The biggest and most lavish releases of Hollywood classics this year
Here are a few of the most impressive releases of 2011 for the classic movie buff on your list.
The Ultimate Edition of the 1955 "The Ten Commandments" (Paramount) with Charlton Heston as Moses is available on DVD, Blu-ray and a "Limited Edition Gift Set," a massive six-disc box set that includes DVD and Blu-ray editions, plus two bonus discs of supplements, including a Blu-ray edition of the original 1923 silent version of the film. Videodrone's review is here.
"Ben-Hur: 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition" (Warner), another Biblical epic built on the stiff masculinity of Charlton Heston, is now available in a new edition featuring a new documentary on Heston as well as documentaries on the film and a DVD edition of the original silent version of the film from 1925. More here
"Citizen Kane: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition" (Warner) is the definitive edition of the great American movie, remastered for Blu-ray in a three-disc edition featuring the documentary "The Battle Over Citizen Kane" and "RKO 281," a fictionalized dramatization of the making of the film, among the supplements. The Amazon exclusive edition features the DVD debut of "The Magnificent Ambersons" as a bonus, making it the only way to get the film on DVD in the U.S. (short of importing a foreign DVD edition). Videodrone's review is here.
"Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection" (Universal) collects five Hitchcock masterpieces of the fifties and sixties in a digipack packed with supplements (all previously available in earlier releases): "Rear Window," "Vertigo," "North by Northwest," "Psycho" and "The Birds." You can argue among yourselves whether this five-disc set presents the definitive five Alfred Hitchcock "essentials," but even if you quibble ("Notorious"? "Strangers on a Train"? "Shadow of a Doubt"?), you have to admit this is pretty good start. Details here.
"Tracy and Hepburn: The Definitive Collection" (Warner) is the first comprehensive collection of every films starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Hollywood's great screen couple, from "Woman of the Year" in 1942 to the 1967 "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," completed weeks before Tracy died of a heart attack. Complete line-up and disc details here.
"Laurel and Hardy: The Essential Collection" (Vivendi) is an impressive ten-disc set featuring newly-remastered editions of ten features and dozens of shorts from their Hal Roach period, from their first sound short to "A Chump at Oxford" and "Saps at Sea" in 1940. There's a whole disc of supplements plus alternate versions of some shorts and feature films. Details here.
Plus 'The Taking of Pelham One Two Three' and 'The Big Country'
"¡Three Amigos! 25th Anniversary Edition" (HBO), starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short as intellectually-challenged actors in silent movie westerns mistaken for genuine heroes, may be the forgotten John Landis comedy classic. It's certainly the sweetest of the American western parodies, and it is a loving tribute to the innocence of the early westerns. The Blu-ray debut features 20 minutes of newly rediscovered deleted scenes. More on the film -- plus an interview with director John Landis -- here.
"Rushmore" (Criterion), Wes Anderson's second feature, wasn't universally praised upon release but it has certainly earned it place in the category of modern classics, thanks to the mix of whimsy, confidence and heartache and Anderson's lively direction and playful design. Jason Schwartzman stars as a high school eccentric and Bill Murray earned accolades and awards as a sad sack millionaire who becomes his mentor and his rival. ""Rushmore" has a good deal of content and human qualities to spare, but what makes it such a charming and satisfying experience is its style," wrote Chicago Reader film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum in 1999, who praises the way that "everyone in the movie is accorded a certain dignity."
Criterion released the film on DVD in a director approved edition ten years ago. The Blu-ray debut features all the supplements from that release: commentary by Anderson, co-writer Owen Wilson, and actor Jason Schwartzman, a behind-the-scenes documentary, Anderson and Bill Murray on "The Charlie Rose Show," cast auditions, and galleries of storyboards, stills and other graphic ephemera. But to my mind, the coolest supplement is the trio of “Max Fisher Players” stagings of films “Armageddon,” “The Truman Show,” and “Out of Sight” for the MTV Movie Awards.
Also new this month: "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" (MGM) with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, which is so superior to the instantly forgettable remake, and William Wyler's sweeping 1958 western "The Big Country" (MGM) with Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston and Jean Simmons, both of which arrived earlier in November.
Plus mob movies 'The Nickel Ride' and '99 44/100% Dead' and Japanese zombie comedy 'Helldriver'
Henry Fonda calms "12 Angry Men" (Criterion) in the classic 1957 courtroom drama set entirely in the jury room. Sidney Lumet made his feature debut in the big screen adaptation of the original live TV production. The Criterion debut features both versions and plenty of supplements. Videodrone's review is here.
