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Digital Week – March 21st

Blu-rays of the Week

Collateral Beauty (Warner Bros)

Will Smith’s least memorable movies are always far too heavy on the sanctimony: like the execrable Seven Pounds, his new movie piles it on until there’s nothing left for the viewer except to laugh at the ridiculous self-importance. Also, an incredible supporting cast is pretty much wasted: there’s Ed Norton, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet, Naomie Harris and Michael Pena, if you please. That there are several nicely-photographed New York locations is about the most one can say in favor of this overwrought, treacly drama. The Blu-ray image is sharp; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Demon Seed / The Valley of Gwangi (Warner Archive)

In Donald Cammell’s tepid sci-fi shocker about a murderous and sexually assaultive computer, 1977’s Demon Seed, Julie Christie totally outclasses her material as the wife of a computer scientist who finds herself at the mercy of their home computer—which wants a baby with her. Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects are the attraction of 1969’s Valley of Gwangi, an often risible fantasy that combines Westerns and dinosaurs: a Jurassic Wild West, if you will. A wooden cast is outclassed by Harryhausen’s miniature creatures, especially a dazzling (and destructive) allosaurus. Both films have decent hi-def transfers; Gwangi extras include vintage featurettes.

Finian’s Rainbow (Warner Archive)

Burton Lane’s tunefully whimsical 1947 musical was belatedly turned into a movie in 1968 by an up-and-coming director named Francis Ford Coppola, who only rarely balances whimsy with realism, and the result is a fitfully entertaining pastiche that could have been so much more. Fred Astaire is too old for Finian, while Petula Clark is enchanting as his daughter Sharon; the musical numbers are serviceably done, and Philip H. Lathrop’s color photography is, if not inspired, more than competent. On Blu-ray, the film’s colors are eye-poppingly gorgeous; extras are Coppola’s commentary/intro and a vintage “world premiere” featurette.

Frankenstein (Opus Arte)

American composer Lowell Liebermann’s full-length ballet based on Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel is a dramatic delight, with atmospheric music that heightens the intensity of the whole monstrous saga. The dancing—notably by Steven McRae’s creature—is pretty spectacular and exquisitely shows off Liam Scarlett’s inventive choreography. The entire performance is a happy case of something that seemed iffy but ended up top-notch. Hi-def image and sound are excellent; extras include several backstage featurettes.

A Kind of Murder (Magnolia)

Though based on a Patricia Highsmith mystery novel, this drama about a husband hoping to rid himself of a neurotic wife is mostly bland and uninteresting, despite its accurate mise-en-scene and accomplished performances by Patrick Wilson (husband), Jessica Biel (wife), Haley Bennett (other woman) and Eddie Marsan (killer). Despite the relatively short running time, this 96-minute would-be thriller moves like molasses. The Blu-ray looks good; extras comprise three featurettes.

Live by Night (Warner Bros)

Based on a Dennis Lehane novel, Ben Affleck’s latest triple-threat offering—which is set during the Roaring ‘20s and Prohibition—follows a Boston gangster who sets up in Tampa to become a rum-runner. It’s exceedingly well-made, with local color galore and flavorful characterizations courtesy of hams like Brendan Gleeson and Sienna Miller, but meandering plot lines—it should be much leaner than a drawn-out 128 minutes—and overdone violence (including the worst gun accuracy imaginable) contribute to its status as good, not great. The hi-def transfer is high quality; extras are featurettes, an Affleck commentary, and deleted scenes with Affleck commentary.

Phaedra / Won Ton Ton—The Dog That Saved Hollywood (Olive)

In 1962, director Jules Dassin made Phaedra for his muse Melina Mercouri, whose typically intense performance makes this shaky update interesting; she’s hamstrung, though, by Anthony Perkins’s inert portrayal of the stepson she’s (gasp) fallen for. Won Ton, a wan 1976 silent-film spoof by director Michael Winner, has intermittent laughs among unfunny pratfalls and dozens of desultory cameos (Henny Youngman, Cyd Charisse, Billy Barty, George Jessel and the Ritz Brothers, for starters), but also has the always enchantingly funny Madeline Kahn, who even steals scenes from the titular canine!

S.O.B. (Warner Archive)

Blake Edwards made this jet-black 1981 satire of the movie business after his successful Pink Panther films and 10 with Bo Derek, so it’s not surprising it contains the same highs and lows: extremely funny moments coupled with limp slapstick and general crudeness. Although the movie is most notable for showing star (and Edwards’ wife) Julie Andrews’ breasts, it’s at its best whenever the triumphant comic turns by veterans Robert Preston, William Holden, Richard Mulligan and Robert Webber are front and center. The Blu-ray looks solid but unspectacular.

Wagner—Das Liebesverbot / Schoenberg—Gurre-Lieder (Opus Arte)

Richard Wagner’s early opera Das Liebesverbot—an adaptation of Measure for Measure—is nothing like his later canonical works, but it’s entertaining and holds the stage, even in last year’s messy Madrid staging by director Kasper Holten. Best known as a 12-tone composer, Arnold Schoenberg wrote the lushly romantic Gurre-Lieder for large orchestra, soloists and chorus: but this cantata should not be turned into an opera (of sorts) with its love triangle “plot” enacted onstage, however cleverly director Pierre Audi did it in Amsterdam. On both discs, hi-def video and audio look and sound great. The lone Gurre-Lieder extra is a behind-the-scenes featurette.


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