MSN has an exclusive clip from the new set
"Ben-Hur: 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition" (Warner) is the latest Oscar-winning epic to the Blu-ray treatment in a newly-remastered HD edition. Yes, it is a big, lumbering epic that can barely support its own weight, but then it has the square shoulder of the even squarer Charlton Heston to hold it up. And he does, with stiff masculinity and simmering, strutting pride, as the Jewish nobleman enslaved by the Romans (and specifically by his boyhood chum, Stephen Boyd).
Get a look behind the scenes of the film's legendary chariot race sequence in the MSN exclusive clip below, after the jump
Soberly show-offy and humorless, this super-production is a triumph of craft over art, spectacle over drama, and William Wyler is the perfect craftsman for the job. The roaring sea battle and the show stopping chariot race -- two of the most spectacular scenes of epic action ever mounted on Hollywood -- were helmed by unheralded second-unit superstar Andrew Marton and legendary stunt coordinator Yakima Canutt. They look as good as ever, even in the age of CGI, because digital still hasn't quite matched the presence of physical action. Jack Hawkins, Sam Jaffe, Frank Thring, Haya Harareet, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, and Cathy O’Donnell co-star. It won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler ), Best Actor (Charlton Heston), and Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Griffith).
The film, restored from the original 65mm camera negative (complete with Overture and Entr’acte music) and presented in the MGM Camera 65 aspect ratio of 2.6:1 (the widest ever used theatrically), is spread across two discs on Blu-ray and features commentary by film historian T. Gene Hatcher with scene specific comments from Charlton Heston (Hatcher fills in the dead spots left by Heston when he recorded the track years before) and a music-only track showcasing Miklos Rozsa’s Oscar winning score.
Plus Jason Priestly is "Fitz" and new seasons of "How I Met Your Mother," every "CSI" franchise and many more
"The Hour" (BBC), a BBC mini-series set in the fifties, is an odd but intriguing hybrid of journalism drama and Cold War conspiracy thriller starring Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai and Dominic West star. Videodrone's review is here.
"Queer as Folk (Original U.K. Series): The Complete Collection" (Acorn) presents the entire run of the groundbreaking British series created by Russell T. Davies. Set in the gay culture of Manchester, the series was a minor phenomenon in Britain, very successful and not without some controversy, and also launched the careers of Aidan Gillen ("Game of Thrones") and Charlie Hunnam ("Sons of Anarchy") and spawned an American remake. For survey of the initial press response to the show, here's a piece from The Independent from 1999. The three-disc set also includes the featurette "What the Folk…?," deleted scenes with commentary, interviews and a 20-page booklet.
"How to Make It in America: The Complete First Season" (HBO), the half-hour dramedy from HBO, plays a bit like the flip side of "Entourage": guys on the streets of New York to hit the American Dream. Ben and Cam (Bryan Greenburg and Victor Rasuk) want to skip over the hard part and jump right in to the big time. It's not a matter of laziness -- these guys are constantly on the hustle as they try to put together their own hip fashion line with New York style -- simply ambition. But for all the show's attempt at street smart storylines and Big Apple atmosphere, with characters bouncing between living large and going broke, it's still a fantasy of living on wits, talent and smooth talk in the margins between art and commerce while leveraging the commerce of art. Lake Bell, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi, Shannyn Sossamon and Luis Guzman co-star. Eight episodes on two discs in a three-panel digipak, with cast and crew commentary on every episode, featurettes and deleted scenes. The second season begins on HBO in October.
Jason Priestly stars in "Call Me Fitz: The Complete First Season" (eOne), a black comedy made for Canadian cable about womanizing, morally bankrupt used car salesman who ends up working for a new guy on the lot who claims to be his conscience and is determined to make this unapologetic reprobate repent, or at least ease off on his worst instincts. Of course you know, this means war. 13 episodes on three discs, plus featurettes.
