Wednesday, June 11, 2014

June '14 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
Alan Partridge 
There’s a slight whiff of desperation in this big screen version of the radio and TV character co-created and enacted by Steve Coogan, a daffy and narcissistic DJ who finds himself face to face with a disgruntled fellow DJ (Colm Meaney, wasted) who takes hostages at the station after his firing. Coogan is always a delight, but this sitcom stretched to 90 minutes has padding galore, along with a rather distasteful reliance on cheap laughs about a most serious situation. The Blu-ray image is excellent; extras comprise several on-set featurettes.

Call the Midwife—Complete 3rd Season 
In the third season of creator/writer Heidi Thomas’s compelling series—set in a poor section of East London in the 1950s—the midwives have to find a new location when Nonnatus House is slated to be demolished, while a polio outbreak threatens the well-being of mothers and newborns alike. Although I am still in shock seeing the once-sexy and lovely Jenny Agutter (American Werewolf in London) as a middle-aged nun, she remains a terrific actress, as are Jessica Raine and Miranda Hart as the other leads. The hi-def transfer looks great; extras include cast and crew interviews.

(Criterion Collection)
Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1962 expressionist masterpiece—like his earlier L’Avventura, this helped rewrite the rules of narrative filmmaking—returns in this glorious hi-def transfer from Criterion, which accentuates the brilliance of Antonioni’s B&W compositions, shot luminously by Gianni di Venanzo. The stolid presence of Monica Vitti, Alain Delon and Francisco Rabal underlines Antonioni’s moody take on modern alienation; extras include Richard Pena’s informative commentary, 22-minute featurette Elements of Landscape and an essential documentary about the director, 2001’s Michelangelo Antonioni: The Eye That Changed Cinema.

The Motel Life 
This low-key drama about brothers dealing with one’s involvement in a hit-and-run accident should be much more emotionally involving, making it a definite disappointment from co-directors Alan and Gabriel Polsky and writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster. Despite Mike Smith’s animated illustrations and fine actors like Emile Hirsch, Dakota Fanning and Steven Dorff, the downbeat film never approaches profundity or illumination. The Blu-ray image looks fine; the lone extra is a featurette.

Son of God 
Re-edited from footage shot for the TV mini-series The Bible, this latest cinematic life of Christ has authentic-looking locations, a great-looking Jesus in Diogo Morgado and a calculated balance of violence and piety that avoids The Passion of the Christ’s excessive gore. This slow-moving epic, although it occasionally rouses itself to competence, never frees itself of Biblical film clichés. The Blu-ray image looks first-rate; extras include interviews and behind the scenes featurettes, including one in Spanish.

The fourth collaboration between director Godferey Reggio and composer Philip Glass (which now includes director Joe Kane), this mesmerizing collage of imagery set to repetitive minimalist music comprises 79 shots in black and white of the world, people and a beguiling gorilla from the Bronx Zoo. It doesn’t mean anything—at least to me—but there are some who consider it deep and meaningful, so your mileage may vary. The hi-def transfer looks splendid; extras include interviews with Reggio, Glass, Kane and Steven Soderbergh, the film’s “presenter.”

The Who—Quadrophenia: Live in London 
Last summer, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey reunited for a hard-hitting run-through of the band’s classic 1973 rock opera: highlights are a visceral “5:15” (featuring a John Entwistle bass solo on film) and a powerful “Love Reign O’er Me,” where Daltrey proves he can still belt it out, even if he can’t reach those elusive high notes any more. Townshend is in fine form, as is bassist Pino Palladino: too bad his thumping bass-playing is rarely shown. The Blu-ray image looks superb, and the surround sound is hard-hitting; extras are another six songs, including blistering versions of “Who Are You” and “You Better You Bet.”

DVDs of the Week
The Bridge—Series 1 
(MHZ Networks)
In yet another first-rate European police series that puts American counterparts to shame (which usually just ape the original idea anyway), a corpse is discovered in the middle of a bridge that links Denmark and Sweden, and both departments must work together to solve a crime that becomes increasingly sinister as more is uncovered. With a stellar cast headed by Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia as the detectives, and with intricate scripts by creator Hans Rosenfeldt, The Bridge grabs you by the throat immediately and doesn’t let go for 10 one-hour episodes. The lone extra is a 15-minute making-of.

Graceland—Complete 1st Season 
A raw FBI agent’s dream job—to be assigned to a beach house and work with other undercover agents, including his idol—is not what it seems, particularly when he must investigate his hero in this watchable drama which has flair if not much creativity. The attractive young cast led by Aaron Tveit (rookie) and Daniel Sunjata (legend) helps matters immeasurably; the three-disc set includes all 12 episodes and extras comprising deleted scenes, a gag reel and a featurette.

Harry Dean Stanton—Partly Fiction 
With his unmistakably craggy face and gravelly voice, Harry Dean Stanton has breathed fresh life into over 170 movies, including six by David Lynch and the classic Paris Texas, directed by Wim Wenders and written by Sam Shepard. All three men appear in Sophie Huber’s endearing documentary about Stanton, which at 80 minutes seems far too short—especially since there are many film clips—but there’s also too much emphasis on Stanton’s singing and music-making: I prefer his acting by a country mile.

Pretty Little Liars—Complete 4th Season 
Aria, Emily, Hanna and Spencer—if you know those four names, then you’ve already watched the fourth season of this still-diverting series about the quartet of young ladies whose sleuthing—and propensity for telling the biggest of whoppers—is given another opportunity when they find themselves drawn into yet another murder mystery. The five-disc set includes all 24 episodes of this nail-biter of a season; bonus features include three on-set featurettes with interviews, a recap episode and unaired scenes.

Sarah Silverman—We Are Miracles 
(Warner Archive)
For her first HBO comedy special, comedienne Sarah Silverman does it her way, of course: in front of an audience of 39 people, Sarah hilariously riffs on everything from sex and religion to government and pornography, giving them her unique and provocative spin. Even though her ability to shock has been somewhat muted by the fact that we all know something shocking’s coming, she still manages to provide 60 minutes of laugh-out-loud, thought-provoking material.

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