Plus "Bridget Jones' Diary," "The Music Room," "The Egyptian" and Jean Cocteau’s "Beauty and the Beast"
One the most loved films of all time and the most eerily beautiful fairy tale ever brought to life on film, Jean Cocteau’s "Beauty and the Beast" (1946) (Criterion) is the quintessential fairy tale for grown-ups. It's been remastered for Blu-ray and is packed with marvelous supplements. Videodrone's review is here.
John Singleton became the youngest director ever nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award in his accomplished debut feature "Boyz 'N The Hood" (Sony) and it remains his best film: angry, mature, thoughtfully presented and directed with passion and sureness. South Central LA is city under siege: gang violence all around, drug dealers poisoning the well from within, and pervasive helicopters circling as if in a war zone. Cuba Gooding Jr. is superb in his first lead role (what happened to him?) and Larry Fishburne dominates as the moral center, a man out to make a difference and a father dedicated to saving his son from the destruction all around.
Features commentary by director John Singleton, the archival 43-minute documentary "Friendly Fire: Making of an Urban Legend," audition videos and deleted scenes, plus the new 28-minute retrospective featurette "The Enduring Significance of Boyz N the Hood" with new interviews with the cast and crew.
"Amélie" (Lionsgate) turned French pixie Audrey Tautou into a star. With her big black doll eyes, page-boy haircut, and shy grin, she plays the shy Montmartre waitress turned good fairy as an adorable waif padding around a vision of working class simplicity and bohemian quirkiness in modern day Paris that could only exist in the movies. Writer/director Jean-Pierre Jeunet delights with his cinematic cleverness and his insistence on the magic of imagination. It’s not all treacle and sentimentality -- Amelie turns practical joker to punish one neighborhood bully -- but it’s ultimately a charming little bon-bon of a movie. In French with English subtitles.
Features the supplements from the previous DVD special edition: commentary by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Q&As with the director and cast, screen tests, featurettes and a production gallery "scrapbook."
Juliette Binoche stirs up a buttoned down French town in the winter of 1959 with her spicy chocolate shop and her affair with handsome gypsy Johnny Depp in "Chocolat" (Lionsgate), from director Lasse Hallstrom and Renee Zellweger stars as the thirty year old British “singleton” in "Bridget Jones's Diary" (Lionsgate), the hit adaptation of Helen Fielding’s best-selling novel. Both feature plenty of director commentary, featurettes and other supplements.
"The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" (Lionsgate) is the well-intentioned but miscalculated adaptation of John Boyne's holocaust novel (with commentary and featurettes) and "Nowhere to Run" (Image) is the 1993 Jean-Claude Van Damme action film (no supplements.
Plus "Dark Days" and "Ferry to Hong Kong"
"The Music Room" (Criterion), the fourth feature from Satyajit Ray, observes the old-world feudal life of the 1920s fading into irrelevance with both sympathy and disparagement. Graceful, melancholy, directed with a reserved elegance, it is one of his masterpieces, and the Criterion release (on DVD and Blu-ray) features a rich collection of supplements. Videodrone's review is here.
Otto Preminger's "Skidoo" (Olive) is a truly strange time capsule of Hollywood in 1968 trying to bring social satire and counterculture hipness to garish comedy: career criminals and fun-loving hippies colliding in a comedy of flower power, slapstick, psychedelia and Groucho Marx as an absurdist Godfather. I can't say it's good but it surely is unique. Videodrone's review is here.
The latest from the boutique DVD label Twilight Time is Michael Curtiz's CinemaScope costume epic "The Egyptian" (Twilight Time), a lavish, color-drenched production that also marks label's first Blu-ray release. Edmund Purdom stars as a court physician relating his life in the turbulent era of ancient Egypt but his billing falls under the film's bigger stars: Jean Simmons (the good woman), Victor Mature (the loyal friend), Gene Tierney (the power-hungry princess), Michael Wilding (the Pharoah), Bella Darvi (the seductive courtesan) and Peter Ustinov (the doctor's scruffy but clever servant).