"How I Met Your Mother: The Complete Season Six" (Fox) is still working toward that fateful meeting. Maybe. But while Ted (Josh Radnor) looks (this season, it looks like Jennifer Morrison may be the one), Marshall and Lily (Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan) try to have baby and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) continues his quest to conquer as many women as possible. Cobie Smulders co-stars and Katy Perry guest stars. 24 episodes on three discs, plus commentary on four episodes, deleted scenes and featurettes.
The entire "CSI" franchise rolls out last season's line-up "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation – The Eleventh Season" (Paramount) marks the final season for Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Ray Langston, who stars the season off recovering from a stabbing by a serial killer, and features a guest shot by Justin Bieber. 22 episodes on six discs, with commentary on two episodes, featurettes and deleted scenes.
"CSI: Miami – The Ninth Season" (Paramount), the far sunnier spin-off headlined by David Caruso, is back with Emily Procter, Adam Rodriguez, Rex Linn and the rest. 22 episodes on six discs, with commentary on two episodes, featurettes and deleted scenes. "CSI: New York - The Seventh Season" (Paramount) brings Sela Ward on to the team led by Gary Sinise's Detective Mac Taylor and features guest appearances by John Larroquette and Peter Fonda. 22 episodes on six discs plus featurettes. All collected in space-saving standard cases with tightly-packed hinged trays.
Also continuing on: "The Middle: The Complete Second Season" (Warner) with Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn as overwhelmed parents in middle American (24 episodes on three discs), HBO's "Hung: The Complete Second Season" (HBO), the comedy of a part-time gigolo starring Thomas Jane, Jane Adams and Anne Heche (10 episode on two discs on DVD and Blu-ray, plus commentary, deleted scenes and a featurette), "Army Wives: The Complete Fifth Season" (ABC) from the Lifetime Network (13 episodes on three discs, plus a featurette and deleted scenes) and the animated "The Cleveland Show: The Complete Season Two" (Fox) (22 episodes on four discs, plus commentary and featurettes).
And on the vintage side... Who loves ya, baby? "Kojak: Season Two" (Shout! Factory) presents 24 episodes of the Telly Savalas cop show on six discs .
"Gavin & Stacey: The Complete Collection" (BBC) features all three seasons (plus the Christmas Special!) of the BAFTA-winning comedy of true love, from first meeting to married life, in a box set of five discs in three standard cases (one per season, of course). James Corden and Ruth Jones write and star as the titular couple, just a couple of normal kids from crazy families who fall in love. The first season was released a couple of years ago but this marks the debut the rest of the seasons, which are also available separately as "Gavin & Stacey: Season Two" (BBC) and "Gavin & Stacey: The Christmas Special and Season Three" (BBC).Also includes commentary on select episodes, interview, featurettes, outtakes and other supplements.
Colin Firth stars in the 1986 miniseries "Lost Empires" (Acorn), based on the novel by J.B. Priestly about a young man who joins his uncle's touring theatrical troupe. It's one of his earlier leading roles and the series features Laurence Olivier in a small role.
"New Tricks: Season Five" (Acorn), the British "Cold Case File" squad of aging cops and old-school attitude, presents 8 more episodes on three discs. And yeah, it's a lot of fun. "Art of the Western World" (Athena) is a nine-episode art history lesson from historian Michael Woods.
And the rest:
"Holly's World: The Complete Seasons 1 & 2" (MPI) and "Kendra: Seasons 2 & 3" (MPI) are evidence that there is life after being one of "The Girls Next Door" in the Playboy Mansion… if reality TV is your idea of life.
"The Looney Tunes Show: Season 1, Vol. 1" (Warner) features four episodes from the new Cartoon Network animated series with Bugs and Daffy. "Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People" (Warner), the first collection from of the Cartoon network series, features twelve episodes from the first two seasons. "Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos" (Paramount) is the latest stand-up concert special from the popular ventriloquist.
