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Blu-rays of the Week
In Anthony Mann’s 1960 adaptation of Edna Ferber’s sprawling novel about the opening of the Oklahoma Territory to settlers, the racism of the original 1931 movie version—which actually won the Best Picture Oscar!—has been mostly scuttled, which is all to the good.
But Mann (and his replacement, Charles Walters, who finished filming after Mann left the set) still has trouble harnessing the story’s scope and characters, and rote performances by the likes of Glenn Ford, Maria Schell and even the usually reliable Anne Baxter don’t help. The cinemascope photography’s colors pop on Blu-ray.
Yet another direct to disc Nicolas Cage vehicle, this rain-soaked would-be Body Heat contains his usual over-the-top, demented performance as a husband ostensibly jealous by his wife’s interest in the new handyman.
But despite its hackneyed premise and unsurprising plot twists, the movie gets mileage from the superlative performance as the wife by KaDee Strickland, making her an actual character of feeling and rage and sexuality rather than just the caricature she is in the script. There’s a superior hi-def transfer.
The Great War
Unlike 1917—the gimmicky World War I drama that was nominated for several Oscars—Steven Luke’s gritty, on-the-ground film follows U.S. soldiers fighting through the 1918 armistice, tasked with fending off the German army despite the war’s end.
This well-crafted drama is a little on the nose depicting one soldier’s shell shocked condition, but it straightforwardly shows the rigors, horrors and comradery of battle without excessive melodrama. There’s an excellent hi-def transfer.
J.S. Bach—The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff performs Bach’s towering piano work, The Well-Tempered Klavier, Book I, at the BBC Proms in 2017: Schiff’s stamina is astonishing, as he plays the entire 105-minute work (one of Bach’s most inspired) from memory in front of an enraptured audience.
Torino, Italy, is the setting for the first performance in over 200 years of Agnese, a long-forgotten opera by Ferdinando Paer, of whose music little is heard—it’s perfectly pleasant, with decent music and beguiling arias, but ultimately forgettable, despite persuasive staging, singing and orchestral playing. Hi-def video and audio are first-rate.
Swamp Thing—Complete Series
Warner Bros. provided me with a free copy of this disc for review.
The old trope of a swamp monster in a nearby bog has been the start of centuries’ worth of horror stories, and this modern-day series—only one of its ten episodes made it on the air—is the latest to try and resuscitate a moribund genre.
It’s entertaining if icky at times, but it finds a home between parody and terror; a fine cast does its best, with Crystal Reed especially good as an initially skeptical investigator who discovers more than she—and the locals—bargained for in small-town Louisiana. The series looks splendid in hi-def.
Two on a Guillotine
This 1964 misfire tries to be scary but ends up merely risible, as the daughter of a famous magician must spend a week in her just-deceased dad’s haunted house to receive the bulk of his estate following his death. But is he really dead?
Connie Stevens screams a lot as the daughter, while Dean Jones is her cardboard lover and Caesar Romero hammy as the dad. William Conrad (later of TV’s Cannon) directs competently but with no inkling of suspense, and Max Steiner’s penultimate score regurgitates several of his earlier themes. The B&W images look enticing on Blu-ray, at least.
DVD of the Week
I Got You Babe—The Best of Sonny & Cher
Believe it or not, Sonny Bono and his wife Cher—who made it big with their 1965 duet “I Got You Babe”—hosted The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour on CBS in the early ‘70s: like other shows at the time, it featured them singing, telling jokes—mainly Cher insulting Sonny—and acting in mostly groan-inducing skits with guest stars. In this five-disc set, ten complete episodes from 1971-74 are included, with guests ranging from Jimmy Durante and Tony Curtis to Dinah Shore and the Supremes. Extras comprise interviews with Cher, Frankie Avalon, and producers Allan Blye and Chris Bearde; the 1970 pilot episode; and a 1970 Sonny and Cher interview.
CD of the Week
Louise Alder—Lines Written During a Sleepless Night
British soprano Louise Alder has subtitled her outstanding new recital disc The Russian Connection, and so it is—six groups of songs by Russian and European composers, all linked by their having set music to poetry in Russian.
To sensitive accompaniment by pianist Joseph Middleton, Alder runs the gamut of emotions (and languages): Norwegian Edvard Grieg’s brooding German texts and Finn Jean Sibelius’ romantic Swedish settings; Russians Tchaikovsky (French), Medtner (German) and Rachmaninoff, the last in his native tongue; and, finally and most impressively, Alder’s compatriot Benjamin Britten, whose setting of Pushkin’s The Poet’s Echo (in Russian) is a masterpiece in miniature.
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