Tuesday, January 20, 2015

January '15 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
Genesis—Sum of the Parts 
(Eagle Rock)
For a band formed in the late '60s that went through numerous personnel changes—notably the loss of its dynamic lead singer and, as his replacement, the drummer who led the group to its greatest commerical heights—these classic British art-rockers don't get their deserved deluxe treatment: instead, this is a straightforward 90-minute documentary about a long, winding and storied career. At least everyone is present and accounted for, starting with Peter Gabriel, who for so long wanted little to do with his fomer mates; Phil Collins, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett round out a lively discussion that, while only skimming the surface, hits the right notes. The hi-def transfer looks good; extras are additional interviews.

This routine paranormal thriller follows a young woman—scarred from a car crash that killed her boyfriend—who returns to her family home and becomes haunted by her long-dead mother's spirit, through which she discovers unsavory secrets her father prefers to remain buried. Director Kevin Greutert leaves no cliched unturned, while Sarah Snook plays the victimized woman as gracefully as possible under the underwhelming circumstances. The Blu-ray transfer is excellent; extras are a commentary, featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes, alternate ending.

The Palm Beach Story 
In Preston Stuges' delectable 1942 comedy, Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert play a married couple whose finances are even less secure than their relationship, so the wife runs off to Florida to try and fix things in her unique manner. Only Sturges could have made such a fiercely funny, provocative comedy within the Hollywood system, while McCrea and Colbert give typically memorable comic portrayals. The Criterion hi-def transfer looks great; extras are interviews, a Sturges WWII short and a radio play of the story starring Colbert.

The Skin 
(Cohen Media)
Based on controversial short stories by Curzio Malaparte—who dared to show how badly Italians acted in the aftermath of the Allied invasion during World War II—Liliana Cavani's 1981 drama chronicles, in often sickening detail, how far some Italians went to remain above the fray as Americans took over following Mussolini's demise. Set in Naples, this hard-hitting if diffuse film stars Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale and a dubbed Burt Lancaster; the physical production is almost too authentic, but cardboard dialogue and anemic acting lessen the potential impact. The Blu-ray looks OK; extras include Caviani interviews and a commentary.

A Walk Among the Tombstones 
In this supremely violent thriller based on books by Lawrence Block, Liam Neeson again assumes his tough-middle-aged-guy mantle as Matt Scudder, retired New York City cop turned private eye hired by a man whose wife was murdered by her kidnapers. The NYC locations and Neeson are appropriately gritty, but director Robert Frank overdoes the gory quotient; sure, the kidnapers are really bad guys, but why revel in their sadism? The Blu-ray image looks splendid; extras comprise interviews and a making-of featurette.

DVDs of the Week
The Bridge—Complete 2nd Season 
The original series The Bridge, set on the Sweden-Denmark border, was a subtle, incisive and involving whodunit-cum-character study that became heavily watered down in the American version, set—where else?—on the U.S.-Mexican border. The 13 episodes of the American second season, while not as cliche-ridden as the initial season, continue the hackneyed dramatics that leave Diane Kruger and Demian Birchir's flavorful performances in a vacuum. It's too bad that a more imaginative series didn't come out of this, preferably one set on the U.S.-Canadian border. Extras comprise behind the scenes featurettes and deleted scenes.

4 Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle 
I'm no Eric Rohmer fan, so the supposed charms of his films usually escape me, with a few exceptions: unfortunately, this 1987 trifle about two uninteresting young women who meet and bond is not one of those. The women's banal chattiness is married to the contrived situations that Rohmer insists on throwing his heroines into in what unfolds as a barely entertaining throwaway. Lone extra is an interview with Jessica Forde, who plays Mirabelle; too bad this wasn't released on Blu-ray, like it was in France.

Middle of Nowhere 
Ava DuVernay—now best known for last week's Oscar snub for her direction of Selma—helmed this thoughtful 2011 character study about Ruby, a young Compton mother with a husband in jail, who looks to straighten out her life by going to school and tentatively exploring a new relationship. DuVernay's credible dialogue and insightful script, coupled with a shatteringly real Emayatzy Corinealdi as Ruby, make this a compelling exploration of a society that's still far under most people's radar. Lone extra is an informative commentary by DuVernay and Corinealdi.

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