Tuesday, February 25, 2014

February '14 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week
The Films of Lionel Rogosin, Volume II
Lionel Rogosin’s cinema came from the heart, and this release comprises a pair of the maverick director’s historically and culturally important features: 1959’s Come Back, Africa is an illuminating snapshot of living under the evils of South African apartheid, and 1970’s Black Roots looks at beauty and tragedy in America through stories and songs by musicians like Larry Johnson and Wende Smith. Both films, painstakingly restored, look smashing on Blu-ray, while extras include a Martin Scorsese intro and Rogosin audio interview; Rogosin’s Africa making-of, An America in Sophiatown; Roots making-of, Bittersweet Stories; and the documentary, Have You Seen Drum Recently?

Mr. Nobody
Jaco van Dormael makes few films—only two since his 1991 debut Toto the Hero—but he never skimps on imagination: this at times dazzling, often dizzyingly innocuous exploration of one man’s lengthy life (and the paths he might have taken) is given 155 expansive minutes to tell…well, not much. Despite solid work by Jared Leto in the title role and Diane Kruger and Juno Temple as women in his life and a splendid visual design, the movie’s a superficial sci-fi mash-up. The hi-def transfer looks superb; extras include deleted scenes, making-of featurettes and the 139-minute 2009 theatrical cut.

Muscle Shoals
How a tiny Alabama swamp town was ground zero for some classic recordings of the past several decades is what Greg “Freddy” Camalier’s exquisite music documentary explores. Groups from the Rolling Stones to the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and singers from Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan to Paul Simon all made classic singles and albums at the unique studio—and interviews with many of those artists, other fans like Bono and Alicia Keys, and the men who ran the place, the Swampers (immortalized on “Sweet Home Alabama”) are on board to discuss the history and influence of the place. The Blu-ray image is top-notch; extras include deleted scenes and interviews.

The Secret Policeman’s Ball—USA
(Eagle Rock)
After decades of these celebrity-studded comedy shows—with musical interludes—in London, America finally hosted its own in 2012 at Radio City Music Hall, bringing together scattershot stand-up routines and sketches by Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Russell Brand, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Silverman and Paul Rudd, with tunes by Coldplay and Mumford & Sons. The draggy 135-minute event is punctuated by slightly desperate appearances by some of the former Monty Python troupe, who briefly perk up the entire show. The Blu-ray image is decent; extras include backstage interviews.

You Will Be My Son
(Cohen Media)
Many French films get remade in the U.S., but this insightful dissection of the volatile relationship between a master vineyard owner and the adult son who was never good enough for him will doubtfully get the Hollywood green light. That’s all to the good since powerful performances by Niels Astrup (father), Lorant Deutsch (son), Anne Marivin (son’s wife) and Nicolas Bridet (estate manager’s son, everything the real son is not) would be hard to recreate. This immersive psychological portrait by co-writer/director Gilles Legrand flirts with thriller territory but never rings false. The Blu-ray image looks terrific; extras include deleted scenes and interviews with Deutsch and Legrand.

DVDs of the Week
American Experience—1964
Beginning just weeks after the JFK assassination—which paralyzed the country—1964 was a pivotal year in American culture and politics, as this entertaining “cliffs notes” PBS program shows. From the arrival of the Beatles and the ascension of Cassius Clay to the LBJ presidency and Barry Goldwater’s conservative movement, and from the escalating civil rights struggle to the nascent feminist movement, 1964 encapsulates 12 important American months in two hours, with a selection of archival footage and new interviews that complement each other compellingly.

Disco and Atomic War
During the Cold War, citizens of Tallinn, the capital of the then Soviet republic of Estonia—the closest Iron Curtain city to the “evil” West—were able to watch Finnish television despite their overlords trying to jam the signals. That they could watch American TV shows like Dallas and hear banned rock and disco music helped finish off the Communist state. Directors Jaak Kilmi and Kiur Aarma, who grew up during those tumultuous times, have made a wacky but perceptive documentary that provides a different viewpoint of those heady days.

The Oyler House
(First Run)
Mike Dorsey’s personal glimpse at the stunning Southern California home famed architect Richard Neutra designed and built for the Oyler family may be only 45 minutes long, but its themes of architecture, history, family and natural beauty are brilliantly woven into its structure. Illuminating interviews with Neutra’s sons, with Richard Oyler—who asked Neutra to build the house in 1959—and with its current occupant, actress Kelly Lynch, are interspersed with gorgeously photographed views of this extraordinary building and its surroundings. Extras include deleted scenes and a house walk-through by Lynch and Oyler.

Search—The Complete Series
(Warner Archive)
This bizarre sci-fi series didn’t last long (1 season, 23 episodes, in 1972-73) but its original premise about probes—robots used by a worldwide surveillance group—can be seen as prescient in a century dominated by the NSA and Edward Snowden. Starring first-rate TV actors like Burgess Meredith, Hugh O’Brian, Doug McClure and Tony Franciosa, and with special guests like the era’s ubiquitous Bill Bixby, Sebastian Cabot, Stefanie Powers and Barbara Feldon, Search is definitely worth searching for—once you start watching, don’t be surprised if you make your way through all six discs.

Twice Born
(e one)
Sergio Castellito’s heavy-handed drama about how horrific events in the Bosnian civil war forever shattered the lives of even those who were not yet born features gripping performances by Penelope Cruz, Emile Hirsch and Saadet Aksoy, all of whom have to deal with melodramatic flip-flops manufactured by Castellito’s wife, screenwriter Margaret Mazzantini. This overlong film is hamstrung throughout its length by often ludicrous machinations. Extras are interviews with Castellito, Cruz, Hirsch and Aksoy.

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