Friday, April 29, 2011

April '11 Blu-ray Roundup


1970's Le Cercle Rouge (Criterion), French director Jean-Pierre Melville's penultimate film, is a zen-like, meditative crime drama about a trio of professional criminals going for one last big score while being tailed by a relentless police inspector and followed by their own inescapable pasts. Melville, who again helms an atmospheric thriller withose glacial pace is its most daring feature, has no competition when it comes to showstopping set pieces—here, it's a daring late-night robbery with the tension ratcheted up to unbearable tautness. With three extraordinary actors playing the criminal antiheroes (Alain Delon, Yves Montand, Gian Maria Violonte), Le Cercle Rouge is Melville at his best. Typically for Criterion, the movie has a breathtakingly good hi-def transfer, and includes vintage on-set featurettes, footage and interviews, along with new discussions with assistant director Bernard Stora and Melville expert Rui Nogueira.


Hector Berlioz's classic opera Benvenuto Cellini (Naxos), about the brilliant Italian sculptor, is shown in a splendid 2007 Salzburg Festival performance conducted by Valery Gergiev and starring Burkhard Fritz as Cellini; Chawz(Magnolia) is a cheesy Korean thriller about a beastly monster mauling people to death and the inept police force trying to solve the crimes and destroy the killer (best extra: deleted scenes); The Chronicles of Narnia—The Voyage of the Dawn Trader (Fox), the third film of the Narnia series, has been crisply directed by veteran Michael Apted, who keeps the action moving swiftly but judiciously and the characters interesting and differentiated, making this the most impressive Chronicle yet (best extra: several behind-the-scenes featurettes); trashy horror movie Dementia 13 (Film Chest), Francis Ford Coppola's inauspicious 1963 debut, certainly didn't bode well for the future Oscar winner, yet its appearance on Blu-ray will surely be appreciated by Coppola completists; to celebrate its 40th anniversary, the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof (MGM)—directed by Norman Jewison and starring Topol—has finally been given the hi-def upgrade it's long deserved (best extra: audio commentary featuring Jewison and Topol); Galaxina/The Crater Lake Monster (Mill Creek) is a double-header of two tepid and nearly forgotten low-budget flicks: at least 1980's sci-fi spoof Galaxina contains the lovely Dorothy Stratten seen right before her untimely death, but 1977's Crater Lake is a bottom of the barrel attempt at terror; The Incredibles (Disney), Pixar's 2004 smash hit, looks and sounds even more dazzling in h-def as we follow the delightfully daffy adventures of the former superheroes turned all-American suburbanites (best extra: The Incredibles Revisited: Filmmaker Roundtable); despite the willfully (and woefully) minimalist 2009 La Scala staging by Robert Wilson, Monteverdi's first opera, L'Orfeo (Opus Arte), remains a surging and powerful experience, thanks to Rinaldo Alessandrini's sensitive conducting and strong performances by singers Georg Nigl, Roberta Invernizzi and Sara Mingardo; The Terror (Film Chest), a classic B-movie made in 1960 by schlockmeister Roger Corman, is best remembered for its two stars—the legendary Boris Karloff and an up-and-coming young actor named Jack Nicholson; The Vanquisher (Magnolia) features Thai martial-arts action superstar Sophita Saiban in an exciting if implausibly plotted thriller chockful of stunt sequences galore (lone extras: making-of featurettes); Richard Wagner's Die Walkure (Opus Arte), the second and best of his four-part Ring cycle, comes to life in this 2010 staging from the composer's own shrine in Bayreuth, Germany, conducted by Christian Thielemann and staged by director Tankred Dorst (lone extra: making-of featurette); White Material (Criterion), the latest from French director Claire Denis, stars the great Isabelle Huppert in a gorgeously photographed but dramatically and thematically muddled drama about the last vestiges of European colonialism during a violent civil war in an unnamed African country (best extra: interviews with Denis, Huppert and actor Isaach de Bankole).

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