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October '21 Digital Week II

Boxed Sets of the Week 
 
The Ultimate Richard Pryor Collection—Uncensored 
(Time-Life)
When Richard Pryor died in 2005 at age 65, the world lost one of the most hilariously intelligent comedians ever, and this near-comprehensive boxed set explores his multifaceted career, reinforcing his originality and genius for his fans and introducing him to those previously unaware.
 
More than 26 hours of material spread out over 13 discs provide many opportunities to watch, enjoy and admire Pryor from his beginnings as a conventional standup on TV variety and talk shows to the explosive and trenchant social-issues comedian and movie star of the ’70s and ’80s. 
 
Along with his many hilarious appearances on Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and Dick Cavett, Pryor’s anarchic 1977 NBC special is included as well as the four episodes of his ill-fated The Richard Pryor Show (which featured such up-and-comers as Robin Williams and Sandra Bernhard). The no-brainer inclusions are Pryor’s four seminal live-concert films: Live and Smokin’ (1971), Live in Concert (1979), Live on the Sunset Strip (1982) and Here and Now (1983); even his lone directorial effort, the honest if choppy Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling (1986) appears.
 
To round things out, there are two documentaries, the warts-and-all Omit the Logic (2013) and more straightforward I Am Richard Pryor (2018). Extras include an interview with Pryor’s widow Jennifer Lee Pryor, deleted scenes, outtakes and a collector’s booklet.
 
 
 
 
 

NCIS: New Orleans—The Complete Series 
(CBS/Paramount)
After seven seasons, the second offshoot of the NCIS franchise took its final bows in the spring, and this massive boxed set comprises 39 DVDs containing all of the series’ 157 episodes since its premiere on September 23, 2014.
 
 
Completists will be able to relive all the conspiracies that special agent in charge Pride (Scott Bakula) and his ever-revolving crew were able to untangle, including, in the seventh and final season, some that were COVID-19 related. The always photogenic Big Easy was the real star as Bakula and the likes of Vanessa Ferlito, CCH Pounder and Bakula’s real-life wife, Chelsea Field, were solving crimes on its streets. 
 
 
 
 
 
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week 
Arrebato 
(Altered Innocence) 
This crazed 1979 thriller by Spanish director Iván Zulueta (1943-2009)—reportedly one of Pedro Almodovar’s favorite films—is the last word in lunatic Cinemania, with its convoluted tale of a frustrated horror-movie director who’s in a heroin-fueled relationship with an irrepressible girlfriend when he hears from a forgotten friend, spurring him on to an even more debauched lifestyle.
 
 
There’s dazzling imagery of drug highs and lows as well as sex and cinema, all compensating for its incoherent storyline; there’s also the irresistible Cecilia Roth—a later star of Almodovar movies—as the hero’s lover.
 
 
 
 
 
Luzzu 
(Kino Lorber) 
First-time director Alex Camilleri’s chronicle of a Maltese fisherman who must decide whether to keep fishing to dwindling results in his leaky family vessel or move on to a better-paying job to help pay for his infant son’s operation is sympathetic and unsentimental, with nary a wasted shot, gesture or line of dialogue.
 
 
Built around a stunning performance by real Maltese fisherman Jesmark Scicluna—as well as Michela Farrugia as his son’s mother—Luzzu hints at a return to the Italian neorealism of nearly eight decades ago, but Camilleri is too smart for such a reductive reading: instead, this is a humane and heartbreaking portrait of the difficulties of choosing between family tradition and pure survival.
 
 
 
 
 
Mass 
(Bleecker Street) 
The always explosive subject of school shootings is explored by writer-director Fran Kranz as two sets of parents meet for an emotional session some time after a deadly incident that has marked their—and many others’—lives forever.
 
 
While some of Mass is too on the nose—starting with the title, which describes both the kind of shooting and the movie’s church locale—Kranz lets his impeccable acting quartet shoulder the load, finding honesty and intimacy amid the recounted pain and horror: Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs and especially Martha Plimpton keep this singleminded study on track throughout.
 
 
 
 
 
4K/UHD Releases of the Week
Space Jam—A New Legacy 
(Warner Bros) 
Planting the world’s greatest NBA player alongside beloved Looney Tunes characters already seemed passé when Michael Jordan was in 1996’s original Space Jam, although at least it had a modicum of originality and charm when Jordan interacted with the cartoon counterparts.
 