It's a superb-looking Blu-ray that preserves the saturated color and is sharp enough to let us see the distortions inherent in the early anamorphic CinemaScope process. All of the Twilight Time releases feature isolated scores and this is scored by two greats: Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Newman, who split the composing duties. It also features the first commentary track for a Twilight Time disc: film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini recorded it in 2005 but it debuts here. For more details, as well as an interesting analysis of the film, see Glenn Erickson's DVD Savant review at DVD Talk. Both the DVD and Blu-ray editions are limited to 3000 copies and are available exclusively from
"Tekken" (Anchor Bay), a live-action film based on the popular videogame, is an America/Japanese co-production with low-rent actors and fighting superstars, plus action choreography by Cyril Raffaelli, the star and stunt designer for "B13." Dwight Little directs the budget-minded action spectacle set in a future of warrior tournaments between corporate states, which was made for theaters but ended up going straight to home video in most countries. Available on single-disc DVD and Blu-ray+DVD+Digital Copy Combo pack, which features a single featurette on the stunts as a supplement.
"Dark Days" (Oscilloscope) – Marc Singer, a young man with no previous filmmaking experience, abandoned his life to take a camera into the homeless underground of Manhattan and document the stories of the people who live in the tunnels beneath the city. His resulting documentary won the Independent Spirit Award, the Audience Award at Sundance, and the LA Film Critics Association award for Best Documentary. This tenth anniversary edition is a two-disc set with supplements old (the 45-minute "The Making of Dark Days," the follow-up featurette "Life After the Tunnel") and new (director commentary, "The Tunnel Today" and other featurettes and extras).
Orson Welles headlines "Ferry to Hong Kong" (VCI), starring Curt Jurgens as an unwanted passenger on a ship captained by Welles through the dangerous China seas. Lewis Gilbert directs. Beware that this is non-anamorphic widescreen, which means the picture is a little degraded by the time you zoom it to fill a widescreen TV.
"Robbery Under Arms" (VCI) from 1957 goes down under for a cattle-rustling scheme masterminded by Peter Finch, and Dirk Bogarde stars in the 1952 "Penny Princess" (VCI), a lightweight comedy from Val Guest.
"Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill A Mockingbird" (First Run) is a documentary about the influential novel and its author and "Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune" (First Run) profiles the great sixties folk musician and protest singer of the sixties.
The most beautiful fairy tale ever made
One the most loved films of all time and the most eerily beautiful fairy tale ever brought to life on film, Jean Cocteau’s "Beauty and the Beast" (1946) (Criterion) is the quintessential fairy tale for grown-ups.
Just compare Walt Disney’s bright, bouncy musical with Cocteau’s surreal take. Where singing candelabras and teapots light up the palace for Disney's plucky heroine, living statues and human-arm candleholders and eerie magical doors that creak open as if worked by ghostly sentinels fill Cocteau’s shadowy enchanted castle. The B&W photography by Henri Alekan shimmers, and the eerie imagery (created entirely in camera) creates a texture of visual poetry and cinema magic never been equaled in the years of fairy tale cinema since.
It’s a weirdly spooky prison for the self-sacrificing Belle (Josette Day), the naïve, instinctually pure-hearted Beauty of the tale. Even stranger is the decidedly animal attraction of the ferocious, seductive and tragic Beast (a growling, glaring, elegantly hirsute Jean Marais). Marais, Cocteau’s partner and Muse, creates a surly, self-loathing Beast, his handsome face hidden under layers of fur and fangs and his body a model of ferocious majesty. The primal tension is not lost on Cocteau -- when the curse is broken and the beast reverts to smug human form (Jean Marais sans fur), the audience’s disappointment is echoed by Belle. She sighs at the loss of her feral lover before taking the hand of her far less exciting Prince Charming.
The Blu-ray edition is newly remastered edition of the 1995 restoration by the Centre National de l’Audioviseul of Belgium and features the supplements of Criterion's DVD special edition. Audio options include two commentary tracks (one by film historian Arthur Knight, the other by writer and cultural historian Sir Christopher Frayling) and an optional track featuring the original opera written for the film by Philip Glass.
