Digital Week – July 18th

Blu-rays of the Week

Kong: Skull Island (Warner Bros)

As mindless entertainments go, the latest Kong has its moments, especially when the humans are relegated to the background and fascinating-looking creatures dominate the screen: prehistoric monsters, a huge insect, and of course our giant ape. Up against superior CGI, the cast has little chance to do anything, especially poor Brie Larson, who gives an embarrassing performance for an Oscar winner. At least John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson’s lapses into crude comedy help—a bit. But Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again” at the end is unjustified arrogance from journeyman director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. On Blu-ray, the movie looks astonishingly good; extras include featurettes, interviews, deleted scenes and a director’s commentary.

The Devil’s Domain (Cleopatra Entertainment)

This social-media revenge pic is built on a brazenly insane fantasy: an anorexic high school student makes a pact with the devil to eliminate those at school responsible for bullying her. Director Jared Cohn stages a few brutal death scenes that are horrible fun, but does little else, including making Linda Bella less amateurish as a she-devil. Madi Vodane’s persuasive teen heroine makes this watchable, at least. The film looks fine on Blu; extras are a making-of and red-carpet interviews.

Midsomer Murders—Series 19, Part 1 (Acorn)

In the four 90-minute mysteries making up the latest set of this popular series, chief inspector John Barnaby is joined by new partner Jamie Winter for a series of investigations into several killings throughout the local towns of Midsomer, which are strangely prone to murder. The episodes—and the crimes featured in them—include an exotic snake, an army tank, and vengeful cricket fan, and it’s always satisfying to watch Barnaby (nicely underplayed by accomplished vet Neil Dudge) and his latest sidekick solve these increasingly offbeat crimes. The Blu-ray transfer looks great; extras are featurettes and interviews.

Terror in a Texas Town (Arrow Academy)

In Gordon L. Lewis’s tightly wound hybrid of film noir and western, George Hansen (Sterling Hayden)—who arrives at a small town terrorized by a rich hotel owner and his murderous hired gun—is on a mission of revenge for the killing of his father, but all he has is a whale harpoon for a weapon. Even if Hayden’s Scandinavian accent slides all over the place, this does quite nicely as a taut, High Noon-esque drama. The hi-def black and white transfer shimmers with grain; extras are an intro and analysis by western expert Peter Stanfield.

DVDs of the Week

The Artist’s Garden—American Impressionism (Seventh Art)

Phil Grabsky’s documentary recounts the fascinating story of American painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries inspired by their more famous contemporaries on the other side of the Atlantic. Among the notable artists shown are Mary Cassett, Hilde Chassam and William Merritt Chase, whose works are as enduring as the French painters who inspired them. As with other Exhibition On Screen entries, the dry 90-minute program (narrated by Gillian Anderson) features gorgeous examples of many artworks, so it’s too bad this wasn’t released on Blu-ray.

The Penguin Counters (First Run)

Ron Naveen has been counting penguins for decades. If that seems funny, it’s not: he and his colleagues’ numbers are important indicators of how climate change affects various species in Antarctica, and this informative documentary lays out the continued importance of their ongoing scientific studies. Directors Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon also provide beautiful images of the Antarctic habitat, which might convince even the most hardened climate-change denier about what we’re in danger of losing. Extras include additional scenes.