Tuesday, February 21, 2017

February '17 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 
Betty/L’Enfer/The Swindle
(Cohen Film Collection)
These features by French director Claude Chabrol—who, at his best, could compete with Alfred Hitchcock for witty, well-turned suspense films—are variable in quality, as so much of his career was. 1992’s Betty is an intimately offbeat drama about two scarred women; 1994’s L’Enfer stars a breathtaking Emmanuelle Beart in a twisted psychological portrait of a husband (Francois Cluzet) who believes his wife is cheating; and 1997’s The Swindle wastes Isabelle Huppert, Michel Serrault and Cluzet in a by-the-numbers comic thriller. As usual, Cohen’s hi-def transfers are exemplary; too bad the scarce extras are two commentaries and a Cluzet interview: no extras from the French discs are included, a shame since we’re missing out on interviews and commentaries from Chabrol himself.

By Sidney Lumet
This intelligent documentary portrait is essentially one long discussion that director Nancy Buirski conducted before Sidney Lumet’s 2011 death, taking the director from his early TV days to his string of ‘70s and ‘80s film classics that took the pulse of his city (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Prince of the City) and even the nation (Network, Running on Empty). Lumet is smart, funny, personable and compulsively listenable, and Buirski shows copious clips from his most—and even least—celebrated films (The Wiz, anyone?). The hi-def transfer looks good; extras comprise bonus interview footage and an interview with Treat Williams, who starred in Prince of the City.

Hacksaw Ridge 
Director Mel Gibson fetishizes violence: Christ being tortured in The Passion of the Christ, Mayans being slaughtered in Apocalypto, Scots and English armies fighting in Braveheart. His latest ultra-violent war drama ups the ante: in showing how an American pacifist joins the service during World War II, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gibson actually made combat carnage worse than it really is. At heart a standard war film, it’s sentimental and brutal by turns—with boot-camp sequences stolen from The Boys in Company C and Full Metal Jacket, but far less effective—and it’s up to Andrew Garfield’s emotionally naked performance to deliver the goods. The film looks superb on Blu; extras include a 70-minute making-of documentary, deleted scenes and Gibson’s Veterans Day greeting.

Love in the Afternoon
(Warner Archive)
In Billy Wilder’s gossamer 1957 May-December romance, Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper are an unlikely couple who fall for each other in a Paris made even more glamorous by Wilder’s lustrous black and white visuals, which illustrate every cultural cliché of the City of Lights. Hepburn is luminous, of course, and Maurice Chevalier strangely right as her father; even if Cooper is far too stiff, Wilder has made a high-gloss entertainment of the highest order. Warner Archive’s Blu-ray includes a first-rate hi-def transfer.

Nocturnal Animals 
Tom Ford’s excruciating would-be thriller is a textbook study in how not to make a movie: with his flat, repetitive visual palette, clumsily handled plot devices and comatose acting from a stellar cast—how often can Amy Adams look up in feigned shock from a manuscript she’s reading?—Ford’s drama is ham-fisted and pretentious. Only Michael Shannon escapes the dourness as a dying detective, but even he can’t resuscitate something that’s already DOA. There’s a stellar Blu-ray image; extras include short featurettes and brief interviews.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Pedro Almodovar became an international art-house figure with this colorful 1988 comedy that had the anarchic spirit of his earlier, scruffier films but also had winning performances from formidable female stars, led by the great Carmen Maura. Almodovar’s unique comic sensibility has long since worn out, but he was near the top of his game here; Criterion’s hi-def transfer is appropriately outstanding, and extras are new interviews with Almodovar, Maura, brother/producer Augusto Almodovar and former New York Film Fest head Richard Pena, who introduced Almodovar to festival audiences.

The Yakuza 
(Warner Archive)
In this 1974 Sydney Pollack drama, Eastern and Western customs literally do battle when Robert Mitchum visits Japan to help save longtime buddy Brian Keith’s daughter from the murderous clutches of the Yakuza, a Mafia-type organization with long-reaching tentacles. The melding of gangster film, travelogue and romance sits uneasily in Pollack’s messily problematic if intriguing film, with Robert Towne and Paul & Leonard Schrader’s gritty script at odds with Pollack’s more cerebral direction. The fine performances are led by Mitchum’s non-nonsense anti-hero. The grainy hi-def transfer is exceptional; extras are Pollack’s commentary and vintage featurette.

DVD of the Week
London Town
This minor but diverting study of teenage angst follows its nerdy music-loving hero—teen Shay, living in a lower-class London suburb in the late ‘70s—who is befriended by Joe Strummer of the still-unknown The Clash. The movie ambles along with bursts of punk rock blasting out of the speakers as Shay falls for his very first girlfriend Vivian and deals with his parents’ separation, all while discovering that Strummer, of all people, is a friendly dude. It’s all kind of precious but redeemed by emphatic acting by Daniel Huttlestone (Shay), Nell Williams (Vivian) and Jonathan Rhys-Myers (Strummer).

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