Friday, October 21, 2016

Broadway Review—Mary-Louise Parker in “Heisenberg”

Written by Simon Stephens; directed by Mark Brokaw
Performances through December 11, 2016
Samuel Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York, NY

Denis Arendt and Mary-Louise Parker in Heisenberg (photo: Joan Marcus)

Let us now praise Mary-Louise Parker. Possibly the only actress who can make annoying seem endearing, Parker also has an estimable track record of rescuing inferior plays, such as Dead Man's Cell Phone, the disastrous Sarah Ruhl comic drama from several seasons back that Parker saved with her miraculous ability to be immensely charming and kookily funny, however ridiculous the material.

Heisenberg is another case in point. This mendacious two-hander follows the unlikely romance between a goofy 42-year-old American woman and a stolid 75-year-old British man (it would have been more interesting the other way around), who meet cutely at a London train station, reconnect even more cutesily at his butcher shop, and begin a physical and emotional coupling that has to be seen to be disbelieved.

Playwright Simon Stephens spends much of his play’s 80-minute running time flailing around, hoping that anything that he crams into his play—no matter how illogical or risible—will provoke a response from the audience. But the strain shows in his very title, the eponymous German physicist who coined the Uncertainty Principle.

But Heisenberg doesn’t so much demonstrate the Uncertainty Principle as it does the Anything-Goes Principle as Georgie Burns (obnoxious and irritating from the start) lies and wheedles her way into Alex Priest’s good graces by, basically, badgering him: She’s the prototypical Trumpian bully.

Stephens’ dialogue has its occasional bite or amusement, but then there are those long stretches when it doesn’t. After they first have sex, here’s what they say to each other:

GEORGIE: Move over. Thank you. Are you okay?
ALEX: I am yes.
GEORGIE: Ha. Me too. Me three. Me four. Me five. Me six. Me a million. I like sex. Don't you?
ALEX: I do. You know. I really do. I do. I do.
GEORGIE: I like your bed.
ALEX: Thank you.

Later, after they leave London for New Jersey to track down her supposedly estranged son, here’s a snippet of their conversation:

GEORGIE: It’s stopped raining.
ALEX: Yes. I like this spot. The Hackensack. What a completely brilliant name for a river. I like words that have their own little rhyme in. And I like that bridge. That is a remarkable bridge.
GEORGIE: The Pulaski Skyway.
ALEX: The Pulaski Skyway.

A little of this goes a very long way, and Heisenberg outstays its welcome very quickly. Director Mark Brokaw doesn’t do much more than have his performers occasionally move the odd chair or table that make up the bulk of the set design (as per Stephens’ specific stage directions). Brokaw has also put bleachers on the stage behind the performing space so that there are essentially two audiences watching this uninvolving romance unfold. It’s sometimes more entertaining checking out how others are reacting to what’s going on.

Poor Denis Arendt has little to do—he mainly reacts to whatever new lunacy Parker’s spouting—and does it solidly if unimaginatively. Parker is a theatrical treasure, making every silly retort or full-throated obscenity that comes out of her mouth so ingratiating that she makes us believe that this possibly insane woman could charm an average old man into bed. Well, almost.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

October '16 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 
This ten-part, eight-hour mini-series “reboots” the Old English classic for the binge-watch generation, with impressive production values comprising first-rate costumes, sets and photography, and even a compelling storyline. This epic has much to recommend it, not least of which is a cast—especially Kieran Bew in the title role and Joanne Whalley as his dead father’s scheming wife—that is persuasive throughout. The series looks fantastic on Blu.

Café Society
Woody Allen’s typically jaundiced show biz romance is smartly set in the ‘30s, so there are not only some good (and not-so-good) jokes about Hollywood, but there’s also Vittorio Storaro’s absolutely gorgeous photography—maybe the most striking in any Allen film since Manhattan. Jesse Eisenberg is too on the nose with his Woody impersonation, but Kristen Stewart is a sympathetic love interest and Blake Lively is as glamorous as any old-time movie star. The film looks splendid on Blu; lone extra is a red-carpet featurette.

Extreme—Metal Meltdown Live! 
(Loud & Proud)
A quarter-century after its breakout hit, Boston quartet Extreme goes to the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas to play its breakthrough album, 1990’s Pornograffiti in its entirety, from the opening power-chords of “Decadence Dance” to the foot-stomper “Hole Hearted.” Gary Cherone still has the voice for these tunes and guitarist Nuno Betencourt still shreds with the best of them. Highlights are blistering versions of “Get the Funk Out” and “Suzie (Wants Her All-Day What?)” and an audience singalong of the band’s only number-one hit, “More Than Words.” Hi-def video and surround-sound audio are excellent; lone extra is documentary Rockshow.

Our Kind of Traitor
Based on one of John le Carré’s tautest espionage thrillers, this adaptation isn’t exactly turgid, but it spends so much time setting everything up that it keeps sidetracking itself from its main plot—a British tourist couple, befriended by a European gangster, become unlikely spies. Director Susanna White’s dark visual palette and Hossein Amini’s tight script distill le Carré’s essence well enough, while Ewan MacGregor, Stellan Skarsgard and Naomie Harris effectively play the lead roles. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras are deleted scenes and three making-of featurettes.

The Rape of Lucretia
(Opus Arte)
Benjamin Britten’s oratorio-like opera—which premiered in 1946—is given an incisive staging by actress-turned-director Fiona Shaw in 2015 at England’s Glyndebourne Festival. The dramatically static work isn’t obscured by Shaw’s modern-dress production, which has an exceptional cast led by sumptuous soprano Kate Royal as Female Chorus Christine Rice’s shattering Lucretia. Britten’s exemplary score sounds vibrant in the hands of conductor Leo Hussain and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Hi-def video and audio are perfectly realized; extras comprise a Shaw interview and opera featurette.

Semyon Kotko
One of Sergei Prokofiev’s later operas, this war drama hasn’t aged as well as his masterpieces, mostly since it was tailor-made for Soviet authorities’ approval; its unabashed hagiography of a Russian hero has a stolid libretto but contains some of Prokofiev’s most propulsive music. Of course, when conductor Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky Opera forces take over—as shown in this immensely effective 2014 St. Petersburg staging—even lesser Prokofiev operas shine through as terrific musical-theater experiences. Hi-def audio and video are solid.

Swiss Army Man 
This flaccid black comedy has a clever enough premise—a stranded man on an island befriends a corpse that washes ashore, leading to ever more surreal and ridiculous adventures—but foregoes characterization, coherence or insight. Paul Dano overacts mercilessly, Daniel Radcliffe underwhelmingly underacts, and whenever co-directors/writers Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan get stuck, they turn, in desperation, to flatulence. The film has a top-flight hi-def transfer; extras include deleted scenes, featurettes and interviews.

I Capuleti e I Montecchi
(Accentus Music)
Alban Berg’s masterly 12-tone Wozzeck remains a touchstone of 20th century opera, and Andreas Homoki’s 2015 Zurich staging—despite some cartoonishness—brings out the tension in this relentlessly downbeat tale of madness and murder: Christian Gerhaher’s Wozzeck and Gun-Brit Barkmin’s Marie (who puts him over the edge) are dramatically and musically superlative. In Capuleti, Vincenzo Bellini’s riff on Romeo and Juliet, the women singing the star-crossed lovers have juicy roles; in this 2015 Zurich production, Joyce DiDonato (Romeo) and Olga Kulchynska (Giulietta) sing with beauty and power. These releases have terrific hi-def transfers.

DVDs of the Week 
(First Run)
Carlos Saura’s exploration of music and dance indigenous to the South American country is another memorable example of Saura’s films that record sound and movement in all their glory, following 2010’s Flamenco Flamenco (Saura’s latest, J: Beyond Flamenco, recently premiered). Performance high points are far too numerous to mention, moving as they do from traditional forms to modern and back again; it’s all been stunningly shot by cinematographer Felix Monti, so much so that it’s too bad that Argentina hasn’t gotten a Blu-ray release.

