Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April '14 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
At Middleton
(Anchor Bay)
Unless you are an Andy Garcia and/or Vera Farmiga completist, you’ll want to bypass director/cowriter Adam Rodgers’ cutesy piece of forced whimsy about parents who meet and kinda sorta fall for each other when visiting the campus of Middleton College with their kids, who are incoming students. Although the two stars—and Spencer Lofranco and Vera’s youngest sister, Taissa Farmiga, as the kids—shine, they must battle trite dialogue and silly rom-com antics that add up to not much. The Blu-ray looks fine.

Brian May/Kerry Ellis—
The Candlelight Concerts/Live At Montreux 2013
(Eagle Rock)
Queen guitarist Brian May and vocalist Kerry Ellis team for an odd-couple pairing that works niftily, May’s signature guitar stylings—both acoustic and electric—complementing Ellis’ crystalline but powerful voice. Along with a healthy helping of Queen songs that includes left-field choices as “Life Is Real” (Freddie Mercury’s tribute to John Lennon that Ellis dedicates to Mercury), there are wonderful covers like George Harrison’s “Something” and even a schmaltzily effective “Born Free.” The hi-def transfer and audio are stunning to see and hear; the lone extra is a performance of “Nothing Really Has Changed” for its surprised—and touched—writer, Virginia McKenna.


Alain Robbe-Grillet—who wrote Alain Resnais’ 1961 surreal masterpiece, Last Year at Marienbad—made his directorial debut two years later with this playful but contrived bit of nouveau-roman filmmaking about a man trying to piece together his relationship with a beautiful but mysterious young woman in Istanbul. The lusciously photographed movie has the lovely Francoise Brion as an asset; too bad her real-life husband, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, is less than scintillating as the protagonist. The hi-def image is excellent; the lone extra is a half-hour Robbe-Grillet interview.

Little House on the Prairie—Complete 1st Season
The first season (1974-75) of the beloved television series about the Ingalls family—with parents Michael Landon and Karen Grassle and daughters Melissa Sue Anderson and Melissa Gilbert—arrives on hi-def, its 24 episodes (and the original pilot movie) intact. The show looks far better on Blu-ray than it ever has; extras include a 40th anniversary documentary and Landon and Gilbert’s screen tests.

Meet Him and Die

This watchable but fairly routine thriller directed by Franco Prosperi has a notable appearance by a dubbed Martin Balsam as a mob boss who befriends a failed robber in prison. A few decent chase sequences and shootouts can’t alleviate the lethargic pacing until a final, predictable climax. Even Elke Sommer in a bathing suit doesn’t help much. The hi-def transfer preserves the grain nicely; lone extra is a short intro.

DVDs of the Week
Altar of Lust/Angel on Fire
A Saint, A Woman, A Devil
(Vinegar Syndrome)
This trio of vintage adult flicks shows that, back in the ‘70s, actual plotlines—however paper-thin—were concocted so the sexcapades had some sort of context, as opposed to today’s “gonzo” online porn. Altar (1971) features someone named Erotica Lantern, Angel (1974) follows a man who returns from the dead in the body of horny Darby Lloyd Rains, and Saint (1977) stars Joanna Bell as a pious woman who turns into a nymphomaniac (take that, Lars von Trier).

Joseph Andrews

(Warner Archive)
With 1977’s Joseph Andrews, director Tony Richardson tried to rekindle the spark of his Tom Jones, which swept the 1963 Oscars, but this costume farce comes off less original, less funny and less sexy, despite the efforts of Richardson’s cast (Ann-Margret and Peter Firth head it) and the handsome physical production. 1983’s Testament—director Lynne Littman’s stolid exploration of the effects of a nuclear attack on the ordinary people of a small US town—has one big plus: Jane Alexander’s extraordinary portrayal of a mother caught up in horrific events.

The Punk Singer
Kathleen Hanna, leader of post-punk band Bikini Kill and dance-punk trio Le Tigre—who dropped out of the spotlight a decade ago because she had nothing more to say—gets a proper appraisal in director Sini Anderson’s straightforward documentary portrait. Interviews with Hanna show her to be as honest as ever in Anderson’s look back at her career, which also includes interviews with her many collaborators and her husband, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz. Extras are deleted scenes and additional interviews.


(Cinema Guild)
Matias Pineiro’s compact feature follows an actress in a theatrical troupe rehearsing Shakespeare whose life is a mess of romantic entanglements. If the movie ultimately is like much ado about nothing, there’s wit in the characterization and dialogue, while Agustina Munoz is an appealing heroine: and there’s the always mesmerizing Buenos Aires as a backdrop. Extras include Pineiro and Munoz’s commentary and a filmed Pineiro play.

When Jews Were Funny
(First Run)
Alan Zweig made this amusing if diffuse exploration of Jewish humor that comprises talking heads like Shecky Green, recently deceased David Brenner (RIP!), Marc Maron and Howie Mandel discussing their comic heritage and telling their favorite Jewish jokes. It’s a pleasant journey that Zweig short-circuits with a rambling, self-serving interviewing style, turning it into a muddled personal diary that culminates with a clip of the 61-year-old director dad and his adorable young daughter. Extras are bonus interviews.

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