Special editions of Harry, Willy, Bambi and the rest
"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Ultimate Edition" (Warner) and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Ultimate Edition" (Warner) are the deluxe editions of "Year Five" and "Year Six" of the Harry Potter saga on DVD and Blu-ray. Are the "Ultimate" exclusives worth the bump in price? I'm not so sure – apart from the usual doodads that look cool at first and get forgotten later (booklets, postcards) the only exclusive bonus are hour-long documentaries in the "Creating the World of Harry Potter" documentary series – but they are hefty-looking packages. But the budgetary alternative of getting the original DVD/Blu-ray releases has its own plus: an extended version of each film that is NOT included on the "Ultimate" box (which, I guess, means it's not so ultimate after all). Either way, Warner has announced that the films will all go on moratorium on DVD and Blu-ray at the beginning of the year.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1" and "Part 2" don't have the "Ultimate Edition" heft but the DVD and Blu-ray editions are both impressive packages and the Blu-ray-exclusive "Maximum Movie Mode" is a superb approach to interactive viewing.
The original "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" is that rare breed: an imaginative live-action kid's film that engages and delights adults and "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Blu-ray+DVD Ultimate Collector's Edition" (Warner) is quite the deluxe edition of the fantasy classic. Some of the extras are silly little gewgaws but there is also a bonus disc of all-new supplements and an accompanying book (not a booklet but a full-sized production) by the director. And, of course, the movie on DVD and Blu-ray. That's the real golden ticket.
Walt Disney’s "Bambi," often cited as the crown jewel from the golden years of Disney animation, is a magnificent piece of animated storytelling and a cinematic landmark that has lost none of its wonder or power over the years and "Bambi: Diamond Edition" (Disney) gives the film its Blu-ray debut in a Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack packed with supplements and a bright new image that has drawn criticism from purists but is quite beautiful on its own merits.
The Blu-ray debut of "The Incredibles" (Disney), also in a Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack, offers four discs of super Pixar filmmaking, packed with family-friendly featurettes on the creation and production of the film (and life at Pixar; after seeing these supplements, who wouldn't want to work there?) and lots of bonus animated bits.
A wealth of releases from the past couple of months
The Warner Archive was the first and remains the most robust of the new manufacture-on-demand services for classic and contemporary films on DVD, with dozens of films and TV programs rolled out every month on individual discs and multi-disc sets. While there is a great variety of releases in the mix, from MGM musicals and B-movies to TV movies and mini-series and animated series, their specialty is classic cinema from the archives of Warner Bros., MGM and RKO: the golden age movies that no longer sell in big enough numbers to warrant a full-fledged DVD release.
As I fall farther behind in my fruitless attempts to keep up with releases through spotlight reviews and round-ups, I realize that I'm falling behind in simply getting the information out in a timely manner, so I begin with the first of my DVD calendars. Though short on detail, this is a fairly comprehensive listing of Warner releases over the past couple of months, and the first of a series of regular reports.
Some of these have been reviewed already, more are scheduled for review in the coming weeks, but all of these are now available through the Warner Archive, where you browse for more information and for purchase. All of the titles that have been remastered are noted.
Buster Keaton at MGM: "Doughboys" (1930) (remastered), "Sidewalks of New York" (1931) (remastered) and "What! No Beer?" (1933) (remastered) – three sound films from the silent comedy legend. These are not his best films, due largely to mediocre scripts and the assembly line-style of production (not to mention problems in his private life), but Keaton had a fine voice for sound cinema and never lost his physical talent for comedy .
"Daktari: The Complete First Season" (1966) features the first 18 episodes of the exotic family show about a veterinarian (Marshall Thomson) running an animal research center in Africa. Producer Ivan Tors made a specialty of movies and TV shows centered on colorful animal characters ("Flipper," "Gentle Ben") and wildlife settings but this was his most colorful creation. Five discs in a standard case. The title, by the way, means "doctor" in Swahili.
Three by William Wellman: the pre-code rarity "Safe in Hell" (1931), "My Man and I" (1952) and "Lafayette Escadrille" (1958) (remastered), Wellman's final film.
