Tuesday, March 11, 2014

March '14 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
Big History
Bryan Cranston narrates this immersively offbeat mini-series on nature and civilization’s inexorable linkage that shows, through an innovative blend of science and history, how events on our earth billions of years ago still marks our present-day survival. Each half-hour episode uncovers relationships among historical events like the sinking of the Titanic and today’s ubiquitous cell phones, or explores mysteries like ancient empires, with nothing in common, built shrines in the shape of pyramids. Dazzling special effects and animation give the programs cutting-edge visuals to complement the heady ideas.  The Blu-ray imagery looks fantastic; extras include bonus footage. (Release date: March 11)

Eugene Onegin
(Deutsche Grammophon)
Peter Tchaikovsky’s 1879 masterpiece remains the greatest Russian opera ever—elegant and emotive without being shamelessly sentimental—and Russian conductor Valery Gergiev leads the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus in a splendidly romantic reading of the glorious score. Deborah Warner’s mediocre but not disastrous staging is sparklingly sung by its stars, Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien (Onegin) and Russian soprano Anna Netrebko (Tatiana, his lost love). The Blu-ray has a high-quality sheen and the music sounds amazingly clear; extras include between-acts interviews. (Release date: March 11)

In Fear

(Anchor Bay)
A couple driving through the rural Irish countryside is terrorized by a merciless and shadowy specter in Jeremy Lovering’s tightly-constructed but increasingly preposterous horror movie. Despite good use of cramped quarters and eerie darkness, Lovering loses control when the story spirals away from him: if you have no qualms with the silly, copout ending, then you may enjoy the whole thing. The Blu-ray image looks sharp; lone extra is a behind the scenes featurette. (Release date: March 11)

Iron Sky—Director’s Cut
(e one)
This lunatic sci-fi fantasy—which imagines a Sarah Palin-alike in the Oval Office who starts a war with Nazis living on the moon since WWII—is even more demented now that it’s longer via director Timo Vuorensola’s extended cut. The plethora of easy Hitler and Palin jokes is partly offset by a relatively restrained performance by blonde bombshell Julia Dietze as an idealistic Nazi. The Blu-ray transfer looks tremendous; lone extra is a making-of featurette. (Release date: March 11)

Mademoiselle C

(Cohen Media)
Watching Carine Roitfeld quit French Vogue to start her own fashion magazine isn’t exactly scintillating drama, but the engaging 57-year-old editor has none of the egotistic self-love of, say, Anna Wintour, so Fabien Constant’s fly-on-the-wall documentary is never less than entertaining. Among the so-called beautiful people of New York, Paris and London, Roitfeld comes off self-aware, intelligent and unpretentious; an end title tells us that she’s back in the fashion world, now working at Harper’s Bazaar. The hi-def transfer is stunning; lone extra is Paris premiere footage. (Release date: March 11)

The Who—Sensation: The Story of ‘Tommy’
(Eagle Rock)
Pete Townshend, always engagingly chatty, pulls no punches discussing the genesis of and reaction to the Who’s seminal 1969 double-album rock opera in this straightforward  look back at a true rock classic. There’s input from Roger Daltrey, producers Kit Lambert and Glyn Johns, and—via archival footage—John Entwistle and Keith Moon, but Townshend’s integrity and honesty is at this documentary’s core. Bonus footage of a 1969 performance of Tommy songs is included; the Blu-ray image and sound are first-rate. (Release date: March 11)

DVDs of the Week
Crimes of Passion
(MHz Networks)
Based on crime novels by popular Swedish author Maria Lang, this engrossing mini-series follows a literature student, her fiancée and their detective friend embroiled in mysterious murder plots in what seems to be bucolic small-town Sweden. Set in a beautiful postwar countryside, these six 90-minute films comprise flavorful characterizations and simmering, Ellery Queen-type mysteries. Tuva Novotny, Linus Wahlgren and Ola Rapace make a formidable investigative trio. (Release date: February 25)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young—Fifty by Four
Eric Clapton—the 1970s Review
(Sexy Intellectual)
These unauthorized biographies, combining vintage footage and new interviews with (mainly) peripheral players, present solid 2-1/2 hour overviews of these rock legends’ careers. The CSNY doc covers the several decades-long, off-and-on musical reunions of the legendary harmony trio (and occasional quartet); the Clapton one—examining his solo career after stints in supergroups Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominos—chronicles a superstar’s nearly fatal slide into drugs and irrelevance. (Release date: March 11)

The FBI—Complete 7th Season

(Warner Archive)
The 1971-72 season of this popular TV drama (comprising 26 episodes) follows Bureau agents Efram Zimbalist Jr., William Reynolds and Philip Abbott pursuing criminals of all stripes, from robbers and kidnappers to attempted assassins. As always with such “classic” series, the guest-star roster is even more impressive than the shows themselves: everyone from then-unknowns like Lindsay Wagner, Meg Foster and Martin Sheen to established veterans like Bradford Dillman, Dabney Coleman and Vic Tayback  show up. (Release date: February 25)

Inside Llewyn Davis
Unerring recreation of the early ‘60s folk scene notwithstanding, the Coens’  comedy-drama about a cynical, anti-social singer who may or may not change how he lives his life—he’s beaten up at the beginning and end of the film—is another crudely constructed bit of obviousness that fails to find any complexity in its typical Coen anti-hero. Bruno Delbonnel’s burnished photography, the finely-detailed set design and a delightful cat far outweigh 100 minutes of cleverness posing as insight. The lone extra is a 50-minute making-of. (Release date: March 11)

The Patience Stone 
(Sony Classics)
As she says in the making-of featurette, the excellent actress Golshifteh Farahani endured her own psychological hardship enacting the difficult role of a young Middle Eastern woman, standing watch over her comatose older husband, who confesses to hidden secrets—including one that makes us reexamine their relationship—in front of his prone body. Director Atiq Rahimi (who adapted his own novel with Jean-Claude Carriere) subtly transforms the story’s confined spaces into a powerful metaphor for his heroine’s mental anguish. (Release date: March 18)

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