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December '16 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 
Creepshow 2
The Driller Killer
The first Creepshow (1982) was fun, but its 1987 follow-up Creepshow 2 is far less memorably more of the same: its three segments have their moments (especially the third, with Lois Chiles’s manic performance as an adulterous wife who keeps running over the same man), but the overall effect is of desperation and a far cry from the original.
Abel Ferrara’s insane Driller Killer (1979) stars the director himself as a tortured artist turned title murderer: if you’re into Ferrara’s twisted worldview, by all means help yourself. Both films have excellent restored transfers; extras are interviews, commentaries and features, with Ferrara’s documentary, Mulberry St., on Driller.

In Order of Disappearance 
Stellan Skarsgard’s intense performance as a grieving father who tracks down those drug dealers responsible for his son’s fatal overdose is the obvious reason to watch director Hans Petter Moland’s muddled but entertaining black comedy.
The violence seems real, pouring out of the father’s sorrow and revenge, which Skarsgard plays perfectly, even during the film’s final (and intentionally ridiculous) shootout. There’s a superior hi-def transfer; extras are brief interviews.
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
(Film Detective) 

Bruce Nydnik and Lawrence Schiller’s Oscar-winning 1975 Best Documentary is a still-astonishing chronicle of the 1970 quest by Japanese daredevil Yuichiro Miura to climb and ski down the world’s highest mountain.





Douglas Rain’s narration (from Miura’s own diaries) is at times redundant, but the incredible camerawork, which catches seemingly every moment of this superhuman attempt—including some of the most amazing feats ever shot—is what makes this a classic of its kind. The film looks splendid on Blu-ray.

(Sony Classical)
Giuseppe Verdi’s classic opera might even outdo Shakespeare’s play for dramatic intensity and sorrowful tragedy, and Bartlett Sher’s new Met Opera staging catches all of that, thanks to sensitive conducting by Yannick Nezet-Segun and exceptional playing by the Met Orchestra.
Then there are the emotionally rich portrayals of Aleksandrs Antonenko as Othello, Zeljko Lucic as Iago and Sonya Yoncheva as a heartbreaking Desdemona. Both the hi-def video and audio are impressive.
(Warner Bros) 
In Clint Eastwood’s absorbing if not particularly resonant reconstruction of the celebrated “Miracle on the Hudson” in 2009, Tom Hanks gives a functional but unilluminating portrayal of one of America’s most celebrated heroes, airline pilot Sully Sullenberger.
Far better because less encumbered by hero worship is Aaron Eckhart as the unsung co-pilot; in the thankless role of the worried wife phoning husband Sully, Laura Linney is all classy understatement. The film, a relatively brief but still padded 96 minutes, looks fine on Blu; extras comprise three making-of featurettes.

DVDs of the Week
Alice Winocour’s involving thriller centers around a wonderfully complicated central relationship: a French Iraq war vet with PTSD becomes a bodyguard for the trophy wife of a wealthy businessman, and when deadly home invaders arrive, his skills come in handy to save her, her child and himself.
Deftly combining action with introspection, Winocour has made a volatile drama buoyed by superb performances by Matthias Schoenaerts and Diane Kruger.
Little Men 

Ira Sachs’ latest New York City-set comic drama is a well-observed but meandering study of teenagers who become friends amid the linked difficulties of their family lives: even at 85 minutes, the film feels stretched out, as if it’s little more than a sketch turned into feature length.





Sachs’ usual strength is his cast, and Little Men is no exception: the boys are truthfully played by newcomers Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri, and there’s good work from Alfred Molina, Talia Balsam, Jennifer Ehle and Greg Kinnear as the adults in their lives.

The Pond Theatre Company Inaugural Production - Mike Leigh’s Abigail's Party

Abigail's Party
Written by Mike Leigh
Directed by Lee Brock
Starring Lily Dorment, Colleen Clinton, Sarah Street, Nick Hetherington and John Pirkis

Anytime there’s an opportunity to see something created by award-winning British playwright/filmmaker Mike Leigh, it’s usually a worthwhile experience  — though it’s not necessarily a pleasant one. 

