Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October '14 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
Deep Purple with Orchestra—Live in Verona 
(Eagle Rock)
For the British hard rockers' 2011 outdoor concert at a gorgeous ancient Roman amphitheater in Verona, Italy, the group—comprising original members Ian Paice (drums), Ian Gillan (vocals) and Roger Glover (bass), with guitarist Steve Morse and keyboardist Don Airey—is abetted by the Neue Philharmonie Frankfurt orchestra, led by conductor Stephen Bentley-Klein, which brings a welcome and heavy richness to such Purple tunes as the opening "Highway Star" and "Woman from Tokyo." But the undoubted audience favorites are all-time classics "Perfect Strangers," "Hush" and, of course, "Smoke on the Water." The band is in fine form, and even if Gillan can't hit all the notes, there's still a strength to his singing. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great. Bonuses are encore tracks (why not just have the full concert uninterrupted?).

The Following—Complete 2nd Season 
A year after closing the gruesome case of serial killer Joe Carroll, ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy finds himself once again ensnared in a bizarre and murderous cult of Carroll followers—and could the serial killer himself still be alive? Throughout its 15 high-wire-drama episodes, this dramatic series ratches up the psychological tension, although the implausibilities in plot and characterizations keep this from being better; the cast, by an appropriately stern-faced Kevin Bacon as Hardy, does the best it can. The Blu-ray transfer is first-rate; extras comprise deleted scenes, featurettes and an alternate ending to the season finale.

(Anchor Bay)
South Korean director Bong Joon Ho's first English language film is a stylishly empty post-apocalyptic dystopia about a future Ice Age where a speeding train holds humanity's survivors, and where a class war is brewing between the haves and have-nots on board. There's not much tautness or excitement in this two-hour adventure, and the direction often allows the pace to slacken, which doesn't help. Also unhelpful are performances that are either wooden (Chris Evans' hero) or hopelessly overwrought (Ed Harris, John Hurt, Alison Pill, a mercilessly mugging Tilda Swinton). On Blu-ray, the movie looks appropriately icy; extras comprise a critics' roundtable commentary, with a second disc of featurettes and interviews.

(Anchor Bay)
Shep Gordon, the title mensch, took Alice Cooper's career into the stratosphere in the early '70s, then went on to manage stars as diverse as Teddy Pendergrass, Ann Murray and Emeril Lagasse. For director (and good friend) Mike Myers, Shep is one of the friendliest, most honorable people in the world, as multi-millionaires go: his admittedly varied and interesting life encompasses the pop music scene of the '70s and '80s, and tidbits like how he got a wheelchair-bound Pendergrass to perform at Live Aid are the juiciest kind of morsels. The hi-def image looks good; no extras.

Tasting Menu 
This lightweight but amiable lark spends 85 minutes in a Catalan restaurant on the night it's shuttering its doors, and the special diners comprise VIPs and ordinary people who get entangled—in an out-of-left-field twist—in an attempt to rescue survivors of a sunken boat that containing the restaurant's musicians and dessert! Director/co-writer Roger Gual and writer Javier Calvo cleverly intertwine the various characters, and the actors from Stephen Rea and Fonanula Flannagan to Claudia Bassols and Marta Torne give it all, making this delicious if ultimately not very filling. The Blu-ray image looks superb; no extras.

DVDs of the Week
Corpus Christi 
(Breaking Glass)
Terrance McNally's play Corpus Christi—about a gay Jesus and apostles—premiered in New York in 1998 with metal detectors and a police presence, so to say it's controversial is an understatement. Nick Arnzen and James Brandon's effective documentary shows how a recent production of the play affects its cast, director, creator and protesters (who of course haven't seen it), giving it life beyond the stage. The play itself is honest and heartfelt, as are the people who discuss its importance in their lives. Extras comprise scenes from the play, deleted scenes and additional interviews.

For a Woman 
(Film Movement)
Diane Kurys—who hasn't been represented stateside since 1999's Children of the Century—wrote and directed this engrossing story of two sisters who find, after their mother's death, what she, their father and his brother did as Russian Jews in Paris during the volatile post-WWII era. Kurys finds a fresh way to tell a familiar story, and her actors, led by Benoit Magimel, Micholas Duvauchelle and Melaine Thierry as a dangerous love triangle, give trenchant performances. A bit of soap opera prevents it being truly first-rate, but it's heartening to see that Kurys still makes interesting and mature films after nearly 40 years. Lone extra is a short French film.

The Last Sentence
(Music Box)
Swedish director Jan Troell—whose most recent masterpiece was Everlasting Moments—usually makes films about real people with a love and understanding of the complications in even the most ordinary of lives. His protagonist in his new film is Torgny Segerstedt, a Swedish journalist who was unafraid to mock Hitler and the Nazis, which placed his reputation and his country's neutrality in jeopardy. Troell films it with his customary intelligence and probing camera (shot in evocative B&W); too bad his cast (which features well-known actors like Pernilla August) isn't quite up to the task. Still, it's a serious, sober film whose message resonantes across the decades. The lone extra is an extraordinary making-of documentary, the 44-minute A Close Scrutiny, by Troell's daughter, actress Yohanna Troell.

Nuclear Nation 
Uranium Drive-In 
Wagner's Jews 
(First Run)
Atsushi Funahashi's Nuclear Nation devastatingly recounts the aftermath of the tsunami which crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, and how it not only displaced an entire town—Futaba, where the plant is located—but destroyed the psyche of its people. Suzan Beraza's Uranium Drive-In unblinkingly looks at how the promise of a new mining plant in a depressed part of Colorado is a boon for some desperate people and a bane for others. Finally, Hilan Warshaw's Wagner's Jews delves into the anti-Semitic ravings of the great German composer, who literally used many Jewish artists to keep his music front and center even as he belittled their race. Most thought-provoking are the comments by several scholars who discuss whether Wagner should be performed in Israel. Extras include interviews and deleted scenes.

Martin Provost, who made a compelling biopic about French painter Seraphine Louis a few years ago, returns with another provocative, encompassing biography: this time of French writer Violette Le Duc, an unsung member of the mid-20th century literary set that included Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Genet. Le Duc's violent life and art are brought to vivid life by Provost and his superb actresses: Emmanuelle Devos as Violette and Sandrine Kilberlein as Simone give the kind of effortless but intensely focused portrayals that uncover psychological truths about both of these fascinating women. 

No comments: