Tuesday, September 27, 2016

September '16 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week 
Central Intelligence
(Warner Bros)
Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart team up for this latest “odd couple” comedy about high school chums who get together 20 years later, one of them an accountant and the other a CIA agent: craziness ensues. There are plenty of laughs, even if much of the unrated cut’s two hours is spent spinning wheels desperately looking for lots of cheap jokes (most of which it finds). Hart and Johnson make a surprisingly potent team, but Jason Bateman is wasted as the school jerk turned corporate jerk-off. The movie has a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras include a gag reel, alternate scenes, and a commentary

Dead-End Drive In
One of the leading lights of the Ozploitation movement, Australian director Brian Trenchard-Smith made this 1996 horror parody with moments of gleeful goriness alongside moments of gob smacking idiocy. You get what you came for, in either case, and the whole thing is mindless (and occasionally sarcastic) fun. The Arrow set includes a nicely-detailed hi-def transfer and a plethora of extras: director’s commentary, Trenchard-Smith’s classic documentary The Stuntmen, and his 1978 public-service short Hospitals Don’t Burn Down.

Director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1988 magnum opus—ten hour-long films for Polish television in which he and cowriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz transformed the ten Commandments into compelling modern parables—has writing, directing and acting that coalesce into a true masterpiece. It’s too bad Kieslowski took the metaphysical aspects of his filmmaking to their illogical extremes with his Three Colors trilogy, since Dekalog showed off a superior balance of the physical and metaphysical. Criterion’s magnificent set includes fantastic hi-def transfers of all 10 episodes—along with the features made from episodes five and six, A Short Film about Killing and A Short Film about Love—and extras comprising many interviews with Kieslowski, Piesiewicz, several actors, three cinematographers and an editor, along with Annette Insdorf’s appreciation and analysis of the series.

The Fiddle and the Drum
(C Major)
Based on several Joni Mitchell songs both familiar and obscure, Jane Grand-Maitre’s inventively choreographed ballet finds the danceable moves inside these iconic tunes, and the Alberta Ballet Company gives them a thorough workout that fellow Canadian Mitchell will surely appreciate. The hi-def audio and video are excellent; extras include interviews with Mitchell, Grand-Maitre and dancers from the company, along with Mitchell’s own video installation of the set.

High Noon 
Johnny Guitar
(Olive Signature)
For its new Blu-ray line, Olive’s Signature Series gives classic films new releases comprising a hi-def transfer with new and illuminating extras. The first titles are classic westerns. High Noon (1952) is Fred Zinnemann’s tense and terse showdown starring Gary Cooper, Lloyd Bridges and Grace Kelly, while Johnny Guitar (1954) is Nicholas Ray’s exciting showdown starring Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden (in a rare romantic lead), Ernest Borgnine and Mercedes McCambridge. Both films have glistening transfers and extras comprising new interviews and featurettes; Johnny also includes a commentary.

Jekyll & Hyde…together again
(Olive Films)
Jerry Belson’s bombastic 1982 parody of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic horror tale overdoes the humor whether it’s Jekyll or Hyde onscreen (Mark Blankenfield is a blank in both roles), even while he’s getting various nubile actresses—including charmer Bess Armstrong—into compromising positions. Amazingly, it took four writers to come up with this comic misfire. The Blu-ray transfer looks good, at least.

Love Me or Leave Me 
(Warner Archive)
In this grandly entertaining biopic set during the Roaring ‘20s (and the ‘30s), Doris Day plays Ruth Etting, who went from small-time dancer to singing star with the help of her gangster manager-turned-husband, Moe Snyder, played by James Cagney with his usual blustery menace (for which he got a Best Actor Oscar nomination). Day and Cagney make a formidably fractious pair, and Day sings a bunch of hits ranging from “My Blue Heaven” to the title song. Charles Vidor’s colorful Cinemascope music drama has a terrific hi-def transfer; extras comprise vintage featurettes, a few starring the real Ruth Etting.

Night Train to Munich
Carol Reed’s exciting 1940 thriller, which owes much to Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, is a rollercoaster ride that takes on more urgency than usual since it’s ripped from then-current headlines: Nazis kidnap an eminent Czech scientist and his daughter, while a British spy pretends to be a Nazi officer while he’s trying to free them. Despite arid stretches, Reed really picks up the pace for a humdinger of a climax at involving cable cars at the Swiss border. Criterion’s Blu-ray contains its usual excellent transfer and a discussion between two film scholars about Reed’s film.

(Opus Arte)
For the latest Royal Shakespeare Company production of the Bard’s simmering drama, director Iqbal Khan’s idea is to cast both Iago and Othello with black actors—Lucian Msamati and Hugh Quarshie, respectively—to make secondary the racial component of their adversarial relationship, even though it remains in Shakespeare’s text. With lesser actors, it might not work, but both Msamati and Quarshie hit the play’s high points—and Joanna Vanderham is a heartbreaking Desdemona—so the conceit gets a fine dramatic workout. Hi-def video and audio are first-rate; extras are Khan’s commentary and two featurettes.

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum
Kenzi Mizoguchi is one of Japan’s most revered directors, although I’d put several masters—Ozu, Naruse, Kurosawa, Kobayashi, Imamura and Ichikawa—ahead of him. Still, his greatest film is this intimate and absorbing 1939 portrait of a kabuki actor’s strained, complicated relationships with his family and the woman who loves him. It’s slow-moving but builds to an overwhelmingly emotional climax. The usual stellar hi-def transfer from Criterion is missing: it’s acceptable but sometimes subpar. The lone extra is an interview with reviewer Phillip Lopate.

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