While rife with humor, The Pond Theatre Company’s recent production of Leigh’s 1977 play “Abigail’s Party” makes for an engaging, sometimes frustrating, work. It’s not frustrating because of any flaws in the writing, acting or staging — in fact the prim and proper setting of a 1970s English middle-class living room offers an ideal setting for the acidic and dark experience that was offered on this stage. The Pond, a brand new theater company focused on Irish and British plays (this is its inaugural production) did a bang-up job with both this cast and the direction by Lee Brock.

Rather, it’s the characters themselves that make it torturous, not because of any artificiality in dialogue or action; rather, it’s because the people are so real you want to step on stage and smack them few times throughout the two hours that commences here. 

Pop songs insinuate themselves throughout the play which reveals the banality of these characters as they come in and out of this living room. Once the boozing begins, the action gets launched and the acidic dialogue really kicks in. 

None of the characters are particularly bright or interesting; they really have nothing significant to say. And most annoying is Beverly who pushes everyone into guzzling more drink — as if to excuse her own angry, stupid uptightness and her need to justify her own failings which get smoothed over by intoxication. Though it seems like she just wants everyone to enjoy themselves she’s really catalyzing chaos through her own self-loathing.

abigail castThe basic action is deceptively simple. Set in the London suburb of Essex, Beverly (Sarah Street) and Laurence (John Pirkis) invite new neighbors Angela (Lily Dorment) and Tony (Nick Hetherington) over for a welcome drink. They’re joined by Susan (Colleen Clinton), another neighbor whose 16-year old daughter Abigail is having a party at her flat. She’s come to the neighbor’s flat to escape the party’s outward chaos only to experience an inner turmoil stirred up in this tacky living room.

As they drink throughout the night, they comically and tragically drop their guard — and emotional disaster ensues. The anger inherent in much of Leigh's material is really present here with little ornamentation. His goal of flailing the English middle class is succinctly accomplished. And this early work of his illustrates the evolution of themes he explores in later plays and films.

Much like American playwright Neil Labute, Leigh unapologetically shows how ridiculous people can be in the most conventional of settings but, unlike his fellow playwright, they aren’t entirely unredeemable — just boorish.

Sadly, this play’s run has ended but there are more productions coming up in collaboration with the Barrow Group (a 30-year-old award-winning theater company) at their West 36th Street home.

For future productions go to:

TBG Theatre at The Barrow Group
312 West 36th Street, 3rd floor
New York, NY 10018


