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Film and the Arts

July '20 Digital Week III

Blu-ray Releases of the Week 
Attraction 2—Invasion 
(MPI)
In this often lumbering sequel to Attraction—the 2017 sci-fi epic in which aliens land in Russia and a general’s daughter falls for one of them—the daughter and the alien reunite and find themselves under attack by the Russian armed forces, while her father tries to get her back safely…or does he?
 
 
Director Fyodor Bondarchuk stages some exciting action set pieces in the streets of Moscow as well as on the Moscow River, but the film screeches to a halt too often. The film looks splendid on Blu; lone extra is a short making-of featurette.
 
 
 
 
 
L’Innocente 
(Film Movement Classics)
Italian director Luchino Visconti’s final film (released in 1976 after his death at age 69) is, typically, a visually sumptuous but dramatically inert story about a nobleman cheating on his wife with a princess who’s enraged when his wife takes a lover, becomes pregnant and refuses to have an abortion.
 
 
That usually racy actor Giancarlo Giannini is an ill fit for the nobleman, while Laura Antonelli and Jennifer O’Neill, while stunning in their costumes, can’t transform ciphers into complex individuals. As usual, Visconti prefers interior decoration to his characters’ interior lives. The new hi-def transfer looks tremendous; lone extra is a visual essay about the film.
 
 
 
 
 
Strike Up the Band 
Girl Crazy 
(Warner Archive)
Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney were paired early and often in their careers, and these Warner Archive releases highlight their chemistry and precocious talent. 1945’s Strike Up the Band, dazzlingly directed by Busby Berkeley, is an overlong but engaging tale of two teenagers falling for each other as they fight for the right to have the school band play at a national contest. 
 
 
 
In 1942’s enjoyable Girl Crazy—which Berkeley began directing and Norman Taurog finished—Rooney is a spoiled rich kid shunted off to the boondocks for college, where he meets Garland and they fight for the right of the school to stay open. Rooney and Garland sing, dance and even (in Rooney’s case) play drums in entertaining musical interludes—Girl Crazy is awash in Gershwin songs—so these vehicles make a perfect double-header. Both B&W films have spectacularly detailed new hi-def transfers; extras include Rooney intros, vintage cartoons and shorts, stereo remixes of song sequences and a 1940 radio adaptation of Strike Up the Band with Rooney and Garland.
 
 
 
 
 
The Wild Goose Lake 
(Film Movement)
Diao Yinan’s convoluted crime drama follows a mobster (on the lam after accidentally killing a cop) who discovers that, even in the underworld, there are no safe places to hide—or to not be betrayed. Diao does conjure up some oppressively heady atmosphere, especially in a tangent about a young woman who befriends our anti-hero, which ultimately (and unfortunately) morphs into the main plot.
 
 
Still, there’s a nagging feeling that much of The Wild Goose Lake is nothing more than a wild goose chase, however exceptionally well-made. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras comprise an on-set featurette with Diao, cast interviews and a short, The Goddess, by Chinese-American director Renkai Tan.
 
 
 
 
 
VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week
Flannery 
(Long Distance Productions)
Author Flannery O’Connor was born and raised in the South, and her writing mirrored the ambivalence and sense of unfairness she felt living in that segregated era—and Elizabeth Coffman and Mark Bosco’s documentary presents her life and her art in context (“n” words and all), which makes this a vivid evocation of not only a great writer’s life but also the state of the country she wrote about.
 
 
Mary Steenburgen engagingly narrates as O’Connor’s voice; excerpts from filmed versions of O’Connor’s work are interspersed, including John Huston’s 1979 adaptation of her first novel, Wise Blood; and interviews with friends, colleagues, editors, and admirers fill in the blanks of a complex, flawed but necessary voice in American literature. 
 
 
 
 
 
DVDs of the Week 
The Carer 
(Corinth Films)
Brian Cox gives his usual expansive, overflowing performance as a beloved actor with terminal Parkinson’s who must navigate his own daughter’s selfishness as well as his slowly building affection for his new caretaker, a budding Hungarian actress.
 
