Wednesday, June 8, 2016

June '16 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Best Intentions
(Film Movement Classics)
Bille August made this 1992 masterpiece from Ingmar Bergman’s script which recounts how his mother and father met, married and started a family—not the most original story, but when filmed with such artistry, written with such insight and acted with such forcefulness by Pernilla August and Samuel Froler as Ingmar’s parents and other great Swedish actors like Max von Sydow and Ghita Norby, it becomes three gripping hours that simply fly by. In fact, it’s too bad that the original five-hour Swedish TV version isn’t included as an extra, because more of this family’s saga would always be welcome. The film looks absolutely splendid on Blu; the lone extra is Bergman’s extraordinary 1984 short, Karin’s Face, comprising only pictures of his mother as Bergman explores his family history with his usual mastery.

The Confirmation
Gods of Egypt
Clive Owen and Jaeden Lieberher make a nice pair as an estranged dad and his young son in Bob Nelson’s understated drama The Confirmation; Maria Bello is wonderfully real as Owen’s ex and Lieberher’s mom, but the contrivances that Nelson builds up in the movie’s second half nearly destroys whatever sympathy was earned earlier. In Gods of Egypt, director Alex Proyas has made another movie that swallows up his actors with over-the-top CGI: these tales beg for a campy, Clash of the Titans treatment, but instead the likes of Gerard Butler and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are reduced to cardboard by the visual miasma that fills the screen. Both films have excellent hi-def transfers; Confirmation extras comprise two featurettes, Gods extras are storyboards, featurettes and interviews.

King and Country—Shakespeare’s Great Cycle of Kings 
(Opus Arte)
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s decision to perform Shakespeare’s classic tetraology of history plays—Richard II, Henry IV 1 & 2 and Henry V—was an inspired one under Gregory Doran’s accomplished direction and the flawless acting of David Tennant as Richard, Antony Sher as Falstaff and Alex Hassell as Prince Hal, later Henry V. All four plays have been given superlative productions: costumes, sets and lighting are peerless, supporting casts are magnificent and Doran’s pacing is perfect. For those unable to get to the RSC’s Stratford-upon-Avon home, this set is the next best thing: the filmed performances look first-rate, with extras including Doran’s commentary on all four plays and interviews with historians, scholars, actors and creative team and crew.

Mr. Right
This black comedy about a hitman who falls for a young woman desperate for any sort of relationship is often wrongheaded and hits many sour notes as it attempts to balance rom-com deconstruction with gleeful Tarantino-lite violence. Despite that, director Paco Cabezas has smartly cast Sam Rockwell as the hitman and Anna Kendrick as his girl, and their tart, tongue-in-cheek performances give the movie more amusement and staying power than it deserves. It looks good on Blu; the lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Rolling Stones—Totally Stripped 
(Eagle Rock)
During its 1995 tour, the Rolling Stones played a trio of semi-acoustic shows at smaller venues and even re-recorded some re-arranged songs in the studio, and the resulting 91-minute film glimpses not only some of the performances but also the interplay among band members during the studio sessions. The best performances are of warhorses like “Gimme Shelter” and “Let It Bleed” and lesser-known but still worthwhile cuts like “Faraway Eyes” and “Dead Flowers.” The documentary has good if not overwhelming hi-def audio and video; the accompanying CD includes 14 songs from those fabled Amsterdam, Paris and London shows.

Vinyl—Complete 1st Season
Martin Scorsese directed the two-hour pilot episode of this new HBO series about machinations at a record company in the 1970s, which was the best two hours of the series so far: all of the usual melodramatics are present and accounted for, including lame “appearances” by actors aping David Bowie, Led Zeppelin etc. It ultimately—and disappointingly—adds up to little that’s compelling or interesting, even if it is well-acted by a top cast that’s led by Bobby Cannavalle as the head honcho and a revelatory Olivia Wilde as his wife. The hi-def transfer is quite good; extras include features and commentaries.

Another visually arresting and hugely popular animated Disney feature, this spoof of buddy pictures has its share of laughs and tugging at the heartstrings—especially with the anthropomorphic animals at the heart of its success—but the constant punning, sight gags and pop-culture references become enervating after awhile, especially when everything’s dragged out to an overlong 108 minutes. The computer-generated animation has a flawless Blu-ray transfer; extras include featurettes, deleted scenes and characters, Easter eggs and a Shakira music video.

DVDs of the Week
Casual Encounters
Taran Killan is not my idea of a leading man, but he’s better at anchoring flimsy indie comedies than fellow former SNLer Jason Sudekis: still, Killan’s limited acting skills tend to show the same face over and over again. But at least he’s a believable ordinary schlub whose girlfriend leaves him publicly after his latest screw-up. More surprising is Brooklyn Decker as Killan’s nerdy co-worker who helps guide him through his post-breakup malaise. Director Zackary Adler does little new with his material, but there are scattered laughs throughout mercifully brief running time. Extras include featurettes and music video.

One More Time 
(Anchor Bay)
Yes, Amber Heard can act—and not just in her Instagram photos: she demonstrates real chops in this low-key, semi-satisfying broken family comic drama about an aspiring singer who visits her famous crooner father’s Montauk house to mend fences with him and others in her screwed-up family. Christopher Walken as dad and Heard make a formidable team, whether singing or sparring, and a fine supporting cast (Ann Magnuson, Kelli Garner, Oliver Platt, even Hamish Linklater) keeps Robert Edwards’ film from dragging its feet. 

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