Blu-rays of the Week
Handel’s dazzling opera has meaty roles for a pair of sublime singing actresses, and Robert Carson’s otherwise goofy modern-dress production set in the board rooms, bedrooms and poolsides of political and financial players has two of the best. American soprano Danielle de Niese and British soprano Patricia Bardon sound exactly right and look fab in Gideon Davey’s costumes. It’s all a bit drawn out for my taste, but whenever De Niese and Bardon are holding forth, all is right with the baroque world. Hi-def audio and video are terrific.
John Travolta’s one-dimensional John Gotti—much more Joe Pesci than real-life gangster—may be giggle-inducing, his shaky performance not a patch on the other good actors in the cast. But even they—Travolta’s own wife Kelly Preston and veteran Stacy Keach—are also lost in director Kevin Connolly’s messy, by-the-numbers biopic that isn’t awful so much as dull. There’s an ace hi-def transfer, but no extras.
Mountain (Greenwich Entertainment)
This breathtaking climbing documentary was shot by Australian director Jennifer Peedom and an intrepid crew all over the world, from Alaska and Australia to Norway and Tibet, following the brave, foolhardy men and women who’ve made climbing—and even parachuting among peaks —their passion. Narrated by Willem Dafoe, the film has stunning vistas complemented by an eclectic musical score from Vivaldi to Part that’s performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Needless to say, the sights look spectacular on Blu; extras include interviews and featurettes.
Malevolent aliens take over the earth but find the going tough against the citizens of a small Australian town who show their basic humanity by fighting back against seemingly insurmountable odds in director Luke Sparke’s routine sci-fi adventure. There’s not much to distinguish this scrappy entry from others of its type, and the battle sequences are even more risible than the talky ones, to the film’s eternal debit. There’s a fine hi-def transfer.
Scarlet Diva (Film Movement)
There’s no denying the daring and self-confidence in actress Asia Argento’s debut as a triple-threat director-writer-star, but her semi-autobiographical 2000 drama about a self-destructive young actress has been colored by recent revelations about her own #MeToo accusations and the suicide of her boyfriend Anthony Bourdain. The scene in which Argento escapes from a sleazy, disgusting Hollywood producer’s bedroom is obviously based on Harvey Weinstein, which makes it even more difficult to watch. The film was shot on digital, so the hi-def transfer is a little murky; extras include two Argento commentaries (2002 and 2018), Argento interview and making-of featurette.
The Toybox (Skyline)
We’ve already had thrillers about inanimate objects unleashed against humans, from the rolling tires in Rubber to killer vehicles in Duel and Christine. So the choice of a murderous Winnebago in this demented little movie isn’t surprising. For 90 minutes, director Tom Nagel gleefully kills off an old man, young girl and more adults than one would think could fit in a trailer, and if the premise is ridiculous—it has to do with the inhabiting spirit of a serial killer—that doesn’t really concern him—or us. It’s not much of a comeback vehicle (pun intended) for Denise Richards or Mischa Barton, but they try their damnedest anyway. The film looks fine in hi-def; extras are a commentary and making-of featurette.
DVDs of the Week
Billions—Complete 3rd Season (CBS/Showtime)
The stakes are high in these 10 episodes of Showtime’s high-finance drama, as former prosecutor Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and hedge-fund billionaire Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damien Lewis) decide to team up instead of staying at each other’s throats. Whatever its faults—and there are some, mainly in the too-clever writing—Billions has one of the best acting ensembles around, from Giamatti and Lewis as former adversaries turned compatriots, and others who are on the periphery but in important roles, like Malin Akerman, Asia Kate Dillon, Condola Rashad and Kelly AuCoin. But best of all is Maggie Siff, whose subtle, slow-burning portrayal of Wendy, Chuck’s wife and Axe’s closest confidant, is worth watching the entire series for. Extras are two featurettes.
Scorpion—The Final Season (CBS/Paramount)
In the fourth and final season of Scorpion, the group of brainiacs has its biggest, toughest and most dangerous assignment yet—but everyone is, with a few bumps here and there, is up to the task at hand. This silly but fun series has run its course, and now that one of the most charmingly natural actresses around, Katharine McPhee, is free again, maybe she can go back to doing more musicals on Broadway. Extras on Scorpion are featurettes, gag reel and deleted scenes.