New Blu's On the Block
Blu-ray and DVD Releases for April 5, 2011
As week’s go, this one is fairly intriguing. There’s a great DVD box set of Japanese silent classics from Criterion, a Scorsese barnburner hitting Blu-ray for the first time, one of the greatest musicals in all of Hollywood history and arguably Spielberg’s most controversial and talked about epic of the past decade – maybe ever.
But there’s more, lots and lots more, including the final season of a critical and cult favorite about Texas High School football, the Blu-ray debut “that’ll do” for the pig in all of us and two journeys onto “the grid” that were 28 years apart. Throw in some intriguing MGM catalog titles, a wild and crazy gay love story with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, both of Dudley Moore’s appearances as the world’s favorite alcoholic millionaire and the latest trip to Narnia and you’ll find something that should appeal to just about anyone. Well, maybe not Little Fockers. How that appealed to anyone is way beyond me.
“You look’n at me?” Well, if you’re even a passing fan of director Martin Scorsese, screenwriter Paul Schrader and/or star Robert De Niro chances are you’ve looked at this 1976 classic many times over. The story of deranged New York taxi cab driver and Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle, this landmark motion picture is one of the most talked about and debated of the 1970’s. By all accounts Sony’s Blu-ray presentation of the film is close to perfection, and I’m curious to read Mitchell’s thoughts on the disc when he weighs in with his own review. Mitchell’s Taxi Driver Blu-ray review just went live.
TRON: The Original Classic (Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
TRON: Legacy (Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
TRON: Legacy (Four Disc Combo Set)
(includes 3D Blu-ray)
TRON – 2-Movie Collection (Five Disc Combo Set) (includes 3D Blu-ray)
Let me just say upfront while I’m not a huge fan of last year’s sequel TRON: Legacy, the film’s Blu-ray presentation might just be the best I’ve ever seen. I was absolutely blown away by the picture and sound quality here, and while special features are sadly lacking I seriously doubt fans are going to be even slightly disappointed. This is an incredible presentation of the movie on Disney’s part, setting a new bar for the studio I have trouble believing they’ll ever be able to surpass. You can read my full theatrical review of the movie by clicking here.
As for TRON, the original 1982 cult classic that started it all, it kind of goes without saying that picture and sound quality aren’t quite up to the same level set by the sequel. All the same, the love and care that went into bringing this one into the world of high definition is evident in every frame, Disney retaining the film-like look and feel of its original theatrical presentation rather beautifully. Even better, they’ve ported over all of the special features from the previous DVD release including the awesome audio commentary with director Steven Lisberger, producer Donald Kushner, associate producer and visual effects supervisor Harrison Ellenshaw and visual effects supervisor Richard Taylor.
I’ve got to say, while I’m not the biggest TRON enthusiast on the planet I am completely and utterly in love with Disney’s Blu-ray presentation of both films. Whether you choose to buy the 1982 original, the 2010 follow-up or the 2-movie collection containing both (with TRON: Legacy in both 2D and 3D versions) it’s hard to go wrong. You can read my all my thoughts in regards to this release in my TRON: Legacy 2-Movie Collection Blu-ray review that just posted.
Fiddler on the Roof
You don’t have to be a rich man to be in love with director Norman Jewison’s (In the Heat of the Night, The Hurrican) Oscar-winning Fiddler on the Roof, a 1971 adaptation of Sholem Aleichem’s book Tevye's Daughters and the stage play Tevye der Milkhiker. With a screenplay Joseph Stein (based in turn on his stage play adaptation of Aleichem’s original), the movie is a soaring testament to the enduring strength of the human spirit featuring a series of wonderful songs and containing a stunning, Academy Award-nominated performance by Topol (Flash Gordon, For Your Eyes Only) that easily ranks as his very best. A review copy is supposed to be on its way for this 40th anniversary Blu-ray, and as soon as it gets here I promise to get a full write-up in regards to my thoughts as quickly as I humanly can.
