Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October '14 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
Are You Here 
Populating his film with the irritating but oh so clever denziens of most of today's movies, writer-director Matthew Weiner (creator of Mad Men) has made an occasionally well-observed comic portrait of American self-absorption. Though the tone is consistently inconsistent, Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler and Zack Galifianakis are each less annoying than usual, while Laura Ramsey steals the film with sexy and funny performance. The Blu-ray image looks first-rate; lone extra is director's commentary.

Cold in July 
What begins as a typical crime drama—after innocent homeowner Richard shoots an intruder, his family is terrorized by the dead man's raging dad Ben—morphs into an engrossing thriller as Richard and Ben team with renegade cop Jim Bob and get involved in the mother of all criminal messes. Director-writer Jim Mickle and co-writer Nick Damici's complex study of twisted relationships among men with little in common has its share of clunky moments, but strong acting by Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson and Vinessa Shaw more than compensates. The movie looks fine on Blu-ray; extras comprise commentaries, previsualization tests, deleted scenes and previsualization tests with optional commentaries.

From Dusk Til Dawn—Season One 
(e one/El Rey)
Based on the mindless but fun 1996 vampire movie by director Robert Rodriguez and writer-star Quentin Tarantino, the TV series stretches out the movie plot through 10 one-hour episodes, which unfortunately stretches the drama and amusement much too thin. Still, there's much to enjoy, especially when a true find like Eiza Gonzalez, who plays Santanico Pandemonium, the stripper/vampire whom Salma Hayek played originally, is onscreen. The hi-def image looks perfect; extras include commentaries, featurettes and premiere Q&A.

(Cohen Media)
Claude Chabrol's delicious 2000 thriller sets up its convoluted but logical storyline—involving possible swapped babies at birth and a quietly fanatical stepmother with a penchant for poison—slowly, as in his masterly 1996 La Ceremonie, building inexorably to a final spasm of violence: offscreen this time but equally potent. Superbly enacted by Isabelle Huppert, Anna Mouglalis, Jacques Dutronc and Rodolphe Pauly and directed by an effortless master, Nightcap (whose original title, Merci pour le chocolate, is far better) is dryly diverting entertainment. The movie has an excellent hi-def transfer; the lone extra is a commentary.

Roger & Me 
Michael Moore's first documentary, made in 1989, introduced a unique cinematic voice who became (and still stands as) a populist call for fairness, especially in one of the first films to so memorably capture the "have vs. have-not" divide that has only worsened in the quarter-century since its release. The Blu-ray image is decent, but this isn't a visual film by any means; the lone extra is Moore's occasionally insightful commentary. But where is Moore's terrific follow-up short, 1992's Pets or Meat, which succinctly revisits the original's themes? 

Songs from Tsongas—Yes 35th Anniversary 
(Eagle Rock)
This 2004 concert showcases the legendary progressive rockers' most famous lineup (Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Alan White and Rick Wakeman), comprising 2-1/2 hours of splendid music-making, including multi-part classics "South Side of the Sky," "I've Seen All Good People," "Yours Is No Disgrace" and "Starship Trooper," deep tracks "Wondrous Stories" and "Going for the One" and acoustic versions of smashes "Long Distance Runaround" and "Owner of a Lonely Heart." The hi-def image looks good and the music sounds superb in surround sound; extras comprise nine songs from another 2004 concert, including full-band versions of Tsongas acoustic numbers; a bonus track, the 25-minute epic "Ritual"; and an interview with album-cover artist and stage set designer Roger Dean.

DVDs of the Week
Father Brown—Complete 1st Season 
Based on short stories by G.K. Chesterton, this entertaining drama series follows the genial but whipsmart priest who immerses himself in local crime scenes from which he extracts guilty parties, thanks to abilities which even veteran detectives are lacking. As Father Brown, Mark Williams (best known for the Harry Potter movies) is amusingly real, while the natural beauties of the locations (it was shot in the Cotswolds area of England) give an enticing physical dimension to each of the 10 episodes. Extras include behind the scenes footage and cast and crew interviews.

The FBI—Complete 9th Season 
(Warner Archive)
The Mentalist—Complete 6th Season 
The classic crime-fight drama The FBI ended its nine-year run in the 1973-4 season, and the 23 episodes in this set explore the relationships among the agents, especially between new kid on the block Chris Daniels (played by ex-NFL star Shelly Novack) and veteran Inspector Eskerine (Efrem Zimbalist Jt.); the usual array of guest stars includes Dabney Coleman, Jackie Cooper, Joan Van Ark, Ann Francis and Leslie Nielsen. In the sixth season of the hit procedural The Mentalist, the team of agents finally closes the "Red John" serial killer case, before jumping ahead two years and going to investigate more killings; 22 episodes are included on five discs. Mentalist extras comprise a featurette and deleted scenes.

The Prosecution of an American President 
(First Run)
Prosecutorial legend Vincent Bugliosi, who convicted Charles Manson, wrote a book calling for the prosecution of George W. Bush: not for mere war crimes, but for the murder of thousands of Iraqi citizens and American soldiers; directors David A. Burke and Dave Hagen persuasively visualize his well thought-out brief. This is not an anti-Bush screed but a warning to any president who willfully enters into a war of convenience with lies and distortions, like the well- known ones shown. Most devastating, though, are the testimonies of families torn apart by loved ones dying unnecessarily in our endless War on Terror. Extras are deleted scenes.

To Be and To Have 
As anyone familiar with French director Nicholas Philibert’s non-fiction work can attest, he is an unassuming master at recording quotidian lives with care and precision—as he does in this sublime 2002 documentary about young schoolchildren and their caring teacher in the Auvergne region of central France. In his inimitable fly-on-the-wall way, Philibert shows the give and take between the selfless teacher George Lopez with the utterly natural youngsters in his classroom. Extras include a Philibert interview and a "children reciting poetry" featurette.

No comments: