Tuesday, February 7, 2017

February '17 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 
Bells Are Ringing
Wait Until Dark
(Warner Archive)
Vincente Minnelli’s colorful 1960 musical Bells Are Ringing isn’t among his best confections, but there’s enough of Jules Styne’s lovely score and Judy Holliday’s charm to get by—along with a beguiling mix of old-fashioned romance and New York toughness. Wait Under Dark, Terence Young’s 1967 hit Broadway thriller adaptation, gains traction from Audrey Hepburn’s sympathetic turn as the blind heroine, who outsmarts the bad guys led by a malevolent Alan Arkin in three roles. The movie often verges on self-parody, but Hepburn makes it work. Both films have superlative hi-def color transfers: Bells extras are additional musical numbers and a vintage making-of; lone Dark extra is a vintage making-of.

Come What May
(Cohen Media)
This arresting drama about a cross-section of Europeans dealing with the Nazi takeover of France in 1940 has been directed with skill and a fine sense of realism by Christian Carion, who based his story on his own parents’ travails during the war. An excellent cast inhabits its roles with great authenticity, providing an emotional core to a war film imbued with light amidst the darkness: Ennio Morricone’s lush, old-fashioned score (with an assist from Schubert) and Pierre Cottereau’s pungent photography are standouts. The Blu-ray transfer is exceptional; extras include a Carion commentary and interview, on-set featurette and Morricone music featurette.

Def Leppard—and there will be a next time…Live from Detroit 
Mumford & Sons—Live from South Africa: Dust and Thunder
(Eagle Rock)
Def Leppard, circa 2016, is still an arena headliner, as its Live from Detroit concert release shows: with veteran guitarist Vivian Campbell supplementing the original members (including frontman Joe Elliott’s still soaring vocals), ‘80s hits like “Photograph,” “Rock of Ages,” “Hysteria” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me” remain potent and some new tunes blend in well, but the best moment comes during an unexpected cover of David Essex’s “Rock On.” Now one of the biggest live acts on the globe, Mumford & Sons hit South Africa for Dust and Thunder, a buoyant performance in front of thousands of sated fans, as they run through their folk-pop repertoire that includes many favorites and a few new songs, with the audience happily singing along throughout. Both discs have first-rate hi-def video and surround-sound audio.

The case of Loving v. Virginia—in which an interracial couple got legal married status in the racist state of Virginia by the Supreme Court in 1967—is humanized in Jeff Nichols’ beautifully understated drama, which omits melodramatics and sentimentality for a straightforwardly insightful look at an ordinary couple’s decision to love no matter the consequences. In the title roles, Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga give master classes in underplaying, in restraint, subtlety and graceful humanity: although Negga got an Oscar nomination, it’s no surprise that the Academy in its usual benightedness saw fit to otherwise ignore Edgerton, Nichols, and one of the best films of 2016. There’s a superior hi-def transfer; extras are a Nichols commentary and short featurettes.

Vice Principals—Complete 1st Season 
Watching two vice-principals wage a campus battle royale when their boss decides to step down to care for his sick wife might seem the stuff of an unfunny Saturday Night Live skit, but it’s actually the premise of a mainly (and disastrously) laughless new series, in which co-creator Danny McBride and Walton Goggins try—and fail—to breathe comic life into a stillborn subject. Even Bill Murray as the principal looks bored and bemused, while the nasty joking flies fast and furiously—but always desperately. The hi-def transfer looks good enough; extras comprise audio commentaries, deleted scenes and blooper reel.

Victoria—Complete 1st Season
(PBS Masterpiece)
Another British-made glimpse at its own royalty, dressed up in sumptuous costumes and unerringly recreated sets, this eight-episode mini-series chronicles Queen Victoria’s first years on the throne, which she ascended as a virginal 18-year-old. Jenna Coleman’s magnificent performance combines royal shrewdness and youthful charm into a portrait of a queen as compelling as Helen Mirren’s vastly different Elizabeth. The impeccable supporting cast is led by Rufus Sewell as one of Victoria’s closest advisors; the series itself looks set for a long run. The fine hi-def transfer combines sharpness and clarity; extras include interviews and featurettes.

DVD of the Week 
(First Run)
Zvia, a young Orthodox Jewish wife, discovers what’s beyond her own isolated married existence one night in a cemetery in Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, where she witnesses a prostitute servicing a john; her curiosity leads her to make new—and quite unlikely—relationships. Writer-director Yaelle Kayam’s impressive degree of insight and control ensure that her story never comes close to descending into exploitiveness: helping greatly is a strong, subtle performance by Israeli actress Shani Klein as Zvia. 

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