Let me state this upfront: Warner’s release of Ben-Hur might be the most magnificent Blu-ray transfer, but video and audio wise, of a classic catalog title that I have ever had the good fortune to lay my eyes upon. Watching this blew my mind in two, this two-d-sc collection taking my breath away and keeping me glued to my television set even though I’ve seen William Wyler’s massive Biblical epic a good half a dozen or so times. The restoration done on this film is the new gold standard to which all future restorations will undoubtedly be judged, and I can’t begin to put into words just how magnificent this collection truly is. Without any sort of a doubt, this is the must-buy release of the week, and even those with only a passing interest in the picture will be doing themselves a grave disservice if they fail to add it to their personal libraries.
I listed Olivier Assayas’ stunning, five-plus hour epic Carlos as my second favorite film of 2010 (I had Winter’s Bone at number one), but after watching Criterion’s stunning Blu-ray release of this magnificent epic I’m thinking I ranked it a bit too low. This is one mesmerizing, magnificent and altogether monumentally brilliant effort that is in many ways an instant classic, and I can’t begin to say how ecstatic I am to have it as part of my hi-def library. As I wrote back in October of last year (read my full theatrical review here), “Not only is [Assayas’] massive opus a document examining a time and place that still has resonance for much of the world, but it also shows profound insight into the mechanics and the mechanisms that brought us to where we are today. While the film doesn’t pass judgment, it also doesn’t condone, and as such makes for a fascinating journey that’s as bumpy, raucous, horrific and energetic as the man right at its very core.” Had Ben-Hur not been released today as well, this easily would have been my must-buy pick of the week.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
From my original theatrical review posted back in July (read it here): “I’m not going to mince words or beat around the bush, I didn’t really care all that much for Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It’s slow moving, silly, nonsensical, could care less about little things like continuity and is cheesy in the extreme. At right about 150 minutes it is massively long and doesn’t have near enough plot to warrant such a running time. It is way over-directed, likes to show off and is more concerned with spectacle over character. The movie bored me most of the way through, and the pleasures that are to be found within are too few and much too far between to amount for anything substantial.” All that said, I didn’t mind the film near as much when I watched it again at home, as you’ll likely notice when you read my just posted Blu-ray Review of the title. (Releases on Friday, Sept. 30, 2011)
Mimic – The Director’s Cut
Guillermo del Toro’s 1997 effort Mimic was hardly a smashing success, but as his debut effort for American audiences this New York based creature-feature starring Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Josh Brolin, Giancarlo Giannini and Charles S. Dutton was hardly a disaster. The initial sequences were wonderful, the scenario itself chilling and the film was filled to the brim with many of the director’s signature camera moves and dexterously unsettling slight-of-hand, all of which made it something of a minor cult hit when it ultimately hit VHS.
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray release of the film presents del Toro’s original vision (or, as the director himself notes, as close to his original vision as we are every going to get) before Miramax producers got their hands on it and imposed numerous changes. While still imperfect, the film is by and large improved upon in most every way, and watching it one can’t help but see inklings of what would make future efforts like The Devil’s Backbone and especially Pan’s Labyrinth modern gothic classics. As for the disc itself, it features one of the greatest, most revealing and refreshingly honest audio commentaries ever recorded, and any fan of the director or burgeoning film student should make it a top priority to listen to it.
The six-episode BBC series The Hour isn’t just good, it’s downright fantastic, all 344 minutes flying by so quickly I was perilously close to depressed when they finally came to an end. Set in 1956, taking place inside the BBC itself and involving a brand spanking new news program called, you guessed it, ‘The Hour,’ the show is a labyrinthine mystery involving the Suez Canal crisis in Egypt, the mysterious suicide of the soon-to-be-married daughter of a high-profile member of Parliament and clandestine political maneuverings inside the British government that might lead the country to war. Expertly written by creator Abi Morgan, superbly acted by Romola Garai, Dominic West, Ben Whishaw and Anna Chancellor, this show has it all, the final product a witty, funny, romantic, suspenseful and in the end thrilling exposé of the early days of U.K. television news.
With the remake set to hit theatres in just a few weeks, it makes sense Paramount would choose to dust off the 1984 Kevin Bacon original for a Blu-ray release. Thankfully, the studio didn’t just give this a cursory once-over and throw it onto hi-def with little in the way of thought or loving care. Instead, picture and sound quality are excellent, while new special features – including a great interview with Bacon himself – make this a release fans will be dancing with joy to add to their collections, even if they already own the pretty solid special edition DVD. Let’s hear it for the boy? Heck, let’s hear it for Paramount; at least in this instance they’re more than deserving of the kudos.
The Phantom Carriage
Swedish director Victor Sjöström’s little-seen 1921 classic The Phantom Carriage comes to Blu-ray courtesy of our friends over at the Criterion Collection. Special features include two musical scores and an archival interview with legendary interview with legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman from 1981. Sadly, Criterion did not send me a review copy, but my interest in this one is high and personally I cannot wait to give it a look.
Somehow, and considering how much of a B-grade horror fan I am this is something of a surprise, I’d never seen director Frank Henenlotter’s infamous 1982 cult classic Basket Case; just never found the time. Now, after watching Image Entertainments’ pretty great Blu-ray release, I’m kind of kicking myself for putting it off for so long. The story is way too outlandish and unbelievable to go into here, but for those who know nothing of the picture I can tell you it involves a seemingly mild-mannered everyman who carries his misshapen blob of a Siamese twin brother Belial around in a wicker basket as the two exact revenge against the doctors who separated them. The movie is certifiably insane, and I mean that in a good way, so stomach churning and gruesomely original I couldn’t help but be impressed. An absolute must for fans of underground ‘80s gore cinema; that’s a fact that almost goes without saying.
I’d heard good things about The Ledge starring Charlie Hunnam, Liv Tyler, Terrence Howard and Patrick Wilson, but sadly IFC was never able to get me a screener to check it out back when it had its limited theatrical release earlier this summer. Still, I’m somewhat intrigued, and I plan to give a look as soon as my viewing schedule allows.
British crime thriller combined with a vampire horror flick, Dead Cert is an odd, moderately entertaining mishmash of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Shaun of the Dead and From Dusk til Dawn given its own peculiar, if not altogether successful, spin by director Steven Lawson and writer Ben Shillito. Starring a who’s who of familiar Brit faces (including Craig Fairbrass, Dexter Fletcher and Lisa BcAllister), the movie is certainly not without its moments, and I can’t say I didn’t have a fine enough time sitting on my couch giving it a look. But it isn’t entirely memorable, and I doubt I’ll ever look at the darn thing for a second time, and while genre fans might enjoy themselves and I can’t see very many others doing the same.
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES
· Battling Butler / Go West
· The Blood Trilogy
· Gamera - Triple Feature Collector's Edition
· Good Neighbors
· How to Make it In America: Then Complete First Season
· Hung: The Complete Second Season
· A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 / A Nightmare on Elm Street 3
· Ray Harryhausen Double Feature (‘She’ and’ Things to Come’ with Bonus DVD ‘The Most Dangerous Game’)
· Stool Pigeon
· Without Men
Angel of Evil
Outstanding Italian import full of twists, turns and suspense-fueled surprises based on the memoir of Milan gang leader Renato Vallanzasca. One of my personal favorites that I had the good fortune to see during this past summer’s Seattle International Film Festival, this foreign language marvel is easily the best DVD-only release of the entire week.
Another entry in Image Entertainments’ growing ‘Midnight Madness Series,’ all you need to know about the gloriously awful cult horror favorite C.H.U.D. are the words the letters in the title signify: Cannibalistic, Humanoid, Underground, Dwellers. One of the best bad movies I have quite possibly ever seen, it’s almost a pity this one isn’t getting a release on Blu-ray.
Married…with Children: The Complete Series
The Bundy family, in all their maniacal and slovenly glory, finally see every single one of their seasons packaged together in one glorious DVD box set. Never understood the popularity of this show when it was airing on Fox; still don’t understand the enduring popularity of it now.