Two D.W. Griffith silent movie landmarks receive newly remastered editions on DVD and Blu-ray debuts. "Birth of a Nation" (Kino) was not the first American feature film, but it was the most influential and the most controversial. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it “history written in lightning” upon its release. One hopes he was responding to the amazing recreations of Civil War battle and not the grotesque distortions of the post-war South and Griffith's portrayal of the KKK as heroes. And yet for all its hateful caricatures of blacks (all played by whites in blackface portrayals, of course, as they make a mockery of politics and plot to despoil the virgin white women), it is a rousing piece of filmmaking. Griffith, who spent years experimenting with storytelling techniques and perfecting the ideas that worked, combines them all here, and while it won't wow modern audiences the way it did in 1915, there is still a poetry to his handling of intimate moments and a tintype grandeur to his spectacle, modeled on the photos of Matthew Brady. Though it was a couple of generations since the war, it has an authenticity of texture.
The new three-disc DVD and Blu-ray editions feature a new edition of the film remastered in HD from archival 35mm elements, with a score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, along with the 1993 restoration by David Shepard and Film Preservation Associates (DVD only on both sets) with Joseph Carl Breil’s original score supplemented and performed by Jon C. Mirsalis. Also features the prologue filmed with D.W. Griffith and Walter Huston for the film’s 1930 re-release (with newly rediscovered intermission sequence), the 24 minute 1992 documentary "The Making of Birth of a Nation," and seven Civil War shorts directed by Griffith: "In The Border States," 'The House With Closed Shutters," "The Fugitive" (all from 1910), "His Trust" and its sequel "His Trust Fulfilled," "Swords and Hearts," and "The Battle" (1911), along with an archive featuring excerpts from the original 1915 film souvenir book and other programs, and documents from the censorship battle over the film’s 1922 re-release.
"Way Down East" (Kino) from 1920 is almost self-consciously old-fashioned, based on a chestnut of a sentimental stage melodrama made larger than life with Griffith's Dickensian approach and his flair for spectacle, in particular a thrilling race across the ice drifts (which he borrowed from the stage version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin"). A radiant Lillian Gish plays the innocent betrayed by a mustache twirling cad (future director Lowell Sherman), who leaves her with a child out of wedlock, and protected by the all-American Richard Barthelmess. The new DVD and Blu-ray debut feature a print newly remastered in HD from the Museum of Modern Art's 35mm restoration with color tints and a score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, plus galleries of stills, documents and notes on the film, plus a clip from the Edison Studio's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" with the ice floe sequence.
"Action Double Feature: The Nickel Ride / 99 and 44/100% Dead!" (Shout! Factory) pairs up a couple of seventies mob movies. Jason Miller is a mob caretaker for the warehouses of stolen goods in "The Nickel Ride" (1975) directed by Robert Mulligan, and Richard Harris is a hitman sent to rub out a rival mobster in "99 and 44/100% Dead!," a John Frankenheimer film co-starring Edmond O'Brien and Chuck Conners as a rival enforcer hired to intercept Harris.
From Japan comes "Helldriver" (Well Go USA), a gruesome comedy of zombies and a heroine with a chainsaw from the director of "Tokyo Gore Police" and "Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl." On DVD and Blu-ray, in Japanese with bonus short films.
"The Rolling Stones: Some Girls Live in Texas '78" (Eagle Vision) is a concert film with a new Mick Jagger interview and classic clips from the Stone on "Saturday Night Live." "New York Dolls: Lookin' Fine on Television" (MVD) is a collection of rare live performance clips and interviews with the seminal New York punk band.
"Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World – Special Edition" (Disney) is a rerelease of the 1997 direct-to-video animated feature starring the original voice cast from the movie. "Marvel Knights Animation Box" (Shout! Factory) collects five previously-released motion comics: "Black Panther," "Astonishing X-Men: Gifted," "Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D.," "Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers" and "Iron Man: Extremis."
Criterion's new edition features the original live TV production as well as the feature film
The classic 1957 "12 Angry Men" (Criterion) began life as a landmark of live television. Reginald Rose's original teleplay won an Emmy Award in 1955. Henry Fonda brought the story to the big screen and brought Rose along with it to adapt and expand the script.
