Tuesday, September 6, 2016

September '16 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 
A Boy Named Charlie Brown
Snoopy Come Home
At the height of his comic strip’s popularity—which became even more celebrated with TV specials like the classic perennial A Charlie Brown Christmas—Charles Schultz and company brought the Peanuts gang to the big screen with, for the most part, memorable results. 1969’s low-key Boy is like a charming—if occasionally rambling and overlong—TV episode, while 1972’s Snoopy show off the strip’s beloved beagle in an often bittersweet narrative. The films look good enough on Blu-ray, at least.

Man in the Wilderness
(Warner Archive)
Long before the bloated and overwrought (but, sadly, Oscar-winning) The Revenant, an earlier era of “survival” films featured Sydney Pollack’s Jeremiah Johnson (1972) starring Robert Redford and this atmospheric 1971 entry starring Richard Harris as the physically and emotionally wounded protagonist. Although there’s not much action by today’s standards, Harris gives as intense a performance as Leonardo DiCaprio as the protagonist left for dead by his fellow explorers, and director Richard C. Sarafian keeps the drama understated and naturalistic, even with an attacking bear (you didn’t think The Revenant was in any way original, did you?) that further wounds Harris. There’s a solid hi-def transfer, with muted colors and sharp imagery.

The Ones Below 
This standard-issue Rosemary’s Baby rip-off is afflicted with the usual problem of this kind of would-be thriller: its characters act so stupidly that one can’t have much sympathy when bad things begin happening. It’s stylishly directed by David Farr (who also wrote the flimsily-motivated script), and Clemence Poesy is disturbingly effective as a new mother gone off the rails by her neighbors, but by its end—which is nonsensical—the movie prefers cheap twists over psychologically plausibility. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras comprise several featurettes.

Styx Live at the Orleans Arena Las Vegas
(Eagle Rock)
It’s difficult to say whom this release is for: are hardcore Styx fans pining for an eight-song performance, barely lasting 50 minutes, interspersed with a half-hour’s worth of alternately entertaining and self-serving interviews with band members and crew? The band sounds as tight as ever—and Tommy Shaw’s voice hasn’t aged a bit on tunes like “Crystal Ball”—but why, in 2016, are rock fans still getting chopped-up and heavily-edited, instead of full-length, concert films? The hi-def video and audio are rocking; extras are interviews.

What Happened, Miss Simone? 
(Eagle Rock)
Nina Simone was a true original—her singing style and stage presence were unquestionably unique—but the details of her career and her life as an icon and a civil-rights activist is at the center of Liz Garbus’s always fascinating documentary. The footage of her performing is electrifying—especially glimpses of her during her “eclipse” in Europe—but it’s only one aspect of her legacy, as the many interviews with family, colleagues and admirers shows. The film has a solid Blu-ray transfer; extras comprise additional interviews.

DVDs of the Week
CSI: Cyber—Complete 2nd (Final) Season (CBS)
Limitless—Complete 1st Season (CBS)
Lucifer—Complete 1st Season (Warner Bros)
CSI: Cyber never caught on with viewers—the rare CSI franchise to fail—despite what producers thought would be sure-fire casting of Oscar winner Patricia Arquette and Emmy winner Ted Danson: the final season is watchable but underwhelming. The first seasons of new dramas Limitless and Lucifer had trouble keeping their balance with offbeat plots butting heads with the strictures of hour-long network TV drama series, the former’s pill making its protagonist the world’s smartest man, while the latter transplants the devil from Hades to Los Angeles—the City of Angels, get it? CSI and Lucifer extras include featurettes, a gag reel and deleted scenes.

Moby Dick 
(Warner Archive)
Clocking in at only 78 minutes, it’s obvious that this 1930 version of “the great white whale” tale has little to do with Herman Melville’s massive novel: furthermore, John Barrymore’s Ahab, lovesick over a young woman in New Bedford, Mass., returns to the sea to kill the giant leviathan who bit off his leg before returning to land and his woman, has nothing on Melville’s great antagonist. To cement things, there isn’t even any character named Ishmael in the movie, which makes this for Barrymore completists only.

Supernatural—Complete 11th Season
(Warner Bros)
As if they hadn’t fought enough demons, specters, werewolves and other creatures of the night over the previous ten seasons, Dean and Sam Winchester—brothers and hunters of Supernatural—have not encountered an enemy like the one that arrives to confront them in their 11th season: The Darkness. It’s a clever ploy to reboot a show that was on its way to becoming stale and repetitive, and the 23 episodes gain dramatic traction from it. Extras are five featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel and commentaries.

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