Tuesday, January 10, 2017

January '17 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Accountant
(Warner Bros)
In this clever but contrived thriller, Ben Affleck plays an autistic CPA cooking the books for the mob who conveniently has martial arts and weapons training from his military father: so when he becomes the bad guys’ target, he is able to take lethal aim at them as well. Affleck’s taciturn turn works well for his character, while Anna Kendrick contributes her usual amusing bit as a fellow accountant who joins him on the run. Too bad that after the halfway point, the convoluted plotting goes off the rails and turns a guilty pleasure into an aggressively dumb drama. The hi-def image is excellent; extras comprise several short featurettes.

Black America Since MLK—And Still I Rise
Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s impassioned, polemical but pointed personal history of the past half-century of African American life—from the Civil and Voting Rights Acts to Black Lives Matter—consists of four one-hour segments chronicling those five decades in expansive and intimate ways. Gates speaks with everyone from Eric Holder to Jesse Jackson alongside well-chosen footage that spells out the importance of so many of these events. There’s a superior hi-def transfer.

Girls—Complete 5th Season 
I’ve never been a fan of Lena Dunham’s obnoxiously navel-gazing career, beginning with her inept debut film Tiny Furniture and continuing with the consistently resistible Girls. There are decent performances by Allison Williams and Jemima Kirke as the two least annoying characters in the series, but that’s scant compensation for what continues to be egomania run amuck masquerading as an insightful comedy series. The hi-def transfer looks good; extras are featurettes and deleted/extended scenes.

The People vs. Fritz Bauer
(Cohen Media)
Dramatizing how West German prosecutor Fritz Bauer, in the late 1950s against considerable pushback, helped Israel’s Mossad track down and capture Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, this intelligent biopic is anchored by an unshowy bit of superlative acting by Burghart Klaussner as Bauer. Director-cowriter Lars Kraume—who also slyly shows how the repressive sexual politics of the time could destroy careers—has fashioned an important and absorbing lesson about not-so-distant historical events that mustn’t be forgotten. The movie looks sharp and natural on Blu-ray; extras are deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

DVD of the Week 
Eero Saarinen—The Architect Who Saw the Future
Son of a noted architect himself, Eero Saarinen surpassed father Eliel’s talent with his own genius in this engrossing hour-long PBS American Masters episode, narrated by Eero’s own son Eric. Creating iconic structures like JFK Airport’s TWA terminal, Dulles Airport and the St. Louis Arch, Saarinen’s individuality is on display throughout. But even in its longer version—which, unseen on TV, is included on DVD—this program only scratches the surface of what Eero accomplished in his lifetime. Four short featurettes are included as extras.

My King
(Film Movement)
As writer-director, French actress Maïwenn makes intense films about passionate characters: following her previous feature, the hard-hitting drama Polisse, is an exquisitely intimate study of what must be one of the most dysfunctional relationships ever captured on film. Overlong and with too many emotional and plot detours, My King nevertheless displays Maïwenn’s fierce talent behind the camera and the equally committed performance of Emmanuelle Bercot as a woman who can’t drop the man in her life (a one-note Vincent Cassel). Extras comprise outtakes, deleted scene and Maïwenn’s debut short, 2004’s I’m an Actrice, with the director herself in the lead.

CDs of the Week
Ginastera: One Hundred
(Oberlin Music)
Tania Stavreva: Rhythmic Movement 
The 2016 centenary of Argentine master Alberto Ginastera’s birth went by with nary a whimper, a shame considering the exceptional works he composed before his death in 1983. A few recordings nodded to the anniversary, like Sony’s re-issue of his opera Bormazo. But the best is Ginastera: One Hundred, which showcases top-flight soloists in first-rate performances of some of his most renowned compositions. Yolanda Kondonassis (with Oberlin Orchestra) plays the  Harp Concerto; Gil Shaham and sister Orli Shaham the violin-piano duet Pampeana No. 1; Jason Vieux, the Sonata for Guitar; and Orli Shaham, the set of solo piano pieces, Danzas Argentinas. As satisfying as this recording is, it’s too short: at 55 minutes, there was surely room for another substantial Ginastera work.

Bulgarian pianist Tania Stavreva also pays tribute to Ginastera on her new CD, Rhythmic Movement: excerpts from his piano music are thrillingly performed by this monstrously talented musician, who illuminates Ginastera with works that exploit the rhythmic aspect of the keyboard, including her own pieces and Bulgarian folk tunes. The final track, taken from the final movement of Ginastera’s Piano Sonata, has Stavreva and drummer Will Calhoun exploring rhythm in fascinating ways.

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