Tuesday, August 5, 2014

August '14 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
Cuban Fury 
(e one)
Whenever Nick Frost's name is attached as writer and/or actor—Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, Paul—it's always a one-joke movie that provides middling returns as it goes along, as witness this mild comedy with Frost as a former Cuban-dance loving teen who has just disowned it but now, seeing that his adorable boss does it, finds himself drawn back in to its (and her) spell. While Frost himself is on auto-pilot, Rashida Jones is as adorably sexy as advertised, and the hilarious Ian McShane needs far more screen time than he receives. The hi-def transfer is solid; extras are behind the scenes featurettes.

Los Angeles Kings—2014 Stanley Cup Champions 
Winning its second Stanley Cup in three years, the Los Angeles Kings might be on their way to becoming that rarest of sports birds: a dynasty. We shall see, but this season's championship  march—winning four straight against San Jose in the first round, fending off Anaheim and Chciago to survive the Western Conference, and bouncing the overmatched New York Rangers in a five-game final—was very impressive. This 2-1/2 hour film highlights all four playoff series, along with the regular season's best moments and interviews with players and coaches; if you're a Kings fan, this is obviously a no-brainer to pick up. The Blu-ray image is sharp; extras include championship parade, top 10 moments, behind the scenes, more celebration footage.
On My Way 
(Cohen Media)
Poor Catherine Deneuve: when she should be aging gracefully onscreen in movies worthy of her talent and legendary status, instead she gets stuck in movies like Emmanuelle Bercot's trite character study of a lonely grandmother whose unexpected road trip finds her meeting all manner of eccentric people, few of whom are made at all plausible. The only relationship that doesn't come off as shallow is the one with her young grandson, but not enough of it is shown to balance out the silliness of all the rest. The Blu-ray image is first-rate; extras include Deneuve interview and deleted scenes.

The Other Woman 
As she has shown before, Cameron Diaz can be a terrific comedienne when a decently funny script appears, but Bad Teacher this is not: instead, this foolish attempt at a revenge comedy about a wife and two mistresses who bring down a cheating hubby claims several casualties, starting with the viewer. Leslie Mann is as obnoxious and annoying as ever, while Kate Upton is perfect eye candy, but neither her curvacousness nor Diaz's comic smarts can save Nick Cassavettes'  deadly non-comedy  The movie looks good on Blu-ray; extras include a gag reel and deleted scenes.

Ping Pong Summer 
For the few people interested, writer-director Michael Tully's amusingly slight comic tale is an unerring recreation of 1985, with the bad pop songs in place along with the teased hair and awful fashion sense; or the rest, any movie hinging on a climactic ping pong match between teenage antagonists (virginal hero and "cool" enemy) is never too far from monumental irrelevence. Still, an appealing cast led by Marcello Conte (virgin) and Emmi Shockley (his—he hopes—girl) smooths over the craters present in the script. The hi-def transfer looks decent; extras include a commentary and a making-of.

(Deutsche Grammophon)
Three decades ago, tenor Luciano Pavarotti was not only the most popular opera singer in the world but also was at the very top of his game, his ringingly clear and powerful voice shooting through the emotional score of Verdi's tragic opera about a hunchbacked jester whose loving daughter falls in love with his employer, the Duke of Mantua (Pavarotti). This 1983 film, shot on actual Italian locations, also stars Ingvar Wixell as Rigoleto and Edita Gruberova as his daughter Gilda; they sound great but Pavarotti sounds otherworldly. Riccardo Chailly ably conducts the stupendous-sounding Vienna Philharmonic and Chorus; the film's image isn't the sharpest, but the DTS sound is crisp and clear.

DVDs of the Week
(Deutsche Grammophon)
Leonard Bernstein's operetta—based on Voltaire's classic story—contains some of his most beguiling music, especially the finale "Make Our Garden Grow," and this 1989 concert recording with Bernstein himself on the podium (performed less than a year before his death) shows how effervescent his music could be when not being weighed down by pretentiousness. The superior cast includes June Anderson's Conegunde, Jerry Hadley's Candide and Adolph Green's Pangloss, and Bernstein's orchestra performs wonderfully. There are no extras, unless you count Bernstein's little podium lecture before the show starts.

Finding Vivian Maier 
In this remarkable artistic—and humane—exhumation, co-director John Maloof recounts how he "discovered" Vivian Maier, a nanny who snapped pictures for decades and is now posthumously being given her due by photographic experts. Maloof and Charlie Siskel piece together Maier's life and art by going through her (literal) trash to tracking down and talking to people who knew her, employed her or were her charges (even Phil Donahoe, for whom she briefly worked in the early '70s). This compelling study shows that you can't judge a book by its cover, or a reclusive nanny merely by her photographs. Extras comprise Maier audio recordings and Super 8 film footage.

Dream Deceivers
Modern Life 
(First Run)
David Van Taylor's 1991 documentary Dream Deceivers incisively looks at the 1990 trial pitting heavy metal's Judas Priest against two families who blamed the band's songs for leading their sons to attempt suicide, one of whom succeeded; despite the sadness of seeing the survivor with his face half shot off (he died before the trial began), it's difficult to sympathize—after all, millions of people listen to Priest's music without putting guns to their heads. At least the judge got it right. Raymond Depardon's engrossing documentary Modern Life chronicles the lives of several families on rural French farms; the ravishing countryside and elegant Gabriel Faure soundtrack music are obvious visual and aural highlights, but Depardon's expressive portraits present these people in their own milieu, refreshingly with no condescension. Dream extras are director interviews.

Nicolas Le Floch 
(MHz International Mystery)
I was looking forward to this costumed mystery series, but despite its being set in 1761—during the reign of Louis XV—this flashy-looking detective drama is pretty much a dramatic dud. Police commissioner Le Floch himself (Jerome Robart) doesn't make much of an impression, and despite the attractive period trappings, the storylines themselves (ranging from disappearances to scandals to suspicious killings) remain disappointingly tame and, after awhile, even more disappointingly similar.

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