Digital Week – October 17th

Blu-rays of the Week

The Collection (PBS)

The latest British import to air on PBS’s Masterpiece is this handsomely mounted but slow-moving eight-episode mini-series about the post-WWII Parisian fashion industry, showing how Brits, Yanks and Frenchmen and women deal with professional and personal difficulties at the elite House of Sabine. The large cast, led by the great Frances de la Tour, struggles to put its stamp on the clichéd and ultimately pallid goings-on. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras are three behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Hana-Bi (Film Movement Classics)

Japanese writer-director-actor Takeshi Kitano (or Beat Takeshi, his screen name) makes ultra-violent gangster movies that trade on extreme (often risible) violence, and this 1997 drama—known in English as Fireworks—is no exception. Beat plays a detective caught up in a nihilistic world of debt, the yakuza and robbery, all while his wife has leukemia and his partner is paralyzed by a horrible attack. Technically accomplished like all Kitano movies, Hana-Bi lacks originality but may be bloody enough for genre fans. The film looks excellent in hi-def; extras include a commentary and making-of featurette.

The Hidden (Warner Archive)

An alien entity invades various human victims, turning them into bloodthirsty killers, as an L.A. detective and FBI agent stay on its trail in this insanely slimy 1987 comic thriller by director Jack Sholder and writer Bob Hunt. There’s an admitted cleverness in the way the takeover of bodies is shown—a kind of reverse Alien bursting sequence—but it soon becomes repetitive, which undermines what’s trying to be a fast-paced, whiz-bang flick. The film looks fine on Blu; extras are Sholder’s commentary and effects footage.

The Sea Wolf (Warner Archive)

In this exciting drama based on a Jack London novel, director Michael Curtiz puts us right on board the cramped boat helmed by a crazed captain, as a couple of stowaways—a writer and an escaped convict played by Alexander Knox and Ida Lupino—try and keep their heads above water, literally and figuratively, alongside the paralyzed crew. Edward G. Robinson’s forceful Captain Larsen, a complicated bad guy, is a subtle portrait that keeps the movie afloat, and in the right direction. The 1941 B&W film—restored to its original 100-minute running time—looks brand-new on Blu-ray; lone extra is a 1950 radio adaptation.

The Who’s Tommy (Eagle Rock)

This past spring, Roger Daltrey and Peter Townshend joined together for a good cause—the Teenage Cancer Trust—to perform The Who’s seminal 1969 rock opera at Royal Albert Hall: Daltrey is in exceptionally good vocal shape, hitting some tough high notes on several songs (though in others, like the encore “Who Are You,” he avoids them), and Townshend is still a gale force on guitar. The band’s rousing performance is bolstered by an encore of greatest hits, and the hi-def video and audio are top-notch. Extras are a rehearsal featurette and concert video screen images from “The Acid Queen” and “Pinball Wizard.”

DVDs of the Week

Deconstructing the Beatles (Abramorama)

For several years, Beatles expert Scott Freiman has been presenting his irresistible “Deconstructing the Beatles” lectures—delving deep into the Fab Four catalog to unveil the multi-layers of each track with precise and dead-on analysis—and these four discs include his lively discussions of four of the group’s greatest albums: Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the White Album. (There is one quibble: where’s Abbey Road?) Extras are Q&As from each lecture, and—on all four discs—a discussion with former New York Times critic Janet Maslin and five short “Deconstructing” featurettes.

Lewis Black—Black to the Future (MVD)

Lewis Black, our angriest comic, has got plenty to be furious about in this hilarious standup special taped in New York City last fall prior to the election: he rages against anything and everyone, starting with Ben Carson and the media, and moving onto Ted Cruz, Hillary and Trump. A welcome bonus is a 50-minute Q&A, The Rant Is Due, hosted by his friend Kathleen Madigan, from 2014 in Napa Valley wherein fans pepper the comedian with questions that he answers with ranting truthfulness.

Marcella—Complete 1st Season (Acorn)

As a London detective sergeant devastated by the collapse of her marriage and who returns to the force to track a serial killer who may be linked to her ex, Anna Friel gives a complex performance of noble ferocity. Her formidable presence, which helps make even the least credible plot and character bits in this eight-episode series work thoroughly and satisfyingly, elevates the tattered but taut police procedural to a status it probably doesn’t deserve.