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
'Cars 2' - Big Oil, Detroit Lemons and Secret Agent Cars
Exclusive Clip: 'Water for Elephants' - Reese Witherspoon joins the circus
The New Release Rack: 'Crazy, Stupid, Love.,' 'Tabloid,' 'Trespass,' 'Snow Flower,' Ken Kesey and more
TV on DVD:
'His Way' celebrates an Old Fashioned Show Business Mogul
The Cool and the Collectible:
Lon Chaney is the one and only 'Phantom of the Opera'
Bargain: 50% Off Criterion at Barnes & Noble
Coming up next week:
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" (Warner) (Friday, November 11)
"The Change-Up" (Universal)
"Atlas Shrugged" (Fox)
"13" (Anchor Bay)
"Sleeping Beauty" (Strand)
"The Human Resources Manager" (Film Movement)
"Great Directors" (Kino Lorber)
"Page Eight" (BBC)
"Doctor Who: Series Six, Part Two" (BBC)
"Blue Velvet" (Blu-ray) (MGM)
"Mutiny on the Bounty" (1962, Blu-ray) (Warner)
"Fanny and Alexander Box Set" (Blu-ray) (Criterion)
"Frankenhooker" (Blu-ray) (Synapse)
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Two urban crime pictures from the western director, plus a bonus Joseph Cotten western
Despite the efforts of such fans as Clint Eastwood, who produced two documentaries on the director, and Martin Scorsese, Budd Boetticher is still a name known mainly to film historians and fans of classic westerns. Boetticher made some of the greatest, purest, most austere westerns of all time: "Seven Men From Now" (available from Paramount), "The Tall T," "Comanche Station" and "Ride Lonesome" (the latter three in a box set from Sony and Scorsese's The Film Foundation). But like any successful director of the era, Boetticher made a lot more than just westerns. Yes, he did direct three bullfighting dramas (talk about a specialized niche), but he made war pictures, adventures, youth dramas, mysteries and crime pictures. Two of his best crime films arrived almost simultaneously via MOD earlier this.
Between his big studio breakthrough at Universal (where he made nine pictures in two years, most of them westerns) and his first of seven pictures with Randolph Scott, Boetticher directed "The Killer Is Loose" (MGM Limited), a 1956 crime drama starring Joseph Cotten as a police detective whose wife (Rhonda Fleming) is targeted by an escaped criminal looking for payback. Wendell Corey is superb as the soft-spoken bank teller turned robber who becomes twisted by revenge and pretty much slips over the edge of sanity. Boetticher's biggest strength is efficiency and restraint, creating a camaraderie in the police squad room and a sense history between Cotten and his partner (Michael Pate), and he's at his best building tension through dialogue and stillness that builds to a sudden burst of action. When Corey takes his former sergeant (John Larch) hostage, he never looses that quiet, deliberate composure, calmly reasoning his way to murder and executing his sacrifice without hesitation. Boetticher punctuates the gunshot with one of the great images of explosive violence: a shattered milk bottle. The sudden explosion shatters the tension of the deliberately measured scene and the burst of white milk against Larch’s black suit gives the sound a striking visual dimension.
It's a stand-out moment in an otherwise conventional film. Cotten is less compelling as the married man trying to keep the truth of the dragnet from his wife (Fleming, who plays the part like a society girl making a sacrifice to live middle class) but then he was never a good fit for these kinds of everyman roles. Alan Hale (before his tour of duty as The Skipper on "Gilligan's Island") provides a little comic relief as an amiable beat cop with a big appetite and a good heart. Presented Academy Ratio full screen (1.33:1).
Plus 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,' 'Cop Land,' the Grateful Dead and more
The original "Phantom of the Opera" (Image), starring Lon Chaney in his most iconic role, is still considered the definitive version of the classic novel, thanks to Chaney's committed performance and the magnificent sets and scale. It arrives on Blu-ray in multiple editions the day after Halloween. Videodrone's review is here.
And shifting holidays, Bill Murray is "Scrooged" (Paramount) in the screwball take on the Dickens classic, learning the true spirit of Christmas from a screwy trio of Christmas spirits. The post-"Ghostbusters" production is a big effect extravaganza with pratfall humor and Murray in sarcastic bully mode as a TV network executive who has turned his Christmas specials into cynical pieces of pure exploitation. Just swap out eighties TV culture for Victorian London and Tiny Tim for the mute son of his overworked assistant (Alfre Woodard) and you've got "A Christmas Carol" for its era, right down to the tinny insincerity. It's really not a very good movie but director Richard Donner never lets up on the madcap pacing and hasn't met a gag he doesn't like. This works hard to entertain, what with rats crawling out of John Forsythe's corpse make-up, David Johanson blowing smoke from his ears and especially Carol Kane's Ghost of Christmas Present as a madcap Disney fairy with the sensibility of the Three Stooges. The wickedly funny cameos will mean nothing to kids but really captures the era for baby boomers, and it's kind of cool that Murray's real-life brothers are on hand to play his on-screen family. No supplements on the Blu-ray.
George Clooney directs "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" (Lionsgate), the strange (and possibly untrue) story of "Gong Show" creator and alleged CIA assassin Chuck Barris, from Barris’ “unauthorized autobiography” and Charlie Kaufman’s equally creative adaptation. Sam Rockwel is all overworked charm and naked ambition as Barris, sliding from studio gopher to cloak-and-dagger spy to audience-hungry host to hard-boiled burn out cranking out his memoirs with prose out of yet another fantasy, and Drew Barrymore is the forgiving girlfriend trying to hold onto the slippery identity of the always in motion Barris. Julia Roberts co-stars as a shadowy femme fatale and Clooney himself dryly plays Barris’ CIA recruiter. Features commentary by director George Clooney and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, eleven deleted scenes with optional commentary, a "Behind the Scenes" featurette, Sam Rockwell’s screen test, the documentary portrait "The Real Chuck Barris" and performances from the five “greatest acts” from "The Gong Show."
"Cop Land" (Lionsgate) - Sylvester Stallone is impressive as the hearing impaired sad-sack small town sheriff treated like a servant by the New York cops who rule their community like feudal lords. James Mangold’s 1997 sophomore feature is an ambitious project with a high powered cast (among them Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, and Robert DeNiro) and a traditional western structure. Yet he tries for so much that he loses track of major characters (not something one does with De Niro) and resorts to the most hackneyed of climaxes. The Blu-ray features the longer 116-minute Director's Cut of film, plus commentary by writer/director James Mangold, producer Cathy Konrad, actors Sylvester Stallone and Robert Patrick, the featurette "The Making of an Urban Legend," deleted scenes with optional commentary and storyboards from the “Shootout” sequence.
"The Grateful Dead Movie" (Shout! Factory) - Jerry Garcia personally took charge of the 1977 concert film (co-directed by Leon Gast) that most fans consider the definitive cinematic Dead document, a concert film shot over the band’s 1974 five-night "farewell" engagement at Winterland (before a year and a half hiatus) that is as dedicated to the Dead experience as it is to the music. The two-disc set features a newly-remastered edition of the concert film and a bonus DVD with the supplements from the earlier DVD special edition: over 95 minutes of bonus concert footage, the documentary featurettes "A Look Back," "Making of the Animated Sequence" and "Making of the DVD," an archival TV commercial, a gallery of stills and posters and other supplements, including a 24-page booklet.
"In a Glass Cage" (Cult Epics), the notorious debut feature by Agustín Villaronga follows the obsessive relationship between a handsome male nurse (David Sust) and his monstrous charge, a former Nazi doctor (Gunter Meisner) who performed unspeakable atrocities against young boys and now survives immobile in an iron lung. The 1986 film from Spain is releases in a restored new High-Definition transfer and the Blu-ray features the director's earlier short films "Anta Mujer" (1976), "Laberint" (1980) and "Al Mayurca" (1980), plus a featurette on and a Q&A with the director.