 
Director Janos Edelenyi guides this unsubtle but bittersweet chamber drama with a sturdy hand, and supporting the great Cox is a formidable group of supporting actors: Emilia Fox (daughter), Coco Konig (caretaker), even Roger Moore (himself). Lone extra is a bizarre look at raving moviegoers after a screening in Toronto.
 
 
 
 
 
Curb Your Enthusiasm—Complete 10th Season 
(HBO)
As irascible as ever, Larry David returns for another season of his alter ego getting into as much trouble as ever—including sexual harassment allegations by both his assistant and a caterer at a party, of all places—all while trying to shame his former favorite coffee shop in a way only he can.
 
 
For me, a little of David’s observational comedy goes a long way, so your mileage may obviously vary; still, there are priceless moments, as when Larry decides to wear a MAGA cap so people will leave him alone. The two-disc set includes all 10 episodes and an on-set featurette.
 
 
 
 
 
Titans of the 20th Century 
(PBS)
In this six-hour series, the lives of the great, the good and the horrible—all influencing the previous century’s shocking body count of millions in two world wars, for starters—are recounted in informative but predictably four-square fashion.
 
 
Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Churchill and FDR are the main characters, with Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek, Harry Truman and others making a first-rate supporting cast in a half-dozen episodes comprising vintage video, still photos and audio alongside talking-head historians’ discussions. 
 
 
 
 
 
CD Releases of the Week
Erik Satie—Vexations
(BIS)
Thomas Adès—In Seven Days 
(Myrios Classics)
These discs feature uncompromising piano works by two masters composing a century apart but similar in their unique approaches. Frenchman Erik Satie (1866-1925) composed Vexations on a single page; it’s considered his most minimalist and expansive work, which could last for several hours if one takes Satie at his word: he asked, perhaps facetiously, for 840 repetitions. Fearless pianist Noriko Ogawa tackles the slow, hypnotic Vexations for an illuminating 80 minutes.
 
 
 
Thomas Adès—who began as an enfant terrible before his magnificent 2006 opera The Tempest—has, in Russian-American pianist Kirill Gerstein, a most sympathetic interpreter of his piano works. Gerstein dispatches Adès’ Berceuse from his failed 2016 opera The Exterminating Angel and 3 mazurkas with aplomb, and plays the obbligato part in In Seven Days—an orchestral work about creation which Adès sensitively conducts—brilliantly. As a bonus, the two men team for a two-piano Concert Paraphrase from Adès’ breakthrough 1995 opera Powder Her Face.
 

July '20 Digital Week II

VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week 
Relic 
(IFC Midnight)
In Natalie Erika James’ clever but ultimately enervating thriller, three generations of women—grandmother Edna, mother Kay and daughter Sam—deal with Edna’s possible slide into senility in a house that becomes seemingly more sinister with each passing day.
 
 
James’ interesting if unsuccessful melding of character study and outright horror has an ending that’s patently ludicrous. Luckily, the unimpeachable performances of Robyn Nevin (Edna), Emily Mortimer (Emily) and Bella Heathcote (Sam) help sell it all, however crazed it becomes.
 
 
 
 
 
Ai Weiwei—Yours Truly 
(First Run Features)
Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s formidable exhibition @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, at the infamous prison in 2014, honors the legacy of the artist’s father and other prisoners of conscience around the world by giving visitors the chance to send postcards to those languishing in prison (his father received one while in exile years earlier).
 
 
Directed by Gina Leibrecht and Cheryl Haines—the latter organized the exhibit on Ai’s behalf—this documentary illuminates how an artist is also a freedom fighter through his art and how strangers with a pen and a postcard can help fill the lives of those who are incarcerated working for freedom of expression (and their families) with hope.
 
