This week’s roundup comprises a couple of vintage films (a re-release of 1994’s “Vive l’Amour,” from Taiwan, along with 1942’s “Captains of the Clouds,” from Warner Archive), a couple of TV series (the new “Dexter—New Blood” and the final season of “Vikings”) and a couple of daunting operas (“The Fiery Angel” and “The Snow Maiden”).
In-Theater Release of the Week
Vive l’Amour (Film Movement)
One of the key films of the Taiwanese New Wave, Tsai Ming-liang’s 1994 drama follows a trio of alienated young people who are part of an at times enervating but mostly absorbing love triangle of sorts. Setting his film primarily in a vacant apartment where a man and woman meet for anonymous trysts (while the other man watches), Ming-liang eschews conventional narrative—there’s scant motivation and only occasional dialogue, all recorded by long takes—to visually mirror his protagonists’ isolation in sleek, soulless Taipei, which is embodied by the final extended shot of actress Yang Kuei-mei in tears.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Captains of the Clouds (Warner Archive)
In Michael Curtiz’s stirring 1942 action picture, James Cagney plays a rebellious pilot in Canada’s North Country who, along with his fellow flyers—including one whose fiancé Cagney steals—joins the Royal Canadian Air Force to fight the Nazis. Max Steiner’s blustery music is the perfect aural complement to Sol Polito’s glorious aerial Technicolor photography, while Cagney’s swagger is matched by Brenda Marshall as the irresistible bad girl and Dennis Morgan as her betrothed. The vivid colors look spectacular on Blu; extras are a wartime Cagney newsreel, classic short “Rocky Mountain Big Name” and cartoons “What’s Cookin’ Doc?” and “Hold the Lion, Please.”
Dexter—New Blood (Showtime/CBS)
Television’s most complicated serial killer drama, which drew to a close in 2013 after its eighth season, has returned with this reboot/sequel of sorts, in which everyone’s favorite murderer—who faked his death a decade ago—has settled in a small New York State town. As in the original, plotting and motivation are skimpy, but the uniformly superior performances help cover up the flaws. Michael C. Hall’s conflicted antihero is, once again, beautifully complemented by the nicely delineated, subtle acting of Jennifer Carpenter as his beloved sister. The hi-def images look terrific; extras include featurettes and interviews.
The Fiery Angel (Unitel)
Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev’s powerhouse of an opera, based on a novel by Valery Bryusov, provides a formidably forbidding role for its lead actress: Renata, an ordinary young woman who is beset by visions that make others accuse her of cavorting with the devil himself. In Andreaa Breth’s intense 2019 staging in Vienna, Lithuanian soprano Aušrinė Stundytė’s disturbed Renata and Danish baritone Bo Skohvus’ noble Ruprecht, her knight errant, lead an excellent cast. But with Constantin Trinks ably conducting the orchestra and chorus, it’s Prokofiev’s frighteningly dramatic score is the real star. There are first-rate hi-def video and audio.
The Pilot (Well Go USA)
It’s not the ideal time to review a Russian war film in the current climate, but “The Pilot”—tautly directed by Renat Davletyarov—is a compelling adventure, based on real events, of a Russian pilot shot down by the Nazis who tries to survive the wilderness, hopeful that he’ll see his loyal woman back at home. Although not groundbreaking in any way, it’s been skillfully made, with earnest performances by Pyotr Fyodorov as the pilot hero and Anna Peskova as his worried lover. There’s a superb hi-def transfer.
The Snow Queen (Bayerische Staatsoper)
Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen’s operatic version of the famous Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale is quite dark, both dramatically and musically; Andries Kriegenburg’s 2019 staging at Munich’s Bavarian State Opera adroitly visualizes the fascinating dichotomy of the unease pulsating underneath the “happily ever after” story. Led by the always magnificent Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan—for whom Abrahamsen wrote the role of Gerta—the cast is pitch-perfect, and with Cornelius Meister conducting the orchestra and chorus with aplomb, these are satisfyingly jittery two hours of musical theater. Hi-def video and audio are first-rate; extras are short featurettes.
Vikings—6th Season, Part 2 (Warner Bros)
The final season of the explosive Vikings saga wraps things up in typically ruthless and bloody fashion, as the 10 gripping episodes—shown here in their extended international editions—provide worthwhile closure for fans. “Vikings” has always looked particularly striking in hi-def, and that continues on this final release; extras include an audio commentary on the series finale by creator-writer Michael Hirst and his daughter, actress Georgina, along with featurettes and deleted scenes.