Same Movies, New Package:
The five films in the "Tom Cruise Blu-ray Collection" (Paramount) have all been released on Blu-ray individually, but you can't fault the choices made for this collection in terms of defining films and choices in his career. It includes two of his hotshot savant movies ("Top Gun," which made him a superstar, and "Days of Thunder," both directed by Tony Scott), his two Steven Spielberg collaborations ("Minority Report" and "War of the Worlds") and Michael Mann "Collateral," arguably his best performance. All but "Days of Thunder" and "Minority Report" come with supplements (the original "Minority Report" Blu-ray put all the supplements on a second disc).
There's nothing new in the "It's a Wonderful Life Gift Set" (Paramount) in terms of video supplements but you gotta admire the gimmick: it comes with a miniature bell Christmas ornament. Yeah, it's a cheap little gewgaw and the promised "Commemorative Booklet" is an eight-page leaflet, not worth the price increase from the Blu-ray-only release, but the bell is a clever touch.
And don't forget: all Criterion titles are 50% at Barnes & Noble this month through November 21. More on Videodrone here.
'Identification of a Woman,' 'Going Places' and Daffy Duck
"Pearl Jam Twenty" (Columbia) is a documentary portrait of the Seattle band by rock journalist-turned-film director Cameron Crowe. Says Philadelphia Inquirer critic Stephen Rea: "A must-see for Pearl Jam fans - and for folks keen on gleaning insights into the pressures that come with megastardom - Crowe's doc has a field day with old archival recordings, videos of nascent club shows, and serious sit-downs with a charmingly contemplative Vedder, bassist Jeff Ament, guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, and current drummer Matt Cameron." I'll give him that, there's not much here for anyone not already in the fan club. The film had a limited release and a PBS showing before arriving on DVD. Features commentary by director Cameron Crowe and bonus footage.
"Identification of a Woman" (Criterion), Michelangelo Antonioni's 1982 Italian feature, is arguably the final masterpiece from the master filmmaker. The story of a filmmaker (played by Thomas Milian) looking for inspiration for his next film in the faces of women he clips from papers and magazines, and looking for someone to fill the hole left by his divorce, it returns to the themes of his sixties classics like "L'aventurra," but with the gentler, more sympathetic sensibility of an older man (he was 70 at the time) looking back. Perhaps there's a bit of autobiography here too. It is also masterfully directed, filled with mysteries that are never resolved and images both desolate and lovely. The sense of alienation is still here, but the roots are less about society and more about the difficulty of intimacy from a man so used to standing apart. By which I mean emotional intimacy; old man Antonioni isn't at all shy when it comes to the sexual intimacy of Milian and his beautiful, young lovers. It's beautifully mastered in soft, rich colors and textures seeped into the image on both DVD and Blu-ray. Unusual for a Criterion disc, this has no supplements of any kind apart from a trailer and the accompanying booklet, which features as essay by John Powers and an archival print interview with Antonioni.
"Going Places" (Kino Classics) was the third film from director Bertrand Blier but the first you could really call "Un film de Bertrand Blier." The story of a pair of aimless, amoral twenty-something buddies (Gérard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere) spending their lives in constant state of petty criminality is Blier's take on the rebel movie where the rebels are smug, swaggering young men running on impulse, machismo and empty pleasure. The 1974 feature made a star of Gerard Depardieu, who plays the beefy alpha male of the fellowship with thuggish charm and studly swagger, and Miou-Miou, who falls in as the third leg of this bohemian ménage-a-trois, content to drift along with them from one scam to the next: Bonnie and Clyde and Clyde. There's nothing admirable in their behavior apart from their loyalty to one another but Blier seems to have a soft spot for these childish blowhard punks, an attitude reinforced by the comic presentation of their criminal antics and the lighthearted, jazzy score by jazz violin legend Stephane Grappelli. Call it an anti-protest film, where the rebellion is an indictment of their self-involved generation and unthinking culture. Watch for a teenage Isabelle Huppert as a kindred spirit in the final moments of the film. On DVD and Blu-ray with no supplements on either edition beyond a brief stills gallery and a trailer, but the trailer is worth checking out just for the cheekiness of it.