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
Steven Spielberg’s much-debated 2001 science fiction epic A.I.: Artificial Intelligence is in my opinion one of the greatest of the legendary director’s entire Academy Award-winning career. It is one of the few where his self-indulgent tendency towards happy endings is not given into, the final moments of the picture an ethereal heartbreaker that is as depressing as it is thought-provoking. It is also wildly misunderstood, so many finding it a “feel good” coda when it is so clearly not, the director taking the material that the late, great Stanley Kubrick gifted to him making its treatise on the nature of humanity (and, in turn, what it means to be human) a timelessly beak quality that’s utterly disturbing. I can’t wait to get a look at this Blu-ray, because other than a few second act stumbles (why is Robin Williams in this thing again?) this is one of the Schindler’s List and Jaws directors masterpieces I can’t wait to add to my hi-def collection.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Here’s what I wrote about The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader back in my original review last December (read it here): “Keeping things simple is the best thing that has ever happened to this series. [Director Michael] Apted keeps the momentum continuously sailing onward, rarely dillydallying shaving off the more useless bits and pieces keeping things as economic as possible. He makes sure the characters themselves stay front and center, their ultimate journey to self-discovery the single most important one of them all.” We’ll hopefully have a full Blu-ray of this title up for everyone to look at soon.
(NOTE: Item is officially released on Friday, April 8, 2011)
This release had the glorious ignominy of being my second least favorite motion picture of 2010. To keep things simple, I hated it. In my original December review (read it here) I wrote, “Little Fockers isn’t just bad, it’s an abomination and, more to the point, it should never have been greenlit for production in the first place.”
In 1996 a little Australian import about a pig named Babe who believes a sheepdog garnered a plethora of Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture. It deserved every accolade it got, and of the films it was up against for the Oscar (winner Braveheart, Apollo 13, Il Postino and Sense & Sensibility) maybe even deserved to win. It is a spectacular, utterly timeless journey that has only gotten better over the past 15 years, and I for one can’t wait to pick it up for my own personal library now that it is available on Blu-ray.
I Love You Phillip Morris
I missed I Love You Phillip Morris when it originally played in theatres. I just wasn’t able to get to a press screening, and when the end-of-year deluge of possible award contenders hits and screenings start conflicting with one another this sadly what sometimes happens. Now that it is out on Blu-ray I can’t wait to get a look at it, this saga of a seemingly happily married policeman (Jim Carrey) who one day realizes he’s gay, uses his law enforcement knowledge to begin a life of crime, gets caught and ends up falling in love with his sweetly sensitive cellmate Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) an odd duck I’ve been told I have jut got to see. Mitchell has just sent in his thoughts about the flick and you can read all about it in his I Love You Phillip Morris Blu-ray review.
Another one I missed in theatres, the late George Hickenlooper’s (Factory Girl, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse) biopic of Jack Abramoff starring Kevin Spacey is one I can’t seem to work up much in the way of enthusiasm about. I will see it, and as I review copy is scheduled to arrive I’ll probably be watching it sooner rather than later; I just hope that when I finally do sit down to watch it will make me feel something a bit more thrilling than the remarkable state of indifference I’m currently stuck with.
From my original July 2009 review of The Cove (read it here): “By the time The Cove was over I found myself borderline enraged. Without preaching, without hitting me over the head with facts and figures and by using the mechanisms of a thriller, [Director Louis] Psihoyos elevated the discussion to a point it became even more vital and poignant. It is a documentary I just had to talk about afterwards, the discussion generated sure to remain on the forefront of my mind for the remainder of this year and on into the indefinite future.”
Arthur / Arthur 2: On the Rocks
Just in time for the Russell Brand/Helen Mirren remake, Warner Bros. brings 1981’s Academy Award winning Arthur and its rather maligned and borderline unwatchable 1988 sequel Arthur 2: On the Rocks to Blu-ray in a double feature collection Dudley Moore fanatics should be jumping up for joy about. The original truly is a triumph and a movie that deserves to be seen, but the less said about the mediocre second chapter the better.
