Wednesday, March 9, 2016

March '16 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
Coming Home 
(Sony Classics)
His latest collaboration with muse Gong Li finds director Zhang Yimou in a melancholic mood with a story set during China's Cultural Revolution about a family torn apart when the father is jailed: upon his return 20 years later, his wife doesn’t believe that it’s him. Gong heartbreakingly transforms from loving wife and mother to a woman unable to process a "new" reality in a sensitive drama that comments obliquely on Mao's destructive policies. The film has a splendid hi-def transfer; extras are a director's commentary and Toronto Film Festival Q&A.

In Defense of Food 
Author Michael Pollan, who has written several books about our dangerous eating habits and getting back to healthy basics, has branched out into television with his Netflix series Cooked and this important two-hour film about how far we've strayed from good food in order to continue giving the public cheaper if less healthful options. As always, Pollan's pertinent points are made with both humor and a seriousness that doesn't become sanctimonious; he valiantly defends proper eating habits against both governmental and corporate villains. The hi-def transfer is first-rate.

In the Heart of the Sea
(Warner Bros)
Ron Howard has never been a director to admire—even his Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind was too gooey by half—but he deserves plaudits for his absorbing adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick's book about a real whaling ship calamity in 1820 that was the basis of Herman Melville's classic novel Moby-Dick. Howard admirably succeeds at showing the simultaneous majesty and horror of the unknown sea in this large-scaled, old-fashioned adventure. The film has a superb hi-def transfer; extras include several making-of featurettes and interviews, and deleted and extended scenes.

Jane B. par Agnès V./Kung Fu Master! 
French director Agnès Varda's long and varied career—her 1961 debut is the New Wave classic Cleo from 5 to 7, while her last feature, the 2008 self-portrait The Beaches of Agnès, is also among her best—includes the middling entries included here: 1987's Master, with Jane Birkin and Varda's son Mathieu, and a Birkin portrait, Jane B. Especially coming on the heels of her masterly Vagabond, both films are indisputably slight, but it's interesting to see an artist strike out in different, if not always successful, directions. Both films have been restored and look sparkling on Blu; extras comprise new Varda interviews about both films.

Strange Brew 
(Warner Bros)
Bob and Doug McKenzie were the spiritual godfathers of Wayne and Garth—it’s no surprise that Mike Myers, like Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas (who co-starred, co-directed and co-wrote this), is Canadian—but the McKenzies' fitfully amusing 1983 feature doesn’t have the silly comic gravitas of Wayne's World. Moranis and Thomas work hard, and even manage a few good laughs, but their satirical look at their laidback homeland is more smile-inducing than gut-busting. The movie looks decent if soft on Blu; extras comprise three short featurettes.

The Tribe 
(Drafthouse Films)
In Myroslav Slaboshpytsky's astonishingly fearless drama, there is no dialogue or subtitles to follow a group of deaf-mutes through a brutishly nasty world of passion, sex, dog-eat-dog violence and—in two unsettling, even upsettingly clinical sequences—abortion and murder. Slaboshpytsky could be criticized for showing the worst of humanity within an insular community, but it's been directed so persuasively and enacted so fiercely by an accomplished deaf-mute cast (led by Griogriy Fesenko and Yana Novikova) that its rawness is impossible to turn away from. The film looks luminous on Blu-ray; extras are a director's commentary, Novikova interview and the director's 2010 short, Deafness

CDs of the Week
Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here Symphonic 
Since Pink Floyd's music already has a symphonic quality, it's unsurprising that these orchestral arrangements of the band's classic 1975 album work—to an extent: conductor/arranger Peter Scholes and the London Orion Orchestra sound best on the multi-part "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" suites. Still, David Gilmour's peeling, powerful electric and acoustic guitar playing is missed despite the presence of two able guitarists; guest musicians include pianist Rick Wakeman and none other than Alice Cooper, who sings the title song and "Welcome to the Machine."

Sweet Charity—Original London Cast Recording 
(Masterworks Broadway)
In this immensely entertaining 1966 musical loosely based on the classic Fellini film The Nights of Cabiria, Juliet Prowse’s endearing Charity boisterously blasts Cy Coleman's lively "If My Friends Can See Me Now" and "I'm a Brass Band," while costars Josephine Blake and Paula Kelly knock "Big Spender" out of the park. Director-choreographer Bob Fosse's wife Gwen Verdon—who originated Charity on Broadway—isn’t entirely missed because this is audio-only: she was made for Fosse's slinky, suggestive dance moves. And happily, Prowse is a more than capable vocal replacement in this original London cast recording. 

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