Tuesday, May 5, 2015

May '15 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
Accidental Love 
The back story to this feeble attempt at a political farce is more interesting than what's onscreen: it was made in 2008 as Nailed, directed by David O. Russell and with rising young stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Biel in the leads. For various reasons (but primarily because it was so bad), Russell quit, and the movie has been in limbo until now. Directing credit goes to pseudonymous Stephen Greene, while Gyllenhaal (who looks like a kid) and a trove of familiar supporting faces like Kirstie Alley, James Brolin, Katherine Keener, James Marsden and Tracy Morgan are undermined by the material. Biel actually shows a flair for light comedy; too bad it's wasted on this embarrassing addition to the resumes of all involved. The hi-def transfer is OK.

Dancing on the Edge 
This stylish mini-series set in 1930s London engrossingly captures the behind the scenes and onstage drama that occurs when a rising black jazz ensemble makes it big among the aristocracy and upper-class audiences. Although the storylines filling five 90-minute episodes and a 60-minute finale start to resemble soap operas and trashy novels, wonderful musicmaking, strong acting (from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew Goode, Jacqueline Bisset, Janet Montgomery and John Goodman) and director Stephen Poliakoff's credible era atmosphere more than compensate. The Blu-ray transfer is first-rate; extras include cast and crew interviews.

42nd Street 
(Warner Archive)
In this splashy 1933 musical, Broadway music and dancing merge for a beautifully done last 20 minutes: unfortunately, there's that first hour-plus, which laboriously puts the movie's wooden characters through their routine paces. No matter: what Lloyd Bacon's direction lacks in precision, it makes up for with panache, helped by tunes like "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" and the title song, set to Busby Berkeley's smart production numbers: that's entertainment, indeed. On Blu-ray, the restored film sparkles; extras are featurettes and two vintage cartoons, including Shuffle Off to Buffalo, which has a warning label about its era's ethnic stereotyping.

Frank Sinatra 5-Film Collection 
(Warner Brothers)
In honor of the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra's birth, this five-disc set collects some of his best and most popular onscreen roles, from his early musical appearances in 1945's Anchors Weigh, 1949's On the Town and 1955's Guys and Dolls; to the fun but sluggish gangster movies Oceans 11 (1960) and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964). The vivid color and ebullient musical scores of Town and Dolls make them the pick of the litter, and Sinatra has fun duking it out with Gene Kelly, Ann Miller, Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons. The Blu-ray transfers of all five films are excellent; extras include a 32-page photo book, vintage cartoons, featurettes, commentaries and a Tonight Show segment with Sinatra as guest host.

(Warner Brothers)
Martin Scorsese's 1990 drama about mobster Nick Pileggi is considered one of the great gangster films and, although Scorsese's direction and Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta's acting are stupendous, there's a sense that it is all too much, that Scorsese rubs our noses in the bad guys' gleefully violent lives. Still, such superior cinematic craft is exciting to watch, and this may be the final truly accomplished and memorable film of Scorsese's career (despite later entries as Casino, The Aviator and the Oscar-winning The Departed). This 25th anniversary set features an improved hi-def transfer, 36-page photo book and new 30-minute documentary; older extras include two commentaries, featurettes and interviews.

Mr. Turner 
(Sony Classics)
Director Mike Leigh smartly chose his collaborators for his impressively mounted 2-1/2 hour drama about the last 25 years of the great but controversial 19th century British artist J.M.W. Turner: cinematographer Dick Pope and actor Timothy Spall. Pope's luminous photography suggests but doesn't ape Turner's rough-and-tumble canvases of striking beauty, while Spall's miraculous portrayal of the cantankerous genius avoids caricature and hamminess: even his growl, which in lesser hands would be an affectation, is a natural manifestation of the artist's personality. The superb hi-def transfer allows further appreciation of the film's visual luster; extras comprise Leigh's commentary, a deleted scene and behind the scenes featurettes.

DVDs of the Week
The Legacy 
(MHZ Networks)
In this gripping high-class Danish soap opera, renowned artist Veronika Gronnegaard inconveniently dies after telling a family friend that she is Veronika's real daughter to whom she's bequeathing her mansion, to the consternation of her three "official" grown children. The infighting among these squabbling siblings—whose emotional ebbs and flows never wane, whether the battles are legal or personal—is dramatized with blood and guts by the tremendous cast (which includes two performers familiar to eagle-eyed foreign-film fans, Trine Dryholm and Jesper Christiansen), which carries this bingeworthy 10-hour drama enough to keep us waiting with bated breath for the second season, already showing on Danish television.

Lost Rivers 
For centuries, cities sprung up at the confluence of rivers and over time, those rivers were buried underground as cities grew and the waters became more polluted and disease-ridden; as Caroline Bacle's timely and relevant documentary shows, reclaiming the rivers is the prudent and environmentally sound thing to do. Places as far-flung as Toronto, Yonkers and London are working through the difficulties of bureaucratic red tape and natural barriers to make their original waterways more accessible to the public, with varying (but on the whole satisfactory) results so far. Extras comprise 14 additional scenes.

Miss Julie 
Liv Ullmann's restrained adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's tragic drama has the passion and complexity the director obviously learned from her mentor Ingmar Bergman, and features a thoroughly believable Samantha Morton as the housekeeper. Too bad that Jessica Chastain as Miss Julie and Colin Farrell as her aristocratic father's valet are too contemporary to disappear into their period roles, despite valiant attempts. Ullmann's directorial efforts have been sadly overlooked on disc, especially her best films Private Confessions (not on DVD or Blu-ray) and Faithless (not on Blu-ray). Extras are Chastain and Ullmann interviews.

The Murder of a Cat 
(Anchor Bay)
The seamy underbelly of suburbia has been done to death, and director Gillian Greene and writers Christian Magalhes and Robert Snow have little new or fresh to say in this scattershot black comedy triggered by the killing of a nerdy momma's boy's feline friend. As a showcase for Blythe Danner, recent Oscar winner J.K. Simmons, Greg Kinnear and underrated Nikki Reed, it's watchable, but the movie is never as smart, funny or edgy as it pretends to be.

My Mistress 
(Film Movement)
This unsatisfying taboo drama about a 16-year-old who befriends an unhappily married—and improbably sexy—neighbor who happens to be not only a gorgeous Frenchwoman but also an S&M expert provides few answers to why Emmanuelle Beart went to Australia to make it. She and Harrison Gilbertson do what they can with Gerard Lee and director Stephen Lance's flimsy script, but their relationship, in and out of bed, is never made plausible. Beart looks stunning in her various latex outfits, at least. Extras comprise interviews, but—contrary to the box cover—there was no Beart interview on my copy.

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