 
 
 
 
Olympia 
(Abramorama)
Greek-American actress Olympia Dukakis—known for her hilarious but tender Oscar-winning performance as Cher’s mother in 1987’s Moonstruck—is the focus of Harry Mavromichalis’s vibrant portrait highlighting her heritage as much as her estimable career onscreen and onstage.
 
 
It’s onstage that she really shined, and we see glimpses of both her vintage performances and more recent work, including playing Prospero in The Tempest in the Berkshires area of western Massachusetts. Most poignantly, her 56-year marriage to actor Louis Zorich (who sadly died in 2018) is given ample screen time.
 
 
 
 
 
Blu-rays of the Week
Blood and Money 
(Screen Media)
Tom Berenger’s granite visage is perfect for his role as a retired vet who, while hunting, accidentally becomes involved with murderous criminals after hiding the proceeds from their daring robbery in this mostly pedestrian and predictable drama.
 
 
Director-cowriter John Barr develops little in the way of characterization—which is too bad because Berenger and Kristen Hager as a young waitress at the local dive have real chemistry—instead, he’s content to use northern Maine’s forbidding Allagash wilderness as a typical snowbound setting. The film looks fine on Blu.
 
 
 
 
 
Korngold—Violanta 
(Dynamic)
Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s ravishing romantic opera—composed when he was 17—has an overripe plot about a vengeful woman who realizes that she loves the man who caused her sister’s death. But Korngold’s often radiant score balances this melodrama with his heroine’s conflicting emotions with an artistry that’s uncanny.
 
 
This 2019 Turin, Italy, production, forcefully directed by Pier Luigi Pizzi, features an earthshaking portrayal by soprano Annemarie Kremer in the virtuosic title role; there’s exquisite music-making by conductor Pinchas Steinberg and the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Regio Torino. Blu-ray image and hi-def sound are both first-rate.
 
 
 
 
 
P.O. Box Tinto Brass 
The Claire Sinclair Show 
(Cult Epics)
The 87-year-old Italian director Tinto Brass makes playfully erotic films full of pulchritude that fall short of hardcore, and 1995’s P.O. Box Tinto Brass is a prime example: the director reads through Penthouse Forum-style letters from females about their sexual escapades, which are visualized in all their naked glory. The Claire Sinclair Show finds the 2011 Playboy Playmate of the Year hosting two episodes: one about her life and the other featuring veteran photographer Bunny Yeager’s final TV appearance. 
 
 
 
Both releases have excellent hi-def transfers; Tinto extras include a 2003 interview and a second disc comprising a documentary, Istinttobrass, with a 2013 interview of its director Massimiliano Zanin; Claire extras include an extended version of the Bunny episode, original Super 8 films, Claire’s introductions and behind-the-scenes.
 
 
 
 
 
Verdi—Il Trovatore 
(Unitel)
One of Giuseppe Verdi’s most memorable operas has one of his most ridiculous plots, but his brilliantly dramatic score and moving portrayals by Russian superstar soprano Anna Netrebko and Italian baritone Luca Salsi highlight late director Franco Zefferelli’s typically opulent production (filmed last year at the waterside outdoor theater in Verona, Italy).
 
 
In addition, there are Verdi’s luminous arias and famous “Anvil” chorus, which is superbly performed by the orchestra and chorus under conductor Pier Giorgio Morandi. There are superior hi-def audio and video.
 
DVDs of the Week 
Dateline: Saigon 
(First Run Features)
The reminiscences of the Vietnam War’s most renowned journalists—Neil Sheehan, David Halberstram, Malcolm Browne, Peter Arnett and Horst Faas—make up Tom Herman’s cogent documentary about how those on the ground saw a different war than what U.S. presidents and generals were selling. Rather than present a rosy picture of a conflict of honorable intentions but disastrous results, these men admirably dealt with adversity from all sides while reporting from the dangerous battlegrounds of East Asia.
 
 
Narrated by Sam Waterston, this riveting but sobering account doffs its hat to these honorable men, some of whom would win a Pulitzer (Halberstram) and write the definitive account of the war, A Bright Shining Lie (Sheehan).
 