A marvelous collection of supplements have been collected in a section called “Once Upon a Time…,” notably the 26 minute documentary "Screening at the Majestic" directed by Yves Kovacs in 1995 to mark the restoration, and featuring interviews with cinematographer Henri Alekan and stars Jean Marais and Josette Day, who recall the film and the director with a fondness. They have all aged so much and so has the world, as Kovacs suggests with shots of the locations as they look today, overgrown and a little wild, intercut with the original images. Also features archival interviews with Alekan (a nine-minute piece 1995) and make-up artist Hagop Arakelian (a twelve-minute segment from the 1963 French TV program "Secrets Professionels: Tete a Tete"), a brief piece on the film restoration, a gallery of rare behind-the-scenes and publicity stills, the original 1945 trailer narrated by Cocteau and the 1995 restoration trailer, and an accompanying booklet. You can read Francis Steegmuller's essay on the Criterion website here.
The fourth feature by the great director gets the lavish Criterion treatment
In his first films, the acclaimed "Pather Panchali" and "Aparajito," the great East Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray eschewed the song and dance interludes that were part of the conventions of domestic Indian cinema. "The Music Room" (Criterion) features both song and dance but not in the way of popular cinema. They are integral parts of the film, both spectacle and defining illustration of the threadbare aristocrat Biswambhar Roy (Chhabi Biswas), once a powerful feudal lord, or zamindar, now a threadbare remnant of the old world, alone in his crumbling palace as the modern world passes him by.
His great love is music and he considers himself a connoisseur and a patron of the arts, indulging in his hobby to the neglect of his fortune and his lands, which are slowly being swallowed up by the river. It's a matter of social currency and vanity as much as aesthetics and his obsession becomes his downfall. Vain and impotent, he's a remnant of a culture of refinement and respect in a world of commerce and modernity, as exemplified in the film by the merchant Ganguly (Gangapada Basu), a garish nouveau riche who gracelessly flaunts his fortune while courting the approval of Roy, still the symbolic elder of the social world.
If Ray is unimpressed with the crude manner of Ganguly, he's far more critical of Roy, the once mighty lord who has slipped into isolation and irrelevance by his own doing. Yet the film has is a grudging affection for Roy, who though foolish is a loving husband and father, which gives his fall a tinge of tragedy.
And then there is there are the three performances showcased here are recitals presented by Roy in his lavish music room. Both part of the drama and apart from it, they are presented as a calculated show of Roy's rarified taste and refinement, and at the same time become a preservation of the classical arts, a far cry from the pop entertainments of Bollywood filmmaking. These performances are as lovely and elegant as the film surrounding them.
Graceful, melancholy, directed with a reserved elegance, "The Music Room" observes the old-world feudal life of the 1920s fading into irrelevance with both sympathy and disparagement. That balance, as well as Ray's more confident mastery of cinematic expression, makes this one of his masterpieces
Criterion presents the DVD and Blu-ray debut "The Music Room," remastered from a 35mm print restored in 1995 and featuring a terrific collection of supplements. Shyam Bengal's 1984 feature-length documentary "Satyajit Ray," a generous career retrospective highlighted by lengthy interview sequences with Ray, film clips and footage of Ray on the set of "The Home and The World," is the highlight of the extras. In addition there is ten-minute 1981 roundtable discussion from French television with director Claude Sautet and film critic Michel Ciment and new video interviews with Ray biographer Andrew Robinson (running 17 minutes) and filmmaker Mira Nair (15 minutes). Also features a booklet with an original essay by critic Philip Kemp and reprints of a 1963 essay by Ray and a 1986 interview with the director about the film’s music. You can read Philip Kemp's essay on the Criterion website here.
Plus "Reggie Perrin" and more "Melrose Place," "The Girls Next Door" and "Smurfs"
"Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series" (BBC) boxes up all 31 episodes of the BBC episodes of the "Doctor Who" spin-off just as Captain Jack Harkness heads stateside for a new American incarnation of the show. It's an entertaining show with clever twists but it really comes into its own in the final episodes of its British run: "Children of Earth," a mini-epic that plays out like a novel. It's essential viewing for any fan of SF TV. Videodrone's review is here.
