Ariadne auf Naxos
Richard Strauss’s classic opera—based on Hugo Hofmannsthal’s hilarious libretto, in which a tragedy and comedy are performed simultaneously for a clueless wealthy patron—gets an entertaining 2012 Dresden staging by director Philippe Arlaud. The cast is unbeatable—superstar Renee Fleming plays Ariadne, Sophie Koch is the Composer and Jane Archibald sings the flighty Zerbinetta—and Christian Thielemann sensitively conducts. The Blu-ray image is solid, and the surround sound is perfect.
La Cenerentola (Deutsche Grammophon)
These Metropolitan Opera productions—from Met Live in HD worldwide movie theater broadcasts—showcase two accomplished and exciting sopranos. Gaetano Donizetti’s tragic Lucia is a welcome return for Russian Anna Netrebko, whose onstage magnetism is obvious in the famous “mad scene.” Likewise, Latvian soprano Elina Garanca—who perfectly embodies Cinderella in Giacomo Rossini’s Cenerentola—has grace and charm to spare, along with a voice suited to the rom-com role’s demands. On Blu-ray, the operas look and sound first-rate.
A thin line separates exploration and exploitation, and Jim Vanbebber’s film about the murder spree of Charles Manson and his “family,” repeatedly crosses it. The 2003 movie’s plentiful sex and violence is painfully labored over, and the result is a missed chance to honestly present insanity. Amateurish acting and Vanbebber’s banal script, dialogue and directing don’t help. Shot in academy ratio, it all looks like a sloppy home movie—that may be the intention, but it’s not an excuse. Extras include Vanbebber’s commentary, making-of documentary, deleted scenes and an archival Manson interview.
Frantisek Vlacil’s 1967 epic legend—from celebrated Czech author Vladislav Vancura’s novel—is the holy grail of Czech films, a fantastic medieval tale of an innocent young woman whose kidnapping is underscored by heavy pagan and Christian symbolism. The B&W imagery is extraordinary, Criterion’s hi-def transfer is sparkling, and the extras are awesome; interviews, analyses and featurettes that put this fascinating but difficult film into its proper context.
Glee actor Chris Coffer wrote and stars in this sitcomish comedy about Carson, a high school senior/outsider with a crazy mom, estranged dad and no friends except for outcast Malerie (Rebel Wilson), with whom he teams against the school’s jerks. It’s unassuming but hopelessly bland, with offhand jokes and one-liners that are the province of every smart-aleck movie and TV character today. The hi-def image is good; extras include an interview with Coffer and director Brian Dannelly, deleted scenes and bloopers.
Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 drama—one of his most personal works and a touchstone of art-house cinema—is a searing look at old age and memory starring the great actor-director Victor Sjostrom as the 78-year-old looking back on his life while attending a ceremony to honor his achievements. Gunnar Fischer’s extraordinary B&W photography provides Bergman an exquisite visual palette to closely study his protagonist, with an opening dream sequence among the most remarkable ever filmed. Criterion’s Blu-ray image is superlative, of course; extras include a Bergman intro, Peter Cowie commentary and 90-minute documentary, Ingmar Bergman on Life and Work.
Maja Milos’ study of Serbian teens doesn’t flinch while showing how sexualized everybody is: Jasna, played with fearlessness and intelligence by Isidora Simojonivic, ravenously has sex with her new boyfriend, always filming it on a cell phone. Whether realistic or exaggerated, it makes 13—if you remember that—look like a Nancy Drew episode: hardcore inserts (adults, not teens, perform actual onscreen sex) notwithstanding, this is an unromantic look at how adolescents’ roads to adulthood are guided by new technology. A Milos interview is the lone extra.
What could have been a mere epilogue to The September Issue—which brought the arrogant brilliance of editor Anna Wintour to the big screen—instead interestingly recaps Vogue’s storied history. Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s documentary also includes comments from such fashion luminaries as Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker and Marc Jacobs. Extras include featurettes and interviews.
and Room 514
Ra’anan Alexandrowicz and Liran Atzmor’s fascinating Law details how Israeli security forces apply more restrictive laws to the occupied territories—and their many Palestinian inhabitants—through interviewing many of those who were judges and military prosecutors. Similarly, Room 514, a fictional feature by director Sharon Bar-Ziv, shows how difficult it is for a female interrogator in the Israeli armed forces to do her job when her male compatriots treat her so condescendingly. The Promised Land, a short film, is an extra on 514.
Doug Blush and Lisa Klein’s sympathetic documentary about how those with bi-polar disorder are considered psychotic or worse shows how it affects victims and their families—often irreversibly, like Klein’s sister killing herself. The movie helps remove bi-polar’s stigma and might transform how these people are dealt with when trying to get treatment and by others. Extras are The Mad Parade short and additional interviews.
Korean director Im Sang-soo’s stale black comedy about corrupt capitalists features a rich family caught up in shady financial and sexual dealings whose latest assistant is soon brought into the intimate goings on in more ways than one. The cast gleefully throws itself into the story, but Sang-Soo doesn’t have anything penetrating to say about the one percent’s behavior. The lone extra is a making-of featurette.
Jan Troell’s first American movie, this 1974 drama about a mail-order Swedish bride and an American settler in 19th century Minnesota, is as visually ravishing as his Swedish films, and if the script is a bit thin, Troell’s natural style remains splendiferous. Gene Hackman and Liv Ullmann make a fine couple, and Troell’s magnificent photography is always a cinematic glory, so it’s too bad that this is being released only on a burned DVD, and not on a hi-def Blu-ray release. All of Troell’s masterworks, which include The Emigrants and The New Land, deserve better and richer treatment.
I know Cyndi Lauper just won the Tony Award for Best Score for the new musical based on the comic British film about a struggling shoemaker who creates the title boots, but to my ears—when divorced from Harvey Fierstein’s witty book and Jerry Mitchell’s clever direction/choreography—Lauper’s songs are pretty routine, certainly not up to her mid-‘80s hits from She’s So Unusual and True Colors. These are cheerfully up-tempo tunes or ballads, but despite being sung by the show’s top-notch cast (Stark Sands, Billy Porter, Annaleigh Ashford), they never rise to the level of a truly memorable musical.