Tuesday, November 4, 2014

November '14 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
America—Imagine the World Without Her 
Conservative icon Dinesh D'Souza has made another rambling and incoherent pseudo-documentary that shows how "scary" and "unAmerican" Barack Obama is, tying him to radical leftists presented as if they are mainstream. With no arguments made on their own merit, D'Souza uses straw men and false equivalencies to hammer home his belief that, contrary to those who insist on "shaming" our country, it is absolved of any sins, for the simple reason that everybody else also did it (slavery, genocide, etc.). D'Souza even brings up his own indictment for breaking campaign finance law, basically admitting, "Yes, I'm guilty, but so are others. So that means Obama is after me!" Fox News viewers will find everything they believe dutifully confirmed; the rest of us will shake our heads and realize that fact-based reality will remain out of their reach. The hi-def image looks good; extras include extended interviews and scenes.

Good People 
This gritty little thriller about a dull-witted American couple in London who decide to spend dirty money they find and fall prey to a mobster whose drug cash it is, is mercifully short (90 minutes) and features the always reliable Tom Wilkinson as a relentless detective and Sam Spruell as a casually brutal gangster. Unfortunately for director Henrik Ruben Genz, he's saddled with James Franco and Kate Hudson, who don't make a credible couple; the movie also wastes the delightful Anna Friel in a nothing role. The Blu-ray transfer is first-rate; lone extra is a brief making-of. 

Planes—Fire and Rescue 
Although Disney's animated spin-offs are usually routine money grabs, that's not entirely the case with Planes—Fire and Rescue, an amusing adventure that's dedicated to our brave firefighters. Set in Piston Park National Park, the movie follows a group of aircraft which protects the valuable public land from wildfires: nothing earth-shattering, it's diverting enough, at least for younger kids. The Blu-ray image looks fine; extras are featurettes, deleted scenes, music video and new animated short film.

Yankee Doodle Dandy 
(Warner Archive)
The tightly-wound 1947 thriller Possessed—a story of murder and insanity about an unhinged woman convinced that her current husband's dead wife is haunting her, as is an old flame who's marrying her young stepdaughter—is distinguished by Joan Crawford in eye-popping crazed mode. As George M. Cohan in the exhilarating 1942 biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy, James Cagney sings, dances and acts up a storm as the versatile entertainer who, against all odds, became a beloved American icon. Cagney's joyous Oscar-winning turn and Cohan's terrific tunes are the main reasons to watch. Both films look magnificent in their hi-def restorations; extras include commentaries and featurettes.

Santa Sangre 
Maverick director Alejandro Jodorowsky's 1989 hallucinatory drama is, like all of his films (which include the even more lunatic El Topo and The Holy Mountain), a love-it-or-hate-it experience: I hated it, even while conceding the visual imaginativeness at work. But there's no doubt that other viewers' mileage may certainly vary, especially if one has a stronger stomach for Jodorowsky's brand of all-purpose surrealism. The film looks solid on Blu-ray; extras include Jodorowsky commentary, deleted scenes with commentary, Jodorowsky interviews and short films, featurettes and full-length documentary Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen: The World of Santa Sangre.

DVDs of the Week
Borgen—Complete Series 
This gripping Danish mini-series—which skillfully straddles the line separating politics from personal lives—is finally available in a boxed set of its three seasons, comprising 30 compelling one-hour episodes that follow Birgitte Nyborg, Denmark’s first female prime minister, from obscurity to simultaneous fame and infamy. The backstabbing and deal making (and deal breaking) of contemporary politics is shown in all its dramatic fascination, and with a peerless cast led by Sidse Babett Knudsen as Birgitte and Birgitte Hjort Sorensen as go-getting journalist Katrine Fonsmark, Borgen is an exceptional drama about the machinations of politics and media that deserves the much-abused label "binge-worthy." 

A Coffee in Berlin 
(Music Box)
This ramshackle comic drama follows a 20-something slacker (the appealing Tom Schilling) who, after getting tossed from his girlfriend's apartment, spends a fateful day wandering around the German capital running into various people (including a female former classmate who still holds a grudge for him labeling her "Roly Poly Julia" back in the day), until a brush with mortality gives him a new outlook on life. Director Jan Ole Gerster's low-key, improvisatory style partially compensates for the fact that the movie is, finally, too slight, even with a relatively brief 85-minute running time. Extras include featurettes, deleted scenes and outtakes.

Dormant Beauty 
(Kino Lorber)
Italian master Marco Bellocchio's latest provocation, made in 2012, was barely released here, but his thought-provoking exploration of Italy’s own right to life debate (Terri Schiavo was the U.S. equivalent during the infamous Bush years), as usual with Bellocchio, provides no easy answers. It intelligently informs the personal, professional and religious lives of several characters, played splendidly by Isabelle Huppert, Toni Servillo, Maya Sansa, Alba Rohrwacher and the director’s son Pier Giorgio. But Kino again drops the ball by not releasing a Blu-ray of a major film by a major director, along with no extras; get the hi-def Italian release!

Hugh Hefner 
Director Tony Palmer, who made his name with an assortment of enlightening biographies of composers from Henry Purcell to Igor Stravinsky, hits a brick wall with his 1973 glimpse at Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner. For a vapid hour, Hef and assorted bimbos extol the virtues of the Playboy lifestyle, sounding vacuous and self-absorbed throughout. Adding to the absurdity is Palmer's desperate use of music from Wagner's Ring to underscore shots of Hef's private jet and mansion; any similarity to King Ludwig's pomposity is strictly coincidental.

One Day Pina Asked... 
I'm no fan of Belgian director Chantal Akerman, whose films are minimalist in all the wrong ways: conception, execution and artistry. But her hour-long 1983 documentary about the wunderkind German modern-dance choreographer Pina Bausch is a watchably straightforward overview of a vital visual artist's work. Of course, I prefer Wim Wenders' Pina, which was a much more affecting chronicle of Bausch's patented dances, but Akerman's film is nothing to sneeze at either.

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