Spencer Tracy: King Vidor's "Northwest Passage" (1940), "The Seventh Cross" (1944) (remastered) and "The People Against O'Hara" (1951) (remastered)
"Hollywood Party" (1934) and "Swing Parade of 1946" (1946) with The Three Stooges, plus the 1990 TV documentary "The Lost Stooges"
"Honolulu" (1939) (remastered) and "Ship Ahoy" (1942) (remastered) with Eleanor Powell
"Bitter Sweet" (1940) and "Smilin' Through" (1941) with Jeanette MacDonald
"Duchess of Idaho" (1950), "Texas Carnival" (1951) (remastered) and "Skirts Ahoy" (1952) (remastered) with Esther Williams
"The Constant Nymph" (1943) (remastered)
"The Affairs of Dobie Gillis" (1953) (remastered)
"Light in the Piazza" (1962) (remastered)
"Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion" (1965) (remastered)
"Around the World Under the Sea" (1966) (remastered)
"The Legend of Lylah Clare" (1968) (remastered)
"The Madwoman of Chaillot" (1969) (remastered) with Katharine Hepburn
"Travels With My Aunt" (1972) (remastered)
"The Carey Treatment" (1972) (remastered)
"Monogram Cowboy Collection: Volume One" (nine films on three discs in a standard case)
"Tim Holt Western Classic Collection: Volume Three" (ten films on five discs in a standard case)
Box Sets (of titles previously available individually):
"Elizabeth Taylor: The Warner Archive Collection" (five films)
"Lon Chaney: The Warner Archive Collection" (six films)
"Randolph Scott: The Warner Archive Collection" (five films)
"The Tarzan Collection Starring Lex Barker" (five films)
"The Tarzan Collection Starring Gordon Scott" (six films)
"The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" (1968)
"Pearl" (1978, 2 discs)
"Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story" (1987, 2 discs)
"The Ricky Gervais Show: The Complete Second Season" (2011, 13 episodes on 3 discs)
"Night Court: The Complete Fifth Season" (1987, 23 episodes on 3 discs)
Available exclusively from Warner Archive
MOD stands for "Manufacture on Demand" and represents a recent development in the DVD market, where slipping sales have slowed the release of classic, special interest and catalogue releases. These are DVD-R releases, no-frills discs from studio masters, ordered online and "burned" individually with every order. You can read a general introduction to the format and the model on my profile of the Warner Archive Collection on Parallax View here.
Your guide to our coverage of the new DVD/Blu-ray releases
All is a Little Too Smurfy in 'The Smurfs'
When Preppies Attack: 'Tucker & Dale vs. Evil'
The New Release Rack: 'One Day' our 'Friends With Benefits' will meet 'Our Idiot Brother,' and many, many more
TV on DVD:
Gift Guide Spotlight: 'Smallville: The Complete Series'
Gift Guide Spotlight: 'Friday Night Lights: The Complete Series'
TV on DVD Channel Guide: 'Smallville' Ends After Ten Seasons, plus 'Mission: Impossible - 1988,' '30 Rock: Season 5' and more
The Cool and the Collectible:
Gift Guide Roundup: Size Matters in these Deluxe Collections
Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing Board the 'Horror Express'
Cops, Killers and Sleuths in B&W: George Sanders and Tom Conway are 'The Falcon,' plus more classic crime
Announcement: 'The Andy Hardy Collection – Volume 1' Signed by Mickey Rooney
Coming up next week:
"The Help" (Disney)
"The Hangover Part II" (Warner)
"Cowboys & Aliens" (Universal)
"The Debt" (Universal)
"Mr. Popper's Penguins" (Fox)
"Point Blank" (2011) (Magnolia)
"Rapt" (Kino Lorber)
"Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition" (Music Box)
"Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinema" (Olive)
"Design for Living" (Criterion)
"Big Love: The Complete Fifth Season" / "Big Love: The Complete Collection" (HBO)
"Portlandia: Season One" (MVD)
"The Lady Vanishes" (Blu-ray) (Criterion)
"Tora! Tora! Tora!" (Blu-ray) (Fox)
|Tags:||Week in review|
George Sanders and Tom Conway are 'The Falcon,' plus more classic crime
"The Falcon Mystery Movie Collection: Volume 1" (Warner Archive)
George Sanders jumped ship from one mystery movie franchise -- "The Saint" – right into another with 1941's "The Gay Falcon." The title is a reference to the character's name, Gay Lawrence, aka The Falcon, who is introduced as an adventurer and rather notorious freelance detective with such shorthand that it almost convinces the viewer that we know all about him already. And in a way, most audiences did: The Falcon was practically The Saint by another name, so much so that The Saint creator Leslie Charters sued RKO (which also produced the Saint films) for plagiarism. His backstory was rewritten some but Sanders played him with the same mix of cultured wit, sly playfulness and passion for wading into every mystery that his stumbled upon. And despite the fact that he ostensibly has a fiancée in everything but name (played by Wendy Barrie), he manages to woo every beautiful woman he meets along his adventures.
Sanders starred in four films: "The Gay Falcon" (1941), "A Date With the Falcon" (1941), "The Falcon Takes Over" (1942) and "The Falcon's Brother" (1942), in which Tom Conway -- Sanders' real life brother -- steps in as Gay's brother Tom Lawrence to join him on a case and then take over the mantle of The Falcon for the subsequent films. Conway carries himself with the same continental cool and smiling charm as Sanders and makes the transition as smooth as The Falcon's line of seduction.
