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Film and the Arts

October '20 Digital Week III

VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week 
American Dharma 
(Topic/First Look)
Errol Morris has made a cottage industry of sitting down with the likes of Robert McNamara, Donald Rumsfeld and now trump’s evil genius, Steve Barron, loathsome by any standard but, at least as grilled by Morris for his latest documentary portrait, endlessly fascinating. Morris shrewdly enters Bannon’s worldview through old film clips, since the subject himself peppers his talk about his time as trump’s leading advisor (at least until his downfall) and spokesman for a nationalist platform that’s permeating far too many countries.
 
 
But looking at bits of Stalag 17, The Searchers and Chimes at Midnight only goes so far and, for all his sharp questioning and skepticism, one has the uneasy feeling that Morris should have been even tougher on one of the planet’s truly despicable people.
 
 
 
 
 
Seat 20D 
(First Run Features)
When her son Alex died onboard Pan Am flight 103—destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland—sculptor Suse Lowenstein wanted to honor her son’s memory, and that of the others who were killed, in a tangible and permanent way. So she created Dark Elegy, life-size sculptures of herself and other grieving mothers, shown naked and in the positions they fell into upon hearing the awful news.
 
 
Jill Campbell’s moving documentary explores how Lowenstein transformed tragedy into art, and how she is looking for a permanent place for her surprisingly controversial work, which currently resides on her property in Montauk, Long Island.
 
 
 
 
 
White Noise 
(The Atlantic)
It’s difficult watching Daniel Lombroso’s documentary about the biggest names—i.e., worst progenitors of racism—in the alt-right movement, whose anti-immigrant, anti-globalist, anti-intelligence stances mark the trio as opportunists at best and bigots at worst.
 
 
If they were characters in a novel, Richard Spencer, Mike Cernovich and Lauren Southern would seem laughable—but in the real world they are taken seriously, as evidenced by their distressing popularity among their benighted followers. So, Lombroso shows, we have to take them seriously—if only as a cautionary tale—however ludicrous, contradictory and hypocritical they are.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Fortunio 
(Naxos)
L’ange de Nisida 
(Dynamic)
These rarely heard operas—French composer Andre Messager’s Fortunio, from 1907; and Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti’s L’ange de Nisida, from 1840—are not very memorable either dramatically or comedically, yet there are many moments where the music soars.
 
 
And both operas receive wonderful 2019 stagings: Denis Podalydes directs Fortunio in Paris and Francesco Micheli directs L’ange in Bergamno, Italy. Both works look and sound vividly immediate in hi-def.
 
 
 
 
 
Sergeant York 
(Warner Archive)
Howard Hawks’ 1941 paean to an American hero who singlehandedly forced a German battalion to surrender during WWI is wartime propaganda of the highest order, unapologetically demonstrating that even an ordinary American can outdo others.
 
 
This is rousing, old-fashioned entertainment—though a tad overlong at 134 minutes—with a lead performance of high star wattage by Gary Cooper and an equally memorable turn by Joan Leslie, in her first starring role at age 16, as York’s love Gracie. The film looks splendid on Blu; extras include historian Jeanine Basinger’s commentary, 40-minute documentary from 2003, Sergeant York: Of God and Country, narrated by Liam Neeson; and a vintage short and cartoon.
 
 
 
 
 
Sunrise at Camponello 
(Warner Archive)
Based on Dore Schary’s play about how FDR’s polio diagnosis nearly derailed his nascent political career in the 1920s, saved only by his own will, his wife Eleanor and his political aide Louis Howe, Vincent J. Donehue’s adaptation is often stagebound but is never less than engrossing.
 
 
Ralph Bellamy (FDR), Greer Garson (Eleanor) and Hume Cronyn (Howe) give intelligent performances, further bolstering this glimpse at how such a serious ailment was successfully hidden from the press and the entire country for decades. The color location photography by Russell Harlan looks sumptuous in hi-def.
 
 
 
 
 
Vikings—Season 6, Part 1 
(Warner Bros)
In the latest season of Vikings, Bjorn takes over as leader of an exhausted populace after a battle royale with his brother Ivar, who takes the Silk Road to an eventual arrival in Russia, where the czar is even more ruthless in his dealings with his own people.
 
