Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April '15 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
Big Eyes 
(Anchor Bay/Weinstein Co)
In Tim Burton's most fully realized film since 2004's Big Fish, the stranger-than-fiction true story of Margaret Keane, who ghostpainted a series of popular (and infamous) works in the '50s and '60s, is brought to vividly outlandish life, helped by a solid script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (veterans of the equally weird biopics Ed Wood—Burton's best film—and The People vs. Larry Flynt). Although Christoph Waltz is typically hammy as husband Walter Keane, who took credit for the paintings, Amy Adams sympathetically plays Margaret in a subtle characterization that fuels Burton's engrossing exploration of art, pseudo-art and popular culture. The colorful visuals look terrific on Blu; extras include a making-of featurette and Q&As with Burton, Adams, Margaret Keane and others.

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken 
A riveting real-life tale, director Daniel Alfredson's fast-paced, involving thriller recreates the kidnapping of a Heineken beer company heir in Amsterdam in 1983, when he and his driver were held for 23 days by a group of criminals who were paid $35 million in ransom; although all the men were eventually caught, very little of the money was recovered. Anthony Hopkins makes a perfectly bemused Heineken, and Jim Sturgess and Sam Worthington are convincing as the gang's leaders. The hi-def transfer is immaculate; extras are deleted scenes.

Mad as Hell 
The Young Turks is an internet phenomenon that's spawned a massive online presence and popularity, and its frank-talking founder Cenk Uygur is profiled in director Andrew Napier's examination of how politics and the media intersect in the 21st century. With uncontrolled rage, Uygur goes after Republicans and Democrats indiscriminately, as he speaks truth to power online and on TV, where he had brief runs as host on both MSNBC and Current TV. The movie, primarily television/internet footage and talking-head interviews, looks decent enough on Blu; extras comprise several featurettes.

The Missing 
(Anchor Bay/Starz)
This tightly-wound eight-episode mystery drama recounts the unbearable pain and anger brought on husband Tony and wife Emily when their five-year-old Oliver disappears while on vacation in France (the series was shot on location in Belgium). With menace in the air, The Missing slowly moves toward its shocking denouement, following the glacial pace of investigations and simultaneous deterioration of the relationship of the grieving Tony and Emily, played impeccably by James Nesbitt and Frances O'Connor. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras are short featurettes.

The Voices 
This almost jaw-dropping fiasco, which follows the adventures of an cheerful serial killer who has conversations with his cat and dog and, eventually, the severed heads of female co-workers whom he butchers, does nearly everything wrong. Director Marjane Satrapi has an insistently strident tone (is she really the maker of Persepolis and Chicken with Plums?), Michael R. Perry has delivered a ham-fisted script and, most depressingly of all, several fine actors are called on to do their worst work, from Ryan Reynolds as the lovable anti-hero to the usually adorable Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick as two of his victims. The Blu-ray at least looks good; extras include featurettes. extended and deleted scenes.

The Way Things Go 
Considered the "merry pranksters of contemporary art," Peter Fischli and David Weiss collaborated on elaborately-scaled, dementedly crafted chaos that included an exquisitely wrought contraption that was filmed for posterity in 1987 for this endlessly entrancing 30-minute feature. In an astonishing domino effect, the artists built up a 100-foot-long structure, comprising household and tool-shed items like tires, kettles, and pieces of wood that affect one another in a painstaking chain reaction of self-destruction that is worth watching again and again if only to continue asking yourself, "How (and why) did they do that?" The Blu-ray looks adequate, considering the source material (a DVD is also included).

DVDs of the Week
The Book of Negroes 
(e one)
Based on a novel by Lawrence Hill, this extraordinarily detailed, often tough to watch mini-series might be seen as a Roots for a new generation, but after all, the sorrowful history of American slavery has literally thousands of individual stories, and Aunjanue Ellis's is as valid and as drama-worthy as any. She was kidnapped by African slave traders as a young girl, taken to America and sold to South Carolina masters; years later, she ends up in England, where she becomes a leading proponent of abolition of the slave trade. Striking production values and superb acting—especially by Aunjanue Ellis as our valiant heroine—this mini-series is a must-watch. Extras include deleted scenes, interviews and a featurette.

Happy Valley 
(Music Box)
The shameful Penn State scandal, in which beloved football coach Joe Paterno was excoriated then fired when he did the barest minimum when confronted with evidence that one of his long-time assistants, Jerry Sandusky, was a serial pedophile, is exasperatingly recounted by evenhanded director Amir Bar-Lev. Everyone has his say, from those who defended Paterno and Penn State, like the coach's widow, to those, like Sandusky's adopted son, who first defends his father then admits to being molested and joins the other accusers. This is a chilling firsthand account of how a closely-knit community was torn apart and how it continues to deal with such heinous crimes. The lone extra is a director interview.

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not 
(First Run)
Audrey Tautou's eternal cuteness becomes a tragic mask for a severely damaged protagonist in writer-director Laetitia Colombani's unsettling, blackly comic thriller about an unhinged young woman, Angelique, in love with a doctor, Loic (Samuel Le Bihan), who has a pregnant wife (Isabelle Carre) whom Angelique feels is in the way of their happiness. Colombani smartly balances Angelique's buoyant but clueless happiness with Loic's matter-of-fact uneasiness in a boldly unconventional drama that only missteps at the very end, when the mental-health profession is called into question in a cavalier way for the sake of a "shock" ending.

One Step Beyond 
(Film Chest)
Even though it debuted on television a few months before the more celebrated Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond carved out its own niche with spellbinding half-hour stories of strange goings-on that ran the gamut from vaguely supernatural to outright inexplicable. Narrator/host John Newland took on the Rod Serling role here, and sharp viewers will track down many stars just starting out or at the tail end of their careers, from Warren beatty, Suzanne Pleshette and Yvette Mimieux to Joan Fontaine and Norman Lloyd. The six discs contain 70 episodes of the series.

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