Tuesday, September 20, 2016

September '16 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 
Beauty and the Beast—25th Anniversary Edition
Disney’s best animated feature since its late ‘80s renaissance, this 1991 classic has hummable songs, glorious visuals and a truly romantic spirit that speaks even more to adults than children; if it doesn’t reach the sublime heights of Jean Cocteau’s one-of-a-kind masterpiece based on the Perrault fairy tale, it’s still quite an achievement. This 25th anniversary edition includes the original film, extended cut and sing-along version, all in impossibly sharp hi-def; extras include featurettes on Paige O’Hara (voice of Belle) and composer Alan Menken (shown with fellow Disney cohorts Robert Lopez, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Stephen Schwartz and Lin-Manuel Miranda).

The Captive
Yours, Mine and Ours
(Olive Films)
In Cecil B. DeMille’s 1915 silent The Captive, a young Montenegrin woman falls for a captured Turkish nobleman during the fractured Balkan Wars; this 50-minute drama has moments of fleeting romance, but it’s the restoration to gleaming hi-def that makes it an interesting historical artifact. The hit-or-miss 1968 romantic comedy Yours, Mine and Ours stars Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball as widowers with many children who—surprise!—fall in love, making for a family that’s 18-strong. Fonda and Ball sleepwalk through this forgettable fodder, while some of the child actors (including young Tim Matheson) are less annoying than the usual onscreen under-agers. Both films have good hi-def transfers.

Cat’s Eye 
Salem’s Lot
Stephen King’s It
(Warner Bros)
A trio of Stephen King adaptations makes its hi-def premiere, starting with Lewis Teague’s Cat’s Eye (1985), an uneven anthology of creepily tongue-in-cheek stories starring then-luminaries James Woods, Alan King and a young Drew Barrymore. Two TV movies-of-the-week—the vapid vampire tale Salem’s Lot (1979) and the clown-killer weirdness of It (1990)—breathe some life into King’s crude original stories, which are preferable to having to read those. The hi-def transfers are decent; commentaries comprise Teague’s on Cat’s Eye, director Tobe Hooper’s on Salem’s Lot and director Tommy Lee Wallace’s on It.

The Exotic Dances of Bettie Page
(Cult Epics)
If vintage erotica is of interest, then these titles are recommended, starting with Exotic Dances, which shows off 1950s pin-up Bettie Page in various stages of undress—and even the altogether. Sin, an affectionate homage to adult films of a far more primitive era, includes such taboo fantasies as a nun fellating a priest. Both sets—comprising 30-minute features supplemented by additional footage and outtakes—have been upgraded to hi-def, although since the original quality is so variable, any improvements aren’t immediately obvious.

Summer Night Concert 2016 
(Sony Classical)
Continuing an annual seasonal ritual held on the vast grounds of the extraordinary Schoenbrun Palace outside Vienna in May, this concert is an entertaining mash-up of the popular (Strauss waltz, Ravel’s Bolero) and the substantial (an intense performance of Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, played with fleet ferocity by sisters Katia and Marielle Labeque). Conductor Semyon Bychkov capably leads the Vienna Philharmonic in this summertime favorite balancing baubles and brilliance. The hi-def image and audio are first-rate.

Twin Peaks—The Original Series, Fire Walk with Me & The Missing Pieces
I was no Twin Peaks fan, but even I found the disjointed and stilted series better than director David Lynch’s abomination of a feature film, 1992’s Fire Walk with Me, which in its ineptitude (whether deliberate or not is immaterial) makes the series seem like Citizen Kane in comparison. For those who want all things Twin Peaks, this set will do quite nicely (and more cheaply than the previous Blu-ray set), with all 29 series episodes, both versions of the pilot, and the film, all in fine high-def; extras include Log Lady episode intros, 90 minutes of deleted Fire Walk scenes and other featurettes.

DVDs of the Week 
The Automatic Hate
(Film Movement)
In this low-key but absorbing indie drama, millennial Davis discovers he has an uncle his father never told him about—along with three nubile female cousins, one of whom, Alexis, he instantly falls for, to the detriment of his relationship with his beautiful ballerina girlfriend. Although co-writer-director Justin Lerner has a tenuous grip on dicey incest material, that he keeps things non-exploitative is a tribute to his terrific cast headed by talented Australian actress Adelaide Clemens, who makes a trenchant and vital Alexis. Extras are a commentary, deleted scenes and British director Eva Riley’s short, Patriot.

Back in Time
This entertaining look back at the Back to the Future trilogy interweaves reminiscences of the major players—director-writer Bob Zemeckis, writer Bob Gale, producer Steven Spielberg, actors Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson, singer Huey Lewis—with those mesmerized by or who’ve made a cottage industry of it, like those who bought the famous cars involved. It’s a fun ride despite the misplaced love for what was, after all, a merely clever piece of disposable entertainment.

Pete Townshend—Face the Face 
Toto—Live at Montreux 1991
(Eagle Rock)
On the heels of his best solo album, 1985’s White City—A Novel, Pete Townshend assembled a crack band with no less than David Gilmour on lead guitar, for a scintillating concert on the German TV program Rockpalast; highlights are riveting versions of White City’s “Give Blood” and “Secondhand Love,” Gilmour’s solo hit “Blue Light” and a tune Townshend gave to Roger Daltrey for his solo album, “After the Fire.” A few big hits in America. notwithstanding, Toto has always been more popular in Europe, and its 1991 incarnation—keyboardist David Paich, guitarist Steve Lukather and the brothers Porcaro, drummer Jeff and bassist Mike—blow the roof off the Montreux Jazz Festival with a jam-heavy eight-song set, out of which only “Roxanna” and “Africa” are recognizable smashes. Both sets include an accompanying audio CD of the concert.  

Scorpion—Complete 2nd Season
Hawaii Five O—Complete 6th Season
Blue Bloods—Complete 6th Season
The second season of Scorpion furthers the bonds of the genius outsiders with the sweet young mom (Katharine McPhee) who acts as their lifeline to the “normal” world as they are hers to her mentally challenged son; meanwhile, the sixth seasons of Hawaii Five-O and Blue Bloods use their Hawaiian and Manhattan locations to build a credible atmosphere for their criminal investigations. Lots of extras on all three sets include featurettes and gag reels; Bloods and Scorpion also has commentaries and Hawaii and Scorpion have deleted scenes.

(Cinema Libre)
This pseudo-documentary, which runs with the thoroughly discredited “vaccines cause autism” meme, contains dangerous misinformation under the guise of science, while repeatedly exploiting autistic children and playing up the role of a supposed CDC whistleblower who was in fact no such thing. Director Andrew Wakefield is the disgraced doctor who started it all; producer Del Bigtree is a “medical journalist” in on the whole ruse—a quick Google search will provide much information to refute what they say—and they are the prime talking heads for this slick but shoddy piece of advocacy that cherry-picks more information than the average Fox News segment. Extras are additional interviews.

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