Blu-rays of the Week
Joe Versus the Volcano
In 1990, this must have seemed like a sure-fire hit: Oscar-winning screenwriter John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck) makes his directing debut with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a romantic comedy. But the result is a movie that wrong-foots it every step of the way. There’s a thin line that separates charming from cloying and Shanley and his leads rarely find themselves on the right side of it, leading to many wincingly awful situations that are not nearly as romantic, dramatic or comedic as they think. Shanley would later become a major playwright (Four Dogs and a Bone, Doubt, Outside Mullingar), so this bit of treacle can be considered a mere bump in his road. There’s an outstanding hi-def transfer; extras are a brief featurette and music video.
One of the most beguiling of all ballet scores is Sergei Prokofiev’s timeless take on the classic fairy tale, and with such a sturdy piece of music to work with, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has created an absorbing and entertaining two hours of dance in his 2012 staging for the Dutch National Ballet. The dancing and movement are sublime, the sets, costumes and visuals (by Julian Crouch and Basil Twist) are charming and Prokofiev’s unbeatable music leads the way. Hi-def video and audio are impeccably rendered; extras comprise Wheeldon’s commentary and interviews with Wheeldon and dancers.
The Golden Cockerel(Mariinsky)
This colorful production of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fantastical final opera about an aging Tsar who receives the title bird to warn him of any dangers is a smashing musical and dramatic success, thanks to Anna Matison’s excellent direction, which features clever use of CGI. Conductor Valery Gergiev leads the orchestra in a lush musical performance of one of the composer’s most attractive scores, while the singers—led by young Russian soprano Kira Loginova in the title role—provide first-rate vocals. The Blu-ray audio and video are in spectacular hi-def.
Writer-director Amat Escalante’s relentlessly downbeat drama throttles viewers with its depiction of the lawlessness running rampant in a Mexico overrun by drug wars, corrupt police and beaten-down ordinary people, including the young man who tries to help his 12-year-old sister, only to trigger horrible events that include abduction, torture, rape and murder. It’s serious stuff, and exceedingly well-made, but there are diminishing returns to a film that displays grotesque acts of violence, inuring viewers from caring about what happens to its onscreen characters. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; lone extra is a half-hour on-set featurette.
DVDs of the WeekAll Governments Lie
Fred Peabody’s incisive chronicle of our broken politics features the usual talking heads—Noam Chomsky, Carl Bernstein, Matt Taibbi—but it’s more than mere preaching to the choir: its subtitle, Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone, alludes to the legacy of one of the great progressive journalists, whom we desperately need more of today. Hearing journalists like Jeremy Scahill take on Stone’s mantle of fighting the good fight against a deceptive government—whether Bush, Obama or Trump—shows that there is hope that we the people can overcome what our leaders have become. Extras are extended interviews.
Unlocking the Cage
(First Run)For their latest documentary, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus tackle a subject not on currently on anyone’s radar, but which may soon generate huge controversies: are animals (especially primates) sentient, which makes them eligible for personhood, like corporations? The filmmakers follow attorney Steven Wise, who works with animal-rights groups to find cases (apes being held in captivity) to bring before the court and try to get favorable rulings. It’s an eye-opening glimpse at what the future of legal rights for individuals (humans and non-humans) may hold, however problematic or nonsensical it might seem to some right now. The lone extra is a music video.