Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May '16 Digital Week V

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Beggar’s Opera
(Opus Arte)
In this 1983 TV production of this seminal 1728 piece of musical theater—forerunner of Weill and Brecht’s far more subversive Threepenny Opera—The Who lead singer Roger Daltrey plays MacHeath, and though in fine voice, he conveys little of his attraction to women and penchant for crime. So director Jonathan Miller smartly surrounds Daltrey with a veteran cast, led by Patricia Routledge as Mrs. Peachum, Carol Hall as her beguiling daughter Polly and Bob Hoskins as a sardonic choir of sorts who frames the action (which concludes with Macheath’s hanging, rather than his being freed). John Eliot Gardiner leads the English Baroque Soloists in a robust reading of the score, even if there’s no “Mack the Knife” within earshot. Hi-def audio and video are decent.

Blood Bath
(Arrow USA)
The Terror
(The Film Detective)
Roger Corman churned out low-budget quickies short on sophistication but with occasional thrills. Arrow’s two-disc Blood Bath set is typically well put together, but four versions of the same 1966 film—variously titled Operation Titian, Portrait in Terror, Blood Bath and Track of the Vampire—that’s difficult to sit through in even one version is too much of a mediocre thing. 1963’s The Terror featured Boris Karloff in one of his last lead roles and a young actor named Jack Nicholson as our hero, but Corman does little with the ghostly story and authentic locations. There are compensations for fans: Blood includes all four versions, ranging from 62 to 95 minutes, in hi-def, along with interviews and featurettes; The Terror, well-preserved on Blu, has no extras. 

City of Women
(Cohen Film Collection)
One of Federico Fellini’s most nakedly symbolic dramas, this 1980 extravaganza stars old friend Marcello Mastroianni as a middle-aged man who falls asleep on a train and finds himself in a hotel filled with female, some alluring, others grotesque: there are set pieces as glorious—and ghastly—as anything the maestro ever filmed, and if it all seems like déjà vu, it’s always interesting to watch Fellini attempt to psychoanalyze himself—and his cinematic alter ego—onscreen, however variable the results. Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno’s boisterous colors have been lovingly restored for this Blu-ray release; extras are a 30-minute featurette and interviews with production designer Dante Ferretti and fellow filmmaker and Fellini friend Tinto Brass.

Dark Passage 
(Warner Archive)
Delmer Davies’ tense 1947 film noir reteamed Bogie and Bacall—the third of their four films together—with a twist: Bogart isn’t seen until after the hour mark, when the bandages covering his face post-plastic surgery are removed (the convoluted plot concerns an escaped prisoner framed for his wife’s murder who puts on a new face to start again with a new identity). Bacall’s smoldering presence is what the term “femme fatale” was made for, Bogart is always formidable and the San Francisco locations are put to gritty use by Davies. The restored transfer is excellent; extras comprise a vintage featurette and a Bugs Bunny cartoon from the same era.

Giulio Cesare
Although Handel’s music isn’t high on my listening list—especially four–plus hours of it, as in this opera—this 2012 Salzburg Festival performance compensates with an impressively starry cast and eloquent musicmaking under Giovanni Antonini’s baton. Cecilia Bartoli steals the show as Cleopatra, but Anne Sofie von Otter isn’t far behind as Cornelia, and countertenor Andreas Scholl makes a kingly Caesar. Too bad Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Eurotrash production sets the whole thing in a no-man’s land of mindless modernity. Hi-def audio and video are first-rate.

Killer Dames 
(Arrow USA)
Two of Italian giallo director Emilio P. Miraglia’s most representative entries—1971’s The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and 1972’s The Red Queen Kills Seven Times—can’t hope to compete with their floridly descriptive titles, but they are trashy fun, especially Evelyn, which brings to the screen a young Sibyl Danning, who later made a bigger impression in 1980s B movies. Both films have good, grainy new transfers, along with an option to watch in the original Italian or an English dub (which was how American viewers in the ‘70s would have seen them in theaters); extras include interviews, featurettes, commentaries and introductions.

A Married Woman
(Cohen Film Collection)
Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 study of a wife unhappily juggling relationships with her husband and her lover features an actress, Macha Meril, who scorches the screen unlike most of Godard’s usual performers. Godard’s usual fragmented anti-narrative takes a back seat to a mature, frank look at how morality and politics affects private and public lives that takes its rightful place among the director’s greatest films: Weekend, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, Hail Mary and Nouvelle Vague. The hi-def transfer beautifully shows off Raoul Coutard’s exquisite B&W photography; extras are interviews with Meril, filmmaker Agnes B. and film scholar Antoine de Baecque.

The Sum of Us 
(Olive Films)
Adapted by David Stevens from his own play that perceptively explored the close relationship between a macho widower and his gay adult son—both of whom are looking for love—this 1994 drama is directed with extreme tact by Kevin Dowling and Geoff Burton. The acting could not be bettered: Jack Thompson plays the father with his usual blend of ruggedness and sensitivity, while a then-unknown Russell Crowe tackles the trickier part of the son with a nuanced portrayal beyond what one might have expected. It veers too much into soap-opera territory in its final third, but remains a tough yet tender family portrait. The hi-def transfer is impeccable.

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