Benny & Joon
Lars and the Real Girl
Much Ado About Nothing
Four from the MGM vault, all of which are worthy of a look. My personal favorite is Kenneth Branagh’s delightful 1993 Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing, its eclectic cast (Branagh, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale, Imelda Staunton, Michael Keaton, Robert Sean Leonard) making the movie a ribald farce the Bard definitely would have approved of.
Now, while that film is my favorite of the quartet, the best movie has got to be director Craig Gillespie’s (read my Oct. 2007 theatrical review here) wonderful and moving dramatic comedy Lars and the Real Girl with Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson. Who knew that a movie about a small town loner who learns to reconnect with friends and family by first doing so with a realistic silicone love doll could end up being so magically marvelous? I certainly didn’t, the movie ending up on my 2007 Top Ten and has been one it’s been a joy revisiting as I’ve run across it on Cable.
As for the other two, they’re both notable for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the fact Mystic Pizza helped introduce Julia Roberts to the world or that Benny & Joon offered Johnny Depp one of the first eccentrically iconic characters in what has since become a rather surprising career of them. We’ll have full reviews of all four titles soon, all of them expected to arrive from the folks at MGM and Fox at any moment.
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES
NOTABLE DVD RELEASES
Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse (Flunky, Work Hard / No Blood Relation / Apart from You / Every-Night Dreams / Street Without End) (Criterion Collection)
Mikio Naruse (Floating Clouds, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs) was one of the most popular directors in Japan, a crafter of exquisite melodramas, mostly about women confined by their social and domestic circumstances. Though often compared with Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi for his style and treatment of characters, Naruse was a unique artist, making heartrending, brilliantly photographed and edited films about the impossible pursuit of happiness. From the outset of his career, with his silent films of the early thirties, Naruse zeroed in on the lives of the kinds of people—geisha, housewives, waitresses—who would continue to fascinate him for the next three decades. Though he made two dozen silent films, only five remain in existence; these works—poignant, dazzlingly made dramas all—are collected here, newly restored and on DVD for the first time, and featuring optional new scores by noted musicians Robin Holcomb and Wayne Horvitz. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Friday Night Lights: The Fifth Season
The critically acclaimed series about Texas’ Dillon High School Panthers football team comes to an end, the final 13 episodes making their way to DVD. Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), his wife Tami (Connie Britton), their daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden) and past and present players like Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) and Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons) see their dramas reach their crescendo, leading to conclusions that will make some happy, others not so much and the majority just sad that their criminally low-rated favorite has left the airwaves.
Silly and absurd, yet still kind of fun, end-of-the-world monster movie about a small Pacific Northwest town that happens to be home to a gigantic creature that thanks to humanity’s penchant for self-destruction (i.e. climate change) has begun its path towards waking up and causing global annihilation and only a rugged mountain man (Ed Quinn) a beautiful seismologist (Pascale Hutton) can stop it. Premiered on the Syfy Channel (big surprise there), the movie might be stupid but it’s tongue is so fully in cheek I still had a good enough time watching it. Besides, any movie that features “The Smoking Man” William B. Davis as a kooky academic who believes the end is nigh can’t be all bad. I’ll have a full review of the DVD up soon.