 
The battle has been joined in these 10 exciting episodes, with formidably physical acting and first-rate production values. Visually, the series continues to look strikingly good; extras include audio commentary, featurette and deleted scenes.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
DVD Releases of the Week
The Audition 
(Strand Releasing)
Nina Hoss—who has given magnificent performances in films by Austrian director Christian Petzold—gives one of her subtlest, most unsettling portrayals as violin teacher Anna Bronsky, who pays a little too much attention to her newest student at the expense of her husband and teenage son, also a violin student.
 
 
Director Ina Weisse (who cowrote the script with Daphne Charizani) shows a real understanding of the stress of music conservatories and her psychologically rich portrait of an artist under pressure is quite mesmerizing thanks to Hoss’ usual brilliance.
 
 
 
 
 
Cobra—Complete 1st Season 
(PBS)
This absorbing six-part drama series chronicles the scary aftermath of a geomagnetic solar storm that knocks out power all over Europe and simultaneously shows the inner workings of the British prime minister and his cabinet as they try and get a handle on what’s becoming perilously close to anarchy throughout the country.
 
 
A solid cast, led by Robert Carlyle as the PM, Victoria Hamilton as his chief of staff, and David Haig as the antagonistic home secretary, is undermined only by the often bathetic personal problems of the leaders as they also work on problems of global import. Extras comprise several short featurettes with cast and crew interviews.
 
 
 
 
 
Flesh and Blood 
(PBS)
A fantastic cast breathes vivid life into this familiar tale of family dynamics, mistrust, jealousy and hypocrisy, predicated on a crime cannily not revealed until the final minutes of the final episode. Francesca Annis and Stephen Rea are the widowers who find love—or do they? Imelda Staunton is the neighbor who explains to the investigators just what happened—or does she?
 
 
And Claudie Blakley, Russell Tovey and Lydia Leonard are Annis’ bewildered children who don’t understand why she’s taken with this new man—is it really love or something else? Creator-writer Sarah Williams’ four-part series is slickly entertaining—and it leaves room for a sequel.
 
 
 
 
 
The Soul of the Midnight Special 
(Time/Life)
Midnight Special was one of many late-night shows in the ‘70s that was wall-to-wall music, and this five-disc set collects thrilling live performances from the best soul artists, including one-off  collaborations like Gladys Knight and B.B. King teaming for a torrid “The Thrill Is Gone” and Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin pairing up for an equally impassioned “Takes Two to Tango.”
 
 
Other highlights are the terrific Bill Withers doing his signature songs, “Ain't No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me”; Billy Preston performing his number-one hit, “Will It Go Round in Circles”; James Brown groovin’ his way through incendiary performances of “Sex Machine,” “Get Up Offa That Thing” and “Cold Sweat/Papa's Got a Brand New Bag”; and smashes from the Ohio Players (“Love Rollercoaster”) and the Miracles (“Love Machine”). Extras are several new and archival interviews with the O’Jays, Gladys Knight, Patti Labelle, George Benson, James Brown and Maurice White, among others.
 
 
 
 
 
 
CD Releases of the Week
Piano Concertos—Ammann, Ravel, Bartók 
Prokofiev—Symphonies 1, 2 and 3 
(BIS)
These recordings provide fresh interpretations of some familiar works. The German-born Swiss pianist Andreas Haefliger displays his formidable technique performing Maurice Ravel’s elegant left-hand concerto and Béla Bartók’s dazzling Piano Concerto No 3—and he even gives a technically staggering reading of a new concerto, subtitled Gran Toccata, by Swiss composer Dieter Ammann. Susanna Malkki and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra provide fine accompaniment.
 
 
 
Sergei Prokofiev’s symphonies run the gamut from sweetness and light to vinegar and darkness, with his astonishing melodic facility coupled to an acidly satiric bent. His first three symphonies—the delightfully Haydnesque No. 1, the gripping and unnerving No. 2, and the heightened drama of No. 3—are performed with the perfect balance his music demands by the Bergan Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Andrew Litton.

October '20 Digital Week II

VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week 
Honest Thief 
(Open Road) 
Another Liam Neeson vehicle that’s as blunt and simplistic as the rest: he plays a successful bank robber who attempts to go straight when he meets the woman of his dreams, but unfortunately corrupt FBI agents get in his way.
 