Broken Vows
In this reverse Fatal Attraction, a gorgeous engaged woman sleeps with a hot bartender while in New Orleans for her bachelorette party: soon he is disrupting her life until the final, explosive—but very anticlimactic—finale. Jaimie Alexander gives a forceful performance in this cliché-ridden drama as the woman whose one horny mistake makes her almost pay with her (and her fiancé’s) life; too bad Wes Bentley seems unhinged from the outset, and every twist and turn in James Agnew and Sean Keller’s script are lessened by Bram Coppens’s routine direction.

Hot Type 
(First Run)
Director Barbara Kopple celebrates the 150th anniversary of the indispensable magazine The Nation by showing how the current editorial and writing group—led by their indefatigable editor Katrina vanden Heuvel—deals with the twilight of good journalism. Talking heads from Rachel Maddow to Bill Moyers discuss the vital importance of a magazine that began in the post-Civil War era by Republicans and then became a must-read for liberals beginning in the New Deal era of FDR. Extras are three deleted scenes. 

CD of the Week
Nicola Benedetti—Shostakovich and Glazunov Violin Concertos
Any talented musician can play the first Shostakovich violin concerto, but it takes a musician of genius—like Nicola Benedetti—to bring out this masterpiece’s great qualities of yearning, sizzling virtuosity and incredibly taut dramatics. Benedetti does the same for Alexander Glazunov’s concerto, a lighter affair than the Shostakovich, most concertos are—but still a delightful 20-minute workout for any virtuoso. Capably led by conductor Kirill Karabits, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra provides the perfect accompaniment to Benedetti’s stunning playing.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Off-Broadway Review—“Cagney” the Musical

Music & lyrics by Robert Creighton & Christopher McGovern; book by Peter Colley
Directed by Bill Castellino
Westside Theatre, 407 West 43rd Street, New York, NY

The cast of Cagney (photo: Carol Rosegg)
Turning James Cagney’s career into a musical is a no-brainer, as creator/songwriter/actor Robert Creighton shows in Cagney, an off-Broadway hit going strong since it opened this past spring. Cagney’s was the ultimate rags-to-riches story, tailor-made for a Hollywood movie (or stage show): a poor Irish immigrant born in 1891 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, he worked his way from vaudeville to stage to screen, morphing from song-and-dance man to tough guy and back again, even winning an Oscar as George M. Cohan in the patriotic 1942 classic Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Playing the physically taxing title role, Creighton has written hummable, not entirely forgettable songs that are woven into the show (including the rousing opener “Black and White,” which cleverly returns in different form to open Act II), which starts with Cagney’s late-‘70s lifetime achievement award by the Screen Actors Guild before jumping back to his early days, slaving away at trashy jobs for peanuts before getting his first show biz work—in a dive, naturally—where he met future (and only) wife Willie.

Creighton, director Bill Castellino and choreographer Joshua Bergasse (whose spiffy dance numbers are easily Cagney’s highlights) have smartly brought in familiar Cohan songs “Over There, “Grand Old Flag” and grand finale “Yankee Doodle Dandy” to put smiles on faces and cheer the hearts of the show’s typical audience members, who undoubtedly remember the originals. Creighton is short of stature like Cagney, but his acting is more a Rich Little impression than a true characterization; happily, that’s all moot when he and his supporting cast turn on the tap-dancing spigots: it’s where by-the-numbers storytelling stops and musical euphoria begins.

If Creighton and his talented cohorts—Ellen Zolezzi as Willie and Bruce Sabath as Jack Warner, Cagney’s boss-turned-Hollywood-nemesis, make the best impressions—can’t hope to equal Cagney’s immortal celluloid moments, they provide a pretty good outline. And the audience’s own nostalgia fills in the blanks.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Off-Broadway Review—Horton Foote's “The Roads to Home”

The Roads to Home
Written by Horton Foote; directed by Michael Wilson
Performances through November 27, 2016
Primary Stages, Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, New York, NY

Harriet Harris, Rebecca Brooksher and Hallie Foote in The Roads to Home (photo: Jamez Leynse)

