Sunday, August 11, 2013

August '13 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week

Aftershock and The Demented
(Anchor Bay)
Disaster and horror go together, but these movies show how hard it is to get the balance right. Aftershock turns a real event—the 2010 Chilean earthquake—into an excuse for exploitative violence, including rape, along with a crude ending that makes the title painfully literal. The Demented, a so-so zombie flick, also uses a shockeroo ending—“it was only a dream…or was it?”—to try and distinguish itself from the pack. It doesn’t work. The Blu-ray images look good; Aftershock has featurettes and a commentary.

On the Road
Jack Kerouac’s classic “Beat Generation” novel has resisted adaptation since its 1957 publication, and Walter Salles’ honorable failure—from Jose Rivera’s script—shows why. There are some good scenes, and even better casting (Sam Riley is dead-on as Kerouac’s alter ego Sal Paradise, as is Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty), but the jazz-filled atmosphere pervading the book corrodes a movie which, for two hours, never approaches Kerouac’s originality. The hi-def transfer is excellent; some deleted scenes are the extras.

Smiley’s People
(Acorn Media)
Alec Guinness dominates this involving BBC adaptation of John Le Carre’s classic spy novel, made in 1982 by director Simon Langton. The second go-round for the “retired” expert, following Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, features superb supporting actors, authentic location shooting and an expansiveness which suits the book’s complexity. Above it all hovers Guinness, whose slightly inscrutable presence makes Smiley endlessly fascinating. The Blu-ray image is good and grainy; lone extra is an interview with the normally reticent Le Carre.

Street Trash
This 1987 cult flick has been resuscitated although, considering its ineptitude, one might ask why. Admittedly, its scenario—a new liquor causes the homeless winos who drink it to literally melt away—is ridiculous, and filmmaker James Muro knows it, so it’s played (mostly) tongue in cheek. Still, that doesn’t excuse the lousy acting, script and directing. Oh well: its fans will find it, at least. The Blu-ray image looks decent; extras include a two-hour retrospective documentary, interviews, commentaries and the original short.

West of Memphis
(Sony Classics)
The unfortunate West Memphis Three case—permanently immortalized in the triptych of Paradise Lost films—has been adroitly summarized by director Amy Berg for anyone who hasn’t seen those films or who wants to learn what’s happened since a trio of “devil-worshipping” goth-dressers supposedly murdered three young boys in 1993. It’s straightforward and unsurprising, but its new interviews and footage make it as much a “must-see” as its predecessors. The Blu-ray image looks fine; extras include commentary, deleted scenes, interviews and the Toronto Film Festival press conference with Berg, one of the three, Damien Echols, and one of their celebrity champions, Johnny Depp.

What Maisie Knew
In their modern-day adaptation of Henry James’ story about a young girl who, after her immature parents split up, gradually builds a new life for herself, directors Scott McGhee and David Siegel smartly keep the focus on little Maisie, enacted with unforgettable intensity by newcomer Onata Aprile. The adults are precisely played by Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Vanderham, but it’s Aprile who creates an indelible character whose wise-beyond-her-years stratagem is rendered plausibly. The Blu-ray image is excellent; extras include deleted scenes and directors’ commentary.

Zombie Massacre
(e one)
More zombies are afoot in this generic horror flick about a soldiers who attempt to ward off a bunch of cretinous undead created after a biological disaster. The main reason for any zombie movie to exist is to come up with new ways of mauling humans and destroying the undead, and there are the usual gory ends for those who can’t enough of it. Otherwise, you’ve been warned: dust off an old copy of any George Romero “dead” flick instead. The Blu-ray image is good; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

DVDs of the Week
Community—The Complete 4th Season  (Sony)

and Political Animals—Complete Mini-Series (Warners)
The latest season of NBC’s comedy series Community has the same pluses and minuses as the previous three, as genuinely funny banter and characters are balanced by the too-clever school of comedy that’s all the rage; these 13 episodes are inconsistently amusing. The mini-series Political Animals stars Sigourney Weaver as a former First Lady who’s now Secretary of State; it’s too close to current reality to be any more than intermittently dead-on in its satire, despite the cast’s efforts. Community extras are commentaries on all episodes, outtakes, deleted scenes and featurettes; Animals extras are deleted scenes.

Cream—Farewell Concert
The musicianship of the fabled supergroup (whose final concert came before its 1968 break up) is unquestioned: guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker are first-class players, and the songs, from the opening “Sunshine of Your Love” to the final “I’m So Glad,” are exhilarating to hear. The film itself, with hilarious narration that “explains” rock music to an audience of what was assumed were idiots, is worth hearing for its insipidness, and band-member interview clips interspersed throughout. The sound never hits that hard despite the 5.1 surround mix, however.

Mitchell and Sweet Revenge
(Warner Archive)
These Warner Archives releases resuscitate two forgettable mid-70s action flicks. In 1975’s Mitchell, Joe Don Baker can’t reignite his Walking Tall lightning as a renegade cop; the best scenes are between Mitchell and beautiful Linda Evans as an escort for hire. A young Stockard Channing goes up against a young Sam Waterston in 1976’s Sweet Revenge, Jerry Schatzberg’s by-the-numbers drama about a female car thief and the straitlaced lawyer who enters her life.

Old Dog
Director Pema Tseden’s engaging, thought-provoking drama follows an elderly Tibetan herder who desperately wants to buy back his beloved pet mastiff after his adult son decides that it’s better to sell the valuable animal before he’s stolen and sold for a fortune on the black market. With an effortless documentary realism, Tseden subtly—and even humorously—shows how the pressures of modern society are continually impeding on traditional Tibetan culture.

The Thick of It
(BBC Home Entertainment)
Peter Capaldi’s scaldingly comic portrayal of Malcolm Tucker, spin doctor for the British prime minister, is the obvious reason to watch this hilarious BBC series, which begat the still-funny movie In the Loop and less-funny HBO show Veep. Creator Armando Iannucci comes up aces with his cynically witty expose of current politics; his estimable supporting cast notwithstanding, it’s Capaldi’s show all the way, and he runs with it, profanity-laced expletives and all. The seven discs comprise all four seasons and special episodes; extras include commentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes and featurettes.

CD of the Week
Bartok—Violin Concertos
(Harmonia Mundi)
Bela Bartok’s two violin concertos are among the 20th century’s masterpieces for solo instrument and orchestra—if not quite up to the level of his three piano concertos—and soloist Isabelle Faust finds, in both works, the folk melodies and the eerie night music of which Bartok was a supreme master. The later, mature Second Concerto sounds brilliant, and Faust and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra (under conductor Daniel Harding) do the same for the First Concerto—composed 30 years prior—making it nearly as good.

No comments: