Sunday, June 9, 2013

June '13 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
Breaking Bad—5th Season, Part I
Throughout these eight episodes (the second half of the final season begins August 11), many loose ends become even looser, like Walter and Skylar’s marriage and Walt and Jesse’s meth making and dealing. What makes the show worthwhile even during its most sluggish moments is the finely calibrated acting of Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Jonathan Banks and Anna Gunn. The Blu-ray image looks great; extras include commentaries on all episodes, gag reel, featurettes and an unseen scene, Chicks’n’Guns.

Dio—Finding the Sacred Heart
and Garbage—One Mile High…Live
(Eagle Rock)
Ronnie James Dio—who died in 2010—had a unique metal voice, and Finding the Sacred Heart, a 1986 Philadelphia concert, captured him at his best, doing clichéd head-banging tunes like “The Last in Line” and “Holy Diver,” showcasing his powerhouse pipes. One Mile High…Live, capturing a 2012 Garbage performance, is filled with decent garage-rock songs played by a tight band led by charismatic Shirley Manson. Both shows look and sound good in hi-def; extras include interviews and music videos.

A Good Day to Die Hard
For this fifth Die Hard, unorthodox detective John McClane—again in the wrong place at the right time—tracks his son Jack to Moscow, where (surprise!) they fight Russian terrorists like a woman who betrays her own father (“problem child,” McClane quips). No one expects anything other than bad Bruce Willis one-liners and lots of action, and John Moore’s thankfully short 98-minute thriller delivers explosions, gunplay and chases with little credibility but which make things go quickly. The Blu-ray image is superb; extras include deleted scenes, featurettes, extended cut commentary.

(Music Box)
Nineteen-year-old Saskia Rosendahl makes a searing impression as the title teen who, while watching over her parent-less younger siblings in a Germany torn apart in the Hitler’s ruinous final days, discovers that survival is often ugly but necessary. Her portrayal of 14-year-old Lore’s emotional maturity is matched by Australian director Cate Shortland’s unsentimental rendering of adult material, showing the humanity amid so much inhumanity. There’s no preaching in this strong, fearless drama. The Blu-ray image is impeccable; extras are making-of featurettes, deleted scenes, alternate ending.

Mad Max Trilogy
The movies that made Mel Gibson a superstar—before his more recent lunacy lost his Hollywood momentum—vary wildly in quality, from the low-budget, edgy original Mad Max (1980) to the futuristic goofiness of The Road Warrior (1981) and the bombastic mess of Beyond Thunderdome (1985), with a confused-looking Tina Turner. George Miller’s direction becomes less interesting as the series continues. The Blu-ray image on the films contains essential grain; there’s a disappointing lack of extras: commentaries on the first two films and a short featurette on Mad Max.

Alan Clarke’s scathing indictment of English reform schools was made in 1979, after his original 1977 TV version was vetoed by the BBC: casual racism, explicit depictions of suicide and homosexual gang rape retain their shock value 35 years later. A cast of then-unknowns (including Ray Winstone, Mick Ford and John Blundell) fully inhabits this unblinking expose of a corrupt institutional system run rampant. The movie’s gritty look remains on the grainy Blu-ray; extras are Winstone’s commentary and interviews.

Shoot First, Die Later
This prime specimen of mid-‘70s Italian police melodramatics, Fernando di Leo’s fast-paced action flick pits a crooked detective against his own father, an old-school functionary who discovers too late his son’s widespread corruption. Shoot-‘em-ups, chase sequences, strangulations, suffocations—including a cat in a plastic bag—are in abundance in an exciting yarn. The Blu-ray image of this 1974 film is excellent; extras are two featurettes about DiLeo and his film.

Spies of Warsaw
(BBC Home Entertainment)
Based on Anton Furst’s 2008 novel, this curiously tepid three-hour BBC series retains its complex plotting but adds little of its own despite a top- notch cast led by David Tennant and Janet Montgomery (so good in the short-lived series Made in Jersey). Everything’s in place for a superior spy drama like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but there’s something missing, as if dutiful allegiance to the book is enough to keep things percolating—it’s not. The Blu-ray image is excellent; lone extra is a Tennant interview.

DVDs of the Week
Diane and
Executive Suite
(Warner Archive)
In Diane, Lana Turner is the glamorous 16th century French courtesan/prince’s mistress; this colorful if stilted 1956 costume drama, directed without much distinction by David Miller, contains a lush score by one of Hollywood’s great composers, Miklos Rozsa. In the 1953 boardroom drama Executive Suite, director Robert Wise puts a top cast (Bill Holden, Frederic March, Barbara Stanwyck, Shelley Winters, Nina Foch) through its paces in an intriguing if at times trite melodrama. Oliver Stone provides a fan’s commentary for Suite, and two vintage cartoons are Suite extras.

Eastwood Directs—The Untold Story
Critic Richard Schickel’s 75-minute documentary about Clint Eastwood’s career in front of and (mainly) behind the camera—included in Warner's new Eastwood boxed setshas awestruck interviews with Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Hilary Swank, Gene Hackman and others. Although he’s made good films, he’s also made his share of clunkers: Hereafter isn’t mentioned, Changeling and the awful Gran Torino barely, so such hero worship is a bit misplaced. It’s probably because he’s—as someone says—the last link to old-time Hollywood, so why not?

The First Churchills
In the first British drama shown on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre (on 1971), John Neville and Susan Hampshire give racy, enjoyable performances as Winston Churchill’s distant ancestors—whom he himself wrote about in a best-selling book. Set between 1673 and 1722, the 12-hour mini-series (made in 1969) follows Sir John while he woos then marries Sarah Jennings; the series has the hallmarks of the best from across the pond: sublime acting, writing, directing and scenic design. Lone extra is a Jennings interview.

The Giants
This intensely personal boyhood movie follows teens who, after being abandoned, betrayed and even beaten by irresponsible adults flitting through their lives, look for ways to survive, even if it means simply joyriding through a cornfield or—in the movie’s magisterially silent conclusion—taking a boat on the river. Immaculately photographed by Jean-Paul de Zaeytijd (it’s too bad this isn’t on Blu-ray), Bouli Lanners’ intimate film has wonderfully natural portrayals by the young actors.

Pretty Little Liars—Complete 3rd Season
By the end of this season’s 24th—and final—episode, the quartet of popular high school gals—played with knowing humor by Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson, Shay Mitchell and Lucy Hale—is harassed by still another “A” (if you’re a fan, you know what I’m talking about). A humdinger of a finale hints more murderous goings-on in their small Pennsylvania town. Extras include interviews, featurettes, deleted scenes and the usual gag reel.

A Token of His Extreme
(Eagle Rock)
Frank Zappa’s 1974 TV special—75 minutes of his unclassifiable blend of progressive rock, straight-ahead guitar attack and jazzy fusion—has been a highly anticipated legit DVD release. The Mothers of Invention—with drummer Chester Thompson and percussionist Ruth Underwood—play songs like “More Trouble Everyday,” “Inca Roads” and “Montana,” enabling Zappa’s taut but loose improvisatory structures. This is a no-brainer for Zappa fans; for others, it’s a fine introduction to his music.

No comments: