Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June '14 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
(Cohen Media)
Costa-Gavras’ handsomely mounted Amen. (2002), which dramatizes the complicity between Nazis and the Catholic Church for Holocaust, remains compelling the director’s despite heavy-handed treatment of his weighty subject matter. Contrarily, Costa-Gavras’ latest, Capital, adroitly handles a fast-moving story that takes the pulse of our fixed 21st century global economy. Both films have superlative hi-def transfers; Amen extra is an hour-long BBC program about Pope Pius XII; Capital extras are cast/director interviews.

Cousin Jules 
(Cinema Guild)
Here’s why labels like Cinema Guild are needed: to resurrect films viewers like me have never heard of, like French director Dominique Benicheti’s revelatory 1973 documentary about a blacksmith and his wife’s daily existence on a rural farm. Beautifully photographed over a period of five years, Benicheti’s 90-minute film finds poetry in the everyday, with no narration or music to make its points; everything is contained in the images, which look ravishing in this restored hi-def transfer.

The Lego Movie 
If this immensely clever visual explosion made with the famous kids’ construction toy was a short, it would have been spectacular, but directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller can’t leave well enough alone, cramming their movie with visual and verbal puns to try (but fail) to become a Yellow Submarine for a new generation. Though dumb ideas end up winning out over imaginative visuals, there’s enough diversion for unfinicky viewers. The Blu-ray image looks amazing in 3D and 2D; plentiful extras include commentary, deleted scenes and several featurettes.

Longmire—Complete 1st & 2nd Seasons 
(Warner Archive)
In this decent if underwhelming police drama, a widowed small town sheriff (Robert Taylor) battles his own demons, fighting crime while rebuilding his life with the help of his adult daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman), whose relationship with a deputy complicates hers with her father. Both seasons comprise 23 episodes on six discs; the hi-def image makes Wyoming locations look fantastic, while extras include featurettes and extended episodes.

Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad’s Oscar-nominated follow-up to his Oscar-nominated Paradise Now (about suicide bombers) shows a young Arab in the occupied territories in love with his best friend’s sister who finds himself in trouble when caught following the shooting of an Israeli soldier. Although Abu-Assad moves ingeniously among the genres of romance, melodrama and political thriller, he never reaches the mesmerizing heights of his earlier feature, despite accomplished writing, directing and acting by his entire cast. The Blu-ray looks tremendous.

Seattle Seahawks—Road to XLVIII 
For fans of the latest NFL team to win its first Super Bowl championship, this two-disc set includes in their entirety the three playoff games that the Seahawks won to clinch the title: the divisional game vs. New Orleans, the NFC championship game vs. the 49ers and finally the Big Game against Denver and the hated Peyton Manning, whom they destroyed, 43-8. Every snap, every play and every down are here, all in eye-popping hi-def, which looks even better than the HD feed of the Super Bowl on television.

Tim’s Vermeer 
(Sony Classics)
Penn & Teller’s friend, inventor Tim Jenison, infatuated with Johannes Vermeer’s extraordinarily detailed paintings, used artist David Hockney’s book about Old Masters and optics as a jumping-off point to invents a mirror to create his own painting, thinking this might be what Vermeer did 400 years earlier. This fascinatingly daft journey into obsession and artistic genius doubles as a primer that shows how 21st century techniques can illuminate 17th century art. Teller directs cleverly, Penn narrates hilariously, and Tim is an entertaining guide. On Blu-ray, the colors of Vermeer’s (and Tim’s) palette explode onscreen; extras are hours of deleted and extended scenes, Toronto Film Festival Q&A and audio commentary by Penn, Teller, Jenison and producer Farley Zeigler.

DVDs of the Week
Adult World 
This amusing rom-com, which opens with a struggling poetess (the always adorable Emma Roberts) attempting suicide, is director Scott Coffey’s alternately biting and banal exploration of another aimless, entitled 20-something. But unlike in those Lena Dunham-Greta Gerwig-Joe Swanberg snoozers, Coffey actually writes characters that are sympathetic and credible. His setting (a porn store in rundown Syracuse) grounds it in reality, and Roberts is complemented by a sharp-edged John Cusack as a half-crazed poet whom she adores. Extras comprise deleted and extended scenes.

Dr. Kildare—Complete 3rd Season
Kung Fu: The Legend Continues—Complete 1st Season
(Warner Archive)
Kildare, the entertaining drama series that made Richard Chamberlain a star, about an idealistic young doctor in a large hospital run by Dr. Gillespie (played by Raymond Massey),  ran for five seasons, from 1961-5: the third season comprises 34 episodes—on nine discs in this set—an amount unheard of today. In the first season of Legend, a turgid Kung Fu spinoff (1992-3), David Carradine returns as the grandson of the original kung fu master; all 22 episodes are included on six discs.

James Thurber—The Life and Hard Times
Paul Bowles—The Cage Door Is Always Open
Top Hat—Harold Ross and the Making of The New Yorker 
(First Run)
Three influential 20th century American cultural figures receive informative documentary overviews, starting with a 45-minute doc about humorist James Thurber  and a 55-minute doc about New Yorker magazine founder Harold Ross. Daniel Young’s 90-minute doc about Bowles, based on an interview the composer-author gave before his death in 1999, much more substantially delves into his relationships with men, Morocco and his wife Jane, and his composing and writing, including his shattering novel The Sheltering Sky.

Red Shoe Diaries—The Movie
Red Shoe Diaries—TV Series 
(Koch Lorber)
Zalman King was synonymous with soft-focus soft-core late-night cable fare, most famously these Diaries, which introduced David Duchovny to a pre-X-Files audience. The original movie comprises 105 minutes of Duchovny sulking in between scenes of his hot wife (the amazing Brigitte Bako) carrying on with a nameless construction worker, while the series’ 13 episodes gives us more Duchovny doing not much while women (Joan Severance and Maryam D’Abo among them) and other men (including Steven Bauer and a pre-Friends Matt LeBlanc) enjoy dirty fun. The series includes a King intro.

Wallander 3 
In the latest adventures of Swedish novelist Henning Mankell’s famous creation, the irascible detective and his colleagues solve crimes that culminate in murder and backstabbing within the department. Krister Henriksson is always a towering presence, even in the final episode, when Wallander can no longer keep his growing Alzheimer’s a secret. Endlessly watchable but resistant to binge-watching by its subtlety, this is one cop show that needs to be savored, not devoured. Extras include interviews and featurettes.

CD of the Week
Jane Antonia Cornish—Duende 
This disc of chamber music by 39-year-old Jane Antonia Cornish is crammed with precision and passion in the writing and the playing: the compositions—Duende, a piano trio; In Luce, a string quartet; and Clair-Obscur for violin and piano—might be an acquired taste, their mainly mournful movements punctuated by bursts of staccato dissonance. But the courageous Cornish is following her own muse, refusing to make her music more accessible but less personal. 

No comments: