Digital Week – October 12

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This week’s roundup features a truly colossal release: “The Ultimate Richard Pryor Collection,” which collects the great comedian’s concert films and many TV appearances on a 13-disc boxed set. Also arriving this week, on Blu-ray, is one of the funniest films ever made: the Marx Brothers in “A Night at the Opera.”

Boxed Sets of the Week

The Ultimate Richard Pryor Collection—Uncensored (Time-Life)

The Ultimate Richard Pryor Collection—Uncensored (Time-Life)When Richard Pryor died in 2005 at age 65, the world lost one of the most hilariously intelligent comedians ever, and this near-comprehensive boxed set explores his multifaceted career, reinforcing his originality and genius for his fans and introducing him to those previously unaware. More than 26 hours of material spread out over 13 discs provide many opportunities to watch, enjoy and admire Pryor from his beginnings as a conventional standup on TV variety and talk shows to the explosive and trenchant social-issues comedian and movie star of the ’70s and ’80s.

Along with his many hilarious appearances on Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and Dick Cavett, Pryor’s anarchic 1977 NBC special is included as well as the four episodes of his ill-fated “Richard Pryor Show” (which featured such up-and-comers as Robin Williams and Sandra Bernhard). The no-brainer inclusions are Pryor’s four seminal live-concert films: “Live and Smokin’” (1971), “Live in Concert” (1979), “Live on the Sunset Strip” (1982) and “Here and Now” (1983); even his lone directorial effort, the honest if choppy “Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling” (1986) appears. To round things out, there are two documentaries, the warts-and-all “Omit the Logic” (2013) and more straightforward “I Am Richard Pryor” (2018). Extras include an interview with Pryor’s widow Jennifer Lee Pryor, deleted scenes, outtakes and a collector’s booklet.

NCIS: New Orleans—The Complete Series (CBS/Paramount)

NCIS: New Orleans—The Complete Series (CBS/Paramount)After seven seasons, the second offshoot of the “NCIS” franchise took its final bows in the spring, and this massive boxed set comprises 39 DVDs containing all of the series’ 157 episodes since its premiere on September 23, 2014. Completists will be able to relive all the conspiracies that special agent in charge Pride (Scott Bakula) and his ever-revolving crew were able to untangle, including, in the seventh and final season, some that were COVID-19 related. The always photogenic Big Easy was the real star as Bakula and the likes of Vanessa Ferlito, CCH Pounder and Bakula’s real-life wife, Chelsea Field, were solving crimes on its streets.

In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week

Arrebato (Altered Innocence)

Arrebato (Altered Innocence)This crazed 1979 thriller by Spanish director Iván Zulueta (1943-2009)—reportedly one of Pedro Almodovar’s favorite films—is the last word in lunatic Cinemania, with its convoluted tale of a frustrated horror-movie director who’s in a heroin-fueled relationship with an irrepressible girlfriend when he hears from a forgotten friend, spurring him on to an even more debauched lifestyle. There’s dazzling imagery of drug highs and lows as well as sex and cinema, all compensating for its incoherent storyline; there’s also the irresistible Cecilia Roth—a later star of Almodovar movies—as the hero’s lover.

Luzzu (Kino Lorber)

Luzzu (Kino Lorber)First-time director Alex Camilleri’s chronicle of a Maltese fisherman who must decide whether to keep fishing to dwindling results in his leaky family vessel or move on to a better-paying job to help pay for his infant son’s operation is sympathetic and unsentimental, with nary a wasted shot, gesture or line of dialogue. Built around a stunning performance by real Maltese fisherman Jesmark Scicluna—as well as Michela Farrugia as his son’s mother—“Luzzu” hints at a return to the Italian neorealism of nearly eight decades ago, but Camilleri is too smart for such a reductive reading: instead, this is a humane and heartbreaking portrait of the difficulties of choosing between family tradition and pure survival.

