The musical "Lost Horizon" and films from Lucille Ball and Boris Karloff among the new offerings
Sony is a relative newcomer to the manufacture-on-demand format and has only recently started digging deep for cult titles and star turns still buried in their catalogue. Here's a list of their recent releases from the catalogue.
"Lost Horizon" (1973) is not the Frank Capra classic but a musical remake with Peter Finch, Liv Ullman, Olivia Hussy, Charles Boyer as The High Lama and perhaps the worst songs ever written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The film, never released on VHS and previously available solely via a limited-edition laserdisc, has acquired quite a reputation over the years… as one of the worst films ever made. This version restores footage cut from the wide release, including songs by Bacharach and David. Unlike most MOD releases, this is something of a special edition: it features two promotional short films on producer Ross Hunter, song demos by Burt Bacharach and an alternate scene.
"The Lucy Collection: Volume 1" – Four films starring Lucille Ball just before she made the transition to TV superstar: "Her Husband's Affairs" (1947) with Franchot Tone, "Miss Grant Takes Richmond" (1949) with William Holden, "The Fuller Brush Girl" (1950) with Eddie Albert and the Arabian Nights fantasy "The Magic Carpet" (1951), which casts her in a rare villainess role along side Raymond Burr.
Frank Capra's "American Madness" (1932), one of the director's early classics of populist Americana starring Walter Huston as a banker trying to keep his bank alive in the depths of the depression, was previously available on DVD exclusively in the box set "The Premiere Frank Capra Collection." This DVD-R release is the film's solo debut.
And for fans of gothic horror, two with Boris Karloff have recently debuted: "The Black Room" (1935) and "Before I Hang" (1940).
Boston Blackie’s Chinese Venture (1949)
Storm Over the Nile (1955)
The Night Holds Terror (1955)
Edge of Eternity (1959)
13 West Street (1962)
You Must Be Joking! (1965)
Shadow of the Hawk (1976)
The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)
Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987)
Martha & Ethel (1994)
The Tango Lesson (1997)
And from TV:
Mr. Sunshine: Season One (19
Hart to Hart: Till Death Do Us Hart (19
The Quest (1976)
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 and on the MGM Limited Edition Collection on Videodrone here.
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Choice, affordable releases for every cinefile's Blu-ray collection
"Blue Velvet" (MGM), David Lynch's masterpiece of the rot under the picture-perfect façade of small town idealism, debuts on Blu-ray with a treasure trove of recently discovered deleted scenes. They aren't added to the film, mind you -- Lynch's original version is his director's cut, no compromises made -- but they are easily the greatest Blu-ray supplement of the year. Videodrone's review is here.
Pour yourself a white Russian and kick back for the Blu-ray debut of "The Big Lebowski: Limited Edition" (Universal). Rolling Stone once called it "the most worshipped comedy of its generation." I like to think of it the Book of Duderonomy, the lost gospel of the post-modern Testament. Now the Coen Bros. classic of easy living and competitive bowling on the absurdist mean street of Los Angeles abides on Blu-ray. Full review here.
The glorious new digital restoration of "Taxi Driver" that debuted at the Berlin Film Festival arrives on a stunning Blu-ray. Martin Scorsese' incendiary masterpiece of alienation and anger and urban anxiety is a maverick vision in decade of maverick filmmaking. Decades later it's still an unsettling portrait and a riveting experience. More here.
Jean Cocteau’s "Beauty and the Beast" (1946) (Criterion) is a wonder. The Beast is truly a beautiful creation, the B&W photography by Henri Alekan shimmers, and the eerie imagery of the living statuary and animated objects of the castle creates a texture of visual poetry and cinema magic never been equaled in the years of fairy tale cinema since. And there is nothing like black-and-white on Blu-ray. More here.
Say hello to my little Blu-ray! "Scarface: Limited Edition" (Universal) delivers the Blu-ray debut of Brian De Palma's urban gangster classic, with Al Pacino as the Cuban thug who shoots his way to the top of the Miami drug trade, in a special edition with a documentary and a limited edition SteelBook case. More here.