Producer Fonda takes the lead as a hold-out juror who tries to stop a rush to judgment in a murder trial and debate the facts at hand before sentencing a young man to death. Lee J. Cobb leads the "guilty" votes and becomes belligerent as others change their votes during the debate. Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, and Robert Webber co-star as fellow jurors. The film marked the feature debut of Sidney Lumet, himself a veteran of live TV, and he effectively modulates the drama without ever taking the camera out of the jury room until the verdict is in and the jury is out.
"The movie plays like a textbook for directors interested in how lens choices affect mood," wrote Roger Ebert in 2002. "By gradually lowering his camera, Lumet illustrates another principle of composition: A higher camera tends to dominate, a lower camera tends to be dominated. As the film begins we look down on the characters, and the angle suggests they can be comprehended and mastered. By the end, they loom over us, and we feel overwhelmed by the force of their passion.
Plus more 'Perry Mason,' PBS documentaries and more
"The Office: Special Edition" (U.K.) (BBC) is a new edition of the original British incarnation of workplace sitcom with Ricky Gervais as a most insufferably self-satisfied office manager on television. Videodrone's review is here.
"Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series" (BBC) features all 13 regular episodes plus the Christmas special from most recent series of the erstwhile British sci-fantasy show, now under the creative wing of writer/producer Stephen Moffat and Doctor Matt Smith. It's a season to remember, opening with the death of The Doctor and then circling back around the strange and amazing story of River Song (Alex Kingston), and an absolute delight of time travel fantasy and wildly inventive adventures. I reviewed it as it rolled on home video earlier this year: "The Christmas Special," "Season Six, Part One" and "Part Two." On DVD and Blu-ray, both in six-disc box sets packed with supplements, including episodes of "Doctor Who Confidential" new to this set. The Brits do love their Doctor.
Herge's Tintin, the globetrotting adventures of a boy journalist, is one of the most beloved series of comic books adventures for children all over Europe (and the world) for more than forty years. "The Adventures of Tintin: Season One" (Shout! Factory) is the second animated series based on the books, made between 1991 and 1992. A co-production of French and Canadian studios, it's the most faithful screen version of the books, produced in a simplified animation style that recalls the original comics (right down to reproducing some of the original panels). It originally showed in the U.S. on HBO in the nineties but debuts on DVD in advance of the new Steven Spielberg film. More than simply timely, it also features adaptations of two stories that form the basis of Spielberg's film. The first season of 13 episodes (most of them two-part adventures) are presented on two discs. No supplements.
"Whitechapel: The Ripper Returns" (BBC) is actually a three-episode BBC mini-series series starring Rupert Penry-Jones as an up-and-coming DI investigating who is teamed up with a hard-bitten veteran DS near retirement (Phil Davis) and a "Ripperologist" (Steve Pemberton) to investigate a series of murders that resemble Jack the Ripper's reign of terror. The self-contained series runs a little over two hours, and proved successful enough for a continuing series. The disc also includes the making-of featurette "Peeling Back the Layers."
Even more vintage is "Perry Mason: Season Six, Volume Two" (Paramount), with 14 episodes of courtroom brilliance from Raymond Burr's definitive TV lawyer and his crack team (Barbara Hale and William Hopper). D.A. Hamilton Burger (William Talman) never had a chance. This season also feature Karl Held in a recurring role as a law-school drop-out befriended by Mason.
The documentary "These Amazing Shadows: The Movies That Make America" (PBS), originally produced for public television, surveys the films on the National Film Registry. "While it's far from comprehensive and some subjects are given rushed treatment, the film makes a commendable effort toward inclusiveness," writes David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter. The DVD also includes the featurette "Lost Forever" (about film preservation and restoration) and other supplements. Also originally made for public television is "The Fabric of the Cosmos" (PBS), a series hosted by physicist Brian Greene for the science series "Nova."
"Shaun the Sheep: Season 2" (Lionsgate) presents 40 7-minute episodes of the animated series from Aardman. "Conan the Adventurer: Season Two, Part 1" (Shout! Factory) features 13 episodes of the animated series, by Crom! "Love Begins" (Fox) is the latest TV movie in the "Love Comes Softly" series inspired by the books of Janette Oke.
Plus a new 'Spy Kids,' rock and roll 'Trigger' and much more
"Super 8" (Paramount), J.J. Abrams' alien adventure with a cast of kids, has the DNA of a Steven Spielberg tale lost in the noise of a special effects extravaganza. Videodrone's review is here, along with a clip featuring co-star Elle Fanning.