Mass (Bleecker Street)

Mass (Bleecker Street)The always explosive subject of school shootings is explored by writer-director Fran Kranz as two sets of parents meet for an emotional session some time after a deadly incident that has marked their—and many others’—lives forever. While some of “Mass” is too on the nose—starting with the title, which describes both the kind of shooting and the movie’s locale—Kranz lets his impeccable acting quartet shoulder the load, finding honesty and intimacy amid the recounted pain and horror: Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs and especially Martha Plimpton keep this singleminded study on track throughout.

4K/UHD Releases of the Week

Space Jam—A New Legacy (Warner Bros)

Space Jam—A New Legacy (Warner Bros)Planting the world’s greatest NBA player alongside beloved Looney Tunes characters already seemed passé when Michael Jordan was in 1996’s original “Space Jam,” although at least it had a modicum of originality and charm when Jordan interacted with the cartoon counterparts. Today, though, with Lebron James in the lead, it all seems stretched out beyond its meager narrative, even though the computerized effects have it all over Jordan’s version. Don Cheadle has fun as the villain, but Sarah Silverman sleepwalks though her role as a Warner exec. On UHD, of course, it all looks astonishing; on the extra Blu-ray disc, extras include deleted scenes and four making-of featurettes.

Blu-ray Releases of the Week

The Flash—Complete 7th Season (Warner Bros)

The Flash—Complete 7th 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.
The end of season 6 saw the demise of the Speed Force, and Barry/Flash must fend off numerous adversaries—some time travelers—with his superpowers nearly depleted. This engaging superhero adventure has always had just enough tongue-in-cheek humor to get by, alongside a fine cast led by Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Nicolet, Kayla Compton and Jesse L. Martin. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer of the season’s 18 episodes; extras include three featurettes, a gag reel and deleted scenes.

The Nevers—Season 1, Part 1 (HBO)

The Nevers—Season 1, Part 1 (HBO)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.
This Victorian-era fantasy series from the teeming mind of Joss Whedon features The Touched, which comprises several colorful characters who don’t really have a lot of compelling or interesting things on their plate: instead, we are left with a sumptuous-looking piece of dress-up, and whether that’s enough to keep viewers watching over the long haul remains to be seen. Reliable performers like Laura Donnelly, Ann Skelly, Olivia Williams, Rochelle Neil and Eleanor Tomlinson have little to do in a series that follows the effects of a supernatural event that’s given only women extraordinary abilities. The six episodes look terrific on Blu; extras are several making-of featurettes.

A Night at the Opera (Warner Archive)

A Night at the Opera (Warner Archive)One of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen—and second only to “Duck Soup” as the Marx Brothers’ best—this gloriously anarchic 1935 comedy pits Groucho, Harpo and Chico against the usual motley crew of clueless opera impresarios and other authority figures, mostly on a cruise ship, the source of much of the claustrophobic humor. The one-liners, physical comedy and general air of mischief are peerlessly balanced by director Sam Wood, and even the romantic subplot and musical interludes are nicely integrated into the madness. The B&W film looks delectable in hi-def; extras comprise a Leonard Maltin commentary, “Marx on Marx” documentary, Groucho’s 1961 TV appearance and 3 vintage shorts (not starring the brothers).

Night of the Animated Dead (Warner Bros)

Night of the Animated Dead (Warner Bros)This nearly shot-for-shot remake/reboot of George Romero’s original horror classic, 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead,” has its moments as a brightly colored animated riff, with a couple of scenes that are more unsettling than in the original. But since Romero shot “Night” in B&W, that makes the gore—even garishly done in cartoon form—redundant here, lessening the impact of the story’s undeniable tension. Still, it’s effective for what it is, and looks terrific in hi-def; the lone extra is a making-of featurette.

