Monday, February 17, 2014

February '14 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
Afternoon Delight
What could have been a plot comprising familiar clichés—frustrated wife meets stripper whom she tries to help, only to ruin her own—is instead, in director Jill Soloway’s sure hands, an unnerving study of people dealing with personal disappointment. The movie ends too predictably, but prior to that, Soloway and her cast—Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor and Jane Lynch—have made a worthwhile adult drama full of painful humor. The Blu-ray looks first-rate; extras are a commentary and deleted scenes.

The Best Man Holiday
Director Malcolm D. Lee demonstrates that Tyler Perry doesn’t have a monopoly on soulful saccharine: this reunion of beloved characters is smartly filled with likable performers (Saana Lathan, Terrence Howard, Nia Long) who keep the soap opera silliness from getting completely out of hand. But several false endings and an eye-rolling NFL game sequence make it tough to take it seriously, even if it obviously pleased a lot of people—so your mileage may vary. The Blu-ray image looks fine; extras include Lee commentary, gag reel, extended/deleted scenes, making-of featurette.

A dazzling technical achievement—special effects, sound design and photography combine for a hell of a popcorn movie—this 91-minute rollercoaster ride keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. But this thin drama about astronauts in danger in outer space is, despite Sandra Bullock’s committed performance, not nearly the game changer critics, audiences and the Academy would have you believe: director Alfonso Cuaron cleverly visualizing his conceit, but when talk turns to Best Picture and Best Director, I ask: huh? The hi-def image is excellent; extras include hours of featurettes. (release date February 25)

Killing Kennedy
Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s best-seller spawned this routine recreation of what led JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald to that fateful November day in Dallas. Although Rob Lowe’s Jack and Ginnifer Goodwin’s Jackie are caricatures, Will Rothhaar’s Oswald and Michelle Trachtenberg’s Marina Oswald are credible portrayals that are the most authentic thing about this by-the-numbers reenactment. The hi-def transfer looks good; extras include interviews and a making-of featurette.

DVDs of the Week
The Cheshire Murders
(HBO/Warner Archive)
Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s chilling documentary Cheshire Murders devastatingly shows how a horrific multiple murder destroyed and tore apart more than one family; logical questions are asked, like did the police response exacerbate the situation, and will the death penalty give closure or bring back the victims? (We know the answers.) Glickman, James Freedman’s affectionate documentary, tells the fascinating life story of Marty Glickman, the Jewish track star who was barred from competing in the 1936 Berlin Olympics who later became a beloved Knicks and Giants broadcaster.

Classic English Literature Collection—Volume 2
This mega-box set collects four adaptations of great English books that are distinguished by fine performances and handsome production values: an intense Jodhi May dominates Henry James’ eerie Turn of the Screw; Rafe Spall and Elizabeth McGovern star in E.M. Forster’sA Room with a View; Freddie Fox takes the title role in Charles Dickens’ unfinished last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood; and Billie Piper is an outstanding Fanny in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. These great-looking and accomplished films might be conventional but are well worth watching. Extras comprise a selection of memorabilia that includes the four authors’ illustrations and hand-written letters.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology
Slovene psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek’s provocative filmic analysis, shown in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, returns in this follow-up, which comprises singular readings of everything from The Sound of Music to A Clockwork Orange. However, that director Sophie Fiennes has to go out of her way to have him in amusing settings like in front of the mirror in Taxi Driver or the boat from Jaws is a sign that his thought-provoking theses can’t support a 135-minute long film: their hit-or-miss quality eventually wears thin. The lone extra is a 30-minue Fiennes and Žižek Q&A.

Pussy Riot—A Punk Prayer
There are less obvious ways to get a Russian dictator’s attention, but protest punk group Pussy Riot skipped any subtlety by making its blatant anti-Putin statement in a Moscow church, virtually guaranteeing their imprisonment (two members got two years for “hooliganism”—another had her sentence commuted and two other members left the country). This straightforward documentary, which follows the trials, is interesting without being very illuminating. Extras include interviews.

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