Tuesday, July 22, 2014

July '14 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week

Cesar Chavez 
Diego Luna’s unexceptional biopic about the singular labor leader who, against all odds, gained widespread support for his strike actions against all-powerful corporations would be less than memorable if not for the compelling performance of Michael Pena in the title role. Solid support from Rosario Dawson and America Ferrara lends authenticity to a decent if flattened-out Hollywood version of an inspiring true story. The Blu-ray image looks superb; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Endeavour—Season 2 

In the second season of this entertaining prequel to the popular British series Morse, set in Oxford in the fraught decade of the 1960s, the young detective investigates several cases with the no-nonsense Chief Inspector Thursday (played by the inimitable Roger Allam of The Thick of It). Shaun Evans himself provides the necessary pluck, humor and intelligence in the title role, and these four 90-minute mysteries unravel grippingly. The hi-def transfer is first-rate.

Michael Palin’s Brazil 

Wherein the former Monty Python member continues his successful second career as a world traveler to remote and remarkable destinations, this four-part series follows Palin to what’s been in the news recently as the controversial home of the recent World Cup. But as Palin discovers (and shows), it is so much more, with some of the most wide-ranging cultures on the entire planet, from difficult-to-reach rainforest regions to full-to-bursting population centers Rio and Brasilia, where millions live in cramped quarters. It’s a splendid but thoughtful journey, with spectacular vistas rendered beautifully on Blu-ray.

Open Grave 

Pits filled with dead bodies, survivors suffering from amnesia, a plague that has seemingly killed off much of the world’s population—yes, it’s another apocalyptic thriller, although this one is somewhat cleverer than other recent entries. Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and writers Eddie and Chris Borey keep things moving by keeping shock effects to a minimum, and the result is a watchable entry in this burgeoning genre, especially for those who are fans. On Blu-ray, the movie looks excellent; lone extra: behind-the-scenes featurette.


One of Robert Bresson’s 1950s masterpieces—along with A Man Escaped and Diary of a Country Priest—this 1959 classic leads up to, in Bresson’s usual austere and elliptical style, a young man’s eventual (and surprising) state of grace while working as a low-class criminal. This is yet another of Bresson’s transcendent explorations of humanity, as usual achieved with an eloquent economy of means. The Criterion Collection’s new hi-def transfer is spellbinding, as the film’s B&W images popping off the screen; extras include a commentary, intro, Bresson interview, and 2003 documentary feature The Models of Pickpocket, which profiles Bresson’s actors. 


It would be nice to report that the latest sci-fi film about artificial intelligence is smart, stylish and superlative entertainment, but no: Transcendence is draggy, laughably inert and trite through and through. Although from Kate Mara I don’t expect much, talented performers like Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Paul Bettany are hopelessly lost, and even Rebecca Hall, an actress who never strikes a false note, can’t overcome screenwriter Jack Paglen’s flimsy characters and motivation. Cinematographer turned director Wally Pfister creates gorgeous imagery but can’t make the plot transform itself into coherence. The Blu-ray looks terrific; extras are short featurettes.

DVDs of the Week
The Face of Love 

In this intimately-scaled drama about a widow who falls for a man that’s a dead ringer for her long-deceased husband, Annette Bening’s forceful and subtle performance (one of her best) towers over director-cowriter Arie Posen and cowriter Matthew McDuffie’s Twilight Zone knock-off. The very real chemistry between Bening and an excellent Ed Harris (as husband and new guy) is undermined by desperate melodramatic strategems that lead the movie to a sentimental denouement after spinning its wheels for 90 minutes. Extras include deleted scenes and interviews.

How the West Was Won—Complete 2nd Season 

Although it shares its title with the Oscar-winning, 1962 western epic, this 1977-79 drama series is a pale imitation of its big-screen brethren’s visual grandeur, and a top small-screen cast led by James Arness, Eva Marie Saint, Bruce Boxleitner and Lloyd Bridges can’t compensate. Of the 14 season two episodes housed on six discs, three are 2-1/2 hours long, approaching the length of the original without the Cinerama process that made the movie a true “event.”

Unni Lindell—The Cato Isaksen Mysteries, Sets 1 & 2 
(MHZ International Mystery)

Based on novels by Norwegian author Unni Lindell, these three-DVD sets of feature-length mysteries centers on homicide detective Cato Isakson, whose professionalism and brilliance at solving tough murder cases runs directly counter to his screwed-up home life (he has three kids by two women, for starters). Acted with conviction by Reidar Sorenson (Cato) and a formidable supporting cast, these two-part films—each running about three hours—are first-rate…and binge-worthy (the ultimate compliment nowadays).

Vicious—Season One 

Pairing Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen as aging queens who live together as they endlessly bicker comes off as a retrograde and desperate attempt at a sitcom that, sadly, is only in its first season: meaning there will be more of this. The two legendary actors do what they can with dated (and stupid) material, and their leading lady—the irrepressibly brilliant Frances de la Tour—is even better. But no one can save this. Extras comprise cast and crew interviews.

No comments: