Tuesday, January 26, 2016

January '16 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week
For his latest scattershot provocation, Spike Lee tackles the incendiary subject of the grievously high murder rate that's literally killing Chicago’s black neighborhoods—hence the punning title that the city is as dangerous as Iraq—and shoehorns in the plot of Aristophanes' play Lysistrata, where women withhold sex until men declare peace. The movie's tagline, "No Peace No Piece," is subtler than Lee’s own take on that pun, while much of the acting is even broader than usual in a Spike Lee Joint. Although his heart is in the right place—and the casting of Teyonah Parris as a sexy and irresistible Lysistrata is inspired—his latest drama is just another long slog of a soapbox. The movie has a first-rate transfer; extras include a music video, deleted and extended scenes and making-of.

Downton Abbey—The Final Season 
Throughout its six seasons, creator-writer Julian Fellowes' smash series about the Crawley clan and its (mainly) loyal servants during several periods of social upheaval has become the most popular PBS series ever aired. And for the final season, it's all there: soap opera-ish contrivances and smothering sentimentality offset by a real sense of period atmosphere and a terrific cast led by Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery upstairs and Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan downstairs. However, a pervading sense of of spinning its wheels validates Fellowes' decision to wrap it up. The series looks smashing on Blu; extras are three featurettes.

The New Girlfriend 
(Cohen Media)
In Francois Ozon's most satisfying movie in years, Romain Duris gives a sensationally charismatic performance as David, a grieving widower whose "sordid" secret is discovered by his dead wife Laura's best friend, Claire, with whom he continues his secret life—until it complicates their own relationship and both of theirs with Claire’s husband Gilles, David's good friend. Besides Duris—whose wounded authenticity transforms David from a mere stunt—Anais Demoustier's Claire is painfully lovely and restrained, Raphael Personnaz's Gilles solidly embodies what on paper is a thankless role. The movie has a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras include a 45-minute featurette about Duris' transformation and 10 deleted scenes.

Nikkatsu Diamond Guys: Volume 1 
(Arrow USA)
The three Japanese films in this set—Seijun Suzuki's Voice Without a Shadow (1958), Toshio Masuda's Red Pier (1958) and Buichi Saito's The Rambling Guitarist (1959)—are fast-paced crime dramas starring such young stars at the time as Hideaki Natani, Yujiro Ishihara and Akira Kobayashi. Since the Nikkatsu studio pumped out a lot of these genre flicks, there will undoubtedly be a few more volumes coming. All three movies’ new hi-def transfers look very good, and the extras include video essays.

The Ritchie Blackmore Story 
(Eagle Rock)
Legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore’s estimable career, comprising Deep Purple and his indelible "Smoke on the Water" riff, his next band Rainbow and today's pairing with his long-time girlfriend for medieval songs, is ably recounted in this straightforward documentary. Extolling Blackmore’s creative genius are fellow band members, rock analysts and guitar contemporaries like Brian May, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. Plentiful musical footage dominates this entertaining overview of a classic artist. The image looks fine; extras are added interviews.

DVD of the Week
Meet the Patels 
In this disarming documentary, sister-brother directors Geeta and Ravi Patel show how their conservative Indian parents deal with Ravi not being married: he even hid his long-term white girlfriend from them, then broke up with her, to avoid having them meet her. He humors his parents by going along with their matchmaking, and the movie presents the Patels as a real family that has balanced the traditional and the modern, and Ravi himself is a charming guide as he deftly negotiates this world.

CD of the Week
Scriabin—Symphonies 3 & 4 
(LSO Live)
Russian composer Alexander Scriabin's interest in a kind of opaque mysticism and occult spirituality is in evidence in sometimes erratic but often ecstatic music, of which these two symphonies are prime examples, especially as played with vigor by conductor Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra in a pair of propulsive live performances. Both symphonies are musical poems; the third, The Divine Poem, is an exhilarating juggernaut of swirling orchestral colors, while the compact fourth, The Poem of Ecstasy, presents Scriabin in his maturity, using fewer means to achieve the same artistic ends.

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