 
Today, though, with Lebron James in the lead, it all seems stretched out beyond its meager narrative, even though the computerized effects have it all over Jordan’s version. Don Cheadle has fun as the villain, but Sarah Silverman sleepwalks though her role as a Warner exec. On UHD, of course, it all looks astonishing; on the extra Blu-ray disc, extras include deleted scenes and four making-of featurettes.
 
 
 
 
 
Blu-ray Releases of the Week 
The Flash—Complete 7th Season 
(Warner Bros)
The end of season 6 saw the demise of the Speed Force, and Barry/Flash must fend off numerous adversaries—some time travelers—with his superpowers nearly depleted.
 
 
This engaging superhero adventure has always had just enough tongue-in-cheek humor to get by, alongside a fine cast led by Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Nicolet, Kayla Compton and Jesse L. Martin. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer of the season’s 18 episodes; extras include three featurettes, a gag reel and deleted scenes.
 
 
 
 
 
The Nevers—Season 1, Part 1 
(HBO)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.
This Victorian-era fantasy series from the teeming mind of Joss Whedon features The Touched, which comprises several colorful characters who don’t really have a lot of compelling or interesting things on their plate: instead, we are left with a sumptuous-looking piece of dress-up, and whether that’s enough to keep viewers watching over the long haul remains to be seen.
 
 
Reliable performers like Laura Donnelly, Ann Skelly, Olivia Williams, Rochelle Neil and Eleanor Tomlinson have little to do in a series that follows the effects of a supernatural event that’s given only women extraordinary abilities. The six episodes look terrific on Blu; extras are several making-of featurettes.
 
 
 
 
 
A Night at the Opera 
(Warner Archive)
One of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen—and second only to Duck Soup as the Marx Brothers’ best—this gloriously anarchic 1935 comedy pits Groucho, Harpo and Chico against the usual motley crew of clueless opera impresarios and other authority figures, mostly on a cruise ship, the source of much of the claustrophobic humor.
 
 
The one-liners, physical comedy and general air of mischief are peerlessly balanced by director Sam Wood, and even the romantic subplot and musical interludes are nicely integrated into the madness. The B&W film looks delectable in hi-def; extras comprise a Leonard Maltin commentary, Marx on Marx documentary, Groucho’s 1961 TV appearance and 3 vintage shorts (not starring the brothers).
 
 
 
 
 
Night of the Animated Dead 
(Warner Bros)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.
This nearly shot-for-shot remake/reboot of George Romero’s original horror classic, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, has its moments as a brightly colored animated riff, with a couple of scenes that are more unsettling than in the original.
 
 
But since Romero shot his Night in B&W, that makes the gore—even garishly done in cartoon form—redundant here, lessening the impact of the story’s undeniable tension. Still, it’s effective for what it is, and looks terrific in hi-def; the lone extra is a making-of featurette.
 
 
 
 
 
99.9 
(Cult Epics)
In Spanish director Agustí Villaronga’s understated 1997 horror film, the host of a paranormal radio show travels to where her ex-lover mysteriously died and discovers what he was working on and the cause of death.
 
 
Maria Barranco acquits herself well as the heroine in a performance that doesn’t rely on hysterics; Villaronga’s direction also eschews the usual horror tropes, and that lack of grand guignol helps keep 99.9 from fading from memory when it ends. The film looks decent on Blu-ray; extras are a new Villaronga interview and vintage making-of featurette.
 
 
 
 
 
Straight Time 
(Warner Archive) 
If this 1978 character study of an ex-con trying to stay out of jail seems more lackluster than gritty, it might be that Dustin Hoffman began directing it himself then turned the reins over to Ulu Grosbard, who is unable to make it jell into a compelling portrait of recidivism.
 
 
Hoffman is good, of course, but the supporting cast is excellent: Theresa Russell is his heartbreaking love interest, the superb M. Emmet Walsh is a crooked parole officer, and Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey and Kathy Bates are realistically shady “friends” of Hoffman’s. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; lone extra is a Hoffman/Grosbard commentary—there’s a vintage making-of featurette listed on the back cover but it’s missing from the disc. 
 
 
 
 
 
Thais 
Jedermann 
(Unitel)
As COVID-19 era stagings trickle out on Blu-ray, we are seeing how directors and theaters dealt with pandemic restrictions. Earlier this year in Vienna, Jules Massenet’s grand opera Thais was performed in director Peter Konwitschny’s glitzy but distant production, highlighted by Nicole Chevalier’s moving portrayal of the tragic title heroine.
 