And speaking of The Doctor, "Doctor Who: Season Six, Part One" (BBC) features seven episodes of the most recent season starring Matt Smith and produced by Steven Moffat. This run opens with a trip to the American southwest, the moonwalk and the return of River Song (Alex Kingston) in one of the most ingenious invasion stories I've ever seen (their method of camouflage is brilliant!) and features an episode written by Neil Gaiman that turns the TARDIS into a flesh and blood character with her own story ("I wanted to see the universe, so I stole a Time Lord and I ran away. And you were the only one mad enough."). Red-headed spark plug Karen Gillan and plucky everyman Arthur Darvill are along for the ride as the only married team of companions the series has ever seen, and they are a cute and entertaining couple. The season concludes on BBC America later this summer. Seven episodes on two discs on DVD and Blu-ray, plus two "Monster Files" featurettes.
"Hey Dude: Season One" (Shout! Factory) is the nostalgia release of the week: Nickelodeon's first live-action sitcom, set on an Arizona dude ranch, debuts on DVD. Shot on a tight budget in Arizona with a small cast acting out situations familiar from decades of sitcoms past and hamming up the corny scripts with tired physical comedy, it looks and feels more like the cheap syndicated sitcoms that proliferated in the 1980s than Nickelodeon's later original shows and has dated considerably in the twenty years since its debut, but it launch one career, sort of: Christine Taylor, who played the girl next door swimming instructor and went on to pop culture fame as Marcia in "The Brady Bunch Movie." The first season of 13 episodes debuts on DVD in a two-disc set, which also features an enlightening and entertaining interview with Taylor, who talks about the experience of doing a series, her first major role, while also finishing high school, and looks back at the show from the perspective of a mother with her own children. It's actually, at least for this adult, much more interesting than any of the episodes.
Martin Clunes takes the lead in "Reggie Perrin: Set 1" (Acorn), the 2009 revival of the classic British black comedy series of the mad mid-life crisis of an alienated middle management executive. "Bill Moyers: God and Politics" (Athena) presents the complete three-episode 1987 series, plus bonus programs from other related Bill Moyers programs, on a two-disc set.
"Melrose Place: The Sixth Season, Volume Two" (Paramount) offers 12 episodes (on three discs) of the steamy late-night soap headlined by Heather Locklear. "The Girls Next Door: Season Six" (MPI) ushers three new favorites into the Hugh Hefner's quarters in the Playboy Mansion. Ten episodes on two discs. "The Smurfs: A Magical Smurf Adventure" (Warner) features ten episodes from the second season of the animated series, circa 1982. Just in time for their big screen 3D debut!
And the rest:
"Brave New Voices 2010" (HBO) is an hour-long HBO special of slam poetry competition, hosted by rap superstar common and acclaimed actress Rosario Dawson. "The i<3 iCarly Collection" (Paramount) is a box-set of three previously released discs, collecting 15 episodes from the teens and tweens hit series from Nickelodeon.
One of the strangest Hollywood misfires every made
One of the strangest attempts by an independent-minded establishment director to embrace the youth culture in his filmmaking, Otto Preminger's 1968 "Skidoo" (Olive) stars Jackie Gleason as a former mob hitman named Tough Tony ordered to whack an informer in protective custody in prison.
Don't expect "The Sopranos" here. This is more like Keystone Mobsters, with career criminals and fun-loving hippies colliding in a comedy of flower power, slapstick and psychedelia, the latter courtesy of a mass LSD trip in a maximum security prison. Groucho Marx is the wiseguy mob boss named God who has a germ phobia while Carol Channing bridges the cultural gap with a go-go dance and a strip-tease.
