Wednesday, September 14, 2016

September '16 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 
Captain America—Civil War
The latest superhero blockbuster (more than $400 million at the U.S. box office) is one of the most bloated yet, with a gaggle of damaged Avengers battling for supremacy, all preceding the big showdown: Captain America vs. Iron Man. Since the stakes are so low—it’s basically a conceit to have two “good guys” go after each other as their superhero colleagues take sides—directors Anthony and Joe Russo are unable to rise to the level of what would make this truly trashy fun. As always, the CGI effects outbattle the script, and Robert Downey’s Iron Man is far more entertaining than Chris Evans’ Captain America. The movie has a great Blu-ray transfer; extras include a two-part making-of, other featurettes, gag reel, deleted and extended scenes and directors’/writers’ commentary.

The Conjuring 2
(Warner Bros)
The inevitable sequel to the occasionally disturbing original, also directed by James Wan, is, to be blunt, perfectly encapsulated in his last name: overlong and lacking many plausible scares, the movie bounces all over the place trying (and failing) to frighten the bejesus out of the audience. Having four writers surely doesn’t help, while good actors like Frances O’Connor as the mother of the possessed girl get lost in a lackluster and finally quite contrived anti-climax. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras include featurettes and deleted scenes.

The Everly Brothers—Harmonies from Heaven 
Journey—Live in Manila
(Eagle Rock)
The Everly Brothers, who predated the British rock invasion with late-‘50s/early-‘60s hits as “Wake Up Little Susie” and “Bye Bye Love,” are commemorated in Harmonies, an hour-long documentary that succinctly sums up their musical and historical importance, including interviews with both brothers (Phil died in 2014; Don is still around), and admirers Keith Richards, Graham Nash and Art Garfunkel. Journey, with Steve Perry sound-alike singer Arnel Pineda in tow, returned to Pineda’s home country, the Philippines, in 2009 for a rockin’ two-plus hours, Live in Manila, for raucous and rabidly proud fans. Most of the hits are present, but so are retread tunes from a then-new album, Revelation. Both discs have first-rate transfers; Harmonies extras include additional interviews and a 1968 concert on a separate DVD.

The Jungle Book
This remake of the beloved 1967 animated adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic book is a live-action film starring young Neel Sethi as Mowgli and many CGI/animatronic creatures voiced by familiar intoners Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Lupita Nyong’o and Idris Elba. It’s nicely done if a bit overinsistent with the special effects that overwhelm the tender tale underneath, but Jon Favreau directs with few outright gaffes, which makes for a qualified success. The film looks luminous on Blu; extras are featurettes and Favreau’s commentary.

Once Were Warriors 
(Film Movement)
When I first saw this in mid-‘90s, it struck me as a melodramatic mess about a New Zealand Maori family brought down by a drunken husband’s rage—there’s undeniable power, but the shrillness of Riwia Brown’s script and one-note acting by Rena Owen and Temuera Morrison blunt its dramatic effectiveness. Two decades later, it still seems a cinematic sledgehammer, thanks to the single-minded direction by Lee Tamahori. The film looks good on Blu; lone extra is a vintage featurette.

Standing Tall
(Cohen Media)
Emmanuelle Bercot’s tough but tender character study follows Malony, a young man caught up in France’s grinding social-work machinery thanks to an itinerant mother, until he has the chance to break free with the help of a sympathetic judge and capable caseworker. Bercot’s sympathetic treatment occasionally crosses into melodrama, but her strong cast—newcomer Rod Paradot (Malony), Sara Forestier (mother), Benoit Magimel (caseworker) and Catherine Deneuve (judge)—assures that the two-hour drama never feels oppressively overdone. The hi-def image is striking; extras are deleted scenes with Bercot commentary and a making-of featurette.

DVDs of the Week 
All Things Must Pass
The rise and demise of Tower Records—the beloved record-store institution that began in 1960 in Sacramento and at its peak encompassed dozens of stores in several states and countries including huge flagship stores in Manhattan (West 4th/Broadway and 66th/Broadway, where I spent lots of time and money for nearly two decades)—is recounted with flair and palpable nostalgia by director Colin Hanks. It’s rarely mournful in tone, but the sense of the passing of a musical era is evoked beautifully, and celebrity Tower fans as Elton John, Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen weigh in.

(Film Movement)
Like the paintings of the man whom this documentary chronicles, Hockney is a colorful yet incisive portrait of the artist: director Randall Wright was granted access to the reclusive painter, who speaks straightforwardly and openly about his life and career. As we are shown glimpses of his voluminous and ever-changing work, Wright also interviews others involved with Hockney, but it’s his subject’s forceful personality that remains at the film’s center. Lone extra is a director’s commentary.

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