 
And in summer 2020, the Salzburg Festival staged German playwright Hugo von Hoffmannsthal’s cautionary tale, Jedermann (Everyman); Michael Sturminger’s clever staging brought out the subtle qualities of a play that can sometimes drift into abstraction. Both discs have superior hi-def video and audio; the must-watch lone extra on Jedermann is an absorbing 55-minute documentary, The Great World Theatre—Salzburg and Its Festival.
 
 
 
 
 
The Window 
(Warner Archive)
This 1949 thriller is a blatant contraption—Tommy, a young boy prone to exaggeration, isn’t believed when he actually witnesses a murder, and soon finds himself in the killers’ sights—but it works nicely thanks to Ted Tatzlaff’s no-nonsense direction and a tight 73-minute running time.
 
 
The youngster playing Tommy, Bobby Driscoll, has a natural shakiness that helps sell this story of an innocent kid in a dangerous situation. (Driscoll won an honorary Oscar for best juvenile performance.) The gritty B&W imagery translates well to Blu-ray.
 
 
 
 
 
Witching and Bitching 
(IFC Midnight)
Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia specializes in unhinged, undisciplined films, which often blend genres in helter-skelter fashion to mixed results. A prime specimen is this 2013 entry—that it’s just getting released here is a red flag—that starts as a parody of a heist flick, morphs into a parody of a chase movie, then becomes the most insane witchcraft picture ever.
 
 
As always, there’s a fast pace and light tone, with gags and wacky dialogue piling up: but that only underscores the thinness of the conceit and the script. And as always, there’s a game cast—led by Carmen Maura, Terele Pávez and Carolina Bang as three generations of witches, the latter soon to be the director’s wife—that keeps it watchable even at 114 overlong minutes. The film looks impressive in hi-def.
 
 
 
 
 
DVD Release of the Week
Clarice—Complete 1st Season 
(Paramount/CBS)
Thirty years on, a reboot of the Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs—actually, it picks up a year after the events in Jonathan Demme’s classic film—is high on a list of unnecessary TV series, and this dark, dour and brutal drama can be a chore to sit through.
 
 
That’s despite well-done technical and visual values that back the solid performance of Rebecca Breeds as FBI agent Clarice Starling, the role for which Jodie Foster won an Oscar. All 13 episodes are included on 4 discs; extras comprise three featurettes, a gag reel and deleted scenes.
 
 
 
 
 
CD Release of the Week 
Pelléas et Mélisande 
(Alpha Classics)
Claude Debussy’s gossamer masterpiece—one of the very few landmark operas that could be said to have changed the direction of music—receives a truly beautiful reading by the Bordeaux National Opera in France.
 
 
Although this production premiered in 2018, a 2020 revival was out of the question due to the pandemic, so the decision was made to record a performance, and the sensitivity of conductor Pierre Dumoussaud and the Orchestre Nationale Bourdeaux Aquitaine to Debussy’s singular musical style is matched by the singers: Stanislas de Barbeyac’s Pelléas, Chiara Skerath’s Mélisande and Alexandre Duhamel’s Golaud are wonderfully precise both individually and together.

Philadelphia Orchestra Performs Opening Night Gala at Carnegie Hall

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting Yuja Wang. Photo by Chris Lee.

On the evening of Wednesday, October 6th, I had the privilege of attending the fabulous Opening Night Gala performance at Carnegie Hall of the superb Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of the inimitable Yannick Nézet-Séguin, inaugurating a complete cycle of the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven this season.

After a brief introduction by Robert F. Smith—the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Carnegie Hall—and Clive Gillinsonthe Executive and Artistic Director—the program started excitingly with a work recently commissioned by the ensemble, the splendid Seven O’Clock Shout by Valerie Coleman. The composer rose from the audience for the ensuing applause.

The incomparable soloist, Yuja Wang—who looked sensational in a black mini-dress—then appeared for a dazzling account of the mesmeric Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich—one of the finest in the repertory—with a sparkling, frequently propulsive opening movement, played here with exceptional clarity of expression. The lovely Andante was somber but enchanting followed by an exuberant finale. Wang received a floral bouquet before leaving the stage.