 
 
 
 
No Small Matter 
(Abramorama)
Early childhood education is yet another important resource that our country has squandered, and this succinct 74-minute documentary shows ways to stop wasting such a rich ore and start using it to our greater advantage.
 
 
Narrated by Alfre Woodard, co-directors Danny Alpert, Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel’s film eschews any hectoring or obviously pointing fingers to make the case for giving our youngest children the education they deserve and need from the start. Extras are short featurettes.
 
CD of the Week 
Anna Clyne/Edward Elgar—Cello Works 
(Avie)
These works for cello and orchestra were composed 100 years apart, but Anna Clyne’s Dance (2019)—a concerto in all but name—stacks up nicely against Edward Elgar’s beloved 1919 warhorse, which has been a go-to for decades for any cellist wanting to prove her bonafides as a serious player.
 
 
And on this recording, American-Israeli cellist Inbal Segev does just that, ringing every ounce of emotion out of Elgar’s often heart-tugging score and easily traversing Clyne’s flexible work that is alternately playful and discordant, solemn and majestic. Conductor Marin Alsop and the London Philharmonic Orchestra provide exceptional support.

July '20 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 

The War of the Worlds 

(Criterion Collection)

Director Byron Haskin and producer George Pal’s 1953 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic 1897 sci-fi novel about a Martian invasion remains watchable even if it is cheesy and dated-looking: although, it must be admitted, for its time, the special effects are fairly dazzling.

 

 

Criterion’s smart package includes Paramount’s fantastic-looking and -sounding 4K/5.1 surround restoration; 2005 audio commentary and making-of featurette, The Sky Is Falling; new featurettes on the restoration and visual/sound effects; and—best of all—three audio extras: a 1970 Pal interview; Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 Mercury Theater radio version, which millions of listeners thought was real; and a 1940 radio discussion between Welles and Wells, recorded in San Antonio.

 
 
 
 
 

Cannery Row 

(Warner Archive)

John Steinbeck’s most famous novels were successfully turned into films (The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden), but David S. Ward’s 1982 adaptation combines Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday to lesser effect.

 

 

Sven Nykvist’s gorgeous photography, Richard MacDonald’s stunning set design and John Huston’s craggy narration outpace the budding romance of Doc and Suzy, outsiders on Cannery Row. Despite the presence of Nick Nolte and (especially) Debra Winger, this overwhelming exercise in style—like fellow early ’80s flops One from the Heart and Popeye—is worth a watch as mainly eye-popping sketches for a story that hasn’t been supplied. The hi-def transfer is, unsurprisingly, transfixing to watch.

 
 
 
 
 

Romance on the High Seas 

(Warner Archive)

In this diverting 1948 romantic comedy set primarily on a cruise ship, a suspicious wife and husband hire a stand-in and a private eye, who promptly fall for each other, which leads to a satisfyingly silly finale of mistaken identities.

 

 

The two couples— Janis Paige (wife) and Don DeFore (husband), and Doris Day (in her effervescent movie debut as the stand-in) and Jack Carson (private eye)—are enjoyable enough to make this dated comedy a treat, along with Jule Styne’s songs; the bursting colors of director Michael Curtiz’s production—shown to great advantage on Blu-ray—also keep things percolating.

 
 
 
 
 

VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week

Earth 

(KimStim)

In his latest documentary about how humans deal with their environment, director Nikolaus Geyrhalter provides eye-opening views of some of the most imposing terrain on the planet—mines, quarries and tunnels—to show how we are forever altering the planet, even more so, unbelievably, than natural forces.

 

 

Juxtaposing God’s-eye views of places in California, Austria, Hungary, Germany, Italy, Spain and Canada (which look like otherworldly abstract paintings) with trenchant interviews with those working at these sites, Earth displays the simultaneous beauty and horribleness that accompanies the changes that can irrevocably damage our one and only home.

