Tuesday, September 9, 2014

September '14 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
Any Given Sunday 
This 1999 football epic is another typically overwrought Oliver Stone film, providing equal parts mesmerizing gridiron action and preposterous melodrama, while also showcasing the usual overacting by Al Pacino and James Woods, and the usual underwhelming presence of Cameron Diaz, LL Cool J and Jamie Foxx. The NFL cameos are legion: Dick Butkus, Johnny Unitas, Warren Moon, Emmitt Smith, Terrell Owens and even coach Barry Switzer apear. Stone's preferred 157-minute "directors' cut" is on the Blu-ray, while the original cut—six minutes longer—is only on an accompanying DVD. The hi-def image looks stunning; extras include commentaries by Stone and Foxx; deleted/extended scenes; music videos; outtakes; features, both old and new.

Night Moves 
Kelly Reichardt's exploration of a trio of radical environmentalists who decide to destroy a dam as the ultimate protest takes an unexpected turn when an innocent person dies in the explosion and the three must deal with the mortal (and moral) consequences. Fine performances by Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning form the dramatic center, while Reichardt's low-key approach to the Hitchcockian thriller pays dividends that makes this her most successful movie since her debut, Old Joy. The movie looks excellent on Blu-ray.

Supernatural—Complete 9th Season 
Vampire Diaries—Complete 5th Season 
These two popular series on the CW network receive their latest Blu-ray releases. In the most recent, 23-episode season of Supernatural—whose latest season begins this fall—Sam and Dean Winchester find themselves battling a plethora of powerful and unearthly beings, while the fifth, 22-episode season of Vampire Diaries—whose sixth season also returns soon—finds the human body count piling up on campus after Elena (the toothsome Nina Dobrev) begins school. Both dramas look sensational in high definition; Supernatural extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel, a 2013 Comic-Con panel and several commentaries, while Vampire extras include featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

They Came Together 
Director/co-writer David Wain and co-writer Michael Showalter have concocted a sophomoric parody of rom-coms, beginning with its unfunny double entendre title. Some might defend this trite, desperate gag-o-rama by saying "but it's supposed to be inane—that's the point"; but the pair's endless succession of old, stale gags and one-liners is fully bad enough to be rejected by Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and even the Zucker brothers. Paul Rudd has an effortlessness that almost redeems some of the sorry material, while Amy Poehler's in-your-face attitude fits the movie to a T. The hi-def images look good; extras include Wain/Showalter commentary, featurette, deleted scenes, table reading.

Words and Pictures 
In this perfectly serviceable rom-com, Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche bring needed star quality to a sappy love story by Gerald Dipego, whose script (and its title) makes so explicit the literal differences between their characters—he's an English teacher/poet, she's an art teacher/painter—that it mitigates the low-key pleasures the movie does afford, despite hackneyed subplots that add 20 minutes to a movie that should be no longer than an hour and a half. Director Fred Schepisi once again shows his stylish professionalism, but it would be nice if he got hold of a meaty script again: alas, the days of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, A Cry in the Dark and even Last Orders are gone. The sharp Blu-ray image shows off Ian Baker's sumptuously burnished photography; extras comprise a Schepisi commentary and making-of featurette.  

DVDs of the Week
Cesare Mori
Donna Detective 
The compelling true story Cesare Mori follows a detective who, against all odds, went up against the Sicilian Mafia after World War I and cleaned up a lot more than what one would have thought possible; Vincent Perez is particularly appealing in the lead role of the fearless "iron prefect" who used the same harsh methods of the Cosa Nostra to apprehend their leaders. Lucrezia Lante della Rovere's portrayal of the title character in Donna Detective—a harried but brilliant female chief inspector who must balance her personal and professional lives unlike any of her male colleagues—makes this Italian Prime Suspect a must-see as she time and again upends the chauvanistic attitudes of those men who are in charge or are under her charge. 

The Galapagos Affair 
In this weirdly fascinating true-life murder mystery, directors Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller lay out with precision and dexterity a who's who of bizarre characters who descended on the Galapagos Islands in the 1930s, where jealousy and possible adultery led to the disappearance of two of their denizens. Affair is both first-rate investigative journalism and a shimmery documentary about the natural wonders of these beautiful but near-desolate islands; revolving narrators include Cate Blanchett, Connie Nielsen, Sebastian Koch and Diane Kruger. Extras include deleted scenes and directors' Telluride Festival Q&A.

Lolly Madonna XXX
Nasty Habits 
(Warner Archive)
Richard C. Sarafian's strident Lolly (1973) charts a deadly feud between two Tennessee families, jumpstarted when an innocent young woman is kidnapped; despite veteran actors like Rod Steiger and Robert Ryan—and young bucks like Jeff Bridges, Randy Quaid and Gary Busey—the movie is blunt to the point of dullness. Likewise, the bumpily satirical Habits (1977), based on Muriel Spark's novel, is an occasionally funny look at political machinations in a nunnery following the Mother Superior's demise; this unsuccessful take-off on Watergate wastes Glenda Jackson, Melina Mercouri, Geraldine Page, Rip Torn, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.

The Midnight Special 
Producer Bert Sugarman's late-night pop-music series, which ran from 1972 to 1981, featured the biggest stars of the time performing their hit songs without lip-synching, and this six-disc set crams some six dozen performers from 21 (out of 450) episodes, representing just the tip of the iceberg of who played on the show over its 8-plus years. Included areJohn Denver (who sang on and hosted the series pilot), the Doobie Brothers, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Peter Frampton, Hall & Oates, Aerosmith and ELO, giving energetic live versions of hits like "Take Me Home Country Roads," "Jesus Is Just Alright," "American Girl," "Show Me the Way," "Sara Smile," "Train Kept A-Rollin" and "Strange Magic." Extras comprise bonus songs, interviews and featurettes.

Matt Wolf's detailed documentary eloquently explores the invention of a generation that we now take for granted: the "birth" of teenagers. Coming to terms with unruly young people has always been difficult for adults, and the chasm that grew following the Industrial Revolution and two world wars is shown by Wolf as the deciding factor in the coming of age of adolescence (and adolescents). Mixing archival footage with dramatic reenactments and narrated diary entries by Jena Malone, Ben Winshaw and others, Teenage is wise beyond its years. Extras comprise Wolf's commentary, making-of featurettes and more archival footage.

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