September '20 Digital Week IV

4K Release of the Week 
Full Metal Jacket 
(Warner Bros)
In Stanley Kubrick’s unforgettable 1987 war drama based on Gustav Hasford’s incendiary novel The Short-Timers, recruits go through basic training then are shipped off to Vietnam to become what their drill instructor molded them into: dehumanized killing machines. Kubrick’s classic, which is crammed with stunning images throughout, ends with one of the most haunting moments he ever filmed.
There’s so much mastery on display: the brilliant master stroke of using trashy ‘60s pop songs to further debase the action; the documentary-like immediacy of Douglas Slocombe’s camerawork during several desultory skirmishes; the sardonic black humor in the taut script by Kubrick, Hasford and Michael Herr; the excellent performances by Matthew Modine as Pvt. Joker, Vincent d’Onofrio as the fated recruit Leonard Pyle, and R. Lee Ermey as D.I. Hartman. On ultra-hi def, the film looks ultra-realistic; it’s too bad that the superb 2012 Blu-ray set—with Modine’s on-set photographs and the fascinating extra Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes—wasn’t included.

VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week
(Screen Media)
Danish writer Christian Torpe Americanized his script for 2014’s Silent Heart, and the result is a nicely photographed and well-acted melodrama about a family dealing with the matriarch choosing to end it all before her ALS becomes too overwhelming; since she’s doing it at the end of a holiday weekend together, secrets and recriminations rear their heads as everyone wrestles with her traumatic decision.
Roger Michell directs elegantly if too schematically and Torpe’s writing has insightful and dramatic moments but too often piles on contrivance and last-minute revelations, while the cast of eight—led by Susan Sarandon’s tough-minded matriarch, Sam Niell’s quiet patriarch and Mia Wasikowska’s brittle black-sheep daughter—keeps one watching despite a familiar story familiarly told.
The Nest 
(IFC Films)
Writer-director Sean Durkin’s dysfunctional family drama unimaginatively attempts to dissect how a family loses its grounding after moving from the U.S. to England during the height of the greed-is-good 1980s.
By having his characters—particularly the father, played unsubtly by Jude Law—act so ridiculously and inconsistently, Durkin sabotages his own picture and ends up nullifying the expressive performance by the always winning Carrie Coon, who plays the wife with such variety and vibrancy that she deserves better than the film she is stuck in.

Space Dogs 
(Icarus Films)
Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter’s audacious documentary takes as its starting point the canine Laika, first earth creature to travel into space, but who was incinerated upon reentering earth’s atmosphere after the historic space ride in 1957. Thus begins a sympathetic but clinical account of Moscow’s stray dogs—Laika’s descendants, it is said—which doubles as an exploration of scientific animal cruelty in order to further space exploration.
There are many tough-to-watch moments, from a couple of strays playfully catching and torturing a cat to death and archival footage of Soviet scientists performing experiments on dogs, but the parallel between street life and lab cruelty is more forced than organic, despite indelible images.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week 
The Cordillera of Dreams 
(Icarus Films)
Patricio Guzman, a major but obscure director, makes films about his native Chile. His latest is the forceful final part of a trilogy about memories of Chile, which he left long ago: the title refers to the Andes Mountains—a natural border for Chile and as much metaphorical as it is real—to take the measure of this always changing, undefinable country.
Looking back to the September 11, 1973 coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power, Guzman discusses the meaning of the Andes (or Cordillera) with other artists, who give original and insightful answers on their meaning to them and their nation’s history. Beautifully shot, as always, the film is a must-watch on Blu-ray; extras include a Guzman interview, making-of, and interviews with other artists.

I Am a Dancer 
(Film Movement Classics)
In this compelling 1972 documentary, Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev rehearses and performs—in other words, this is as close to balletic bliss as you can get. Director Pierre Jourdan’s camera is in the right position to record Nureyev while teaching others, practicing himself, discussing his art or dancing with legendary ballerinas like Margot Fontyn, with whom he is paired in choreographer Frederick Ashton’s lovely Marguerite and Armand. 
The biggest—and happiest—surprise is a lengthy excerpt from Field Figures, danced brilliantly to the unique strains of Stockhausen’s music. This revelatory ballet film looks superb in a new hi-def transfer. Extras are appreciations by dance scholar Terese Capucilli and American Ballet Theatre dancer Skylar Brandt.
Prodigal Son—Complete 1st Season 
(Warner Archive)
This high-concept series takes as its model The Silence of the Lambs and ups the ante, as a young profiler working closely with the NYPD to track murderers turns to his own father, in jail for killing two dozen people years earlier, to help him solve cases by delving into other demented minds.
It’s polished, slick and unnecessarily, grotesquely violent at times, but the acting is persuasive enough to keep viewers coming back for all 20 episodes of its first season: Tom Payne as the criminologist, Bellamy Young as his harried mother and Michael Sheen—channeling Anthony Hopkins—in a wide-eyed, over-the-top performance as the series’ own Hannibal Lecter. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer.

DVD Releases of the Week
Mom—Complete 7th Season
Riverdale—Complete 4th Season 
(Warner Bros)
In its seventh season, Mom remains a pleasantly hit-or-miss sitcom, but the amusing and at times even touching interplay between Allison Janney as Mom and Anna Faris as her frequently disappointing daughter is always enough to make it through these 20 entertaining episodes. 
In the latest season of Riverdale, the gang returns for another go-around as a diverting live-action version of the Archie comics, with enough attractive performers and mild humor to offset the occasionally cloying attempts at melodrama throughout these 19 episodes. (The series shut down filming before the final episode due to the Covid-19 pandemic.) Riverdale extras are a trio of featurettes.

CD Releases of the Week
J.S. Bach—St. John Passion 
Conductor Masaaki Suzuki and his ensemble, the Bach Collegium Japan, are among our foremost contemporary interpreters of Bach’s formidable music, and this latest release—recorded in mid-March, just when the pandemic was starting to rage and everything was starting to shut down—is another estimable addition to their illustrious catalog.
Bach’s St. John Passion is usually considered a step below the lofty heights of the composer’s great St. Matthew Passion, but the urgency of the vocal soloists, chorus and instrumentalists in this performance—perhaps because of the recording circumstances?—makes this a stirring listen.  
Buried Alive—Schoeck, Honegger, Mitropoulos 
Leon Botstein creates the most adventurous programming in the New York area with his American Symphony Orchestra concerts and annual Bard Music Festival and Summerscape (sadly canceled, like everything else, this summer). Now he adds the Orchestra Now—a handpicked ensemble of musicians from the most illustrious music conservatories—to his resume.
The strikingly original music—all written between 1926 and 1928—is by three excellent European composers in their prime: Swiss Arthur Honegger’s short, spiky Rugby; Swiss Othmar Schoeck’s intensely dramatic, 40-minute centerpiece, Lebendig begraben; and Greek Dmitri Mitropoulos’s bracing Concerto Grosso. The orchestra under Botstein plays enthusiastically, and baritone soloist Michael Nagy and the Bard Festival Chorus are standouts in the Schoeck’s monumental work.