Tuesday, March 7, 2017

March '17 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Boyfriend
(Warner Archive)
One of Ken Russell’s most atypical films, his 1971 version of Sandy Wilson’s old-fashioned musical still contains the director’s often uncontrolled frenzy in abundance, even if—in this case—it’s at the service of a frivolous but fun story starring the enchanting Twiggy, of all people, who shows herself a more than competent actress, dancer and singer. It’s nice to finally get this from Warner Archive in a superior hi-def edition, with a vintage on-set featurette as the lone extra; maybe someday we’ll finally get The Devils on Blu-ray?

Disney’s latest animated extravaganza follows its eponymous heroine as she leaves her Polynesian home with shape-shifting ex-demigod Maui in tow to help save her people by bringing a relic back to an island goddess. Mixed in with interchangeable songs co-written by Hamilton auteur Lin-Manuel Miranda are lustrous aquatic visuals that often overwhelm the feel-good feminist tale being told. On Blu-ray, the computer-generated visuals look terrifically; extras include featurettes, deleted scenes, deleted song, and bonus Easter eggs.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth 
(Warner Archive)
If you’re going to make a silly, incoherent movie anachronistically showing cavemen and women living alongside dinosaurs, then the stop-motion effects better be up to snuff: for that reason alone, this 1969 adventure makes the grade, with surprisingly effective sequences of predators vs. their human targets. Otherwise, the amateurish acting, disposable directing and non-existent script make their marks throughout the sluggish 100-minute running time. The hi-def transfer is excellent.

DVDs of the Week
City in the Sky
This three-part documentary mini-series presents the inner workings of the airline industry by showing behind-the-scenes glimpses at ultra-busy airports like Atlanta’s or a fascinating look at the actual assembly of an Airbus A380, with its thousands of interlocking parts. By naming the segments “Departure,” “Airborne” and “Arrival,” the series cleverly develops a narrative of sorts, based on the fact that, at any moment, around a million people are airborne at the same time around the world: hence the program’s title.

Oklahoma City 
Timothy McVeigh’s homegrown terrorist attack, which shocked the country in 1995, is recounted in this thorough and unmissable exploration of what triggered McVeigh, how authorities dealt with it—including pretty quickly apprehending him after the first impulse was to blame Middle Eastern terrorists—and the reactions of those who had to trudge through the rubble, including first responders and parents who lost—or thought they lost—their children. One of the PBS series American Experience’s best episodes, director Barak Goodman’s impeccably researched and painstakingly put together study scarily demonstrates how McVeigh’s moment of madness had its origins in the white supremacist movement.

A Place to Call Home—Complete 4th Season
(Acorn Media)
In the most recent season of this superior Australian soap opera, the year 1954 embodies two opposing political stances, conservative fearmongering and liberal hopefulness, which color the actions of all of the characters. Jealousy, homosexuality, murder-suicide….the melodrama continues throughout these dozen episodes, aided by top-notch performances and a real sense of time and place. Fans will be pleased to know that a fifth season is currently in production.

CD of the Week 
The Film Music of William Alwyn, Volume 4
One of the most accomplished if underrated British composers of the last century, William Alwyn wrote music in many genres—symphonies, chamber music, concertos, operas, solo piano and vocal works—but his music remains, except for a slew of welcome releases on Chandos in the ‘80s and ‘90s, relatively unknown. That even extends to the often imaginative and dramatic scores he wrote for more than 70 films throughout his career—he died in 1985 at age 79—and Chandos has already released fine recordings of several of his best scores. This fourth volume, which includes his atmospheric suites (ably reconstructed and arranged by Philip Lane) for such ordinary British titles as On Approval and A City Speaks, continues the label’s winning streak of making this composer’s music available once again. Rumon Gamba conducts the BBC Philharmonic in exciting performances of works from ten different films.

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