Tuesday, August 26, 2014

August '14 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week
All That Jazz 
(Criterion Collection)
Bob Fosse's penultimate film, this 1979 autobiographical musical drama might have "borrowed" from Fellini's confessional 8-1/2, but it's still as frank, honest and ugly a self-portrait of the artist as a middle-aged egomaniac as there's ever been. Fosse's agile direction and choreography, Alan Heim's clever editing, Giuseppe Rotunno's sparkling photography and the flawless acting—led by Roy Scheider's remarkable performance as Joe Gideon, i.e., Bob Fosse—make this an indelible feel-bad show-biz confessional. Criterion's hi-def transfer is immaculate; voluminous extras include commentaries, featurettes, and interviews vintage and new (the latter with Ann Reinking and Erzsebet Foldi, who danced an unforgettable duet).

The latest Disneynature adventure takes the measure of America's most fearsome land animal, the Alaskan brown bear, without showing much of its fierceness; still, it's far from a toothless dramatization, despite being turned into a heartwarming tale of a protective mother and her cubs in dangerous climes. Of course, since it's shot on stunning Alaska locations with hi-def cameras, this is a must-watch for lovers of nature and animals—whether lovable or lethal—although the John C. Reilly narration is so cringeworthy one might want to watch on mute. Extras include featurettes and a music video.

Since no one expected anything from a third Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore collaboration (after The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates), on its own small terms, this does what it sets out to do: tell a bunch of sophomoric jokes and provide lame sight gags while getting sentimental about family as single parents Adam and Drew eventually get together. Of course, it's at least 20 minutes too long—Sandler should never be allowed to make a movie over 90 minutes—but Barrymore is game, best demonstrated in the gag reel where she unleashes a (bleeped) potty mouth. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; other extras include deleted scenes and featurettes.

Out of the Past 
(Warner Archive)
This terse, nasty 1949 film noir about a bizarre triangle comprising a private detective, the man who hired him and the man's girlfriend was superbly directed by Jacques Tourneur (it was remade as the execrable Against All Odds in 1984, memorable only for Phil Collins' affecting title song). Tourneur's precise direction and lively performances by Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas cement its reputation as one of its genre's essentials. The Blu-ray transfer is excellent; lone extra is film noir expert James Ursini's commentary.

Queen Margot 
(Cohen Media)
In Patrice Chereau's epically-scaled adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' novel about 16th century France's religious wars, Isabelle Adjani gives one of her greatest performances—a notch below her work in The Story of Adele H. and Camille Claudel—in the title role. Chereau's lush production is further elevated by sublime portrayals by Daniel Auteil, Jean-Hughes Anglade, Pascal Greggory and Vincent Perez, which give this costumer purpose and gravity rarely associated with the genre. The grainy hi-def transfer is true to Chereau's aesthetic; lone extra is Richard Pena's commentary.

The Quiet Ones 
Based on a (supposed) true story, director John Pogue's horror movie about a crazed doctor, his students and the possessed patient whom they try and "cure" is notable for its finale, which provides a fiery wrapup to an otherwise routine entry. Persuasive performances also help, but there's a nagging sense of deja vu to the plot, the characters and the entire movie. The Blu-ray transfer looks good; extras are outtakes, deleted scenes, featurettes and commentary.

DVDs of the Week
Almost Human/Golden Boy 
(Warner Archive)
Revolution—Complete Final Season 
Two short-lived cop dramas didn't survive their infancy, but Warner Archive has brought them back for their fans: the gritty modern-day Golden Boy and futuristic Almost Human (created by J.J. Abrams) have their moments of interest, but not enough to carry any but the most unfinicky viewers through all of the episodes in each series. The second and final season of Revolution continues to explore its post-apocalyptic, post-technology world, which comprises opposing factions: fascist para-military groups and freedom fighters, or bad guys vs. good guys. Almost extras include a Comic-con panel, outtakes and deleted scenes; Revolution extras include featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

Californication—Complete Final Season 
Portlandia—Complete 4th Season 
Californication stumbled out of the starting blocks seven seasons ago, but it finishes strongly, mainly due to David Duchovny's ability to be annoying and charming simultaneously, while his invaluable costar Evan Handler provides sterling support along with Natasha McElhone, Madeleine Martin and Madeline Zima. Portlandia, which Fred Armisten and Carrie Brownstein have somehow stretched into a fourth season, remains scattershot at best, but when they hit on something worth satirizing, like Ecoterrrosts (with Olivia Wilde as the gal who always wants to disrobe for a cause) or Gay Pride parades (with Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme making a silly cameo), the show can be fleetingly amusing.

Frankie and Alice 
Halle Berry's tour de force performance notwithstanding, this true story about a stripper with multiple personalities that include a racist white woman has been turned into a clunky melodrama by the uninspired director Geoffrey Sax. Berry does give a fiercely unhinged and daring portrayal and Stellan Skarsgard is solid as her psychiatrist; but the screenplay was stitched together by six writers, and it shows. The lone extra is a short making-of featurette.

Ghost Bird 
(Matson/Kino Lorber)
Scott Crocker's fascinating documentary examines a little-known subject—the possible reemergence of the extinct Ivory-bill woodpecker, supposedly sighted in Arkansas in 2004—but also casts a wider net, if you will, that touches on not only the faith and hope of some birders but also small town America, academia and the media. Through interviews and a lot of news footage and other footage, Crocker has crafted a succinct and carefully considered account of our ever-changing relationship with the natural world. Extras include several deleted scenes. 

A Promise
Young & Beautiful 
Based on Stefan Zweig's novel, A Promise is handsomely mounted by director Patrice Leconte, while a trio of terrific actors—Alan Rickman, Richard Madden and especially the amazing Rebecca Hall—provide this elegant but stuffy menage a trois with a human center. Francois Ozon's Young & Beautiful, about a teenager turned successful prostitute, may be little more than a high-class French male fantasy (even although Ozon's gay), but it doesn't shirk from its heroine's difficulties, while Marine Vacth's incredible performance matches last year's breakthrough, Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue Is The Warmest Color.

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