Like the "The Saint" films, these RKO productions are by strict definition B-movies, all running under 70 minutes to play as the back end of a double bill, but they are made with elevated production values and a solid line-up of character actors. It gives the films a snap and a sense of style you don't get in the usual B-product cranked out by the poverty row studios or the dedicated B-movie outfits in the major studios.
"The Falcon Mystery Movie Collection: Volume 1" features the first seven films of the series: all four films with Sanders, plus Conway's first three solo outings: "The Falcon Strikes Back" (1943), directed by Edward Dmytryk, "The Falcon In Danger" (1943) and "The Falcon And The Co-Eds" (1943). Three discs on a standard case with hinged trays.
For a more traditional B-movie, see "Behind the Mask" (MGM Limited Edition Collection), a 1946 production starring Kane Richmond as Lamont Cranston, aka The Shadow, a hero with more success on the radio than on film. This Monogram Studios production looks pretty good by their standard but pretty cheap by any other, and while director Phil Karlson (back before he made his reputation in a series of tough, bare-knuckle crime movies in the 1950s) kicks it off with a promising mix of mood and mystery, it soon slips into flat-footed writing and clumsy comic relief confined to anonymous studio sets.
Two more low-budget crime thrillers recently released from the MGM Limited Edition Collection are "No Escape" (1953), a story of innocents under suspicion written and directed by former Hitchcock screenwriter Charles Bennett, and "The Mugger" (1958), starring Kent Smith and James Franciscus and adapted from an Ed McBain novel.
Available exclusively from the Warner Archive:
"Behind the Mask"
A limited-edition offer from the Warner Archive
The Warner Archive Collection has finally released its first collection of the much anticipated Andy Hardy series.
The hugely successful family comedy series didn't start off under that name. It was "Judge Hardy and Family" and "The Hardys" until it became clear that Mickey Rooney, the young spark plug of a rising MGM star, was stealing the show. The subsequent films were built around his talent and persona and the rest of the cast became support for his spring-loaded performance and bouncy antics.
Count me among the fans of the films, of which there were ultimately 16 (including a late entry with Rooney as an adult Andy following in his father's footsteps in 1958). This first set of six is a sampling from the first four years of the series, including two of the three Judy Garland appearances: not strictly chronological but just fine for a first release.
I'll be reviewing the set later. For now, I'm announcing a limited offer: Mickey Rooney (still active at a mere 91 years young) will personally autograph the first 400 sets sold by the Warner Archive Collection.
This offer is available exclusively through the Warner Archive website. Details here.
UPDATE: The autographed sets sold out within hours of the announcement. Only standard editions available now.
|Tags:||manufacture on demand|
All five seasons and 76 episodes of one of the best shows of the last decade
"Friday Night Lights: The Complete Series" (Universal)
Friday Night Lights" was a best-selling book and a well-received feature film before director Peter Berg shepherded the project to television for an acclaimed series. It never grabbed big ratings, but racked up solid reviews and passionate viewers and earned a second life when DirecTV partnered up with NBC for a unique broadcast model that kept it going through five seasons (albeit in the shorter, cable-styled seasons).
Kyle Chandler stars as the new head high school coach in a small Texas town that eats, drinks, and breathes football and isn't shy about telling him exactly what he's doing wrong every time to walks out into public, and Connie Britton reprises her role from the film as his supportive but independent-minded wife, forming the foundation of the family drama.
The rest of the show belongs to the drama on and off the gridiron and the show's greatest hurdle was convincing viewers that it was not a sport drama, it was a drama about people whose lives were -- for better and for worse -- defined by sports. And that's what the show did so well, and not just in triumph or defeat. It illustrated how team sports can encourage students, teach them leadership and life skills and give them a sense of accomplishment, and conversely how defining oneself so narrowly leaves so many former football heroes struggling for identity and careers long after their glory days are over. It also told stories of students struggling to deal with broken families, absent fathers and failed role models and much of the show's satisfaction comes from characters -- adults and students both -- who step up to take responsibility for themselves and others.
The expressions of pride and accomplishment in the show are authentic and impressive but the unsung star of the show is Connie Britton, whose quiet dignity and resilience a mother, counselor and dedicated principal in a school where sports are more valued than scholastics has a way of putting the coach's problems into perceptive.
76 episodes on 19 discs, plus all the commentary tracks, featurettes, deleted scenes and other supplements of the original releases. The seasons are collected in a photo book digipack, with each disc in a paperboard slipsleeve. This is not the favored packaging of disc collectors as they are more prone to scratching discs than traditional trays and you need to grip the surface of the disc to remove it, which can leave grease and dirt on the disc. But it is a sturdy and handsome case that fits easily on a DVD shelf and takes up far less space than the season sets.
