Tuesday, May 24, 2016

May '16 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week
Antonia’s Line 
(Film Movement Classics)
This 1995 Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film has lost little of its charm, even if Dutch director Marleen Gorliss’s often amusing feminist melodrama feels less like the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and more like the heroic sentimentality of John Irving novels. With an immensely likeable cast and a remarkably light directorial touch, Antonia remains serious fun, although it’s anything but frivolous. Lone extra is a vintage Gorliss interview; the booklet essay by Thelma Adams is notable for discussing female director milestones but somehow omits Lina Wertmuller, the first woman nominated for a Best Director Oscar for her 1976 masterpiece Seven Beauties. The film has a good Blu-ray transfer.

Dirty Grandpa 
Robert DeNiro is definitely enjoying spouting profanities, flirting with nubile young actresses, even doing a Karaoke rap on “It Was a Good Day” (complete with mic drop): he’s having a better time than anyone watching this crass, forgettable comedy that pits deNiro’s eponymous old man against Zac Efron’s straight-laced, about-to-be-married lawyer. Zoey Deutch (Lea Thompson’s daughter) is charming, and Aubrey Plaza has a real way with raunch that even outpaces DeNiro, so there are a few oases amid the comedic desert we’re saddled with. There’s a top-notch hi-def transfer; extras include a commentary, gag reel and featurettes.

Father of the Bride 
(Warner Archive)
This harmless 1950 comedy won’t go down as one of director Vincente Minnelli and star Spencer Tracy’s stellar achievements, but it has its distinct pleasures, most notably Tracy’s effortless charm, the young Elizabeth Taylor’s effortless beauty, and a quick pace that helps this sturdy and short (90 minutes) comedy move from A to B satisfyingly. Warner Archive’s hi-def transfer is superb; extras are two brief newsreels, neither with sound: a glimpse at Taylor’s real wedding and another of President and Mrs. Truman appearing at the movie’s premiere.

The Finest Hours 
Rather like The Perfect Storm, director Craig Gillespie’s absorbingly old-fashioned sea-tossed drama recreates the incredible rescue of 32 sailors on a sinking tanker in a huge storm off the Massachusetts coast by a single coast guard lifeboat in 1951. But unlike Storm, there’s a happy ending for everybody at sea and, especially, the worried fiancée of our hero who’s stuck onshore (and who’s played beautifully by underused British actress Holliday Grainger). The movie looks smashingly good on Blu-ray; extras comprise featurettes and deleted scenes.

How to Be Single 
(Warner Bros)
Dakota Johnson and Alison Brie make sweetly endearing klutzes desperately looking for love in all the wrong places in this lackluster rom-com that balances those assets with the always one-note Leslie Mann as Johnson’s sister and one-trick pony Rebel Wilson, who gives her usual bull-in-a-china shop performance as the snarky friend. Moments where this could have become something more memorable are snuffed out by a stolid Mann and over-the-top Wilson. There’s a high-quality high-def transfer; extras include featurettes, outtakes, a gag reel and deleted scenes.

(Olive Films)
Greek director Michael Cacoyannis made his commercial (and Oscar-nominated) splash in 1964 with Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek, but he was best known for his trilogy of adaptations of plays by the ancient dramatist Euripides, which began with Electra and The Trojan Women. In the last, 1977’s Iphigenia—which was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar—the director dramatizes without much urgency, and even less poetry and insight, one of the playwright’s most shattering tragedies. Even the authentic Greek cast, which features no less than Irene Papas as Agamemnon’s wronged wife, Clytemnestra, cannot save this stillborn adaptation. The film looks decent if unspectacular on Blu.

The Naked Island 
Kaneto Shindo’s 1960 quasi-documentary is extraordinary in every sense: from its shimmering black and white photography and Hikaru Hayashi’s modernist score to its seemingly unstaged scenes of the unspeaking denizens of an isolated island in the Japanese archipelago. This classic is far away as possible from Shindo’s later horror masterpieces Onibaba and Kurenko, but is undoubtedly the work of the same directorial vision. Criterion’s new hi-def transfer is as astonishing as the film; extras comprise a Shindo introduction, Shindo and Hayashi commentary, Benecio del Toro appreciation and scholar Akira Mizuta Lippit interview.

The Private Affairs of Bel Ami 
(Olive Films)
Following a rake who juggles various women, using them for his own ends without getting emotionally involved until he himself becomes involved in a fatal duel, writer-director Albert Lewin’s adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s stylishly ironic novel is the epitome of pedestrian. Even George Sanders (who provides his usual urbane suavity as our cad of a hero) and actresses ranging from Angela Lansbury to Ann Dvorak are unable to lift it out of the doldrums. Neither does a brief color insert of Max Ernst’s painting The Temptation of St. Anthony. The movie looks fine on Blu.

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