Digital Week – September 4th

Blu-rays of the Week

American Animals (Lionsgate)

Brutal and brusque, Bart Layton’s crime drama has enough topsy-turviness to keep one watching, even if it ultimately doesn’t achieve the greatness it could have. Still, seeing the real perpetrators of a botched robbery (of a priceless John James Audubon Birds of America volume, of all things) have their say adds a layer of urgency and immediacy to the story of a bunch of goofs bungling their way to seven years in prison. An offbeat soundtrack of songs like the Doors’ “Peace Frog,” Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” also helps. There’s a sparkling hi-def transfer; extras include deleted scenes, featurettes and a director/cast commentary.

Beast (Lionsgate)

I know not to expect much in the way of subtlety from such a bluntly titled movie, but I had hopes for writer-director Michael Pearce’s irascible black drama about a young woman infatuated with a bad boy who might be a killer. But so many risible plot twists throughout its 105 minutes that after awhile it becomes a cloying, unholy mess of clichés, ridiculously literal visual metaphors and some of the corniest dialogue you will never hope to hear again. Jessie Buckley is a real find, but I hope to see her in something that allows her to do more than act in primary colors. There’s a superior hi-def transfer; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Flash—Complete 4th Season (Warner Bros)

(Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.)

In the latest season of the further adventures of the world’s fastest superhero, Barry Allen (aka the Flash) relies on his family and closest associates to assist in his on-going battles against the usual evildoers and other assorted bad guys. These 26 fast-paced episodes look terrific in hi-def; extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes, several featurettes and four crossover episodes with other DC super hero series: Arrow, Supergirl and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

Godard Mon Amour (Cohen Media Group)

Michel Hazanavicius’ amusingly slight ode to Jean-Luc Godard’s feistiness, circa 1968, around the time he decided to go in the direction of a series of increasingly didactic and politically left-wing films, has a fine performance by Louis Garrel as Godard and a far more incisive one by Stacy Martin as his then-girlfriend, young actress Anne Wiazemsky (on whose memoir this is based). Godard Mon Amour—which at least deserves the subtler humor of its original title, Le Redoubtable—is fun for Godard aficionados, less so for the uninitiated. There’s an excellent Blu-ray transfer; lone extra is a conversation with Hazanavicius and Martin.

Home from the Hill (Warner Archive)

Robert Mitchum dominates this 1960 adaptation of William Humphrey’s novel about an unrepentant womanizer, his harried wife and two grown sons, one hers and the one another woman’s from an earlier relationship of his. Vicente Minnelli directs in broad strokes, which makes the plot’s soap–operaish aspects more obvious and even risible, but the 150-minute running time lets us get a handle on these characters, and if Eleanor Parker (wife), Richard Hamilton and George Peppard (sons) and a delightful Luana Patten (both sons’ girl) don’t have much chance to make a mark, Mitchum’s credible cragginess remains front and center. Warner Archive’s hi-def transfer looks pristine.

Memories of Underdevelopment (Criterion)

Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s classic of Cuban cinema was released in 1968, but didn’t make its mark here until its release five years later with its story of a Cuban intellectual sifting through an idle life of casual sex and empty political gestures after the rest of his family flees to Miami in the wake of Castro’s revolution. Brilliantly directed by Alea—who uses documentary techniques to great effect—this is among Criterion’s top recent resurrections, from its top-notch hi-def transfer to the extras, comprising interviews and a 2008 documentary about Alea’s career, Titon: From Havana to “Guantanamera.”

Never So Few (Warner Archive)

Shot on location in Burma (now Myanmar) and Thailand, this tough but diffuse war film stars Frank Sinatra as a commanding troop leader dealing with bloody guerrilla warfare that his superiors don’t understand. Director John Sturges does well with the action sequences and tense moments between battles where the men wonder what’s to come, but a romantic subplot involving Sinatra and Gina Lollobrigida (in one of her few English-language starring roles) detracts from, rather than adds, to the overall portrait. The Cinemascope film looks splendid on Blu.

Tucker—The Man and His Dream (Lionsgate)

In Francis Coppola’s stillborn 1988 biopic about Preston Tucker, an auto innovator who went up against Detroit’s Big Three with the Tucker Torpedo in the late ‘40s, Jeff Bridges must swim upstream against a tide of clichés, visual gimmickry and everything else Coppola tries to sustain interest in a story that really shouldn’t rely on it. In a life or death struggle over who dominates the movie, unfortunately Coppola wins. The film looks quite good on Blu; extras include a Coppola commentary and intro, deleted scenes and vintage making-of.

Woman Walks Ahead (Lionsgate)

Susannah White’s absorbing historical drama follows Catherine Weldon, a widowed painter from New York who in 1892 traveled across the country to paint the great Sitting Bull. Even if its historical veracity is questionable, the film is filled with gorgeous western vistas and an estimable cast led by Jessica Chastain’s forcefully bull-headed heroine and Michael Greyeyes’s humane, gentle Sitting Bull. There’s also fine support from Sam Rockwell, Bill Camp and Ciaran Hinds as the men who help—or hinder—Weldon in her seemingly quixotic quest. On Blu-ray, the film looks great; extras are deleted scenes, making-of featurette and White’s commentary.