Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June '15 Digital Week V

Blu-rays of the Week
(Arthaus Musik)
Richard Strauss's second opera, while nowhere near as memorable as the masterpieces Elektra and Salome (which followed and made his career), contains enough of the composer's typically sumptuous melodies and signature vocal writing to make it worth hearing, and this 2014 Palmero, Italy, staging does the job. Thanks to heroic singing by Nicola Beller Carbone and Dietrich Hentschel as the central lovers, it's a pleasantly diverting musical experience. The Blu-ray looks fine, the music sounds tremendou, and the lone extra is a making-of featurette.

The Forger
If John Travolta isn't very credible as an expert art forger working on a new project (a famous Monet canvas) while dealing with his grumpy father and terminal ill son in Philip Martin's middling melodrama, there's partial compensation in the supporting performances. Christopher Plummer makes an amusingly grizzled grandfather and Tye Sheridan a  believable dying teen, while Jennifer Ehle has a nice cameo as the kid's estranged mother and Abigail Spencer punches up an underwritten detective role. The movie looks sharp on Blu; lone extra is a short featurette.

Get Hard 
(Warner Brothers)
When you pair Will Farrell and Kevin Hart in a movie about a rich banker going to prison who hires a thug (so he thinks) to prep him for the big house, you know exactly what you'll get: a lot of racial—if not outright racist—jokes and gags, many going on too long for meager comic returns, especially in the longer uncut version. Director Etan Cohen knows what viewers want, so lets Farrell and Hart go through their usual shtick, providing hearty laughs amid the dross. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel and Farrell and Hart interviews.

The Happiness of the Katakuris 
(Arrow USA)
Even by the usual standards of Japanese director Takashi Miike, The Katakuris (2001) is demented and daffy, its surrealist touches, claymation sequences, song-and-dance numbers and even karaoke scenes adding up to a lot of initial delight but, since it shoots its black-comic wad early, it becomes a limping, draggy farce by its end. Those movie buffs who are on Miike's wavelength will no doubt get more out of it than the rest of us; it must be said that you won't see anything like it, for better or (mostly) worse. The Blu-ray image sparkles; extras include a Miike commentary and interview, making-of documentary and cast interviews.

I Am Evel Knievel 
(Virgil Films)
In the 1970s, among the most famous men in the world was a death-defying motorcycle-jumping stuntman who made headlines even when he failed spectacularly, as when he fell into the Snake River Canyon or crushed many bones attempting to jump 13 buses. Evel Knievel the icon is profiled in this hagiographic but still interesting documentary by directors Derik Murray and David Ray: his sons, wives, fans and friends (like Matthew McCoanughery, Kid Rock and Guy Fieri) attest to his being a rock-solid symbol of the American pursuit of happiness. The hi-def image looks decent; extras are two featurettes.

This action flick, directed by James McTeigue (who made his debut with V for Vendetta), makes scant sense, but once it gets going—after special agent Milla Jovovich, lone survivor of an explosive attack, is simultaneously tracked by and tracking assassin Pierce Brosnan—it rarely lets up during its diverting 90-minute running time. The finale, set in Times Square on New Year's Eve, stretches credulity to the breaking point, but so what? This definition of mindless fun looks superb on Blu-ray. Extras comprise a featurette and deleted scenes.

The Who—Live at Shea Stadium 1982
Rolling Stones From the Vault—The Marquee Club 1971
(Eagle Rock)
The Who's final tour as a functioning band—for its underrated It's Hard album in 1982—stopped at Shea Stadium for two nights; this hard-hitting two-hour show, mixing then-new and classic tunes like "Eminence Front," "Cry If You Want" and a Quadrophenia medley, was filmed the second night. Roger Daltrey's vocals had toughness and feel he's since lost, Pete Townshend was in exceptional wind-milling form, and John Entwistle's bass and Kenney Jones' drums were in lockstep throughout. Extras comprise five songs from the first night at Shea.

The Rolling Stones were at their peak at the time of this 1971 London concert, even if it's only 8 songs in 38 minutes (with 4 songs from the yet unreleased Sticky Fingers showcased): Mick's cutting vocals, Keith Richards and Mick Taylor's guitar interplay and the rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts take center stage. The accompanying CD includes the same tracks; extras are alternative takes of "Bitch" and "I Got the Blues." 

DVDs of the Week
Marcel Ophuls and Jean-Luc Godard: The Meeting in St-Gervais 
Legendary directors Marcel Ophuls and Jean-Luc Godard sat down for a discussion in Geneva, Switzerland, which begins by Godard's childhood reminiscences of World War II after seeing Ophuls' classic 1972 documentary epic The Sorrow and the Pity, which prompts Ophuls to candidly discuss the film's initial hostile reception in France. The two men's engaging 45-minute conversation about their films and their lives remains fascinating throughout, especially for fans of the directors, although it has the feel of a DVD extra rather than its own full-fledged release.

(Film Movement)
Aidan Gillen's excellent portrayal of Tom, a man whose life has unraveled since his beloved teenage son died in a tragic car crash, provides the emotional center of director Simon Blake's atmospheric, hard-hitting thriller. The intensity of Gillen's acting is sometimes difficult to watch, but it's equally difficult to look away from, especially when events spin out of control once Tom becomes embroiled in a local gang feud. Extras are deleted scenes and Gillen/Blake interviews.

Stop The Pounding Heart 
(Big World Pictures)
In this slow-moving but absorbing hybrid of documentary and unscripted drama, director Roberto Minervini introduces a strictly religious couple and their 12 children who live on a farm in the American South: the kids are home-schooled, and we watch as teenage daughter Sara deals with unknown feelings after she meets a young man. Sara's confusion over what her own faith and her parents taught her provides Minervini with the heart of his film, and with utmost delicacy he creates a low-key, uncondescending exploration of an insular community; in Sara Carlson he has found the perfect vessel for his spiritually questioning filmmaking. 

CD of the Week
Isabel Leonard—Preludios
It’s not surprising that American mezzo Isabel Leonard’s new recital CD comprises songs from Spain; the daughter of an Argentine mother, Leonard loves singing in Spanish, and it shows throughout this recording in her ebullient performances, whether it's the songs of the great Manuel de Falla or folk tunes from poet Federico Garcia Lorca. It’s also nice to hear Frederico Mompou and Enrique Granados, while Xavier Montsalvatge’s masterly cycle, Cinco canciones negras (Five Black Songs) shows off Brian Zeger’s sensitive piano accompaniment and Leonard’s natural exuberance singing this music. It’s true that Cinco is the go-to Montsalvatge, even though he composed so many other enduring, but rarely heard, songs. But any spotlight on this Catalan master is  always welcome, and Leonard’s vocal beauty makes the entire disc a must-hear.

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