Tuesday, April 4, 2017

April '17 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 
Rogue One—A Star Wars Story 
This latest episode shares the series’ tendency toward self-importance and overlength (135 minutes for such a thin tale of rebellion!), along with dollops of sophomoric humor in the form of a C3PO-like robot named K2SO. Like Episode 7’s heroine Rey, female rebel Gyn (nicely played by Felicity Jones), offspring of legendary Garen (the always welcome Mads Mikkelsen), has her own galactic adventures. Director Gareth Edwards doesn’t particularly distinguish himself, but doesn’t embarrass the franchise either, which is all that counts. The hi-def image is striking, unsurprisingly; the second disc of extras comprises several behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Ascent to Hell 
(Gravitas Ventures)
This grisly ghost story takes place in a vacant NYC building that houses the disturbed specters of those killed in a fire a century earlier—shades of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire that claimed over 100 young women’s lives in 1911—which take it out on the business group looking to buy it. The movie grinds on predictably as it never finds a compelling or even non-ridiculous reason for the undead to take it out on their visitors. The movie does look good on Blu.

Being 17 
This perceptive study of two antagonistic teens who discover there’s a real attraction between them was directed by the discerning but uneven André Téchiné and co-written by Céline Sciamma, whose originality in presenting young people sympathetically is seen in her own films Girlhood and Water Lilies. Kacey Mottet Klein and Corentin Filai are impressive and realistic as the boys, and Sandrine Kiberlain notable as Klein’s mom, dealing with her awkward but maturing son and his close friend. The film has a glorious hi-def transfer.

Brokenwood Mysteries—Complete 3rd Season 
In the third season of this entertaining New Zealand-set detective series, sleuths Mike Shepard and Kristin Sims solve several crimes in their no-nonsense, deadpan manner, like the murder of a diabetic woman—running a scam “Lord of the Rings” tour with her husband—from a rare spider bite. The comedy is sometimes heavy-handed, but the knowing performances of Neill Rea (Mike) and Fern Sutherland (Kristin) help balance the levity and seriousness. The four 90-minute episodes look quite fine on Blu; extras are cast/writer interviews.

(Arrow Academy)
Luchino Visconti’s 1972 biopic about the mad king of Bavaria—who bankrolled composer Richard Wagner’s Bayreuth—has narrative problems, even in its four-hour original cut (for Italian television), but it’s an engrossing and intimate epic as offbeat as its subject and just as compulsively watchable, especially in Trevor Howard’s civilized Wagner. Arrow’s splendid hi-def presentation includes the entire film on two discs (and in its theatrical and TV versions) in sublime new transfers with an English-dubbed option, vintage Luchino Visconti documentary, archival portrait of actress Silvana Mangano, archival interview with screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico, and new interviews with lead actor Helmut Burger and producer Dieter Geissler.

DVDs of the Week
The Curious World of Hieronymus Bosch 
(Seventh Art)
The great artist and favorite son of his namesake Dutch town was commemorated last year at the Noordbrabants Museum with an exhibition for the 500th anniversary of his birth, and David Bickerstaff’s documentary presents an exemplary overview of his work, legacy and genius, with illuminating comments by several experts (like idiosyncratic film director Peter Greenaway). It’s most interesting when we get to study Bosch’s bizarrely modern-looking paintings in close-up, which leaves one wondering why this wasn’t released on Blu-ray also. Lone extra is a short featurette about the Hermitage’s own Bosch-like painting.

A French Village—Complete 6th Season 
It’s the fall of 1945, the war is finally over, but the difficult postwar wrangling between collaborators and former resistance fighters has begun: season 6 brilliantly dissects the ongoing personal and political wounds that continue to fester through inventive use of flashbacks for the various characters affected. As usual, first-rate writing and directing are complemented by superlative acting across the board, and these six episodes make one hope that the series’ final season arrives sooner rather than later.

Suspects—Complete 5th Season 
This gritty British detective series opens its fifth season with a twist out of nowhere, as one of its main characters is killed off right at the beginning of the first episode, something that only the rare show can survive. But not only does it avoid the built-in trap of jumping the shark, the new characters are as intriguing and worth watching as the regulars: those newcomers are played by the eminently able Lenora Crichlow, Perry Fitzpatrick and James Murray.

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