Tuesday, January 12, 2016

January '16 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
The American Friend 
In Wim Wenders' accomplished 1977 adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel, the shabbiest locales in New York, Paris and Hamburg are stars of a slow-building but ultimately gripping crime drama that centers around Ripley, played by Dennis Hopper, whose usual insouciance is only partially counterbalanced by an uncommanding Bruno Ganz as his opposite number. Wenders toys with film noir clichés as he uncoils the mystery behind Ripley's game. Criterion's new transfer is luminous; extras comprise Wenders' and Hopper's commentary, deleted scenes with Wenders' commentary and Ganz and Wenders interviews.

Irrational Man 
(Sony Classics)
Woody Allen's semi-rewrite of his own Match Point follows a philosophy professor who creates a perfect murder scenario with no moral complications—and soon finds the opportunity to test out his thesis. Shorn of anything resembling credible characterization, subplots or even atmosphere—the college town setting is appropriately generic—the drama marches straight ahead from A to B, which is the movie's saving grace. Woody follows his theorist in action in a clinical, detached way, and Joaquin Phoenix (prof) and Emma Stone (student turned paramour) work well within his minimalist mindset. Darius Khondji's  cinematography shimmers in hi-def; lone extra is a red-carpet featurette.

Sinister 2 
I doubt that missing the original Sinister is a disadvantage in assessing yet another attempt at the tired found-footage horror movie, but this sequel lulls the viewer into a stupor for 90 minutes before rousing itself for an effective, if nonsensical, climax involving the demonized young protagonist-videographer and his terrified family. Despite that unsettling few minutes, the movie is not particularly arresting overall, despite a nice performance by Shannyn Sossamon as the mom. There's a good hi-def transfer; extras include deleted scenes, featurette and director commentary.

DVDs of the Week
The American Invasion
Frontline—Immigration Battle 
The American Invasion, a persuasive history lesson, tells the true story of the U.S. airmen who went overseas after we joined the war on the Allied side to help keep the Brits safe from Nazi sorties, with many casualties but also the eternal gratitude of those who were protected by the selfless Yanks. The must-see PBS series Frontline jumped into the Congressional fray in Immigration Battle, investigating what happened on both sides of the aisle in a unique attempt at bipartisanship after Obama's re-election to come up with a comprehensive immigration plan. Although we know what did (or didn't) happen, this behind-the-scenes peek at political maneuvering is a riveting 90 minutes.

The New Rijksmuseum 
The Storm Makers 
(First Run)
The New Rijksmuseum, Oeke Hoogendijk's exhaustive account of the great Amsterdam art institution's 10-year renovation, is an extraordinary achievement in its original four-hour version. Here, at a streamlined two-plus hours, we get some sense of what went on behind the scenes, but without the director's original vision, the decade-long struggles to finish what was scheduled to take five years are only hinted at. In The Storm Makers, director Guillaume Suon exposes the 21st century slave trade in his native Cambodia, telling the heartrending story of one young woman as he shows the chillingly matter-of-fact confessions of a couple of unrepentant "capitalists."

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