A Christmas Carol (1951)
It’s a Wonderful Life
We’re only a day past Halloween, and here we go with Christmas-themed Blu-ray released. Granted, if we’re going to start getting merry, these are definitely three great (well, in the case of Scrooged, arguably only near-great) places to start.
For many, Alistair Sims interpretation of the Charles Dickens character is the all-time best. Works for me (although I’d make a big push for George C. Scott in that 1984 T.V. version), this 1951 take on the literary classic A Christmas Carol a true gem in every sense of the word. Absolutely timeless.
As for It’s a Wonderful Life, depending on the day of the week and on the alignment of the stars I’m bound to follow the cliché and list this Frank Capra winner as the greatest Christmas movie of all-time (although the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street usually leads my personal list most – but no all – of the time I must admit). This James Stewart chestnut is every bit as emotionally affecting now as it ever was back in 1946 (when it was – shockingly – a box office disaster), and no matter how many times I watch it I cry like a baby during the climactic act each and every time.
Finally, while I’ll never make the case that Richard Donner’s Scooged belongs in the same category as these other two Christmas classics, the bottom line is that I find this Bill Murray comedy to be downright hysterical. Even its obvious flaws don’t weigh on me as much as they probably should, this razor-sharp, sometimes thuggish comedic interpretation of the Dickens tale always good for a laugh and a movie I can return to again and again with virtually no hesitation whatsoever.
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
From my July theatrical review (read it here): “I cannot write off Crazy, Stupid, Love in any way whatsoever. The acting is universally excellent, and during the majority of the film’s running time what’s taking place is almost too glorious for words. But the finished product does have its heartaches and missed opportunities, leaving me somewhat at a loss as to what it is I ultimately want to say.” I enjoyed this movie a bit more on Blu-ray the second time around, I must admit, although reading Mitchell’s recent Blu-ray Review of the title part of me feels somewhat bad for admitting that fact. Be that as it may, it’s safe to say I liked the film a wee bit more than he did, although both of us do think it is worthy of a rental.
Water for Elephants
Here’s what I wrote about this film when it played theatrical back in April (read my full review here): “Director Francis Lawrence (I am Legend) and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (Beloved) have adapted [Sara Gruen’s novel Water for Elephants] for the screen and let’s just say the results are nowhere near…sublime. The pair have streamlined and condensed the prose considerably, excising key characters and parsing down the emotional action into cliché bits of melodrama that sadly grow tiresome. The resulting movie is a disappointing, if admittedly well cast letdown, and by the time it was over all I could do was shake my head and wonder what went wrong.”
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Just in time for the day after Halloween, the 1925 classic Phantom of the Opera starring the legendary Lon Chaney comes to Blu-ray courtesy of the folks at Image. Maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t it have made more sense for this one to come out last week?
The Big Country
This William Wyler 1954 Western classic starring Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Jean Simmons and, in an Oscar-winning supporting role, Burl Ives made its Blu-ray debut a few months ago but that was as a Wal-Mart exclusive. As of today, thankfully, the rest of us who make it a point to avoid that odious superstore at all costs now have a chance to revel in the numerous delights of this stunning motion picture. Featuring one of the all-time great Western scores (courtesy of composer Jerome Moross) and showcasing divine widescreen cinematography that blows the viewers mind, this quiet, introspective epic is a character-driven showcase nestled in the ample shades of gray that have long since become hallmarks of the genre. While not perfect, the script needlessly plods at times, this is still a supremely entertaining effort easy to fall in love with. For fans of classic Hollywood cinema, this is easily one of the must-buy finds of the entire week.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
From my July theatrical review (read it here): “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan doesn’t know what to make of itself. Starting in present day, drifting back to 1997, then to 1827, then floating between different points of history with wild abandon, director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers) tries his best to make some sort of sense out of author Lisa See’s beloved novel sadly not meeting with much in the way of success. It is a beautifully photographed emotional bore, and while certain images and moments spoke to me and brought a quiet tear to my eye on the whole the finished film itself did nothing for me.” I do have to say, the movie looks stunning in high-definition’s, Fox’s Blu-ray presentation extremely close to perfection.
