Tuesday, July 19, 2016

July '16 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 
Belladonna of Sadness
This 1973 animated classic by renowned anime director Eiichi Yamamoto tells a terrifying tale of revenge that’s also quite erotic: its brilliantly drawn sequences of intimacy—as often as not violent as they are sexual—are reminiscent of artists like Klimt, but with an irresistibly singular style all their own. Despite its relative obscurity, this is a towering work, coincidentally made the same year as another, quite different animated masterpiece: Rene Laloux’s Fantastic Planet. The new hi-def transfer is spellbinding; extras are new interviews with Yamamoto, art director Kuni Fukai and composer Masahiko Satoh, all of whom contribute mightily to the film’s success.

Crimes of Passion
Despite a fearless performance by Kathleen Turner as a fashion designer by day who becomes uninhibited hooker China Blue by night, Ken Russell’s 1984 adult escapade is notable for producer Barry Sandler’s laughable script and a dull John Laughlin as the married father who falls for Turner. Even as Anthony Perkins’ bravura turn as a hypocritical preacher falls by the wayside, Turner’s sheer bravery keeps one watching. The hi-def transfer is excellent; two cuts of the film—the director’s cut is five minutes longer—are included, as are a commentary by Russell and Sandler, interviews with Sandler and composer Rick Wakeman, deleted scenes and music video.

The Daughter of Dawn 
A true historical artifact, this 1920 silent feature—directed by Norbert Myles and comprising a cast of real-life American Indians photographed in Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains—was recently discovered and beautifully restored. David Yeagley’s dramatic music helps overcome the stilted story and performances, but the history shown in the film remains manifest. Milestone’s Blu-ray has a sparkling transfer; extras are eight short featurettes on the film’s background and importance.

The Magicians—Complete 1st Season
This new Syfy network series—based on an elaborate fantasy novel by Lev Grossman—combines razzle-dazzle and sleight of hand with conventional campus drama, taking too long to achieve an entertaining balance. But the fresh and charming cast—particularly the three main actresses Stella Maeve, Olivia Taylor Dudley and Jade Tailor—makes sitting through the scattered longueurs worthwhile. The hi-def transfer is phenomenal; extras comprise deleted scenes, a gag reel and making-of featurette.

One of Alain Resnais’ most fluid and subtle explorations of time, memory and forgetting, this 1963 masterpiece has a brilliant script by Jean Cayrol, extraordinary acting by Delphine Seyrig as a woman who remembers little of the past and Jean-Baptiste Thierrée as her stepson haunted by memories from the Algerian war, and a brittle and atmospheric modernist score by Hans Werner Henze. But most of all, it has Resnais’s attention to the minutiae of mise-en-scene, making this cinema in its purest, most potent form. Criterion’s hi-def transfer is remarkable in its details and look; extras comprise vintage interviews with Seyrig and Henze, new interview with Resnais expert François Thomas and an excerpt from the 1980 documentary Une approche d’Alain Resnais, révolutionnaire discret.

Nikkatsu Diamond Guys 2
Return of the Killer Tomatoes
The second batch of playful, fast-paced gangster “Nikkatsu” films from mid-60s Japan—Tokyo Mighty Guy, Danger Pays and Murder Unincorporated—concentrates on stars Jo Shishido and Akira Kobayashi, who make their way through these flicks with glee and panache. Conversely, 1988’s sequel Return of the Killer Tomatoes is an in-joke that can’t rise above its ineptitude even with handsome young George Clooney and lovely young Karen M. Waldron on hand. The hi-def transfers are sharp and clean; Nikkatsu extras comprise featurettes on Shishido and Kobayashi, and Tomatoes extras include an interview with star Anthony Starke and commentary with writer-director John De Bello. 

DVDs of the Week 
This haunting feature, based on a true story of a Welsh town where dozens of teen suicides were recorded over several years, manages to be metaphysical without losing its grip on its unsettling reality. Director Jeppe Ronde's moody, subtly scary exploration of the unique dynamic among teenagers in a small village is seen through the intelligent eyes of Sara (portrayed by the winningly natural Hannah Murray), whose father is a police inspector charged with investigating mysterious deaths among the local teens.

Marguerite & Julien
(Sundance Selects)
Based on a script by Jean Gruault—who originally wrote it for Francois Truffaut—this alternately troubling and frustrating drama about incest (based on two characters from French literature) was directed by Julie Donzelli, who tries to replicate what Truffaut may have made this film into—simultaneously lighthearted and tragic—into something only fitfully satisfying. The acting is not the problem: Anais Demoustier especially gives a noble performance of depth, feeling, sorrow, sexuality and unbridled goodness. But Donzelli is unable to make all the various strands and tonal shifts cohere, leaving the movie (and us) in a muddle.

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