The excitement continued with a thrilling rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s magical Overture to Candide.That preceded another recent commission, the brilliantly orchestratedJeder Baum spricht by Iman Habibi—who was also in attendance—which Nézet-Séguin cited in a plea for multiculturalism in the arts.

The concert ended magnificently—and without a break—with an exultant version of Ludwig van Beethoven’s immortal Fifth Symphony, with a an intensely dramatic first movement and achieving sheer majesty in the succeeding Andante. The stirring scherzoled into the glorious concluding movement, eliciting vigorous applause and presaging a promising new season at this illustrious venue.

October '21 Digital Week I

In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week 
Cleanin’ Up the Town—Remembering Ghostbusters 
(Screen Media)
More than 35 years after its release in 1984—when it was a huge box-office hit, surprising even its own studio, which thought it had an overpriced modest success on its hands—Ghostbusters remains one of the few hilarious big-budget Hollywood comedies, and uberfans Anthony and Claire Bueno show their love with this affectionate documentary that takes us through the movie’s making from script to release.
 
 
 
We hear from almost everyone—stars Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts and the late, great Harold Ramis; director Ivan Reitman; songwriter Ray Parker Jr.; producers, special effects wizards, and other technicians—with the glaring exception of Bill Murray, who’s actually not missed, as there are terrific anecdotes, priceless behind-the-scenes and on-set footage, and pretty much everything any fan of the movie would want to know.
 
 
 
 
 
Algren
(First Run Features)
Michael Caplan has made an engaging and intelligent documentary about writer Nelson Algren, whose most famous book, 1949’s The Man with the Golden Arm, was turned into something unrecognizable by director Otto Preminger’s 1955 film adaptation starring Frank Sinatra. (Algren famously sued Preminger, but couldn’t afford the legal fees so the suit didn’t go forward.)
 
 
 
Algren wrote with empathy about the lower-class Polish community he knew and observed in Chicago, where he grew up, and despite moments of fame and celebrity—he had a years-long affair with French intellectual Simone de Beauvoir and won the National Book Award for Golden Arm—he never gained the notoriety he deserved. With well-chosen, pithy interview segments featuring film directors William Friedkin, Andrew Davis, John Sayles and Philip Kaufman, author Russell Banks and even musician Billy Corgan, Caplan burrows into the heart of Algren’s artistry and life, which are inseparable from each other.
 
 
 
 
 
Blu-ray Releases of the Week 
Batwoman—Complete 2nd Season 
(Warner Bros)
After the supposed death of Kate Kane at the end of season one, homeless woman Ryan Wilder finds the batsuit and picks up the vigilante mantle to fight crime in Gotham City in the second season of this entertainingly “woke” entry in the Arrowverse. 
 
 
Batwoman gets by mainly on the charismatic presence of Javicia Leslie, who makes Ryan/Batwoman a compellingly conflicted superhero. The season’s 18 episodes look smashingly good in hi-def; extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel and two featurettes with cast and crew interviews.
 
 
 
 
 
The Damned 
(Criterion Collection)
Italian director Luchino Visconti’s reputation was as inflated as any in film history: case in point is this endless, risibly uninsightful epic about a German family that gets its comeuppance when Hitler takes over. Under the guise of showing how decadence and arrogance heralded the arrival of Nazism, Visconti revels in weirdness and pederasty, which is not the same.
 
 
Quite able actors like Dirk Bogarde, Helmut Berger, Ingrid Thulin and Charlotte Rampling are unable to fashion real characterizations from disparate fragments, unfortunately. Criterion’s hi-def transfer is clean but has a greenish tint; extras include an alternate Italian-language soundtrack (the film is in English and German); archival interviews with Visconti, Berger, Thulin and Rampling; and a 1969 documentary, Visconti on Set.
 
 
 
 
 
In the Good Old Summertime 
(Warner Archive)
The first musical adaptation of Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo’s Parfumerie—which would later beget the classic Broadway musical She Loves Me—pairs Judy Garland and Van Johnson as pen pals who, unknown to each other, also work together in a local music shop.
 
 
Robert Z. Leonard’s 1949 romantic comedy is a frothy delight, with Garland at the height of her charm and no less an eminence as Buster Keaton stealing scenes as their coworker. There’s a superb hi-def transfer, with the Technicolor visuals popping off the screen; extras are an intro by Garland biographer John Fricke and two vintage travel shorts.
 