In Horton Foote’s The Roads to Home, three interlinked one-act plays trod ground familiar to anyone who’s seen his work: there are fractured relationships and shifting family dynamics aplenty, along with the possibility (however slight) of starting anew. The trio of women at the heart of this play set in the 1920s—two middle-aged wives who are next-door neighbors, Mabel and Vonnie; and a younger woman from their Houston neighborhood, Annie—are quintessential Foote characters, with Mabel yearning for the sentimental comfort of hometown Harrison, Vonnie worried that her own husband is cheating on her, and younger Annie becoming dangerously unstable.

The first scene, A Nightingale, is set in Mabel’s house, as she and Vonnie await Annie, who visits every day rather than stay with her own children—her husband has to leave his office to retrieve her. Scene two, The Dearest of Friends, set six months later, finds Mabel comforting Vonnie, who believes her husband is having an affair. Both women’s spouses also appear, and Foote’s dialogue skirts farce as the disconnect between both couples is made apparent. Finally, the third scene, Spring Dance—set four years later in Austin—reintroduces Annie (she wasn’t in the second scene) at what turns out to be an asylum, where she was sent by her husband years earlier.

In his typically thoughtful manner, Foote paints brutally honest portraits of these women—and their men—which become quite moving by play’s end, especially when one realizes that the “home” of the title remains an unreachable destination, whichever road they find themselves on.

Michael Wilson directs sympathetically, and his cast is magisterial. Harriet Harris finds the humor beneath Vonnie’s heartbreak, Rebecca Brooksher makes Annie and her plight simply heartbreaking, and Devon Abner and Matt Sullivan provide needed laughs as Mabel and Vonnie’s slightly ridiculous husbands. And, as Mabel, Hallie Foote—the playwright’s daughter and most esteemed interpreter (she played Annie in a 1992 off-Broadway revival)—perfectly balances the playfulness, pathos and poetry in her father’s distinctive dialogue.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

October '16 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 
Les Cowboys
(Cohen Media)
In screenwriter Thomas Bidegain’s auspicious directorial debut, a teenager girl’s disappearance takes over the lives of her father and younger brother, disrupting and changing everyone along the way. Loosely based on John Ford’s The Searchers, Bidegain’s drama has built-in contrivances, but it’s done so compellingly and acted so powerfully that the film’s denouement—showing the young woman’s ultimate fate—is a slow-burning stunner. There’s a superlative hi-def transfer; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Diary of a Chambermaid
(Cohen Media)
Benoit Jacquot directs the latest adaptation of Octave Mirbeau’s classic novel about a young woman who works as chambermaid for a wealthy provincial family and must balance her professional and personal lives. For once, Jacquot’s sledgehammer directing doesn’t go against his material and he smartly casts in the lead Lea Seydoux, who—like Jeanne Moreau and Paulette Goddard before her in the earlier Luis Bunuel and Jean Renoir versions—makes criticism seem like carping, so effortlessly does she make the title character three-dimensional. The film looks ravishing on Blu; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

The Last King 
A complicated web of deceit is dramatized in this fast-paced thriller by director Nils Gaup, who brings a sense of immediacy and excitement to this true story of an infant, next in line for the throne, being protected from his many enemies. Of course, at 100 minutes, the film simplifies and the real complexities involved, but it’s still a fun ride. The film looks sumptuous on Blu; extras are interview with lead actor and music video.

The Legend of Tarzan
(Warner Bros)
Director David Yates’ reboot of Tarzan takes place years after the tale everyone knows: Tarzan and wife Jane leave civilized life in London to return to Africa, where they are confronted by more criminals. As far as it goes, it’s not completely imbecile, with a nice balance of action, 3-D and a delightfully feisty Margot Robbie as Jane. Alexander Skarsgard’s Tarzan is adequate but doesn’t have enough to do: less time spent on Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz’s supporting antics would have helped. The Blu-ray image is sharp and clear; extras comprise several featurettes.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil 
(Warner Archive)
In Clint Eastwood’s turgid 1997 adaptation of John Berendt’s colorful best-seller about a real-life killing among Savannah’s upper-crust renders them as cartoons, especially Kevin Spacey’s campy protagonist who shoots a guest at one of his own lavish parties. John Cusack’s lackadaisical outsider, a reporter working on a story about the town’s checkered history who falls into a big murder story, seems out of his element, as does Eastwood himself: although a few sequences come off fairly well, best is a solid supporting cast that includes Jack Thompson and Jude Law. The film looks good on Blu; lone extra is a 20-minute behind the scenes featurette.

