Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April '15 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
(Anchor Bay)
When a young writer with nightmarish visions brought on by her inability to sleep stays at her boyfriend's glass house in the desert to get needed seclusion, her problem gets worse, as people begin dying...could she be the cause? This stylishly superficial horror film makes scant sense, but that's part of the fun; there's also a committed lead performance by the excellent actress Kate French, who makes this far more watchable than it deserves to be. The movie looks sharp on Blu-ray.

(Anchor Bay/Radius)
In Joe Lynch's cartoonish action thriller, a steady stream of gun-toting men and women (and the occasional canine) comes to finish off a prostitute after her mobster boss gives the word, and for whom she devises new and ingenious ways to survive their attacks. Such silliness overstays its welcome even at a scant 90 minutes, but there is literally bloody entertainment for awhile as Salma Hayek—sporting a huge back tattoo like any self-respecting femme fatale—explosively lights up the dozens of bad guys and gals. The Blu-ray transfer is good; extras comprise two commentaries and a music video.

(Sky Vision)
As bleak and cold as its Arctic locale, this multi-part series follows several morose characters tied together by a murder that upsets a quiet, dying title town trying to become economically relevant as a tourist destination. An outside detective brought in to lead the investigation is another thorn, but that's merely the tip of a messy soap-opera iceberg that opens a pandora's box of secrets, to mix metaphors. A sterling cast, led by Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston, Sofie Grabol and a less than usually annoying Stanley Tucci, helps the beautifully shot series become more than just a dramatic oddity. The hi-def transfer is stunning; extras are cast and crew interviews.

Mark of the Devil 
Day of Anger 
(Arrow USA)
In his 1969 horror flick Mark of the Devil, director Michael Armstrong tackles religious hysteria with schlocky aplomb, and terrifically deadpan actors like Herbert Lom and Udo Kier as witch hunters and voluptuous beauties like Ingeborg Schoner and Oliviera Vico as potential victims keep this blood-spilling, body-burning thriller moving to its predictable but satisfying conclusion. Too bad 1967's Day of Anger, Tonino Valerii's routine western, becomes more absurd as it goes along, never approaching Devil's "guilty pleasure" status; Valerii's directing is barely competent, and his mostly (dubbed) Italian cast doesn't interact believably with Lee Van Cleef's gunslinger. Both films look superbly grainy on Blu; extras comprise a Devil commentary, as well as featurettes, interviews and deleted scenes.

Mysteries of the Unseen World in 3D 
(Virgil Films)
This IMAX movie, plunging us into the midst of an amazing world we can't see with the naked eye, uses both time-lapse and high-speed photography to show the "nanoworld," where insects with dozens of eyes and creatures even tinier than they exist, like strains of bacteria (both beneficial and harmful) that live on our own bodies. Forrest Whitaker narrates with the right balance of authority and awe; the 40 minutes' worth of incredible footage includes owls flying in slo-mo, grass growing right before our very eyes and God's eye views of the heretofore invisible traces of civilization on earth. The Blu-ray, in both 3D or 2D, looks spectacular; lone extra is a 15-minute making-of featurette.

DVDs of the Week
Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed 
(Strand Releasing)
David Trueba's engagingly nostalgic drama set in Spain in 1966 (when John Lennon was on location filming How I Won the War with director Richard Lester) is a subtle critique of the stifling Franco era that smartly plays as a sweet-natured character study. An exceptional acting trio—Javier Camara as a middle-aged Fab Four-obsessed teacher wanting to meet Lennon, Fransesc Colomer as a teenager running away from his dictatorial dad, and (in the movie's most graceful performance) Natalia de Molina as a pregnant young woman who left her convent—provides endearing grace notes to keep the focus on the film's central relationships. Extras comprise deleted scenes and a featurette on Pat Metheny's acoustic guitar arrangements for the film.

Population Boom 
(First Run)
Maker of the documentary Plastic Planet, Austrian director Werner Boote unleashes another provocation, this time bucking conventional wisdom coalesced around the belief that the world is overpopulated, and it's only a matter of time before we its irreversible effects. Speaking with many experts in their fields from around the globe, Boote questions whether mankind must reduce its seven billion-plus inhabitants or else: will industrialized nations let go of their demand that developing nations stop developing? Whether one agrees or not, Boote raises necessary questions about our very survival.

A Tale of Winter 
(Big World Pictures)
The second of French director Eric Rohmer's Tales of the Four Seasons is this slight if sweet-natured 1992 study of a young woman who, five years after a fling (and a daughter), juggles two men while hoping that the father of her child will reappear. As always with Rohmer's films, the talkiness is less penetrating and interesting than he thinks, while a bad French performance of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale brings the movie to a screeching halt for several minutes. Why Rohmer's women seem borderline dim-witted—the heroine gave the original paramour the wrong address, which is why they are apart—is a quirk others seem to appreciate more than I. 

Actress Angela Bassett made her directorial debut with this Lifetime Channel biopic about  Whitney Houston, who died of a drug overdose in 2012: recounting her problematic relationship with, marriage to and separation from fellow singer Bobby Brown, it's a surprisingly (semi) warts and all portrait. At 88 minutes, it's nowhere near in-depth, but it's worth seeing thanks to Bassett's sincerity, Yaya DaCosta's canny portrayal of Whitney, and singer Deborah Cox's spot-on renditions of several of the star's biggest hits.

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