December '16 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 

Fellini’s Roma

Federico Fellini’s impressionistic 1972 kaleidoscope of the world’s greatest city—or at least the center of the world, as any Romans will willingly say—came out between his delightful TV movie The Clowns and sentimental childhood journey Amarcord. 
It’s filled with dozens of indelible images, including a stupendously wordless final sequence of motorcycles racing through the streets of the city at night, that compensate for its share of longueurs. The hi-def image looks superbly grainy and film-like; extras include a commentary, deleted scenes, and interviews with director Paolo Sorrentino and Fellini friend/poet Valerio Magrelli.
Henry—Portrait of a Serial Killer
(Dark Sky)
Director John McNaughton’s 1986 cult film actually seems rather mild today, its clinical depiction of a murderer actually shows him as less evil than others he comes across—a dubious decision morally, if defensible dramatically, as shades of grey are better than simply a black and white portrait of a monster, played with shading and subtlety by Michael Rooker.
The low-budget film looks quite good on Blu-ray; many extras include director commentary and interviews, deleted scenes, outtakes and featurettes.
It’s Always Fair Weather
(Warner Archive)
This underrated 1955 musical was co-directed by star Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, who team for this rollicking if cynical saga highlighted by two unforgettable solo sequences: Dan Dailey does the honors in the hilariously drunken “Situation-Wise,” followed by the truly remarkable turn by Kelly himself doing a creative and head-spinning tap dance—on roller skates!
Warner Archive’s hi-def transfer isn’t perfect—there are scenes in which the colors get muddy—but it’ll do. Extras comprise a retrospective featurette, three musical number outtakes (and one audio-only song), vintage Kelly and Cyd Charisse interviews and two classic cartoons.
Sudden Fear
(Cohen Film Collection)
Joan Crawford appropriately chews the scenery as a successful Broadway playwright who falls for a middling actor (played with appropriate menace by Jack Palance) in this tautly-made 1952 thriller by director David Miller, who imbues a palpable sense of fear through the foggy B&W photography of Charles B. Lang, Jr., and an intense score by Elmer Bernstein.
The film has received an acceptable hi-def transfer, while the lone extra is an audio commentary.
Suicide Squad
(Warner Bros)
Director David Ayers’ extensively messy anti-superhero saga is, in its extended Blu-ray cut, 134 minutes’ worth of sequences linked most tenuously as it tries to get viewers to root for the assorted low-lifes given security clearance by a desperate U.S. government to track down and eliminate terrorists.
As others have noted, in a cast filled with slumming stars—Will Smith, Viola Davis, and Jared Leto as a Joker more unhinged than Heath Ledger’s—it’s the irresistible Margot Robbie who steals the show with her alluringly insane Harley Quinn. On Blu-ray, the film looks fine; extras include featurettes and a gag reel.
DVDs of the Week
Homo Sapiens
Almayer’s Folly
Austrian iconoclast Nikolaus Geyrhalter (Our Daily Bread) returns with Homo Sapiens, his latest thought-provoking documentary, whichtravels from Fukashima in Japan to Ohio—and many locations in between—to record man-made places where man is no longer present: by showing states of natural decay and/or neglect by humans, the film artfully implies that nature—growing in and around these abandoned places—will flourish after we are gone from the scene.
It’s too bad that, in 2011’s Almayer’s Folly (her final feature prior to her suicide last year), Belgian director Chantel Akerman adapted an early Joseph Conrad novel about a Dutch trader in the Far East to little dramatic effect.
Zoo—Complete 2nd Season 
American Gothic—Complete 1st Season
In the second season of Zoo,the worldwide animal takeover has reached epic proportions: although there’s something inherently silly about the series, there is some amusement watching lions, tigers, rhinos, birds, bees, etc., terrify people to within an inch of their lives.
A lively if overly familiar dramatic series, American Gothicfollows a sordid saga of murder in the history of a prominent family from Boston. A solid set of actors (led by Juliet Rylance and the ageless Virginia Madsen) helps keep this from becoming risible: but it still was cancelled after its first 13 episodes. Extras on both sets include deleted scenes, gag reel, featurettes and interviews.
CD/DVD of the Week
Rush—2112 40thAnniversary

Its breakthrough 1976 album2112 made Rush one of the top prog-rock groups, consolidating—and, to these ears, improving—their sound with Permanent Waves (1980), Moving Pictures(1981) and Signals(1982), still its three best albums. Hearing 2112 today, there’s undeniable dross (“Lessons,” “Tears”), but the musical confidence is there in spades for the band’s peerless instrumentalists: drummer Neil Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist Geddy Lee (the less said about Lee’s vocals and Peart’s lyrics, the better).

This 40thanniversary set includes the original album, a second CD that includes new versions of 2112 tracks by the likes of Dave Grohl with Taylor Hawkins and Alice in Chains, and live tunes from Rush’s 1976 and ‘77 tours. There’s also a DVD featuring a healthy segment of a 1976 concert, a new interview with Lifeson and producer Terry Brown, and looks at Billy Talent recording “A Passage to Bangkok” and Grohl/Hawkins doing “Overture” for the second CD.