 
 
 
 
 

John Lewis: Good Trouble 

(Magnolia Pictures)

This look at a truly great man might be somewhat hagiographic, but when the subject has done as much over the past six decades for civil rights and race relations as John Lewis has as a congressman from Georgia and as an associate of Martin Luther King—marching at Selma, speaking at the march on Washington, for starters, trying to end racism and prevent the loss of our democracy—then there’s nothing to criticize.

 

 

Lewis is still going strong at age 80, and Dawn Porter’s lovely portrait presents a humble but dedicated hero for so many still in pursuit of liberty and justice for all.

 
 
 
 
 

Suzi Q 

(Utopia Distribution)

A product of rock’n’roll haven Detroit, Suzi Quatro was a tiny woman with a big voice, a big bass and a big personality, all of which gave her a successful career outside of America, where she had a couple of mid/late ‘70s hits (“48 Crash,” the duet “Stumblin’ In” with Chris Norman) and a recurring role on TV’s Happy Days as Leather Toscadero.

 

 

Liam Firmager and Tait Brady’s documentary tells Quatro’s story from her teen days in a band with her sisters to current icon status. Quatro is still an unapologetic spitfire and others heard from in this well-rounded portrait are her sisters, brother, ex-manager, ex-producer/songwriter, ex-guitarist/ex-husband and superfans like Cherie Currie, Tina Weymouth and fellow Detroit native Alice Cooper.

 
 
 
 
 

DVD of the Week 

Evil—Complete 1st Season 

(CBS/Paramount)

This intriguingly twisty crime procedural pairs a forensic psychiatrist (skeptical of anything unscientific) with a Catholic seminarian and his assistant to search for (or rule out) supernatural answers to murders and other crimes.

 

 

It’s too bad that the series often takes the easy way out with cheap attempts at scares—like the pilot episode’s unintentionally funny night terrors subplot—because when concentrating on the psychology of supernatural vs. reality, it’s compelling. Katja Herbers, an effortlessly winning actress, could be Carey Mulligan’s doppelgänger (that would make a great episode), while Mike Colter, Aasif Mandvi and Christine Lahti provide excellent support. In addition to the series’ 13 episodes, extras include featurettes and deleted scenes.

 
 
 
 
 

CD of the Week

Jules Massenet—Thaïs 

(Chandos)

Massenet’s “exotic” opera, about an Egyptian courtesan whose true purity is revealed, but with tragic consequences, is best known for its lilting Méditation, an intermezzo for violin—which, in this recording, is dispatched beautifully by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster, Jonathan Crow.

 

 

Massenet’s music is otherwise appropriately (if too obviously) dramatic and romantic; conductor Sir Andrew Davis summons a vivid reading of the shimmering score. Soprano Erin Wall makes a vocally glamorous and enticing heroine, and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir provides stellar support.

June '20 Digital Week IV

VOD/Virtual Cinema Releases of the Week  

The King of Staten Island 

(Universal)

I’m no fan of Pete Davidson or Judd Apatow so I unsurprisingly found their collaboration—all two hours and fifteen minutes—insufferable. Davidson basically (and monotonously) plays himself if he never joined SNL, just a tattooed goof-off; shoehorning his own tragic back story (Davidson’s real father, a firefighter, died on Sept. 11) into this crude, forgettable attempt at comedy—another of Apatow’s paeans to losers—borders on the unseemly.

 

 

On the positive side, Marisa Tomei is a delight as Pete’s mom, Steve Buscemi is fine as a fireman, and Bill Burr is agreeable in a one-note part as Mom’s new boyfriend (another fireman)—but they only partially compensate for long stretches of choppy, self-indulgent moviemaking and empty, laughless space.

 
 
 
 
 

Classe tous risques (Consider All Risks) 

(Rialto)

French director Claude Sautet’s sophomore feature, this 1960 crime drama is a taut, tight exploration of a wanted man’s desperate attempts to remain free—by film’s end, his wife is dead, he’s separated from his two young sons and the law is right behind him.

