Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September '15 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week 
The American Dreamer 
Lawrence Schiller and L.M. Kit Carson's rambling 1971 on-set portrait of Dennis Hopper follows the unlikely auteur, fresh off his Easy Rider triumph, making his follow-up, The Last Movie. Alternately intelligent and clueless, Hopper believes his then-new movie will be more successful than his debut, but it ended up a disaster. This slight fly-on-the-wall documentary's ramshackle quality makes it a frustratingly uneven look at a filmmaker at work. Still, its time-capsule quality has its appeal. The film's hi-def transfer is naturally grainy; extras are making-of and restoration featurettes.

Breaker Morant 
Mister Johnson 
Before becoming a reliable gun-for-hire on a string of commercial movies, Bruce Bersesford had an estimable career, first in his native Australia, then in indepdent international productions, and even in Hollywood, where 1989's Driving Miss Daisy famously won the Best Picture Oscar without him receiving a Best Director nomination. 1980's Breaker Morant, one of his very best films, is a riveting and enraging chronicle of the sacrifice of scapegoated soldiers in the little-known Boer War; Beresford's brilliance at adapting difficult material (a play about the real life Morant), adeptness with actors—Edward Woodward, Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson, for starters—and camaraderie with top collaborators like cinematographer Donald McAlpine are on display. 

1990's equally memorable Mister Johnson is a fiercely moral tale of colonialism and racism set in Nigeria. As usual, Beresford's associates (actors Pierce Brosnan and Maynard Eziashi, cinematographer Peter James, composer Georges Delerue) help the director create a fully-realized adaptation of Joyce Cary's remarkable novel. Both films have first-rate transfers; extras include interviews with Beresford, Brosnan, Brown, McAlpine and Eziashi, while Morant also has Beresford's commentary, a 1973 documentary The Breaker and a Boer War video piece.

Entourage the Movie 
(Warner Brothers)
I never watched the HBO series which this movie is based on, so I'm probably the wrong audience for such a static, inside-joking, insubstantial feature about a bunch of self-important blowhards in the most self-important town around (Los Angeles) and how they deal with people even more vapid than they. There's a boatload of cameos, but even in a movie dominated by testosterone and male pattern baldness, two infinitely appealing actresses, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Emily Ratajkowski, steal the show. The movie looks good on Blu; extras include featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel. 

Murder, My Sweet 
(Warner Archive) 
In Edward Dmytryk's 1945 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel, Dick Powell plays detective Philip Marlowe in a film noir that includes two femme fatales—blonde siren Claire Trevor and brunette beauty Anne Shirley—and a shady criminal underworld through which Marlowe moves. Exceptionalc acting distinguishes one of the best Marlowe adaptations: although, admittedly, there's not much competition. The restored black and white film looks splendid on Blu-ray; lone extra is an audio commentary by film noir expert Alain Silver.

Kris Swanberg's sweet-natured comedy-drama, which follows a young inner-city teacher whose own surprise pregnancy is mirrored by that of one of her best students, lasts only 86 minutes and says little that's insightful or penetrating. Despite the essential shallowness, there are nice, low-key portrayals by Colby Smoulders as teacher and Gail Bean as student, their time together (and apart) keying an enjoyable and painless entertainment. The Blu-ray transfer is solid.

DVDs of the Week
The Great Museum 
In Johannes Holzhausen's intimate documentary, the inner workings of Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum vividly come to life, as curators, administrators, restorers, workmen and visitors ply their trades at one of the world's great art institutions, whose holdings comprise paintings and sculptures by masters such as Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Rubens, Brueghel and many others. In the style of Frederick Wiseman, Holzhausen's unobtrusive direction is thoroughly encompassing, picking out details large and small to give a sense of what keeps a world-class museum flourishing. Extras include deleted scenes and a director interview.

Jane the Virgin—Complete 1st Season 
(Warner Brothers)
When I began watching Jane last fall, I gave up after a few episodes because its plot (an innocent young woman is accidentally inseminated at her doctor's office) seemed a classic one-note premise that wore thin quickly. But rewatching it, I rediscovered the absolute freshness of Gina Rodriguez, whose irresistible portrayal of Jane turns what could have been a caricature into a funny, intelligent, charming character. The rest of the cast is also excellent, but it's Rodriguez who ultimately triumphs over her show's sitcom silliness. Extras comprise two featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

(Warner Archive)
Although this exploitative 1976 thriller by Lamont Johnson about a model who must deal with her own rape but also that of her teenage sister amounts to little more than a simplistic revenge picture, there's one very good reason to watch: Mariel Hemingway. In her film debut, the then-15-year-old provides class and realism in her portrayal of the model's younger sister (the model is played stolidly by Mariel's own older sister, Margaux Hemingway), partly but not entirely obscuring the fact that the movie revels in its predictable melodramatics about rape.

A Murder in the Park 
(Sundance Selects)
This exploration of a 1982 Chicago double murder case—which became messy 17 years later when a journalism teacher and his students were able to spring the convicted killer from jail after getting another man to confess to the crimes—shows how the arrogance of an elite academic can infect other people's very lives. Shawn Rech and Brandon Kimber's film presents what first  seems to be a case of injustice for an a convicted murderer on death row, then turns into a compelling look at injustice against someone else. 

Soul Boys of the Western World 
(Sundance Selects)
I never would have thought that Spandau Ballet, one of many post-punk new-wave bands to emerge from Britain in the late '70s, was worthy of a full-length documentary, and director George Hencken's 111-minute look at the group is far more interesting when it deals with how Margaret Thatcher's conservative England led to so many young people having their say against their era through music. True, Spandau Ballet did create one of the era's great songs, "True," but that's not enough to make this anything other than a diverting but forgettable group portrait.

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