 
Neeson is as gruffly no-nonsense as ever and Kate Walsh has a welcome engaging presence as his girlfriend, but director Matt Williams has taken his own flimsy script—every obvious bad guy move and Neeson response are telegraphed far in advance—and adds nothing but 90 minutes of action to make up for any originality or involvement.
 
 
 
 
 
Martin Eden 
(Kino Lorber) 
Pietro Marcello’s intelligent adaptation recasts Jack London’s San Francisco story to Italy, as an uneducated lower-class lout decides to smarten himself up after meeting the lovely daughter of a rich family: but will his new-found writing talent and leftist beliefs destroy his chances with her?
 
 
Smartly, Marcello keeps the focus on his protagonist’s maturation as a writer and more importantly a human, and Luca Marinelli’s complex, nuanced portrayal is on-target. Equally compelling are Jessica Cressy as Martin’s unreachable love Elena and Elisabetta Valgoi as her mother. Bracingly directed, acted, and written, Martin Eden is one of the richest Italian films I’ve seen in awhile.
 
 
 
 
 
The Secrets We Keep 
(Bleecker Street)
A small-town American wife and mother is certain that a neighbor was a member of the SS who tortured her and killed her sister back in Europe; she hatches a plan to take justice—or, more honestly, revenge—into her own hands in this initially interesting but eventually risible drama by director Yuval Adler (who wrote the ill-conceived script with Ryan Covington).
 
 
Noomi Rapace works hard and efficiently as the woman, but how unbelievably easily she carries out her plan is only the beginning of a hopelessly contrived melodrama. Ill at ease are Chris Messina as Rapace’s husband, initially incredulous but quickly all in; and Joel Kinnaman, who could have been a credible villain/victim but who does little with the project’s plodding obviousness.
 
 
 
 
 

Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Before the Fire 
(Dark Sky Films)
In the midst of a raging pandemic in Los Angeles, up-and-coming TV star Ava is tricked by her boyfriend into returning to her small hometown, where long-simmering recriminations fester among the townsfolk, and she realizes that life can be an even bigger living hell than the one she just escaped.
 
 
Despite its timely premise, this drama falls prey to star Jenna Lyng Adams’ scattershot script and Charles Buhler’s meandering direction, and we never care about what happens to Ava. Adams’ ferocious lead performance can’t carry this over the finish line. There’s a fine hi-def transfer; lone extra is a delete scene.
 
 
 
 
 
Drop Dead Gorgeous 
(Warner Archive) 
This labored 1999 satire of beauty pageants huffs and puffs and occasionally hits a bulls-eye, but the scattershot approach of director Michael Patrick Jann and writer Lona Williams effectively transforms the characters into utterly unlikeable caricatures who pall soon after they’re introduced.
 
 
The partial exceptions are Allison Janney and Ellen Barkin, who sometimes transcend the flimsy material by simultaneously laughing at and with their characters and become nearly human in the process. There’s a superior hi-def transfer.
 
 
 
 
 
The Hit 
(Criterion Collection)
Stephen Frears’ 1984 blackly comic drama subtly gives meat to characters that start as mere types—informer, efficient hit man, jittery newcomer, naïve innocent—but soon become full-blooded and even sympathetic.
 
 
Frears directs with skillful understatement, Peter Prince’s script is a marvel of economy, Paco de Lucia and Eric Clapton’s music is perfecte for the lonely Spanish countryside settings, and the performances are, literally, killer: Terence Stamp’s informer, John Hurt and Tim Roth’s veteran and rookie hit men, and Laura del Sol’s innocent who’s the most resourceful. Criterion’s Blu-ray upgrade looks smashing; extras include a commentary by Frears, Hurt, Roth, Prince and editor Mick Audsley as well as a 1988 Stamp TV interview.
 
 
 
 
 
Peer Gynt 
(Unitel/C Major)
The great Danish composer Edvard Grieg composed his classic music for August Strindberg’s classic play Peer Gynt in 1875, and Danish choreographer Edward Clug has fashioned a potent and ultimately poignant ballet based on the play, with portions of Grieg’s wonderful Gynt music interspersed with other works like his Lyric Suite and Piano Concerto.
 
