Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March '15 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week
Daryl Hall John Oates—Live in Dublin 
(Eagle Rock)
Amazingly, Philly-soul masters Hall & Oates had never played Dublin before this 2014 concert in the Irish capital's Olympia Theatre, as the legendary pop duo performs a charged 90-minute set of their greatest '70s and '80s hits to a boisterous response from the singalong crowd. Daryl Hall is in fine voice on classics like the opening "Maneater" and the mid-show peak of "She's Gone" and "Sara Smile," while John Oates sings lead on lesser-known songs "Back Together Again" and "Las Vegas Turnaround." While some of the '80s hits haven't aged well—like the climactic blast of "Kiss on My List" and "Private Eyes"—no one in the audience or onstage seems to mind. The hi-def image and audio are first-rate; extras are Hall and Oates interviews.

The Roommates/A Woman for All Men 
These early '70s sexploitation movies by director Arthur Marks would be right at home on Cinemax after midnight, with their kitschy combination of sex and murder: The Roommates follows nubile young women being followed by a killer; A Woman brings a sexy young wife between an old patriarch and his sons. Marks has made perfectly watchable trash, although The Roommates suffers from a plethora of amateurish acting; at least A Woman has Keenan Wynn as the father, Andrew Robinson as one of the sons and Judy Brown as the femme fatale. The hi-def transfer is solid; extras include a Marks commentary and interviews with Marks, Brown and Roberta Collins (from Roommates).

The Sure Thing 
(Shout Factory)
Rob Reiner's innocuous comedy about collegian John Cusack, who must decide between hot blonde of his dreams Nicolette Sheridan and levelheaded fellow student Daphne Zuniga, hasn't really dated in the 30 years since its release: it's still the same safely mainstream rom-com it was back in 1985. Although Cusack, Zuniga and Sheridan do their level best with their flimsy characters, Reiner's middlebrow sensibility ends up making this pleasant but blandly forgettable movie anything but a sure thing. The Blu-ray transfer is good; extras include several vintage featurettes.

Les vepres siciliennes 
(Warner Classics)
One of Giuseppe Verdi's most obscure grand operas was given a rousing 2013 revival at London's Royal Opera House, and director Stefan Herheim's concept of setting the story in the Parisian opera house for which the work was composed happily doesn't make hash of the riveting historical drama. Conductor Antonio Pappano leads a gripping account of Verdi's score; singers Lianna Haroutounian, Bryan Hymel, Michael Volle and Erwin Schott (better known as Mr. Anna Netrebko) can scarcely be improved upon. The hi-def image and audio are equally excellent; extras comprise two backstage featurettes.

DVDs of the Week
Using found footage from several videographers, in 2009 Huang Weikai stitched together an unsettling cinematic collage that alarmingly shows how China's fast-paced modenization has wrought many unexpected  consequences to both dwellers in the cities and suburbs and animals both domesticated and wild. Unforgettable images include a massive mess of pigs roaming a highway, hucksters pretending to be hit by some of the many cars on the road in order to extort the innocent drivers, and bystanders protesting police brutality being brutalized themselves. A perfect complement to Huang's hour-long documentary, his earlier Floating (2005), explores the life of a street musician in rural China.

Hot Legs/California Gigolo 
(Vinegar Syndrome)
These late-'70s X-rated features creak along for 75 or so minutes as their flimsy plots vie for primacy with explicit sex scenes, starting with Hot Legs, which stars an able actor named Richard Pacheco—one of the few "porn" actors as believable out of bed as in—in a typically dumb sex comedy. California Gigolo stars the one and only John Holmes as the biggest stud in Hollywood: his lack of acting talent is usually overlooked by unfinicky adult-film connoisseurs, but there's also his complete inability to look like he actually enjoys having sex on camera. 

Sunken Ship Rescue 
Two Nova PBS specials explore notable recent news stories; first up is Sinkholes, which dissects these hazardously collapsing dangers that can occur slowly, over time, or in the blink of an eye, bringing death and destruction in their wake. The accompanying video footage is both hard to watch and hard to look away from. Sunken Ship Rescue recounts the amazing resurrection of the ill-fated cruise ship Costa Concordia, which hit a reef off the Italian coast and sank, killing dozens. Engineers lift the ship from its semi-submerged position and safely move it in history's biggest-ever ship recovery operation.

Sukkah City 
(First Run)
Sukkahs, temporary structures that Jewish people live in every fall during the holiday of Sukkot, are built according to basictenets in the Bible; "Sukkah City" is the brainchild of Joshua Foer, creator of a contest for architects to design sukkahs from which a dozen were chosen,  financed, built and displayed in Manhattan's Union Square Park one September weekend in 2010. Jason Hutt's engaging film, which shows the process for those whose designs were selected, culminates in a remarkable sequence of the 12 sukkahs being shown to the park's crowds. Extras comprise short featurettes like The Yeshiva Boys, which shows two young students who discuss whether these sukkahs are kosher.

CDs of the Week
Simone Dinnerstein—Broadway-Lafayette 
(Sony Classics)
Pianist Simone Dinnerstein cleverly links the centuries-old Franco-USA alliance with the affinities between American and French composers (using the downtown New York City subway stop on Broadway and Lafayette Streets for the cover shoot is a nice touch, too). Two works are warhorses, but since they are Maurice Ravel's scintillating piano concerto and George Gershwin's equally amazing Rhapsody in Blue, who's to argue? The newest work, The Circle and the Child, a concerto by French-American Philip Lasser, was written for Dinnerstein, while her precise playing makes it seem as if all these works are hers: she gives brightness and clarity to Ravel and Gershwin's jazzy syncopations. 

Weinberg—Violin Concerto/Symphony No. 4 
(Warner Classics)
Now that his splendid and thoroughly original music has been rediscovered, Polish-Russian composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (who died in 1996) receives another memorial to his talent with the latest must-listen disc of his work, which pairs his muscular Violin Concerto with his vigorous fourth symphony. Persuasively performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under sympathetic conductor Jacek Kaspszyk, Weinberg's Fourth Symphony pulsates throughout with taut energy, while violin soloist Ilya Gringolts brings out the concerto's marvelous musical touches.

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