 

 

Lino Ventura gives a blistering performance as the flawed protagonist and has fine support by Jean-Paul Belmondo as his latest—and likely last—partner and Sandra Milo as a young woman who assists them. Superbly shot in stark B&W by Ghislain Cloquet, Sautet’s best film was followed by increasingly more erratic features, unfortunately. 

 
 
 
 
 

My Darling Vivian 

(Film Collaborative)

Usually erased from accounts of Johnny Cash’s life and career is his first wife Vivian Liberto—mother of his four daughters, including singer Rosanne—in favor of the obvious June Carter Cash/second wife angle; Matt Riddlehoover’s illuminating documentary corrects the by-now cemented historical record.

 

 

Emotional interviews with Vivian’s daughters are interspersed with an eye-opening and quite touching look at Vivian with and without Johnny: after their divorce, she remarried while admitting that Johnny was the love of her life. 

 
 
 
 
 

Sometimes Always Never 

(Blue Fox Entertainment)

Bill Nighy displays his usual snarky persona as a respected tailor damaged after one of his sons stormed out during a tense game of Scrabble in Carl Hunter’s by-the-numbers study of a man more interested in words than in other people, including his own family.

 

 

The always watchable Nighy can do sort of thing in his sleep, which means there’s little surprise to his character arc, while even an actress as dependable as Jenny Agutter is unable to create many sparks as a woman who enters the tailor’s life after meeting him at the morgue, of all places.

 
 
 
 
 

Blu-rays of the Week 

Corpus Christi 

(Film Movement)

Polish director Jan Kosama’s provocative study of a 20-year-old jailbird posing as a village priest and how it changes him and his parishioners—especially after he looks into past sins that have been swept under the rug—might be contrived but it’s a powerful statement on the uneasy intersection of criminality, religion and redemption.

 

 

Bartosz Bielenia gives a phenomenally effective performance in the lead role while Eliza Rycembel leads an excellent supporting cast as a local woman he befriends. The film looks terrific on Blu; extras are a making-of featurette and Kosama’s 2003 short, Nice to See You.

 
 
 
 
 

L’important c’est d’aimer (That Most Important Thing: Love) 

(Film Movement Classics)

Polish director Andrzej Zulawski made several films about unhinged characters in difficult relationships, but he’s in relatively muted mode in this disjointed 1974 portrait of a struggling actress juggling her personal and professional lives.

 

 

Romy Schneider’s incendiary portrayal of a married woman who falls in love with a photographer provides some searing and intense moments; too bad these are exceptions in Zulawski’s wan glimpse at artists’ difficulties. There’s a very good hi-def transfer; lone extra is a Zulawski interview.

 
 
 
 
 

Mahler—Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection” 

(Unitel)

Gustav Mahler’s massive “Resurrection” symphony—for large orchestra, chorus and two female soloists—is given a forceful rendition by conductor Gustavo Dudamel, Munich Philharmonic and chorus and singers Tamara Mumford and Chen Reiss.

 

 

Performed in the gorgeously cathedral-like Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, Mahler’s mammoth work comes off brilliantly, from its quiet beginnings to its stirring finale, much like Beethoven’s ninth (see DVD reviews below). There’s first-rate hi-def video and audio.

 
 
 
 
 

Once Were BrothersRobbie Robertson and the Band 

(Magnolia)

Director Daniel Roher engagingly recounts the eventful musical life of Robbie Robertson, leader of the Band, the original roots-rock group whose classic tunes “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down” and “Up on Cripple Creek” remain staples of classic rock playlists.

 

 

Robertson candidly discusses his upbringing in Canada, his move to the U.S. and teaming up with his future Bandmates, working with Bob Dylan and, later—following the Last Waltz concert film—Martin Scorsese, for whom he has scored and compiled music for decades. The film looks and sounds great in hi-def.