"The Essential Daffy Duck" (Warner) collects the many of the best of the Daffy classic cartoons along with revivals and TV specials on a two-disc set. They've all been released in various collections elsewhere. This is a distillation, from his debut in "Porky's Duck Hunt" (directed by Tex Avery) through "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery" (with Daffy as Duck Twacy), "Deduce, You Say" (he's Dorlock Holmes and Porky is his Watkins), "Robin Hood Daffy" (with Porky as Friar Tuck), "Ali Baba Bunny," "Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½ Century" and "Duck Amuck," one of the most ingenious animated shorts of all time. The last couple are by Chuck Jones, who helped evolve Daffy from the "woo-hoo!" madman to the splenetic con man. The new cartoons like "The Duxorcist" and "Night of the Living Duck" don’t hold a candle to the classics and the vintage TV shows mostly recycle old cartoons. Also includes the new profile "Daffy Duck: Ridicule Is the Burden of Genius."
"Warren Miller's Wintervention" (Shout! Factory) is the latest ski-travaganza from the extreme ski movie mogul.
The annual sale is back to tempt cinephiles
Are you in on the secret?
Every year, Barnes & Noble drops prices across the board on their entire in-stock collection of Criterion titles. Old and new, DVD and Blu-ray, everything as long as it's in print and on hand.
This year the sale began on Tuesday, November 1 and runs through Monday, November 21. It's a great opportunity to pick titles you've missed along the way or get that gift for a cinephile friend.
The sale runs through every store and on the website. You can browse the titles here.
Plus the latest 'Californication' and the debut of 'The Courtship of Eddie's Father'
The HBO Original documentary "His Way" (HBO) profiles Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub and his five-decade career, with an emphasis on style and culture over his career. Videodrone's review is here.
"Brideshead Revisited: 30th Anniversary Collection" (Acorn) features a new HD edition of the classic 1981 BBC miniseries, and adaptation of the Evelyn Waugh novel that became a TV event when it played in Britain (and three months later in the US on the PBS showcase "Great Performances"). It effectively launched the career of Jeremy Irons, who stars as the young Oxford student Charles Ryder who falls under the sway of aristocrat Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews) and his entire decadent, doomed family before World War II snaps him back to reality. The series remains a high water mark of the form and one of the most sumptuous TV dramas ever. Diana Quick co-stars as Sebastian’s sister Julia and Simon Jones is his elder brother, Lord Sebastian, and the supporting cast of grand old British actors includes John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, and Laurence Olivier. Charles Sturridge and Michael Lindsay-Hogg direct.
The new edition features two newly-recorded commentary tracks with producer Derek Granger (on Episode One) and director Charles Sturridge (on Episode Eleven) and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg with a bonus commentary set to a "Brideshead Remembered" slide show of stills, plus the previously-available 2006 documentary "Revisiting Brideshead" and the two commentary tracks from the earlier DVD edition.
The bad behavior continues on "Californication: The Fourth Season" (Paramount), the Showtime series starring David Duchovny as Hank Moody, novelist, hedonist and the least admirable father figure on TV. The season begins with his arrest for statutory rape (he didn't know she was underage, but then again it never occurred to him to even ask) and ends with the trial and aftermath. In between, the show pretends to confront his aggressive recklessness and disregard for anyone but himself ("I sometimes make people angry," he confesses with a little boy grin), but its not fooling anyone. The show is almost as hypocritical as Hank, letting him off the hook for his worst behavior and pretending that he is actually a good dad because he always bad about it when his daughter finds out, but there is something fascinating about the show. Or maybe its just all that cable sex and raunchiness. 12 episodes on three discs in a box set of two thinpak cases, plus bonus episodes of "Gigolos" and "Episodes" and two web-accessible episodes of "The Borgias."
