Sunday, November 24, 2013

November '13 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week
Dexter—The Final Season
(Showtime)
Television’s most complicated serial killer drama draws to a close after the 12 episodes of its eighth season: as usual with many such shows, there’s enough fine acting to cover up excessive plot and characterization holes. Michael C. Hall’s conflicted Dexter is nicely balanced by the finely delineated performance of Jennifer Carpenter as the cop in love with him. The hi-def image looks wonderful; extras include featurettes and interviews.

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas
Prince Avalanche (Magnolia)
Edward Burns keeps trying: the writer-director-actor’s latest saccharine rom-com, Fitzgerald is as trite as all his other films, but at least it has the saving grace of Connie Britton and Heather Burns as two of the women in his life. David Gordon Green’s subdued, enjoyable Prince is a melancholy look at brothers-in-law (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, both excellent) trying to connect while working together. The Blu-rays look fine; extras are Burns’ commentary (on Fitzgerald) and Green’s commentary, deleted scene, interviews and featurettes (on Prince).

Girl Most Likely
(Lionsgate)
When a failed playwright loses her man and her job, she’s sent into a psychological tailspin and back to the family home in New Jersey; a cast led by a happily understated Kristen Wiig and a hilariously tarted-up Annette Bening makes this watchable. Too bad Michelle Morgan’s script labors with trite comic touches while Shari Springer Bergman and Robert Pulcini’s direction is anything but focused. The Blu-ray is first-rate; extras are a gag reel, deleted scenes and featurettes.

JFK—American Experience
(PBS)
What better time for a four-hour documentary on John Kennedy than the 50th anniversary of his assassination? PBS agrees, hence this involving and not uncritical look at JFK’s life, from growing up as ambassador Joseph Kennedy’s sickly son to his fateful presidency. Narrated by Oliver Platt, Susan Bellow’s film, which makes particularly good use of interviews, photos and vintage video and audio footage, also uses its excessive length to go into more depth. The Blu-ray image is quite good.

Planes
(Disney/Pixar)
The latest comedy to roll off Pixar’s animated assembly line is this lazy sequel of sorts to the smash Cars, with the usual assortment of non-stop jokes, bad puns and desperate pop culture allusions. If that kind of humor floats your boat—or, to coin a relevant phrase, flies your plane—then you are and your children are the willing audience for this movie. The Blu-ray image looks good; extras include featurettes and a music video.

The Rolling Stones—Sweet Summer Sun
(Eagle Rock)
This past summer, the self-named world’s greatest rock’n’roll band returned to London’s Hyde Park for its first concert there since 1969, two hours of baby-boomer nostalgia from a group past its prime with a catalog of so many classic tunes it’s disappointing the show isn’t longer. (McCartney regularly pushes three hours in his Beatles-laden shows.) Former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor returns for guest appearances on “Midnight Rambler” and “Satisfaction,” and bonus tracks include a rare live performance of “Emotional Rescue.” Both image and sound are superlative in hi-def.

Russian Ark
(Kino Lorber)
Aleksandr Sokurov’s dazzling visual feat—a one-shot, 96-minute tour of the Hermitage, one of the world’s great art museums—was made in 2002, long before small digital cameras became ubiquitous, so watching it now makes it even more impressive. This dazzling historical fantasy is as formidable putting hundreds of extras through their one-take paces as it is visually. The Blu-ray image looks amazing; the lone extra is a 45-minute making-of (unfortunately, commentary and interviews from the original DVD are missing). 

Violet and Daisy
(Cinedigm)
This weird character study follows two young hitwomen who—after killing while dressed as pizza-delivering nuns—meet their match while tracking a mysterious, intimidating loner, played with consummate skill by James Gandolfini in his one of his last roles. Writer-director Geoffrey Fletcher is lucky to have Gandolfini along with Alexis Bledel and that incredible chameleon Saoirse Ronan as the eponymous girls: the trio’s rapport helps trample the writer-director’s otherwise heavy hand. The hi-def image is good.

We’re the Millers
(Warners)
Bring together a dope seller, stripper, virginal teen boy and foul-mouthed homeless teenage girl as a “family”—don’t ask why—and you’ve got comedy at its crudest. And director Rawson Marshall Thurber labors too hard over the obvious situations and dialogue conjured up by four (!!) writers. Jason Sudekis and Jennifer Aniston are tolerable, but the movie’s aces are Will Poulter and Emma Roberts as the kids: the filmmakers should have been smarter and concentrated on them even more. The extended version is raunchier, the Blu-ray transfer is solid, and extras include gag reels, outtakes, deleted scenes and featurettes and interviews.

The World’s End
(Universal)
Their third collaboration (after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), writer-director Edgar Wright and writer-actor Simon Pegg’s ramshackle, sometimes funny but sophomoric comedy concerns a group of middle-aged men who, while on a pub crawl to recall their carefree younger days, discovers that almost everyone else is actually a robot as part of an ongoing alien invasion. As dopey as it sounds, the movie is actually fun for awhile…until the sci-fi plot kicks in, and we get puerile comedy and “horror,” a hybrid that doesn’t work. With its obvious double-meaning title—it’s the name of a pub—so what else should we have expected? The Blu-ray image looks excellent; extras include commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes and outtakes.