 
 
 
The Naked Spur
The Santa Fe Trail 
(Warner Archive)
These two westerns are at opposite ends of the spectrum, dramatically and artistically. Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur (1953) is a stark and intense drama about the intriguingly shifting dynamics of the relationship between a bounty hunter (James Stewart) and his prey (Robert Ryan).
 
 
Michael Curtiz’ Santa Fe Trail (1940) throws facts to the wind in its tale of how West Point grads Jeb Stuart and George Custer took on bad guys out west, including fanatical abolitionist John Brown, all while romancing the same woman; stars Errol Flynn (Stuart), Ronald Reagan (Custer), Raymond Massey (Brown) and Olivia de Havilland (woman) do what they can with mainly routine melodramatics. Both films look spectacular on Blu, especially the bright colors of Spur, whose extras are a vintage short and classic Tax Avery cartoon.
 
 
 
 
 
The Original Three Tenors 
(C Major)
The first—and best—Three Tenors concert, shot in 1990 in Rome before an enthusiastic outdoor audience, was the ultimate superstar event in the classical music world: tenors Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras are joined by conductor Zubin Mehta and the opera orchestras of Florence and Rome for a lushly entertaining 90 minutes of solos, duets and trios encompassing operatic hits and even a medley of Broadway and pop tunes.
 
 
It all goes down easily in this remastered version where the hi-def video and audio make it look and sound better than ever. Also included is a new 88-minute documentary, The Three Tenors—From Caracalla to the World, which recaps the seminal show with interviews with the principals—Pavarotti, who died in 2007, is seen in vintage interview segments.
 
 
 
 
 
Shadow of the Thin Man 
(Warner Archive)
This 1941 Thin Man sequel (the third) repeats the witty repartee between its stars, William Powell and Myrna Loy, although this time their chemistry is tied to a more routine murder mystery than in the original.
 
 
No matter: when Powell and Loy are onscreen as Nick and Nora—along with their dog Asta—all is forgiven and Shadow is more enjoyable than it has any right to be. There’s a sparkling new hi-def transfer of this B&W comedy; extras are a vintage live-action short and classic cartoon.
 
 
 
 
 
Tex Avery Screwball Classics, Volume 3 
(Warner Archive)
Tex Avery was primarily responsible for the classic cartoon output during the golden age of animation—the ‘40s and the ‘50s—and this third (and final?) volume once again brings together another 20 of his most wanted treasures, including his none-too-subtle swipe at Hitler, “Blitz Wolf,” and one of his most memorable anthropomorphic creations, the airplane family of “Little Johnny Jet.”
 
 
As usual, some of it is dated and in questionable taste, but much of it amusing and clever. The restored hi-def color images look terrific; the lone extra is Avery’s “Crackpot Quail" with original audio.
 
 
 
 
 
DVD Release of the Week
The Equalizer—Complete 1st Season 
(CBS/Paramount)
In this reboot of the mid-‘80s CBS series starring Edward Woodward as a retired intelligence agent who extracts justice for other victims, Queen Latifah straps on a gun and gets to blasting on behalf of the even more downtrodden.
 
 
As a new slant on an old theme—a couple of movies with Denzel Washington also used the same blueprint—the series is entertaining if unnecessarily and implausibly explosive. But Latifah is a good guide to the show’s action-filled plots. All 10 episodes are on three discs, extras include three featurettes, a gag reel and deleted scenes.
 
 
 
 
 
CD Releases of the Week 
Nostalgia—Magdalena Kožená and Yefim Bronfman
Respighi Songs—Ian Bostridge and Saskia Giorgini 
(Pentatone)
Exploring folk tradition is at the heart of these discs by two veteran vocalists who never rest on their considerable laurels. Nostalgia, sung with effortless beauty by Czech mezzo Magdalena Kožená and estimably accompanied by pianist Yefim Bronfman, comprises songs by Béla Bartók, Modest Mussorgsky and Johannes Brahms—and the folk-influenced richness of Bartók’s Village Scenes and Mussorgsky’s The Nursery
is especially poignant. 
 
 
In a new disc of lovely songs by underrated Italian master Ottorino Respighi, tenor Ian Bostridge and pianist Saskia Giorgini bracingly demonstrate the composer’s broad lyrical scope, in both senses: from Italian literature to Scotland in the words and Debussy-like impressionism to folk idioms in the music.

