Sunday, December 1, 2013

December '13 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
All Is Bright
(Anchor Bay)
Phil Morrison’s offbeat holiday-themed comedy aspires to a Bill Forsyth feel in its story of two Montreal low-lifes who drive to Brooklyn to sell Christmas trees: one is getting divorced from the woman the other is planning to marry, which of course causes endless complications. The mood isn’t sustained—only Forsyth can do despair and joy simultaneously in classics like Local Hero and Housekeeping—but with perfectly matched actors like Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd, Morrison and writer Melissa James Gibson have made an endearingly adult comedy. The Blu-ray image looks great.

Crystal Fairy
(Sundance Selects)
In this unbearably trite comedy, several self-absorbed characters—two young Americans and a trio of local brothers—travel around Chile in search of the ultimate hallucinogen. Although well-acted (especially by Gaby Hoffman as a clichéd free spirit), none of these characters is in the least interesting, while also remaining off-putting; the movie—directed by Sebastian Silva, brother of the clan playing the brothers—falls into a rut it can’t get out of. The hi-def transfer is solid; a making-of featurette is the lone extra.

George Thorogood & the Destroyers—Live at Montreux
(Eagle Rock)
Ageless blues-rocker George Thorogood took the stage with The Destroyers for 90 minutes of a pure, unadulterated rock’n’blues this past summer in Montreux, Switzerland. Thorogood and his boys have a good boogie-woogie vibe on such classic barroom tunes as “Move It On Over,” “Bad to the Bone,” and his best alcohol-fueled shot, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” The hi-def image and sound are first-rate; lone extra is a Thorogood interview.

Hannah Arendt
Director Margarethe von Trotta and actress Barbara Sukowa team to dramatize the formidable Jewish-German theorist-philosopher whose description of Nazi Adolf Eichmann as the “banality of evil” at his 1961 trial outraged many as defending the indefensible. Von Trotta shows Arendt at the trial and afterwards in New York intellectual circles. This is Sukowa’s show: her Hannah is a shrewd combination of intensity and warmth, who hasn’t been scrubbed clean, but is allowed to speak for herself: the spellbinding sequence where she defends her work against those calling her a self-hating Jew for what she called Eichmann is where a sympathetic director and actress create an indelible portrait of a 20th century giant. The Blu-ray image is first-rate; extras comprise a making-of featurette, deleted scenes and—on the DVD only—a discussion with von Trotta, Sukowa, actress Janet McTeer and co-writer Pamela Katz.

A middling thriller that shows off its leading man’s physique more often than even his biggest fans would want, Paranoia features Liam Hemsworth, whose acting is as flat as his abs are chiseled. Although Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford sleepwalk through the movie as rival masters of the universe, Amber Heard and Embeth Davidtz’s persuasive performances help it all glide by mindlessly but painlessly to an obvious conclusion. The Blu-ray image is good; extras are deleted scenes and featurettes.

Red 2
This sequel to the action flick about middle-aged secret agents is entertaining enough, although it’s like the Smokey and the Bandit movies where it seems the actors are having more fun goofing off on-set than the audience does watching the movie. Still, it has enough explosive artillery to satisfy genre fans, and tongue-in-cheek performances by Mary Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis keep this overlong parody on track. The hi-def transfer looks excellent; extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes and a making-of documentary.

The Vivien Leigh Collection
(Cohen Media)
Vivien Leigh became famous in 1939 with her Oscar-winning Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, but the beautiful and talented stage actress had been making films in her native England for years: this 1937-8 quartet provides a peek into her onscreen versatility. Fire Over England is watchable historical fluff, while the other films—Dark Journey, Storm in a Teacup and St. Martin’s Lane—are sentimental romantic fodder with little going for them except Leigh’s presence. The Blu-ray transfers look excellent; lone extra is a discussion by Leigh expert and biographer Kendra Bean.

DVDs of the Week
What begins as a beguiling dramedy about a sexually confused teen with a talking teddy bear companion becomes a totally different animal by the time of its “shocking” high-school shooter finale. Director Marcel Fores confidently deals with tricky subject matter, and even if it’s a bumpy ride at times, there’s enough grounding in both emotional and psychological reality to make it worthwhile. Extras include commentary and featurettes.

Blood on the Docks 
The Half Brother 
Set in the grimy French port of Le Havre, Blood is a gritty policier about a group of detectives solving perplexing murder cases; the actors are super, the writing and directing realistic, and the investigations arrestingly use the English Channel town’s visual blight. The absorbing Norwegian mini-series The Half Brother is involving from the get-go, when the case of a disappeared young man begins with the raping of his virgin mother, who nearly dies from the attack. There’s top-notch acting by several generations of Norway’s stars, from Ghita Norby (who was in Hansun, so her burning a Hansun book is a sly in-joke) to Mariann Hole and Agnes Kittlesen.

This trenchant documentary devastatingly shows how, after Shane’s lover Tom dies in a freak accident, Shane is shunned by Tom’s family and literally erased from their son’s short life. Through emotional interviews with Shane, his family and his and Tom’s friends, director Linda Bloodworth-Thomson maps an unforgettable journey through the sadly ongoing battle between love and bigotry.

Le Joli Mai
In Chris Marker and Pierre Llohme’s cinema verite portrait of Paris in May, 1962 (after the end of the Algerian War), dozens of Parisians wax philosophically about their lives and where they are headed as a society. But its 143 intellectually packed minutes are an endurance test because only a few of the participants’ arguments and opinions are clearly articulated. Judicious tightening would make this snapshot even stronger. Both English and French versions are included—the English one narrated by Simone Signoret—and a bonus disc includes deleted scenes and related short films.

Women without Men
Iranian expatriate director Shirin Neshat has made an impassioned study of several women in her home country in 1953, when a coup d’etat engineered by the Americans and British made the Shah ruler for a quarter-century until the Muslim Revolution overthrew him and led to the captivity of American embassy hostages. The strongly drawn quartet of disparate female characters is well-acted by Shabnam Tolouei, Pegah Ferydoni, Arita Shahrzad and Orsolya Tóth; Neshat’s ability to deal with sociological and historical issues is also vividly realized. Extras include an interview with Neshat.

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