Jason Momoa (late of "Game of Thrones") takes up the sword and loincloth as "Conan the Barbarian" (Lionsgate) in the big screen revival of Robert E. Howard's pulp fiction hero, originally made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Marcus Nispel directs this reboot, which co-stars Rachel Nichols, Stephan Lang, Rose McGowan and Ron Perlman. "[W]hile Nispel never lets his movie become dull, it truly comes alive only when people are hacking other people to bits," promises Village Voice critic Mark Holcomb. "Squeamish types may balk, but the gory cruelty on display here is faithful to the source material and deeply thrilling." Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D, the latter editions with two commentary tracks (one by director Nispel, the other by actors Jason Momoa and Rose McGowan) and four featurettes.
Dominic Cooper delivers his breakout performance as Uday Hussein and his civilian lookalike in "The Devil's Double" (Lionsgate), directed by Lee Tamahori. "Lost somewhere in "The Devil's Double" is a good-to-great film, but it's sabotaged by a weak script and direction that fails to fully realize its challenging subject matter," complains MSN film critic Kat Murphy, but she praises Cooper: "Playing Saddam Hussein's mad son Uday and his fiday -- body double and bullet catcher -- Latif Yahia, Cooper alternately smolders in silence and erupts in spasms of raucous lunacy." On DVD and Blu-ray, with commentary by director Tamahori, two featurettes and an interview with the real Latif Yahia.
Kristin Scott Thomas stars in "Sarah's Key" (Anchor Bay), a World War II mystery wrapped around the Holocaust, the occupation of France and the collaboration, based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay. "The film rather resourcefully depicts the way history, so often seen as an abstraction or a collection of facts that has been safely stored away and has lost the power to effect a rebuilt state of things, still resonates and does damage,' observes MSN film critic Glenn Kenny. "It's in these respects that Paquet-Brenner's writing and directing do their jobs best, and of course he is aided immeasurably by a spectacular cast. Scott Thomas is remarkably subtle and insinuatingly intelligent in her portrayal." On DVD and Blu-ray, both with a making-of featurette.
Robert Rodriguez returns to his juvenile James Bond series with Jessica Alba and Joel McHale in the lead as the power spy-couple parents "Spy Kids: All The Time In The World" (Anchor Bay), which also features the original "Spy Kids" Alexa Vega and Daryl Saabara (no grown up) and co-star Jeremy Piven as the new villain. "This fourth "Spy Kids" picture isn't so much bad as it is just boring, lacking the buzz and brio of even some of the earlier entries in the series," complains Los Angeles Times film critic Mark Olsen. "It feels like someone is now just marking time." Available on DVD and a four-disc Blu-ray+DVD+Digital Copy with a bonus Blu-ray 3D version. Both releases include an interview with Rodriguez, a featurette, deleted scenes and other supplements.
"Trigger" (Wolfe) is Bruce McDonald's rock and roll indie from Canada with Molly Parker and Tracy Wright. Globe and Mail film critic Stephen Cole calls it "A mesmerizing talk-a-thon with smart, useful things to say about life, love and rock ’n’ roll." Includes an table reading of the script with the cast.
"Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven" (First Run), a portrait of restaurateur Sirio Macciono and his sons, is a documentary from Andrew Rossi, the director of "Page One: Inside the New York Times." "Making the Boys" (First Run) explores the legacy of "Boys in the Band," the first gay play to run on Broadway. "Becoming Santa" (Cinema Libre) follows one man's journey to reclaim the Christmas spirit for his family by literally playin the part.
"The Family Tree" (eOne) is an indie comedy of family dysfunction with an impressive cast: Dermot Mulroney, Hope Davis, Selma Blair, Keith Carradine, Chi McBride and Christina Hendricks, to name a few. DVD and Blu-ray, with a featurette and behind the scenes footage.
"Carjacked" (Anchor Bay) stars Mario Bello as a single mother and Stephen Dorff as a fugitive bank robber who carjacks her for a getaway ride. On DVD and Blu-ray, with a featurette. Patrick Dempsey and Ashley Judd are rival bank robbers who target the same bank in the crime comedy "Flypaper" (IFC), co-starring Tim Blake Nelson and Mekhi Phifer. On DVD and Blu-ray, with interviews.
