Tuesday, December 16, 2014

December '14 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
At the Devil's Door 
(IFC Midnight)
An unapologetic ripoff of other (and some better) fright flicks, writer-director Nicholas McCarthy's lackluster horror film sets up its premise so lazily that whatever happens—from the death of main characters to a dragged-out, unsuspenseful finale—will probably be met with indifference by most viewers. A game cast (led by Glee's Naya Rivera and a sorely underused Catalina Sandina Moreno) has little to do, while bumps in the night and other would-be scares do little more than add to a frighteningly dull 93 minutes. The movie looks good on Blu-ray; extras comprise a making-of featurette and deleted scenes with McCarthy's commentary.

Georges Bizet's classic opera, a sure-fire crowd-pleaser with some of the most famous music ever written, gets an uneven 2009 Zurich staging, but at least conductor Franz Welser-Most leads the Zurich Opera Orchestra and Chorus in a blisteringly dramatic reading. It's unfortunate that Matthias Hartmann's production decides to scuttle time and place, while the cast—Vesselina Kasarova as Carmen, Jonas Kaufmann as Don Jose and Isabel Rey as Micaela—is polished but infrequently inspired. On Blu-ray, the visuals and audio are equally impressive.

Inspector Lewis—Complete 7th Season 
At first, Inspector Hathaway soldiers on without his partner, Detective Inspector Lewis, and has problems dealing with his new partner, Lizzie Maddox—until D.I. Lewis returns from retirement, helping both himself and Hathaway as they become an unbeatable pair once again. The three 90-minute Oxford-set mysteries that make up the seventh season are filled with the series' usual fine acting (Kevin Whately, Laurence Fox, Angela Griffin, Claire Holman) and intelligent writing. The Blu-ray image is quite good.

Stonehearst Asylum 
In this unsettling adaptation of a lesser-known Poe story, director Brad Anderson romps through the all-too-familiar halls of a shadowy insane asylum, with his cast chewing the scenery in high style: Ben Kingsley as the head of the asylum, Michael Caine and Kate Beckinsale as inmates (with Kate an impossibly glamorous one). The daft twist ending, though drawn out too much, still perfectly closes the gleefully ludicrous tale, which retains the blackly humorous Poe flavor. The hi-def image looks excellent; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

This Is Where I Leave You 
This comic drama about a dysfunctional family sitting shiva after the father dies has its share of funny lines, but director Shawn Levy's penchant for triteness and sentimentality prevents his film from being anything more than an intermittently entertaining mess. Good performances by Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Debra Monk and Connie Britton help smooth over the unnevenness, but at 103 minutes, this overdone soap opera is stretched too thin. It all looks attractive on hi-def; extras include featurettes, outtakes and deleted scenes.

DVDs of the Week
(First Run)
Altina Schinasi was a renaissance woman: painter, sculptor, bon vivant and sexually liberated, she was ahead of her time—so far, in fact, that even today some people might be shocked at her long, eventful and unapologetic life, which is recounted in her grandson Peter Sanders's admiring and loving documentary. What shines through from archival interviews with her and new interviews with friends, lovers, husbands, family and admirers, is her love—even lust—for a life well-lived: that she also helped Holocaust refugees and made an Oscar-nominated film about the Nazis are merely more reasons to have her story told. Extras are 18 minutes of additional interviews.

Bob Marley—Uprising Live!
Justin Hayward—Spirits...Live  
(Eagle Rock)
Before his death in 1981, Bob Marley went on a world tour, and his Germany concert—filmed for posterity—contains the hallmarks of a great Marley show: opening act Threes, featuring wife Rita, sings back up for Marley and the Wailers, with highlights being "Jamming," "No River No Cry" and an encore of "Lively Up Yourself." Uprising Live! is a terrific souvenir of an indelible talent at his best. 

Longtime Moody Blues frontman Justin Hayward toured with stripped-down versions of his classic-art rock band's songs—his acoustic guitar and three sidemen (and woman)—and his Spirits...Live concert will satisfy Moody Blues fans with renditions of "Tuesday Afternoon" (the show's opener), "Nights in White Satin" and "Question" that are interesting alternate takes of the group's overblown arrangements. Lone Hayward extra is a backstage featurette.

French Affairs 
The Little Bedroom 
(Cinema Libre)
French Affairs, a by-the-numbers Gallic roundelay, follows two pairs of lovers with more amusement than bemusement, but director Pierre-Loup Rajot doesn't do anything particularly unique or telling, while his mostly obscure cast can't make the comedy or drama very interesting.  The Little Bedroom, a minor gem by co-writers/directors Stephanie Chuat and Veronique Reymond, stars the always persuasive Michael Bouquet (who was last seen as the aging painter in Renoir), who provides the gravitas needed to prevent this old-age drama from becoming syrupy.

Levitated Mass 
(First Run)
When I saw Michael Heizer's gargantuan rock outside the L.A. County Museum of Art last year, I thought it was a gimmick, something that would automatically draw visitors. (It does.) Doug Pray's fascinating documentary makes clear that getting the rock there, an enormous logistical and even political challenge, is a story far more interesting than Heizer's "art" itself. Bringing the huge (340-ton) rock from its original spot miles away to Los Angeles was the responsibility of dozens of people, an oversized road vehicle and signing off by nearly two dozen town officials en route. But for what? To paraphrase what someone says, "It's a rock. It's nature. Not art." Extras comprise three short featurettes.

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