Digital Week – December 13th

Blu-rays of the Week

fellini-bluFellini’s Roma (Criterion)

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-bluHenry—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.

its-always-bluIt’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-bluSudden Fear (Cohen)

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-bluSuicide 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

almayer-dvdHomo Sapiens / Almayer’s Folly (Icarus)

Austrian iconoclast Nikolaus Geyrhalter (Our Daily Bread) returns with Homo Sapiens, his latest thought-provoking documentary, which travels 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-dvd-2Zoo—Complete 2nd Season / American Gothic—Complete 1st Season (CBS/Paramount)

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 Gothic follows 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-dvdRush—2112 40th Anniversary (Mercury/Anthem)

Its breakthrough 1976 album 2112 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 40th anniversary 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.