 
It works beautifully thanks to Clug’s substantive movements and a superlative cast: as Peer, Jakob Feyferlik is unforgettable, and he dances brilliantly throughout with Alice Firenze as Solveig, his lost love. Both hi-def video and audio of this 2018 performance from Vienna are first-rate.
 
 
 
 
 
Reversal of Fortune 
(Warner Archive) 
French director Barbet Schroeder’s 1990 docudrama tackles the case of Klaus von Bulow, the unlikeable aristocrat found guilty of drugging his wife, socialite Sunny von Bulow, in 1979 and who hired Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz to handle his appeal.
 
 
It’s a fascinatingly disturbing true story, told with impressive control by Schroeder from a well-structured script by Nicholas Kazan, and anchored by two fine-tuned performances: Jeremy Irons’ arrogantly steely von Bulow, and Ron Silver’s arrogantly energetic Dershowitz. Strangely, Irons won the Best Actor Oscar while Silver wasn’t even nominated. The film looks sharp in hi-def; lone extra is a Schroeder/Kazan commentary.
 
 
 
 
 
Star Trek: Picard—Complete 1st Season 
(CBS/Paramount)
Patrick Stewart returns to his iconic role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, who manned the Star Trek—The Next Generation ship for seven seasons (1987-94) in an unnecessary reboot that brings Picard out of a self-imposed 14-year retirement at his beloved vineyard.
 
 
Stewart is as gruff and ironical as ever, but the new storylines don’t have the same urgency or interest, except perhaps for die-hard Trekkies. The season’s 10 episodes look eye-popping in hi-def; extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel, commentary on episode one, short film Children of Mars and commentary on the short.
 
 
 
 
 
To Your Last Death 
(Quiver Distribution)
This gleefully violent animated feature follows the heroine, Miriam—the lone survivor of her father’s vengeful “game”—who gets the chance to relive the past by trying to save her siblings this time around. Of course, this occasions dealing with the piling up of body parts and geysers of blood shooting up throughout.
 
 
There’s more crimson red than imagination on display by director Jason Axinn, but there are amusingly disgusting moments courtesy of the excellent animated crew, and the voice cast—led by Morena Baccarin as the malevolent Gamemaster—is topnotch. It all looks especially vivid on Blu-ray. 
 
 
 
 
 
DVD Release of the Week 
Bellingcat—Truth in a Post-Truth World 
(First Run Features) 
A collective that has taken on great importance since it was founded in 2014 by crusading British journalist Eliot Higgins, Bellingcat comprises committed citizen journalists from around the world whose research into headline news stories finds unexpected—and, often, unwanted—answers.
 
 
 
Director Hans Pool’s absorbing documentary allows us to follow these intrepid investigators as they take deep dives into such events as the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine or the poisoning of a Russian dissident in England and provide the receipts necessary to bring some accountability to a post-truth, “fake news” world.
 
 
 
 
 
CD Release of the Week
Bernard Herrmann—Whitman 
(Naxos)
Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) was one of the greatest film composers in history, and Psycho: A Narrative for String Orchestra—from his indelibly shrieking score for the Hitchcock classic—tautly shows why. Also worthwhile is Souvenir de Voyage, a lovely chamber piece that should be far better known (it’s the first time I’ve heard it).
 
 
But the 1944 radio drama from which this disc takes its title—and based on poet Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass—is an embarrassingly treacly work, in which Herrmann’s snippets of pretty but insubstantial music don’t do justice to Whitman’s words. The musicians acquit themselves terrifically—especially clarinetist David Jones on Souvenirs, and the PostClassical Ensemble on Psycho—but despite being a welcome world premiere recording, Whitman itself is forgettable.

October '20 Digital Week I

VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week 
Aggie 
(Strand Releasing)
Agnes Fund, one of the art world’s most illustrious benefactors, is the subject of a shining profile by her daughter, director Catherine Fund; Agnes candidly discusses her astonishing legacy as art collector and philanthropist—she sold a Roy Lichtenstein painting for $165 million to help fund the Art for Justice Fund to address mass incarceration—as well as trustee and leader of institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, where she was president for 11 years.
 
