Digital Week – March 20th

Blu-rays of the Week

The Handmaid’s Tale—Complete 1st Season (Fox)

Based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, this limited series made streaming service Hulu into a major player by sweeping this year’s Emmys, but this proficiently made, well-acted and sophisticated-looking adaptation makes dully literal what in Atwood’s book is only imaginative (Volker Schlondorff’s stillborn 1990 film had the same failure.) As an allegory of Trump’s America, it’s too on-the-nose, and the self-seriousness palls after awhile—and who okayed using Tom Petty’s “American Girl” at the end? Still, there are fine performances, with Yvonne Strahovski standing out in a cast including Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Ann Dowd, Simira Wiley and Alexis Bledel. The hi-def transfer looks great; extras are two mini-featurettes.

Daughter of the Nile (Cohen Media)

Hou Hsiao-hsien’s moody 1987 study of a young woman and her brother on the fringes of Taipei’s contemporary underworld has moments of nuanced observation to go along with Hou’s idiosyncratic but gripping worldview. But it was in the two historical masterworks that followed—1989’s A City of Sadness and 1993’s The Puppetmaster—that Hou would become a director of international stature. There’s an exquisite-looking hi-def transfer; extras are an interview with Asian cinema expert Tony Ryans and an audio commentary.

Images (Arrow Academy)

In Robert Altman’s hallucinatory 1972 drama, a disturbed children’s author (an excellent Susannah York) has hallucinations centering around her husband and a mysterious—but familiar—woman. If Vilmos Zsigmond’s supple cinematography coaxes fresh beauties out of the Irish landscape, this is too close to Ingmar Bergman’s own explorations of fragile female mental states, but without Bergman’s psychological subtlety and insight. It does look splendid on Blu; extras include an Altman commentary, archival Altman and Zsigmond interviews, new interview with actress Cathryn Harrison, and appreciation by musician Stephen Thrower.

Live from the 2016 BBC Proms (Naxos)

The highlight of this 2016 Royal Albert Hall concert in London—with Russian vet Valery Gergiev conducting the Munich Philharmonic—is the scintillating performance of Sergey Rachmaninov’s fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 by Uzbekistan soloist Behzod Abduraimov, who turns this crowd-pleaser into an emphatic personal statement. And alongside pleasant works by familiar names—Ravel, Strauss, Berlioz—is an eye-opener, the Third Symphony by Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya, subtitled “Jesus Messiah, Save Us!” and filled with profound spirituality. Hi-def video and audio are splendid.

Pitch Perfect 3 (Universal)

Going to the well too often is the downfall of this fitfully funny but ragged second remake of the charming Pitch Perfect, which was happily free of any baggage: PP2 was OK but this one less so, with an exceedingly dopey plot that gets the gals back together—and even finds room for a hammy John Lithgow to play Rebel Wilson’s father. The song interludes are numbingly repetitive, the performances (except for Brittany Snow and the Annas Kendrick and Camp) are smug, and 90 minutes crawls by. It all looks good on Blu; extras include extended scenes, deleted scenes, featurettes, interviews, commentary and gag reel—which is more amusing than the entire film.

Renee Fleming in Concert / The Sleeping Beauty (Opus Arte)

The two-disc Renee Fleming in Concert pairs her 2011 appearance with conductor Christian Thielemann and the Vienna Philharmonic with a 2012 concert with Thielemann and Dresden State Orchestra: she eloquently sings Richard Strauss in the first and Hugo Wolf and Strauss in the second; Strauss’s Alpine Symphony rounds out Vienna and Anton Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony wraps Dresden, both in a stellar fashion. Tchaikovsky’s classic The Sleeping Beauty, enchantingly performed by London’s Royal Ballet in 2017, has enticing music and fabulous footwork in spades. Both releases have superior hi-def video and audio; Beauty has bonus interviews.

DVDs of the Week

Frank Serpico (IFC)

Immortalized by Al Pacino in Sidney Lumet’s 1973 film Serpico, detective Frank Serpico blew the whistle on police corruption in late ‘60s/early ‘70s New York City, but paying a price for his integrity and honesty. Antonino D’Ambrosio’s informative if superficial portrait shows Serpico then (idealistic young reformer who became a pariah to some and hero to others) and now (still an anti-police brutality activist, he lives on a farm in New York’s Columbia County). Serpico cuts a charismatic figure, but is utterly different than Pacino was in the eponymous film; still, this “Where Are They Now” type documentary makes a fascinating companion piece to Lumet’s classic. Extras comprise an alternate opening, deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

The Good Fight—Complete 1st Season (CBS/Paramount)

This spin-off of the hit show The Good Wife smartly concentrates on attorney Diane Lockhart, who must rebuild her professional career and personal life after a shocking revelation forces her out of the original series’ law firm. With the redoubtable Christine Baranski leading the charge, this old-fashioned, entertaining drama—the first on CBS’s streaming platform, All Access—also provides a high-quality showcase for a group of stellar actors, including Cush Jumbo, Delroy Lindo, Sarah Steele and Rose Leslie. Extras are deleted/extended scenes and a gag reel.