September '21 Digital Week IV

4K/UHD Release of the Week 
A Clockwork Orange 
(Warner Bros)
Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 classic remains as unsettling and provocative as it was when released 50 years ago. With a spectacular physical performance from Malcolm McDowell as the ultimate anti-hero, Kubrick revs up his sardonic sense of humor and dazzling visual and aural bravura (the soundtrack is one of the most eclectic yet appropriate ever cobbled together, from electronically enhanced Beethoven to McDowell’s seminal take on “Singing in the Rain”) to make the ultimate adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ cautionary novel.
 
 
This anniversary release’s UHD upgrade looks spectacular; extras on the accompanying Blu-ray disc include several retrospective featurettes ported over from the 2011 40th anniversary release, but both the feature-length career overview Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures and the documentary about McDowell have been dropped.
 
 
 
 
 
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
Chernobyl 1986
(Capelight/MPI) 
If it’s possible to make a sentimental melodrama about the horrific happenings at Chernobyl—site of the nuclear disaster that was criminally covered up by the Soviet government—then actor-director Danila Kozlovsky has done so: his film centers on Alexey, a local fireman who bravely enters the smoldering radioactive ruins after rekindling his relationship with Olga, a former lover who is now a single mother whose only son has been radiated by the accident and is seriously ill.
 
 
Admittedly, Kozlovsky (Alexey) and Oksana Akinshina (Olga) provide persuasive chemistry as the couple, and the sequences inside the crippled plant are filmed impressively and tensely. But at 135 minutes, the syrup overwhelms the central tragedy.
 
 
 
 
 
The Most Beautiful Boy in the World 
(Juno Films)
At first, Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri’s documentary about Björn Andrésen—who, at age 15 was cast as the “beautiful boy” in Italian director Luchino Visconti’s 1971 adaptation of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice—seems an intriguing glimpse at someone whose life went far afield from the glamor he experienced as a teenager during a  short window of stardom.
 
 
Then, we discover what’s happened in Andrésen’s life in the ensuing half-century (marriage, divorce, deaths of an infant child and his mother) and the film morphs into a sad exploration of a real-life tragic character that’s far more honest than anything Visconti could have conjured. 
 
 
 
 
 
Savior for Sale 
(Greenwich Entertainment)
The second documentary this summer about the purported Leonardo da Vinci painting Salvator Mundi—which sold for $450 million at auction in 2017—covers much the same ground as The Last Leonardo, but there’s so much to this cautionary tale of the perils of the art world, especially when it comes to authenticating, buying and selling Old Master paintings, that it remains fascinating and informative.
 
 
Director Antoine Vitkine highlights much the same cast of characters—Russian oligarch, Saudi royal, French go-between, British and American experts—to incisively chronicle the moral failings of a business with admittedly few scruples.
 
 
 
 
 
Blu-ray Releases of the Week 
Atys 
(Naxos)
Buffalo-born conductor William Christie and his renowned period-instrument ensemble Les Arts Florissants helped transform baroque opera into a goldmine with their 1989 tour of a sumptuous production of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s 1676 “tragedy with music,” a five-act behemoth highlighted by sensitive playing and wondrous singing.
 
 
More than 20 years later, Christie and his ensemble returned to Paris to revive the opera, with much the same musical and dramatic result. There’s first-rate hi-def video and audio. 
 
 
 
 
 
Dementia 13Director's Cut 
(Lionsgate) 
Anything but auspicious, Francis Coppola’s 1963 feature debut—a shoestring Roger Corman production about an axe-wielding murderer—is fascinating mainly for how Coppola does little right, showing a scarcity of the talent that would flourish in the ’70s. Shot in B&W, the shoestring movie has a few interesting moments, but Patrick Magee’s florid line readings take precedence over the other wooden performers and the 69-minute feature disappears from memory immediately.
 
 
There’s a fine hi-def transfer; extras are Coppola’s commentary and short intro, along with the six-minute prologue originally attached to the film (this “director’s cut” reflects Coppola returning to his original cut that was “fattened” by Corman with added scenes).
 
 
 
 
 
Love & Basketball 
(Criterion Collection)
Sanaa Lathan’s portrayal of Monica, a world-class athlete who has an off-again, on-again relationship with Quincy (Omar Epps), her basketball-playing neighbor since they were kids, is the emotional center of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s 2000 romance that’s become a touchstone for fans of sports movies with a fresh perspective. Although overlong and soap opera-ish at times, there’s a realism and frankness in the performances of Lathan, Epps and Alfre Woodard as Monica’s mother that keeps it all centered.
 
