Tuesday, March 24, 2015

March '15 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
The Divine Move 
(CJ Entertainment)
In this action-packed Korean drama, a professional player of the game GO, framed for his brother's murder, returns from prison to extract revenge on one of his opponents, and a final game between them becomes an orchestrated orgy of violence. So what if director Jo Bum-Gu doesn’t know the meaning of the word subtle: that’s not his aim. Instead, he builds slowly (and sometimes dully) to a final blast of brutally balletic gore, the reason fans of this genre are watching anyway. The Blu-ray transfer is dazzling, and the lone extra is a making-of.

IMAX Island of Lemurs: Madagascar 
(Warner Bros)
The lemurs of Madagascar—an island off Africa's coast that's the only place on earth where these adorable creatures live—are seen in their singular glory in this amusing and eye-opening 40-minute film narrated by Morgan Freeman. By now the formula is familiar, but it still works: these stunning IMAX nature documentaries have beautiful cinematography, exotic locales and nature to show off. The hi-def transfer is luminous, both in 3D and in 2D; extras are several featurettes.

Into the Woods 
Director Rob Marshall has already done (or done in) two classic Broadway musicals, Chicago and Nine, winning an Oscar in the process, so what could he do to Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s decidedly adult take on familiar fairy tales? Since the source material is fairly indestructible—both the original stories and the twisted Sondheim/Lapine version—the movie is more entertaining than Marshall's previous flops. Still, there's his questionable casting, led by Meryl Streep's scenery-chewing that's far more corrosive onscreen than it would have been onstage, where I saw Bernadette Peters and Vanessa Williams do far more with her role of the Wicked Witch. Anna Kendrick, a sweet-voiced Cinderella, should be doing Broadway with her fine comic and musical chops. The movie has a lustrous look on Blu; extras are Marshall's commentary, behind the scenes featurettes and a new Sondheim song.

Live at Knebworth 
(Eagle Rock)
This concert to end all concerts, held to raise money for music therapy, was held at London’s Knebworth House on June 30, 1990, and featured the biggest British rock and pop acts of the time, from Paul McCartney, Elton John and Eric Clapton to Mark Knopfler, Phil Collins and Genesis. The daylong event, trimmed to a mere three hours, means each act only gets a few tunes, instead of the full performances many of them deserve. Still, there are memorable musical moments, like Tears for Fears’ “Badman’s Song,” Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and Robert Plant and Jimmy Page tearing up on a rarely-heard Zeppelin number, "Wearing and Tearing." On hi-def, the video is passable but the sound is terrific.

Based on a true story about the 1980s' Norwegian oil boom, this tense thriller dramatizes the perils lying in wait for divers who had to reach the sea's bottom to help bring up the oil through the pipelines laid down there. Director Erik Skjoldbjærg, who made the atmospheric thriller Insomnia (the original, of course), precisely captures the claustrophobia and danger of the mission, and is aided by an accomplished cast that includes familiar faces like Stephen Lang and Wes Bentley. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras are making-of featurettes.

Son of a Gun 
Ewan McGregor's intense portrayal of an ex-con whose robbery plan goes spectacularly wrong is the main reason to watch Son of a Gun, a routine heist movie by director Julius Avery, which also includes a nice bonus in the fetching actress Alicia Vikander. In Vice, whose dystopian futuristic setting harkens back to the superior Westworld, Bruce Willis stars as creator of a resort where people can live out their fantasies with help from human-looking "artificials," until one of them escapes. Both films look good on Blu-ray; Gun extras are a commentary and making-of, and Vice extras are a commentary, making-of and interviews.

Vice & Virtue 
(Kino Classics)
Based on de Sade’s novel Justine, Roger Vadim set his 1963 adaptation in WWII era France, where two women—played by Annie Girardot and Catherine Deneuve—act out their destinies as kept women by the Nazis: one willingly, the other not. Too bad Vadim’s basic lack of filmic sense doesn't allow him to intelligently explore the exploitation of women during wartime; his B&W drama has little to offer other than the pleasure of watching two glamorous French actresses at work. The hi-def transfer is exquisite.

The Way He Looks 
Brazilian director Daniel Ribeiro has made an unsentimental study of a blind teenager’s burgeoning (and confusing) sexuality as he falls for a fellow male classmate, much to the consternation of his female best friend. With winningly natural performances by his talented young actors, particularly Ghilherme Lobo in the lead, Ribeiro has made a wonderfully focused drama that's never condescending. Extras include I Don't Want to Go Back Alone, Ribeiro’s original 2010 short film, deleted scenes and cast and crew interviews. 

DVDs of the Week
All at Sea
The Doctor's Dilemma
Where the Spies Are 
(Warner Archive)
A trio of British matinee idols headline a trio of middling '50s and '60s pictures, starting with Alec Guinness in All at Sea, a mild 1957 Ealing Studios comedy now more dated than daring, though it has its occasional amusing moments. In The Doctor's Dilemma, Anthony Asquith's 1958 adaptation of a barbed and witty Bernard Shaw comedy, Dirk Bogarde is appropriately smarmy as a sickly artist living with lovely Leslie Caron; various medical men are played by Alistair Sim, Robert Morley and John Robinson. Then there's the frantic but mostly frivolous 1965 spy drama, Where the Spies Are, in which David Niven looks hopelessly lost, except when he unsurprisingly perks up whenever the gorgeous Francoise Dorleac appears.

Code Black 
(Music Box)
Physician-turned-cirector Ryan McGarry’s startling and intimate documentary about Los Angeles County Hospital’s always-busy emergency room—where more lives are lost (and saved) than anywhere else in the country—shows the selfless dedication of the men and women working long, thankless hours to treat the seriously injured and sick. In the age of Obamacare, where health care and people’s lives themselves are being troublingly politicized by lawmakers, places like L.A.'s "C booth" have become ground zero in the ongoing battle for humane and affordable treatment. Extras include a McGarry interview and short film.

Dixie Ray Hollywood Star 
(Vinegar Syndrome)
From the Golden Age of adult films, Anthony Spinelli's 1983 homage to detective movies features then-porn superstar John Leslie as a Sam Spade-like private dick on a case that leads him to the beautiful, eponymous actress at its center. Along with the faithful '40s atmosphere, the movie includes plentiful sex scenes between Leslie and some of the biggest porn actresses of that time like Lisa Deleeuw and Kelly Nichols, which remains its main claim to fame.

Jonathan Nossiter’s absorbing 10-hour, 10-part 2004 mini-series about the surprisingly cutthroat world of wine and wine-making is an exhaustive and endlessly fascinating look at one of the most profitable industries in today’s world, with a global expansiveness that moves from California to Tuscany and Burgundy to Argentina. Nossiter interviews wine makers, wine importers, wine salesmen, wheelers, dealers and superstars like infamous tastemaker and critic Robert Parker; the adroit editing juggles disparate characters and story lines that meander around and often overlap with one another. Like a fine wine, Mondovino has a full-bodied, delectable lushness that’s worth drinking in.

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