Tuesday, August 2, 2016

August '16 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 
Although she is front and center as Anita Hill in this alternately rote and involving biopic about the controversial 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas, Kerry Washington gives a generously understated performance that’s structured to emphatically not steal the show. The rest of the cast—especially Greg Kinnear as Joe Biden and Wendell Pierce as Thomas himself—is also strong, despite Rick Famuyiwa’s routine direction. There’s a solid hi-def transfer; extras comprise cast interviews.

Dementia 13
(Film Detective)
Francis Coppola’s directorial debut was this middling 1963 attempt at terror about a madman who begins murdering members of a family long mourning the premature death of a young daughter. A scant 75 minutes, at least it doesn’t drag on too long, but in Coppola’s neophyte hands, it stumbles and bumbles its way to a not very startling conclusion. Even accomplished actors like Patrick Magee come off stilted in a film that’s of little interest except to die-hard Coppola fans. The hi-def transfer is good.

The Knick—Complete 2nd Season 
The second season of this Steven Soderbergh-directed series about a drug-addicted doctor, his colleagues and patients in turn-of-the-last-century Manhattan consolidates its credentials as a persuasive and absorbing trip through Gotham’s checkered and always colorful history; acing the lead performances are Clive Owen, Bono’s daughter Eve Hewson, Andre Holland and Juliet Rylance. All ten episodes are included; the visuals look splendid in hi-def, and extras include commentaries, featurettes and episode “post-ops.”

(Cohen Media)
In this fictionalized and Gallicized version of the true story of a rich dilettante who loved to sing in public even though she had no talent for it, Catherine Frot gives a delicious portrayal of a woman willing to remain clueless about her own manufactured reality because she loves being around art and artists. Director Xavier Giannoli—whose marvelous debut film, 2003’s Eager Bodies, never got released here—keeps a sure but light touch in this often exhilarating study of seriocomic lunacy. The film looks excellent on Blu; extras are a Giannoli interview and deleted scenes.

Mother’s Day 
Garry Marshall’s final directorial effort was another multi-character melodrama that stays strictly on the surface when it isn’t burrowing toward silliness and worse: Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson and Jason Sudekis are never able to rise above the stereotypes, cheap jokes and sentimentality that the movie wallows in. Sad to say, Marshall made a lot of unimpressive movies, but his legacy as one of the great TV titans (Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley) remains. The film has an excellent hi-def transfer; extras are deleted scenes and a gag reel.

Sing Street
(Weinstein/Anchor Bay)
Director-writer John Carney already consolidated his music bona fides with his previous Once and Begin Again, both of which wedded insightful sequences of music-making with saccharine relationships, and his latest film follows suit. This story of teenagers in Dublin in 1985 has its indisputable charms, notably when Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Conor meets and falls for adorably intelligent Raphina, played with impossible charm by Lucy Boynton. But since there’s a lot of dross that one must wade through, Sing Street is of a piece with his earlier work. The film has a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras are a making-of featurette, Carney conversation and cast auditions.

To Have and Have Not 
(Warner Archive)
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made their first screen appearance together in Howard Hawks’ loose 1944 adaptation of Earnest Hemingway’s novel, with a screenplay co-authored by William Faulkner. As an American amidst the French resistance on the island of Martinique during World War II, Bogie is his usual strong but silent self, and Bacall—in her film debut—shows remarkable poise for a 19-year-old, glamorous, tough as nails and with a sultry singing voice. The hi-def transfer is superb; extras comprise a vintage featurette, vintage cartoon and Bogie-Bacall radio broadcast.

Tristan und Isolde
(Deutsche Grammophon)
Even though director Katharina Wagner’s staging at her great-grandfather Richard Wagner’s own shrine to his operas at Germany’s Bayreuth Festival is dramatically wobbly, the performers in what is essentially a two-character, four-hour romantic drama—tenor Stephen Gould and soprano Evelyn Herlitzus—are up to the task and, coupled with Christian Thielemann’s rigorous leading of the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, make this a musically vital performance. Both hi-def visuals and audio are superb; extras comprise interviews with Gould and Thielemann. But it’s too bad that the director herself didn’t discuss her (and her great-grandfather’s) work.

DVD of the Week 
In Country
(Warner Archive)
Norman Jewison made this earnest, occasionally treacly 1989 melodrama about a Vietnam vet whose teenage niece wants to know about the father she lost over there when she was too young to remember him: it ends with a powerful visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Bruce Willis gives a sympathetic performance as the uncle, but stealing the film—par for the course during her too-brief career—is Emily Lloyd as the niece. Lloyd disappeared far too soon, but her remarkably authentic, true-to-life portrayals always elevated whatever she was in, including this scattershot but touching drama.

No comments: