Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November '14 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
The Doors—Feast of Friends 
(Eagle Rock)
At the peak of their few years of fame, The Doors filmed themselves while on tour in the summer of 1968, and the resulting document, never completed at the time, has been restored and is finally being given a belated release. Mostly a time-capsule curio in the crowded market of rock group documentaries, the finished product might be manna for Doors fans but less so for the rest of us. The hi-def image looks decent; extras include Feast of Friends: Encore, comprising left-over footage; The Doors Are Open, a British TV documentary; a live performance of "The End" with interviews.

Into the Storm 
Climate change exacts its just desserts, but unlike Sharknado 1 & 2's tongue-in-cheek campiness (not that I'm defending those ridiculous movies!), this is purely serious and stern-faced melodrama, and the stick figures populating a town inundated with non-stop tornadoes and superstorms are such a dim bunch that it's easy to root for Mother Nature against most of them. The special effects are quite impressive—like the death of one unfortunate cameraman in a fiery funnel cloud—and it's all wrapped up in a quick 85 minutes, which helps, at least partly. On Blu-ray, the movie's disastrous events play out quite thrillingly; extras are three featurettes.

Pete Kelly's Blues 
(Warner Archive)
A monotonous Jack Webb directs and stars as jazz cornetist and band leader Pete Kelly in this alternately tough-as-nails and sentimentalized look at the musician's life on and off stage, dramatizing his battles against a crime boss and his relationships with women, played with vitality by Janet Leigh, Jayne Mansfield and (most impressively) Peggy Lee. Director Webb smartly peppers his uneven drama with wonderful musical performances, including two Ella Fitzgerald showstoppers, while the movie's color Cinemascope photography comes across richly on Blu-ray. Extras are two period shorts.

Prince Igor 
(Deutsche Grammophon)
Alexander Borodin's intermittently gripping Igor receives a bizarre, messy 2014 Metropolitan Opera revival by director Dmitri Tcherniakov, who ruins the opera's best moments—the famous "Polovtsian Dances"—with an unimaginative poppy field in which the dancers scamper about: Borodin's unexciting music is presented well by conductor Giandrea Noseda, and the title role is given over to the towering Russian bass Ildar Abdrazikov. Antonin Dvorak's masterly romantic fantasy Rusalka (based on the fairy tale Undine) sounds beautiful thanks to Myrto Papatanasiu's magnetic performance in the title role, but its visual tackiness stems from director Stefan Herheim's wrongheaded concept: Rusalka the mermaid is a hooker in a red light district. Puh-lease. On Blu-ray, video and audio are splendidly realized; extras are interviews.

Worricker—Turks & Caicos  
Worricker—Salting the Battlefield 
In his trilogy about a British agent battling new-fangled globally destructive forces, writer-director David Hare has an ace in the hole: actor Bill Nighy, whose casual, snarky coolness goes a long way toward validating these films (and the original, 2012's Page Eight) as searing indictments of our post-Sept. 11, post-meltdown world gone amok. Turks follows Nighy's Johnny Worricker on an island paradise, confronting ultra-rich bad guys; Salting finds him on the run before a climactic showdown with his nemesis, the British prime minister. Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Christopher Walken and Winona Ryder provide solid support, Hare's dialogue is often snappy and witty, but Nighy himself is the main attraction. The hi-def transfers are superior; extras are making-of featurettes and interviews.

DVDs of the Week
Guns of Darkness
Twilight of Honor 
(Warner Archive)
In 1962's Guns of Darkness, neither David Niven nor Leslie Caron—as a couple in a war-torn republic—can do much in a flimsy tale about a coup that turns their brave act of mercy for an ousted leader into treason; that director Anthony Asquith has little affinity for such starkly melodramatic material goes without saying. 1963's Twilight of Honor has a formidable cast that makes its routine courtroom dramatics watchable, despite director Boris Sagal's leaden pacing: there's Richard Chamberlain as an idealistic defense attorney, Claude Rains as his mentor, Joan Blackman as Rains' available daughter, Joey Heatherton as the accused's wife and James Gregory as a pompous district attorney.

K2—Siren of the Himalayas 
(First Run)
An illuminating look at the 2009 expedition to scale the world's most dangerous mountain, Dave Ohlson has made a tense, exciting document of a story that's both tragic and triumphant: some climbers failed to ascend K2, but at least they weren't killed—which as many of a quarter are. The film's heroine, Germany's Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, became the first to scale all mountains 8000 meters or higher; interviews with her and other members of the climb make personal their group's bravery, teamwork and death-defying difficulties. Ohlson also recaps a 1909 Italian expedition, complete with narration, stills and newsreel footage, which provide an enriching historical perspective. Extras include a deleted scene, updates and more interviews.

Master of the Universe
Slow Food Story 
The enterprising label Kimstim's latest intriguing documentaries that otherwise might have escaped notice start with German director Marc Bauders' Masters of the Universe, about the culpability and duplicity of those running (and ruining) the financial system during the 2008 economic collapse; Bauder introduces Rainer Voss, a chatty trader who candidly discusses what happened, why and by (and for) whom. Stefano Sardo's Slow Food Story is a lively account of how Italian foodie Carlo Petrini became a heavy-hitter in the anti-fast food movement, which emphasizes local, healthy alternatives to the corporate behemoths that control most of the world's (bad) food production.

Next Year Jerusalem 
(First Run)
When a group of residents at an old-age home in Columbus, Ohio finally took a long-gestating and unlikely "field trip" to Israel, director David Gaynes was on hand to record a unique, historic and breathtakingly emotional journey that was much more than obviously metaphorical traveling through time and memory. Among the many people—from the "tourists" and those who came with and filmed them to those whom they met when they arrived in the Holy Land—affected by events presented in this stirring documentary are its viewers. Extras are seven deleted scenes.

Tosca's Kiss 
Daniel Schmid—the unconventional Swiss director who died in 2006—made this memorably  offbeat 1984 documentary about the first nursing home for retired opera singers, located in Milan, Italy: the film follows the home's residents, who sang arias by the world's great composers, including the man who founded it, Giuseppe Verdi, Italy's (and one of the world's) best opera composers. The basis for Dustin Hoffman's likable directorial debut, 2012's Quartet, this funny and moving film deserves to be more than just the prelude to a famous actor's first foray behind the camera; happily, now that Hoffman "presents" its restoration and DVD release, it will get more widespread recognition.

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