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.
Plus Dariush Mehrjui's 'The Cycle,' 'The Invisible Frame' and 'Chillerama'
"Sabu! (Eclipse Series 30)" (Criterion) presents three Alexander Korda productions (all directed by his brother, Zoltan Korda) starring Selar Shaik, renamed Sabu when was elevated from boy elephant driver of a maharaja to star of the film "Elephant Boy" (1937). It was perfect casting -- the 12-year-old Sabu rides and clambers over the full-sized elephant with such ease that you never think of him as an actor -- but it's the boy's exotic beauty, authentic sincerity and unselfconscious screen charisma that brings the character alive.
Robert Flaherty, the great pioneering documentary filmmaker, shares directing credit. He shot the great wildlife photography of the film, especially the majestic herds of elephants marching through the jungles and wading across the rivers, while Korda handled the dramatic scenes in the studio. But it also has its share of Hail Britannia colonialism, as Sabu's Toomai uses his skills with the elephants to deliver the herds to the British, becoming essentially a prized scout for the occupying powers. There's no irony here -- the Hungarian born Alexander Korda embraced his British citizenship with a passion and celebrated its empire and its history in almost all of his films.
Sabu became a star and was immediately cast in "The Drum" (1938), another drama of British colonial power in India with Sabu as a young prince targeted by a power-hungry uncle (Raymond Massey in brownface) and protected by a kindly British officer (Roger Livesey) and his wife (Valerie Hobson). Sabu's energy and enthusiasm dominates the adventure, which was photographed in color by the great Georges Perinal, even as he idolizes the military grandeur of the British army and teams up with them to fight his uncle, a man amassing power to drive the British out of India.
"Jungle Book" (1942), considered by many to be the definitive version of Rudyard Kipling's stories, is the highlight of the set, a glorious Technicolor jungle fantasy with Sabu, now a young man, a confident movie star and an acrobat of actor, as the grown jungle orphan Mowgli. Adopted by a childless couple when he's captured visiting a village at the edge of his jungle home (he's captivated by the fires in the village), he's a wild boy they attempt to tame while the greed and prejudice of a few villagers shows him that society is no more civilized and a great deal more duplicitous than the law of the jungle. Joseph Calleia is the worst of the human villains, driven by avarice to murder for the lost treasure the Mowgli has found in the heart of the jungle.
Framed by a storyteller entertaining his audience the grand adventures of Mowgli and the jungle animals, it has a quality not of storybook but of folk tales come to life. The production uses real animals (and majestic specimens at that) for the most part as the jungle characters while California forests and Hollywood sets to double for Indian jungles and ancient ruins. It's a visual delight with grand imagery and adventure and Sabu swings on vines and talks to the animals (both friend and foe) like Korda's exotic young answer to Tarzan with more articulation. And there's none of that colonial idealization of British values and western occupation. This is just pure storytelling joy.
For the completist, Sabu made "The Thief of Bagdad" for Korda between "The Drum" and "Jungle Book," which is available separately from Criterion. No supplements on this Eclipse set apart from film notes by Criterion's house film historian Michael Koresky. You can read his essays at the Criterion Current here.
Iranian master Dariush Mehrjui made "The Cycle" (Nima Pictures/Facets) in 1973, during the reign of the Shah. His regime banned it for its uncompromising portrait of poverty in the country and it did not screen in Iran until 1977. In 1978, it won the International Critics’ prize in Berlin and was submitted by Iran as the country's entry for the Oscars. In Persian with English subtitles.
In 1988, director Cynthia Beatt and actress Tilda Swinton made the short film "Cycling the Frame," with circumnavigating the Berlin Wall by bicycle. "The Invisible Frame" (Icarus) is their return trip, 20 years later, retracing the journey after the fall of the wall and the reunification of Germany. The disc features both films, along with notes on the project by director Cynthia Beatt and a still gallery. See trailer below, after the jump.
"Chillerama" (Image), which calls itself "The Ultimate Midnight Movie," is anthology film of four tongue-in-cheek horror shorts: “Wadzilla,” “I Was A Teenage Werebear,” "The Diary of Anne Frankenstein,” and “Zom-B-Movie.” Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Adam Rifkin and Tim Sullivan direct. On DVD and Blu-ray, with director video commentary, deleted scenes, director interviews and "The Making of The Diary of Anne Frankenstein" among the supplements
Plus 'Mission: Impossible - 1988,' '30 Rock: Season 5' and more
"Smallville," the long-running WB youth superhero series about Superman before he donned the cape, ended last season after an impressive ten-season run and "Smallville: The Complete Tenth Season" (Warner) delivers exactly what the show has promised us all along: the making of the hero known as Superman.