Bill Moyers: The Language of Life
The magic of the spoken word takes center stage in this exhilarating eight-part series that showcases contemporary poets and their work. Join host Bill Moyers as he engages 18 writers—including greats Robert Bly, Adrienne Rich, and Gary Snyder--in lively conversation, and share the experience of hearing them read aloud before a live audience. Produced and directed by Emmy®-winning documentarian David Grubin and filmed on location at the fifth biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in historic Waterloo, New Jersey, The Language of Life combines intimate, one-on-one interviews and public performances--several with musical accompaniment by the famed Paul Winter Consort. Featured poets include National Book Award honorees, Pulitzer Prize winners, and a former U.S. Poet Laureate. Collectively, the writers here testify to the full range of human experience and poetry’s power to inspire, redeem, and celebrate life. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Come Undone (2010)
Italian director Silvio Soldini’s (Days & Clouds, Bread & Tulips) latest Come Undone is a sensational drama about seemingly successful career and family woman (a mesmerizing Alba Rohrwacher) who enters into a torrid affair with a sexy waiter – and equally married – waiter (Pierfrancesco Favino) with unsurprisingly disastrous results. Sensationally acted and beautifully shot, this intimate and emotionally charged film my not offer a lot that’s new but that doesn’t make it any less superb. Expect a full review of the DVD within the next few days.
Lark Rise to Candleford: Complete Collection
Flora Thompson's charming love letter to a vanished corner of rural England is brought to life in this heartwarming, critically acclaimed BBC adaptation, now available in a complete series collection. Set in the late 19th century, this rich, funny and emotional series follows the relationship of two contrasting communities: Lark Rise, a small hamlet gently holding onto the past, and Candleford, a neighboring market town bustling into the future. When young Laura Timmins leaves Lark Rise for a job at the Candleford post office, she discovers an eye-opening, exciting new world. In the face of scandals and feuds, she must leave her childhood behind and forge her own path to womanhood. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Masterpiece Classic: Any Human Heart
This four-part British series is based on William Boyd’s acclaimed novel about Logan Mountstuart, a writer, lover, art dealer, and spy, living by his wits in the tumultuous 20th century. A trio of great actors play the different life stages of Mounstuart, including Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent (“Iris,” “Moulin Rouge!”) Matthew Macfadyen (“Little Dorrit,” “Pride & Prejudice”) and Sam Claflin (“The Pillars of the Earth”). Kim Cattrall (“Sex and the City”) and Gillian Anderson, (“Bleak House,” “The X Files”) are also in this film, rounding out the highly esteemed cast. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Life Unexpected: The Complete First and Second Seasons
Is it canceled? It is not canceled? Has the story of Lux Cassidy (Brittany Robertson) come to a close after only 26 episodes or is the CW going to be bringing it back to the airwaves in something of a surprise? The word is still out as nothing has been officially announced. Either way, the first two seasons of this critical and cult favorite make their debut in a single DVD package and I would imagine that resulting sales figures are going to be a major factor into whether or not this television series manages a third season.
Roger Corman's Action-Packed Collection [Georgia Peaches, The Great Texas Dynamite Chase, Smokey Bites The Dust]
Two sisters running an auto repair shop and their moonshine-running boyfriend are extorted into becoming undercover government agents to outwit the Dragon Lady of the Southern crime belt in Georgia Peaches. Starring singer Tanya Tucker, Dirk Benedict (“The A-Team”), Sally Kirkland and Terri Nunn (lead singer for the group Berlin), this action-packed comedy was produced by Roger Corman as a pilot for a possible television series.
Candy (Claudia Jennings, Gator Bait, DeathSport) and Ellie Jo (Jocelyn Jones, Tourist Trap) are a pair of sexy bank robbers who blast their way into small-town banks with a carload of dynamite in The Great Texas Dynamite Chase! When they take Slim (Johnny Crawford, Valley Of The Giants) hostage, it begins a thrill-packed crime spree across the state of Texas. Also starring Tara Strohmeier (Candy Stripe Nurses), Bart Braverman (Alligator) and Priscilla Pointer (Carrie).
Smokey Bites The Dust follows the rivalry between a small-town Southern sheriff and a small-town delinquent who steals cars and then destroys them with the sheriff’s daughter by his side. Starring Jimmy McNichol (Night Warning), Janet Julian (King Of New York, Humongous), William Forsythe (Raising Arizona) and Walter Barnes (High Plains Drifter), this action-packed comedy was directed by Charles B. Griffith (Up From The Depths) and co-produced by Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator, The Incredible Hulk). (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)