John Boorman's magnificent and magical "Excalibur" (Warner) is, to my mind, the greatest and the richest of screen incarnation of the oft-told tale of King Arthur, Guenevere, Lancelot, the Knights of the Round Table and Camelot. This is the Arthur legend at its most primal and it's gorgeous on Blu-ray. More here.
"Pulp Fiction" (Lionsgate), Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore feature, solidified his reputation as a cinematic mixologist of genre stories and "Jackie Brown" (Lionsgate), Tarantino’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s "Rum Punch," is easily his most mature work. They both debuted on Blu-ray this year in marvelous new editions with all-new supplements. More here.
"The Stunt Man" (Severin), Richard Rush’s brilliant little backstage drama of illusion and reality and moviemaking sleight of hand, earned three Oscar nominations and universally glowing reviews, yet is was barely seen on its initial release and became an almost instant cult classic. More here.
Roman Polanski once cited "Cul-De-Sac" (Criterion), a sly little character piece set in an isolated medieval castle on the barren British coast, as his personal favorite of his films, and the closest he came to creating "pure cinema." Criterion's release is the first official home video release in the U.S. and it is a stunning disc and a welcome debut of a brilliant black comedy and a wicked little psychodrama. More here.
"Are we not men?" That's the question at the heart of "Island of Lost Souls" (Criterion), the first adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel starring Charles Laughton as a heartless scientist who plays God in his jungle laboratory. Though not as famous as the original "Frankenstein" and "Dracula," this early-thirties horror is one of the greats and makes its long-awaited debut on both DVD and Blu-ray. More here.
"MOMA: 50 Masterworks From the Collection" (Screen Dreams) brings a different meaning to the term "art house release." The DVD and Blu-ray release reproduces 50 works from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, which turns your TV into a rotating exhibit.
Your guide to our coverage of the new DVD/Blu-ray releases
Here's what's new on DVD and Blu-ray this week as featured on Videodrone
'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' – All Hail Caesar
Exclusive Clip: 'Kung Fu Panda 2'
The New Release Rack: 'Fright Night,' 'Detective Dee,' 'Daddy Long Legs,' 'Tanner Hall' and more
TV on DVD:
'Switched at Birth' – Blood and Family
The Cool and the Collectible:
Videodrone Essentials: 'Meet Me in St. Louis'
MOD Movies Calendar: Recent Releases from the MGM Limited Edition Collection
Watching with Todd Haynes, director of 'Velvet Goldmine'
Streams and Channels:
MSN Exclusive Video: Andy Serkis takes us behind the scenes of 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'
Coming up next week:
"Midnight in Paris" (Sony)
"Margin Call" (Lionsgate)
"Dolphin Tale" (Warner)
"Straw Dogs" (2011) (Sony)
"Glee: The Concert Movie" (Fox)
"Burke and Hare" (MPI)
"A Farewell to Arms" (1932) (Kino)
"Nothing Sacred" (Kino)
"One Tree Hill: The Complete Eighth Season" (Warner)
"Futurama 6" (Fox)
"Underworld Trilogy: The Essential Collection" (Blu-ray) (Sony)
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A video clip from the Blu-ray release shows us how Serkis becomes Caesar
Read Videodrone's review of the release, which is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download, here.
'Ernie Kovacs,' 'Barney Miller,' great documentaries and massive megasets
"The Ernie Kovacs Collection" (Shout! Factory) - Ernie Kovacs was the first genius of TV comedy. Not comedy on TV, mind you, but comedy unique to TV. In an era before computer animation, digital editing or even videotape, he created gags that played out like cartoons, defied audience expectations with images created with primitive blue-screen and split-screen effects, editing surprises and audience interaction. Shout! Factory's six-disc collection presents Kovacs material from the span of his professional TV career and the range and creativity of the work in this collection shows that his work ranks beside "Monty Python's Flying Circus" as landmarks of innovative and creative television comedy. My pick for the TV on DVD release of the year. More on Videodrone here.
"Barney Miller: The Complete Series" (Shout! Factory) collects all eight seasons of the iconic seventies sitcom, which is still considered the most realistic portrayal of cops on television by real-life law officers. Writes LAPD Detective Sergeant turned bestselling author Joseph Wambaugh: "The always human characters in that squad room reflect the attitudes and opinions recognizable by anyone who ever carried a badge and used humor as a powerful defensive weapon." 168 episodes plus commentary tracks, cast interviews, the original pilot and all 13 episodes of the spin-off "Fish" in a hefty 25-disc box set. Videodrone's review is here.
