Wednesday, April 13, 2016

April '16 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week
The Forest
The setting for Jason Zada’s lackluster thriller, a real Japanese forest—one of the top sites in the world for suicides—is a decent horror-movie idea, but there Zada’s inspiration ends. It’s too bad, for there are a few frightening moments, and actress Natalie Dormer is sympathetic and unsettling as protagonist twin sisters (and Zada rightly focuses on her piercing eyes), but overall this tepid shocker relies on a none-too-original ending twist. The movie does looks sumptuous on Blu; extras are a making-of featurette and Zada’s commentary.

Jackie Robinson
For their latest historical documentary, legendary filmmaker Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon examine the life of the first black player to play in the big leagues and one of the most important individuals of the 20th century. Although at times the usual template—talking heads, narrators, vintage photos and film footage—seem to tread water, this four-hour portrait of American race relations remains a must-see. The primary witness is Rachel, Jackie’s still-sharp 92-year-old widow; the appearance of the Obamas, whose relationship mirrors the Robinsons of a strong woman as backbone for her husband’s historic accomplishments, is a real coup. The hi-def transfer is flawless; extras comprise a conversation with the filmmakers, outtakes and a featurette.

The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun
Based on a novel by Sebastian Japrisot (whose One Deadly Summer and A Very Long Engagement were adapted into movies with Isabelle Adjani and Audrey Tautou, respectively), this labored mystery about an innocent young woman suspected of murder has been directed with stylishness but incoherence by Joann Sfar. Even though his leading lady Freya Mavor makes a formidable femme fatale, she is unable to make this empty vessel anything more than derivative. It all looks splashy enough on Blu, at least; extras are a Sfar interview and featurette.

This unpleasant drama masquerading as existential art cinema is director (and The Departed screenwriter) William Monahan’s pretentious, overwrought tale of an artist who meets up with his murderous doppelgänger while wandering in the desert. It’s as risible as it sounds, so Oscar Isaac and Garrett Edlund must be commended for playing it with straight faces; deglamorized French actress Louise Bourgoin is at sea as the protagonist’s girlfriend: neither she nor we have any clue what’s going on. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras include deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

The Story of Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps
Blood on the Fields
(Arthaus Musik)
Igor Stravinsky’s once-controversial, now-classic ballet caused a riot in 1913 but is now part of the standard repertoire, and 1999’s revealing The Story of… provides Russian conductor Valery Gergiev’s thoughts on the work—with Stravinsky himself chiming in through vintage interview footage in both English and French—along with orchestral excerpts Gergiev leads. In 1996’s informative documentary Blood, composer Wynton Marsalis discusses his own large-scale composition of the same name, a jazz-classical hybrid that won the Pulitzer Prize for Music. The Blu-ray visuals look decent enough.

(Warner Archive)
One of Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest classics, this absorbing 1941 mystery stars Joan Fontaine—in the only Oscar-winning performance ever in a film by the Master of Suspense—as a woman sure that her ne’er-do-well husband (Cary Grant) is intent on killing her. Only Hitchcock could turn the screws so tightly on viewers while gleefully manipulating their responses without ever losing them completely. Even if it cops out at the end (can’t let matinee idol Grant be the bad guy), it’s still a singularly Hitchcockian achievement. The black-and-white Blu-ray transfer looks superb; lone extra is a retrospective featurette.

DVDs of the Week
Chantal Akerman—Four Films
Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman, who killed herself last year at age 65, was a fixture in certain cinematic circles, although I found her most renowned films like Jeanne Dielmann and Les Rendez-vous d’Anna too single-minded to justify their extended running times. On the other hand, her non-fiction films—four of which are collected here—more interestingly if explicitly espouse their political viewpoints. The films—From the East (1993), South (1999), From the Other Side (2002), Down There (2006)—are complemented by an extra, Chantal Akerman: From Here, a 2010 conversation with the director about her singular career.

In his uneven study of Kermit, a young man who, fresh out of jail for a youthful mistake, returns to his trailer-trash town to start anew and falls for Rachel, a young woman moonlighting as an exotic dancer to help her sick mom, writer-director Hank Bedford shows sympathy for those down on their luck without condescension; inserting real people discussing their meager lives, however well-intentioned, tends to turn the story proper into melodrama. Yet impressive acting by Chris Zylka (Kermit) and Riley Keough (Rachel) and persuasive support by musical stalwarts Faith Hill (Kermit’s mom) and Steve Earle (Kermit’s uncle) help greatly. Extras include Bedford and Zylka’s commentary, interview and deleted scenes.

House of Lies—Complete 4th Season
Episodes—Complete 4th Season
The Odd Couple—Complete 1st Season
In the fourth season of House, even more unethical than usual wheeling and dealing continues, as Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell continue to provide balance between over-the-top and right on-target; Episodes, in its fourth season, with Matt LeBlanc persuasively playing someone named “Matt LeBlanc,” has finally found its comedic footing. However, despite the best efforts of Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon, the first season of the reboot of The Odd Couple shows that Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, masterly stars of the original sitcom, are irreplaceable. Odd Couple extras include deleted scenes, featurettes and a gag reel.

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