Grindhouse Gore from Frank Henenlotter and H.G. Lewis
Herschell Gordon Lewis was filmmaker with the mind of a promoter, which only makes sense coming from his background of marketing and salesmanship. But when he saw an opportunity, he pounced. After jumping into filmmaking with a series of "nudie cutie" sexploitation films, he and producer David F. Friedman inaugurated an entirely new genre of exploitation filmmaking with their “Blood” trilogy: the “gore” film. "The Blood Trilogy" (Image) presents all three film in the Blu-ray debut in all their scruffy, cheap glory. "Blood Feast" (1963), a bloody comedy of an Egyptian cultist who caters a party with a buffet of human parts, and "Color Me Blood Red" (1965), a comic gore film of mad painter who discovers a new shade of crimson in blood and starts slicing up his models for more paint, bookend the trilogy and are as arch and awkward as they are shamelessly grotesque.
But between the two films he made his grotesque masterpiece "Two Thousand Maniacs" (1964). The tale of Southern Civil War ghosts returning for revenge (“Oh the South’s gonna rise again…” ) is too quirky to be easily dismissed and too outrageous and unreal to be taken seriously. The mix of hillbilly humor and sadistic, sick horror creates a unique ambiance, and the odd hush that falls on the crowds when their revenge doesn’t bring the expected satisfaction adds an unexpected tone of regret, if the unsettled dead can have such feelings. One of the film's selling points was Connie Mason, a Playboy centerfold making her acting debut. Which is the only explanation for her casting, because it certainly isn't acting. And no, she stays fully clothed. Three films on one disc, presented in widescreen theatrical format (16x9) for the first time on home video, with commentary for each film by director Herschell Gordon Lewis and producer David F. Friedman, outtakes, vintage shorts and galleries of exploitation art.
Frank Henenlotter came from another generation of horror director, reared on the exploitation films of Lewis and others but with more on his mind than simply cashing in. He shot "Basket Case" (Image), his gruesome little 1982 cult indie-horror of brotherly love, on location in New York to get just the right sleazy 42nd Street atmosphere. Kevin VanHentenryck shuffles through the low budget exercise in grotesquery and gore with a guilty conscience as the "normal" brother sent by his deformed Siamese twin to take revenge on the doctors who separated the two and left the blobby brother to die. Most of the effects are shrewdly just off screen, with spurts of blood and gnarly hand dragging the character out of view to feed our imaginations, and a few bloody corpses left in the aftermath (an exception is a pre-Freddy multiple impalement with scalpels). The DIY effects of "Basket Case" may look naively amateur today but there’s a loving B-movie attitude and a genuine sense of character to the “monster,” the misshapen, fleshy, snaggle-toothed Belial. The Blu-ray debut is presented in the original Academy ratio (the pre-widescreen 1.33:1), as intended by Henenlotter, and features a new video introduction from Henenlotter along with commentary, outtakes, trailers and other supplements from the DVD edition.
On DVD only is the new documentary "Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore" (Image), an affectionate portrait from directors Frank Henenlotter (a cult movie historian as well as a director) and Jimmy Maslon and producer Mike Vraney. Features an hour of deleted scenes, a trailer reel of Lewis films, a gallery of exploitation art and an archival nudie cutie short.
All three releases are produced by Something Weird Video and distributed in partnership with Image Entertainment.
Kevin Bacon talks about his hair and eighties style from the original 'Footloose'
The original 1984, MTV-driven "Footloose" (Paramount) debuts on Blu-ray in advance of the upcoming remake.
Kevin Bacon kicks up his heals in the dance rebellion teen drama as the big city kid with pop-music in the blood who moves to a small Midwestern town that the local minister (John Lithgow) has proclaimed a dancing-free zone. Naturally, the minister’s wild child daughter (Lori Singer) joins Bacon on his campaign to let the dance begin again. Let’s hear it for the boy!