"The Civil War: 150th Anniversary Edition" (Paramount) – Ken Burns's epic 1990 documentary miniseries is arguably the most influential piece of historical non-fiction ever produced for television. The rich tapestry of historical photos and original illustrations and documents, excerpts from speeches and journals entries, and period music brings a humanity to the history while framing it in a solemnity and a grandeur appropriate to the nation-shaping importance of the event. This new edition features a bonus disc with more interviews and other supplements. Videodrone's review is here.
"Planet Earth: Six Disc Special Edition" (BBC) upgrades one of the greatest natural history documentary shows ever made. The 11-part, almost 10-hour 2006 production, shot with state-of-the-art high-definition cameras and lenses, was the most expensive documentary series in BBC history at the time. It is still an astounding achievement and this edition, on DVD and Blu-ray, features the original British version narrated by British documentary legend Sir David Attenborough, commentary and bonus natural history documentaries. A deluxe release packages them all in a small globe, but the cases inside the hinged lid are pretty flimsy. Videodrone's review is here.
Shot over the course of three years by a crew of BBC filmmakers, "Human Planet" (BBC) follows "Earth" and "Life" quite nicely as the final piece of the unofficial trilogy of world-class natural history documentary series made for British TV, with a focus on human life and its evolution within the different environments of the earth. Videodrone's review is here.
"Wonders of the Universe" (BBC) is the latest in a run of superb BBC natural history documentaries, this one focusing on the basic forces and laws of the universe and how they shaped the cosmos and the Earth. Each episode tackles one of the four basic forces of the universe -- the nature of time, the laws of matter chemistry, the force of gravity and the properties of light -- with a sense of wonder and scientific curiosity driven by Brian Cox, the series presenter. Videodrone's review is here.
Plus these box sets featured in previous Gift Guide Spotlights:
"Law & Order: The Complete Series" (Universal), the heftiest set of the year (104 DVDs packed into a 12" by 7 1/2" by 5 ½" box, weighing in at just under ten pounds) and the first time all twenty seasons and 456 (!!!) episodes have been available.
"Smallville: The Complete Series" (Warner), a collection of all 218 episodes plus new, exclusive supplements, on 62 discs.
"Friday Night Lights: The Complete Series" (Universal): 76 episodes on 19 discs, plus all the commentary tracks, featurettes, deleted scenes and other supplements.
Plus 1922 'Sherlock Holmes,' the original 'Fright Night' and more
"Meet Me in St. Louis" (Warner), Vincent Minelli’s first Technicolor film, is the ultimate in Hollywood Americana and a masterful musical that turned Judy Garland into a true leading lady. Reviewed on Videodrone here. I interviewed Todd Haynes in conjunction with the Blu-ray debut of his 1999 glam bomb blast "Velvet Goldmine" (Miramax). Review and interview here.
"The Expendables: Extended Director's Cut" (Lionsgate) adds ten minutes to Sylvester Stallone's testosterone-fueled mercenary adventure and offers it in a Blu-ray only edition. The disc features an introduction to the film by Sylvester Stallone (from the set of the sequel), the 90-minute "Inferno: The Making of The Expendables" from the earlier Blu-ray release and two additional featurettes among the supplements.
Before he directed "Captain America," Joe Johnson directed the retro-superhero adventure "The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition" (Disney), starring Bill Campbell as the test pilot with an experimental rocket pack. Based on an indie comic book by Dave Stevens that delivered the same adventure nostalgia for comics that "Raiders of the Lost Ark" did for the movies, the film celebrates the same love of art deco flair, steampunk rocketry and pre-war heroism. Campbell has just the right mix of gee-whiz innocence and two-fisted gumption and Jennifer Connelly nicely evokes the Betty Page influence of the comic's sexy girl-next-door heroine. Also stars Alan Arkin as the smart-aleck mechanic, Timothy Dalton as an Errol Flynn-like movie star and Terry O'Quinn as Howard Hughes. No supplements.
