Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September '14 Digital Week V

Blu-rays of the Week
Come Morning 
When a grandfather takes his grandson hunting in the nearby woods, the 10-year-old accidentally shoots a neighbor who's part of a clan with whom this family has feuded, setting in motion an unlikely but inevitable chain of tragic events. Although it has a shopworn plot with predictable twists, this low-budget thriller by writer-director Derrick Sims (who also edited and photographed) is a potent piece of tense realism, with authentic performances by Michael Ray Davis as the old man and Thor Wahlestedt as the young boy. The movie's graininess looks fine on Blu-ray; extras include a commentary, featurette and deleted scenes.

Doctor Who—Deep Breath 
In his first go-round as the venerable Doctor Who, the great British actor Peter Capaldi materializes, along with his faithful assistant (the very fetching Jenna Coleman), in Victorian London, as a rampaging dinosaur terrorizes the city. Although Capaldi seems a bit out of his element in this debut episode, his character's behavior is explained away cleverly, and future episodes do find him gaining his footing: and here's hoping that he will also gain the mass audience he finally deserves. The Blu-ray looks superb; extras include featurettes and a prequel scene only shown in theaters.

Ghost in the Shell—25th Anniversary 
(Anchor Bay)
Anime master Mamoru Oshii made this arresting sci-fi study that brilliantly blends traditional and computerized animation techniques in 1995: so why is this being called the 25th anniversary edition? (Actually, the original manga, or comic book, was published in 1989.) Quibbling aside, this is a remarkable film, both visually and thematically, that's remindful of Blade Runner and Fantastic Planet, but without aping either of those films' equally unique stylishness. The hi-def transfer is first-rate, but there are, strangely, no extras.

Rose Byrne, the talented and delightful Australian actress has had the misfortune to star in two of my recent comic betes noire: the execrable Bridesmaids and this laughless look at a young couple whose homey suburban existence is uprooted when an entire frat house moves in next door. This is a horribly misguided comedy from the get-to, especially when the game Byrne must interact with the awfully one-note Seth Rogen, whose movie stardom simply escapes me. Director Nicholas Stoller and writers Brendan O'Brien and Andrew Jay Cohen throw anything into the mix, and the result is sophomoric and infantile. The Blu-ray image looks good; extras include an alternate opening, deleted scenes, gag reel and featurettes.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—40th Anniversary 
(Dark Sky)
Tobe Hooper's 1974 low-budget shocker—made when the world was to going to hell in a handbasket (Vietnam, Nixon, Watergate, for starters)—is anything but artful, but it has much less gore than you thought it had, and its tidy 83 minutes strip away anything extraneous, which keeps the shocks coming right until the end. The 40th anniversary edition includes an excellent new film transfer (which has audio and video glitches that novices won't notice but real fans will) and four commentaries, along with an extra disc containing full-length documentaries about the film, deleted scenes and casting calls.

We Are the Best! 
This gently satiric portrait of pre-teen girls in early '80s Stockholm rebelling against parents, teachers and fellow students by putting together an awful punk band mines familiar territory for Swedish director Lukas Moodysson: the troubles of the family unit, best shown in his earlier, and superior, Together and Show Me Love. His gimmick of the girls playing the absolutely worst songs ever makes this perversely charming and heartfelt, and he gets wonderfully natural portrayals from the three girls. Maybe Moodysson will take the laurels he's received for this minor but charming film and probe more deeply in his next film. The hi-def transfer looks great.

DVDs of the Week
(Virgil Films)
A Rochester family is marked by malaise after an unexplained tragedy that happened just before the current wintry year of 2002, epitomized by the matriarch keeping herself busy watching VHS tapes of her absent daughter, in this earnest but plodding drama, directed with little distinction by Pieter Gaspersz from a soggy script by Sabrina Gennarino (who plays another daughter). Despite a strong performance by the always welcome Kathleen Quinlan as the mother, the movie allows its "secret" to loom so large that the when it's finally revealed, it's a dramatic and psychological letdown.

Bill Morrison—Collected Works 1996 to 2013 
This four-DVD, one-Blu-ray set brings together 16 features and shorts by a singular filmmaker who cannily marries found and archival film footage with contemporary musical scores to create dream-like, often surreal cinematic experiences: these include his provocative 2011 masterpiece about coal mining, The Miners’ Hymns; and last year's The Great Flood, which blends vintage film jazz guitarist Bill Frisell's music to provide stark beauty amid the 1927 floods inundating the Mississippi delta. Also included are Morrison's formally rigorous 2002 feature Decasia (the only one appearing on a Blu-ray disc), 2010's Spark of Being, a demented updating of Frankenstein, and short films like The Film of Her, with music by Polish modernist Henryk Gorecki. 

The Lusty Men 
(Warner Archive)
In Nicholas Ray's offbeat 1952 western, a former rodeo rider (Robert Mitchum) befriends a desperate husband (Arthur Kennedy) and convinces him to start bucking broncos; meanwhile, the man's wife (a sultry Susan Hayward) finds herself both disgusted by and secretly attracted to the broken-down rodeo man. Amidst the exciting archival rodeo footage is a smartly observed character study, with Ray's incisive direction and top-notch portrayals by all three stars giving this a gravitas it probably doesn't deserve. Although restored and looking better than it ever has, this definitely should have been released on Blu-ray.

Motown 25—Yesterday Today Forever 
This 1983 TV special became legendary the moment Michael Jackson, during "Billie Jean," moonwalked for the first time, sending the music world into a frenzy; but, as this set shows, there were also memorable performances like Marvin Gaye's impassioned "What's Going On," Stevie Wonder's exuberant medley of hits from "Signed Sealed Delivered" to "Sir Duke" and Diana Ross and the Supremes' grand finale, which begins with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." The two-hour show (hosted by a mostly subdued Richard Pryor) is housed on the first disc with a behind-the-scenes featurette; disc two hosts rehearsal footage of Gaye, who's also remembered by music-biz people; and disc three comprises additional interviews and featurettes.

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