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Blu-rays of the Week
A Star Is Born
Despite its acclaim, box office haul and awards, this is definitely the least of the four versions I’ve seen of the standard she-becomes-famous-while-he-goes-downhill showbiz tale—even the much-maligned 1976 Streisand-Kristofferson remake is better than this dreck. When she’s not in front of a microphone, Lady Gaga comes off as sullen and self-absorbed: her tendency to stare blankly is no help either.
Bradley Cooper’s competent if undistinguished direction betrays an unimaginative vanity project, and Cooper’s leaden acting is practically fatal: I never believed one moment of the two stars’ relationship, nor Cooper’s with Sam Elliott, who plays the half-brother/manager (not father, which would make more sense) in his usual laconic way. The Oscar-winning song “Shallow” should have been the movie’s title. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras include music videos, bonus musical performances and a making-of featurette.
When a man whose wife and daughter perished in a house fire begins a relationship with a woman whose own daughter has had a near-fatal accident, her daughter becomes possessed by the spirit of his dead wife to avenge her own untimely death. (At least I think that’s what happens.)
Writer-director Maria Pulera’s insane mélange of supernatural and sexual scores points for audacity, if nothing else. Nicolas Cage’s focused craziness works well here, and German actress Franka Potente as the woman and Aussie Penelope Mitchell as her daughter are far better than the material warrants. There’s a superb hi-def transfer.
George Benjamin—Lessons in Love and Violence
The opera Written on Skin made George Benjamin’s name: his spiky music and intense dramatics, coupled with committed collaborators and interpreters, were a satisfying combination.
His latest, a static drama based on Christopher Marlowe’s play Edward II, shows Benjamin merely marking musical time, but it does bring out the best of director Katie Mitchell and singers Barbara Hannigan and Stephane Dagout, who elevate the opera whenever it sags. The hi-def image and audio are first-rate; lone extras are short interviews with Benjamin, Crimp and Mitchell.
Nino Rota—La notte di un Nevrastenico/I due timidi
Nino Rota—best known for the memorable scores he wrote for many Fellini films, from the sublime The White Sheik to the didactic Orchestra Rehearsal—was also a master of chamber music, symphonies and even operas, two of which are enacted in Cesare Scarton’s beguiling 2017 staging from Italy’s Reate Festival.
The one-acters, La notte di un Nevrastenico and I due timidi, have silly characters and storylines, but the music is wonderfully alive, the performers sing and act beautifully and the orchestra (under Gabriele Bonolis) sounds perfect.
Year of the Dragon
When Michael Cimino made this 1985 detective drama, it was his first feature since 1980’s Heaven’s Gate bankrupted United Artists: although far from successful, Dragon is an entertaining yarn with some breathtaking sequences and Mickey Rourke at his cynical best as a police captain tracking a Chinatown crime syndicate.
Major debits are a convoluted plot (courtesy writers Oliver Stone and Cimino) and a non-actress named Ariane as Rourke’s love interest. Still, it holds our interest for 135 minutes and is Cimino’s last watchable film of the four he made before his death in 2016. The hi-def transfer is excellent; lone extra is Cimino’s informative commentary.
CD of the Week
George Antheil—Symphonies No. 3 and 6, Orchestral Works
American composer George Antheil (1900-59) spent his formative composing years in Europe, soaking up the avant-garde sounds and making them his own through his often brutal-sounding, march-like rhythmic music.
But, as this terrific recording of five of his orchestral works performed with aplomb by the BBC Philharmonic under conductor John Storgards can attest, he could also compose sturdy, melodic works, notably his sixth symphony, “After Delacroix,” wafts by at times to allow the listener to savor Antheil’s impressive aural equivalents to the French artist’s astonishing canvases.
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