As the season begins, Clark Kent (Tom Welling) is still the ultra-efficient and confident reporter by day and the mysterious hero known only as "The Blur" in action, never revealing his face to the public. All that begins to change as he finally reveals his identity to Lois Lane (Erica Durance) and she becomes a part of his growing hero network just as government declares war on the "vigilante" heroes of the city, including buddy Green Arrow and guest heroes Aquaman, Hawkman, Black Canary and Stargirl. Meanwhile he wrestles with the two father figures of his life, both dead yet very much present in his life, as he prepares to become the hero he's meant to be.
It's very much a valedictory season, bringing back heroes, villains and family from the past (including John Glover as Lionel Luther and Michael Rosenbaum as the once and future villain Lex). We measure Clark's evolution with a 200th episode "Homecoming" celebration that brings him back to Smallville High and a "A Christmas Carol" odyssey guided by former villain turned 25th century hero Brainiac 5 (James Marsters) and tangle with the evil Clark of the dark alternate universe (which, cliché aside, provides another piece in his struggle with identity). About the only person missing this season is Kristin Kreuk's Lana Lang; her absence (apart from archival footage) is glaring given the roll call of guest shots, but it's a minor issue.
It's a strong finish to a show that actually improved in its final seasons. Lois takes charge of the Clark makeover (enter nerdy, clumsy Clark with glasses) and, as promised, the series ends with the debut of the familiar red, white and blue costume. By the time Superman makes his long awaited debut, it feels earned.
22 episodes (counting the double-length finale as two) on six discs on DVD and four discs on Blu-ray, plus cast and crew commentary on two episodes, deleted scenes and two fairly lengthy featurettes: "Back in the Jacket: A Smallville Homecoming," about the high school reunion episode (19 minutes), and "The Son Becomes the Father," which tosses some psychologists into the discussion of Clark's father figures (and, for contrast, Lex Luthor's father) with Tom Welling, John Schneider, John Glover, Michael Rosenbaum and others (17 minutes).
Along with this final chapter, Warner is also releasing the deluxe "Smallville: The Complete Series" (Warner), on DVD only but an impressive collection of all 218 episodes and supplements, plus exclusive bonus supplements, on 62 discs in a box set of hefty digibook cases. Videodrone's review is here.
Peter Graves returned to duty for "Mission: Impossible – The 1988 TV Season" (Paramount), reviving the role of team leader Jim Phelps for the first of two seasons in the revival of the secret agent caper series. The format is pretty much the same as the old show: he gets his instruction from a recording that self destructs (though this time it's a CD rather than a tape) and then puts his team into the field: Thaao Penghlis (soon to be a soap opera mainstay) as the impersonator, Tony Hamilton as the muscle, Phil Morris as the electronics expert and Terry Markwell as the actress. 19 episodes on five discs, no supplements.
Adam Rifkin turns his video surveillance film into a Showtime series with "Look: Season 1" (Image), a weekly drama that follows its characters solely from the point of view of security cameras, capturing them when they think they're alone in a reality show/documentary-styled fiction. 11 half-hour episodes on two discs.
In "30 Rock: Season 5," (Universal), Liz (Tina Fey) struggles with her new romance (Matt Damon), Jack (Alec Baldwin) adjusts to married life and impending fatherhood while weathering the corporate shift to KableTown and Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) goes AWOL. Just another season producing "TGS" with the most neurotic stars on TV. This season also features the "Live Show," a stunt episode that doesn't quite work, even with the brilliant casting of Julia Louise-Dreyfus as "Flashback Liz." The three-disc digipak set includes features 22 episodes of the hit sitcom (23 if you count the double-length "100" as two episodes), and both the East Coast and West Coast versions of the "Live Show," plus commentary tracks, deleted scenes and other supplements.
"Hot in Cleveland: Season Two" (Paramount), TV Land's first original sitcom, brings the trio of Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick back for more adventures in romance after 40, but arguably it's Betty White and her smiling snark that made the show a hit. 22 episodes on three discs, plus cast interviews and featurettes.
"Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns: Season 3" (Lionsgate) features 20 episodes of the cable sitcom on three discs.
"Vietnam in HD" (A&E/History), a documentary series made for the History Channel with rare film footage shot by the soldiers themselves, arrives on DVD and Blu-ray a few weeks after its cable debut.
"Tavis Smiley Reports: Too Important to Fail" (PBS) is a 60-minute documentary special about the education crisis facing African American teenage boys, who have a high school drop-out rate of 50%.