Tuesday, December 9, 2014

December '14 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
Anna Netrebko— Live from the Salzburg Festival 
(Deutsche Grammophon)
The biggest superstar in the opera world, Russian soprano Anna Netrebko combines intense musicality with the sheer force of her personality to dazzle audiences in any number of dramatic and comedic roles, and this set brings together a trio of her flavorful performances in productions from Austria's long-running summer Salzburg Festival, all of which show off her range. There's her sexy Violetta (in that oh so stunning dress) in 2005's La Traviata, her charming Susanna in 2006's The Marriage of Figaro and her sympathetic Mimi in 2012's La Boheme. The hi-def transfers and surround-sound audio are top-notch on all three releases. 

Astral City: A Spiritual Journey 
(Strand Releasing)
Brazilian medium Chico Xavier's 1944 novel Nasso Lar became this 2010 film, about a doctor who finds himself in a 'spiritual city" after his death, that was among Brazil's most expensive and popular. Director Wagner de Assis visualizes the afterworld with lushness and pomposity, befitting the new age sensibilities of the book, while Philip Glass's retread score pounds away at your brain mercilessly. The visual beauty is the Blu-ray's main attraction; lone extra is a making-of featurette. 

Eric Clapton—Planes, Trains and Eric 
(Eagle Rock)
Filmed during his recent Mid and Far East tour, Eric Clapton plays his patented blend of blues-rock that's been his musical bread and butter since the 60s: just a few examples of his artistry are "Tell the Truth," "Key to the Highway," "Cocaine" and "Hoochie Coochie Man" (although I wish he'd put that sleep-inducing acoustic "Layla" to bed). Most interesting, though, are interviews with Eric and his band members, who ruminate on his decision to retire from performing to spend more time with his family: he sounds  indecisive, the others are crushed; we'll see if he goes through with his promise. Hi-def visuals and audio are terrific; extras are two songs and featurettes. 

Justified—Complete 5th Season 
Based on Elmore Leonard's short story "Fire in the Hole," the fifth season of Justified finds its brooding protagonist, U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, not divulging a secret that could threaten both his career and his life. Timothy Oliphant gives Givens gravitas, while Michael Rappaport also scores as a ruthless crime family head. The hi-def image looks flawless; extras include commentaries, deleted scenes and a making-of featurette, with added Blu-ray exclusives comprising eight more featurettes.

The Picture of Dorian Gray 
(Warner Archive)
Oscar Wilde's classic horror tale of a rake who stays young while his portrait ages instead became a very effective 1945 film adaptation by director Albert Lewin, who smartly keeps the horror psychological, like Wilde. In the title role, Hurd Hatfield is perfectly smarmy, as is George Sanders as the man who eggs him on, while Harry Stradling's B&W photography (with color inserts during the painting sequences) is appropriately ominous. On Blu-ray the movie looks smashing; extras are a commentary with costar Angela Lansbury and two unrelated shorts.

Time Bandits 
Terry Gilliam's first solo extravanganza behind the camera—his co-directing debut with fellow Monty Pythoin alum Terry Jones, 1977's Jabberwocky, is best forgotten—is this delightfully demented 1981 fantasy about a young boy and group of dwarves who fall through holes in time, meeting historical characters like Napoleon (Ian Holm) and Agamemnon (Sean Connery). Gilliam's imaginative movie is a wondrous prelude to even more extravangant fantasies Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Criterion's hi-def transfer is luminous; extras comprise a commentary, a new featurette, 1998 Gilliam interview and 1981 Shelley Duvall appearance on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow show.

DVDs of the Week
Forbidden Hollywood—Volume 8 
(Warner Archive)
The eighth volume in Warners' collection of Hollywood "pre-code" dramas (made before the motion picture industry began enforcing the Hays code in 1934) comprises a quartet of films probing the seamy side of sex, drugs, crime, etc. The four films are Blonde Crazy, Strangers May Kiss, Hi Nellie and Dark Hazard, and they feature such luminaries as James Cagney, Ray Milland, Norma Shearer, Paul Muni and Edward G. Robinson; whatever they lack in polish they more than make up for in star wattage.

A Life in Dirty Movies 
(Film Movement/Ram Releasing)
Joe Sarno, who made several successful sexploitation flicks until hardcore porn went mainstream in the mid '70s with Deep Throat, is lovingly remembered in Wiktor Ericsson's documentary. Sarno (who died in 2010 at age 89) comes across as earnest and sincere, and those who talk about him—mainly his wife and former lead actress Peggy Sarno, and a few film historians—discuss him with reverence and appreciation in equal measure. Extras include expanded interviews with adult-film stars Annie Sprinkle and Jamie Gillis and featurettes.

Marius & Fanny 
(Kino Lorber)
It's hard to equal Marcel Pagnol's 1930s trilogy of films—Marius, Fanny and Cesar—which tell engrossing, heartwarming stories of a hardheaded old man, his equally headstrong son and a beautiful young woman, but damned if Daniel Auteuil doesn't resurrect Pagnol's humanist spirit in his sturdy remakes of the first two films, which deal with Marius and Fanny's courtship, separation and reunion. Auteuil himself makes a tough-as-nails Cesar, Raphael Personnaz is a handsome, dashing Marius and newcomer Victoire Belezy is an even better Fanny (beautiful, smart, irresistible) than Orane Demazis in the original. Too bad Auteuil didn't remake Cesar: maybe that's next? Extras are short featurettes.

A Summer's Tale 
(Big World)
Eric Rohmer's 1996 entry in his Tales of the Four Seasons series—the others were made in 1990 (Spring), 1992 (Autumn) and 1998 (Winter)—is less irritating than usual, thanks to a lightness of touch the director is usually at pains to create, but here it works effortlessly in a story of a young man juggling three women, unsure of whom to decide on. Melvil Poupaud, Amanda Langlet, Gwenaëlle Simon and Aurelia Nolin are all beguiling, while Rohmer's dialogue is witty and realistic; the attractive landscapes of Brittany seal the deal. But why is there no Blu-ray, when all of Rohmer's films have been released in hi-def in Europe?

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