Wednesday, October 21, 2015

October '15 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
The Anomaly 
(Anchor Bay)
If you're confused while watching this futuristic tale of amnesia and parallel universes about a man who can only stay awake for 9 minutes and 47 seconds at a time, then join the club: the hero, who is played by the movie's director Noel Clarke, is probably even more so. Although the production design and visual effects are impeccable and accomplished actors like Brian Cox and Alexis Knapp are part of the supporting cast, nothing can overcome a script riddled with the genre's usual inconsistencies. The movie does look striking on Blu-ray.

Blood and Glory—The Civil War in Color 
History buff that I am, I thoroughly enjoyed this mini-series spanning the years of the American civil war, which admirably doesn't try to cover the same ground as Ken Burns' seminal (but problematic) classic documentary. The gimmick, the colorizing of hundreds of photographs from the era, makes for a more immediate historical and educational experience for viewers, providing added detail to photographer Matthew Brady's iconic images, along with many others. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras include additional interviews and featurettes.

Blunt Force Trauma 
In Blunt Force Trauma, two underground duelists fall in with each other as he tracks down the champion and she avenges her brother's killing, leading to a tender romance amidst the violence; if neither Ryan Kwanten nor Mickey Rourke is able to play an interesting, even semi-real character, fans of Freida Pinto won't be disappointed in her typically committed performance. Nocturna, an oddball addition to New Orleans vampire sagas, suffers from unsavory inhuman creatures and idiotic behavior of the police while investigating the disappearance of several children around Christmastime. Both films have decent hi-def transfers.

Call Me Lucky 
In his sympathetic documentary of comedian Barry Crimmins, Bobcat Goldthwait presents a trenchant portrait of a man known for uncontrolled anger as a standup, with other comics chiming in to say he was one of the best around: but he went AWOL for awhile. Goldthwait shows what happened, and when Crimmins himself discusses it, and we watch him trying to simultaneously erase terrible scars and ensure others don't go through the same hell, our grudging respect for his comic talent becomes outright admiration for his bravery. The film looks fine on hi-def; lone extra is a Goldthwait/Crimmins commentary.

Eaten Alive 
One of director Tobe Hooper's earliest scarefests is a schlocky depiction of a dastardly motel where people check in but don't check out; it's risible, forgettable and insipid all at once. Hooper later turned rancid material into frightful flicks, but in this 1976 attempt—hampered by sound-staginess and bad acting across the board—nothing works out. Even upgraded to hi-def, the movie looks cheap, which may make purists happy. Extras include a Hooper intro and interview, commentary, other interviews and featurettes.

A Special Day 
Ettore Scola's subdued 1977 character study got Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Film and for Marcello Mastroianni's typically strong performance as a homosexual living under Fascism on the very day in 1938 when Hitler visits Mussolini in Rome; equally memorable is Sophia Loren as a married woman with six children who spends the day with this man and discovers there's life beyond her front door. The film, shot in burnished tones by cinematographer Pasqualino de Santis—whose palette is so drained of color it's nearly black and white—is one of the erratic Scola's best studies of history and personal lives intersecting. Criterion's hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras are new Scola and Loren interviews, two Dick Cavett shows from 1977 with Loren and Mastroianni, and a new short, The Human Voice, with Loren.

The Vatican Tapes 
This banal Exorcist rip-off follows a young woman whose erratic behavior finally alerts her father, boyfriend and priests to conclude that she has come under the spell of an evil spirit. Director Mark Nevelone has little sense of pacing or narrative flow, the choppiness of the movie of a piece with the hazy script and indifferent acting: even the promising found-footage angle soon becomes a narrative dead end. The film looks decent on Blu; extras are commentary, featurettes, deleted and extended scenes.

DVDs of the Week
All-Star Orchestra—Programs 11 & 12 
For the latest episodes of this entertaining classical-music series, conductor Gerard Schwartz and his first-class ensemble perform two classics and one new work. Richard Strauss's orchestral masterpiece Ein Heldenleben and Wolfgang Mozart's lilting Posthorn Serenade are played with clarity and proficiency, no surprise from these musicians. What's thrilling to hear—and watch—is soloist Anne Akiko Meyers, whose impassioned style coaxes all the lyricism out of Samuel Jones' Violin Concerto. Short intros by Schwartz, Jones and Meyers set the stage for all three pieces.

Hungry Hearts 
(Sundance Selects)
Writer-director Saverio Costanzo's modern-day horror film eschews the typical found-footage, cheap scares or wooden performers: instead, he simply shows a young and tentative couple having difficulties after their son is born. For over an hour, Costanzo ratchets up the tension tautly and tightly, as the wife continually endangers her infant son and her husband slowly realizes the serious implications. Too bad the last half-hour degenerates into the usual cop-out melodramatics, nearly canceling strong performances by Adam Driver and especially Alba Rohrwacher as the couple.

People Places Things 
If it wasn't for the delightful dual presence of Daily Show standout Jessica Williams and Regina   King as a 19-year-old student and her mother, this self-important comic look at a cartoonist/professor with young twin daughters going through a personal crisis after his wife leaves him, writer-director Jim Strouse's film would be less tolerable. The main problem is the insufferable presence of Jemaine Clement as the protagonist, whose lack of charm and charisma drags the movie down, even with an appealing and talented supporting cast (the actresses playing his daughters are especially real and funny).

Wind Across the Everglades 
(Warner Archive)
In Nicholas Ray's pulpy 1958 melodrama, a young Christopher Plummer battles a burly Burl Ives in the Florida Everglades, the two going mano a mano in the depths of the gator- and snake-infested swamplands. Budd Schulberg's script may be overstuffed with atmosphere and undercooked with plausible drama, but Ray's direction compensates, while Plummer and Ives make worthy adversaries (and support from the likes of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee is essential). It's too bad that this unrestored color film isn't also available on Blu-ray.

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