New Blu's On the Block - 2/22/2011
Released: Feb 22, 2011
Sara Michelle Fetters
New Blu's On the Block
Blu-ray and DVD Releases for Feb 22, 2011
Sorry for the delay in getting this activated. Been dealing with fun fun fun computer problems all weekend and they led to my getting this column written up a little bit later than I anticipated. On the plus side, while there isn’t a lot to choose from this week the titles I’m excited about I am super excited about, not the least of which are three from Criterion, the film that put Christopher Nolan on the map and an animated sort-of classic that may not be the best animated picture in the world but still remains one I have a soft spot in my heart for all the same.
Sweet Smell of Success
Director Alexander Mackendrick’s 1957 classic Sweet Smell of Success gets the full Criterion treatment and results are supposed to be fantastic. Gary Tooze over at DVDBeaver calls the image quality “significantly smoother” than previous DVD releases saying that this new Blu-ray “offers superiority in every area.” Personally I think this movie is razor-sharp dynamite containing the best performance of Tony Curtis’ career as press agent Sydney Falco and showcases a decidedly dastardly and dangerous Burt Lancaster as Broadway gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker. Criterion didn’t send this one to us for review sadly, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to pick it up for my personal collection right away all the same.
Memento (10th Anniversary Edition)
Chris Nolan’s 2001 sophomore effort Memento was a smash right from the word go. Critics and audiences at that year’s Sundance Film Festival went nuts for it leading the way to a strong box office run later that year and two Academy Award nominations, the first of what would be many for the film’s director, a fanboy favorite. It ended up at number 20 on my own personal list of last decade’s Top 50 Motion Pictures, and is a movie I could watch over and over again without ever growing tired of. This new Blu-ray from the folks at Lionsgate is a massive improvement over the previous Sony edition, and while special features haven’t really changed audio and video transfers alone nearly make it worthy of the price of an upgrade. I’ll have a full review up sometime tomorrow.
This road trip comedy was decidedly NOT one of my favorites from 2010. While I respected Robert Downey Jr.’s relentlessly narcissistic and unlikable performance, that doesn’t mean the movie itself did a darn thing for me. In my November review (read it here) I said that “I was bored, disinterested and more or less annoyed, the majority of the film going nowhere interesting and offering up very few reasons to care.” Sad to say, Mitchell more or less agreed with me, his assessment of the Blu-ray (read his review here) even more negative than my theatrical one was,
Megamind (releases Friday, Feb. 25, 2011)
Here’s what I said about DreamWorks’ latest animated hit back in November of last year (read my full review here): “All you really need to know about Megamind is that it isn’t very good, is seldom very funny and is so drowning in explosions and destruction one sort of half-heartedly wonders if letting children watch it is a good idea. The script has a decent idea at its core but doesn’t have a clue what to do with it, the vocal cast all seem to be coming from different angles and the movie itself is a heavy-handed mess that never makes its points in a way that is neither refreshing or clear.” For those who might be interested, I also had the opportunity to interview the film’s director Tom McGrath (Madagascar). You can read what he had to say about making the movie by clicking right here.
Back in July (read my full review here) I said that Get Low was “the kind of raucous, thought-provoking, funny and character-driven piece of pulp entertainment audiences hardly ever get the chance to see anymore.” Thinking on it again now, I’m still a tiny bit astonished I didn’t put this one on my list of 2010’s Ten Best. Director Aaron Schneider’s debut is a priceless piece of Americana and folk lore, anchored by a performance from Robert Duvall I think should have scored him an Academy Award nomination. The movie is just about priceless, and I hope people take the time to check it out and give it the due it so richly deserved last summer now that it is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Nurse Jackie: Season Two
Weeds: Season Six
Two popular and critically-acclaimed Cable television shows with plenty of Emmy nominations (and their fair share of wins) between, two programs I’ve personally never seen and for whatever reason don’t feel all that bad about skipping. But for fans these Blu-rays will probably make them more than happy, each delivering superb picture and audio quality along with just enough in the way of special features to keep them satiated.
