Blu-rays of the Week
In Steven Spielberg's draggy 2-1/2 hour Cold War drama, Tom Hanks gives an aw-shucks performance as James Donovan, the Brooklyn lawyer who defends a Russian spy and negotiates the release of U2 airplane pilot Gary Powers during a particularly fraught period in U.S.-Russian relations. Although Janusz Kaminski's sepia-tinged photography is masterly as always, Spielberg rarely brings immediacy or tautness to his story; he's too busy forcing present-day parallels in front of the camera. Memorable portrayals by Mark Rylance as the spy and Amy Ryan as Donovan's wife further compromise matters, since they out-act Hanks at every turn. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras comprise four featurettes.
John Wells' slight but entertaining drama about a hotshot chef who flamed out in Paris and rebuilds his career in London benefits greatly from the chemistry between Bradley Cooper as the chef and always underrated Sienna Miller as his reluctant British protégée. Although too cute by half and consisting of scenes that could have been excised—notably a subplot about our hero and some thugs—the result is a pleasant time-filler. The movie looks fine on Blu; extras include Wells' commentary, deleted scenes, featurette and cast and director Q&A.
Earth's Natural Wonders—Living on the Edge
For its entire length, this fascinating three-hour mini-series visits some of the most awe-inspiring and spectacular places on earth, like Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Everest, the Grand Canyon and Victoria Falls, and explores how their inhabitants (both human and animal) find themselves adapting to the often extreme and unforgiving conditions. From the ocean reefs to the Amazon, from killer bees to man-eating tigers, these programs show off splendid high-definition footage to provide extraordinary views of several amazing locations.
Kansas City Confidential
(The Film Detective)
Phil Karlson's tough-minded 1952 black and white B-movie (which has been raved about by no less a self-involved movie buff as Quentin Tarantino) tracks the fall-out of a daring armored car heist: an innocent driver looks to avenge himself against those who accused him of being in on the theft. The movie's fast pace as its follows its protagonist to hard-won redemption would work for Karlson's '70s career renaissance with Walking Tall. There's a decent if unspectacular hi-def transfer.
Our Brand Is Crisis
How political operatives work behind the scenes for their candidates, where winning is everything and losing completely unacceptable, is demonstrated in this intriguing but ultimately self-serving dramatization based on a 2005 documentary about a South American election. Director David Gordon Green never strikes the right balance between satire and seriousness, as witness such meaningless moments as a bus chase through hilly roads and a drunken bar scene. Sandra Bullock seems adrift as Calamity Jane, the professional who helps elect a corrupt politician, and Green's final attempt to inject a moral feels desperate. The movie has a first-class hi-def transfer; lone extra is a Bullock featurette.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs—Disney Signature Edition
Walt Disney's first full-length animated classic, made in 1937, was released on Blu-ray in 2009 in a Diamond edition with a superb hi-def transfer and a plethora of extras; this new Walt Disney Signature series release is unnecessary for anyone with the Diamond disc, but those who don’t have it should pick this up. Some featurettes here weren't included on the Diamond set, while several others from the original aren't included here. At least the first-rate transfer remains.
DVDs of the Week
The viciousness of teenage existence is scarifyingly brought to life by director Melanie Laurent in this unsettling adaptation of a book by Anne-Sophie Brasme about two teenagers—wallflower Charlie and boisterous Sarah—who befriend each other, followed by rampant jealousies that change their relationship for good. Laurent follows the girls' shifting dynamics straightforwardly, while the exemplary acting of Josephine Japy and Lou de Laage points the way toward the predictable but still shattering denouement. Extras are interviews with Laurent, Japy and de Laage, and short film Bonne Esperance by French director Kaspar Schiltknecht.
Night Will Fall
The liberation of WWII concentration camps left those who were there marked for life, not only the soldiers but the camera crews and filmmakers who documented these inhumane monuments to Nazi evil. Andre Singer's powerful documentary, recounting the making of one such film by Alfred Hitchcock—which wasn't finished for various reasons until 2014—includes emotional testimony from witnesses about the atrocities they saw 70 years earlier. Extras comprise an interview with historian Rainer Schulze; a Soviet propaganda film about the liberation of Auschwitz; and Death Mills, an American film about the camps co-directed by Billy Wilder.
CD of the Week
Written for luminous Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan, Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen collaborated with librettist Paul Griffiths on this expressive if diffuse 30-minute vocal piece from the viewpoint of Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet. The words come from the play, although arranged to have a different meaning, and if Abrahamsen's colorful score ultimately lacks depth, Hannigan's brilliant artistry compensates, bringing the character to vividly wise life.