Blu-rays of the Week
The Golden Age / A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Bel Air)
The Bolshoi Ballet’s thoroughly delightful Golden Age, based on ridiculously catchy music by Dmitri Shostakovich, displays the company at its best with spiffy costuming, clever sets and some effortlessly stupendous dancing. In choreographer Alexander Ekman’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, only the title is Shakespeare’s: the music isn’t Mendelssohn’s classic score but a lukewarm one by Mikael Karlsson that doesn’t seem to challenge the men and women of the Royal Swedish Ballet, who still do their damnedest to make it work. Both discs include first-rate hi-def video and audio. The lone Dream extra is an Ekman interview.
In Mike Leigh’s 1984 television film, a working-class family deals with the effects of Margaret Thatcher’s regime, including skyrocketing unemployment and a possible youthful alternative like skinheads. Although ragged around the edges, this biting comedy-drama from the always political Leigh is a fine lead-in to his two best films, 1988’s High Hopes and 1991’s Life Is Sweet—both of which deserve a Criterion release—and also a great showcase for an array of young acting talent, including Tim Roth and (in his debut) Gary Oldman. The Criterion hi-def transfer is decent enough (this is, after all, an early ‘80s British TV film); extras are new interviews with Leigh and actress Marion Bailey and a 2007 Roth interview.
La Poison (Criterion)
In Sacha Guitry’s jet-black but precise comedy, French great Michel Simon and Germaine Reuver play long-wedded spouses who’ve grown to loathe each other so much that they discuss how they will off each other—until she ends up dead and he is taken to court charged with her murder. Guitry’s poison pen is as sharp as ever, notwithstanding a sentimental opening credit sequence unlike any you’ve seen (unless you know other Guitry movies). Simon is superbly expressive, unsurprisingly, as is Reuver as his unlucky wife. Criterion’s hi-def transfer of this 1951 B&W film is nothing short of dazzling; extras comprise an hour-long 2010 documentary, Life On-Screen: Miseries and Splendour of a Monarch, about Guitry and Simon’s collaborations; an hour-long episode of French television series Cineaste de Notre Temps from 1965 about Guitry (who died in 1957); and an interview with an unabashed Guitry fan, director Olivier Assayas.