December '16 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 


Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s delightful children’s book might be too determined to conjure up the magical and the sentimental simultaneously, but at its best, it shows that Spielberg still has no equal making movie enchantment that pleases both children and adults. Mark Rylance is a perfect Big Friendly Giant; even motion-capture photography can’t obscure his expressiveness and emotional hugeness.
The little girl Sophie is wonderfully played by Ruby Barnhill, and Janusz Kaminski’s dazzling cinematography, John Williams’ lively score and Joe Letteri’s phenomenal special effects add to the fun, even if ultimately pales in comparison to a classic like E.T. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras include featurettes, interviews and an appreciation of scriptwriter Melissa Mathison, who died after the film was finished.
Heart of a Dog
When performance artist Laurie Anderson’s beloved dog Lolabelle died, she dealt with her grief by making this lovely little valentine of a film that’s part catharsis, part shaggy-dog story and 100% pure emotion.
At its core, Anderson deals with loss—not only Lolabelle, but also (though unmentioned) husband Lou Reed—even providing insightful personal observations about New York post-Sept. 11 and our current security state. The film’s visuals are more than adequate on Blu-ray; extras include a discussion with Anderson, deleted scenes and her Concert for Dogs, which she performed in Times Square.
Howard’s End 
(Cohen Film Collection)
The peak of the uneven James Ivory-Ismail Merchant-Ruth Prawer Jhabvala team’s career was this absorbing 1992 adaptation of E.M. Forster’ classic novel about the shifting relations and attitudes among the different classes in Edwardian England: it’s old-fashioned filmmaking done so well that it’s transfixing to watch. Ivory’s directing and Jhabvala’s writing were never equaled by them before or after, while the cast—Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter and Vanessa Redgrave for starters—is flawless.
The restored film has a spectacular film-like sheen on Blu-ray; extras include a new Ivory interview, vintage Ivory and Merchant interviews, on-set interviews and featurettes.
The Quiet Earth
(Film Movement Classics)
In New Zealand director Geoffrey Murphy’s 1985 sci-fi drama, scientist Zac believes he’s the last person on earth after “The Effect” caused a mass disappearance: soon he meets a young woman, Joanne, and later, Api, a Maori man. This weird ménage a trois (of sorts) is interesting for awhile, but Murphy loses control with a dissatisfying open-ended final sequence that’s visually breathtaking but hollow.
Bruno Lawrence is riveting, especially when he’s onscreen alone for the first part of the film. The new hi-def transfer is sharply detailed; the lone extra is an entertaining commentary by astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse with film writer Odie Henderson.
DVDs of the Week 
Ants on a Shrimp
(Sundance Selects)
Maurice Dekkers’ documentary, which follows chef Rene Redzepi (of Copenhagen’s famed Noma restaurant) traveling to Japan to open a Noma in Tokyo in a tightly compressed five weeks, is captivating in its numerous fly-on-the-wall glimpses of Redzepi dealing with colleagues, balancing the very real cultural differences between East and West and fixing any number of bugaboos targeting such an ambitious endeavor.
Best of all are priceless moments such as the looks on several faces when something called “sperm emulsion” is unveiled for eating.
The IT Crowd—The Complete Series
The punning title—referring to a makeshift IT department of a small company—is the best joke of this painfully uneven four-season-long British sitcom that largely wastes a talented cast: Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade and Katherine Parkinson manage to elevate some of the humor, despite its essential crudeness. (The awful laugh track doesn’t help matters.)
The series’ fans will love that this is finally available on DVD, since all 25 episodes—and a true bonus, the never-before-seen finale episode, The Internet Is Coming—are included on the five-disc set.
Neither Heaven nor Earth 
(Film Movement)
Director Clement Cogitore turns the vast wastelands and battlefields of Afghanistan—where a battalion of French soldiers fights a never-ending battle with mostly vaporous enemy forces—into a metaphysical hellhole where men mysteriously disappear, to the growing dread of the squad and its increasingly bemused leader (played by a terrific Jeremie Renier).
Although Cogitore doesn’t quite grasp his demanding concept in full, enough of war’s confusion and futility are intensely conveyed to make this a welcome addition to the genre. Extras are Cogitore’s commentary (in English) and his 30-minute short, Among Us.
CD of the Week
American Moments—Neave Trio
The estimable young ensemble, the Neave Trio, doesn’t take the easy way out on this recording; instead of Beethoven, Mozart or Haydn, they tackle a trio of trios that aren’t as well-known: one (from 1909) by a teenaged prodigy named Erich Wolfgang Korngold, another composed around the same time as Korngold’s by the American Arthur Foote, and another written a generation later by a young man named Leonard Bernstein.
These attractive works are performed by the Neave musicians with well-proportioned brio, elegance and muscularity; Korngold’s youthful but effortlessly mature work especially sounds bracing and graceful in their hands.

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