DVDs of the Week
All-Star Orchestra—Programs 1-8
(Naxos)
In this series, Gerard Schwartz discusses and conducts several classical works, divided into categories like “Music for the Theatre” (Stravinsky and Ravel), “Relationships in Music” (Brahms and Schumann), “Mahler” (his Symphony No. 2) and “What Makes a Masterpiece?” (Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony). All are played superbly by Schwartz’s all-star musicians, and there’s a healthy amount of contemporary works included, from Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s zippy Avanti! to Richard Danielpour’s Piano Concerto No. 4, subtitled Mirrors. The programs’ combined commentary and performance illuminates the music.

The Day Kennedy Died
(Smithsonian)
JFK—One PM Central Standard
(PBS)
For the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, several programs—including these—looked at the event from different angles. Smithsonian’s Day (narrated by Kevin Spacey) is an engrossing 100-minute overview of that horrible day, from the moment Jack and Jackie got to Dallas that morning until he left in a coffin and she bloodied at his side that evening, with survivor and eyewitness interviews alongside vintage footage. PBS’s One PM (narrated by George Clooney) concentrates on CBS anchor Walter Cronkite’s decision to wait to announce JFK’s death until it was official, ignoring rumors and pressure. Both docs present that devastating day in its historic and emotional context.

Here’s Edie—The Edie Adams Television Collection
(MVD)
To many, Edie Adams is best known for her Edie Adams Cut’n’Curl beauty salons, but as this four-disc set shows, she was much more than a mere name: she was an appealing and lovely comedienne, dancer and singer. Her two television variety shows—Here’s Edie and The Edie Adams Show (1962-64)—are given retrospective life here, and their 21 episodes not only show her talent in comedic sketches and songs, but also showcases her special guests like Count Basie,  Duke Ellington, Bob Hope and Johnny Mathis. Extras are her musical performances on husband Ernie Kovacs’ 1950s variety show.

Kinky Boots
(Miramax/Echo Bridge)
Now best known as a Tony-winning musical with Cyndi Lauper songs, Julian Jarrold’s 2005 dramedy about a northern England shoe factory has its own frisky humor, sentimentality and attractive performances by Joel Edgerton, Sarah-Jane Potts and Chiwetel Ejiofor (an Oscar contender for 12 Years a Slave). This fantasy based on a true story is a harmless enough diversion. Extras include director/stars commentary, deleted scenes with director commentary, alternate scenes and featurettes.

Oui, Girls
(Impulse Pictures)
Unlike today’s “gonzo” (plotless) porn, the 70s/80s “golden age” comprised movies that aped their Hollywood counterparts, however indifferently acted, directed and written. But those movies also lived or died by their stars’ sex appeal, and this dumb parody of detective movies has Anna Ventura—one of the most beautiful women to ever grace triple X—in the lead role, as well as appearances by other top stars of the era like Sharon Kane, Lisa de Leeuw and Tiffany Clark.

Thérèse
(MPI)
Claude Miller was an underrated French director, and his last film (he died at 70 last year) is as typically elegant and understated as his best work (A Secret and I’m Glad My Mother Is Still Alive). This adaptation of Francois Mauriac’s novel shows the unhappy relationship between the title heroine and her husband, culminating in a botched murder attempt and fractured marriage. Audrey Tautou’s impassioned performance is full of inner rage and sadness, while Gilles Lellouche plays the husband with a shrewd mix of bravado and banality. Gerard de Battista’s luminous photography and Lauren Brenguier’s richly authentic set design underscore a low-key tragedy that’s the perfect epitaph for its maker.

CDs of the Week

Matilda—Original Broadway Cast Recording 
(Broadway)
The blockbuster Broadway hit imported from London doesn’t translate as well to recording: Tim Minchin’s songs need to be heard in context while watching Roald Dahl’s story of a precocious little girl who changes the attitudes of her classmates and teachers. Still, rousing numbers like “Naughty” and “Revolting Children” hit the spot, and the cast is never less than spot on, especially Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull. As a souvenir of the show, kids of all ages will enjoy it.

Tears for Fears—The Hurting
(Universal)

Thirty years later, Tears for Fears releases with a deluxe edition of its debut album, the original 10 tracks bolstered by a slew of extras on a second disc. While a product of its time—the prominent synths sometimes overpower the attractive melodies—The Hurting powerfully marries the darkness of The Cure with the memorable melodic facility of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, first-rate songwriters and singers from the haunting title track opener to the powerful finale, “Start of the Breakdown.” Lyrical naiveté notwithstanding, the irresistible hooks on “Pale Shelter” and “Change” should have been worldwide smashes like “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” If the bonus disc is a mish-mash of remixes and extended tracks (B-sides “Wino,” “The Conflict” and “We Are Broken,” while nice to hear, are negligible), the album is a close second to the band’s best work (Songs from the Big Chair and The Seeds of Love).

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