It’s kind of hard to believe it’s been 30 years since BBC’s landmark adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel Brideshead Revisited first made its debut. But there it is, and with that being the case the folks at Acorn Media have happily granted this fantastic 11-part miniseries an anniversary Blu-ray release befitting its highly revered status. Featuring a star-making performance by a young Jeremy Irons and supporting turns by the likes of Sirs Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, Anthony Andrews and Diana Quick, this three-disc collection comes packed with special features including four audio commentaries, a 20-page retrospective booklet and Revisiting Brideshead, a 2006 documentary featuring interviews with Irons, director Charles Sturridge and many other members of the cast and crew. For fans, this is a Blu-ray package to pick up and add to the personal library without an ounce of hesitation.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
From my theatrical review of Confessions of Dangerous Mind, written all the way back in December of 2002 (read it here): “[George] Clooney shows engaging promise as a director, able to set scenes with a surrealistic abandon that’s quite beguiling. He sets up some sequences masterfully, most notably a startling one towards the end of the film at a swimming pool. Eerily lit, building slowly, the scene evolves delicately and with precision, revealing a shockingly beautiful surprise reminiscent of moments Claude Chabrol routinely pulls off in his films.”
As for James Mangold’s 1997 effort Cop Land, while heavy-handed and a bit didactic at times, this brutish melodrama of responsibility and justice (hugely inspired by High Noon I’m guessing) still packs a pretty decent punch as well as provides a reminder of just how good an actor Sylvester Stallone could have been had he stayed away from Rambo and Rocky sequels and chosen a different career path. He holds his own against a slew of heavyweights including Robert De Niro (who’s admittedly largely wasted), Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta (who is magnificent), everything building to a stupendous final showdown that makes up in kinetic bravado what it lacks in cinematic originality.
I am a Hook apologist. Other than the rancid scene at the imaginary dinner table between a middle-aged Peter Pan (Robin Williams) and his ragtag collection of Lost Boys, Steven Spielberg’s fantastical interpretation of the timeless J.M. Barrie classic is a movie that can’t help but make me smile each and every time I see it. From Dustin Hoffman’s magical performance as titular Captain, to John Williams’ sublime signature score, to some amazing flights of fancy and visual ingenuity only Spielberg could conceive of let alone pull of, this movie does it for me and then some. A lesser effort for the filmmaker, to be sure, but still a worthwhile one, and at the very least a movie kids and parents alike can enjoy in almost equal measure.
Wait…didn’t I just review this one two weeks ago? Isn’t it still playing theatrically? Nonetheless, here it is now on Blu-ray, which should be all you need to know in regards to the picture’s quality. Need to know more? In my review I wrote (read it here), “[This] movie is an unmitigated disaster in almost every respect. Starting with writer Karl Gajdusek’s inane screenplay, the film is a hodgepodge of clichés that gets worse and worse as it goes along. So bad it’s almost wonderful, this is one motion picture that almost needs to be seen to be believed.” Need more? Here’s what Mitchell wrote in his just posted Blu-ray Review: “Trespass is awful. Worthless – and one-note – on every level imaginable, this is the sort of flick that makes you wonder how it ever got made…”
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES
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· Another Gay Movie / Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild (read Sara's Theatrical Review of Another Gay Movie)
· Going Places
· An Invisible Sign
· The Nutcracker: The Untold Story
· Quigley Down Under
The Last Mountain
From my June theatrical review (read it here): “The documentary The Last Mountain examines the battle going on inside Coal River Valley, asking questions about the continued viability of coal mining, the political influence massive corporations like Massey Energy have both on local and national levels, the health risks associated with Mountain Top Removal, alternate sources of energy production and the economic effects upon communities of coal production is slowed or stymied. While its point of view and opinions on the subject are not in question, director Bill Haney and his fellow filmmakers still allow industry spokesmen like West Virginia Coal Association president Bill Raney to make their case for continued production. Not so much even-handed as open-minded, this forceful and impacting documentary is as much an indictment of how energy is produced in the United States as Inside Job was in how it eviscerated Wall Street.”
From my July theatrical review (read it here): “For Joyce McKinney hers is a story of true love unrequited. A fairy tale undone by a Mormon conspiracy and religious brainwashing and fueled by a vindictive sensationalistic press intent on making up whatever story would sell the most papers. Morris lets her tell this tale as she would like, lets her vent while adding insights and differing nuances from his small stable of fellow interview subjects knowledgeable on various facets of the story as a whole. In the end, Tabloid is a fascinating, thoroughly engaging boondoggle of historical interpretation, and whatever the truth maybe no fiction could be stranger – or all that more entertaining – than the differing versions of ‘the facts’ delivered here.”