Interesting, if not entirely successful, black comedy starring Leslie Bibb as corporate stooge tired of being passed over for promotion who discovers a murderous way to rise up the ladder as she dispatches those ahead of her with all-too-lethal precision. Bibb is great, and there are some wonderfully macabre sight gags (including one with an umbrella and a rather surprised Brandon Routh), but overall the movie never quite cuts deeply enough to make a lasting imprint.
Queer as Folk: The Complete U.K. Collection
Groundbreaking British favorite that spawned a subpar – yet still long-running – Showtime American remake comes to DVD in one full series set from the kind folks at Acorn Media. While not exactly packed with special features (there is a great 20-page booklet from creator Russell T. Davis, however, as well as a way above average retrospective doc), the strength of this show once again remains its superior writing, deft characterizations and confident direction, all 342 minutes compelling and meaningful entertainment worthy of multiple looks.
The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman
The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman, the first feature from Chinese filmmaker Wuershan, was executive produced by director/producer Doug Liman, who was intrigued by Wuershan’s original approach to the martial arts genre. The film recounts the journey of a mystical blade as it passes through the hands of three ambitious men and features a mix of diverse filmmaking styles, including black-and-white sequences, animation, split screen and a music video. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Dum Maaro Dum
Director Rohan Sippy’s Dum Maaro Dum, starring Bollywood superstars Abhishek Bachchan and Bipasha Basu, revolves around an honest, tough cop in Goa who sets out to eradicate the drug Mafia and a college student who turns to crime when his scholarship to an American university falls through. The film features a soundtrack from award-winning Mumbai composer Pritam Chakraboty. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Carrie Kevin may seem like a typical Hollywood ingénue - a small-town girl looking to break into acting - but underneath her fresh-faced appearance is a girl on a mission. After learning that a journalist is about to go public with an old sex tape made by her cousin Stefy - a moderately successful pinup girl - Carrie makes a deal to provide the journalist with an even bigger story. Now she must venture into Hollywood's seedy underbelly to expose the latest Internet sensation Jordan Rivers as a fraud. Yet, as Carrie delves deeper into the lies, deception and betrayal, she may end up making a name for herself after all - as the latest Hollywood murder victim. Featuring a cast of gorgeous femme fatales in a modern, unpredictable tale of digital deception, iCrime is a seductive digital thriller in which sex, lies and murder intertwine under the sparkling facade of Hollywood show business. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Few, if any, changed fashion like Yves Saint-Laurent did in the 20th century. His legacy upon his death in 2008 was more than his contributions to fashion; it included one of the great collections of art in the world - and the man he built an empire with. Pierre Thoretton's directorial debut follows the indelible icon through the eyes of lifetime love and business partner Pierre Berge from his early days as a design prodigy for Christian Dior through his decades as the face of a fashion empire. Framed by the auction of their priceless collection, this touching documentary captures the complete life of the man behind the monogram, whose private struggles with depression and substance abuse often underscored his triumphs and innovations. L’Amour Fou never ceases to show the beautiful extravagance and celebrated style of Saint-Laurent in his work and his life. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
The Lost Future
In a world of jungles, deserts and primeval wastelands, an isolated tribe of warriors fights for survival. But when a race of genetically mutated, infectious beasts attacks their small village, Amal (Sean Bean), a fighter hidden in the forest, must lead the tribe in battle in order to save the human race. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
OTHER NOTABLE DVD RELEASES
· Army Wives: The Complete Fifth Season
· Cleveland Show: Season 2
· CSI: Crime Scene Investigation – The Eleventh Season
· CSI: Miami – The Ninth Season
· CSI: New York – The Seventh Season
· Dawson’s Creek: The Complete Series
· Gavin & Stacey: Complete Collection
· How I Met Your Mother: Season Six
· King of Queens: The Complete Series
· Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – The Twelfth Year
· The Middle: The Complete Second Season
· New Tricks: Season 5
· Vampires, Mummies And Monsters Collection: Roger Corman Cult Classics (‘Lady Frankenstein’, ‘Time Walker’, ‘The Velvet Vampire’ & ‘Grotesque’)