Monday, August 5, 2013

August '13 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
The Bronte Sisters
(Cohen Media)
Andre Techine’s 1979 biography of the three Bronte sisters—Emily, Charlotte and Anne—also includes their brother Branwell, so the title is a misnomer. Still, despite flat stretches and shots of a wind-whipped English countryside, the movie rarely lowers itself to the overdone dramatics other biopics routinely rely on: but with actresses of the caliber of Isabelle Huppert (Anne), Marie-France Pisier (Charlotte) and Isabelle Adjani (Emily)—not to mention actor Pascal Greggory (Branwell)—Téchiné smartly lets them do their thing. The Blu-ray image looks luminous; extras include a so-so commentary and a 60-minute retrospective doc with Téchiné and screenwriter Pascal Bonitzer.

Fernando DiLeo Set 2
(Raro Video)
Italian director Fernando DiLeo, the ultimate purveyor of low-rent crime drama, is represented by a second three-film boxed set that shows off his skill for making fast-paced if ramshackle yarns. The films—Kidnap Syndicate, Naked Violence and Shoot First Die Later—are a genre fan’s dream, and others may be amused (or at least bemused) by a dubbed appearance from James Mason, no less, in Kidnap. DiLeo’s stylish location shooting complements his movies’ fleet pacing. The grainy image is retained on Blu-ray; each disc contains DiLeo featurettes.

The Earrings of Madame De
Beyond the roving camera movements, Max Ophuls was a sentimentalist at heart: witness his tragic 1953 B&W romance showcasing the lovely Danielle Darrieux. This superior soap opera also features an extraordinary pair of fighters for her hand, Vittorio de Sica and Charles Boyer, but its visual lushness will be justly remembered. The Criterion Collection’s hi-def transfer doesn't do the stunning-looking movie justice; extras include a dry academic commentary by Susan White and Gaylyn Studlar, P.T. Anderson intro, interviews and a visual essay.

Foolish Wives
Erich von Stroheim’s epic 1921 silent drama, criticized upon release—its depiction of carefree women and men was considered shocking in its day—is a stodgy soap opera that still shows off Stroheim’s directorial genius. The Blu-ray image shows the limitations of any restoration, although the film still looks no less than acceptable throughout. A valuable extra is an absorbing 90-minute documentary about Stroheim’s life and career, The Man You Loved to Hate.

Great White Shark
(BBC Home Entertainment)
This 50-minute documentary about Mike Rutzen, an Australian diver who respects and even has affection for sharks, includes incredible underwater footage of these magnificent but malignant beasts. On Blu-ray, obviously, the hi-def footage looks spectacular; for good measure, an added 50-minute program, Swimming with Roboshark—about a robot shark that imitates real sharks in their habitat for scientific purposes—is a worthwhile bonus.

Love and Honor
This sappy romance set during Vietnam, has two soldiers fake deserting so one can win back his antiwar former girlfriend while his buddy woos her friend. Despite engaging lead performances—especially Aussie Teresa Palmer as friend Candace and Aimee Teegarden as ex Jane—the movie never allows breathing room for its characters to become more than simple soap opera stick figures, additionally hampered by footage of a volatile era about which its intended audience will have no clue. The Blu-ray image is good; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Tristan und Isolde
(Arthaus Musik)
Richard Wagner’s towering tragic romance—all four hours, not counting intermissions—was brought to Japan in 1993 by the Berlin Opera: its imposing singlemindedness is in the hands of capable Jiri Kout, who conducts the Berlin Opera orchestra and chorus in a luminous account of Wagner’s grandest but most intimate score. In the leads, Rene Kollo and Gwyneth Jones give their all, and Jones is especially heartfelt in the finale; Gotz Friedrich’s staging is spare and simple. The Blu-ray image and sound are excellent.

DVDs of the Week
Annika Bengtzon—Crime Reporter: Episodes 1-6
(MHZ Networks)
In this dramatic Swedish TV crime series, Malin Crepin is sober, serious and sexy simultaneously as an ace reporter who can sniff out stories no matter how difficult. Her portrayal, encompassing a modern woman who has it all professionally and personally, is enough to keep watching even when these 90-minute dramas (six of them over two three-disc sets) lose their way in labyrinthine plotting. Still, for most of their running time, any criticisms fall away as Crepin—aided by a superb supporting cast—does her stuff.

The Great Santini
(Warner Archive)
Although Robert Duvall rightfully was nominated for the 1980 Best Actor Oscar for his powerhouse performance as a no-nonsense soldier who is equally merciless on his family—especially his sensitive 18-year-old son—a pair of portrayals match his. The extraordinary Michael O’Keefe (son) and underrated Blythe Danner (wife), easily Duvall’s equal (O’Keefe was nominated for Supporting Actor), transfer Lewis John Carlino’s bumpy character study into unmissable adult drama.

Irene Huss—Episodes 7-12  
(MHz Networks)
Despite the excellent Angela Kovacs as the middle-aged detective inspector in the Gothenburg Violent Crimes Unit who always gets her suspects, this series of 90-minute procedurals (a Swedish television hit) gets bogged down in contrivances that makes watching tough going. Kovacs and her cohorts work hard, but none of these episodes made much of an impression on me. Maybe it’s simple viewing fatigue over so many similar dramas recently glutting the airwaves and DVD players, I don’t know.

(Arthaus Musik)
Alban Berg’s operatic masterpiece, left incomplete at his early death in 1935, premiered in Vienna in 1962, and this televised black and white record is a hair-raising experience, even for those familiar with the complete version that added music to Berg’s unfinished final act. The brilliance of Karl Bohm’s conducting, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra’s playing and the acting and singing of Evelyn Lear in the treacherous lead role, makes this more than a mere historical curio: in director Otto Schenk’s hands, it’s first-rate musical drama.

Night Across the Street
(Cinema Guild)
I was never enamored of Chilean director Raul Ruiz’s all-purpose surrealism, so his final film—which he stipulated only be shown after his death—which once again has stunning images which make no, little or complete sense, depending on your affinity for Ruiz, is simply more of the same. Occasionally—Time Regained, Mysteries of Lisbon—Ruiz made vigorous and lively films; mostly, though, he’s spun his surrealist wheels for decades, and this is no different. Extras include Ruiz’s penultimate film, the playful Ballet Aquatique, and a superficial visual essay by Kevin B. Lee.

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