Blu-rays of the Week
This big-budget Russian armageddon flick by Fyodor Bondarchuk—son of renowned director Sergei Bondarchuk (who made the classic 7-hour War and Peace in 1966—is a supremely silly adventure, but it has a pretty good subject (are the arriving aliens malevolent or benevolent?) and a terrific young actress, Irina Starshenbaum, as a credible everywoman who falls in love with one of them.
Lots of CGI effects battle for supremacy with less interesting sequences involving blocs of survivors and their competing allegiances, but Bondarchuk keeps things moving briskly for 135 minutes. The hi-def image is spectacular; extras are several featurettes.
Boston Red Sox—2018 World Series Collector’s Edition
After the Boston Red Sox won 108 games in the regular season, then ran like a buzz saw through the Yankees and Astros—the latter looking to repeat as champs—in the AL playoffs, lots of skeptics thought they’d be beaten by the Dodgers in the World Series. But aside from that instant-classic 18-inning game which the Dodgers pulled out, the Sox had no problem winning it all for the fourth time since 2004.
This comprehensive eight-disc set contains all five WS games, the Division Series-winning game vs. New York and the ALCS-winning game against Houston. Hi-def video looks superb, and audio includes options for TV announcers, home and away radio and Spanish-language. The one-disc Blu-ray includes the official 2018 World Series film, and extras comprising regular and post-season highlights and footage from the Boston victory parade.
Nelly Arcan was an elegant Quebec escort who wrote four revealing books, including one published after she committed suicide in 2009.
In Anne Émond’s film that dramatizes with some grittiness and eroticism Nelly’s perpetually high-flying life in and out of many beds, Mylene MacKay gives a phenomenally authentic and ultimately touching performance of a self-destructive woman whose demise is unsurprising but harrowing nonetheless. The film has a top-notch hi-def transfer.
In this latest addition to The Conjuring franchise, an evil spirit scares the bejesus out of a novitiate and a priest who are investigating the surprising suicide of another young nun in a rural church in Romania. The laziness involved—standard-issue bumps in the night and feeble, well-worn scare tactics—is too bad considering there’s a decent cast (Demian Bichir, Taissa Farmiga) and a wonderfully photogenic setting for the conceit to work.
But director Corin Hardy just shrugs and does the minimum amount possible. There’s a fine hi-def transfer; extras include deleted scenes, featurettes and interviews.
Westworld—Complete 2nd Season
(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.)
Skillfully directed and acted, what Westworld lacks is a reason for going on and on as long as it does. What began as a diverting 1973 sci-fi flick (and an equally entertaining 1976 sequel) has been transmogrified into a convoluted and ultimately confused attempt at Significance.
While it’s always great seeing the likes of Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood in the prime of their careers—with a bonus nod to Sela Ward, who steals episode 9—the combination of self-satisfied writing, a portentous and overdone musical score and the feeling that the creators don’t really know where they’re heading combine for a self-defeating, enervating experience. The series looks tremendous in hi-def; extras are featurettes and interviews.
CDs of the Week
Leonard Bernstein—Fancy Free, Anniversaries for Orchestra; CBS Music, A Bernstein Birthday Bouquet
These two new discs were released on the tail end of the centenary of Bernstein’s birth, as the musical polymath has been feted around the world. Both CDs are conducted by Marin Alsop, a protégée of the conductor-composer-teacher-writer-raconteur, and feature world premiere recordings of some of his more obscure works. The first disc, along with the frothy overtures to Candide and Wonderful Town, includes the brilliant ballet Fancy Free and the first recording of the orchestrated versions of his pungent piano pieces, Anniversaries.
The second disc, alongside bits from West Side Story and On the Town, features a suite from his failed Broadway musical about the presidency, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the rarely-heard CBS Music and the delightful Bernstein Birthday Bouquet, where eight composers wrote tongue-in-cheek tributes for Lenny’s 70th birthday in 1988.