 
There are also revealing interviews with artists and associates like Marina Abramović, Abigail Disney and Dorothy Lichtenstein, Roy’s widow, along with family members, all in awe of Aggie, who’s still going strong at age 82.
 
 
 
 
 
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Babyteeth 
(IFC Films)
The plot is all too familiar—teenager Milla falls for a shady older guy, causing her parents no end of consternation—but writer-director Shannon Murphy transcends her story’s typical trajectory by injecting it with humor, trenchant observation and an extraordinary performance by Eliza Scanlen as Milla, whose relationship with her family has already been strained by her cancer diagnosis.
 
 
At two hours, the film is way overlong and repetitious, but the realness that Murphy and Scanlen bring to Milla’s plight is impressive. The film looks fine on Blu.
 
 
 
 
 
Don Quichotte/Don Quixote 
(Unitel)
French composer Jules Massenet’s thoughtful, dramatic opera of Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel comes across, in Mariame Clement’s 2019 Bregenz Festival staging, as a ridiculous and unintelligent gloss. Each scene takes place in different settings (the opening adheres closest to the original, then we get a windmill scene in a bathroom, the Don in a Spiderman suit and a final scene in a modern office), which only confuses the issue.
 
 
Singers Gabor Bretz as Quixote and Anna Goryachova as Dulcinea, his love interest, are wonderful but are diminished by Clement’s self-indulgent deconstruction of a classic work into a #MeToo screed. Hi-def video and audio are first-rate.
 
 
 
 
 
Eskapist 
(BelAir Classiques)
Danish choreographer Alexander Ekman’s full-length modernist work might have been revelatory in the theater, but its use of film, narrator and a dream-like state seem oddly piecemeal and stridently eclectic on video, and set to music by Mikael Karlsson that’s less descriptive than distracting.
 
 
Still, Ekman’s movements are often beautiful and thrilling, and his dancers are uniformly terrific, which mitigates the silliness of the overall Concept (with a capital C). Hi-def video and audio are superb; lone extra is a short Ekman interview.
 
 
 
 
 
Genesis II/Planet Earth 
(Warner Archive)
These made-for-TV features from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry follow Dylan Hunt, a scientist who awakes from suspended animation in the year 2133 to find a world trying to rebuild decades after a devastating nuclear war.
 
 
The actors are different—Alex Cord in 1973’s Genesis II and John Gavin in the 1974 followup Planet Earth—but it doesn’t much matter since the focus is on the group PAX (descendants of the 20th century NASA scientists with whom Hunt worked), an underground group trying to rebuild civilization. For their era, both films are watchable sci-fi entertainment but Planet of the Apes they are not. Both films have fine new hi-def transfers.
 
 
 
 
 
Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project—No. 3 
(Criterion)
In the latest volume of Criterion’s worthy ongoing project of international films getting a deserved resurrection, there are two flat-out masterpieces: from Cuba’s Fernando Solas, the intensely dramatic and political 1968 triptych Lucia; and from Brazil’s Hector Babenco, the chillingly potent look at a young boy on the streets of Rio, 1980’s Pixote.
 
 
The other four films are less memorable but still worth a look: from Indonesia, Usmar Ismail’s After the Curfew (1954); from Mexico, Juan Bustillo Oro’s Dos Monjes (1934); from Mauritania, Med Hondo’s Soleil O (1970); and from Iran, Bahram Beyzaie’s Downpour (1972). All six films have brand-new hi-def transfers; some (Lucia, Pixote, Soleil O) look better than others (After the Curfew, Dos Monjes, Downpour), depending on existing materials. Extras include Scorsese intros for each film, new and archival interviews and Babenco’s prologue for the U.S. release of Pixote.
 
 
 
 
 
The Secret—Dare to Dream 
(Lionsgate)
Based on the runaway best-selling “power of positive thinking” book, this mawkish romance stars two engaging performers, Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas, who do their best to sell an eye-rolling love story that hits all of its shopworn bases without any style, originality or even helpful humor.
 
