Blu-rays of the Week
Lebanon (Sony) – Samuel Maoz, who served in the Israeli army during the 1982 Lebanon war, used his experiences as the basis of this spellbinding debut about war through the eyes of fighting men. The film, which spends 90 minutes inside a tank, makes us as terrified and claustrophobic as the men: we feel the safety of being inside while not knowing the dangers outside. Maoz individualizes these soldiers: when someone dies or is gravely wounded, we too are deeply affected. Lebanon doesn’t preach or editorialize, instead presenting war’s insanity as a given. The stunning Blu-ray transfer unerringly recreates Maoz’s daring compositions; the lone extra is a featurette, Notes on a War Film.
The Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor (Criterion) – Samuel Fuller made intermittently powerful melodramas with primitive means. These films (from 1964 and 1963, respectively) are typical Fuller: Kiss follows an ex-prostitute whose arrival makes her new neighbors uneasy, while Shock chronicles the mental decline of a reporter in an asylum to investigate a murder. The movies work effectively despite Fuller’s limitations, like casting lesser actors in what should be bravura parts. Criterion’s Blu-ray releases present top-notch transfers of both B&W dramas, and extras include several interviews and The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera, an hour-long documentary about Fuller featuring Tim Robbins, Jim Jarmusch, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Fox) – Oliver Stone’s timely sequel to his 1987 original is a bit of an after-the-fact “told you so,” as anti-hero Gordon Gekko returns from prison to find that his Wall Street has become even worse. Michael Douglas returns as the scenery-chewing Gekko, but Carey Mulligan is wasted as his daughter and Shia LaBeouf is over his head as his future son-in-law/protégé. No one shoots New York like Stone, and a terrific sense of the post-stock market collapse blues permeates his film, which glosses over many dramatic deficiencies. The super hi-def transfer shows off Rodrigo Prieto’s widescreen photography: among many extras, Stone’s commentary is worth a listen, and the deleted and extended scenes (with more Stone commentary) are worth a watch.
DVDs of the Week
Frontline: Death by Fire and The Spell (PBS) – This PBS series is known for its provocative, incendiary programs, and these two are no exception. Death by Fire recounts the questionable death-penalty verdict against a Texas man accused of arson in the fire that killed his three children; The Spill explores the abysmal safety record of BP even before the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Both programs are decidedly one-sided, even if they give the other side a chance to speak, but so what? They make plentiful points about mistakes made by fire investigators in Texas and BP executives (also in Texas, coincidentally): as always, Frontline provides filling food for thought. No extras.
How to Get Ahead in Advertising (Image) – Richard E. Grant’s manically comic performance as an ad man succumbing to his profession’s pressures by growing an evil twin who takes over career and marriage makes Bruce Robinson’s funny but one-note satire worth seeing. Back in 1989, Robinson was a big deal, having just made the cult hit Withnail & I; and Advertising has some good moments thanks to Grant, who even makes the big final monologue comic nirvana. Rachel Ward (always an underrated actress because of her beauty) lends superb straight-woman support, yet both she and Grant are bogged down by Robinson’s too-literal evocation of split personality. No extras.
CD of the Week
Bastianello/Lucrezia (Bridge) – These two chamber operas were commissioned by the valuable New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), and this recording captures their charm, and the fun the five singers and two pianists have performing these delectable scores. John Musto’s Bastianello skips around varied styles retelling a fractured Italian folktale, while William Bolcom’s Lucrezia has a ravishing zarzuela sound retelling its story of an Italian opera heroine. Many new operas barely are heard after their premieres, so thanks to NYFOS pianists Michael Barrett and Steven Blier for recording them. Now will they be performed again live, preferably with a full knockabout production?