Wednesday, September 23, 2015

September '15 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
American Heist 
This gritty but routine crime drama follows two brothers—one just out of prison, the other trying to go legit—who join local crooks to a rob a bank, with a big problem: the legit brother's new girl happens to work as a 911 operator for the local precinct. Despite flavorful New Orleans locations, authentic performances by Adrien Brody and Hayden Christensen as the brothers and sweet Jordana Brewster as the girl, director Sarik Andreasyan never pulls his film out of its stupor: its lame "twist" would work better if the story continued for a few more minutes. The hi-def transfer looks good; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

In Kenneth Branagh's colorful take on the most beloved of all fairy tales, Lily James makes for an adorable heroine, and Branagh gets over the top but not quite campy portrayals from Helena Bonham Carter (fairy godmother), Cate Blanchett (evil stepmother), Richard Madden (prince), Derek Jacobi (king) and Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger (evil stepsisters), all helping this adaptation to not become annoying. There's far too much CGI for my taste, but that's just me. The Blu-ray transfer is excellent; extras include featurettes and a new Frozen short.

Dog Day Afternoon—40th Anniversary 
(Warner Brothers)
Sidney Lumet's botched bank robbery classic—with Al Pacino's best, most completely in-character performance—retains its tension, comedy and tragedy after 40 years, and the magnificence of Frank Pierson's script, Dede Allen's editing, Victor J. Kemper's cinematography and Chris Sarandon's, John Cazale's and Charles Durning's acting is beyond reproach. This quintessential New York movie was released on Blu-ray in 2007; this is identical, but with a bonus disc containing I Knew It Was You—Rediscovering John Cazale, a touching 40-minute tribute to the beloved actor, with paeans from Pacino, Cazale’s girlfriend Meryl Streep and fans Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Rockwell and Steve Buscemi. Dog extras are a Lumet commentary, making-of documentary and Lumet featurette; Cazale extras are a commentary, extended interviews and two Cazale short films.

Haven—Season 5, Volume 1 
(e one)
Sleepy Hollow—Complete 2nd Season 
The supernatural is hard at work in these series, starting with Haven, based on a Stephen King story, now far afield from the original, but sputtering as of late, seemingly content with running out the clock instead of pushing the envelope as it did in its first few seasons. Sleepy Hollow, on the other hand, is an unapologetically bonkers update of the Ichabod Crane legend: witches, warlocks, 18th century denizens befuddled by cell phones and—best of all—the decapitation of a famous Founding Father. Both series look super on Blu; Haven extras are featurettes and a commentary, and Sleepy extras are commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

In the Name of My Daughter 
(Cohen Media)
French director Andre Techine teams again with muse Catherine Deneuve for an engrossing true story that shocked France in the '70s: the disappearance of the lone daughter and heir of the head of a casino empire (Deneuve), with suspicion falling on the mother’s closest associate, whom the daughter fell for. Denueve’s despairing portrait of a mother who's lost her only child and Adele Haenel’s perfect portrayal of the young woman are damagingly offset by the uncharismatic Guillaume Canet as the lover boy-villain: Techine's sharp and tautly told tale suffers because of him. The film looks great on Blu; lone extra is a Canet interview.

Pitch Perfect 2 
In this slight but enjoyable sequel, novice director Elizabeth Banks plays to the original's strengths (the gals’ camaraderie and blistering put-downs) and weaknesses (overlong musical numbers of—mostly—bad songs) to make a diverting comedy that goes on 15-20 minutes too long. Director Banks smartly has actress Banks return as one of the wisecracking announcers, and her cast—Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld—is accomplished and appealing. The film looks sharp on Blu; extras include a gag reel, featurettes, extended and deleted scenes and additional musical performances.  

DVDs of the Week
Closer to the Moon 
(Sundance Selects)
Telling the bizarre true story of five Communist Jews in late ‘50s Romania whose brazen robbery was followed by, as part of their punishment, them being forced to reenact the heist for movie cameras before being put to death, writer-director Nae Caranfil has made it even stranger by casting British and American actors, whose dueling accents are jarring. It works well in Vera Farmiga's splendid scenery-chewing as the gang’s lone woman, but an uncertain tone and forced air of whimsy permeate throughout: we never get a sense of how their act bumped up against a brutally totalitarian regime.

Harper Lee—From Mockingbird to Watchman
The Other Man 
(First Run)
Mary McDonagh Murphy's 2011 documentary about the famously reclusive To Kill a Mockingbird author has been updated, ns Harper Lee, to incorporate her "new" novel, Go Set a Watchman, the controversial prequel to her classic book. This is an engaging overview of the life and art of a woman who has remained out of the public eye for 50 years, with encomiums from family members, friends, colleagues and admirers, including authors Scott Turow and Anna Quindlen and celebrity fans Oprah Winfrey and Tom Brokaw. 

South African apartheid met its demise during F.W. de Klerk’s presidency, and The Other Man utilizes recent interview footage with him and other talking heads to examine his role as Nelson Mandela's partner in ending a cruelly racist regime. Neither does it skimp on de Klerk's own racist ties against Mandela’s African National Congress; it’s still a fair and balanced portrait of a vital cog in true historical change. The lone Harper extra is a visit with Lee this past June; Other extras are additional interviews.

Jeff Lynne's ELO—Live in Hyde Park 
(Eagle Rock)
ELO's presiding genius Jeff Lynne finally gave in and performed his band's biggest hits for the first time in decades for thousands of sated fans in London last September: the concert—comprising 16 songs, 15 by ELO and a single (inexplicable) one by the best forgotten Travelling Wilburys—provides 70 minutes of high-energy progressive rock courtesy of Lynne, his band mates (including original ELO member Richard Tandy), and a full string orchestra. Highlights are note-for-note perfect recreations of "Turn to Stone," "Don't Bring Me Down" and encores "Telephone Line" and Lynne's most Beatlesque magnum opus, "Mr. Blue Sky." The hi-def video and stereo audio are excellent; extras include a Lynne interview and an ELO history documentary. 

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