Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July '15 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week
Cemetery Without Crosses 
(Arrow USA)
An unabashed tribute to Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, French director-actor-cowriter Robert Hossein made this entertaining 1969 revenge shoot-em-up at the height of the craze: it passes by harmlessly enough, with an interesting hanging at the opening that's followed by lots of vacant stares and pauses that do little more than fill up the 90-minute running time. Hossein himself plays the hero of sorts with little nuance, while French actress Michele Mercier plays the femme fatale with an enthusiasm belying her lack of acting ability. The film looks fine for its age on Blu; extras are three Hossein interviews.

The Erotic Rites of Dr. Frankenstein 
(Kino Lorber)
In Jess Franco's (deliberately?) mistitled thriller, after the famous doctor Victor Frankenstein is killed, his own daughter Vera has to take on the ultimate bad guy, a wizard and his assistant, a blind bird-woman (of course!). Although the movie is anything but erotic, it's a mildly enjoyable yarn that shows off Franco's eye for female pulchritude and sharp European locations, which combine to keep it watchable. The movie looks OK but a little soft on Blu; lone extra is a commentary.

(C Major)
Although Franz Schubert wrote magnificent songs and chamber music, his operas never made it far in the repertoire, which gnawed at him in his brief life (he died at 31 in 1828): this engaging production of his most accomplished dramatic work has all hands coming together musically, vocally and directorially. Peter Stein's 2014 Salzburg staging of this romantic epic is well done, while the singers—Julia Kleiter, Georg Zeppenfeld, Markus Werba—and musicians (under Ingo Metzmacher's able baton) present Schubert's rich melodies the way they were meant to be heard. The hi-def image and sound are first-rate; extras are interviews.

Life on the Reef 
The Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast, the largest coral reef system on earth, is so large it can be seen from outer space: in Nick Robinson's engrossing three-hour documentary, above- and underwater HD cameras present an educational look at this amazing part of our world. The eye-popping colors, the bountiful variety of marine life, and even glimpses at human disasters (there's a heartstopping moment when a rescue plane is dispatched for a burning boat with more than a dozen people aboard) make this a must-see nature epic. The Blu image is stunning, unsurprisingly.

Rolling Stones from the Vault: Hyde Park Live 1969 
(Eagle Rock)
When the Stones performed at Hyde Park, it was only two days after former member Brian Jones died, and there's a weird moment when Mick Jagger recites a Shelly poem before the assembled throng; the rest of the 55-minute concert film—out of running order and only containing half of the show's songs—consists of ragged but straight-ahead rock'n'roll. The band performed "Honky Tonk Women" for the first time, its sleazy vibe already in evidence; other highlights are "Midnight Rambler" and "Sympathy for the Devil," the latter accompanied by African tribal drummers. Too bad this historic concert is so truncated, but fans won't care.

Der Rosenkavalier 
(Arthaus Musik and Opus Arte)
Richard Strauss' grandest opera has been a staple since its 1911 premiere, so it's too bad that the 2014 Glyndebourne, England, staging is so undistinguished: although Kate Royal, a formidable singing actress, succeeds royally in her first attempt at the Marschallin, the others performing the greatest female trio in opera history—Tara Erraught and Teodora Gheorghiu—are not up to her level. A better trio is in the 2004 Salzburg Festival staging, with Adrienne Pieczonka, Miah Persson and Angelika Kirchschalger (the best Octavian in recent memory) do wonders with Strauss' characteristically gorgeous vocal lines, especially in that final, unforgettable trio that becomes a meltingly lovely duet. The new version looks fine and the earlier one looks decent on Blu. Extras on the Glyndebourne disc comprise interviews.

3 Hearts 
(Cohen Film Collection)
A love triangle between a man and two sisters sounds enticing, but in Benoit Jacquot's clumsy hands, it turns out less exciting than a trip to the dentist: don't blame actor Benoit Poelvoorde, directed to be either sullen or moody by turns; too bad neither of his leading ladies, charmless Chiara Mastroianni and one-note Charlotte Gainsbourg, are worthy of his time and trouble. Jacquot's silly machinations include his laying on portentous music and omniscient narration with a trowel, all to no avail. The film looks good on Blu; lone extra is a 30-minute Jacquot Q&A.

The Water Diviner 
(Warner Bros)
For his directorial debut, Russell Crowe tackles an expansive yet intimate true story of an Australian farmer who travels to Turkey to find out what happened to his three sons, who fought in the battle of Gallipoli. Crowe is, as usual, taciturn in the lead role, but as director he has an easy grasp (like fellow Aussie Mel Gibson) for action juxtpasoed with sentimental domestic scenes. There's also an immaculate performance by Ukrainian beauty Olga Kurylenko, and the emotional family bonds are enough to see us to the end despite the glaring flaws. Andrew Lesnie's gritty photography has been superbly transferred to hi-def; extras are making-of and Gallipoli featurettes.

DVDs of the Week
With his entry in an unwelcome tradition of normal young women falling for obnoxious guys, director-writer Sam Esmail harks back to earlier films—The Sixth Sense and Annie Hall come up in the first few minutes—in a desperate attempt to make his conventional romance seem unconventional. Mixing the chronology of the relationship is another ruse to hide the flimsiness of his conceit; if Emmy Rossum is her usual adorable self, Justin Long too easily enacts the typically annoying creep. 

Count Your Blessings
The High Cost of Loving 
(Warner Archive)
In Blessings, Jean Negulesco's 1959 romantic comedy, Britisher Deborah Kerr doesn't forgive French husband Rossano Brazzi's many dalliances while in the army for nine years, does the unthinkable and divorces him: this medium-concept material is partially redeemed by the charming pair of Kerr and Brazzani, with Maurice Chavalier lending gallant support as Brazzani's uncle. Jose Ferrer directs and stars in High Cost, a 1958 comic romp about an office worker with a pregnant young wife who thinks he's about to lose his job: after a sublime silent opening sequence, the movie settles down to routine comic asides about office and home life, with Gena Rowlands scoring in her debut as the wife.

Our Daily Poison 
Journalist Marie-Monique Robin made this documentary about the chemicals that keep being put into our food supply in 2010, but even in the lightning-fast internet era, it's still a wake-up call about an industry more interested in manufacturing more rather than healthier food. Robin, who enlists the assistance of experts in the field from Europe and the U.S., buttresses her argument with vintage clips that show that this is not merely a 21st century liberal issue. A personal quibble: in her narration, Robin pronounces "grocer" as "grosher," which I find gross!

(First Run)
A worthy Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee this year, Georgian writer-director Zaza Urushadze's drama about an elderly man who nurses opposing wounded soldiers during the Georgian war of the 1990s nestles its allegorical account of warfare's insanity and futility inside an unassumingly subtle drama about pure goodness. Without wielding a sledgehammer, Urushadze still hammers home pertinent points about adversarial mania among ancient enemies, and his flawless cast embodies these men not simply as types, but as real people, which adds to  the film's low-key but real power. Lone extra is a five-minute on-set featurette.

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