A few select sets featuring the complete run of fan favorite film series
Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas launched one of the most beloved screen epics of all time. The Blu-ray debut of "Star Wars: The Complete Saga" (Fox) is a nine-disc box (there are also separate editions with each of the two trilogies) packed with commentaries, documentaries, interviews and plenty of behind-the-scenes peaks and techno-geek Lucas promises state of the art remastering for high definition. But it's not without its controversies: once again, he's tinkering with the original films, adding yet more special effects (to make the 1977 effects look more modern?), rejiggering scenes and even adding scenes. But it has never looked better on home video. Videodrone's review is here.
Peter Jackson did the impossible with his "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy: he created a faithful, magical, thrilling, and—most importantly—compelling film version of J.R.R. Tolkein’s great cult fantasy epic, told over the course of three features films. "The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy: Extended Edition" (Warner) is more than just a longer version with deleted scenes cut back in, it reweaves the epic as a fuller, denser story with its own rhythms. You can call this the definitive home video version. Yes, there is controversy brewing over the shift in the color, but it has amazing clarity and visual detail and collects EVERY supplement from EVERY previous edition -- toplined by the longest, most exhaustive making-of documentary of all time -- and puts it into a single, efficiently packaged 15-disc set. Wow. Videodrone's review is here.
"Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology (1978-2006)" (Warner) features the complete "Superman" movie collection, from "Superman: The Movie" (1978) with Christopher Reeve to "Superman Returns" (2006) with Brandon Routh: five movies, two alternate cuts and dozens of hours of supplements on an eight-disc Blu-ray set. It's been available on DVD but the Blu-ray collection (which features the HD debuts of two Christopher Reeve "Superman" features) includes the never-before-available alternate opening from "Superman Returns." Videodrone's review is here.
"Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy" (Universal) brings all three of Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur adventures (he directed the first two and produced the third) based on/inspired by the Michael Crichton novels to Blu-ray in a box set filled with old and new supplements. And, of course, lots of prehistoric predators. Videodrone's review is here.
Rescued from public domain indifference with a new HD edition from Severin
Eugenio Martino's "Horror Express" (Severin) is a one of those odd duck films: a Spanish horror for an international audience with Hammer stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and American actor Telly Savalas (something of an international character actor icon of the time thanks to such films as "The Dirty Dozen," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and "The Assassination Bureau) in a small but significant supporting role. Set on the Siberian Express, it's a mix of murder mystery, supernatural horror, mummy movie, zombie film and alien attack at the turn of the century.
While it's a minor horror film, it's filled with incident, paced like a speeding train and flavored with hints of late Hammer horrors and Amando de Ossorio's "Tombs of the Blind Dead." The dangerous cargo is the frozen remains found in Northern China by archeologist Christopher Lee, a "missing link" that turns out to be even more unique and tenacious than anyone anticipates. Coming back to life with burning red eyes, it starts sucking the life and the knowledge out of bystanders and then jumping bodies in its instinct for survival. Peter Cushing is a rival gentleman scientist who uses his fortune to grease the wheels of foreign diplomacy, but shifts from enemy to colleague when the "fossil" escapes and the milky-eyed corpses start to stack up, and then come back to life. This train carries plenty of promising vessels, including a beautiful spy, a Rasputin-like monk and a pair of aristocrats in a private car.
I took particular pleasure in the indignant dignity maintained by Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in all the ridiculousness of the filmmaking, sparring and sniping and sabotaging one another before finally teaming up as the body count builds. And then there is the blast of personality that Telly Savalas brings as a "Cossack" feudal lord from an rural posting. Just when you wonder when he's going to make his appearance, he rolls out of the sack shared with some nameless woman and leads his troop onto a train by order of a government that's not sure what's going on but knows that something wicked this way comes.
The film has been previously available in numerous DVD editions of dubious quality. Severin gives it the deluxe treatment, beginning with a new HD master for both discs of the Blu-ray+DVD Combo, mastered from Spanish print (with Spanish credits). It has been criticized for overcompression and digital artifacts, but even with these problems it's a major improvement over previous DVD editions. More on the technical side from Gary Tooze at DVD Beaver.
The set also features a new video interview with director Eugenio Martin, a 2005 interview with producer Bernard Gordon (focused not on this film but on his work with Samuel Bronston during the blacklist), a short interview with composer John Cacavas discussing his friendship with Telly Savalas, and an introduction to the film by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander. An archival, audio-only 1973 interview with Peter Cushing is engineered to play over the film like a commentary track.
See the trailer below, after the jump.