99.9 (Cult Epics)

99.9 (Cult Epics)In Spanish director Agustí Villaronga’s understated 1997 horror film, the host of a paranormal radio show travels to where her ex-lover mysteriously died and discovers what he was working on and the cause of death. Maria Barranco acquits herself well as the heroine in a performance that doesn’t rely on hysterics; Villaronga’s direction also eschews the usual horror tropes, and that lack of grand guignol helps keeps “99.9” from fading from memory when it ends. The film looks decent on Blu-ray; extras are a new Villaronga interview and vintage making-of featurette.

Straight Time (Warner Archive)

Straight Time (Warner Archive)If this 1978 character study of an ex-con trying to stay out of jail seems more lackluster than gritty, it might be that Dustin Hoffman began directing it himself then turned the reins over to Ulu Grosbard, who is unable to make it jell into a compelling portrait of recidivism. Hoffman is good, of course, but the supporting cast is excellent: Theresa Russell is his heartbreaking love interest, the superb M. Emmet Walsh is a crooked parole officer, and Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey and Kathy Bates are realistically shady “friends” of Hoffman’s. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; lone extra is a Hoffman/Grosbard commentary—there’s a vintage making-of featurette listed on the back cover but it’s missing from the disc.

Jedermann (Unitel)

ThaisAs COVID-19 era stagings trickle out on Blu-ray, we are seeing how directors and theaters dealt with pandemic restrictions. Earlier this year in Vienna, Jules Massenet’s grand opera “Thais” was performed in director Peter Konwitschny’s glitzy but distant production, highlighted by Nicole Chevalier’s moving portrayal of the tragic title heroine. And in summer 2020, the Salzburg Festival staged German playwright Hugo von Hoffmannsthal’s cautionary tale, “Jedermann (Everyman)”; Michael Sturminger’s clever staging brought out the subtle qualities of a play that can sometimes drift into abstraction. Both discs have superior hi-def video and audio; the must-watch lone extra on “Jedermann” is an absorbing 55-minute documentary, “The Great World Theatre—Salzburg and Its Festival.”

The Window (Warner Archive)

The Window (Warner Archive)This 1949 thriller is a blatant contraption—Tommy, a young boy prone to exaggeration, isn’t believed when he actually witnesses a murder, and soon finds himself in the killers’ sights—but it works nicely thanks to Ted Tatzlaff’s no-nonsense direction and a tight 73-minute running time. The youngster playing Tommy, Bobby Driscoll, has a natural shakiness that helps sell this story of an innocent kid in a dangerous situation. (Driscoll won an honorary Oscar for best juvenile performance.) The gritty B&W imagery translates well to Blu-ray.

Witching and Bitching (IFC Midnight)

Witching and Bitching (IFC Midnight)Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia specializes in unhinged, undisciplined films, which often blend genres in helter-skelter fashion to mixed results. A prime specimen is this 2013 entry—that it’s just getting released here is a red flag—that starts as a parody of a heist flick, morphs into a parody of a chase movie, then becomes the most insane witchcraft picture ever. As always, there’s a fast pace and light tone, with gags and wacky dialogue piling up: but that only underscores the thinness of the conceit and the script. And as always, there’s a game cast—led by Carmen Maura, Terele Pávez and Carolina Bang as three generations of witches, the latter soon to be the director’s wife—that keeps it watchable even at 114 overlong minutes. The film looks impressive in hi-def.

DVD Release of the Week

Clarice—Complete 1st Season (Paramount/CBS)

Clarice—Complete 1st Season (Paramount/CBS)Thirty years on, a reboot of the Oscar-winning “Silence of the Lambs”—actually, it picks up a year after the events in Jonathan Demme’s classic film—is high on a list of unnecessary TV series, and this dark, dour and brutal drama can be a chore to sit through. That’s despite well-done technical and visual values that back the solid performance of Rebecca Breeds as FBI agent Clarice Starling, the role for which Jodie Foster won an Oscar. All 13 episodes are included on 4 discs; extras comprise three featurettes, a gag reel and deleted scenes.

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