This week’s roundup is highlighted by the Blu-ray releases of two classic films—Sidney Lumet’s Fail Safe (1964) and Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl (1981)—and more classic episodes from Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts TV series.
Blu-rays of the Week
Britt-Marie Was Here (Cohen Media)
Swedish actress Pernilla August—an accomplished veteran of films by Ingmar Bergman and her ex-husband Bille August—plays a forgotten 63-year-old wife who discovers her husband is having an affair, so she moves away and improbably becomes the soccer coach to a bunch of unruly teens. This is crowd-pleasing, safe filmmaking whose sentimentality and cutesiness is obviously the draw here, along with August, always an appealing presence, as our heroine. There’s a fine hi-def transfer.
Fail Safe (Criterion)
Sidney Lumet’s pulse-pounding 1964 drama about a Cold War nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and Soviet Union had the misfortune of being made at the same time as Stanley Kubrick’s scaldingly comic take on the subject, Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick even sued the production). Fifty-six years later, Lumet’s tense thriller—with a fine cast led by Henry Fonda as the president, Larry Hagman, Fritz Weaver, Walter Matthau and Dan O’Herlihy—can be appreciated on its own. Criterion’s hi-def transfer is exceptionally vivid; extras include Lumet’s 2000 commentary; an interview with film critic J. Hoberman; and Fail-Safe Revisited, a 2000 documentary short including interviews with Lumet, O’Herlihy and screenwriter Walter Bernstein.
George Benjamin—Written on Skin/Lessons in Love and Violence (Opus Arte)
With 2013’s Written on Skin, George Benjamin became a rock star in the opera world: his spiky music and the intense drama of Martin Crimp’s libretto about a fateful adulterous affair combine with committed performers and interpreters to create an overwhelming dramatic and musical sensation. His 2018 followup, Lessons in Love and Violence—a static drama about an enraged and enraging monarch and the bitter rivalries among his family and subjects—finds Benjamin and Crimp spinning their wheels, even with returning Skin collaborators: director Katie Mitchell and singers Barbara Hannigan and Stephane Dagout. Hi-def images and audio are first-rate; extras are short interviews with Benjamin, Crimp and Mitchell.
Gregory’s Girl (Film Movement Classics)
Bill Forsyth’s breakthrough feature was this extremely charming 1981 romantic comedy about a teen who falls for a sporty tomboy who makes the high school’s soccer team. Although Forsyth would go on to make better, more memorable films—like his masterpieces Local Hero and Housekeeping—there’s something disarmingly unpretentious to this perceptive comic study. Winning performances by John Gordon Sinclair (Gregory), Dee Hepburn (tomboy) and Claire Grogan (another girl) help keep this as fresh and funny as it was nearly 40 years ago. The new hi-def transfer looks luminous; extras include a new Forsyth commentary, new interviews with Forsyth and Grogan, and a vintage interview with Forsyth.
Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic, Vol. 2 (Unitel)
As music director of the New York Philharmonic, conductor Leonard Bernstein—a brilliant musical polymath and teacher with the rare ability to talk about music to any audience, young or old—hosted dozens of concerts in which the orchestral players demonstrated works both familiar and obscure while he chattily discussed the pieces’ relevance and originality. Like volume 1, this four-disc set collects 14 episodes from the series that CBS aired (in prime time!) from 1958 and 1972—along with three episodes featuring young performers—as music by Copland (on his 60th birthday) and Shostakovich is played and analyzed alongside a couple of Beatles tunes. The half-century-old televised episodes look fine, if unspectacular, on Blu.
DVD of the Week
The Cellist (First Run)
Russian cellist Gregor Piatigorsky (1906-76) led a fascinating personal and artistic life, and Murray Grigor and Hamid Shams’s affectionate documentary rises to the occasion by being thoughtful about his legacy as it drifts heavily into “music geek” mode. Interviews with many of Piatigorsky’s students and fervent admirers—including fellow cellists Yo-Yo Ma, Mischa Maisky and Stephen Isserlis—further illuminate a magnanimous portrait of a man, musician and mentor.