Wednesday, September 9, 2015

September '15 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
Aerosmith Rocks Donington 2014
(Eagle Rock)
For Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer, four decades of rocking out comprises the highs of hits and comebacks and lows of drug abuse and arid musical patches: this headlining concert shows the elder statesmen of good ol' American rock'n'roll in fine form despite everything. Tyler's voice, while not the versatile instrument it once was, is still good and growly on the opening one-two punch of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” and “Eat the Rich,” while Whitford and Perry's dual axe attack remains the envy of air guitarists everywhere on “Toys in the Attic” and the final encore, “Mama Kin.” The pummeling rhythm section of Hamilton and Kramer keeps the band locked in, and the show is a blast despite clunkers like “Cryin’” and “Livin’ on the Edge.” The video image is sharp, the music sounds even sharper.

The Age of Adaline
Talk about typecasting: Blake Lively plays an impossibly beautiful woman who happens to be immortal; since she never ages past her current 29, after living for a century, she makes sure to stay away from getting too close to people (although apparently not pets), until she meets someone and falls in love. When he introduces her to his parents, however, her past comes back to haunt her. This intriguing drama owes too much to its Twilight Zone-ish premise, but Lively is always watchable, and a fine supporting cast—including Ellen Burstyn as Lively's daughter and Harrison Ford as an old lover—helps things moving along even when the creakiness of director Lee Toland Krieger’s storytelling machinery is obviously visible. The film looks glorious on Blu; extras comprise director's commentary and making-of featurette.

(Anchor Bay)
In his final performance before his suicide last year, Robin Williams gives an intense portrayal of a closeted, conservative middle-aged husband and office manager whose conflicted double life comes to a head when a young hustler becomes his lover then a son surrogate. Although competently directed by Dito Montiel from Douglas Soesbe's disjointed script, the 88-minute movie doesn't amounts to much despite Williams' pained gravity (and good support by Kathy Baker, Bob Odenkirk and Roberto Aguire), which could even snag the actor a posthumous Oscar nomination. The hi-def image is first-rate.

7 Minutes
(Anchor Bay)
This thriller about a routine bank robbery gone wrong doesn't have much originality about it, despite the effectiveness of the acting and some cleverness in Jay Martin’s directing. Despite his obvious nods to Kubrick's The Killing in the structure of inserting back stories and plot twists to keep suspense percolating during the actual heist, Martin doesn't so much rachet up the tension as stave off the inevitable denouement as long as he can. The hi-def transfer is very good; extras are a featurette and storyboards.

The World According to Garp
(Warner Archive)
John Irving's beloved novel was adapted in 1982 by director George Roy Hill and screenwriter Steve Tesich, and the result—despite the necessary streamlining and abridgement in putting the sprawling book onscreen—is far from a disaster: in fact, Hill and Tesich manage to keep many of Irving's absurdist elements without jettisoning its sentimental heart, confront the cruelties his characters endure without wallowing in nastiness (no mean feat) and add their own lovely humanity, like the priceless opening of a bouncing baby to the Beatles' "When I'm 64." Although Robin Williams is hampered by his inability to find the subtleties in Garp himself, there are marvelous performances by Oscar nominees John Lithgow and Glenn Close (in her film debut), while Mary Beth Hurt provides the grounding and toughness as Garp's wife to hold an impressively unwieldy movie together.

DVDs of the Week
Banksy Does New York
The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq
(Kino Lorber)
Banksy Does New York, which follows the anonymous street artist's month-long residency in New York—a new site-specific piece appeared daily somewhere in the city as fans and media rushed to see it before it was gone—uses a lot of social-media footage and video, demonstrating how Banksy's witty and socially conscious installations are transforming pop art, pop culture and pop media. In Kidnapping, director Guillaume Nicloux recreates the noted French intellectual's supposed kidnapping a few years ago, with Houellebec playing himself rather stiffly: although his interactions and interlocutions with his kidnappers are amusing for awhile, this one-note movie fizzles out after about 30 minutes and limps to its end an hour later.

The Chambermaid
(Film Movement)
Director Ingo Haeb's clear-eyed study of a shy, fastidious hotel maid drawn to the private lives of those whose rooms she cleans explores its protagonist (who turns out to be so enamored of an S&M call girl she watches that she begins a sexual relationship with the peroxide-blonde woman) so sympathetically that the story's implausibilities become only minor irritations. It greatly helps, too, that Haeb's excellent cast depicts fetishistic behavior so realistically; the lack of camp is a welcome respite. The lone extra is a derivative American short, Worlds Within.

Dark Star—H.R. Giger's World
H.R. Giger was best known for his scuzzy, squishy, scarifying monster in Alien, but—as this darkly engrossing documentary about the Swiss artist's long career (he died after the film was finished last year) shows—his unwavering vision encompassed much more than that unforgettable creature. Director Belinda Sallin gained access to Giger at home and in his studio, where he discussed his work and his life: there's a melancholic strain of resignation that is simultaneously bleak and humanizing, especially when one realizes that these are his final words on himself and his art.

Our Man in Tehran
Braddock, America
(First Run)
Two documentaries tackle recent American history: first, Tehran follows Oscar winner Argo's scenario, an extraordinary true story of heroism and intrigue told from the Canadian side: directors Drew Taylor and Larry Weinstein interview Canada's Iranian ambassador Ken Taylor and cohorts, along with American embassy workers whom they hid until they were smuggled out by CIA man Tony Mendez's daring escapade. Braddock, a devastating examination of a small Pennsylvania town gutted by the collapse of the steel industry, shows its citizens coping amid difficult living conditions. Tehran extras include a directors' discussion and Toronto Film Festival Q&A.

In one of the full-length films in Peter Davis’s 1982 PBS series Middletown, directors Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreineshave fashioned an eye-opening, masterly study of teenagers in an ordinary Indiana high school: what makes the movie so memorable (and the real reason it was banned from TV showings) is that it deals frankly and unsentimentally with interracial relationships, as the kids speak to and about one another as actual teens speak, with lots of un-PC epithets thrown about. It's not a pretty portrait, but it's definitely an honest one: and thirty-plus years later, aside from the Bob Seger hits they listened to, little has changed in the smartphone and Instagram era.

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