Wednesday, February 10, 2016

February '16 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
A Ballerina's Tale 
(Sundance Selects)
Misty Copeland, who made history as the first black ballerina named principal dancer at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, is the subject of Nelson George's documentary that follows her before and after her massive success, placing her in the context of other trendsetting black women in the arts. What's missing in this brief, 85-minute movie is a sense of the mixed-race Copeland's personal life; her photogenic looks and wondrous talent and charisma notwithstanding, this should have been a more thorough portrait. It looks good on Blu; extras are three deleted scenes.

Comin' at Ya! 
Originally in 3-D, Ferdinando Baldi's loose-limbed 1980 spaghetti western chronicles a bank robbing groom's vengeance after his bride is kidnapped at the altar. In true 3-D fashion, from the clever opening credits on, everything from snakes and coins to weapons shoot out toward the viewer, so those who have the proper home equipment can enjoy it as it was originally intended. And it’s nice to see Spanish actress Victoria Abril, who later became a star in Pedro Almodovar's silly films, at her youthful best as the bride. The hi-def transfer is quite good.

The Emigrants and The New Land 
When Swedish director Jan Troell made his dual masterpieces about a Swedish couple moving to America to begin a new life in the mid-19th century, he was at the very pinnacle of a brilliant career that still continues, even though his films are rarely seen now. But these classic epics from 1971 and 1972—shot through with Troell's artistry, humanity and compassion, along with the greatest performances ever by the incredible Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann—are ripe for rediscovery, and it's great that the Criterion Collection (so soon after releasing his masterly debut feature Here Is Your Life) has finally released these magnificent films in shiny new hi-def transfers. Extras include an appreciation from critic John Simon, new interviews with Troell and Ullmann and a superlative making-of documentary.

Extraordinary Tales 
Writer-director Raul Garcia's animated omnibus film, which comprises five classic Edgar Allan Poe stories (The Tell-Tale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Masque of the Red Death, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valedemar) is a mixed bag, but it does contain some gems amidst the dross. Both Masque and Pendulum combine heart-pounding suspense with frightful and creative animation; having some of the best horror actors provide the suitable voices, notably Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi, is also an inspired touch.  The animation looks terrific on Blu; extras are Garcia's commentary and two featurettes.

From Dusk till Dawn—Complete 2nd Season 
The second season of this bizarre horror-comedy series is, as usual with Robert Rodriguez projects, too much of a good thing: there's some trashy fun to be had as criminals and bizarre snake-like creatures butt heads (and other things) at the strip club called the Titty Twister, but then there are the meandering stretches where the series instantly becomes less interesting to watch. Still, whenever interest flags, there’s always the sizzling Eiza González as the Queen vampire (she was played by Selma Hayek in the original movie). The hi-def transfer is stellar; extras are featurettes, commentaries and a Comic-con Q&A.

Turn It Up! 
(71st Street Music)
Subtitled A Celebration of the Electric Guitar, Robert Radler's quick jaunt through the six-stringed instrument’s history and legacy, musicians both famous (like B.B. King, Slash, Jerry Cantrell and Nancy Wilson) and obscure (everyday people and billionaire CEOs like Southwest Airlines head honcho Gary Kelly) extol the virtues of their favorite axes. The 85-minute doc also includes clips of guitar players in action, along with glimpses of some very famous and beloved guitars, from Les Pauls to Gibsons. The movie looks fine on Blu; extras comprise additional interviews and featurettes.

Zombie Fight Club 
(Scream Factory)
What you see is what you get in this exceedingly violent and misogynist—if not misanthropic—thriller that pillages the undead genre in order to provide 90 minutes of non-stop mayhem: despite some effective fight sequences staged by writer-director Joe Chien, much of the time the whole thing careens desperately out of control. Still, those in the mood for its ultra-committed weirdness can look no further. The movie looks first-rate on Blu; lone extra is a stunt featurette.

DVDs of the Week
A French Village—1941: Season 2 
It's 1941, the second year of the Nazi occupation of France, and as the power dynamics between the Germans and the locals grow more unbalanced by the day, this superbly realized and supremely binge-worthy French series takes the pulse of an entire village under the German thumb: the sundry political, social, economic, cultural, personal and sexual power plays going on behind (and at times in front of) closed doors. With an exemplary cast from top to bottom—led by Audrey Fleurot's remarkably vivid portrait of the village mayor's sultry wife, who decides (seemingly on a whim) to take a German lover and so sets her sights on the local commander—this season’s 12 episodes fly by so quickly, you’ll be impatient for Season 3 to show up. Extras comprise historical featurettes.

Noah's Ark 
The Biblical story of Noah and the flood is reduced to a 90-minute intergenerational family squabble, as Noah (a far too serious David Threlfall) and his wife (the unfortunate Joanne Whalley) try to get the ark built while their sons attempt to talk them out of it and get the old man committed. The acting is more wooden than what they’re building, while the drama remains mostly inert: so much so that we don't even see the most dramatic scenes in the whole fable, the animals boarding the ark and the actual flood.

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