Tuesday, November 11, 2014

November '14 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
A Recital with Renee Fleming 
(Arthaus Musik)
One of Richard Strauss's most magically melodic operas, the romantic Arabella is the perfect showcase for the still-ravishing soprano Renee Fleming, whose artistry is complemented by director Florentine Klepper's sumptuous 2014 Salzburg production. A Recital with Renee Fleming, shot in 2012 in Vienna, presents the singer performing lushly romantic lieder by Germanic composers Gustav Mahler, Hugo Wolf, Arnold Schoenberg, Erich Korngold and, yes, Richard Strauss; pianist Maciej Pulski lends artful support. The Blu-ray image and sound are first-rate.

This didactic illegal immigration melodrama—about a wrongful murder rap pinned on a good, no-nonsense border crosser—has authentic location atmosphere courtesy director-co-writer Michael Berry, and a plethora of good performances by Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Michael Pena (as the accused killer) and Eva Longoria (deglamorized—but still impossibly luminous—as his cruelly abused wife). But too bad it's all at the service of a heavy-handed, Crash-like examination of a complicated issue, which militates against its getting through to those whom it aims to convert or reinforce those already on its side. The hi-def transfer is spot-on.

Genesis—Three Sides Live 
(Eagle Rock)
On Genesis' 1981 Abacab tour, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks (augmented by concert-only members Chester Thompson and Daryl Stuermer) played hits like "Misunderstanding" and "Turn It on Again" alongside album cuts like "In the Cage," "Afterglow," the current album's epic title track and "Dodo/Lurker." The 83-minute concert film has a chunk of the show's running time missing: too bad it's never been found, since, with all of the backstage and interview footage included, the actual music is probably a little more than an hour. What we do get, though, is a band at the top of its game. The image is variable, the sound good, extras are audio-only versions of seven songs, including the rarely-performed "Fountain of Salmacis."

Michael Nyman—Make It Louder, Please! 
(Arthaus Musik)
British minimalist composer Michael Nyman's career is examined through a concert and documentary, Composer in Progress, in which Nyman and his band members discuss his unique music and how difficult it is to perform; surprisingly, although his music is best known from Peter Greenaway and Jane Campion movies, neither is interviewed by director Silvia Beck. 2009's Michael Nyman in Concert, from Halle, Germany, features Nyman's best known compositions, including several from Greenaway's films The Draughtsman's Contract, A Zed and Two Noughts and Prospero's Books, played with precision and enthusiasm by Nyman at the piano and his band. Hi-def transfers are adequate; the sound is solidly presented.

Monty Python Live—One Down, Five to Go 
(Eagle Rock)
The British comedy troupe's 2013 reunion at London's O2 Arena was greeted with hosannas from longtime fans, and if the performance itself is more nostalgia than cutting-edge comedy—replays of old skits on a video screen alternate with onstage reenactments of beloved skits like "Dead Parrot" and "Nudge Nudge"—the impression is that of a money grab, however skillful and, yes, funny. The title, of course, refers to the absence of Graham Chapman, so far the lone Python member to die: the others will, no doubt, eventually follow. The hi-def image is excellent; extras include interviews, featurettes and backstage footage.

The One I Love 
(Anchor Bay/Weinstein Co)
Early in this confused sci-fi drama about a shaky married couple whose attempts to repair their relationship is complicated by the appearance of their doppelgangers, the husband tells his wife that it's like The Twilight Zone. Not quite: Rod Serling would have wrapped this up in 30 minutes, not 90, and far more satisfactorily. Director Charlie McDowell and writer Justin Lader seem pleased with their not that original concept, in the process forgetting to make it dramatically involving; Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass's blank caricatures do little to differentiate among the couples. The Blu-ray image is superlative; extras are McDowell and Duplass's commentary and visual effects reel.

Melissa McCarthy again plays an obnoxious, crude but oh so lovable slob in a comic misfire that's a major miscalculation by star-cowriter McCarthy and cowriter-costar-director husband Ben Falcone: they desperately try to tug at the heartstrings but never let go of the stereotypes they traffic in from the start. Along with McCarthy, Susan Sarandon (McCarthy's improbable grandmother) and Allison Janney (McCarthy's improbable mother) do little with such flimsy material. The extended version provides a few extra minutes of would-be laughs and sentiment; the Blu-ray image looks fine, and extras comprise featurettes, gag reel and deleted scenes.

DVDs of the Week
A Five Star Life 
(Music Box)
This lighthearted romantic comedy is a terrific showcase for Margherita Buy, one of Italy's most elegant actresses, who beautifully plays Irene, a 40ish woman who visits luxury hotels as a critic, but whose personal life (at least compared with her former fiancee and happily married sister) is a mess. Director Maria Sole Tognazzi tells her story in a fleet 82 minutes, enough to let us get to know Irene, mainly through Buy's effortless charm; costar Stefano Accorsi's provides strong and humorous support as her ex.

JFK—The Private President 
(First Run)
In this 52-minute German documentary from 2013, the enduring legend of Camelot is revived with heretofore unseen home-video footage, returning us to the glamorous (but too brief) era of JFK and Jackie in the international spotlight. Interviews with brother RFK's sons and insiders like advisor Ted Sorensen provide further access, and those who want still more of anything of even tangential  to the inexhaustible fount that is the Kennedys will find it.

The Mystery of Happiness 
What starts as an aimless bromance between middle-aged men sharing ownership of a company shifts gears when one of them disappears and his seemingly clueless wife steps in and makes the remaining one's life a living hell....until they come to discover more about each other and themselves (of course). Director Daniel Burman doesn't always adroitly handle the film's shifting tones, but the superb lead performances by Ines Estevez and Guillermo Francella provide ample compensation, as does a nicely understated ending.

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