On Dangerous Ground
(Warner Archive)
This gritty 1952 film noir about a brutalizing cop and the blind young woman who turns his world upside down was directed with vigor by Nicolas Ray and features a pulsating Bernard Herrmann score. As the detective, Robert Ryan gives a satisfyingly no-nonsense performance, while Ida Lupino is heartbreaking as the sightless heroine. There’s a superb hi-def transfer, on par with most Warner Archive releases; the lone extra is historian Glenn Erickson’s commentary.

(BelAir Classiques)
Richard Wagner’s solemn, four-hour “religious” opera is profaned by director Dmitri Tcherniakov’s 2015 Berlin staging, as Wagner’s dignified characters searching for the Holy Grail are dropped into a ludicrously modern setting that battles the majestic music. Despite the ridiculous visuals, Daniel Barenboim conducts a wonderfully detailed reading of Wagner’s weighty score, and his singers—especially Rene Pape as Gurnemanz and Anja Kampe as Kundry—are in splendid voice throughout. The hi-def audio and video are first-rate.

Four giggly millennials on a tour of devil-worshipping sites get more than they bargained for after they interfere with a sacrificial ritual and find themselves dealing with its female survivor in Jeffrey Hunt’s ragged but occasionally scary horror flick. At a tidy 84 minutes, it passes quickly—and becomes forgotten even faster—but it will do decently enough for those desperate for a few chills. The film looks spiffy on Blu; extras include making-of featurettes.

Made by Spanish horror auteur Juan Piquer Simon, 1996’s Slugs is an icky entry into the slimy horror genre whose predecessors are movies like Squirm and Bug; it’s too risible to work, though there’s a dash of cleverness in some of the deaths by slug infestation. 1996’s Vamp isn’t saved by a game Grace Jones as vampire Kinky Katrina or by Michelle Pfeiffer’s younger sister Deedee, who’s actually pretty good (but still wasted). Both films have good, grainy hi-def transfers; many extras include new and vintage interviews, bloopers, featurettes, and a Slugs commentary.

DVDs of the Week
The Becoming of the Mannheim Ring
(Arthaus Musik)
Director/stage-lighting designer/costumer Achim Freyer was behind the mish-mash of a staging of Richard Wagner’s 2013 Ring Cycle in Mannheim, Germany; this two-disc set follows Freyer, cast, crew and company officials during the lengthy rehearsal and pre-production period of the four operas that make up the massive tetralogy. At nearly four hours, this making-of feature might be a lot to sit through, but since the operas themselves total 15 hours, what’s another 240 minutes of watching fly-on-the-wall director Rudij Bergmann’s record of behind the scenes machinations?

The Hunting of the President Redux 
(Virgil Films)
Based on the highly readable, fair-minded book by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons about the demonization of the Clintons by right-wing opponents, Harry Thomason and Nicolas Perry’s 2004 documentary—with 2016 updates—comes off more screechy and biased, like a liberal corollary to what the wingnuts having been doing to the former (and future) First Couple since they became a viable political force. There’s much damning evidence that what the GOP has taken as gospel—everything and everybody the Clintons touch die—is lunacy writ large, but done more soberly, it would be more persuasive.

The Mangler
(Warner Archive)
Tobe Hooper’s trashy 1994 slasher flick is a garbled mess, despite its pedigree: it’s based on a Stephen King short story and stars Freddy Kruger himself, Robert Eglund, as a laundry owner whose press goes rogue. The ostensible monster—a machine that morphs into a murderous creature—isn’t very frightening, with special effects so slipshod that it seems like the work of rank amateurs. Ted Levine plays the detective with unsavory menace, similar to his turn as the villain in The Silence of the Lambs.

