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Blu-rays of the Week
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
This sequel to J.K. Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter story (and maiden attempt at a screenplay) once again tracks a wizard, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a none-too-subtle version of an adult Harry Potter, and his attempts to return dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) to captivity after he escapes.
Alongside Redmayne and Depp, the cast—including Katharine Waterston, Jude Law, Zoë Kravitz and Carmen Ejogo—does battle with and against eye-popping effects and cleverly designed monsters. Two-plus hours of such exploits becomes wearying, but—as usual when it comes to Rowling’s imaginative worlds—your mileage may vary. The film looks splendid on Blu-ray; extras include on-set and “Unlocking Scene Secrets” featurettes and deleted scenes.
Fear the Walking Dead—Complete 4th Season
The fourth season of this spin-off of/prequel to The Walking Dead is highlighted by the first crossover episode of the two series, and the 16-episode season consists of two eight-episode segments.
As usual, it’s crammed with accomplished writing, directing and acting, but I can’t help but feel that such efficient storytelling obscures the fact that there’s little purpose or point to the whole enterprise. But that seems a minority opinion. It does look fantastic in hi-def; extras comprise four audio commentaries.
The Indomitable Bow—Mstislav Rostropovich
Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich not only collaborated with the greatest 20th century composers—Prokofiev, Britten, Shostakovich, Dutilleux, Lutaslowski and Penderecki, for starters—but also performed many masterworks for the cello from Bach on; and that’s only part of his long but fascinating story.
Bruno Monsaingeon’s illuminating documentary portrait shows an artist and human-rights advocate fearlessly speaking out during the Cold War, as Rostropovich and his soprano wife Galina Vishnevskaya fell afoul of Soviet policies antithetical to art and humanity. Clips of him performing and speaking are complemented by interviews with colleagues and family members. The film looks fine on Blu; extras comprise his performances of Bach, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven and interviews with the children of dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Rostropovich about their relationship.
In Dominic Sena’s nervy 1995 drama—among a group of mid-90s “youthful killer” movies including Fresh Bait, Natural Born Killers and True Romance—Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis are a charismatic murderer and his compliant girlfriend on a road trip with unsuspecting couple David Duchovny and Michelle Forbes.
Despite manipulative touches, this is an effective and disturbing study, with top-notch performances all around—and whatever happened to Forbes? There’s a finely-detailed hi-def transfer and both the director’s and original theatrical cut are included; extras are a new Sena interview, archival featurette and cast interviews.
Krypton—Complete 1st 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.)
In the first season of this sci-fi fantasy series that creates an alternative Superman origin story, an earthling from the future, Adam Strange, arrives on the title planet to convince Seg-El, Superman’s future grandfather, that his eponymous home planet needs to be saved from destruction.
Despite the intriguing premise, the series takes itself a little too seriously, and it doesn’t really go anywhere unfamiliar or riveting over its 10 episodes. There’s a stellar hi-def transfer; extras are the 2017 Comic-Con Panel, two featurettes, a gag reel and deleted scenes.
This relentlessly downbeat, exceedingly violent drama shows what happens on an isolated island when three lighthouse keepers discover a cache of gold along with a body after a boat washes ashore.
Based on a tantalizing true-life tale, this prime piece of speculative fiction was directed with supreme control by Kristoffer Nyholm and exceptionally well-acted by Peter Mullan, Gerard Butler and Connor Swindells. There’s an excellent hi-def transfer; the lone extra is a making-of featurette.
CDs of the Week
Bartók—Complete String Quartets
Bartók—Piano Concertos; String Quartet; Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Concerto for Orchestra
The great Hungarian composer Béla Bartók (1881-1945) wrote gloriously original music in all genres, from chamber and orchestral to choral and opera. These two-disc sets bring together defining performances of some of his masterpieces. The Arcadia Quartet, with the daunting task of playing all six of his expressive, explosive string quartets, makes its own mark in this mysteriously elusive but exciting music.
The Orfeo disc compiles performances over several decades of some of Bartók’s most important works, including pianist György Sándor as the brilliant soloist in a 1955 recording of the Piano Concerto No. 2 and Sándor Végh leading the Camerata Academia des Mozrteum Salzburg in a stunning 1995 reading of the masterly Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (whose third movement is familiar to anyone who’s seen The Shining).
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