 
 
 
 
 

Tokyo Olympiad 

(Criterion)

Japanese director Kon Ichikawa was chosen to create the official record of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games, and the passionately filmed and involving result is—along with Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, about the infamous 1936 Berlin Games—the best-ever Olympic document.

 

 

From intimate moments of personal triumph and agony to expansive views of the playing fields and spectators, Ichikawa presents the human comedy on an epic canvas. Criterion’s stellar edition includes a quite good (but not great) hi-def transfer, commentary and introductions by Japanese film expert Peter Cowie, archival Ichikawa interviews, new featurette, and nearly an hour and a half of additional footage.

 
 
 
 
 

DVDs of the Week

Beethoven’s Ninth—Symphony for the World 

(C Major)

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—the first symphony comprising a choir and solo vocalists—was a formidable challenge for those at its 1824 Vienna premiere. (Beethoven, deaf by that time and co-conducting the first performance, famously had to be turned around by one of the singers so he could see the applauding audience.)

 

 

Christian Berger’s captivating documentary demonstrates that Beethoven’s message of brotherhood and humanity has not faded in the past 200 years: we see orchestras, conductors, composers and soloists getting ready to perform the work all over the world, from Tokyo (where 10,000 people make up the chorus) to Africa. The symphony is still a stirring and daring work of art, which was Beethoven’s intent.

 
 
 
 
 

The Gene—A Personal History 

(PBS)

This fascinating multi-episode documentary from a book by Siddhartha Mukherjee precisely lays out how genetic science has grown into the complex and seemingly miraculous field responsible for so many important breakthroughs.

 

 

Personalizing the science—we are introduced to people with diseases yet to be tamed and watch if gene therapy can help—also humanizes the historical aspect, as the men and women working so heroically are discovering how to utilize constantly improving technology for the betterment of all.

 
 
 
 
 

The Perfect Nanny 

(Distrib Films)

Based on the subtly unnerving novel by Leïla Slimani, Lucie Borleteau’s middling adaptation slowly builds predictable suspense after a well-to-do Parisian couple hires the so-called title character, then loses it all with a lazy finale that recalls mindless slasher flicks far more than more sophisticated thrillers.

 

 

As the nanny, the mostly persuasive Karin Viard is eventually undercut by Borleteau’s reliance on clichés, which mitigates the domestic horrors found in this all-too-real situation.

 
 
 
 
 

CDs of the Week 

Penderecki—St Luke Passion 

(BIS)

Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki—who died in March at age 86—was known for his tense, dissonant works, which are familiar to anyone who’s seen The Exorcist, The Shining, Shutter Island or fellow Pole Andrzej Wajda’s Katyn. But his St Luke Passion, which premiered in 1966, showed off a “new” Penderecki: blending atonality with baroque forms and a newfound talent for choral writing, this was the first of several large-scale vocal works based on religious texts.

 

 

This tremendous performance from the 2018 Salzburg Festival by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Krakow Philharmonic Choir, Warsaw Boys Choir and a quartet of esteemed soloists was conducted by Kent Nagano, whose affinity for Penderecki’s wide-ranging sound world is very much in evidence.

 
 
 
 
 

Feldman—Coptic Light 

(Capriccio)

The most characteristic works of American composer Morton Feldman (1926-87) don’t lend themselves to either live performances or, especially, recordings: consider his marathon, six-hours-without-a-break String Quartet No 2.

 

 

But this recording shows that Feldman could work his singular magic—slowly evolving sounds, mostly quiet dynamics—in smaller forms: 1973’s String Quartet and Orchestra distills the essence of his music to 26 memorable minutes, while 1986’s Coptic Light (his last completed work before his death from cancer) further consolidates his aesthetic of musical calm, even with the extraordinarily large orchestral forces needed. The ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra plays both works brilliantly under the batons of Michael Boder (Coptic Light) and Emilio Pomarico (String Quartet and Orchestra, with the Arditti Quartet).

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