Sunday, July 21, 2013

July '13 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
An Affair of the Heart
(Breaking Glass)
Three decades after his biggest hit, “Jessie’s Girl,” Aussie singer-soap opera star Rick Springfield is still going strong, performing concerts for his rabid fan base which, as this engaging documentary shows, comprises mostly middle-aged married moms. We see several of them, some with perspective on their celebrity crush, but others who seemingly choose Springfield over their families. Springfield himself comes off as a genuinely likeable guy who is humble about his fame. The Blu-ray image is good; extras include deleted scenes and interviews.

Death in Venice
Benjamin Britten’s final operatic masterpiece sublimely sums up his artistic convictions (it premiered in 1973, three years before his death) while also providing a riveting live experience. In his 2008 Venice staging, director Pier Luigi Pizzi superbly stages the central Apollo/Dionysus conflict, American tenor Marlin Miller toweringly plays the punishing lead role of the dying writer Ausenbach, in love with a young Venetian boy, and conductor Bruno Bartoletti leads the Venice Opera Orchestra and Chorus in an emotionally direct reading of Britten’s gorgeous score. The Blu-ray image and sound are top-notch.

Endeavour—Series 1
Based on stories by Colin Dexter, Endeavour follows young constable Endeavour Morse, whose brusque methods don’t make him friends among his superiors. Needless to say, his instincts prove correct again and again, and part of the fun is watching him cross the line but end up being right anyway. All of the performances are pitched perfectly, with Shaun Evans’ Endeavour and Roger Allam’s Thursday leading the way. The hi-def image is excellent; no extras.

Hands of the Ripper
In this exceptionally bloody Hammer horror entry, a young woman’s murderous impulses are traced to the killer of her mother when she was a baby: her father, Jack the Ripper. The clever scenario doesn’t entirely come off in director Peter Sasdy’s hands, but sheer chutzpah makes up for the shortcomings in the script and acting. The murders themselves are a hoot to watch, while the ending is actually more resonant than one would expect from this type of movie. The Blu-ray image is terrific; extras include a 30-minute Hammer history featurette.

Orphan Black
(BBC Home Entertainment)
It’s not often I praise a TV show that such an ungainly hybrid like this weird mix of sci-fi, fantasy and crime drama, but there’s a reason Orphan Black works: Tatiana Maslany, an amazingly versatile Canadian actress. Maslany plays so many roles in this convoluted clone conspiracy tale that her virtuosic ability to differentiate all of them nearly compensates for the narrative ridiculousness going on around her. The Blu-ray image is very good; extras include interviews.

Wild Bill
Dexter Fletcher’s drama is a gritty but unoriginal story of a deadbeat dad making amends with his abandoned—and self-sufficient—15- and 11-year-old sons. Although skillfully enacted by Charlie Creed-Miles (father) and Will Poulter and Sammy Williams (sons), everything feels overfamiliar, right down to the inevitable dragged-out barroom fight, all of whom are bested by dad (of course). The Blu-ray image looks good; extras include interviews, making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

DVDs of the Week
Bert Stern—Original Mad Man
(First Run)
The photographer who took the last pictures of Marilyn Monroe before her death in 1962 (including nudes), Bert Stern—who died last month at age 83—is the subject of this documentary by his younger partner Shannah Laumeister who, as Stern himself says, turns the camera on him for once. In this informative if not very illuminating film (the “Mad Men” reference in the title seems more a marketing ploy than anything),  his children, models, former wives and colleagues talk openly about Stern as an artist and a person, but the many enduring images seen through his lens are most memorable.

Brother Sun, Sister Moon
(Warner Archive)
Franco Zefferelli’s 1972 biopic about St. Francis of Assisi, covering his life as a young affluent man with rich parents who is called by God to a simple lifestyle, is a dated mess, with cornball, flower-power Donovan songs that drone on and performances that run the gamut from newcomer Graham Faulkner’s wide-eyed Francis to Alec Guinness’s zombified Pope. Although Zefferelli’s eye is unerring, and physical details are impressive, the film as a whole sags under the weight of its pseudo-hipness.

Joanna Lumley’s Nile
Actress-host Joanna Lumley makes her dream trip of a lifetime, sailing down the Nile River from Alexandria, Egypt, to its source, deep in Africa, in Rwanda. Her 4000-mile journey, though fraught with drama and danger, mainly shows the often startlingly different landscapes along those thousands of river miles, from small villages to bleak deserts. Lumley makes an affable guide for this stunning and even stirring journey to the heart of human civilization.

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
(Warner Archive)
Preston Sturges’ delightful wartime satire might have lost its potency over the years—in 1944, a movie about a young woman who got married and knocked up while drunk was obviously not standard fare—but it remains a comic classic of Americana. Add to Sturges’ genius wonderfully over the top portrayals of Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken, Diana Lynn and William Demarest and you have a perfect Hollywood comedy. Included are featurettes about the film and Sturges’ censorship problems.

Women Who Kill
(e one)
Comedienne Amy Schumer—whose own Comedy Central special and series have given her her highest profile yet—headlines this stand-up special featuring the abrasively cutting (and hilarious) Rachel Feinstein, and less original but still amusing Nikki Glaser and Marina Franklin. All four women get plenty of laughs, but Feinstein’s ghetto voice routine is particularly snarky and funny, while Schumer’s blonde variation of Sarah Silverman works despite how much it strains to do so. Extras include short featurettes.

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