"The Courtship of Eddie's Father: The Complete First Season" (Warner Archive), the sixties sitcom about widowed father Tom Corbett (Bill Bixby) and his devoted young son Eddie (Brandon Cruz), debuts on DVD-R from the Warner Archive collection. The stories generally revolve around Eddie's efforts to find a wife for his dad (not that dad needs much help; he's quite the charmer and Eddie is so cute his dates just love the boy) but the chemistry between the two is terrific. Miyoshi Umeki co-stars as their maternal housekeeper Mrs. Livingston and James Komack is Tom's swinging bachelor best friend and Eddie's "Uncle" Norman. 26 episodes on four discs in a standard case with hinged trays.
"Rawhide: The Fourth Season, Volume 2" (Paramount) features the final 14 episodes from the fourth season the cattle drive western series starring Eric Fleming as the trail boss and Clint Eastwood in his breakout role as Rowdy Yates. The four-disc collection also features a bonus episode from Season Five. "Victorious: Season One, Volume Two" (Paramount), the Nickelodeon series about students at Hollywood Arts, presents nine episodes plus a bonus "iCarly" crossover episode on two discs.
'Tis the Season:
The made-for-cable movies "Dear Santa" (Image) with Amy Acker and David Haydn Jones and "The Santa Incident" (Vivendi) with Ione Skye and Greg Germann try to bring the spirit of Christmas to the small screen.
Hit the way back machine for old school style in this HBO documentary
Jerry Weintraub is one of the last of the old-school show biz entrepreneurs. Today he's best known as a movie producer, most recently of the "Oceans" films, but he muscled his way to the top as an agent and a promoter. He launched the first concert tour of Elvis' seventies comeback and then did the same for Sinatra a couple of years later.
"His Way" (HBO), Douglas McGrath's affectionate profile of Weintraub, is not so much biography as a celebration of a way of life and kind of show business culture that thrived in the sixties. The roll call of friends called upon to praise itself is a measure of his success: From James Caan and Elliot Gould to the "Oceans" pack of George Clooney, Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts to George and Barbara Bush, they all testify to his loyalty and chutzpah. Sure, his successes are noted (he also represented John Denver and The Carpenters and produced "Nashville" and "The Karate Kid") but it's all about the stories and the style and the art of the hustle. McGrath directed the documentary for HBO.
The DVD also features a bonus interview with Weintraub discussing "My First Real Job."
The original silent classic is released in a new special edition
Lon Chaney became a star for "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923) but it was the 1925 "Phantom of the Opera" (Image) that confirmed his stardom and his talent.
The first version of many versions of the Gaston Leroux novel is still considered the definitive, thanks to Chaney's committed performance (right down to enduring painful make-up that he himself designed to give him a death's head look and a horrifying rictus grin) and magnificent sets for the grand Paris Opera and the underground labyrinth of tunnels and canals and secret rooms. This lavishly executed production threatens to slip into hoary melodrama with a magnificent backdrop but for Chaney's performance.
Chaney, however, creates both a monstrous and a tortured villain, part shunned mastermind, part proto-Frankenstein monster smitten with a young beauty His backstory is left blank, which allows the viewers to fill in their own from his aristocratic bearing, his maniacal pounding on a pipe organ in his underground dungeon lair and his obsessive pursuit of the comely young understudy Christine (Mary Philbin), whose stardom he engineers via secret coaching and threats to the opera company owners. Chaney is both tender and terrible, wooing Christine from behind a mask, a mystery lover who dedicates his heart and soul to her success, then turns vindictive when she spurns him.