Wednesday, May 17, 2017

May '17 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Accidental Tourist
(Warner Archive)
One of Anne Tyler’s most satisfying novels—about an emotionally distant travel writer reeling from his young son’s death and grieving wife’s leaving him who finds redemption and love—became director Lawrence Kasdan’s best film in 1988. This melancholy romantic comedy with few false Hollywood moments is also a showcase for extraordinary performances by William Hurt (husband), Kathleen Turner (wife) and especially Oscar-winning Geena Davis as the new woman. The movie’s subdued colors look impressive on Blu; extras are Kasdan’s intro, deleted scenes, vintage making-of featurette and Davis’s commentary.

Africa’s Great Civilizations
For his latest entertaining history lesson, Henry Louis Gates travels to the great continent to explore nearly a quarter of a millennium’s worth of civilizations that thrived, traded and battled with and often defeated their adversaries from Europe and Asia. Throughout these six hour-long episodes, Gates speaks engagingly with experts who provide edifying discussion and also goes to the actual locations—from Zimbabwe and Ethiopia to Zanzibar and Timbuktu—which look ravishing in their uniqueness and importance on Blu-ray.

Good Morning 
A humanist filmmaker blessed with uncommon grace and rigor in equal measure, Yasujiro Ozu was the rare artist who could elevate the quotidian into the sublime, as in this gentle but hilarious 1959 comedy about two young boys who refuse to speak until their parents get them a television set. Ozu’s films contain enough wit and insight, laughter and tears to be worth any discerning viewer’s time; that Criterion has included Ozu’s amusing silent comedy, 1932’s I Was Born, But… (Good Morning’s forerunner), with Donald Sosin’s 2008 musical score, is a delightful bonus. There’s a first-rate new hi-def transfer; other extras are a fragment of Ozu’s 1929 silent A Straightforward Boy, interview with David Bordwell and video essay by David Cairns.

The Loved One
(Warner Archive)
Tony Richardson’s adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s sly novel might have been racy and daring in 1965, but half a century has dulled its edge and muted its satiric depiction of Southern California as a land of shallow slickness compared to the more cultured Old World. The movie is best seen as a time capsule that features cameos by stars of the day from Jonathan Winters and John Gielgud to Liberace and Milton Berle. Haskell Wexler’s exquisite B&W widescreen compositions look even more luminous in hi-def; the only extra is a featurette.

Seven Days in May 
(Warner Archive)
In John Frankenheimer’s tense 1964 Cold War thriller about a U.S. president whose disarmament overtures towards Russia triggers an attempted military coup by a cabal of right-wing generals, an array of stars makes this a deliciously paranoid drama in the manner of Frankenheimer’s own The Manchurian Candidate. Frederic March (president), Burt Lancaster (bad guy), Kirk Douglas (good guy), and Ava Gardner (love interest) are all in top form; the hi-def transfer brings the striking B&W visuals to the fore, and there’s a Frankenheimer commentary.

DVDs of the Week
Between Us
Writer-director Rafael Palacio Illingworth’s dreary and pretentious drama of a longtime, just-married couple whose wedding-day argument turns into a chance for both to cheat comes to life only when that amazing and underrated actress Olivia Thirlby gets a chance to shine. Too bad Thirlby is stuck in the contradictory part of an intelligent, confident woman who ends up screwing a performance artist she just met to get a measure of revenge against her husband, who ends up not what she does. The banal ending—which fails to be happy and deep simultaneously—perfectly summarizes the director’s pretentiousness, at the expense of his actors.

The Great War 
PBS’s excellent American Experience series tackles the complexities of the First World War in a three-part, six-hour documentary which illustrates how it was the first modern war, one which brought America global prestige and power but also increasing political difficulties back home. The must-see program brings together precisely chosen newsreel footage, images, speeches, songs, etc. (along with Oliver Platt’s narration) to give a robust flavor of an era of true devastation and destruction—and a slight hopefulness that there would be no Second World War in the future.

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