The Central Park Five
Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon made this straightforwardly shocking documentary set in 1989 when New York City was aghast by the horrific Central Park jogger rape case and the rounding up of five “wilding” teens. They were found guilty and sentenced to prison, but there have always been question marks, and after a man serving time for another murder confessed, they were set free. This riveting account of failed and belated justice is a must-watch. The Blu-ray image is excellent; extras are additional interviews and updates.
Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong’s greatest comedic hits are strung together in an animated misfire that hopes its audience wants to go back in time to the pair’s early ‘70s stoner-style comedy. Of course, those who are in the mood will enjoy it; C&C amusingly voice every role, but the blissfully stoned jokes and gags are as stale as a 40-year-old bag of weed. The mostly crude animation looks decent on Blu-ray; extras comprise four separate commentaries.
While no Quentin Tarantino fan, I never found his films—even the ludicrous Hitler revenge fantasy Inglorious Basterds—outright despicable: until now. Not only does he indulge in another lunatic fantasy (this time, it’s slavery), but he gleefully revels in gore that any filmmaker with artistry would avoid. Disastrously overwrought performances—that Christoph Waltz won a second Oscar for his intolerable hamminess, along with Tarantino’s second statuette for (abominable) screenplay, shows that the Academy remains clueless—underscore a movie only the uncritical can enjoy. The Blu-ray image is great; extras are featurettes.
With its pieces in place—gangsters, heroic/crooked cops, femme fatales, dowdy wives—director Ruben Fleischer does little more than fashion a competent crime drama comprising what appear to be a selection of scenes reminiscent of other, better movies. Even the actors—good ones like Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling and hit-or-miss ones like Nick Nolte, Josh Brolin and a woeful Emma Stone—can’t bail out this rote, unexciting movie. The Blu-ray image looks terrific; extras include a commentary, deleted scenes.
In the latest British import for PBS’s Masterpiece, Jeremy Piven is Harry Gordon Selfridge, an American entrepreneur who opened London’s first department store in the early 1900s. The show is fun when sticking to the nuts and bolts of the store opening, so it’s too bad that there’s not more of this in creator Andrew Davies’s scripts and less soapy goings-on about Selfridge, the beautiful actress with whom he flirts and his wife. Piven comes off as too contemporary as Selfridge, but the rest of the cast—led by beautiful Australian Frances O’Connor as his American wife—is fine. The Blu-ray image looks lovely; extras are making-of featurettes.
What starts as a routine thriller in a diner—where miscalculating robbers find themselves in trouble after thinking they’d be gone quickly—becomes a routine puzzle: if someone seems a good guy he’s almost assuredly bad (and vice versa), so it ends up as meaningless as its drab title. Still, its interesting small-town atmosphere and solid actors (Michael Chilkis, Ray Liotta, Forrest Whitaker and Nikki Reed, now an assured adult actress after Thirteen and various Twilights) doing what they can help director David A. Armstrong and writer Jerome Anthony White’s so-so film, which looks good on Blu-ray. The lone extra is an on-set featurette.
The Criterion Collection’s two-disc set of French comic Pierre Etaix’s obscure films comprise five features and three shorts, various legal entanglements keeping them out of circulation for nearly decades (they date from 1961 to 1971). Despite such notoriety, the inventive Etaix comes off as a funny but essentially second-rate talent too reminiscent of previous comic masters like Buster Keaton (whom his hangdog face resembles), Jacques Tati (whose style he copied) and Jerry Lewis (than whom he’s at least more subtle). Still, this set contains valuable finds that look immaculate in hi-def after their 2011 restoration. Extras include Etaix’s new intros and an hour-long profile, Pierre Etaix, un destin animé.
Drive-In Collection—The Suckers and The Love Garden
Anyone with low expectations while watching the flicks in this “Drive-In Collection” won’t be disappointed, since the two features are disjointed, laughable and ridiculous in the best sense of those words…in other words, perfectly trashy drive-in fodder. The Suckers, a silly Most Dangerous Game rip-off, mixes semi-explicit sex scenes with killings as the cast gets off then is offed one by one; The Love Garden is an alternately erotic and boring exploration of a ménage a trois.
In Jenny Deller’s provocative character study, Perla Haney-Jardine gives a daring portrayal of a teen loner who decides that ecological disaster awaits and takes matters into her own hands, with shocking results. She is matched by an equally fearless Amy Madigan as her hard-bitten grandmother, while the usually annoying Marin Ireland registers strongly as the girl’s selfish mother. Deller doesn’t cop out, which is more than can be said for most directors nowadays. Extras are deleted scenes.
Aviva Kempner’s celebrated 2000 documentary—which introduced to many, even rabid baseball fans, the glorious story of the first star Jewish player in the major leagues, who came within a few dingers of Babe Ruth’s home run record—returns in a two-disc special edition. In addition to the now-classic film and Kempner’s informative audio commentary on disc one, a second disc contains two hours of deleted scenes, from Greenberg’s exploits on the field to his importance as a Jewish symbol, especially during the Nazi era, when racism was displayed right in front of him on the field.
Benjamin Britten’s penultimate opera was composed in 1970 during the Vietnam War: the lifelong pacifist set Myfanwy Piper’s terse libretto about a young man in a British military family becoming an outcast due to his pacifism. The brittle score is occasionally brilliant; Britten set Piper’s words with a clarity that makes his anti-war screed digestible to those listening closely. This 2001 British TV film, imaginatively directed by Margaret Williams, has stellar singer-performers: Gerald Finley is a sympathetic Owen, Martyn Hill is his stubborn grandfather and Josephine Barstow is a domineering aunt. Not Britten’s best, it may be his most important work.
Andrea Arnold’s grimy, unheroic version of Emily Bronte’s novel goes in the other direction from the adaptations before it, as if the only choices are overwrought melodrama and ugly lack of dramatics. Visually, the film has it all over perfumed Heights, with dingy interiors and dreary-looking outdoors perfectly encapsulating this messy, unromantic world. Unfortunately, although Arnold’s cast—mainly unknown amateurs—has the requisite look, it can’t bring Bronte’s complicated emotions to life. A video essay is the lone extra.
Walter Braunfels is another master composer whose career was killed by the Nazis, who considered his music degenerate. Best known for his extraordinary comic opera The Birds, Braunfels wrote many inventive orchestral scores, like this stirring choral work, heard in its 1952 premiere for the composer’s 70th birthday (he died two years later). Written to celebrate the Catholic faith he left Judaism for, his score is filled with glorious vocal sections, sung by the Gurzenich Choir and soloists Leonie Rysinek and Helmut Melchert, and played by the Kolner Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra, confidently led by conductor by Gunter Ward.