In this week’s roundup, HBO’s multi-part series The Outsider, based on a Stephen King story, leads an electric group of new releases comprising two Warner Archive classics, a French opera based on Cinderella, a 2001 horror flick and a new documentary about Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
The Outsider—Complete 1st Season (Warner Bros/HBO)
This Stephen King adaptation about a murderous entity that stumps law enforcement starts out very well, but somewhere around episode 4 it loses its way and stumbles badly. After 10 hours, it amounts to much ado about very little but remains watchable thanks to an estimable cast led by Ben Mendelssohn and Cynthia Erivo as an improbable pair of investigators trying to solve a seemingly impossible case. Honorable mention goes to Bill Camp as the D.A. The series looks stunning in hi-def; extras comprise several making-of featurettes, including interviews with cast, crew and King.
Cendrillon/Cinderella (Opus Arte)
French composer Jules Massenet’s beguiling musical adaptation of the original fairy tale Cinderella is among the most sheerly entertaining of all operas, and Fiona Shaw’s 2019 staging at England’s Glyndebourne Festival follows suit. John Wilson ably conducts the Glyndebourne orchestra and chorus and the entire cast is exceptional, with the stand-out, unsurprisingly, being American-Australian soprano Danielle de Niese as an amusing, thoughtful, winning Cinderella. There’s first-rate hi-def video and audio.
Million Dollar Mermaid (Warner Archive)
This 1952 Esther Williams vehicle is as creaky as they come—Williams plays Aussie swimmer Annette Kellerman (sans accent), who becomes an aquatic hit in London and America—yet despite its questionable status as a biopic it does have Williams at her best in the water, whether the River Thames, an indoor tank in a Broadway theater or on a Hollywood movie set. Colorful in both senses—the movie looks eye-wateringly splendid in hi-def—Mervyn Leroy’s drama dries up on land but contains one of choreographer Busby Berkeley’s typically extravagant showstopping sequences. Extras include a vintage short and cartoon as well as a radio show with Williams and Walter Pidgeon.
Pride and Prejudice (Warner Archive)
Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson are perfectly cast as Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, the latter among Jane Austen’s greatest heroines, in Robert Z. Leonard’s slightly musty but sympathetic 1940 adaptation of Austen’s classic novel. The impressive cast includes Maureen O’Sullivan and Ann Rutherford as the other Bennet sisters while the lovely physical production (which won an Oscar for B&W art direction) is true to the source, but Olivier and Garson’s chemistry—initially antagonistic then, ultimately, romantic—is the heart of the film. The hi-def transfer looks sparkling; extras are a vintage short and cartoon.
Thirteen Ghosts (Scream Factory)
This loose 2001 remake of William Castle’s 1960 haunted-house B flick is technically persuasive—the sudden appearances of the dozen lethal ghosts are superbly done as is the puzzling box of a home where the action takes place—but it’s otherwise unpleasant to watch. Steve Beck’s direction is for the most part turgid and a fine cast on paper is mainly wasted: F. Murray Abraham. Tony Shaloub, Embeth Davidtz, Shannon Elizabeth and Matthew Lillard have all been much better elsewhere. There is an excellent hi-def transfer; extras include new interviews, audio commentary by Beck and others, and vintage featurettes.
VOD/Virtual Cinema Release of the Week
Gordon Lightfoot—If You Could Read My Mind (Greenwich Entertainment)
Joan Tosoni and Martha Kehoe have made a lovingly introspective portrait of the great Canadian singer-songwriter, whose mid-’70s hits “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” are still staples of adult-contemporary radio. Lightfoot engagingly discusses his long career and its attendant highs and lows; the directors bring together a virtual who’s-who of Canadian music (Anne Murray, Sarah McLaughlin, Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings, Rush’s Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson) to anoint Lightfoot as the ultimate Canadian troubadour, whose songs are the very essence of inspired craft and storytelling.
DVD Releases of the Week
Grantchester—Complete 5th Season (PBS Masterpiece)
In the latest Grantchester go-round, the year is 1957, and the seemingly idyllic environs of the village are darkened by the deaths of a student at the female-only college, a hit-and-run victim and a cinemagoer (among others) and Detective Inspector Keating must muster all of his wits and wiles to solve these crimes over six episodes. Robson Green is in top form as Keating and Tom Brittney is perfection is the vicar, Keating’s ally, and the investigations remain as distinctive and entertaining as they’ve been over the previous four seasons. Lone extra is a making-of featurette.
The brazen killings of 11 black people, including 5 children, in Philadelphia in 1985 by the city government—which culminated in an actual bomb being used—against the radical group MOVE is the starting point of director Sean Slater’s fascinating overview and primer of how America’s police forces have become militarized. It’s no coincidence that such a sea change in policing and law enforcement is directly tied to black American movements from the Black Panthers in the late ’60s to today’s Black Lives Matter, as Slater’s succinct reportage makes clear. The lone extra is a short Slater intro.