Wednesday, October 14, 2015

October '15 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
The Gallows
(Warner Bros)
There's little originality left in the old found-footage filmmaking bandwagon, although some keep trying: case in point, Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff's movie follows teens through their darkened school one night as they encounter ghosts with a penchant for hanging. There is a certain cleverness in the telling, even if the shocks are both predictable and cheap, but the found-footage gimmick makes scant sense even by the low standards of the genre. If that doesn't bother you, this may well be up your alley. The film looks OK in hi-def; extras include alternate version of the film, featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

In the Courtyard
(Cohen Media)
Catherine Deneuve and Gustave Kervern give nicely restrained performances as unlikely allies in director Pierre Salvadori's contrived but touching melodrama about a new apartment complex caretaker and how he slowly becomes the close friend of an eccentric retiree. There are sitcom situations galore in Salvadori's storytelling, but his heart's in the right place; even the manipulative denouement is made far more watchable by Deneuve and Kervern than it should be. The hi-def transfer looks fine; lone extra is director interview.

Matchstick Men

(Warner Bros)
Ridley Scott's offbeat 2003 comedy, which stars Sam Rockwell and Nicolas Cage as hucksters whose lives are changed irreversibly when Alison Lohman shows up as Cage's estranged daughter, has problems in Ted and Nicholas Griffin's clever but bumpy script, but it also gives three actors a golden chance to show what they can do. Cage's weird persona works for him for once, Rockwell is always first-rate and Lohman (a brilliant actress who disappeared far too soon) gives another in her extraordinary series of flawless performances as confused young women. Helpful, too, is Scott's surprisingly restrained directing. The film looks good on Blu; extras are  a commentary and hour-long making-of documentary.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
There's a lot wrong with Alfonso Gomez-Rejun's movie, whose simultaneous mawkishness and smart-ass hipness in depicting the friendship between a high school movie buff and a terminally ill teenager, so much so that I was unmoved by the dying girl's plight and left cold by the self-indulgent movie parodies, which are far less clever than they think they are. There are a few amusing observations about high school life, and Olivia Cooke shines as the girl, but too much is derivative and self-congratulatory. The movie's hi-def transfer is sharp; extras are an audio commentary, featurettes, interviews and deleted scenes.

San Andreas
(Warner Bros)
These days, even though special effects dominate movies like never before, watching Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge get destroyed in an earthquake—as they both do in Brad Peyton's wooden disaster movie—isn't very impressive, since it all still looks fake. Still, despite phoned-in acting, cheap flag-waving and ridiculous coincidences that ruins what little plot there is, San Andreas remains entertaining in a rubbernecking sort of way. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras include featurettes, director commentary, deleted scenes and gag reel.

Stuffed to the gills with elaborate sets and special effects and endless avenues that its plot travels (sometimes several at once), Brad Bird's sci-fi fantasy-mystery takes 130 minutes to tell its convoluted tale about invention, imagination and, ultimately, prevention of our own Armageddon. A noble virtue, that, but Bird's own script (with two others) is insufficient to explore it all coherently and cleanly; instead, Bird's limitless visual imagination conjures amazing images, which only underscore what a dazzling but frustrating mess this is. On Blu-ray, the movie looks stupendous; extras include featurettes and deleted scenes.

VikingsComplete 3rd Season
In the latest season of this grandly entertaining guilty pleasure of a series, the army of Norse warriors follows its king's war-like mentality into a bloody and violent invasion of France, showing off the first-rate recreations of an entirely forgotten era in history. While fictional and often overdramatized, this can still be watched as history shown as it happens, down and dirty and muddy. There's a great Blu-ray transfer; extras are extended episodes, interactive guide, deleted scenes, commentaries and featurettes.

DVDs of the Week
CPO SharkeyComplete 2nd Season
The Don Rickles TV Specials, Volume 1
(Time Life)
Everybody's favorite insult comic, who helped define a politically incorrect era, parlayed that notoriety into a TV career on the sitcom CPO Sharkey, whose humor is often dated, sexist and racist but just as often funny, as several episodes from the second (and final) season show. Along with Sharkey and his regular Tonight Show appearances, Rickles also hosted several specials during this time, and Volume 1 presents two of those, as Rickles spars with guests Johnny Carson, Harvey Korman, Carroll O'Connor and Anne Meara, and even acts, sings and dances (!). Lone Sharkey extra is a 2015 cast reunion; TV Specials extras are new Rickles intros.

Deutschland '83
(Kino Lorber)
In this absorbing eight-part German TV drama, a young East German soldier is recruited to become a spy in the West in return for his sick mother getting a needed operation: the historical details are unerringly right, as the lifestyles of both East and West during a crucial cold war era are displayed to great effect. The superlative cast is led by Jonas Nay as the spy and Sonja Gerhardt, giving a nuanced portrayal of his confused girlfriend. My lone quibble is an over-reliance on then-current songs: in addition to Phil Collins, David Bowie and the Police, there's Duran Duran, whose lyrics become an amusing quandary for flummoxed East German officials. The series' theme song is Peter Schilling's "Major Tom (Coming Home)."

Driving Miss Daisy
In this 2014 performance of Alfred Urhy's award-winning play about the long relationship of an elderly Southern matron and her loyal chauffeur, Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones give commanding portrayals full of grit, humor and sadness, with Boyd Gaines equaling them in the thankless role of her son. I saw director David Esbjornson's 2011 revival on Broadway with Vanessa Redgrave and Jones; Lansbury's performance is warmer, less fussy than Redgrave's. This PBS broadcast superlatively records an involving staging of a wonderfully humane play.

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