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December '19 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 



Lorene Scafaria’s gritty drama about some financially shaky strippers who get together for even better scores—fleecing wealthy men while plying them with drink—might overstay its welcome, but it’s entertaining as long as one doesn’t think too long about their questionable ruse (that may be what Scafaria was aiming for, but it’s not that obvious).




Alongside an excellent Constance Wu is a sensational star turn by Jennifer Lopez (in her best performance since Selena and Out of Sight 20 years ago) and fine support from Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Cardi B, Lizzo and Mercedes Ruehl. The Blu-ray image looks excellent; lone extra is Scafaria’s commentary.


The Cotton Club Encore 


Francis Coppola’s roaring ’20s in Harlem epic remains a messy melodrama—even in this longer director’s cut—but seeing it 35 years later with the benefit of hindsight brings new appreciation for what does work: the dancing, singing and delightful performances of Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins, Geoffrey Hines and Lonette McKee, along with Richard Sylbert’s production design, Milena Canonero’s costumes and Stephen Goldblatt’s photography, all dazzling.




The film looks spectacular in hi-def; extras are a new Coppola intro and 20-minute Q&A from this version’s New York Film Festival screening.






Kurt Weill—Street Scene 

(BelAir Classiques)

Kurt Weill’s glorious Broadway musical-cum-opera, set in a Manhattan tenement, premiered in 1946 with songs (with lyrics by poet Langston Hughes) and drama (based on Elmer Rice’s play) as relevant now as they were nearly 75 years ago.




John Fulljames’ splendid 2018 production at Madrid’s Teatro Real has a terrific singing cast led by Patricia Racette, Paulo Szot, Mary Bevan and Joel Prieto. Weill’s biting tunes sound pretty formidable as performed by the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Real de Madrid, and conducted by Tim Murray. Both hi-def video and audio are first-rate.




This earnestly amateurish Christian movie follows a basketball coach turned cross-country coach using unconventional means to train an asthmatic teenager from the wrong side of the tracks (in her first scene she steals headphones—then takes off like a shot to show her running bona fides).




This is the kind of movie that hits a fake climax every 20 minutes or so, and the acting—led by clumsy director Mark Kendrick, who woodenly plays the coach—is as risible as the script. The title should have been Overlong. The hi-def transfer is fine; extras are a commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes and featurettes.






Silver Bullet 

(Scream Factory)

This 1985 Stephen King adaptation—from his novella Cycle of the Werewolf—is cheesy and corny (especially when it comes to the laughably bear-like werewolf, courtesy of Carlo Rambaldi) but director Daniel Battias smartly tells the story through the eyes of a young brother and sister, which saves it.




It’s a bumpy ride with some bad acting and subpar effects (the best moment has a pastor dreaming of parishioners transforming into werewolves during mass), but Corey Haim and Megan Follows are appealing youngsters and Gary Busey is amusingly off-kilter as their uncle. The hi-def transfer looks fine; extras include an Attias commentary, isolated score selections and audio interview with composer Jay Chattaway, and new video interviews.


Tchaikovsky—Eugene Onegin 

(BelAir Classiques)

Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s operatic masterpiece (it’s far better than The Queen of Spades) has emotive music and graceful melodies galore and features juicy parts for star tenor and soprano as Onegin and Tatiana, Pushkin’s ultimate tragic lovers.




They’re played by the sublime Mariusz Kwiecien and Tatiana Monogarova in Dmitri Tcherniakov’s enjoyable 2008 Bolshoi production, which includes superb work by the Bolshoi orchestra under conductor Alexander Vedernikov. The hi-def video and audio look and sound quite impressive.






Tchaikovsky—The Nutcracker and Mouse King 

(Accentus Music)

The Nutcracker is the world’s most beloved holiday ballet, but this 2018 Ballett Zürich production by director/choreographer Christian Spuck tweaks it by returning to the original source, E.T.A. Hoffman’s story, to fill out the plot and characters in a less sugary manner.




These changes shouldn’t disturb any but the most perturbed purists, for the tuneful score remains, and the ballet is as enchanting as ever, led by Michelle Willems’ wonderful performance as a most beguiling Marie (i.e., Clara). There’s a first-class hi-def transfer.


CD of the Week

Rued Langgaard—Complete String Quartets 


Danish composer Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) is barely known in this country aside from his opera Antichrist, but this 3-CD set comprising his complete string quartets, composed over a 36-year span, should help alleviate that situation.




Langgaard’s six numbered quartets as well as several other works (variations, an unnumbered early quartet, etc.) display a versatile instrumental facility and a range of moods from extreme serenity to slashing rage. Performing these fine works impeccably is the Nightingale String Quartet.

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