Vincent Van Gogh—A Life Devoted to Art 
(Arthaus Musik)
This Dutch documentary about the Netherlands’ most famous artist is an informative overview of the life, career and early death of Van Gogh (whose name is pronounced correctly throughout, so it sounds wrong to an American ear—no pun intended). There are plentiful glimpses of his paintings, sober talking heads in discussion, and visits to locations throughout the Netherlands and France, where he lived, worked and, finally, killed himself in 1890, penniless and forgotten. As someone notes, he’d be amazed that his paintings now are sold for unfathomable amounts of money. A second disc has a 15-minute featurette—but why isn’t it included on the main disc?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Off-Broadway Review—“Nat Turner in Jerusalem”

Nat Turner in Jerusalem
Written by Nathan Alan Davis; directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian
Performances through October 16, 2016
New York Theater Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, New York, NY

Rowan Vickers and Phillip James Brannon in Nat Turner in Jerusalem (photo: Joan Marcus)

Suddenly, the Nat Turner slave rebellion is everywhere: in Nate Parker’s new film The Birth of a Nation and in Nathan Alan Davis’s play Nat Turner in Jerusalem. While Parker’s film choppily dramatizes what happened before, during and after the uprising—in which Turner and many fellow slaves butchered dozens of slave holders and their families, only to be caught and massacred themselves, with Turner arrested and thrown in prison before being hanged—Nat Turner in Jerusalem concentrates on Turner’s last night on earth in a two-hander (with three characters) that is by turns realistic, metaphysical and too obviously symbolic.

The symbolism starts with the title: Jerusalem was the Virginia town where Turner’s rebellion went to grab a cache of firearms and also were he was imprisoned and hanged, but it also conveniently alludes to the martyrdom of both Turner and his savior Jesus Christ.  As Turner discusses his fate with two men—a nameless guard and his lawyer, Thomas Gray, the latter of whom publishes Turner’s confessions after his death—the dialogue is peppered with Biblical quotations, and the prisoner even convinces the atheist lawyer to kneel for a final prayer before he agrees to speak to him.

Some of this makes for convincing drama, but there are long arid stretches where Turner, for example, extols the existential beauty of the sunset or describes the spiritual rightness of his murderous rampage; as if to compensate, he is turned into a Christ-like figure by Mary Louise Geiger’s moody lighting, which throws his shadow on the wall as he holds a lamp—and voila, it looks like the Holy Grail being carried to the altar.

None of this is coincidental, obviously, but since the material itself is so strongly compelling, reducing it to mere metaphorical drama—Turner even frees himself from his chains at one point—makes Jerusalem a frustrating 90 minutes of theater that’s further burdened by a set-up where the movable wooden stage itself is placed between two sets of uncomfortable bleacher seats.

Phillip James Brannon makes Turner a charismatic figure, even when wearing his clumsily literal chains, while Rowan Vickers plays Gray and the guard with insufficient variety. Nat Turner in Jerusalem contains pertinent food for thought, but its lyrical flights are too often weighed down by thudding didacticism. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

October '16 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 
Banshee—Complete 4th Season
The final season of this ultraviolent crime drama doesn’t really pick up steam until the fourth episode, when Eliza Dishku appears as a stiletto-heeled, skin-tight clothes-wearing, sexy and crude FBI agent and wreaks havoc over everyone. The series itself ends more with a whimper than a bang, which is too bad. The hi-def image is exceptionally good; extras include audio commentaries, deleted scenes, episode recaps, Banshee Origins featurette, Zoomed In Eps 1– 8 on-set featurette and cast retrospectives.

