Digital Week - December 18th
Blu-rays of the Week
Belgian author Georges Simenon’s novels have been adapted for the cinema for decades, and Jacques Duvivier’s 1947 drama based on Simenon’s short novel Monsieur Hire’s Engagement (later the basis for Patrice Leconte’s 1989 Monsieur Hire) was one of the first—and remains among the best. Not only is it a cracklingly good drama with superior performances by Michel Simon and Viviane Romance, but it’s also a damning indictment of French WWII collaboration as townspeople are tricked into believing the innocent Hire is a murderer. Criterion’s Blu-ray looks exceptional in hi-def; extras are an interview with Simenon’s son Pierre, a look at subtitling and a discussion of the film’s merits by two French critics.
Dark of the Sun (Warner Archive)
When Jack Cardiff’s action-packed Congo adventure was released in 1968, it was excoriated for excessive violence, but 50 years later, its brutality will raise barely an eyebrow—but this story of corruption, mercenaries and vengeance is still hair-raising. Rod Taylor and Jim Brown lead a capable cast in this exciting, ultimately disturbing drama, with Edward Scaife’s photography—the film was shot in Jamaica, of all places, for its jungle landscapes and extensive railroad tracks—looking appropriately gritty on Blu-ray.
Horror of Dracula (Warner Archive)
In this colorful 1957 showdown between two Hammer Studio adversaries—meeting for the first time—Christopher Lee (the dastardly Count) and Peter Cushing (his nemesis van Helsing), a spooky mansion in Transylvania is the setting for much fang-baring and stake-driving. Director Terence Fischer’s programmer will do quite well for those with a Dracula fixation that needs sating; Lee and Cushing are always fun to watch going through their motions. There’s a solid hi-def transfer.
Jack Irish—Complete 2nd Season (Acorn)
Guy Pearce is properly frazzled as Jack Irish, a former detective turned private eye still affected by his wife’s murder and whose personal and professional lives are in shambles—so he takes on the case of a dead messenger that draws him to the dangerous streets of Mumbai. Despite implausibilities in the plotting—and that’s being generous—there’s sufficient local Melbourne color, vivid characterizations and a healthy dose of wry humor to assist Pearce in this entertaining six-part adaptation of Peter Temple’s books. The Blu-ray looks excellent; extras are interviews with cast and crew and on-set featurettes.
Craig William MacNeill’s straightforward revisiting of the legendary murders of Lizzie Borden’s father and stepmother in mid 19th century New England offers a lesbian relationship between spinster Lizzie and the Borden family’s new maid Bridget. Strong performances by Chloe Sevigny (Lizzie) and Kristen Stewart (Bridget)—both performing the murder sequences in the altogether, a rarity for American actresses—make this diverting if ultimately not very memorable. The film looks quite good on Blu-ray; lone extra is a making-of featurette.
Die Schöpfung/The Creation (Naxos)
For this singular 2017 staging of Joseph Haydn’s classic oratorio, the production teams of La Fura dels Baus and Carlus Padrissa joined forces in Ile Seguin, France, for a strangely intriguing perspective on a work usually not dramatized. The garish costumes and lighting sometimes obscure Haydn’s music and the singers, but conductor Laurence Equilbey makes sure we never get sidetracked from the life-affirming work at the center. Both hi-def video and audio are fine; lone extra is a making-of featurette.
The Predator (Fox)
Another reboot, but this time, Hollywood gets it (mostly) right: co-writer Shane Black directs a rip-roaring action flick that has dark humor, great pacing, good actors, dazzling effects and bloody gore galore. Some of the jarring tonal shifts don’t work completely successfully, but on the whole this updated Predator for a new generation is about as entertaining as can be hoped. The film looks great on Blu-ray; extras include deleted scenes and featurettes.
The Sea Hawk (Warner Archive)
This rousing 1940 adventure may be the best of the dozen films director Michael Curtiz made with swashbuckling Errol Flynn, who doesn’t disappoint as Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe, 16th century privateer who does all he can for Queen Elizabeth I as England attempts to wrest control of the seas from the Spanish armada. Flynn’s derring-do is only one part of this immensely entertaining historical spectacle: Curtiz directs with panache (even getting an amusing performance from a trained monkey) and Erich Korngold’s score is one of his best. The hi-def transfer is also spectacular, especially when it changes from B&W to sepia for a sequence set in the new world; extras include a vintage featurette and other Warner shorts.
Viking Destiny (Lionsgate)
Director-writer David L.G. Hughes’ Norse adventure works surprisingly effectively because it’s kept to a sensible 91 minutes and its cast includes the one and only Terence Stamp as the god Odin and the wonderful Anna Demetriou as the young princess who battles her way to her rightful destiny after being framed for the murder of her father, the king. The astonishing beauty of the Northern Ireland landscapes, superbly photographed by Sara Deane, helps smooth over the choppy storyline. There’s a splendid hi-def transfer; extras include featurettes.
This staging of Alban Berg’s masterpiece of 12-tone, 20th century opera has a frighteningly primal performance by Christopher Maltman as the anti-hero and a brilliant turn by Eva-Maria Westbroek as his prostitute girlfriend Marie. Even if Krzysztof Warlikowski’s directorial choices are sometimes suspect, Wozzeck flirts with surrealism anyway, so there are no fatal mistakes. Marc Albrecht conducts the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and Chrous of the Dutch National Opera with an ear attuned to Berg’s uniquely dramatic musical language. Both audio and video are first-rate in high-def.