Tuesday, January 21, 2014

January '14 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
Blue Jasmine
Woody Allen’s latest is a minor drama whose jumping off-point is the Bernie Madoff scandal and looks at a Wall Street crook’s clueless wife who is unable to find solace in her sympathetic sister. Woody’s script crudely carves up the haves and have nots; though there are fine performances—notably Alec Baldwin as the crooked hubby and Louis CK, Peter Sarsgaard and Andrew Dice Clay as various men in her life—Sally Hawkins is merely okay as the dutiful sister while Cate Blanchett as our heroine gives a mannered and frightfully overdone Judy Davis impersonation. (Typically, both got Oscar nominations.) Javier Aguirresarobe’s snazzy photography shimmers on Blu-ray; extras—rare for a Woody disc—comprise interviews and a press conference with the performers.

Charlie Countryman
If watching Shia LaBeouf wander aimlessly around Bucharest is your idea of a good time, then by all means check out Fredrik Bond’s convoluted would-be thriller about a young American getting into trouble in Romania. Otherwise—despite attractively gritty locales and the always persuasive Evan Rachel Wood as a Romanian cellist with a dark side—you’ve been warned: it’s 103 minutes you won’t get back. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras are deleted scenes and a behind the scenes featurette.

A Chorus Line

Director Richard Attenborough demonstrates that he has little affinity for musicals with this leaden 1985 filmization of the Broadway classic: Michael Bennett’s genius (he created, choreographed and directed the original) is sorely missing, and Marvin Hamlisch’s songs don’t come off well in such a contextless setting. The inner lives of the dancers never come across despite plentiful close-ups: unfortunate ciphers include Michael Douglas, Terrence Mann and Audrey Landers. The Blu-ray transfer looks sharp.

The Doors—R-evolution
(Eagle Vision)
Strictly for Doors completists, this 72-minute compendium brings together a grab-bag of live performances, TV appearances and videos that include such staples as “Break on Through,” “Light My Fire” and “L.A. Woman” on programs as varied as American Bandstand and The Smothers Brothers. It’s hilarious when the band lip-synchs “Hello, I Love You” to a bunch of sour foreigners on a German TV show. Jim Morrison worshippers will get more mileage, of course. The video quality varies widely, especially on hi-def; extras comprise a picture-in-picture commentary and additional music clips.


(Kino Lorber)
Andrei Tarkovsky’s penultimate 1983 feature, another example of how this singular Russian director “moves with such naturalness through the room of dreams” (according to Ingmar Bergman), is—as always—saddled with a typically diffuse, and explicitly allegorical, narrative. But—also as always—there are moments of visual poetry that only Tarkovsky (and his trusted cinematographer Giuseppe Lanci) could have conceived and shot, like the stunning climactic sequence of a self-immolation by near a symbolic statue. This important near-masterpiece, finally available in hi-def, looks ravishing on Blu-ray.

The Prey
(Cohen Media)
In Eric Valette’s white-knuckle thriller, a bank robber escapes from prison after discovering that his wife and daughter are in danger from a just-released ex-cellmate who might be a serial killer. Plausibility and logic are in short supply, as are the number of on-target gunshots by an obviously inept police force: and don’t get me started on how our hero never is hurt despite death-defying leaps and falls. The cruelty is overdone—did our hero’s wife need to be offed?—but ignore such things and it’s an enjoyable ride. The Blu-ray images look fine; extras are a Valette interview and making-of featurette.

La Vie de Boheme

(Criterion Collection)
I’m no fan of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, whose combination of sentimentality and deadpan humor rarely jells: still, this bittersweet, comic 1992 film is among his finest. Although it retains his peculiar sensibility, there’s little of his overbearing condescension. Coupled with wonderful B&W images and an engaged cast that sleepwalks less than usual, Boheme is a minor but distinct pleasure. The Blu-ray image is strong; extras are an interview with actor Andre Wilms and an on-set documentary, Where Is Musette?

The Year of the Cannibals
(Raro Video)
Forty-five years later, Liliana Cavani’s 1969 socialist allegory reeks of little more than righteous anger: her scenario of a society where hundreds of dead bodies are left to rot by the state, which also closes down efforts by our hero and heroine—named Tiresias and Antigone—to affect change. Giulio Albonico’s routine color cinematography even makes the lovely Britt Ekland’s politically symbolic red hair aesthetically unappealing; Cavani’s ideas and direction are equally mediocre. The Blu-ray restoration looks good; lone extra is a new Cavani interview.

DVDs of the Week
Blue Caprice
In their fictionalized account of the Beltway Sniper attacks that terrorized the Washington DC area in 2002, director Alexandre Moors and writer R.F.I. Porto chillingly show how a deranged man and teen killed several people, focusing on a distorted “father-son” relationship that’s brilliantly enacted by Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond. The film moves past easy blame to create a complex psychological study of two normal males who turn into monsters. Extras include director/writer commentary, Deauville Film Festival press conference, behind the scenes featurette.

Orpheus Descending
The Portrait
(Warner Archive)
In the mid ‘90s, cable network TNT showed play adaptations made by good directors and solid casts, like these titles. Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus, with Vanessa Redgrave and Kevin Anderson in an illicit love affair directed by Sir Peter Hall, was made in 1990; the same trio did the play on Broadway the year before: Redgrave’s performance is less tortured, more free-flowing onscreen. Tina Howe’s masterly 1982 play Painting Churches became 1993’s The Portrait: veteran Arthur Penn ably directs Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall as a couple whose artist daughter (Gregory’s real life daughter Cecilia Peck) wants to paint them.

Rewind This

This amiable journey through memory lane will appeal to film geeks and fanboys who look back wistfully at the glory days of Beta, VHS and the VCR, which changed Hollywood and movie viewing forever. In a diverting 90 minutes, director Josh Johnson chronicles the video age, which also revolutionized the porn industry—the raincoat crowd could watch it at home—and even started the careers of moviemaking splatter masters and others. Lots of giggle-inducing clips are included, and copious extras include commentary, extra footage, interviews, even a music video.

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