Tuesday, August 19, 2014

August '14 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
Aerial America—Southeast Collection 
(Smithsonian Channel)
The latest release in this invaluable travel series comprises journeys through the states of Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi: a swath of the South that contains some of America's most photogenic landscapes and man-made structures. From Florida's orange groves and Alabama's cotton fields to the glittering cities of Charleston, Atlanta and Birmingham and historic Fort Sumter and St. Augustine, it's enthralling to witness so much of this land of ours, once again captured in stunning hi-definition. 

Bitten—Complete 1st Season 
(e one)
In a twist on the "sexy vampire" genre of so many recent movies and TV shows, this drama series has a werewolf protagonist: and not just any werewolf, but a sexy blonde werewolf. As played by bright, perky Laura Vandervoort as the conflicted creature, Elena is not interesting enough, with or without her "pack" of like beings, to summon up much erotic or dramatic tension, despite the actress's charms. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras comprise Vanervoort's commentary, deleted scenes and behind the scenes featurette.

Fading Gigolo 
Writer-director-star John Turturro bungles his latest, unsure of his material: is it a farce about an elderly bookshop owner (Woody Allen) pimping his employee (Turturro) to the likes of Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara (who probably don’t need such a service); is it an unlikely romance between Turturro and a lovely Hassidic widow (Vanessa Paradis), or is it a revenge picture about a Hassidic cop (Live Schreiber) preserving the widow’s honor? The tone is inconsistent throughout; and, aside from Allen’s sterling comic presence, the acting is as variable as the ultimately forgettable film. On Blu-ray, it all pleasantly shimmers; extras are Turturro’s commentary and deleted scenes that include priceless Woody improvs.

Favorites of the Moon 
(Cohen Media)
Neither as biting as Luis Bunuel nor as whimsical as Jacques Tati, Georgian director Otar Iosseliani's 1984 absurdist parable is a slight if occasionally diverting shaggy-dog tale that takes pot shots at a bourgeois that treats art, commerce and romance without much conviction. There's nothing particularly wrong with Iosseliani's brand of absurdism, but it's not nearly as provocative or amusing as its director assumes. The Blu-ray transfer is adequate; lone extra is Philip Lopate's disjointed commentary.

(Cinema Guild)
This hypnotic film is less a straight documentary than a purely visual experience par excellence that simply records the reactions of various passengers on a cable car ride high above Nepal's mountains on their way to an ancient Hindu temple. That directors Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez never vary their visual attack might induce claustrophobia or boredom in some viewers, but their cinematic high-wire act is exhilarating to watch. The movie looks spectacular on Blu-ray; extras are directors' commentary and three additional cable car rides.

DVDs of the Week
Bicycling with Moliere 
Sometimes there's great pleasure to be had by simply watching performers practice their craft with elegance, as in this blissful comic drama about two actors rehearsing Moliere's The Misanthrope: Lambert Wilson and Fabrice Luchini (co-writer with director Philippe DeGuay) give a master acting class, both as the narcissistic performers they play and the characters in Moliere's classic verse comedy. Although the subplot about a divorcing Italian neighbor (an enchanting Maya Sansa) is not entirely necessary, the trio is so good together onscreen that it's fun to follow their melodramatic menage a trois through its predictable twists and turns.

Last Tango in Halifax—Complete Season 2 
For the second season of this drolly sentimental study of old lovers who find each other anew a half-century later, Alan and Celia (Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid) discover that, after getting married in secrecy, they must deal with many hurt feelings and others' problems—alongside their own, of course. Jacobi and Reid make a wonderfully beguiling couple, while a terrific supporting cast helps make this serious but still funny series a worthwhile diversion.

My Boy Jack 
This powerful true story about how Rudyard Kipling's teenage son's joining the British army during World War I affected the famous author, his American wife Caroline and loving daughter Elsie is brought to vivid life by director Brian Kirk and writer-actor David Haig in this 2007 television film. Amid the precise period details is a quartet of fine performances that make this feel-bad drama strongly hit home: Haig's Kipling, Kim Cattrall's Caroline, Carey Mulligan's Elsie and Daniel Radcliffe's Jack. Extras include Haig, Radcliffe and Cattrall interviews, deleted scenes and 50-minute program The Pity of War.

Only Lovers Left Alive 
Jim Jarmusch's foray into the vampire genre is undeniably stylish, with lush visuals underlining his story of a most romantic undead couple searching for a blood supply that's quickly drying up, putting their immortality in jeopardy; Jarmusch's film falls apart since the stylishness can't cover up the mediocrity of the script, the ludicrousness of the premise, or the mere posing of his actors. Tom Hiddleston and the ubiquitous (and obvious) Tilda Swinton just wander through the film, making it a nice-looking but deathly dull tour of vampirism, similar to a fashion magazine layout. Extras include a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

Summer in February 
This real-life romantic tragedy encompasses a love triangle among painter Alfred "A.J." Munnings, his best friend Gibson Evans and the woman both loved, Florence Carter-Wood. While its trajectory toward the final, fatal event is telegraphed from the start, it has excellent portrayals by Dominic Cooper (A.J.), Dan Stevens (Gibson) and especially Emily Browning (Florence). Decently directed and written by Christopher Menaul, this weepy romance earns its tears mainly due to the fact that it's true. Lone extra is a Stevens interview.

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