Tuesday, October 25, 2016

October '16 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week 
Alice Through the Looking Glass
This belated sequel to the 2010 Tim Burton-directed smash can’t hold a candle to the original, mainly because director James Bobin substitutes his arbitrary garish bombast for Burton’s extravagant controlled whimsy. The gang’s all here—Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway, Sasha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter and a delightfully dizzy Johnny Depp—yet the overall effect is that of so much visual oppressiveness smothering the further fantastical adventures of Lewis Carroll’s heroine. The Blu-ray visuals are eye-popping; extras include featurettes, audio commentary, deleted scenes and a Pink music video.

The Executioner
In Luis Garcia Berlanga’s sardonic 1963 classic, an undertaker falls for and marries the daughter of an executioner; he soon takes over his retired father-in-law’s job, which he doesn’t really want to do. Made during the height of Franco’s fascist regime in Spain, Berlanga’s blackly comic drama remains a potent brew of critical satire that holds up as well as Carlos Saura’s masterpieces like 1966’s The Hunt and 1970’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. The B&W images look lovely on Blu; extras include a Pedro Almodovar appreciation, new program about Berlanga, and a 2009 Spanish TV program featuring archival Berlanga footage.

The Hills Have Eyes 
Dark Water
Despite its crudeness, Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977) is the scariest movie he ever made: its straightforwardness, coupled with a realistically creepy vibe, combine to tighten the screws more tautly until the horrific finale. Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water (2002), a finely-wrought thriller about a mother trying to protect her young daughter from malevolent spirits, is far better than the 2005 American remake starring Jennifer Connelly. Both films have nicely-detailed and grainy transfers; extras include interviews and featurettes, and Hills has three audio commentaries.

Iggy Pop—Post Pop Depression
Santana IV—Live at the House of Blues, Las Vegas
(Eagle Rock)
Iggy Pop teamed up with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme for his latest album Post Pop Depression, putting more muscle into his music than anything in years, as this Royal Albert Hall show from London in June shows: highlights are sizzling versions of “Lust for Life” and “China Girl.” Carlos Santana reformed the seminal lineup of his namesake band for an album and tour last year, and this Las Vegas concert brought some of his famed alumni back into the fold: singer-keyboardist Gregg Rolie and guitarist Neal Schon add oomph to new tunes and Santana classics like “Black Magic Woman” and “Evil Ways.” Both sets, which include two CDs with all the live songs, also have first-rate hi-def video and audio. Santana IV extras are band interviews.

Lights Out 
(Warner Bros)
The sinister spirit haunting their mother forces a young boy and his stepsister to try and stop a likely fatal outcome in David F. Sandberg’s tidy 80-minute horror flick that has a few good, and a few cheap, thrills—even more if you’re particularly susceptible to reacting to every little scare tactic in today’s schlocky horror flicks. Teresa Palmer (stepsister), Gabriel Bateman (youngster) and Maria Bello (mother) give persuasive performances that help sell this to more skeptical viewers, like me. The movie looks splendidly dark on Blu; extras are several deleted scenes, which include an idiotic ending smartly excised from the finished product.

Little Fauss and Big Halsy
(Olive Films)
These 1970 “youth” films, despite many missed chances, have scattered moments of insight into the then-generation gap. The bumpy Fauss has Robert Redford as a charming but rascally race car driver who thinks nothing of using his friend Fauss (Robert J. Pollard)—especially when gorgeous Lauren Hutton falls for the latter. Gas-s-s-s is a cardboard Roger Corman flick whose sci-fi premise (everyone over 25 has died in a gas leak) can’t hide a basic lack of coherence or comprehension, and which wastes then-promising performers like Cindy Williams and Talia Shire. The hi-def transfers are solid.

Peter Gabriel—Growing Up Live 
(Eagle Rock)
Originally released in 2003, Growing Up Live is a valuable document of Peter Gabriel’s remarkable Up tour, his first in 10 years: now on Blu-ray, the brilliance of Gabriel’s artistry—both visual and musical—can be seen and heard anew, with highlights of this May 2003 Milan performance “Sky Blue” and “Mercy Street.” In addition to the hi-def video and audio upgrade, also included on this multi-disc set are a DVD of Still Growing Up Live, a more intimate 2004 concert; backstage documentary Still Growing Up Unwrapped; studio footage of Gabriel and his band; and two performances on Jools Holland’s show.

The Quiet Man
(Olive Signature)
John Ford’s 1952 drama is one of his most old-fashioned, with John Wayne as an American boxer who returns to his Irish homeland and falls in love with spunky lass Maureen O’Hara: amusing and romantic but sappy and silly, it’s pretty shocking that Ford won his fourth Best Director Oscar for this. (Winton C. Hoch’s stunning color photography, however, definitely deserved its Oscar.) Olive’s Signature series not only includes a sparkling hi-def transfer that shows off the film’s gorgeous Irish locations, but also includes an audio commentary and featurettes about Ford, O’Hara and the Republic Pictures company.

Short Cuts 
Robert Altman’s sprawling 1993 drama about the interactions among dozens of Los Angelenos before an earthquake pretends to be a Raymond Carver adaptation, but Altman’s jaded cynicism is light years removed from Carver’s jaded humanity. There are things that work, namely the acting of Julianne Moore and Jennifer Jason Leigh, but it is ultimately an Altman failure that rarely comes to grips with what it explores. Still, Criterion’s two-disc set, featuring a spectacular new hi-def transfer—but drops the book of Carver short stories that were part of the original DVD release—has voluminous extras: deleted scenes; Tim Robbins and Altman conversation; Carver audio interview; To Write and Keep Kind, a 1992 PBS Carver documentary; and Luck, Trust & Ketchup: Robert Altman in Carver Country, a full-length making-of documentary.

CD of the Week
George Gershwin—An American in Paris/Concerto in F
(Harmonia Mundi)
The Harmonie Ensemble/New York offers lively performances of several Gershwin favorites: the sprightly Of Thee I Sing Overture and 3 Preludes, fizzy An American in Paris and percolating Concerto in F, a towering piano and orchestra work heard far less often than Rhapsody in Blue. Pianist Lincoln Mayorga plays the challenging solo part in the concerto with exceptional ease; leading the ensemble is Steven Richman, who puts himself and his crack band in the front rank of current Gershwin interpreters.

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