Tuesday, July 1, 2014

July '14 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
Back to Front—Peter Gabriel Live in London 
(Eagle Rock)
Like most classic rockers, Peter Gabriel needed a gimmick for his latest tour, so he played his breakthrough 1986 album So in its entirety from beginning to end—or at least, in the order Gabriel wanted to play it. He stuck “In Your Eyes,” side two’s lead track, at the end, so the concert would finish with a rousing audience participation number rather than the bizarre novelty “This Is the Picture.” Filmed at last summer’s London shows, Gabriel and his crack band—the same men he toured with in ’86, when I saw him twice—tear through the nine So tunes and a dozen other Gabriel classics; the encore ends with the always emotional “Biko.” The Blu-ray image looks super, the sound is even better; lone extra is an interview with Gabriel and tour director Rob Sinclair.

The Lunchbox 
(Sony Classics)
This amiable romance, set in Mumbai, about a young wife who makes a daily lunch for her ungrateful husband and the widower who gets her delicious food by mistake, flirts with but never surrenders to cloying sentimentality. The winningness of the two leads—Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur—makes this lightweight but charming movie work. The Blu-ray transfer is first-rate; lone extra is writer/director Ritesh Batra’s commentary, which basically just describes what’s happening onscreen.

Operation Petticoat 
(Olive Films)
This tame, sniggering comedy might have been daring upon its release in 1959 (it even got a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination), but today, watching women and men in a submarine with innuendos galore is an embarrassment for all involved. Cary Grant always retains his dignity, which ends up looking ridiculous in this context, while Tony Curtis, Dina Merrill, Joan O’Brien and Dick Sargent at least seem in on the one-joke premise; director Blake Edwards would make better comedies later in his career. The hi-def transfer looks enticing.

Rob the Mob 
Based on a true story, this engrossing drama pits a couple which holds up Mafia social clubs (because guns aren’t allowed) against both the Mob and the FBI, along with a star reporter who puts himself into the story. Raymond De Felitta’s relaxed direction allows the stranger-than-fiction plot to unfurl entertainingly, and he coaxes standout performances from Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda as the movie’s Bonnie and Clyde. The Blu-ray image looks excellent; extras include deleted scenes and a director commentary.

The Unknown Known 
(Weinstein Co)
For his latest non-fiction feature, director Errol Morris takes on chronic dissembler and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who (as his own history makes clear) can be blamed for foisting Dick Cheney on an unsuspecting world. The intelligent and aware Rumsfeld parries with Morris over the disastrous Iraq War and other subjects, and if the result isn’t as memorable or intoxicatingly watchable as The Fog of War (about another Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara), it’s still a valuable document about the Bush presidency of mass destruction. The hi-def transfer looks good; extras include a Morris interview and commentary and 1989’s televised Secretaries of Defense roundtable.

DVDs of the Week
Anita—Speaking Truth to Power
(First Run)
More than two decades after she accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, law professor Anita Hill talks about how necessary her bravery was—not that it helped, for Thomas was confirmed (barely)—since it paved the way for real discussion of workplace harassment. Hearing that Thomas’s own wife left a recent phone message for Hill that asked her to apologize for what she did is priceless—and typical. Extras include a 45-minute Hill speech and playwright Eve Ensler’s curated 92nd St Y performance.

The Boondocks—Season 4 (Sony)
The Bridge—Season 1 (Fox)
The FBI—Season 8 (Warner Archive)
Without creator Aaron MacGruder’s scaldingly funny talent, the animated series The Boondocks returns for a fourth season of 10 episodes’ worth of cutting-edge if hit-or-miss humor. The first season of the American The Bridge—which turns an engrossingly original series about Danish and Swedish police solving crimes along their border into a shrill and obvious US-Mexican border investigation—wastes the always watchable Diane Kruger.

For its eighth season (1972-3), The FBI again shows Efram Zimbalist and cohorts solving all manner of crimes, with and against guest stars ranging from then up-and-coming TV faces as David Soul, Mariette Hartley and Robert Urich to veterans like Dean Stockwell and William Windom. Boondocks extras are two featurettes; Bridge extras are featurettes, interviews, deleted scenes and a commentary.

Freedom Summer—American Experience 
Stanley Nelson’s absorbing two-hour chronicle of one of American history’s most volatile years (1964) recounts the important civil rights activism by both outsiders and locals in Mississippi to fight back against, and finally help eradicate, the great wall of segregation and white supremacy. They had to suffer violent intimidation from bombings to church burnings to outright murder, but the faces of those being interviewed—proudly defiant, even fifty years later—show that such tactics were no match for such patient and widespread organization.

It Started in Naples 
(Warner Archive)
Clark Gable and Sophia Loren paired together seems a no-brainer, except for the evidence of this forced would-be romantic comedy from 1960, directed with a supreme amount of leadenness by Melville Shavelson. Gable was at the tail end of a legendary career and Loren was at her zenith of sultriness, but even with their international star power and such picturesque Isles of Capri locales, this is a harmless but wasted attempt to squeeze laughs and love out of tired material.

Pandora’s Promise 
(Alive Mind)
The case for nuclear energy—the only clean form of energy in today’s world—is made by director Robert Stone in this one-sided screed that paints anti-nukes as either naïve rockers (there’s footage from 1979’s “No Nukes” concerts) or out-of-touch militants like the shrill Helen Caldicott, trotted out as representative of those against nuclear power. Too bad there’s precious little nuance here: defenders basically say, “Yeah, Chernobyl was bad but…” or “Fukushima was bad but…” or “Three Mile Island was bad but,” which is anything but reassuring to the rest of us. Extras comprise Stone’s interview by Michael Moore, pro-nuke James Hansen and Stephen Tisdale interviews and a Stone commentary.  

Two Lives 
(Sundance Selects)
In this jagged and complex historical puzzle, director Georg Mass dramatizes the true but unheralded cases of youngsters who were the offspring of Scandinavian mothers and Nazi fathers, and the attempts to sweep such embarrassments under the rug in ensuing decades. This story of a family’s bonds fraying when the truth finally comes out is richly and substantively told, with sublime acting from Liv Ullmann, Juliane Kohler and Ken Duken.

CD of the Week
20th Anniversary (UMe)
Although its best albums (Louder Than Love and Badmotorfinger) were behind them, Seattle’s biggest and grungiest foursome made their smash popular breakthrough in 1994 with Superunknown, as singer Chris Cornell’s banshee wails, guitarist Kim Thayil’s nasty and heavy licks and the pummeling rhythm section of bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron coalesced on such classic tunes as “Fell on Black Days,” “The Day I Tried to Live,” “Spoonman” and what has become the group’s signature tune, “Black Hole Sun.”

This two-disc expanded version of the album include the original 15 tracks and a bonus track from the original vinyl release, “She Likes Surprises” on the first disc; and an assortment of demos, rehearsals, B-sides, and alternate mixes on disc two. Some of these tracks have previously been released, but it's nice to have them all collected together. For those who are really into collectibles, there's a super deluxe edition that comprises 4 CDs and a Blu-ray disc.

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