Mesrine: Killer Instinct
Part one of director Jean-François Richet's thrilling account of France’s infamous criminal Jacques Mesrine starring the great Vincent Cassel in the title role, Mesrine: Killer Instinct is an awesome little potboiler only made a little less wonderful because it’s second half, Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One, doesn’t live up to the potential of the film that proceeded it. We were supposed to get this Blu-ray for review but instead only got a movie-only screener. Not sure what’s up with that but, well, maybe I’ll break down and write that theatrical review I meant to write months ago.
Winner of the 2009 Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival as well as being singled out by BAFTA as Outstanding British Film while also taking home trophies for Best Director Andrea Arnold and Most Promising Newcomer Katie Jarvis, this searing slice-of-life drama about an inner city youth dreaming of becoming a dancer is made in the Mike Leah/Ken Loach mold and I mean that as a compliment. Incredibly well acted by all involved (including Rebecca Griffiths and Michael Fassbender), the movie is a searing portrait of adolescent angst that held me spellbound for almost every one of its 122 minutes. Expect a full review of this excellent addition to the Criterion catalog later this week.
Opulent 1954 Technicolor tragic romance from the great Italian maestro Luchino Visconti (The Leopard) staring Alida Valli and Farley Granger, this new Blu-ray version of Senso features a brand new fully restored visual transfer supervised by cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno and Martin Scorese, the latter’s appreciation for the film almost legendary. Filled with eye-popping costumes, sensational production design and a timeless classical soundtrack, the movie is a beautifully layered winner almost impossible to dislike, Criterion’s Blu-ray just about as perfect as an aficionado of the collection would expect it to be.
The Last Unicorn
I have long been a fan of 1982’s The Last Unicorn, the animated adaptation of Peter S. Beagle’s acclaimed children’s literary favorite sporting the voices of Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Angela Lansbury, Tammy Grimes and Christopher Lee. While this Rankin/Bass release isn’t the best animated film in the world (Disney, or even Don Bluth, for that matter, it is not), there is something about this story of a unicorn searching for the rest of her kind and going on an adventure featuring heroes, wizards, an evil king and gigantic creature known as the Red Bull is one I’ve always thoroughly adored. This new Blu-ray from Lionsgate more than gets the job done, the audio transfer in particular (featuring America’s rather endearing songs) a huge standout. I’ll have a full review of the Blu-ray up in a couple of days.
From Mitchell’s Blu-ray review of All-Star Superman (read it here): “I’ll be honest and say it’s likely no adaptation could have pleased me completely, but this is still a very worthy attempt to translate what was a singular achievement for Morrison and Quitely to another form… The comic is a classic, but this version is good in its own right, sitting right alongside The New Frontier as the best the DCU Originals line has offered so far.”
Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs. is one of my absolute and all-time favorite Eddie Murphy movies, but if I’m going to go by Blu-ray.com’s recent review of the title I’m not sure it’s worth my spending the measly $16.99 currently being asked on Amazon to pick it up. Reviewer Martin Liebman writes, “[The movie] earns about a point on the 0-100 video scale for every hour in its title. Paramount's decidedly midlevel and fairly disappointing 1080p transfer boasts an increase in clarity and resolution over standard-definition releases, but even for an aging catalogue title the results aren't up to par with the studio's best efforts.” Something to keep in mind before purchasing if you ask me.
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES
NOTABLE DVD RELEASES
Change of Plans
Latest from Jet Lag and Avenue Montaigne filmmaker Daničle Thompson sporting an all-star French cast including Dany Boon, Emmanuelle Seigner, Karin Viard, Marina Hands and Marina Foďs about a dinner party between supposed friends that turns into utter backbiting chaos. Didn’t get much of a release domestically, but as I loved Thompson’s previous efforts I’m extremely curious to give it a look all the same.