The film gets a new DVD edition along with the Blu-ray debut, both with commentary tracks (one by star Kevin Bacon, another by producer Craig Zadan and writer Dean Pitchford), new interviews with Kevin Bacon and co-star Sarah Jessica Parker, new featurettes and Kevin Bacon’s Screen Test. The Blu-ray also features the previously released featurettes "Footloose: A Modern Musical" and "Songs That Tell a Story."
MSN has an exclusive clip from the new interview featurette "Let's Dance: Kevin Bacon on Footloose," where Bacon discusses how they settled in his distinctive hair style in the film.
And a whole rack of foreign films
Michael Bay, the king of visually incoherent action spectacle, downshifts his mixmaster editing style for "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (Paramount). Videodrone's review is here. "Carlos" (Criterion), Olivier Assayass' epic account of the life and myth of real-life terrorist Carlos the Jackal, is a mesmerizing portrait of committed activist who transforms himself into a media-hungry rock star of an international terrorist. Videodrone's review is here.
"Viva Riva!" (Music Box), an award-winning African crime thriller set in Kinsasha, Congo, offers a fresh eye on the culture of the impoverished African city. Hong Kong director Dante Lam returns to the gangster genre with "The Stool Pigeon" (Well Go USA) and "The Shaft" (Global Lens) observes the mining culture in modern China. More on these and other international releases in the Foreign Affairs round-up here.
"Is "The Ledge" (IFC) a thriller laced with heady ideas or a faux-philosophical tract with a few little tassels of suspense tied on?" asks Movieline film critic Stephanie Zacharek. She settles on the latter. Charlie Hunnam, Liv Tyler and Patrick Wilson star in the romantic triangle that ends up with a man on the ledge of a hotel, and Terrence Howard is the cop supposed to talk the man down.
Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw praises "The Hide" (Breaking Glass), from director Marek Losey (grandson of Joseph Losey), which he describes as a "claustrophobic, tense, ultra-low-budget British film with a neat final twist." Alex MacQueen and Phil Campbell star.
And the rest:
Scott Speedman, Emily Hampshire and Jay Baruchel are the "Good Neighbors" (Magnolia) who come together when a string of murders hits their community.
Leslie Bibb is "Miss Nobody" (Inception), a secretary who finds a talent for murdering her way up the corporate ladder. And Sean William Scott is the "American Loser" (Lionsgate) who tries to pull it together when he meets Gretchen Mol.
Plus 'The Shaft,' 'Angel of Evil' and more from China, South Korea, India and elsewhere
"Viva Riva!" (Music Box), an award-winning African crime thriller set in Kinsasha, Congo, offers a fresh eye on the culture of the impoverished African city through the adrenaline-charged tales of a small-time con man who hijacks a truckload of fuel from an Angolan crime lord. "A slick, exciting, well-made crime thriller, dripping with atmosphere," praises film critic Roger Ebert. "You might learn more about Congo from this film than in a documentary, and you'd probably have more fun." In French and Lingala with English subtitles. The DVD features an interview with director Djo Tunda Wa Munga and a bonus short film.
Hong Kong director Dante Lam returns to the gangster genre of obsessed cops and tortured informants with "The Stool Pigeon" (Well Go USA), which reunites Nicholas Tse and Nick Cheung, the stars of his defining hit "Beast Stalker." "Smarting with as much psychological as physical bruising, "The Stool Pigeon" is an action film with a grave, melancholic strain," writes Maggie Lee in the Hollywood Reporter. Cantonese with English subtitles and optional English dub soundtrack. On DVD and Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack, with featurettes and deleted scenes.
Also set in the criminal underworld, this one in Italy, is "Angel of Evil" (Fox), starring Kim Rossi Stuart as the notorious Milan gang leader Renato Vallanzasca. In Italian with English subtitles, plus a making-of featurette and deleted and extended scenes.
"The Shaft" (Global Lens) refers to the industry of an mining town in China, where pretty much every young man is destined to work unless they can get an education and get out. And, as you might guess, most of the characters of Zhang Chi's Chinese drama get the shaft. But it defies expectations in one significant dimension: there are practically no scenes in the mines, no disasters and no deaths. Rather, mines are the slow death that hangs over every life. In Mandarin with English subtitles, plus a discussion guide and film notes.