It's quite a cartoonish comedy of goofy goodfellas and hippie stereotypes in long hair, love beads and body paint, not necessarily a good film but a truly strange time capsule of Hollywood in 1968 trying to bring social satire and counterculture attitude to its style of comedy. And it does entertain if only by virtue of its misguided portrait of the drug culture and the counterculture, garish slapstick and bizarre plot, all of which has made it a minor cult item. The cast also includes Frankie Avalon, John Phillip Law, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, George Raft, Cesar Romero and Mickey Rooney. Harry Nilsson provides the original songs, a mix of sixties pop and bouncy tin pan alley style, and sings the closing credits.
Plus "Small Town Murder Songs," "My Own Love Songs" and "Peep World"
Bradley Cooper is a golden boy on a drug that makes him more perceptive, more creative, and just plain more in "Limitless" (Fox), a cerebral thriller with science fiction elements and the irresistible premise that genius and awareness is the ultimate high. The story isn't always clear but Cooper's performance is sharp and savvy and the film is a rush. Videodrone's review is here, along with an exclusive clip from the DVD/Blu-ray supplements.
"Take Me Home Tonight" (Fox) goes for nostalgia with Topher Grace and friends (Anna Faris, Dan Fogler and Teresa Palmer) saying goodbye to their days of being wild with an all-night party. MSN film critic Glenn Kenny describes as "an amiable enough pastiche in which "That '70s Show" star Grace, who co-executive-produced and co-concocted the story, such as it is, does the '80s thing…" But Kenny is not charmed by the film or the nostalgia, complaining that "the comic tone is both strained and straining, Grace himself too smooth, handsome and ingratiating to make his character's dissembling-because-he's-genuinely-awkward-and-lost routine register. In less fancy terms, he's too cute to be a convincing near-loser."
The film was actually made four years ago and the DVD and Blu-ray offer a "Cast Get Together" reunion featurette, with the cast back together after all those years to reminisce about the production. Also features deleted scenes and jukebox access to songs in the film (called "Boombox" here, to carry on the eighties theme). The Blu-ray also features a digital copy.
Catherine Deneuve stars in François Ozon’s seventies satire "Potiche" (Music Box). The title is French slang for "trophy wife," but Deneuve's character doesn't remain so for long; when her philandering industrialist husband (Fabrice Luchini) is kidnapped by striking workers, she take the reigns of the company and finds herself more than capable to right the foundering ship. "You don't need to know the original material or French politics to enjoy Ozon's latest," explains MSN film critic James Rocchi. "You just need an appreciation for human folly, and an understanding that, in love and politics, the battle is often the fun." Gérard Depardieu co-stars as a leftist politician who gets involved in the negotiations and Karin Viard, Judith Godreche and Jeremie Renier co-star.
The DVD and Blu-ray releases both include a feature-length documentary on the production (in French with English subtitles, like the film), costume tests and the film's seventies-style trailer.
Sleeper of the week is "Small Town Murder Songs" (Monterey Video), an indie drama about a small town sheriff (Peter Stormare) struggling with the ghosts of his own past while investigating a murder. "Ed Gass-Donnelly, who wrote, directed, and edited, knows that roads and streets become beautiful and auspicious if you put your widescreen camera in the right place and honor the power of the frame," writes Richard T. Jameson at Parallax View. "There’s nothing in this nowhere community that could be called scenic or even picturesque, yet Gass-Donnelly allows us to soak in the ambience and become haunted by it." Features deleted scenes.
Renée Zellweger and Forest Whitaker star in "My Own Love Song" (Inception), the English-language debut of French director Olivier Dahan ("La Vie en Rose"), which features an original soundtrack by Bob Dylan and, in the words of IFC.com film critic Stephen Saito, "scenes of animated flamingos and kingfishers, a batshit Forest Whitaker and Elias Koteas, and Nick Nolte serving up slices of a psychedelic chocolate cake. Sadly, these things overshadow Renee Zellweger's first genuine performance in years."
"Peep World" (IFC) is a satire of family relations that unravels at a reunion after the youngest son publishes a novel that is a thinly veiled portrait of his clan. MSN film critic James Rocchi finds it disappointing, given the potential: "Its cast is exemplary -- Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Ron Rifkin, Kate Mara, Taraji P. Henson and the always-great Stephen Tobolowsky -- but Barry Blaustein's direction of Peter Himmelstein's script never gives its cast the room or resources to truly swing for the fences like you know they can." Features deleted scenes.
