Monday, August 29, 2016

August '16 Digital Week V

Blu-rays of the Week 
Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail
(Opus Arte)
Two recent productions from Glyndebourne—England’s premier summer opera festival—are 200-year-old works that are used to comment on today’s fraught political climate. In Mozart’s Serail, set in a Turkish harem, director David McVicar presents a positive Muslim role model (Franck Saurel gives a gutsy non-singing portrayal), and there are wonderful vocal performances by Sally Matthews and Tobias Kehrer. Director Mariame Clement places Gaetano Donizetti’s Poliuto in a war-fractured state reminiscent of the 1990s Balkans, which is fine; but it’s the musical side, led by singers Michael Fabiano and Ana Maria Martinez, which makes it work. Both discs have first-rate hi-def video and audio; extras are featurettes and interviews.

Based on a novel by J. G. Ballard—best known for his books Empire of the Sun and CrashHigh-Rise reeks of literal and figurative crumminess as it chronicles a dystopian world in microcosm: an apartment building whose failing infrastructure mirrors the class warfare that breaks out. Despite the presence of Tom Hiddleston and Sienna Miller, director Ben Wheatley cripples his already obvious metaphor for a crumbling civilization with copious amounts of blood, sex, and a crudity that undermines the material, despite its high gloss. The hi-def transfer is immaculate; extras are a commentary and several featurettes.

Kiss Rocks Vegas 
(Eagle Rock)
For its 2014 Las Vegas residency, the current incarnation of Kiss—sans original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, which automatically drops the group several rungs on the rock’n’roll ladder—plows through a 90-minute set of mostly old material, trying to prop up saggy new songs that are outshined by classics “Black Diamond” and “Love Gun.” Guitarist Tommy Thayer, accomplished as he is, certainly is no Ace. The hi-def visuals and audio are excellent, but there are far too many shots of adoring audience members. Extras comprise a 30-minute acoustic set, sans makeup—including gritty takes on “Christine Sixteen” and “Hard Luck Woman”—and an audio CD of the main live set.

Me Before You
(Warner Bros)
From Jojo Moyes’ novel, this soapy tale follows a paraplegic young man who wants to end his life despite the earnest and eventually loving attempts by his perky caretaker to show him it’s worth living even in his wheelchair-bound state. Despite Herculean efforts by Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin as the pair (they are so well-matched that, with their chemistry, they deserve a real romantic comedy of their own), the movie comes off as a sentimental tragedy that makes its well-worn and single-minded way toward a foregone conclusion. The Blu-ray transfer is excellent; extras comprise deleted and extended scenes, outtakes and a making-of featurette.

(C Major)
Hamburg Ballet auteur John Neumeier’s full-length Tatiana—the eponymous heroine comes from Alexander Pushkin’s prose-poem Eugene Onegin—is an absorbing three-acter that’s shown in its 2014 premiere with ballerina extraordinaire Helene Bouchet’s mesmerizing lead performance and composer Lera Auerbach’s appropriately dramatic and romantic music. I’m no particular fan of Handel (or baroque opera in general), but this 2009 Gottingen, Germany, performance of Admeto is a novel and engrossing three hours thanks to the stately music and director Doris Dorrie’s delightful Japan-set production, whose samurai aspects work handily. The hi-def discs have good video and audio; extras are interviews and featurettes.

DVDs of the Week
Boris Godunov
Modest Mussorgsky’s classic opus about the infamous 17th century Russian tsar, one of a handful of historical operas that works both dramatically and musically, is given a strong 2014 production in Sofia, Bulgaria, by director/designer Plamen Kartaloff, whose conceit is to stage it in front of Sofia’s great Russian cathedral: it’s not historically accurate but it provides atmosphere and dramatic coherence. Bulgarian bass Martin Tsonev is a most forceful and tragic Boris, while conductor Konstantin Chudovski leads an intelligent, even inspired reading of Mussorgsky’s splendid and colorful score.

Deep Purple—Live at the NEC 
(Eagle Rock)
In 2008, hard-rock legends Deep Purple got together for a concert to pay tribute to its original keyboardist Jon Lord—who appears more than halfway through with the ominous chords of “Perfect Strangers”—and this hard-charging performance showcases a band at the top of its game with or without Lord, who died in 2012. (Don Airey also plays keys during the show.) Steve Morse is a blistering guitarist and Ian Gillan still shreds on vocals, and the whole band blasts through the climactic “Smoke on the Water,” “Hush” and “Highway Star” like it’s the early ‘70s all over again. Extras comprise interviews.

NCIS: Los Angeles—Complete 7th Season
Criminal Minds—Complete 11th Season
Elementary—Complete 4th Season
Crime-solving procedurals have become big business again on network television, especially on CBS, where one of its signature series has been NCIS and all its permutations: the seventh NCIS—Los Angeles season provides welcome diversion thanks to a top cast including LL Cool J, Chris O’Donnell and Daniela Ruah. Criminal Minds completed its 11th entertaining season with stars Joe Mantegna, Aisha Tyler and Thomas Gibson—the latter of whom has, if you haven’t heard, been let go due to an on-set altercation. Then there’s the almost too cleverly updated Elementary, whose fourth season succeeds through the chemistry between Lucy Liu’s Watson and Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes. Extras include featurettes, deleted/extended scenes, and a gag reel (on Elementary) and commentaries (on Minds).

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