Blu-rays of the Week
DVDs of the Week
CDs of the Week
The Magician (Criterion) - Ingmar Bergman’s mesmerizing 1958 meditation on reality vs. illusion, The Magician is fleetly-paced and lighthearted, which makes it virtually unique in Bergman’s canon of classics (only Smiles of a Summer Night is closely related). But Bergman has darker things up his sleeve, and the last act is as unsettling as anything in the great director’s career. Thanks to a superlative cast–Max von Sydow (who as the title character is mute for the first hour, but with priceless expressions), a ravishing Ingrid Thulin as his wife, and Gunnar Bjornstrand, Erland Josephson and Bibi Andersson as a delightfully carnal servant–The Face (the original–and more reverberating–Swedish title) is Bergman at his magical best. Criterion’s magnificent transfer is one of its very best Blu-ray releases so far; the sharpness and depth of the blacks, whites and grays make it as film-like as possible. Scant but valuable extras include a Peter Cowie visual essay, a 1967 Bergman video interview and a 1990 Bergman audio interview.
Sex and Lucia (Palm Pictures) – Julio Medem’s films are frustrating muddles in which bright ideas and lame concepts butt heads. That’s especially true of 2001’s Sex and Lucia, which introduced the sexy and talented Paz Vega in her first big role. After Cows, his superb debut in 1993, Medem has made several irritating movies that alternate intelligence with stupidity: they all contain provocative moments, and Sex and Lucia has its share of enticing visuals hampered by a typically weak script. The Blu-ray looks terrifically good, with grain that accentuates the natural-looking photography. And Vega (seen in various states of undress) is a sublimely unaffected actress, whom Medem should work with again ASAP. Extras include brief interviews with Medem and Vega.
DVDs of the Week
The Red Line (Ondine) – Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen’s stunning historical opera The Red Line, about his country’s first Democratic election and its devastating non-impact on a struggling family, was composed in 1978; it’s one of the rare contemporary operas to grip audiences with its stirring music and powerful story. This performance, filmed at Helsinki’s Finnish National Opera house last year, is a knockout, another example of Sallinen’s composing style that combines modernism and classicism to create a unique, dramatic sound world. Jorma Hynninen (who also played the lead role at its premiere) and Paivi Nisula are heartrending as the couple who futilely hope that socialism brings a better life for their children, Mikko Franck conducts sympathetically and Pekka Milonoff’s straightforward staging provides maximum impact. Short interviews with Sallinen, Hynninen, Franck and Milonoff are included.
The Secret of Kells (New Video) – It’s not often you see an animated feature based on medieval Celtic art, but that’s only one of many eye-opening details of The Secret of Kells, directed by Tomm Moore as a wondrous alternative to the Disney/PIXAR animation monopoly. The movie might have been nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature (it lost, natch, to Up), but don’t hold that against it: Kells creates a fantastic alternative universe that comprises an absorbing, timeless tale of good vs. evil. Such an original movie needs lots of bonus material, and it’s not lacking: director/co-director/art director commentary; voice recording sessions; and a fascinating overview by director Moore of pre-production sketches and imagery.
CDs of the Week
Mahler: Das Knaben Wunderhorn, Adagio from 10th Symphony (Deutsche Grammophon) – Now 85, conductor Pierre Boulez concludes his Mahler cycle with this recording: as its stands, the complete recordings comprise all the symphonies and the major song cycles. This CD could be seen as a “scraps” release, since Mahler never had the chance to finish the 10th symphony before his premature death at age 50 in 1911, and Wunderhorn was composed in bursts over a decade. But in Boulez’s masterly hands, this may the best of his entire Mahler cycle. The Cleveland Orchestra plays the songs in a relaxed manner–the splendid singing of Magdalena Kozena and Christian Gerhaher underline that feeling–while the Adagio is weighty without being ponderous; its 24 minutes are among the most profound in all of Mahler: as Boulez himself says in the liner notes, it’s tantalizing to think where the composer would have gone if he had lived longer.
Ravel: The Piano Concertos, Miroirs (Deutsche Grammophon) – French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard reveres Maurice Ravel above all other composers, surprising when one thinks of his first-rate recordings and concerts of Ligeti, Carter and other modern masters. But this disc of Ravel’s two piano concertos and five-movement solo work, Miroirs, shows off Aimard’s artistry in a way that few other recordings have. His playing of both concertos–sensitively accompanied by Pierre Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra–has biting wit, fleet fingerwork and spectacular technique in equal measure: the G major Concerto’s jazzy influence and the Concerto for the Left Hand’s sheer virtuosity are front and center, while Miroirs eloquently sums up Ravel’s–and Aimard’s–eclecticism.