Peter Jackson had built a reputation as a cult director with a flair for gore, black comedy, and excess when he showed the world another side of him with "Heavenly Creatures: The Uncut Version" (Miramax), his chilling film about a real life matricide by two teenage girls. Young Kate Winslet (in her feature debut) and Melanie Lynskey both give astounding performances in his sensitive, strong portrait of two emotionally overwhelmed girls and his flair for the fantastic pushes through the film as he loses us in their fantasy worlds that literally sprout out of reality (one of the best uses of digital effects to that time). Features the 109-minute cut of the film and no supplements.
The 1922 silent film of "Sherlock Holmes" (Kino) was not the first screen incarnation of the most well-known fictional character in English literature, and it's certainly not the definitive. While John Barrymore has the profile and the intent, intelligent focus we recognize, this is a Holmes mystery without the deerstalker cap, the Meerschaum pipe (Barrymore's Holmes prefers cigars) or the faithful Watson (in this version a college buddy) at his side, while the mystery itself is overly convoluted and confused. Gustav von Seyffertitz's Moriarty, meanwhile, resembles Barrymore's Mr. Hyde of 1920 and acts like a flamboyant criminal mastermind of the crime serials of the day. While that may frustrate fans of the canon, it does help the film move beyond the wordy explanations central to a Holmes story to a more visual, action-oriented kind of filmmaking more suited to the strengths of silent filmmaking. It's more curiosity than canon. There's an electronic organ score and no supplements.
"City of God" (Miramax), the true story of a psychopathic drug lord who rose from the sweltering slums of Rio, plays like "Scarface" in the barrio, directed by Fernando Meirelles with jittery street-smart style and you-are-there intensity. Dancing through two decades with clever flourishes and inventive technique, Meirelles sears the brutal poverty and abrupt violence into the screen with sun-cooked red hot color, the better to camouflage the gangster clichés at its core and the poverty-chic of the fashionable stylings, upbeat soundtrack, and hip visual editing effects that tends to glamorize the brutality. Nonetheless it's utterly engrossing and endlessly clever, a portrait of an impoverished culture where crime is the easiest path to success. In Portuguese with English subtitles, featuring the documentary "News From A Personal War."
And as the remake bows on home video this week, the original 1985 "Fright Night" (Twilight Time) debuts Blu-ray. William Ragsdale is the 17-year-old horror movie buff who suspects his handsome new lady-killer neighbor (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire and Roddy McDowall is the late night horror movie host he coaxes into helping investigate. As with all Twilight Time releases, this is limited to a run of 3000 and features an isolated score track.
Also in a limited run edition is "Rapture" (Twilight Time), a 1965 drama from director John Guillerman starring Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Gozzi and Dean Stockwell.
Plus 'Stars and Stripes Forever,' 'Moses and Aaron' and more
Buster Keaton directs and stars in the 1925 "Seven Chances" (Kino) as a bachelor and struggling young lawyer who is informed that he must marry by 7pm of his 27th birthday, which just so happens to be that very day. Turned down by his longtime sweetheart, he frantically searches for someone—anyone—to wed. While "Seven Chances" doesn’t have the sustained inspiration of his best films (such as "The General" and "Steamboat Bill, Jr."), Keaton fills the picture with inventive moments and clever ideas, notably a sustained series of desperate proposals (the “seven chances” of the title) that leads to an outrageous finale: a brilliant cascade of comic invention that begins with a church full of hopeful brides all expecting to marry into his fortune and builds to a surreal chase of epic proportions. The hapless Keaton flees the angry mob of women in white lace and veils and ends up dodging rolling stones and massive boulders while trying to outrun an avalanche, never once losing his trademark deadpan expression. The biggest weakness is an embarrassing blackface performance that, while quite common at the time, is quite tasteless to modern eyes.
Newly mastered from 35mm materials preserved by the Library of Congress, and featuring a new restoration of the film's original, two-color Technicolor prologue restored by film historian Eric Grayson and a new score by composer Robert Israel. The DVD and Blu-ray editions both feature commentary by film historians Ken Gordon and Bruce Lawton, a visual essay on the film's locations by author John Bengtson, an analysis of the restored Technicolor sequence by film historian Eric Grayson, and two companion shorts: one from 1904 that inspired the play, and a Three Stooges short from 1947 that recycles the premise.
