Tuesday, March 14, 2017

March '17 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 
All We Had
(Gravitas Ventures)
Katie Holmes’s directorial debut is an earnest, feel-good study of a single mom and her teenage daughter who teeter on the edge of poverty, how they beg, borrow and steal just to get by, and how a series of fortunate events allows them to lay down roots in a small town. Holmes directs straightforwardly, while her performance as the mom and Stefania LaVie Owen’s as her daughter are quite believable, which helps whenever the movie falls into its not infrequent melodramatic traps. The Blu-ray image is excellent; no extras.

Canoa—A Shameful Memory
A true resurrection by the Criterion Collection is this barely known 1975 drama by Mexican director Felipe Cazals, which powerfully recreates the events leading to the murders of a group of innocent young men who had the misfortune of visiting a region of their country where a cult leader, i.e., priest, held sway. Though marred by awkward acting and melodrama, Cazals’ blunt-edged film still resonates as a cautionary tale about following in lock-step behind a charismatic leader. The hi-def transfer is satisfyingly natural-looking; extras comprise a Guillermo del Toro introduction and conversation between Cazals and director Alfonso Cuaron.

45 Years 
Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay give skillful portrayals of a long-married wife and husband whose relationship is upended when they find out that his long-ago girlfriend’s body was found after being missing for 45 years—that he never disclosed this earlier relationship to his wife before causes a possibly irrevocable rift. Director Andrew Haigh insightfully shows how little things may upend decades of marital bliss in this finely etched character study, based on David Constantine’s short story. Criterion’s sparkling hi-def transfer is complemented by interviews with Rampling, Courtenay, Constantine and Haigh and a Haigh commentary.

Ghost in the Shell
(Anchor Bay)
In this now-classic 1995 Japanese anime—whose influence has been so large that a live-action remake starring Scarlett Johansson opens soon, if anyone cares about such things—a devious hacker called the Puppet Master is tracked down by a relentless government tracker and her team. The vibrant animation—a canny combination of traditional cels and computer generated imagery—is seen in all its glory in this fine hi-def transfer; there are no extras included, except the steelbook packaging.

Mercadante—Francesca da Rimini 
Although 19th century Italian composer Saverio Mercadante wrote many operas, they’ve been pretty much forgotten: at least until this 2016 Martina Franca (Italy) staging of Francesca da Rimini, under Fabio Luisi’s steady baton, excellent orchestral playing and choral singing, and fronted by head-turning vocal performances by soprano Leonor Bonilla and mezzo Aya Wakyzono. One of Mercadante’s contemporaries, Giacomo Rossini, is far better known (The Barber of Seville), but his obscure Armida was brought out of mothballs for an impressive 2015 Opera Ghent staging, with fine singing by Carmen Romeu and Enea Scala. Both operas have superior hi-def video and audio.

Six—Complete 1st Season
(Anchor Bay)
The inner workings of the elite Navy Seals are dramatized in this eight-episode mini-series, as the elite group must go in and pry loose its former squad leader after he is taken hostage by Boko Haram in Nigeria. By jumping around from hellish locations as far-flung as Afganistan and Chad—and by adeptly showing back stories like how the current hostage lost his position as squad leader—the drama dials up its intensity without losing focus on the men under fire. The hi-def transfer is splendid.

DVD/CD of the Week 
Grigory Sokolov—Mozart-Rachmaninoff Concertos/A Conversation That Never Was (Deutsche Grammophon)
One of the most enigmatic artists in classical music, Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov doesn’t give interviews and hasn’t performed with orchestras in years: so how do you put out a new release of his musicmaking? Deutsche Grammophon has dug out two of his older recordings: his sizzling 2005 recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 and his even more dazzling 1995 recording of the fiendishly difficult Rach 3 (Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto). Add to that Nadia Zhdanova’s documentary, A Conversation That Never Was, which recounts the pianist’s fascinating career through interviews with everyone but him, a less than definite portrait of a reluctant master.

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