Tuesday, May 26, 2015

May '15 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week
Ballet 422 
Jason Peck, choreographing the New York City Ballet's 422nd ballet at age 24, is seen in Jody Lee Lipes' intriguing documentary creating his new work (and humbly dealing with his star dancers, sets, costume designs and music) while the company—in which he dances as a corps member—continues its season all around him. Lipes' relaxed direction serves his fly-on-the-wall style quite well, the dancing is glorious (and strenuous), and it's heartening that Peck chose Bohuslav Martinu's underrated music to set his ballet, Paz de la Jolla, to. The Blu-ray looks fine; extras include a Lipes and Peck commentary, deleted scenes and interviews.

Charlie Chaplin's 1952 drama about a has-been vaudeville star and his heartwarming friendship with a young ballerina came five years after his final comic masterpiece, Monsieur Verdoux, and shows off a sentimental, self-pitying side amid his ongoing troubles with the U.S. government. The rough-around-the-edges film has poignant moments galore, including Chaplin's interactions with a fresh-faced Claire Bloom and his final appearance with fellow master comedian Buster Keaton. The 137-minute Limelight is surely overlong, but that's ultimately a minor quibble. Criterion's hi-def transfer is, once again, immaculate; extras comprise Chaplin shorts and audio reading; interviews with Bloom and actor Norman Lloyd; a video essay and documentary featurette on the film.

(Cohen Media)
The multifaceted genius of Orson Welles, brought back to life in this engaging 91-minute documentary by director Chuck Workman, is shown in the man's fascinating life, from his early days as a child prodigy to his initial theater triumphs, the radio War of the Worlds shocker and his arrival in Hollywood, where he made Citizen Kane: then came 40-plus years of various film projects, some finished, most not. The tragedy of Welles' bad luck is a questionable supposition, but Workman paints a provocative and often amusing portrait of a true American renaissance man; many interviews include collaborators and associates, film historians and others, and there are excerpts galore from many of Welles' projects, even the many unfinished ones. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; lone extra is a Workman interview.

Power—Complete 1st Season 
(Anchor Bay)
Sex, drugs, violence and pulsating music are the order of the day in this fast-paced crime drama about "Ghost," a celebrated New York entrepreneur who's using his hot new nightclub Truth as a front for his lucrative drug trade. The atmosphere of the city is palpable, the killings and adulterous escapades are legion, and the stylish cast (led by Omari Hardwick and Lela Loren as Ghost and his wife) makes it all go down smoothly. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras are brief featurettes.

Richard Strauss—The End of the Rainbow
(C Major)
In Eric Schulz's engrossing documentary of the last great classical composer—who died in 1949 at age 85—it emerges that Strauss felt he was last in line of a group of Germanic composers from Mozart and Beethoven to Wagner and Strauss himself. Alongside illuminating interviews with admiring experts and musicians, there are wonderful glimpses of Strauss on the conductor's podium, displaying his minimal technique in front of an orchestra. There are also snippets of his gorgeous music, from his operatic masterpieces to his tone poems and lieder (sung beautifully by a rising young Australian singer, Emma Moore), rounding out a revealing look at a master artist. The movie looks good on Blu-ray.

State of Siege 
In Costa-Gavras' tensely directed 1973 propaganda film, the real-life murder of an American in Central America by a group of left-wing revolutionaries is the jumping-off point for a story that all but sanctions political assassination for the greater good: in other words, the triumph of Communist ideology over U.S. imperialism. Although siding with terrorists, Costa-Gavras is no fool: by having the patsy-turned-sacrifical lamb played by the suavely urbane Yves Montand, the American gets automatic sympathy that's nowhere in Costa-Gavras and Franco Solinas's script. Criterion's new release features its usual stellar-looking hi-def transfer, a new Costa-Gavras interview and NBC Nightly News excerpts about the real-life kidnaping and killing of American Dan A. Mitrione, upon whom the film is based.

DVDs of the Week
The Blue Room 
(MPI/Sundance Selects)
For his latest directorial effort, French actor Mathieu Amalric daringly transforms Belgian mystery writer Georges Simenon's novella into a tense, nail-biting thriller all the more remarkable for what Amalric crams into a 76-minute running time. A devoted father and husband has an affair with an old flame; when their spouses meet untimely ends, suspicion naturally falls on them. As in the book, Amalric avoids linear plot progression to enter the man's confused mindset: is he culpable or a dupe? There's sublime acting by Amalric, his real-life paramour—and cowriter—Stephanie Cleau as his mistress and Lea Drucker as his wife; a brittle chamber score by Gregoire Hetzel adroitly gives way (at the chilling ending) to a perfectly chosen Bach-Busoni piano piece. Why this sublime film is not on Blu-ray is a mystery.

The Bridge—Series 2 
(MHZ Networks)
After the first series ended with a shocking murder, a new case brings Asperger's suffering Swedish detective Saga and no-nonsense Danish detective Martin back together: although these always gripping ten episodes involve left-wing terrorists whose methods become increasingly more lethal, the relationship between Saga and Martin remains smartly at the center. And the performances by Kim Bodnia (best known to American audiences as the Iranian villain in Jon Stewart's directorial debut Rosewater) as Martin and Sofia Helin as Saga, whose deeply sympathetic portrait of a seemingly icy and distant woman who is anything but is no mere Rainman stunt, keep The Bridge firing on all cylinders.

Glee—Complete Final Season 
Masters of Sex—Complete 2nd Season 
Glee goes out on a bittersweet note in its last season, with its high school alumni moving on with their lives. Still, the sheer fun of the show's unapologetically goofy musical numbers remains, as does the powerhouse presence of Lea Michele, who should return to Broadway for real as soon as possible. In the second season of Masters of Sex, researchers Masters and Johnson continue their professional and personal explorations; although more fiction than fact, the series is entertaining if less than illuminating, with a solid Michael Sheen as Masters and an exceptional Lizzy Kaplan as Johnson. Extras include featurettes. 

Her Alibi
Guilty by Suspcion 
(Warner Archive)
Bruce Berseford's 1989 comic romance Her Alibi remains a distinctly minor piece of fluff, especially coming in the midst of several of Beresford's greatest artistic and commercial successes—Driving Miss Daisy, Black Robe, Mister Johnson—with a stolid Tom Selleck and game Paulina Porizkova in the leads: at least William Daniels retains his usual sophistication. In 1990's Guilty by Suspicion, Irwin Winkler's well-meaning but hackneyed dramatization of the supposed Communist infiltration of Hollywood in the McCarthy era, Robert DeNiro is fatally miscast as a top director brought down by tenuous Commie links; in support, Annette Bening is her usual effortlessly natural self, while George Wendt and Martin Scorsese bluster unpersuasively—rather like Winkler's script.

The Sleepwalker 
(MPI/Sundance Selects)
Director-cowriter Mona Fastvold's psychological character study of a couple, Kaia and Andrew who, while renovating her family's old country house, must deal with the arrival of her troubled younger sister Christine and her boyfriend Ira is initially tightly controlled and tautly effective—if downright weird. But as the behavior of the four principals becomes ever stranger, Fastvole and cowriter Brady Corbet (who plays Ira) allow contrivance to overtake plausibility, and the movie limps to a preposterous ending. Lone extra is a director/cast interview.

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