Tuesday, May 17, 2016

May '16 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Boy 
This ordinary thriller about a young woman who becomes an elderly couple’s nanny for their eternally young “son” has creepy Twilight Zone-like moments, but since it runs for 90 minutes instead of a half-hour, there’s a lot of time left for director William Brent Bell to lose his way, and he fills the remaining hour with half-baked attempts at psychological complexity. Lauren Cohan makes a beguiling heroine, but unfortunately isn’t called on to do too much; and the big reveal, when it comes, is as implausible as what precedes it. The hi-def transfer is first-rate.

The Films of Maurice Pialat—Volume 1 
(Cohen Film Collection)    
Maurice Pialat, one of the best if unheralded French directors of the last three-plus decades of the 20th century (he died in 2003 at age 77), is finally getting his due: this first volume of his films on Blu-ray collects three of his earliest triumphs: the trenchant terminal-illness drama The Mouth Agape (1974); an unsparing look at high school kids, Graduate First (1979); and Loulou (1980), a tough-minded romance with then-young stars Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert. The films have been restored to mint condition; voluminous extras include interviews with Pialat’s widow and several of his stars (including actress Nathalie Baye, magnificent in Mouth), deleted scenes, and an 80-minute documentary about his life and career, Maurice Pialat: Love Exists.

Mr. Selfridge—Complete Final Season  
Although I watched this soap opera faithfully, I never entirely bought Jeremy Piven as Harry Selfridge, the American entrepreneur who singlehandedly created and expanded London’s first large department store in the first decades of the last century: but the rest of the cast, costumes and sets have always been so authentic that they couched the series in a reality that even Piven’s modern sensibility couldn’t ruin. And happily, in this final season, Piven came into his own; with heartwrenching storylines and perfect acting across the board, this season was the most satisfying Selfridge of all. All 10 episodes look glorious in hi-def; extras comprise featurettes and interviews.

Although its title evokes both Carl Jung and The Police, Jacob Gentry’s convoluted sci-fi thrill ride takes a clever premise—the inventor of a time machine goes back in time to ensure no one steals his invention—and does little with it except for several ill-thought out time-travel sequences.  Chad McKnight is OK in the lead and Brianne Davis has an ingratiating Sandra Bullock-esque presence, but Michael Ironside’s too-obvious heavy drags down the entire movie. The film has a crisp, clean transfer on Blu; extras comprise interviews, commentary and music video.

(Film Movement)
An auspicious feature debut, Naji Abu Nowar’s Theeb is a masterly exploration of the randomness of surviving a world destroyed by war, specifically the deserts of the Ottoman Empire during the 1916 war, where a young boy finds himself in spiraling violent events beyond his—or anyone’s—control. Nowar’s assured directing rarely missteps, his unknown cast (especially Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat as the eponymous young boy) is sensationally fine and the film’s continued relevance to today is sadly apparent. The film looks superb on Blu; extras are Nowar’s commentary and Lebanese director Ely Dagher’s short Waves ‘98.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf 
(Warner Archive)
Mike Nichols made his daring directing debut in 1966 with this still-powerful if somewhat neutered adaptation of Edward Albee’s best play: it’s a lacerating portrait of two couples, played with strength and wit by Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis and George Segal. Haskell Wexler’s gritty black and white photography—which earned him an Oscar—looks fantastic on Blu; extras comprise a commentary with Nichols and Steven Soderbergh and another with Wexler; featurettes including interview snippets with Albee; and an hour-long 1975 Liz Taylor profile, An Intimate Portrait.

DVDs of the Week  
Beauty and the Beast—Complete 3rd Season 
This reboot of the popular 1980s cult drama series—which propelled Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton to stardom—has now lasted as long as the original (with a new season on the way), as Jay Ryan and Kristin Kreuk more than ably stand in for the original stars. The difference is that Perlman and Hamilton were more plausibly mythic, while these two have been scrubbed clean. Still, it’s mindless fun for the most part for anyone who wants to travel down this road again. All 13 episodes are included; extras are deleted scenes, a gag reel and featurettes.

Eisenstein in Guanajuato 
(Strand Releasing)
British director Peter Greenaway’s latest extravaganza ostensibly follows Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein to Mexico in 1931, but it’s really about Greenaway’s preoccupations with sexuality, art and history, served with his usual sumptuous visual palette, witty musical juxtapositions (fellow Russian genius Sergei Prokofiev’s brilliant scores for Eisenstein’s films are heard throughout), copious nudity and inscrutable plotting and characterization. It’s too bad that Strand doesn’t do Greenaway (and viewers) the favor of releasing his film on Blu-ray—as it is in Europe—since the ravishing visuals are its saving grace. The lone extra is an interview with actors Elmer Back and Luis Alberti, who play Eisenstein and his Mexican lover.

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