Monday, July 29, 2013

July '13 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week

Aerosmith—Rock for the Rising Sun
(Eagle Rock)
After the devastating 2011 earthquake/tsunami, Aerosmith performed a highly charged concert for an arena filled with thankful Japanese fans. With the band at its onstage best, interspersed among a selection of its most enduring songs—surprisingly but satisfyingly heavy on its vintage ‘70s era, not the pop-hit laden ‘90s—are glimpse of the members touring Japan and seeing what their fans have endured. But the 90 blistering minutes of rock where Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and company are in sync show that Aerosmith is anything but washed up. The Blu-ray image is good, the sound even better; two bonus performances are extras (although why not simply include them in the film?).

Babette’s Feast
Gabriel Axel’s masterly adaptation of Isak Dinesen’s short story (1988 Best Foreign Film Oscar winner) remains an insightful, profound film about the triumph of body over soul. As the French cook who makes a sumptuous multi-course meal for her pious bosses, two sisters in a small Danish town, Stephane Audran is perfection; Axel’s subtle, simple directorial style is another masterstroke, and of course the food looks delicious. The Blu-ray image looks amazing; extras include Axel and Audran interviews and Karen Blixen—Storyteller, a Dinesen documentary portrait.

Greystoke—The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes
(Warner Archive)
After the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire, director Hugh Hudson made a few financial and critical flops: although 1985’s Revolution with Al Pacino was embarrassingly bad, his 1984 Tarzan adaptation was a serious attempt to make a realistic drama about the mythical king of the apes. Beautifully shot and edited, with incredibly lifelike performances by men and women in ape costumes, the movie unfortunately never reaches dramatic or tragic heights, however intelligently done. The Blu-ray image looks decent; Hudson and producer Garth Thomas’s informative commentary is the lone extra.

The Silence
(Music Box)
This impressively mounted procedural about two pedophile murders committed 23 years apart nevertheless commits errors of judgment, omission and commission. Director Baran bo Odar steadily but blatantly crosscuts among detectives, killers, victims and parents, but never reaches any sort of satisfying climax, despite the brilliance of individual sequences and his large cast: the melodramatic way things are wrapped up is too tidy. The hi-def image looks immaculate; extras include Odar’s earlier short Quietsch, his accomplished student feature Under the Sun and cast interviews.

Danny Boyle makes movies that are easy to hate, with their hyperkinetic imagery, wall-to-wall pulse-pounding music and plots that make scant sense. If Trance is not as glib as Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire, neither does it have a credible real-life story like 127 Hours. Watching criminals outfox one another for a stolen Goya painting isn’t as good a time as Boyle thinks; the best performance, by Rosario Dawson, is unsurprisingly overshadowed by her too-brief seconds of full frontal nudity, seen in glorious hi-def (the rest of the movie also looks great on Blu-ray). Extras include a 60-minute making-of, 16 minutes of deleted scenes and interviews.

It’s hard to believe that this stiffly acted, ludicrously plotted attempt at horror was made by the same Francis Coppola who won Oscars for The Godfather 40 years ago. There’s nothing sadder than a has-been trying to keep current: this trashy vampire/ghost story would only be risible starring Kristen Stewart, but as directed by Coppola and enacted by a sleepwalking Val Kilmer and always-crazed Bruce Dern, it’s pretty insipid. The Blu-ray image is eye-popping; the lone extra is Gia Coppola’s making-of documentary.

Welcome to the Punch
Kinetic action dominates director Eran Creevy’s strangely compelling cop-action flick, with James McAvoy a perfect anti-hero whose playing both sides results in the deaths of his partner and boss, along with nearly everyone else. What begins as a straightforward procedural soon takes a weird turn into a flashy shoot-‘em-up, as machine guns are emptied into bodies left and right. The acting—by McAvoy, Andrea Riseborough, Peter Mullan, Mark Strong and David Morrissey—helps greatly. The Blu-ray image looks fine; extras include interviews and making-of featurette.

DVDs of the Week
(Film Movement)
In writer-director Olivia Silver’s low-key drama, John Hawkes plays a dad who drives his three kids cross-country to a new life in California: he doesn’t tell his daughters (16 and 12) and son (9) that their mom had a nervous breakdown. There’s so much wise observation that when the truth is shredded—a scene at the Grand Canyon rings especially false—it makes a shambles of what’s otherwise a superbly acted (Hawkes and the child performers, Ryan Simpkins, Ty Simpkins and Kendall Toole, are equally masterly) and intensely quiet character study. The disc’s extra, short film Little Canyon, is Silver’s own run-through for what became Arcadia.

Bidder 70
(First Run)
The insanity of our government continuing to bow down to big business interests at the public’s expense was enough for activist Tim DeChristopher, who disrupted a sale of public land for private development: that he went to prison for two years to highlight the issue is a remarkably selfless act. Beth and George Gage’s enraging documentary shows that civil disobedience is about all we have left in a society where the largest corporations have the rights of individuals without any drawbacks, while our current president doesn’t seem interested in reining in these egregious abuses.

Kansas City Bomber
(Warner Archive)
If you forgot what a stunner Raquel Welch was and why she was the quintessential screen sexpot, look no further than this routine 1972 drama about a roller derby queen whose personal life is a shambles. Welch was never the greatest actress, but there’s not much depth to Thomas Rickman and Calvin Clements’ script or Jerrold Freedman’s direction, so that she’s sympathetic as the shallow heroine is nothing to sneeze at. She can also roller skate well, so there’s that!

London—The Modern Babylon
Julien Temple’s collage history tour of London takes in the British capital’s sights and sounds through vintage footage, speeches, songs and clips from movies and other media. While it doesn’t have the staying power of Terrence Davies’ intensely personal foray into the same territory, Of Time and the City, Temple provides a succinct overview of London’s “life,” with clever use of tunes from the likes of David Bowie and the Sex Pistols. A Temple interview is the lone extra.

Vanishing Waves
In this alternately ponderous and intriguing sci-fi flick, Lithuanian director Kristina Buozyte follows a man who aids a comatose young woman by locking psyches with her: in an adult twist on The Twilight Zone, they become intimate and he starts losing his grip on his marriage in the physical world. Buozyte has a dazzling eye—helped, no doubt, by her creative director and co-screenwriter, Bruno Samper—but her imagery is out of Tarkovsky by way of Kubrick, and the longer her film goes on, the less dazzling and more pretentious it becomes. Still, she remains impressively in control, as do her actors (particularly Jurga Jutaite, who plays the sleeping young woman with awesome physicality). Buozyte’s first film, The Collectress, and an interview are extras.

CD of the Week
Schubert—Complete Works for Violin and Piano
Franz Schubert, despite his early death at age 31, had different composing periods: he was just beginning his mature period—comprising his three last piano sonatas, the String Quintet and final string quartet—when he died in 1828. Among those towering final works is the C major Fantasy for violin and piano, the greatest of the seven attractive violin-piano works on this wonderful two-disc set. Violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cedric Tiberghien’s youthful enthusiasm fits the young Schubert’s joyful four violin sonatas and B minor Rondo; but they only scratch the surface of the depths of the Fantasy, however beautiful they make it sound.

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