Monday, June 17, 2013

June '13 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
Emperor’s New Groove/Kronk’s New Groove
and Lilo & Stitch/Lilo & Stitch 2 (Disney)
This quartet of inessential Disney flicks makes a belated hi-def debut. With songs by Sting, Emperor is amusing, but its sequel Kronk isn’t; Lilo, while also clever, lacks the emotional heft of Disney’s classics, while its sequel is nothing to write about home about. None of the extras from the original DVD releases are included: it’s a shame that Disney won’t release The Sweatbox, Trudie (Mrs. Sting) Styler’s warts-and-all look at the contentious making of Emperor. The movies look impressive on Blu-ray.

Escape from Planet Earth
(Anchor Bay)
That animation creators are running out of ideas for features is underlined by this derivative flick about aliens stranded on our planet and—you guessed it—must find a way off. Even with the voice talent involved—Brandon Fraser, Jessica Alba, Sofia Vergara and the always hilarious Rob Corddry—this only rises to the level of those mediocre Disney flicks from 10-12 years ago (see Emperor and Lilo, above). The Blu-ray image is excellent; extras include featurettes, interviews and deleted scenes.

It’s a Disaster
A cutesy premise—at four couples’ regular brunch, first a relationship then the world starts to end—isn’t sustained by Todd Berger’s clunky, clumsy apocalypse comedy. The game performers include the usually insufferable David Cross—who’s okay here—it’s great to see the delectable Erinn Hayes do something else besides Children’s Hospital. The most memorable part of the movie is its poster: a person in a survival suit and gas mask toasts us with a mimosa. The hi-def image is good; extras include a commentary, behind the scenes featurette, Comic Con panel and viral videos.

Jack the Giant Slayer
(Warner Bros.)
Zach Snyder’s far from effortless diversion essentially remakes a favorite childhood fairy tale to make it “cool” for today’s kids (are there any adults left?). Despite Snyder straining to make this beguilingly light, his solid cast (Nicholas Haoult as Jack, Eleanor Tomlinson as the princess, and Bill Nighy, Ian MacShane and Ewan MacGregor) does its best to sell it, despite being bogged down by CGI so that the fakery is evident. Still, it’s decent fun. The Blu-ray image looks superb; extras include deleted scenes and a gag reel.

Killing Lincoln
Based on the bestseller co-authored by Bill O’Reilly, this bizarre hybrid of documentary and docudrama is graced with the presence of Tom Hanks, who earnestly narrates and sits and speaks into the camera very uneasily. I guess the thought was that, if Hanks is involved, this will be taken seriously, despite wooden acting and a script that turns an American tragedy into an American melodrama. The Blu-ray image looks fine; extras include a commentary, O’Reilly interview and featurettes.

Oz—The Great and Powerful
Sam Raimi isn’t the director I would have thought of to turn this Wizard of Oz prequel into an audience-pleaser, and throughout this excessive, bombastic, brightly-colored fantasy—smeared with Danny Elfman’s relentless music—I was reminded of Tim Burton’s goopiest fantasies. Overall, and especially when the delightful Mila Kunis is onscreen, it works; but as Oz, James Franco grates rather quickly. The Blu-ray looks terrific; extras include featurettes and a gag reel.

Perfect Understanding
(Cohen Media)
In this suitably frothy 1933 comedy, director Cyril Gardner (with an assist from then-neophyte Michael Powell) puts his top-notch cast, led by Laurence Olivier and Gloria Swanson as two lovers who try and keep their relationship “pure” by not getting married, through its sterling comic paces. The Blu-ray image looks pretty good despite the inevitable blemishes thanks to its source material; extras are two early ‘30s shorts.

DVDs of the Week
A Guy Named Joe and
The Merry Widow
(Warner Archive)
Most people know 1943’s A Guy Named Joe as the source of Steven Spielberg’s Always, but Joe—also a tear-jerker—is nowhere near as sentimental, thanks to the hilarious but believable interplay between Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne as our couple, boosting Victor Fleming’s charming romance to classic status. Ernest Lubitsch’s 1934 version of Franz Lehar’s beloved operetta The Merry Widow, which stars Norma Shearer and Maurice Chevalier as the unlikely couple, is lively fun, with music that is glorious.
House of Cards
With such a pedigree—a 13-episode Netflix premiere series starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright and co-created and (at least a few episodes) directed by David Fincher—you’d think this political drama would live up to expectations. It does—to a point. While Spacey and Wright are exceptional as an entrenched Congressman and his lobbyist wife, there’s a gaping hole by the dull Rooney Mara as the supposedly sexy, shrewd ladder-climbing reporter who becomes Spacey’s confidante/mistress.

The Politician’s Wife
Juliet Stevenson’s magnificent presence as a loyal political wife whose world shatters when her husband’s infidelities come to light dominates this compelling 1995 British TV mini-series. It’s fascinating to watch her go from supremely wounded to stealthily gaining the upper hand in a shifting relationship with her government minister spouse. A first-rate supporting cast (including Trevor Eve as her slickly, slimily adulterous hubby) and a vast knowledge of insiders’ politics make this three-hour drama whiz by.

2+2 and 4some
(Strand Releasing)
These foreign films treat swinging couples with equal seriousness and frivolity. Argentine Diego Kaplan’s 2+2 builds a credible rapport between couples which are long-time friends, before the inevitable disagreements ensue when they start swapping spouses. Julieta Díaz is a particular delight as a weatherwoman who becomes sexually adventurous with her best friends’ husband. Czech director Jan Hrebejk’s 4some is more somber in its approach—kind of like French director Antony Cordier’s Four Lovers, which got a DVD release last year—but also finds time for humor in its treatment of couples pairing off.

Vexed—Series 2
This cheeky, chatty mystery series returns with Toby Stephens as a ladies-man detective who is paired with a new partner—an attractive female, of course—for another round of murder cases. Miranda Raison, as Stephens’ sidekick, has comic and sexual chemistry with her co-star, so even when the cases they solve become routine, the way the leads play off each other provide for a most entertaining divertissement.

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