Tuesday, July 15, 2014

July '14 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
The Gathering Swarms—Nature (PBS)
Hidden Kingdoms 
(BBC Earth)
Two television documentaries provide astounding views of the natural world, starting with Swarms, which dazzlingly chronicles the large (in many cases, extremely large) gatherings of many of the world’s creatures, from monarch butterflies to cicadas to mayflies to zebras and wildebeests. BBC’s Kingdoms, narrated by the ubiquitous Stephen Fry, comprises three fascinating episodes—Under Open Skies, Secret Forests, Urban Jungles—whose amazing camerawork brings viewers up close and personal with many small creatures like rodents who fend off larger (in many cases, extremely larger) predators. The Blu-ray images are splendidly realized on both discs; Kingdoms extras include an introduction, a making-of featurette for each episode and interviews.

Jodorowsky’s Dune 
(Sony Pictures Classics)
Misguided visionary director Alejandro Jodorowsky never was able to adapt Frank Herbert’s unfilmable sci-fi blockbuster novel Dune in the mid-70s, and Frank Pavich’s 90-minute documentary explains what went wrong. As a short feature this might have passed muster, but weighed down by interviews with sycophantic reviewers and anecdotes of Jodorowsky meeting Dali or Mick Jagger, it’s padded beyond its slender interest—except for El Topo fans, of course. The Blu-ray image looks good; extras are over 45 minutes of deleted scenes.

Orphan Black—Complete 2nd Season 
If it’s possible, Tatiana Maslany gives new meaning to the term tour de force with her brilliantly realized performances as clones in this fever dream of a drama that wisely keeps her front and center while it travels an increasingly uninvolving road. But even if the plots are filled with holes you could drive an 18-wheeler through, it’s impossible to take your eyes off Maslany as she shows her stunning ability to make her clones individuals, which is much tougher than it seems at first. The Blu-ray transfer looks stellar; extras include deleted scenes and behind the scenes featurettes.

Under the Skin 
Jonathan Glazer’s latest faux-Kubrick feature is a disjointed and tedious sci-fi flick about an alien who takes over a young woman’s body and lures sex-obsessed men to their demise. Not erotic in the least, this unremarkable ET story has offbeat visuals and much nudity, but Scarlett Johansson’s zombie-like presence makes for a less than credible outer-space sex bomb. The hi-def transfer is superb; extras comprise making-of featurettes.

(e one)
In their latest extraordinary visual essay, Manufactured Landscapes directors Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky train their hi-def cameras on regions of our planet with and without water—and those people who are dependent on this vastly depleted resource. Ranging from China (where a new dam dwarfs our Hoover Dam) to Las Vegas (home of the Bellagio fountains) and Mexico (where the Colorado River basin has dried up), the film has crammed with striking imagery that displays the power of water—physically and even spiritually, On Blu-ray, the film looks spectacular; extras include a Baichwal and Burtynsky interview, making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

DVDs of the Week
Like Father Like Son 
(Sundance Selects)
Director Kore-eda Hirokazu has made an affecting, gently observed drama about two couples who, after discovering their sons were switched at birth six years earlier, must try and bond with their “new” sons while letting go of the ones they loved and raised. Although slightly overlong and flirting with sentimentality and melodrama, this touching and tender movie has the ring of truth thanks to emotionally authentic portrayals by the entire cast, from the parents to the boys.  

Spiral—Series 4 
(MHz International Mystery)
In what has become the most addictive drama I’m currently watching—with apologies to Orange Is the New Black and Masters of Sex—the fourth season of this fast-paced and riveting French police thriller again puts its complicated cops, magistrates, lawyers and criminals through their paces, with no let-up for 12 episodes. The excellent cast is led by Caroline Proust’s sympathetic detective, Philippe Duclos’s calculating magistrate and Audrey Fleurot’s ambitious, ambulance-chasing young lawyer; if you haven’t discovered it yet, find it and binge-watch all four seasons.

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