Classic Albums: Beach Boys—Pet Sounds
Scorpions—Live in Munich 2012
(Eagle Rock)
For the latest Classic Albums, the Beach Boys’—mostly Brian Wilson’s—masterpiece Pet Sounds is dissected, spotlighting the artistry that went into making one of the era’s bona fide masterpieces 50 years after its release; the songs and their glistening are closely analyzed by Wilson himself, other band members and critics. For its Live in Munich 2012, German hard-rockers the Scorpions—with singer Klaus Meine and the twin-guitar attack of Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs in tow—blast through nearly two hours of hits, including sizzling versions of classic rockers “The Zoo,” “Winds of Change” and “No One Like You.” Both discs have superior hi-def video and audio; Pet Sounds’ extras are 30 minutes of more interviews.

Based on a Stephen King novel which I have not read (no surprise), this strained sci-fi thriller drops hero John Cusack into a world where those with wireless devices are transformed into frothing, flesh-eating zombies—which is mostly everybody. Director Tod Williams doesn’t do much but turn this into a Walking Dead riff with a few nice touches; Cusack, Stacy Keach and Sam Jackson keep their dignity while going about the motions starring in a routine thriller. The film looks great on Blu; extras comprise a director’s commentary and a making-of featurette.

(Harmonia Mundi)
Jean-Philippe Rameau’s baroque opera, in a stylishly lush 2015 production by director Michel Fau at France’s Opera National de Bordeaux, has lots of room for dramatic singing, and doing their vocal work best of all are Karina Gauvin, Gaelle Arquez and Florian Sempey. Conductor Raphael Pichon leads a worthy account of the Rameau’s score, and this three-hour epic concludes with a dancing ensemble showcasing Christopher Williams’ vivid choreography. On Blu-ray, the lustrous staging is eye-popping, and the music has added bite in hi-def audio. Lone extra is 20-minute behind-the scenes featurette. (A DVD of the opera is also included.)

Kamikaze ‘89 
(Film Movement)
In his final film role, Reiner Werner Fassbinder plays a grizzled detective in Wolf Gremm’s 1982 crime drama, set in the then near-future about several bombings that may be part of a vast conspiracy. The film—which has a scattering of decent ideas that are blotted out by its plethora of influences, beginning with Fassbinder’s own work—has an excellent hi-def transfer; extras, the most interesting part of this release, include an hour-long documentary, Fassbinder—the Last Year, Gremm’s video memoir A Wolf at the Door (which is on an included DVD), producer Regina Ziegler’s commentary and John Cassavetes’ radio spots.

A Scandal in Paris/Lured
(Cohen Film Collection)
Two early films by Douglas Sirk—who would make his name with intensely melodramatic 1950s soap operas—star British actor George Sanders. The first, 1946’s Scandal, is a tame drama with Sanders as a suave thief who climbs the ladder of high society in 19th century Gay Paree; the flimsy script is helped by Sirk’s solid directing. 1947’s Lured is more entertaining, a moody mystery about a serial killer who targets lovely young women, with Lucille Ball the lady who lays a trap for the murderer, and with Sanders, Charles Coburn and Boris Karloff giving juicy support. Both films are beautifully restored; extras comprise audio commentaries.

DVDs of the Week 
City of Gold
(Sundance Selects)
The adventures of Jonathan Gold, renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic based in Los Angeles, are recounted in this fresh, funny documentary that displays Gold’s defense of L.A. as anything but a cultural wasteland—at least where good food is concerned. His travels throughout the city belie any sense of it being too sprawling for its own good: Gold passionately shows how the amazing profusion of different cuisines in this vast area can coexist and even thrive.

The Seventh Fire
Take Me to the River
(Film Movement)
Jack Pettibone Riccobono’s doc The Seventh Fire, about a Native American teen and the fallout of his tribe’s violent drug culture, counts among its executive producers Terrence Malick and Natalie Portman; moments of precise observation throughout clash with a certain visual imitation. Take Me to the River’s superb performances (by Logan Miller and Robin Weigert) give director Matt Sobel’s look at a gay teen dealing with his family after he’s suspected of molesting his young female cousin its sobering intelligence. Fire extras are deleted scenes and two shorts; River extras are Sobel, Miller and Weigert’s commentary, with Miller and Weigert interviews.