Also from China is the lavish "The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman" (Fox), a stylistically flamboyant martial arts drama that Village Voice film critic Nick Pinkerton complains director Wuershan buries in overkill: "purée-editing each overshot scene and style-hopping at will as he incorporates doodled cartoon interludes, a horrid musical number, and a brawl framed with the graphics of a one-on-one fighting game."
Pathfinder releases four from South Korea. "The King and the Clown" (Pathfinder) is a period drama set in the court of the 16th Century king who makes a pair of actors into his court jesters. "The Recipe" (Pathfinder) is a romantic drama concerning a man on death row, a last wish and dish that brings tears to those who taste it. "The Servant" (Pathfinder) is a Korean folk tale with a sexy angle. And "Magic" (Pathfinder) is a romantic drama set in a music conservatory.
Journalism drama and espionage thriller meet in the British mini-series - MSN has a clip
Though "The Hour" (BBC) opens in the anonymous offices and hushed (or more accurately somnambulistic) TV newsrooms of the BBC of 1956, the cool swing of the soundtrack suggests something more along the lines of a spy show. It turns out the "The Hour," a new BBC miniseries, is both, an odd but intriguing hybrid of journalism drama and Cold War conspiracy thriller.
See an MSN exclusive behind-the-scenes clip from the DVD and Blu-ray release below
Writer/creator Abi Morgan almost sabotages the show in the first episode, making our maverick newshound hero Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) a wild card who loudly criticizes the anemic BBC style, insults his bosses and generally makes himself such a nuisance that you wonder why no one has fired him. It's only the loyalty of his best friend Bel (Romola Garai), newly promoted to produce a fresh, adventurous TV news hour, that lands him a position where he can put his ideas of confronting and engaging the news into practice. The handsome, somewhat arrogant and only modestly talented newsreader (Dominic West) fills out the team. Hired purely out of nepotism, he gets inspired by the exciting work on the show and by the charms of Bel, while Freddie learns the not-so-fine art of working with people rather than simply berating them. Meanwhile, there is a murder mystery, a government cover-up of an international conspiracy and a mole at BBC News.
Olivier Assayass' riveting epic of the self-promoting outlaw superstar Carlos the Jackal
"Carlos" (Criterion), Olivier Assayass' epic account of the life and myth of real-life terrorist Carlos the Jackal, is a mesmerizing portrait of committed activist who transforms himself into a media-hungry rock star of an international terrorist.
Édgar Ramírez plays Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, aka Carlos the Jackal (a name he appropriates after the Fredrick Forsythe nove), as a bundle of contradictions, a self-professed revolutionary out to destroy the capitalist system and champion the oppressed, and a man whose love of luxury grows in direct relation to his notoriety, from fine clothes and liquor to gifting himself with a Mercedes for his 30th birthday. He imagines himself Che Guevara, a charismatic and revered leader spouting off revolutionary philosophy and giving orders that are obeyed without question by his own followers, but to him it's all about the cult of personality and feeding his ego. By the end, it's hard to tell if he's at all committed to his or merely to himself, the outlaw superstar.
Olivier Assayass packs the film with incident and energy, trailing after his globe-hopping journey all over Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East and watching the characters to blow through his story, and directs with a pace that suggests the runaway drive of the numerous missions yet pauses for us to get to know, if only briefly, all these characters and places. He takes the camera to the streets with handheld flexibility reigned in by stylistic discipline. It’s not about mock-documentary realism and exaggerated wobble but getting in, getting out, getting the shot with an immediacy that his jumped-up editing drives to a run. And yet it never feels rushed, even when missions spiral out of control. At almost six hours over three parts I was still ready for more, even as the once-sleek figure of outlaw style succumbs to gluttony and self-indulgence, physically and emotionally.