Wednesday, April 20, 2016

April '16 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead
The long, strange history of the National Lampoon—once America’s most irreverent humor magazine, notable for controversial covers like the iconic dog with a gun to its head, while also spinning-off to radio and TV shows and movies like Animal House and Vacation—is satisfyingly recounted in Douglas Tirola’s documentary. New and vintage interviews illuminate the behind- the-scenes vibe, including glimpses of such veterans as P.J. O’Rourke, Matty Simmons, Doug Kenney and John Hughes. There’s a solid hi-def transfer; extras comprise more than an hour of interviews and deleted scenes.

This celebrated 1978 bit of Australian erotica, finally released in hi-def, stars the effervescent Glory Annen as a naïve young woman who blossoms sexually after discovering the delights of carnality. Director John D. Lamond isn’t after subtlety, even if the soft-core sex scenes seem far less racy today; coupled with two bonus mid-‘70s films by Lamond, The ABCs of Love and Sex and Australia After Dark, this is a fine introductory set for those interested in adult-film history. Extras are audio commentaries and outtakes.

The Fool

The Major
(Olive Films)
Russian director Yury Bykov, who debuted with 2010’s To Live, followed up with these tough, vivid depictions of the current lawlessness in Putin’s Russia. 2014’s The Fool is an allegory about a plumber who, blowing the whistle on a dangerously teetering apartment complex, tells the local authorities, who are incompetent and corrupt. 2013’s The Major is an allegory about local police arrogantly protecting one of their own after he runs over a young boy on an icy road: they will eliminate anyone who questions the official report, including the boy’s mother, who witnessed the whole thing. There’s much to admire and provoke in Bykov’s cinema. The hi-def transfers are exemplary.

The Revenant
In which for two hours and 35 minutes, Leonardo DiCaprio undergoes impossibly rigorous physical treatment—including the infamous bear sequence—for which he won his supposedly long-overdue Best Actor Oscar. DiCaprio is impressive in a role that’s more a test of physical stamina than outright acting, but most ungainly about the film is director Alejandro G. Inarritu’s crude technique that overrelies on stunts, CGI and Emmanuel Lubezki’s admittedly miraculous camerawork—although Lubezki has done it before, and better, for Terrence Malick—to tell a story that, without these frills, is merely mundane. The hi-def transfer is excellent; lone extra is a 45-minute making-of documentary.

Theory of Obscurity
(Film Movement)
The Residents have been the most famous—or infamous—music/video collective of the past half century that’s managed to hide its identity from the world, and Don Hardy’s mostly amused, occasionally bemused documentary recounts its bizarre and extended career, as discussed by many people around the band’s members. But not the guys themselves: they remain—coyly but playfully—anonymous. At least it seems that way: maybe some of the members are posing as mere collaborators. The film looks fine on Blu; extras comprise featurettes, outtakes, performances and interviews.

Veep—Complete 4th Season
Silicon Valley—Complete 2nd Season
Some of Veep’s barbed humor got noticeably smoothed out when Selina Meyer became president, forcing an edgy if uneven satire to sometimes turn desperate in its attempt to return to earlier glory. Although Julie-Louis Dreyfus is fine in the lead, it’s the supporting cast—led by Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale and Timothy Simons—that keeps it from jumping the shark completely. Silicon Valley, the one-joke Mike Judge comedy, has stretched itself perilously thin, and even if the actors transcend their caricatured characters, it will be interesting to see if the humor can find more depth in its upcoming season. Both shows look quite good on Blu; extras include deleted scenes and, on Valley, commentaries.

DVDs of the Week
Cinema’s Exiles—From Hitler to Hollywood
(Warner Archive)
This endlessly fascinating 2007 PBS documentary about how so many emigres from Germany’s film industry—the world’s best by the early 1930s—were able to flee the country after Hitler came to power and, in several instances, resuscitate their careers in Europe and Hollywood is narrated by Sigourney Weaver. With its generous use of many vintage interviews—including with directors Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder—and archival footage of the likes of Marlene Dietrich, this absorbing cautionary tale is far more than a mere piece of distant film history.

Flight 7500
This schlocky thriller about a trans-Pacific flight that begins to go badly out of control when a healthy passenger suddenly dies is at least short at 80 minutes, but even its brevity can’t cover up the many crazy contrivances that proliferate, and culminate with a twisty and insane denouement. The mainly no-name cast actually works hard—even poor Leslie Bibb, who rarely gets the good roles she deserves, does what she can as a veteran flight attendant—but it ends up being for naught.

Grace and Frankie—Complete 1st Season
The unlikely chemistry between Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as two long-time antagonists who together must deal with the aftermath of their husbands leaving them after admitting they’ve been carrying on an affair with each other is what makes Grace and Frankie watchable, even when the series itself tries (and fails) to balance showing the characters’ new relationships. Happily, alongside Fonda and Tomlin, the rest of the cast (starting with Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston as the soon-to-marry husbands) is also up to the task. Extras include featurettes, gag reel and commentaries.

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