16-year-old was on his way to a greatness that was tragically cut short by the Nazis.

In Another Country
(Kino Lorber)
For his playful but innocuous comic drama, Korean director Hong Sang-soo casts French actress Isabelle Huppert in a lazy trio of segments in which she plays three different women named Anne whose interaction with lovers, strangers and jealous wives have slight variations depending on the context. What could have been a charming bon-bon about relationship confusion ends up so light and airy that it literally disappears while one is still watching it, despite Huppert’s best efforts..

Shakespeare—The King’s Man
Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro—author of two level-headed books about the Bard, 1599 and Contesting Will—is our tour guide through the last decade of Shakespeare’s creative life, when his plays mirrored the political situation in Britain after Elizabeth’s death and James’s ascension to the throne. At first it’s jarring when Shapiro walks around contemporary London while discussing the Jacobean era (when other playwrights were also flourishing), but Shakespeare’s for-all-time brilliance comes through. The lone extra is a 1983 BBC performance of Macbeth with Nicol Williamson.

Vietnam—Ten Thousand Day War
(Time Life)
In this thorough 26-part series about the Vietnam War, journalist Peter Arnett created an incisive examination of America’s most pointless war, with archival footage and interviews with many participants, both famous (American and Vietnamese officials) and not (ordinary soldiers). It first aired in 1981, so its mention of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, to give one example, lacks the truth which was discovered afterward, but overall, the show’s 11-plus hours that run from France’s initial involvement through the final fall of Saigon can still be considered a definitive history.

CD of the Week
(Deutsche Grammophon)
Now age 97, Frenchman Henri Dutilleux has a claim on the "world's greatest living composer" mantle, and the three works on this recording—including one world premiere—back up that assertion. The enigmatic 1970 cello concerto, "Tout un monde lointain..." (played with authority by Anssi Karttunen) and the 1997 The Shadows of Time (a magical work with three angelic boys' voices) are two of the anything but prolific composer's masterpieces. But the centerpiece is Correspondances, a remarkably muscular vocal piece from 2003, sung by the exquisite soprano Barbara Hannigan. Leading the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra is conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, one of Dutilleux's great champions.

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