 
Instead, writer-director Adam Tennant is content to let it all putter along sans any plausibility in the wooden characterizations and one-note relationships. There’s a pleasing hi-def transfer; lone extra is a brief making-of.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
DVD Releases of the Week
Beyond Perfection 
(Unitel)
The great Italian pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, who has a mythical status among dedicated fans, is the focus of this illuminating and even amusing documentary by German filmmakers Syrthos J. Dreher and Dag Freyer, who started this project 30 years ago.
 
 
Their frustration getting an interview with the notoriously reclusive and controlling Michelangeli leads to them contacting his friend and sometime conductor Cord Bargen (Michelangeli died in 1995 at age 75), who opens his own vaults to discuss the performer’s perfectionism—which one time led to him forcing a video/audio team to destroy all recordings of one of most celebrated performances. The resulting documentary insightfully studies the private sphere of a world-class artist.
 
 
 
 
 
Penny Dreadful—City of Angels 
(Paramount/Showtime)
In this spinoff of Penny Dreadful, malevolent forces clash in 1930s Los Angeles, raising hell in a provocative drama about fascism and racism that also seems subtly influenced the classic film Chinatown
 
 
City of Angels’ 10 riveting episodes are so superbly directed and acted (by a formidable cast led by Nathan Lane in one of his best performances as a cynical Jewish detective with a Mexican-American partner—Daniel Zovatto, also quite good—and Natalie Dormer, excellent in three very distinct roles) that they would work handily even without the ultimately superfluous supernatural frame. Extras are three brief featurettes.

September '20 Digital Week V

Blu-ray Releases of the Week 
Christ Stopped at Eboli 
(Criterion)
One of Italian director Francesco Rosi’s greatest achievements is this nearly four-hour adaptation (made for Italian television in 1979) of socialist Carlo Levi’s memoir about being banished to remote southern Italy during the 1930s as punishment for his Communist leanings. That great actor Gian Maria Volante powerfully embodies Levi’s humanity, and Rosi’s unerring eye for faces and personalities is embodied in the lived-in authenticity of the dozens of perfectly cast amateur—although there are also wonderful turns by Lea Massari and Irene Papas.
 
 
This is a remarkable film about a journey to discover our shared humanity, even in a place that’s been forgotten by everyone. It’s too bad Criterion didn’t include the 150-minute theatrical version, but that’s a small quibble; the new hi-def transfer is transfixing. Extras are a 1978 Italian TV documentary about political cinema with Rosi and Volante; excerpt from a 1974 doc with Rosi and Levi; 2014 interview with Rosi discussing Volante; and a new interview with subtitle translator Michael F. Moore.
 
 
 
 
 
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow—Complete 5th Season 
(Warner Bros)
For its latest season, this fantasy series populated by more superheroes than you even knew existed gleefully (and repeatedly) jumps the shark juggling plotlines about how some of them handle their new-found celebrity and how a time warp allows a new bunch of villains to appear and wreak havoc.
 
 
It’s ridiculous but knows it, keeping its tongue in cheek while moving quickly, letting these 15 episodes fly by. The series looks exceptionally vivid on Blu-ray; extras include an additional disc of a crossover series, Crisis on Infinite Earths, deleted scenes, featurettes and a gag reel. 
 
 
 
 
 
First Cow 
(Lionsgate)
Based on a novel by Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt’s latest—again shot in the claustrophobic 4:3 ratio—follows the travails of two unfortunate men in the mid 19th-century frontier whose fates are tied to the title animal.
 
 
After an unnecessary introduction set in the present day, Reichardt impressively controls her minimalist treatment of a simple story artfully told, beautifully shot by cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, and authentically embodied by John Magard and Orion Lee as the men and Toby Jones as the cow’s vengeful owner. The film looks quite good in hi-def; the lone extra, A Place in the World, is a making-of featurette.
 
 
 
 
 
Der Prinz von Homburg/The Prince of Hamburg 
(Naxos)
German composer Hans Werner Henze (who died in 2012 at age 88) was an unrepentant socialist, so it’s no surprise that one of his early operas, 1958’s The Prince of Hamburg, was merciless toward the German military mentality in its story of a prince who inadvertently becomes a war hero despite daydreaming about his lover.
 
