Tuesday, June 2, 2015

June '15 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
Shakespeare's Cymbeline—a complex, problematic but ultimately rewarding play—has been transformed by director Michael Almereyda into an obtuse and pointless drama about outlaw bikers and even worse cops: it should be seen by anyone who wants to hear the Bard butchered by Ed Harris, Ethan Hawke, Milla Jovavich, John Leguizamo and others: it must ve said that Dakota Johnson makes her Imogen sound poetic in this company. In Tracers, Taylor Lautner and Marie Avgeropoulos make goo-goo eyes at each other for 90 minutes as a gang of shifty acrobats jump all over New York in a fast and brainless action flick. Both movies have first-rate transfers; Cymbeline extras are a commentary, featurettes and interviews, and Tracers extras are two featurettes.

(Warner Bros)
In this colorful, slickly inconsequential ride, Will Smith and a dazzling Margot Robbie (resembling a more glamorous Jaime Pressley) are con artists who fall in love while taking advantage of other easy—and not so easy—targets...and even each other. Although there are far too many unbelievable twists, Smith is his usual laconic self and the talanted Robbie proves herself, even with such flimsy material, among our most winning young actresses. The movie's glamor translates well to Blu-ray; extras are featurettes, deleted scenes and alternate opening.

(Arthaus Musik)
In this monumental 1978 opera based on King Lear, German composer Aribert Reimann's huge chunks of atonal blocks of modernist sound bring out the epic, inexorable tragedy Shakespeare's towering masterpiece: in this 2014 Munich production, baritone Bo Skovhus makes an imposing Lear, and soprano Siobhan Stagg a symapthetic Cordelia; too bad Karoline Gruber's foolish modern-dress staging is at odds with the material itself. Simone Young conducts a lucid, penetrating version of Reimann's powerful score. Extras are Reimann and Young interviews.

Lost Songs—The Basement Tapes Continued 
(Eagle Rock)
Take a bunch of old, circa 1967 Dylan lyrics never set to music; add Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith, Jim James and Marcus Mumford to turrn them into new songs with producer T Bone Burnett at the legendary Capitol Records studio in Hollywood and you have an endlessly watchable music documentary. For nearly two hours, these artists fashion intriguing new ways of digging into Dylan's words, and the finished product, while variable, soars when Giddens sings. The hi-def image is good; extras comprise full performances of six of the songs, including Giddens' wonderful "Hidee Hidee Ho #16."

The Two Gentlemen of Verona 
(Opus Arte)
And here's even more Shakespeare. Giuseppe Verdi's opera Macbeth is not one of his best works, and horror movie schlockmeister Dario Argento's diffuse 2013 staging from Novara, Italy, doesn't clarify matters: in the leads, Giuseppe Altomare and Dimitra Theodossiou are unable to transcend Argento's banal direction or Verdi's unimaginative score, which conductor Giuseppe Sabbatini and his players are also hampered by. In Stratford-upon-Avon's new staging of Two Gentlemen of Verona, the Bard's early and bumpy comedy is played as if it's a forerunner of the TV sitcom, which isn't so far wrong; happily, there's a pivotally fine peformance by Pearl Chanda as heroine Julia. Both discs have good transfers; lone extra on Verona is director Simon Goodwin's commentary.

Sure, Johnny Depp's unctuous British accent is perfect, but since David Koepp's spy spoof is otherwise DOA, that's not a compelling reason to watch such an aggressively unfunny movie: the real question is, who thought that this would be an entertaining way to spend 105 minutes? Depp is insufferable in a role he hams it up more than in his last few Tim Burton movies, while Gwyneth Paltrow is her usual dull self, gorgeous Olivia Munn has little to do, and poor Ewan MacGregor seems all too aware how hamfisted it all is. The Blu-ray looks fine; extras comprise two featurettes.

DVDs of the Week
Michael Keaton is the only one on the box cover for Joseph Ruben's routine thriller that steals from Wait Until Dark in its story of Sara, blinded while a photojournalist in Iraq, who must use every ounce of her wits to overcome two lethal killers looking for diamonds and cash her boyfriend has been hiding. But it's Michelle Monaghan as Sara who comes up aces, bringing intensity and realism to make us root for her despite the cliched twists that develop as the bad guys (played broadly by Keaton and Barry Sloane) close in on her.

Smiling Through the Apocalypse—Esquire in the '60s 
(First Run)
In his account of his father Harold Hayes's time as editor of Esquire magazine in the 1960s, director Tom Hayes has made a heartfelt but dispassionate reminiscence of one of the great mag men in an era when writing for magazines was considered an exalted cultural position, as breaking news and hard-hitting features presaged a great if controversial era. Archival and new interviews galore with many of those who worked for the magazine, like Gore Vidal, Tom Wolfe, Nora Ephron, Robert Benton and Candice Bergen, don't elbow out Hayes, who rightly remains the central figure. Extras comprise bonus interviews.

So Bright Is the View 
The new Romanian cinema, dominated by slow-moving but intelligent character studies, has another winner: brothers Joel Levy Florescu and Michael Levy Florescu wrote and directed this engrossing drama about a preganant young woman dealing with her boyfriend, the possible loss of her job and her deciding to move to either America or to Israel where her mother lives. Formal concision reigns (the movie comprises a few dozen shots and few camera movements), but Bianca Valea's subtly incisive characterization of the young woman that makes this unforgettable. Lone extra is a director interview.

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