Haven’t seen this one, but Mitchell just did and he reviewed it (read his DVD review here), too, calling the film “the sort of predictable, saccharine pap I usually find my mother watching when I’m at her house.” Now, personally, I’m not entirely sure what to make of that, but my guess is that it isn’t very good (calling something predictable saccharine pap seldom is). Now, on the other hand, if you’re like Mitchell’s mother, maybe this made-for-TV effort starring Ernie Hudson, Elizabeth McGovern and Loretta Divine is exactly what’s you’ve been looking for.
Fresh Fields: Set 1
After 20 years of marriage and raising two children, suburban housewife Hester Fields (Julia McKenzie, “Agatha Christie’s Marple”) is ready for a new challenge. And it doesn’t seem to matter what it is--she dabbles in painting, jogging, cooking, pottery, and even fencing. Her staid accountant husband, William (Anton Rodgers, “May to December”), feels no such need for change, yet somehow always seems to get dragged into Hester’s exploits. Each morning he sets off for the office, never knowing what he’ll face when he returns home. But with Hester trying something new each day, life is never dull for the Fields. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Kings of Pastry
I feel somewhat remiss, but I’ve had the screener for this documentary sitting here since last August, but for whatever reason I just didn’t ever get around to watching it. Too bad, really, because I’ve heard some awesome things, the latest from directors D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus (The War Room) apparently a mouth-watering look at the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (MOF) competition, the winner receiving what amount’s to France’s Nobel Prize for pastry. Maybe I’ll try and finally give it a look later this week.
Last Train Home
From my September 2010 review (read it here): “Last Train Home is a sad, poignant document showing the high cost of China’s economic worldwide ascendance. A chronicle of the Zhang family, Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Lixin Fan’s stunning debut is as visually beautiful as it is emotionally intimate. It is a sometimes shocking, oftentimes heartbreaking look at what it takes to raise children in a culture where grueling factory work can take parents away from their young for months at a time.”
Kristin Scott Thomas and Yvan Attal in a French language melodrama about infidelity, romance and danger that got some decent notices at festivals but didn’t receive much more than a cursory theatrical release from distributor IFC Films.
Midsomer Murders: Set 17
The hugely popular long-running BBC mystery series returns with four new crimes in need of being solved including “The Dogleg Murders,” in which members of the swanky Whiteoaks Golf Club keep turning up dead by the 13th hole, and “Secrets and Spies”, in which a mysterious creature is killing sheep in Midsomer County only to move onto larger prey as the noose tightens around its whereabouts. Special features include Cast Interviews, Fascinating Facts and Production Notes.
New Tricks: Series Three
Sexy, ambitious Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman, Sexy Beast) leads the unsolved crimes unit of the Metropolitan Police in this fresh and funny British drama. Her team includes three aging former detectives lured out of retirement. Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman, “The Sweeney”) is a womanizer, Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong, “Bleak House”) is clinically depressed, and Jack Halford (James Bolam, “The Beiderbecke Affair”) has conversations with his dead wife. Can this curmudgeonly trio of crime busters learn new tricks to crack tough crimes? Or are old-fashioned hunches and footwork still best? (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Room in Rome
Saw this during last year’s Seattle International Film Festival and parts of it blew me clean away. Both actresses, Elena Anaya (Talk to Her) and Natasha Yarovenko (Diary Of A Nymphomaniac), who spend almost 80 to 85-percent of the film stark naked, are incredible, giving real, full-bodied performances proving they’re more than they’re mutual beautiful physiques. At the same time, this highly sexual My Dinner with Andre type experience can be a tough slog every now and then, the leaden dialogue weighing things down considerably. But the last act is fairly wonderful, and I like how open and honest the majority of the picture is. All-in-all it’s a mixed bag, but one I’d watch again without too much in the way of arm twisting.
Two in the Wave
Documentary about New Wave icons and good friends Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut covering, as it states in the press release, the pair’s “intensely combative and creative relationship during their time at Cahiers du Cinema, their triumphant work on The 400 Blows and Breathless, and their dramatic falling out following the worker and student strikes of May 1968.” Color me very curious to give this one a look.