Tuesday, March 15, 2016

March '16 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
(Weinstein Co/Anchor Bay)
In adapting Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt, Todd Haynes has made another pretty-looking movie that's stylish and glittery but little more than a surface depiction of an intimate female relationship that was forbidden during the straight-laced 1950s. That the film has more in common with the look of films from that era than it does with depicting a believable same-sex relationship is further reinforced by Cate Blanchett's hammy overacting, Rooney Mara's one-dimensional presence and Carter Burwell's one-note score. Only Sarah Paulson, as Carol's former lover, breathes some needed life into the proceedings. The hi-def transfer looks exquisite; lone extra is a cast/director/writer Q&A.

Manhattan—Complete 2nd Season 
As the Manhattan Project continues its inexorable path toward the Trinity atomic-bomb test in the desert, a selection of fictionalized and composite geniuses deal with shifting loyalties and encroaching political and moral issues, even as a real character as Dr. Atomic himself (Oppenheimer) makes a too-brief appearance. Tension is ratcheted up by degrees throughout season two, even if certain interactions stretch the bounds of plausibility; it's acted so forcefully by John Benjamin Hickey as an uncompromising scientist and Olivia Williams as his unstable wife, that it's never less than watchable. The ten handsomely-mounted episodes look smashing on Blu.

(Cult Epics)
Another Tinto Brass softcore spectacular, his 1991 adaptation of the classic novel Fanny Hill—which has spawned innumerable screen versions—finds the dirty old director in his typically voyeuristic mode, glimpsing a naive young woman going to work in a brothel to earn money for her fiancee. There are moments of amusement amidst the usual labored attempts at eroticism, but Brass fans will still enjoy his parade of fetishistic sex scenes. The hi-def transfer of the uncut version is soft but glossy. Lone extra is a featurette.

Victor Frankenstein 
This labored riff on Mary Shelley's classic concentrates as much on Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) as on his eponymous boss (James McAvoy), who "cures" his assistant's hunched back by draining an overgrown cyst (who knew?). Although director Paul McGuigan conjures a properly foreboding Victorian atmosphere, it's basically a lot of sound and fury signifying little, and an unpleasant gloss on the original, despite committed performances and arresting visuals. The movie looks impressive on Blu; extras include deleted scenes, featurettes and interviews.

DVD of the Week
Addiction Incorporated 
(Virgil Films)
A solid overview of how tobacco companies finally lost their huge advantage—acting as if their cigarette products were not addictive—Charles Evans' absorbing documentary revolves around Victor DeNoble, a Philip Morris researcher who became Big Tobacco's first whistle blower in 1994 when he explained to Congress what was really going on. How the government finally overcame the entrenched industry—helped by massive class-action suits, eventually settled out of court, that noted the rising health care costs because of smokers' illnesses were being absorbed by the rest of us—is acutely observed. 

CD of the Week
Prokofiev—Piano Concerto No. 3, Symphony No. 5 
Valery Gergiev has championed fellow Russian Serge Prokofiev's music, conducting his operas, ballets, concertos and symphonies for decades, and this recording (made in 2012) of the composer's most popular concerto and symphony allows Gergiev to further his case that Prokofiev was among the most significant composers of the last (or any) century. Soloist Denis Matsuev's sprightly playing in the third piano concerto perfectly meshes with the nimble orchestral performance underlining one of the greatest-ever keyboard showcases, while Gergiev and his musicians catch the simultaneous lightness and gravity of the towering fifth symphony in their lucid, even thrilling account.

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