 
Criterion’s hi-def release has an excellent Blu-ray transfer; two commentaries; deleted scenes with commentary; Prince-Bythewood’s early shorts, Stitches (1991) and Progress (1997), with her intro; conversation among Prince-Bythewood, WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes and writer-actor Lena Waithe; and new interviews with Prince-Bythewood, Lathan, Epps and Woodard.
 
 
 
 
 
Mona Lisa 
(Criterion Collection)
This gritty and flavorful 1986 crime drama, writer-director Neil Jordan’s breakthrough, stars Bob Hoskins as the ex-con turned chauffeur of a mob boss (Michael Caine) who gets involved with a glamorous call girl (an incandescent Cathy Tyson). Jordan’s gift for quotable dialogue and razor-sharp characterization is on display, and the great Hoskins—with valuable assists from Caine and Tyson—carries the drama on his prodigious shoulders.
 
 
The film looks superb on Blu-ray; Criterion’s extras comprise Jordan and Hoskins’ commentary; 1986 Cannes Film Festival interviews with Jordan and Hoskins; 2015 interviews with cowriter David Leland and producer Stephen Woolley; and new interviews with Jordan and Tyson. 
 
 
 
 
Prince of the City 
(Warner Archive)
Sidney Lumet’s 1981 epic drama, based on the true story of Robert Leuci—who blew the whistle on corruption among the ranks of the NYPD narcotics squad—is the apotheosis of his New York-based crime dramas, which include Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon.
 
 
At nearly three hours, Prince is crammed with narrative detail and incident, and Lumet and his cast—led by Treat Williams in the lead—tell a sordid tale with artfulness and truth. The film looks splendid in hi-def; the lone extra is a half-hour-long retrospective featurette that includes interviews with Lumet, Williams and cowriter Jay Presson Allen.
 
 
 
 
 
DVD Release of the Week
Akhnaten
(Orange Mountain Media)
One of the Metropolitan Opera’s most visually imposing recent productions is Phelim McDermott’s colorfully inventive staging of Philip Glass’ opera, set in ancient Egypt and filled with the usual repetitive Glass arpeggios.
 
 
Still, thanks to the terrific sets, costumes, lighting and a committed cast led by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, the nearly three-hour spectacle is  astonishing to behold, if not hear. Too bad that such a gorgeous-looking opera has only been released on DVD and not Blu-ray; it’s inexplicable that, although listed on the cover as Met Opera HD Live, it can only be watched in SD. Extras are between-acts interviews with cast and crew. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sibyl
(Music Box Films) 
For the first hour, director Justine Triet is in complete control of her often hilarious study of atherapist who gradually finds herself drawn into the world of moviemaking after neurotic actress Margot demands she become her therapist for her on-set difficulties with costar/on-set lover Igor and their director (Igor’s off-camera lover).
 
 
The cast, featuring Virginie Efira as Sibyl, Gaspard Ulliel as Igor and Sandra Hüller as the director—who overdoes it, ruining some would-be funny sequences—is led by the exquisite Adèle Exarchopoulos as Margot, who breathes such luminous life into a mere caricature that she dominates the movie. But even she can’t save it after taking a bizarre turn into increasingly implausible territory that any therapist worth her salt wouldn’t be dragged into. Extras include interviews with Triet, Exarchopoulos, and Efira.
 
 
 
 
 
CD Release of the Week
Eric Tanguy—Concertos 
(Ondine)
Although he’s been among the most performed living composers for the past several years, Frenchman Eric Tanguy (b. 1968) still seems under the radar as far as name recognition—but this delightful disc of three of his characteristic orchestral works looks to get his music to a wider audience.
 
writes tuneful, accessible music with enough spikiness to prevent it from becoming schmaltzy: his concertos provide vivid platforms for virtuoso soloists, and clarinetist Pierre Genisson and violinist Julia Pusker take full advantage in their respective performances. Pusker, in Tanguy’s Violin Concerto No. 2, is a force of nature in the appropriately titled opening movement, “Intense et tres lyrique.”  In the concertos and propulsive Matka, Ville Matvejeff leads the excellent Jyvaskyla Sinfonia.

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