Tuesday, August 12, 2014

August '14 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
The Bankers of God—The Calvi Affair 
The corrupt intertwining of organized crime, the Catholic Church and the Italian financial system are recreated in this 1992 film, directed with flair if little subtlety by Giuseppe Ferrara, which shows how bank president Roberto Calvi took the fall for a scandal that touched the far reaches of the powerful Vatican Bank and the government itself. Rutger Hauer, Giancarlo Giannini, Omero Antonutti and Pamela Villoresi head a top international cast in a tautly structured drama that, if it isn't exactly illuminating, is edge-of-the-seat exciting. The Blu-ray transfer looks decent; extras include Black Friers Connection featurette.

Breathe In 
(Cohen Media)
For their exploration of a near-taboo coupling—a married 40-ish father and a high school exchange student who attends senior classes with his daughter—director-cowriter Drake Doremus deserves credit for restraint; but since his 95-minute drama isn't interested in chronicling a strictly sexual relationship, some may find its gradual revealing of their intimate relationship slow and unrewarding. Still, despite the lack of sexual fireworks, this is an intriguing character study with a strong cast: Guy Pearce (dad), Felicity Jones (student), Mackenzie Davis (daughter) and especially Amy Ryan (mom) provide credible character arcs throughout. The hi-def transfer is immaculate; extras are a making-of and director interview.

In this seemingly endless 140-minute adaptation of yet another post-apocalyptic series of novels with a young heroine (following The Hunger Games and Twilight), Shailene Woodley proves herself an onscreen force to be reckoned with, nearly overcoming this shaky compendium of sci-fi cliches, warmed-over plotlines and non-existent characterizations to  create someone we care about having around. Fans of the books probably won't be as finicky, but for those who haven't read the novels (three more films are on the way: consider this a warning), having Woodley at its center is enough to keep one watching. The Blu-ray transfer is first-rate; extras are commentaries, deleted scenes, music video and  featurettes.

The Railway Man 
(Anchor Bay/Weinstein Co)
In this crushing true story, the understatedly excellent Colin Firth plays Eric Lomax, former British soldier and POW in a Japanese camp, who confronts his nemesis, Takashi Nagase, decades later to bring closure to his awful experience: or is it just long-awaited vengeance? Although director Jonathan Teplitzky plays it close to superficial by bouncing back and forth between the prisoner of war scenes and his life afterwards, he gets uniformly fine performances by Firth and Nicole Kidman as his wife, Jeremy Irvine as his younger self and Tanroh Ishida and Hiroyuki Sanada as Takashi Nagase then and now. The Blu-ray image is splendid; extras are director-writer commentary and a making-of featurette. 

12 O'Clock Boys 
Lofty Nathan's skillfully wrought documentary follows a group of marauding young men who prowl the streets of Baltimore on their dirt bikes, always eluding their police pursuers: their recklessness is seen as exhilarating if a bit disturbing. There are moments when the otherwise gritty film seems at times to be overly sentimentalized, especially when it concentrates on Pug, a teen who desperately wants to join the group's ranks. The Blu-ray transfer looks good; extras include Nathan's commentary, outtakes and music video. 

We Won't Grow Old Together 
(Kino Lorber)
Maurice Pialat's trenchant 1972 exploration of a difficult on-again, off-again affair between a married filmmaker and his younger mistress is impossible to ignore, even if it's slow-going and heavyhanded at times. Although it comes uncomfortably close to parody—and Pialat, unlike Albert Brooks in his even better Modern Romance, plays it straight—its lacerating truths, thanks to leads Jean Yanne and especially Marlene Jobert, make this a must-see, its dramatic bumpiness echoing Pialat's later, nakedly emotional A nos Amours, Under the Sun of Satan and his grievously underrated final film, Le Garcu. The grainy hi-def transfer makes this look like a home movie, to its credit; extras include a Jobert interview and a video appreciation.

DVDs of the Week
Beyond Westworld
Wizards and Warriors 
(Warner Archive)
These TV series—each lasting only one season—were either ahead of their time or hopelessly behind the times, starting with 1980's Beyond Westworld, a needless knockoff-cum-sequel to the entertaining sci-fi movies Westworld and Futureworld; that the show only lasted five episodes speaks volumes about its worth. 1983's Wizards and Warriors, a kind of Dungeons and Dragons fantasy spoof, mixes humor and adventure with occasional hits but more often misses, even if its winking slyness anticipates things like The Princess Bride. 

The Blacklist 
The Eagle 
(MHz International Mystery)
If it wasn't for James Spader's weird (but effective) overacting, The Blacklist wouldn't have been discussed more than any other new show on network television, since the characters and the mainly risible plots haven't exactly been memorable, let alone remotely plausible: the season's 22 episodes build up to a finale that is strangely uninvolving. The same goes for The Eagle, a sluggish Swedish crime drama, in which our detective hero and his partners follow up on many sordid crimes, and even if the plotting is somehwat less haphazard than in similar shows in the U.S., from what I've seen this is among the lesser of MHZ's international mysteries.

Rubenstein Remembered 
(Sony Classical)
Sylvie Guillem—On the Edge 
(Deutsche Grammophon)
Rubenstein Remembered, a 1987 documentary portrait of the great Polish pianist (who died in 1982 at age 95), is narrated by his son John, who gives this study the right amount of warmth; of course, Rubstenstein's own playing—notably the music of Chopin, his Polish master—is the main draw. On the Edge examines the artistry of the extraordinary French dancer Sylvie Guillem, always unafraid to tackle music and movement outside her comfort zone, as collaborations with Robert Lapage and Akram Khan show. Guillem is seen as dedicated, relentlessly driven but untortured; Edge extras comprise rehearsal and stage footage.

The Trip to Bountiful 
Cicely Tyson's towering Tony-winning portrayal of octogenarian Carrie Watts, who longs to return to her birthplace before she dies, is preserved in this evocative TV movie based on Horton Foote's gently-observed play. Tyson doesn't chew the scenery, instead gving a restrained star turn that touches and moves with its generosity and sincerity; she's given first-rate support by Blair Underwood, Keke Palmer and the always underrated Vanessa Williams. Michael Wilson's sympathetic direction is as unobtrusively spot-on as it was on Broadway.

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