Ballers—Complete 2nd Season
This comedy series about a former NFL player turned financial manager hit its stride in its second season, helped not only by more plausible (and funny) storylines but also the strides Dwayne Johnson has made in his acting, especially his comic chops. There are also plentiful inside jokes about the pro football world and the always hilarious presence of the amazing Rob Corddry as Johnson’s desperate-to-be-hip partner. The ten episodes look fine on Blu; extras are featurettes on each episode.
Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène made his first feature in 1966, an immensely sympathetic portrait of a young Senegalese woman working for a heartless couple in France. At a scant 59 minutes, Black Girl is a model of compression and illumination; Criterion’s gleaming hi-def transfer is complemented by several contextualizing extras, including a full-length 1994 documentary Sembène: The Making of African Cinema; Sembène’s 1963 debut short, Borom Sarret; scholar/actor interviews; a French TV segment about Sembène’s Cannes Festival win; and a deleted color sequence.
He made his international name with the chilling 1999 vision of horror called Audition, but prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike (90-plus films—and counting, at age 56) made earlier works displaying his wide-ranging talent, as this set comprising three of those features—Shinjuku Triad Society (1995), Rainy Dog (1997) and Ley Lines (1999)—demonstrates. The films are creepy and absorbing, with Miike’s stylish visuals leading the way. Arrow’s hi-def transfers are impressive; extras include new interviews with Miike and actor Show Aikawa and audio commentaries on all three films.
In Ken Russell’s deliriously silly 1988 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel about an immortal priestess looking for a sacrifice for a snake god (!), Amanda Donahoe gives a giddily campy but erotic portrayal of a woman irresistible to everyone—to their ultimate (and usually fatal) detriment. In her wake, solid actors like Hugh Grant and Peter Capaldi end up as mere extras, while Russell’s visual bluster ends up looking diffuse, even if he rouses himself for a bravura—and willfully nonsensical—ending. The film has nicely filmic grain on Blu-ray; extras include a Russell commentary, his wife Lisi’s commentary, interviews with actress Sammi Davis and editor Peter Davies, and a featurette.
Is ten-year-old Michael really eating human remains which his mom and dad prepare for dinner, or is his hyperactive imagination simply in overdrive? This intriguing satirical concept became a heavy-handed 1989 black comedy by director Bob Balaban, who never balances the horror and humor. The result is rather pointless and witless, which is too bad, for Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt (parents) and young Bryan Madorsky (Michael) are certainly game. The hi-def transfer is satisfying; extras include interviews with Hurt and cinematographer Robin Vidgeon, Balaban commentary and audio interview with composer Jonathan Elias.
(Disney Signature Collection)
One of Disney’s most beloved animated features—and its second, following Snow White and the Seven Dwarves—is this 1940 adaptation of an Italian children’s book about a wooden puppet who comes to life, his master Geppetto and his “conscience” Jiminy Cricket: its appearance on Blu-ray (in a good, not spectacular, hi-def transfer) should be a cause for celebration by audiences of all ages. The movie remains an all-time classic, and Disney has not only ported over extras from earlier DVD editions but has also included brand-new bonus material, including featurettes.
The Battle of Chosin
In what may be the most engrossing episode yet in the celebrated American Experience series, one of the earliest major battles of the often-forgotten Korean War is explored in often harrowing detail. Newsreels and archival footage, along with interviews with some of the battle’s participants, provide a gripping take on a pivotal time in America’s post-WWII battle against Communist aggression.
One of the most original characters to emerge from the rock’n’roll scene, Danny Fields—journalist, publicist, record executive—is the focus of Brendan Toller’s funny and irreverent documentary, which explores Fields’s proximity to seminal events in rock history, from John Lennon’s incendiary “Jesus Christ” quote to the discovery of the Ramones. Fields himself is an often hilarious, always politically incorrect interview subject—even if he outlandishly claims the Beatles weren’t any good—and the archival footage of the Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop and the Stooges and Patti Smith is priceless. Extras include a Fields post-screening Q&A, additional footage and Toller interview.
Renée Fleming—Distant Light
(Decca)Still opera’s reigning soprano, Renée Fleming has always stretched her artistic and vocal wings through excursions into jazz, big-band, rock and pop, which she continues to do on this CD by combining a classic Samuel Barber work with music by contemporary Swedish composer Anders Hillborg and Icelandic diva Bjork. The results are decidedly mixed: Fleming’s lustrous voice illuminates the gorgeous textures and yearning for the past of Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, and conductor Sakari Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra come to the forefront with the brittle sounds of Hillborg’s haunting The Strand Settings. However, neither Fleming’s impassioned vocals nor solid orchestral playing can rescue the three stillborn Bjork song arrangements.