Wednesday, October 19, 2016

October '16 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 
Beowulf
(ITV)
This ten-part, eight-hour mini-series “reboots” the Old English classic for the binge-watch generation, with impressive production values comprising first-rate costumes, sets and photography, and even a compelling storyline. This epic has much to recommend it, not least of which is a cast—especially Kieran Bew in the title role and Joanne Whalley as his dead father’s scheming wife—that is persuasive throughout. The series looks fantastic on Blu.

Café Society
(Lionsgate)
Woody Allen’s typically jaundiced show biz romance is smartly set in the ‘30s, so there are not only some good (and not-so-good) jokes about Hollywood, but there’s also Vittorio Storaro’s absolutely gorgeous photography—maybe the most striking in any Allen film since Manhattan. Jesse Eisenberg is too on the nose with his Woody impersonation, but Kristen Stewart is a sympathetic love interest and Blake Lively is as glamorous as any old-time movie star. The film looks splendid on Blu; lone extra is a red-carpet featurette.

Extreme—Metal Meltdown Live! 
(Loud & Proud)
A quarter-century after its breakout hit, Boston quartet Extreme goes to the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas to play its breakthrough album, 1990’s Pornograffiti in its entirety, from the opening power-chords of “Decadence Dance” to the foot-stomper “Hole Hearted.” Gary Cherone still has the voice for these tunes and guitarist Nuno Betencourt still shreds with the best of them. Highlights are blistering versions of “Get the Funk Out” and “Suzie (Wants Her All-Day What?)” and an audience singalong of the band’s only number-one hit, “More Than Words.” Hi-def video and surround-sound audio are excellent; lone extra is documentary Rockshow.

Our Kind of Traitor
(Lionsgate)
Based on one of John le Carré’s tautest espionage thrillers, this adaptation isn’t exactly turgid, but it spends so much time setting everything up that it keeps sidetracking itself from its main plot—a British tourist couple, befriended by a European gangster, become unlikely spies. Director Susanna White’s dark visual palette and Hossein Amini’s tight script distill le Carré’s essence well enough, while Ewan MacGregor, Stellan Skarsgard and Naomie Harris effectively play the lead roles. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras are deleted scenes and three making-of featurettes.

The Rape of Lucretia
(Opus Arte)
Benjamin Britten’s oratorio-like opera—which premiered in 1946—is given an incisive staging by actress-turned-director Fiona Shaw in 2015 at England’s Glyndebourne Festival. The dramatically static work isn’t obscured by Shaw’s modern-dress production, which has an exceptional cast led by sumptuous soprano Kate Royal as Female Chorus Christine Rice’s shattering Lucretia. Britten’s exemplary score sounds vibrant in the hands of conductor Leo Hussain and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Hi-def video and audio are perfectly realized; extras comprise a Shaw interview and opera featurette.

Semyon Kotko
(Mariinsky)
One of Sergei Prokofiev’s later operas, this war drama hasn’t aged as well as his masterpieces, mostly since it was tailor-made for Soviet authorities’ approval; its unabashed hagiography of a Russian hero has a stolid libretto but contains some of Prokofiev’s most propulsive music. Of course, when conductor Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky Opera forces take over—as shown in this immensely effective 2014 St. Petersburg staging—even lesser Prokofiev operas shine through as terrific musical-theater experiences. Hi-def audio and video are solid.

Swiss Army Man 
(Lionsgate)
This flaccid black comedy has a clever enough premise—a stranded man on an island befriends a corpse that washes ashore, leading to ever more surreal and ridiculous adventures—but foregoes characterization, coherence or insight. Paul Dano overacts mercilessly, Daniel Radcliffe underwhelmingly underacts, and whenever co-directors/writers Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan get stuck, they turn, in desperation, to flatulence. The film has a top-flight hi-def transfer; extras include deleted scenes, featurettes and interviews.

Wozzeck
I Capuleti e I Montecchi
(Accentus Music)
Alban Berg’s masterly 12-tone Wozzeck remains a touchstone of 20th century opera, and Andreas Homoki’s 2015 Zurich staging—despite some cartoonishness—brings out the tension in this relentlessly downbeat tale of madness and murder: Christian Gerhaher’s Wozzeck and Gun-Brit Barkmin’s Marie (who puts him over the edge) are dramatically and musically superlative. In Capuleti, Vincenzo Bellini’s riff on Romeo and Juliet, the women singing the star-crossed lovers have juicy roles; in this 2015 Zurich production, Joyce DiDonato (Romeo) and Olga Kulchynska (Giulietta) sing with beauty and power. These releases have terrific hi-def transfers.

DVDs of the Week 
Argentina
(First Run)
Carlos Saura’s exploration of music and dance indigenous to the South American country is another memorable example of Saura’s films that record sound and movement in all their glory, following 2010’s Flamenco Flamenco (Saura’s latest, J: Beyond Flamenco, recently premiered). Performance high points are far too numerous to mention, moving as they do from traditional forms to modern and back again; it’s all been stunningly shot by cinematographer Felix Monti, so much so that it’s too bad that Argentina hasn’t gotten a Blu-ray release.

Broken Vows
(Lionsgate)
In this reverse Fatal Attraction, a gorgeous engaged woman sleeps with a hot bartender while in New Orleans for her bachelorette party: soon he is disrupting her life until the final, explosive—but very anticlimactic—finale. Jaimie Alexander gives a forceful performance in this cliché-ridden drama as the woman whose one horny mistake makes her almost pay with her (and her fiancé’s) life; too bad Wes Bentley seems unhinged from the outset, and every twist and turn in James Agnew and Sean Keller’s script are lessened by Bram Coppens’s routine direction.

Hot Type 
(First Run)
Director Barbara Kopple celebrates the 150th anniversary of the indispensable magazine The Nation by showing how the current editorial and writing group—led by their indefatigable editor Katrina vanden Heuvel—deals with the twilight of good journalism. Talking heads from Rachel Maddow to Bill Moyers discuss the vital importance of a magazine that began in the post-Civil War era by Republicans and then became a must-read for liberals beginning in the New Deal era of FDR. Extras are three deleted scenes. 

CD of the Week
Nicola Benedetti—Shostakovich and Glazunov Violin Concertos
(Decca)
Any talented musician can play the first Shostakovich violin concerto, but it takes a musician of genius—like Nicola Benedetti—to bring out this masterpiece’s great qualities of yearning, sizzling virtuosity and incredibly taut dramatics. Benedetti does the same for Alexander Glazunov’s concerto, a lighter affair than the Shostakovich, most concertos are—but still a delightful 20-minute workout for any virtuoso. Capably led by conductor Kirill Karabits, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra provides the perfect accompaniment to Benedetti’s stunning playing.

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