Shopaholic Crystal's (Amy Acker, Alias) wealthy parents give her an ultimatum: change her irresponsible ways by Christmas or they will cut her off without a cent. With no job or romantic prospects, what's a party girl to do? Fate intervenes when she finds seven year-old Olivia's (Emma Duke) letter to Santa asking for a new wife for her widowed dad Derek (David Haydn-Jones). Crystal tracks them down and vows to win over father and daughter before the fast-approaching holiday deadline. Volunteering at Derek's struggling soup kitchen, Crystal is at first a fish out of water, but she is determined to prove to him and herself that there's more to her than just shopping and lattes. Only Derek's jealous and calculating girlfriend (Gina Holden, Harper's Island) stands between her and her newfound happiness. Share the gift of love and laughter with this heartwarming romantic comedy directed by Jason Priestley (Beverly Hills 90210). (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Persistent. Lucky. Sly. Audacious. Jerry Weintraub has been called a lot of things as one of Hollywood’s longest-working producers and most powerful talent managers. Though he will use any means to get to the top of the game, he’s experienced both its highs and lows during an enviable five-decade career. In this star-studded, feature-length documentary, the man himself spins compelling yarns of his life, loves, and livelihood. Nothing can stop Jerry Weintraub until he gets His Way. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
An eye-opening documentary with jaw-dropping revelations, Hot Coffee exposes how corporations spent millions on a propaganda campaign to distort Americans' view of lawsuits forever changing the civil justice system. From the infamous case of the woman who sued McDonalds over spilled coffee to the saga of the Mississippi Supreme Court Justice deemed "not corporate enough" by business interests, Hot Coffee tears apart the conventional wisdom about "frivolous lawsuits." Instead, this whip-smart film shows how access to the courts is blocked by corruption, greed and the unyielding power of special interest. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Machete Maidens Unleashed!
Karate-kickin' midgets! Paper-mâché monsters! Busty babes with blades! Filipino genre films of the '70s and '80s had it all. Boasting cheap labor, exotic scenery and non-existent health and safety regulations, the Philippines was a dreamland for exploitation filmmakers whose renegade productions were soon engulfing drive-in screens around the globe like a tidal schlock-wave! At last, the all-too-often overlooked world of drive-in filler from Manila gets the Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood) treatment in Machete Maidens Unleashed!. This is the ultimate insiders' account of a faraway backlot where stunt men came cheap, plot was obsolete and the make-up guy was packin' heat. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
In 1964, Ken Kesey, the famed author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, set off on a legendary cross-country road trip to the New York World's Fair. He was joined by The Merry Band of Pranksters, including Neal Cassady, the American icon immortalized in Kerouac’s On the Road. Kesey and the Pranksters intended to make a documentary about their trip, but the film was never finished and the footage has remained virtually unseen. With Magic Trip, Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood were given unprecedented access to this raw footage to create a documentary of this extraordinary piece of American history. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Pie in the Sky: Complete Collection
Detective Inspector Henry Crabbe (Richard Griffiths, Harry Potter, The History Boys) has been a policeman for 25 years, but he’s craving a change. Crabbe finally leaves the force and opens his dream restaurant, Pie in the Sky, with his penny-pinching accountant wife (Maggie Steed, Shine on Harvey Moon). He hopes to while away his retirement serving up his favorite dishes, but his old boss (Malcolm Sinclair, Casino Royale) puts his plans on the back burner, keeping Crabbe’s plate full with tricky cases.
In these five complete series, Griffiths gives a "brilliantly understated performance" (The Times, U.K.) in the public television hit that’s been called "an enjoyably British mix of character comedy and murder mystery with a light touch" (MSN Entertainment). Guest stars include Michael Kitchen (Foyle’s War), Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings), Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father), Julian Fellowes (Monarch of the Glen), Jane Wymark (Midsomer Murders), Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes), Nicola Walker (Touching Evil, MI-5), and Keeley Hawes (Ashes to Ashes). (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
OTHER NOTABLE DVD RELEASES
(Support this site! Click title to buy from Amazon!)
· Angel Collection: Angel / Angel 2: Avenging Angel / Angel 3: The Final Chapter
· The Artists: The Best Of Kino's Silent Classics Vol. 1 [Metropolis, Blood & Sand, The Thief of Bagdad, It, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Broken Blossoms, The General]
· Black Moon Rising
· Californication: The Fourth Season
· Deadliest Catch Season 7
· Liam Neeson Film Collection
· Transformers Beast Wars: The Complete Series
· Victorious: Season One, Volume Two