John Carney follows up his indie hit musical drama "Once" with the comedy "Zonad" (FilmBuff/MPI), about an escaped rehab patient who somehow convinces the locals that he's really an alien from outer space. Eva Green and Juno Temple headline the boarding school psychodrama "Cracks" (IFC).
"The Sound of Insects" (Kino Lorber) recreates the true story of a man who recorded his thoughts as he starved himself to death in the Austrian wilderness. "Dive! Living Off America's Waste" (First Run) looks into the enormous scale of food waste in the country and the culture of dumpster diving to reclaim some of it. Doug Block ("51 Birch Street") again turns the camera on his family in "The Kids Grow Up" (Docurama), this time focusing on his daughter. "Dumbstruck" (Magnolia) profiles ventriloquists and "Card Subject to Change" (Cinema Libre) looks at the professional wrestling underground.
And the rest:
"House of the Rising Sun" (Lionsgate) is an action film built around WWE fighter Dave Bautista, with Amy Smart, Dominic Purcell and Danny Trejo brought in to give him some kind of screen cred. Lea Thompson in "Mayor Cupcake" (Phase 4) in the PG-rated family comedy. "The Way of the West" (aka "The Mountie") (Lionsgate) is a Canadian western with Andrew Walker and Jessica Paré. "The Reef" (Image) is an Australian thriller about a family on a sinking yacht surrounded by Great White Sharks.
Captain Jack Harkness and his team save the world for three seasons on BBC
"Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series" (BBC) began life as a spin-off of the Russell T. Davies "Doctor Who" reboot (note the title is an anagram of the original series) for a more adult science fiction audience. Former Doctor Who confederate Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) takes the lead in what begins as a high-energy goof on "X-Files" featuring a British special cases squad of energetic young agents with more energy than experience and a high-tech equipment locker that has everything but an instructions booklet. And there's a nod to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" with the idea that their Cardiff HQ is located on the "Rift," sort of a cosmic Hellmouth of converging lines of dimensional energy that brings bout space travelers and dimensional warps.
This group is making it up as they go along, as beat cop Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) discovers when she stumbles upon their activities and exhibits enough spunk to get recruited into the crew, and the show takes its time finding its footing and its sensibility. The rubber-mask aliens and techno-toys are right out of the "Doctor Who" playfulness while the show adds a darker tone (a lot of people die, some quite violently, through the course of the shows) to its brightly colored adventures. And give the show credit for offering TV's first out-and-proud bisexual action hero, a revelation that neither defines nor redefines him as much as it simply adds another piece to his mystery. The guy is eternal and, as we come to know, as tortured and tormented a guy as we'll meet.
But it's fair to say that show really came into its own with "Torchwood: Children of Earth," a five-part mini-series within a series (which originally played over five consecutive nights on British TV and BBC America) with a scope that recalls the "Quatermass" shows and a creepiness that echoes "Children of the Damned." It opens with every child on the face of the Earth pointing to the sky and chanting in unison "We are coming" while the government immediately sends a hit squad to kill the Torchwood team, and it gets darker from there. While he and his team fight to save the children of earth from a truly horrific fate, we discover just how much Captain Jack has suffered and sacrificed through his gift/curse of eternal life: he's an immortal with the trials of Job and the torments of Prometheus. Creator/writer Russell T Davies doesn't take any prisoners in this production.
"Torchwood" has returned to TV with a new mini-series: "Miracle Day," a co-production between the BBC and the American cable network Starz that sends Captain Jack and Gwen Cooper stateside, and the BBC has taken the opportunity to release the complete original series on both DVD and Blu-ray. It's 31 episodes all together, on 14 DVDs or 12 Blu-rays, and it includes all of the original supplements (but offers no new ones): Commentary on all 13 episodes of Season One, all of the "Torchwood Declassified" ten-minute featurettes plus additional featurettes on the characters, creatures and technology. Comes in a nice, sturdy bookleaf digipak in a slipsleeve.