Blu-rays of the Week
Animal Factory (Arrow)
Actor Steve Buscemi directed this gritty 2000 drama based on the exploits of convict Eddie Bunker (called Ron Decker in the film, and played by an intense Edward Furlong), who gets a 10-year sentence at San Quentin and finds himself under the watchful eye of veteran prisoner Earl Copen (a fine Willem Dafoe). Even if his film breaks no new ground in the prison genre, Buscemi has made a credible, even sympathetic look at what men behind bars will do to survive. The Blu-ray transfer is quite good; extras include a commentary and featurette on Bunker.
Battle Cry / Hell on Frisco Bay (Warner Archive)
In 1955’s Battle Cry, young men are seen moving from boot camp to the Pacific WWII battlefield, and if Raoul Walsh’s war epic isn’t as disturbing or as honest as Full Metal Jacket, it does have indelible sequences and a cast that includes standouts Van Heflin, Aldo Ray, Mona Freeman and Nancy Olson (the latter two as the suffering women of soldiers). Also made in 1955, Hell on Frisco Bay pits former cop and ex-con Alan Ladd against crime boss Edward G. Robinson in an inevitable showdown after Ladd tracks down who really committed the murder he was framed for. Always photogenic San Francisco locations are the real star of Frank Tuttle’s tidy but colorful film noir. Both films have superior hi-def transfers.
Carmen / La Bohème (C Major)
New productions of the two most reliable warhorses in opera are distinguished by their leading ladies’ star-making performances. The title role in Carmen is played by the darkly smoldering French mezzo Gaelle Arquez, who burns up the outdoor Bregenz Festival stage whenever she’s front and center. In La Bohème, Irina Lungu plays the pitifully sickly Mimi with immense strength and sympathy. Both productions also have top-notch hi-def video and audio; Carmen extras are director and set designer interviews.
Cymbeline (Opus Arte)
This late Shakespeare romance is infrequently staged, so seeing Melly Still’s Royal Shakespeare Company production go off the rails is disheartening, since the cast is mostly effective, especially Bethan Cullinane’s powerful Innogen (Imogen for those who don’t think her name was misspelled in the first folio). The music and dance interludes seem less organic than tacked on, which drags down the rest into an unfortunate mess of dramatic and poetic stumbling. The hi-def images are excellent.
Lulu (BelAir Classiques)
The anti-heroine of Alban Berg’s unfinished opera has as its best and most prominent assayer German soprano Marlis Petersen, who gives Dmitri Tcherniakov’s tricked-out, fitfully pointed 2015 Munich staging its dramatic and musical allure. Petersen does no wrong, whether splayed half-naked on the floor or being ruthlessly abused before running into Jack the Ripper. Kirill Petrenko conducts the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra in an incisive reading of Berg’s masterly score. The hi-def video and audio are first-rate.
Night School (Warner Archive)
This turgid 1981 thriller—coming on the heels of Halloween, Friday the 13th and Phantasm, among others—spends its originality at the beginning, with the hideous murder of a victim on a playground mercilessly teased by her attacker before beheading her. After that, the movie has two things going for it: a very pretty and poised Rachel Ward in her film debut, and the offhand unmasking of the killer. There’s a decent hi-def transfer.
The Nutcracker / Anastasia (Opus Arte)
The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s beloved holiday ballet, gets a lovely Royal Opera production in honor of choreographer Peter Wright’s 90th birthday, brilliantly danced by talented soloists and corps de ballet, and sparklingly played by the orchestra under conductor Boris Gruzin. The Royal Opera’s Anastasia, about the fabled Russian princess—and one of legendary choreographer Kenneth MacMillan’s most audacious works—scores superbly with the mesmerizing Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova in the lead, McMillan’s expressive movement, and the adroitly chosen music by Tchaikovsky and Martinů. Extras include interviews and featurettes.