Wednesday, March 2, 2016

March '16 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
American Horror Project—Volume 1 
(Arrow USA)
Arrow's new boxed-set series is off to an inauspicious start with a trio of forgettable flicks: 1973's Malatesta's Carnival of Blood, an inept midway-set cannibal shocker; 1976's The Witch Who Came from the Sea, a strange drama about a woman whose gruesome fantasies may just be reality; and 1976's The Premonition, a goofy thriller about a deranged woman who steals a young child claiming she's her real mother. Except for Millie Perkins' bravura performance in Witch, there's little distinction to these films, and fewer frightening moments. There are fine hi-def transfers; intros, commentaries, featurettes, interviews and short films round out a packed extras slate that also includes a 60-page booklet and stylish collectible box.

Burt Bacharach—A Life in Song 
(Eagle Rock)
The legendary career of one of the last century's notable songwriters is honored with this concert at London's Royal Albert Hall, with Bacharach himself onstage discussing his songs, and the likes of Rebecca Ferguson, the Moody Blues' Justin Hayward and Alfie Boe (recently seen in The Who's Quadrophenia concert) singing his classics "Alfie, " "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," "I Say a Little Prayer" and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" There's a certain sameness to hearing some two dozen Bacharach songs back to back, but there's no denying their craft and polish; alongside impassioned singing is exemplary playing by Bacharach and his own band. Hi-def video and audio are first-rate; extras are three bonus songs.

(Warner Bros)
In Ryan Coogler's auspicious reboot of the Rocky Balboa/Apollo Creed franchise, Michael B. Jordan consolidates his charismatic star power as Apollo's boxing son Adonis, while Sylvester Stallone still makes an endearing Rocky, perfectly encapsulating the movie's mix of nostalgia and moving on with the story. Although way overlong, with overdone fight sequences—especially the final bout that turns into an anti-climax—but Creed is both an old-fashioned and new-fangled crowd-pleaser. The film's grit remains on Blu; extras are featurettes and deleted scenes.

The Danish Girl 
In Tom Hooper's biopic about Einer Wegener, the early 20th century Swedish painter who was among the first men to surgically transition to a woman, Eddie Redmayne is almost too spot-on in his portrayal, ending up more convincing during the wrenching physical changes near the film's end. The chilly movie's heart, however, is the remarkable Alicia Vikander, earning huge sympathy (and an Oscar) as Einer's faithful wife and fellow painter Gerda. It is her through her eyes that we see this incredible and still-relevant story, even if Hooper's clinical direction keeps us at an emotional remove. The movie looks great on Blu; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

The Fall—Series 2 
After serial killer Paul Spector escapes and flees town, Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) remains on his trail, especially after he commits another heinous crime. Along with Anderson's strong performance, Jamie Dornan's Spector is a truly scary villain, and the supporting cast—including Archie Panjabi and John Lynch as Gibson's associates—rounds out an estimable cops-and-robbers team. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras comprise a behind-the-scenes featurette and deleted scenes.

Writer-director Bernard Rose—creator of the intriguing Immortal Beloved, about Beethoven, and the creepy Candyman—updated Mary Shelley's classic with unfortunate results: aside from extreme gore, it doesn't add much to the timeless, horrifying story. Xavier Samuel does what he can, especially as the creature gets progressively more monstrous and horrible—and human; Carrie-Anne Moss and Danny Huston are wasted as the doctors who brought him to life and who try to defend themselves when he vengefully returns. There's a stellar hi-def transfer.

The Good Dinosaur 
The latest Pixar entry is an uproarious comedy about Arlo the dinosaur, living in a world that he shares with humans, since the meteor that might have caused all dinosaurs to go extinct ended up missing the planet completely. As always, the animation and the humor are clever, while the friendship between Arlo and a young boy is touching, making this another perfect Pixar pic for children and parents. The Blu-ray image is exceptionally detailed; extensive extras include filmmakers' commentary and interviews, promo clip, featurettes and deleted scenes.

DVD of the Week
The Summer of Sangaile 
In this bracing low-key romance, Lithuanian writer-director Alanté Kavaïté follows the developing relationship between two 17-year-old young women (played with sensitivity by lead actresses Julija Steponaitytė and Aistė Diržiūtė) during summer vacation. Refreshingly,  Kavaïté presents his lesbian couple at face value, giving us a sympathetic portrait of young love at its most authentic.

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