Clifton Webb is "The March King" John Philip Sousa in "Stars and Stripes Forever" (Fox), the glossy 1952 biopic directed co-starring Debra Paget, Robert Wagner, Ruth Hussey and Sousa's legendary brass band anthems. It debuts on both DVD and Blu-ray in a single combo pack featuring both versions, but only the Blu-ray includes the two featurettes on Sousa and the galleries of stills and art.
For an alternative that definitely earns the title "alternative" there is "Moses and Aaron" (New Yorker), a screen adaptation of the Arnold Schoenberg opera by the resolutely political filmmakers Danielle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. The disc, in a paperboard digipak in a slipsleeve, also features "Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg's 'Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene'," a short film by the directors from 1973, and an accompanying booklet with the libretto in German and English. The films are in German with English subtitles.
"MOMA: 50 Masterworks From the Collection" (Screen Dreams) brings a different meaning to the term "art house release." The DVD and Blu-ray release reproduces 50 works from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art by world famous artists --including Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Salvador Dalí, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Edward Hopper, Georges Seurat, Marc Chagall, Jackson Pollack, Jasper Johns, and Henri Rousseau -- in high resolution, and turns your widescreen TV into a picture frame of rotating art. The program lasts 50 minutes and features you choice of ten soundtrack backgrounds.
Newly remastered for DVD and Blu-ray is "Intruder: Director's Cut" (Synapse), a gore-heavy horror set during the night shift of a supermarket where a deranged killer stalks, slices and slashes employees. It's directed by Sam Raimi buddy Scott Spiegel (who co-wrote "Evil Dead II") and co-stars Renee Estevez and Sam Raimi, with "special appearances" by Bruce Campbell and producer Lawrence Bender. The Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack features a new digital restoration of the uncensored director's cut, commentary by director Spiegel and producer Bender, a new making-of featurette, outtakes, audition footage and other supplements.
"Don't Open Till Christmas" is a 1981 Santa horror, but this time he's not the killer, he's the target: this killer hunts men in Santa suits. Edmund Purdom directs and stars in the film and the DVD features a making-of documentary and a portrait of producer Rick Randall.
"The Love We Make" (Eagle Vision), co-directed by Albert Maysles, profiles Paul McCartney's journey to put together a benefit concert in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
The ultimate in Hollywood Americana and the film that turned ingénue Judy Garland into a leading lady
"Meet Me in St. Louis" (Warner), Vincent Minelli’s first Technicolor film, is the ultimate in Hollywood Americana and a masterful musical that turned Judy Garland into a true leading lady.
A celebration of old fashioned values in song, dance, and family melodrama in turn-of-the-century St. Louis, the glowingly nostalgic tale follows a year in the life of a family as they reluctantly prepare to move to New York for Father’s (Leon Ames) new job, just as the excitement for the coming St. Louis World's Fair sets the entire family to singing the title song. It’s a film for all seasons and holidays, including one of the most bittersweet Christmas scenes of all time: little Margaret O’Brien commits symbolic parricide on an innocent snowman family after Judy Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” (see clip below, after the jump)
O’Brien brings a feisty spunk to the family as the youngest sister and Lucille Bremer provides the maturity as the oldest, but the film belongs to Garland as the teenage daughter on the verge of womanhood, chastely romanced by the boy next door (Tom Drake). The scene where they extinguish the home’s gas lamps together and the hush of shadow covers them is one of the most beautiful and tender moments of understated intimacy in film history. Other song highlights include “The Boy Next Door,” “You and I,” and “The Trolley Song.” Mary Astor, Marjorie Main, and June Lockhart co-star.
The film was previously available on a DVD two-disc special edition and the Blu-ray only carries most of the supplements. There's commentary by Garland biographer John Fricke with Margaret O'Brien, screenwriter Irving Brecher, songwriter Hugh Martin and daughter of producer Arthur Freed, Barbara Freed-Saltzman and an introduction by Liza Minnelli (daughter of director Vincent Minnelli and star Judy Garland), plus a music-only audio track (without vocals).