Aunjanue Ellis stars in the family drama "Money Matters" (Image), Malcolm McDowell is a college professor who runs a prostitution ring of college girls in "Pound of Flesh" (Odyssey) and Philip Winchester and Lacey Chabert star in the thriller "In My Sleep" (Freestyle).
The BBC original is revived in a new set with bonus supplements
“You can’t put a price on comedy," says David Brent, the alter ego of Ricky Gervais in the original BBC "The Office." But "The Office: Special Edition" (BBC) has given it a shot: this new edition carries a $39.98 suggested retail price (less with the inevitable discounts of web retailers and other stores). It's a much more caustic and squirmy comedy than its American counterpart, which was designed to play for more than the 12 episodes (plus two-part Christmas Special coda) of the self-contained British show. That's not to dismiss the superb American incarnation, but it's what makes the original so distinctive.
Creator/co-writer/co-director Ricky Gervais is fearless as the insufferably self-satisfied office manager of a paper company branch who fancies himself a born comedian and a natural leader. He’s wrong about both counts, naturally, but his yes-man team-leader Gareth (Mackenzie Crook), a brown-noser with delusions of competency, hasn’t noticed, and white-collar joker Tim (Martin Freeman, currently playing Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit") is too worried about his job to say anything to his boss. This is the show that introduced the mockumentary format that has defined so much of American sitcoms, but plays it differently: Everyone forgets about the camera but Brent, who can't help but bray and play to his audience, mouthing off inanities while he pontificates as the voice of wisdom.
It gets even more squirmy in the second series as Brent melts down in envy and anxiety when a former fellow manager (Patrick Baladi) becomes his boss and proves to be both more effective and popular and Brent offends just about everyone in the newly expanded office and alarms his corporate superiors with tasteless jokes and the scariest dance unleashed on television. The two-part "Christmas Specials" wraps it all up in a low-key happy ending. It’s a reward that they’ve all earned, even the pathetic David Brent, who -- in a moment of rare self-awareness -- chucks away his painful pose and eager-to-please phony chumminess to become a real person.
There are some new supplements added this four-disc set. Most interesting to fans will be the original pilot, which is shot fast and cheap and rough around the edges and shows the series in primordial form. Also new are the BBC special "Comedy Connections: The Office" and episode introductions by Gervais and Merchant and friends (including Matthew Perry, Ben Stiller and Christopher Guest).
From the previous release is the hilarious documentary "How I Made The Office by Ricky Gervais," a title his co-creator Stephen Merchant is a bit, shall we say, unhappy with. It’s a perfect companion to the show, with Ricky Gervais hamming it up as David Brent in the opening scenes and his co-stars whining about Gervais’ neediness and preening, but it also reveals the chaos of production that makes it work. Also includes commentary, interviews, deleted scenes and outtakes, short featurettes and other supplements.
J.J. Abrams tries to revive the wonder of Steven Spielberg's great science fiction films
Written and directed by TV wunderkind turned megamovie director J.J. Abrams, "Super 8" (Paramount) has the DNA of a Steven Spielberg tale. Set in 1979, before the home video revolution put video cameras in the hands of movie-mad kids, this is a monster movie adventure powered by creative kids, a love of movies, and an authentic foundation of mystery and wonder as seen from the perspective of schoolkids old enough to make their own zombie movie on super 8 film and young enough to get so excited by it.
See below for an exclusive clip from the Blu-ray edition of the film
Too bad that director J.J. Abrams pays more attention to the pyrotechnics than to the kids in the middle of it. When the kids sneak out to film their big scene at a train station at night and the train derails, it kind of derails the film as well. Sure, it unleashes the monster and subsequent military conspiracy that drives the rest of the movie, but instead of putting us into the shoes of the kids, it piles on the CGI overkill, turning it into just another Hollywood explosion fantasy. The rest of the big spectacle scenes follows suit, going big rather than going intimate, and Abrams doesn't have Spielberg's understanding of suburbia, of kid and of family. It hits all the right notes, but Abrams isn't playing with feeling.
He does, however, get a lot right, from the model building and pre-teen monster movie fandom and the often argumentative and contentious chemistry of groups of boys to the rickety emotional world of kids still reeling from loss and trying to take the first steps as their own people. And Abrams gets performances from his young cast, especially Elle Fanning as the well-possessed young woman they cast in their film, but also first-timer Joel Courtney as the boy still recovering from the loss of his mother months before. These two kids connect in an authentic and convincing way that the rest of the film never quite manages.