Tuesday, October 11, 2016

October '16 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 
Les Cowboys
(Cohen Media)
In screenwriter Thomas Bidegain’s auspicious directorial debut, a teenager girl’s disappearance takes over the lives of her father and younger brother, disrupting and changing everyone along the way. Loosely based on John Ford’s The Searchers, Bidegain’s drama has built-in contrivances, but it’s done so compellingly and acted so powerfully that the film’s denouement—showing the young woman’s ultimate fate—is a slow-burning stunner. There’s a superlative hi-def transfer; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Diary of a Chambermaid
(Cohen Media)
Benoit Jacquot directs the latest adaptation of Octave Mirbeau’s classic novel about a young woman who works as chambermaid for a wealthy provincial family and must balance her professional and personal lives. For once, Jacquot’s sledgehammer directing doesn’t go against his material and he smartly casts in the lead Lea Seydoux, who—like Jeanne Moreau and Paulette Goddard before her in the earlier Luis Bunuel and Jean Renoir versions—makes criticism seem like carping, so effortlessly does she make the title character three-dimensional. The film looks ravishing on Blu; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

The Last King 
A complicated web of deceit is dramatized in this fast-paced thriller by director Nils Gaup, who brings a sense of immediacy and excitement to this true story of an infant, next in line for the throne, being protected from his many enemies. Of course, at 100 minutes, the film simplifies and the real complexities involved, but it’s still a fun ride. The film looks sumptuous on Blu; extras are interview with lead actor and music video.

The Legend of Tarzan
(Warner Bros)
Director David Yates’ reboot of Tarzan takes place years after the tale everyone knows: Tarzan and wife Jane leave civilized life in London to return to Africa, where they are confronted by more criminals. As far as it goes, it’s not completely imbecile, with a nice balance of action, 3-D and a delightfully feisty Margot Robbie as Jane. Alexander Skarsgard’s Tarzan is adequate but doesn’t have enough to do: less time spent on Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz’s supporting antics would have helped. The Blu-ray image is sharp and clear; extras comprise several featurettes.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil 
(Warner Archive)
In Clint Eastwood’s turgid 1997 adaptation of John Berendt’s colorful best-seller about a real-life killing among Savannah’s upper-crust renders them as cartoons, especially Kevin Spacey’s campy protagonist who shoots a guest at one of his own lavish parties. John Cusack’s lackadaisical outsider, a reporter working on a story about the town’s checkered history who falls into a big murder story, seems out of his element, as does Eastwood himself: although a few sequences come off fairly well, best is a solid supporting cast that includes Jack Thompson and Jude Law. The film looks good on Blu; lone extra is a 20-minute behind the scenes featurette.

On Dangerous Ground
(Warner Archive)
This gritty 1952 film noir about a brutalizing cop and the blind young woman who turns his world upside down was directed with vigor by Nicolas Ray and features a pulsating Bernard Herrmann score. As the detective, Robert Ryan gives a satisfyingly no-nonsense performance, while Ida Lupino is heartbreaking as the sightless heroine. There’s a superb hi-def transfer, on par with most Warner Archive releases; the lone extra is historian Glenn Erickson’s commentary.

(BelAir Classiques)
Richard Wagner’s solemn, four-hour “religious” opera is profaned by director Dmitri Tcherniakov’s 2015 Berlin staging, as Wagner’s dignified characters searching for the Holy Grail are dropped into a ludicrously modern setting that battles the majestic music. Despite the ridiculous visuals, Daniel Barenboim conducts a wonderfully detailed reading of Wagner’s weighty score, and his singers—especially Rene Pape as Gurnemanz and Anja Kampe as Kundry—are in splendid voice throughout. The hi-def audio and video are first-rate.

Four giggly millennials on a tour of devil-worshipping sites get more than they bargained for after they interfere with a sacrificial ritual and find themselves dealing with its female survivor in Jeffrey Hunt’s ragged but occasionally scary horror flick. At a tidy 84 minutes, it passes quickly—and becomes forgotten even faster—but it will do decently enough for those desperate for a few chills. The film looks spiffy on Blu; extras include making-of featurettes.

Made by Spanish horror auteur Juan Piquer Simon, 1996’s Slugs is an icky entry into the slimy horror genre whose predecessors are movies like Squirm and Bug; it’s too risible to work, though there’s a dash of cleverness in some of the deaths by slug infestation. 1996’s Vamp isn’t saved by a game Grace Jones as vampire Kinky Katrina or by Michelle Pfeiffer’s younger sister Deedee, who’s actually pretty good (but still wasted). Both films have good, grainy hi-def transfers; many extras include new and vintage interviews, bloopers, featurettes, and a Slugs commentary.

DVDs of the Week
The Becoming of the Mannheim Ring
(Arthaus Musik)
Director/stage-lighting designer/costumer Achim Freyer was behind the mish-mash of a staging of Richard Wagner’s 2013 Ring Cycle in Mannheim, Germany; this two-disc set follows Freyer, cast, crew and company officials during the lengthy rehearsal and pre-production period of the four operas that make up the massive tetralogy. At nearly four hours, this making-of feature might be a lot to sit through, but since the operas themselves total 15 hours, what’s another 240 minutes of watching fly-on-the-wall director Rudij Bergmann’s record of behind the scenes machinations?

The Hunting of the President Redux 
(Virgil Films)
Based on the highly readable, fair-minded book by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons about the demonization of the Clintons by right-wing opponents, Harry Thomason and Nicolas Perry’s 2004 documentary—with 2016 updates—comes off more screechy and biased, like a liberal corollary to what the wingnuts having been doing to the former (and future) First Couple since they became a viable political force. There’s much damning evidence that what the GOP has taken as gospel—everything and everybody the Clintons touch die—is lunacy writ large, but done more soberly, it would be more persuasive.

The Mangler
(Warner Archive)
Tobe Hooper’s trashy 1994 slasher flick is a garbled mess, despite its pedigree: it’s based on a Stephen King short story and stars Freddy Kruger himself, Robert Eglund, as a laundry owner whose press goes rogue. The ostensible monster—a machine that morphs into a murderous creature—isn’t very frightening, with special effects so slipshod that it seems like the work of rank amateurs. Ted Levine plays the detective with unsavory menace, similar to his turn as the villain in The Silence of the Lambs.

Vincent Van Gogh—A Life Devoted to Art 
(Arthaus Musik)
This Dutch documentary about the Netherlands’ most famous artist is an informative overview of the life, career and early death of Van Gogh (whose name is pronounced correctly throughout, so it sounds wrong to an American ear—no pun intended). There are plentiful glimpses of his paintings, sober talking heads in discussion, and visits to locations throughout the Netherlands and France, where he lived, worked and, finally, killed himself in 1890, penniless and forgotten. As someone notes, he’d be amazed that his paintings now are sold for unfathomable amounts of money. A second disc has a 15-minute featurette—but why isn’t it included on the main disc?

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