Tuesday, November 8, 2016

November '16 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Durrells in Corfu—Complete 1st Season
In this breezily entertaining Masterpiece series, a widow, Louisa, and her four unruly children decide to leave stuffy old England for the Greek island of Corfu: unsurprisingly, drama and romance ensue as the five of them adjust to a very different way of living. Despite its soap opera contrivances, Durrells is quite involving, thanks to glorious Mediterranean locations and persuasive acting, especially by Keeley Hawes, who invests Louisa with the three-dimensionality of a character in a great novel. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras include making-of featurettes.

Einstein on the Beach
(Opus Arte)
I might be in the minority, but I find this 4-1/2 hour “opera” by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson to be one of the most enervating and sleep-inducing pieces of musical theater I’ve ever experienced: but if you’re on the Glass/Wilson wavelength, this 2014 Paris production will do very nicely—with the added bonus of pausing it whenever the many musical and dramatic repetitions rear their heads. The performers (both dancers and singers) are remarkable in their ability to sing and move in unison, so there is that. The hi-def video and audio are first-rate.

Indian Summers—Complete 2nd Season 
As the friction between the Indians and their British occupiers grows more tense by the moment, the second season of this conventional Masterpiece series creeps up and shakes viewers out of your complacency, as the violence becomes more common both politically and personally, with often fatal consequences. The splendid acting includes Julia Walters as a magnificently malevolent matron, and Jemima West, Amber Rose Revah and Fiona Glascott as women who, despite their second-class status, find that their own actions make for a kind of historic change. The Blu-ray transfer is stunning; extras include a 45-minute making-of featurette.

The Initiation
Daphne Zuniga plays dual roles—a panicky college student with awful nightmares and her twin sister—in this moderately scary 1984 horror entry about a few sorority pledges and their boyfriends locked in a store at night with a murderous mental-hospital escapee around. Director Larry Stewart repeats his formula killings—bludgeonings with an axe or garden tools—but a game cast (which includes Vera Miles and vivacious Hunter Tylo, under the name Deborah Morehart) keeps things percolating for a watchable 95 minutes. The hi-def transfer is good and grainy; extras include interviews, commentary and extended scene.

Motley Crue—The End 
(Eagle Rock)
After three decades of playing schlocky cock-rock, Motley Crue said goodbye at a recent L.A. concert, pulling out all the visual stops that overpower their wan hard rock that, shockingly, many of their fans consider the crème de la crème of heavy music. Mainly it’s the elaborate drum setup for Tommy Lee, which during his solo moves him up, down, around and upside down (he was already doing it in 1987, when I saw them, only without cutting-edge technology); singer Vince Neil, guitarist Mick Mars and bassist Nikki Sixx are adequate, and familiar tunes like “Girls Girls Girls” and “Doctor Feelgood” keep thousands of fans sated. Hi-def video and audio are first-rate; extras comprise band interviews.

Private Property
This tense low-budget 1960 thriller pits two psychotic criminals (Corey Allen and Warren Oates) against a young married woman who obliviously allows them into her Southern California mansion while her husband’s away. Shot on location at director Leslie Stevens’ own home, the terrorizing is forced at times, but Oates and Allen are especially effective villains and actress Kate Manx (Stevens’ wife) is full of a vivid aliveness that makes this creepy tale credible—tragically, she killed herself three years later. The film has been restored and the tangy B&W photography looks crisp in hi-def; lone extra is a new interview with technical consultant Alexander Singer.

DVDs of the Week 
Indian Point
Among the Believers
(First Run)
Ivy Meeropol’s documentary Indian Point is a sober and even-handed look at supporters and protestors of the Indian Point nuclear plant—only 35 miles from New York City—in the wake of Japan’s Fukishima disaster. Though both sides make their points (for the most part) non-hysterically, all evidence points to an ongoing danger for all of us living nearby. Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Nagvi's documentary Among the Believers trenchantly explores the never-ending War on Terror by showing the frightening indoctrination of children at the Red Mosque, a Pakistani fundamentalist organization; its matter-of-factness is its most chilling feature. Both discs’ extras comprise deleted scenes.

Saving Mes Aynak
In Afghanistan, a priceless ancient place of archeological treasures—some 5,000 or more years old—is in danger of being destroyed by a Chinese company, who wants to harvest copper from directly underneath it. Director Brent E. Huffman urgently chronicles the efforts of a local archeologist as he races against time, the Chinese and—of course—the Taliban to try and save a huge chunk of Afghan and Buddhist history from being obliterated. Extras are deleted scenes.

CD of the Week 
Frank Martin—Ein Totentanz zu Basel im Jahre 1943
Swiss composer Frank Martin wrote this piece for choir, percussion and massive orchestral forces during World War II for a staged drama featuring Death as a sympathetic character; since it’s visual as well as musical, this CD provides only half the work. But thanks to a vivid, persuasive performance by the superb choristers, pummeling percussionists and first-rate orchestral musicians conducted by Bastiaan Blomhert, this recording gives of a flavor of the entire work, an interesting oddity from the most sophisticated of 20th century composers.

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