Blu-rays of the Week
Kirsten Johnson has shot many seminal images over the past few decades, and Cameraperson is her own “greatest hits” package gleaned from footage of films she has photographed for great documentaries like The Invisible War, Pray the Devil Back to Hell and the Oscar-winning Citizenfour, along with her own “home movies” of herself and family. Though there’s a sense of randomness to this project, there are powerful glimpses of people in such far-flung places as Bosnia, Nigeria, and Brooklyn, providing further proof (if any was needed) that she’s made important contributions to many indispensable films. The Blu-ray looks first-rate; extras include interviews, roundtables and Q&As.
Mercy Street—Complete 2nd Season (PBS)
The intrigues in and around a Union Army hospital in Alexandria, Virginia during the Civil War have escalated during this drama’s second season, which plunges further into the medical and personal lives and relationships among the soldiers and other army personnel, doctors and nurses, civilians and slaves. After seeming out of place last season, Josh Radnor has grown into his role as Union doctor Jed Foster, aided by equally strong performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as nurse Mary Phinney and, as a Confederate couple dealing with treason and grown daughters, Gary Cole and Donna Murphy. The season’s six episodes look gorgeously realistic on Blu; extras are 20 minutes of deleted scenes.
In the tradition of such biker flicks as Easy Rider and The Wild One, this 1973 British entry ups the ante with a group of zombie bikers terrorizing the local populace, but director Don Sharp has made a pretty muddy film with little drama, scares or thrills. That it’s played relatively straight doesn’t help, as it keeps the film to one dull gear for nearly its entire 91-minute running time. The film has nicely filmic grain in hi-def; extras include new and archival interviews and a featurette.
Quarry—Complete 1st Season (HBO/Cinemax)
When Mac Conway returns home from Vietnam, he discovers that his gorgeous wife Joni is having an affair, thanks to a mysterious dude who also recruits him as a hitman: the early 70s in America is presented with shrewd surreality that underlines the relentlessly downbeat vision of adultery, betrayal and murder. Logan Marshall-Green is perfectly cast as Mac, South African actress Jodi Balfour is a revelation as Joni, and the writing and direction ratchet up the intensity throughout. The hi-def image is quite good; extras include deleted scenes, featurettes, commentaries and music videos
The Tree of Wooden Clogs (Criterion)
Ermanno Olmi has made immeasurably finer films—from his early Il Posto and The Fiances to later masterworks One Fine Day and The Profession of Arms—but this 1978 epic may be his most beloved: winner of the grand prize at Cannes, this nuanced and insightful drama follows a group of Italian peasants over the course of a year. Finely wrought, with amazingly lived-in performances by an all-amateur cast, it has its creator’s characteristic humanity and generosity in abundance, despite its over-length. Criterion’s otherwise excellent hi-def transfer is a bit cooler color-wise than I remember it when I originally saw it, but that’s not a deal breaker; extras include Olmi interviews, a South Bank Show episode on the film’s making; director Mike Leigh’s intro and new cast and crew interviews.
Giacomo Puccini’s final opera, completed after his death, is diffuse dramatically but contains some of his finest music, the latter of which is shown off in spades in this absorbing 2015 staging by director Nikolaus Lehnhoff at Milan’s La Scala. Conductor Riccardo Chailly presides over a startlingly dramatic performance with grand and soaring vocals by soprano Nina Stemme (in the title role), tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko and soprano Maria Agresta. The hi-def video and audio are strong.
DVDs of the Week
Blush (Film Movement)
In Michal Vink’s appealing study, teenage loner Naama finds herself irresistibly drawn to free-spirited Dana, and their relationship, which soon goes from friendly to physical, is yet another difficulty in a constricted family life that includes a rebellious older sister. Superb performances by Sivan Noam Shimon and Jade Sakori as the two young women anchor a sensitive drama that explores its thorny subject with tact and subtlety. The lone extra is a short, This Is You and Me, directed by American April Maxey.
The Forest for the Trees (Film Movement)
Neither the enervating mess of her sophomoric sophomore feature Everyone Else nor the overblown pretentiousness of her breakthrough Toni Erdmann, Maren Ade’s 2003 debut is an engagingly slight comedy about a brand new teacher in over her head. It’s incredibly clumsy at times, with choppy editing and mediocre acting, but there’s enough of a glimmer of talent that makes it more disappointing that Ade hasn’t continued to make more—rather than less—interesting movies. The lone extra is Estes Avenue, a short by the U.K.’s Paul Cotter.
CD Release of the Week
Weinberg—Chamber Symphonies/String Quintet (ECM)
Polish-Russian composer Mieczyslav Weinberg (1919-1996), whose music has gained wider currency since his death, has had many champions, none more stalwart than violinist Gidon Kremer, who has played and recorded many Weinberg works, and whose stalwart ensemble Kremerata Baltica tackles five of Weinberg’s most imposingly satisfying pieces on a must-hear two-CD set. Weinberg’s four chamber symphonies and piano quintet are performed with a superb ear for detail that doesn’t ignore the overall conceptions of these dramatic and yearning works. Weinberg has been one of the happiest discoveries of the past decade: may Kremer and others continue to bring forth his musical riches.