 
Filmed last year in Stuttgart, Germany, Stephan Kimmig’s comically stripped-down staging looks like it’s set in a school basement with ladders for the cast to climb on. But the committed singers (led by Robin Adams as the prince and Vera-Lotte Boecker as the princess) and players (Cornelius Meister adroitly conducts the State Opera Orchestra) superbly get across Henze’s relevant pacifist message as well as his ear for combining dissonance with gorgeous melodies. Both hi-def video and audio are excellent.
 
 
 
 
 
Rick and Morty—Complete 4th Season 
(Warner Bros)
This animated series about a mad scientist and his grandson has so much visual imagination that even if its crude toilet humor and excess juvenilia start to pall, the zaniness of what we see makes it worth watching these 10 episodes.
 
 
Granddad Rick and grandson Morty alternate between trips to alternate realities and dealing domestically with the family (which also pops up in various guises on their interplanetary journeys), all eye-catchingly animated. It dazzles in hi-def; extras include Inside Season 4; inside each episode; several short featurettes. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Shivers 
(Vestron/Lionsgate)
Canadian director David Cronenberg’s crude, borderline amateurish 1975 debut was the blueprint for many of his later films, which at least had the benefit of bigger budgets and slicker productions. This weak horror entry literalizes contagious sexual diseases as parasites being passed among victims in a Montreal apartment building.
 
 
A few clever visuals and the no-name performers help with the pervading creepy vibe—especially in the sequences with children—but there’s little here that would mark this as an auspicious start. There’s a fine new hi-def transfer; extras include Cronenberg’s commentary and interviews (new and old) and interviews with other cast and crew. 
 
VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week 
The Artist’s Wife 
(Strand Releasing)
Lena Olin gives a forceful, sympathetic performance as the wife of a famous painter who stopped creating her own canvases to be her husband’s muse, maid, lover, secretary, shopper, etc. But now that he is sliding into senility, she is rethinking her own career.
 
 
Although director Tom Dolby too often lurches to the melodramatic—especially in the predictable dynamic between the artist and his daughter from an earlier marriage (well played by Juliet Rylance) and the wife getting too close to his young grandson’s manny—the relationship between the artist (played with complex brittleness by Bruce Dern) and wife makes up the movie’s bulk, which allows Olin’s warm, enveloping presence to take over.
 
 
 
 
 
Public Trust 
(Patagonia Films)
In the current climate, with trump and his minions decimating so much of our country, losing our precious public lands to development, drilling and mining is one of the most worrisome (if least discussed) issues that David Garrett Byars’ thoughtful documentary explores with the urgency it deserves.
 
 
 
By laying out just how trump has reversed so much of what other presidents have done to protect our lands—especially Obama, whose signing into law of the huge Bears Ears National Monument in Utah in 2016 was reduced by trump the following year by 85 percent of its size—Byars provides yet another compelling reason to question trump’s ultimate loyalty…and it’s not to the American people. 
 
DVD Release of the Week 
The Good Fight—Complete 4th Season 
(CBS/Paramount)
This solid drama came out unapologetically swinging in its latest season, as Diane Lockhart first found herself in an alternate reality where Hillary won the presidency but not everything is perfect: there’s no MeToo movement and Harvey Weinstein is not disgraced; a later episode brings the Jeffrey Epstein case to Diane’s law firm.
 
 
 
The show’s engaging kick comes from the engaged, sometimes enraged Christine Baranski as Diane, while Cush Jumbo, Sarah Steele and Audra MacDonald, among others, provide superior support throughout this season’s seven episodes. 
 
 
 
 
 
CD Release of the Week
Hans Rosbaud Conducts Mahler 
(SWR Classic)
In the 11th release of its Rosbaud/Mahler edition, the SWR Classic label collects several of the Austrian conductor’s recordings made between 1951 and 1961 for German radio of several of Gustav Mahler’s titanic symphonies along with his vocal symphony in all but name, Das Lied von der Erde.
 
 
 
Although Hans Rosbaud (1892-1965) was renowned as a conductor of both Mahler and Anton Bruckner, he seems to have more of affinity for the former—that may be because, to my ears, Bruckner’s symphonies are almost impossibly turgid—and of the several Mahler symphonies heard here, Rosbaud’s interpretations of the first (“Titan”) and fourth (with its angelically lovely final vocal movement, beautifully sung by soprano Eva Marie Rogner) are ones I’ll return to.

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