Plus Criterion's "Cul-De-Sac" and "The Killing"
Dude! It's here! Pour yourself a white Russian and kick back for the Blu-ray debut of "The Big Lebowski: Limited Edition" (Universal). It's not the most successful, famous or critically acclaimed film by the Coen Bros., but it surely has the most devoted fan base. Finally, the Dude abides in high definition. Videodrone's review is here.
With the return of the Muppets of the big screen this summer, two more Muppet movies debut on Blu-ray. The 1984 "The Muppets Take Manhattan" (Sony) is their "hey kids, let's put on a show" film, with the Muppet buddies trying to take their college review to Broadway. Joan Rivers, Gregory Hines, Linda Lavin, Art Carney, Dabney Coleman, James Coco, Brooke Shields, Liza Minnelli and Elliott Gould fill out the human guest star cast and Frank Oz directs. Features an interview with Jim Henson and "Muppetisms" from Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and Pepe carried over from the DVD release.
"Muppets From Space" (Sony), from 1999, puts The Great Gonzo front and center as he searches for his roots and comes across evidence that he may be in outer space. Jeffrey Tambor is the government agent who takes this suggestion very seriously and F. Murray Abraham, Rob Schneider, Ray Liotta, David Arquette and Andie MacDowell make guest appearances. Features outtakes and a music video.
And the rest:
Jessica Lange and Gwyneth Paltrow star in the 1998 thriller "Hush" (Image) about a young bride and a disturbingly domineering mother-in-law. Vivica A. Fox and Morris Chestnut play out the war of the sexes in the comedy "Two Can Play That Game" (Image) and John Candy and Eugene Levy are "Armed and Dangerous" (Image) in the 1986 comedy co-starring a young Meg Ryan.
And, of course, the new Criterion editions of Roman Polanski's "Cul-De-Sac" and Stanley Kubrick's "The Killing" arrive on Blu-ray as well as DVD, and at the same suggested retail price (individual merchant discounts will vary).
Plus a documentary on the great "Jack Cardiff" and a selection starring Dirk Bogarde
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." Videodrone reviews the American home video debut of the wicked little psychodrama here.
"The Killing" (Criterion), Stanley Kubrick's hard-edged 1956 heist thriller, gets the Criterion treatment in a new edition on DVD and Blu-ray that also features his 1955 shadowy boxing drama "Killer's Kiss": A Kubrick double feature. Videodrone's review is here. Brian Gibson's 1980 "Breaking Glass" (Olive) is a terrific rock and roll drama that captures the music, the anger, the energy and the social atmosphere of Britain in the late seventies and the era of punk giving way to New Wave. Read Videodrone's review here.
Jim McBride's influential 1967 "David Holzman's Diary" (Lorber Films), a faux-documentary portrait of personal filmmaking as narcissistic self-involvement, debuts on DVD and Blu-ray following a recent theatrical revival. L.M. Kit Carson plays the eponymous hero, who is determined to find the soul of life by turning the camera on himself, his neighborhood and his girlfriend. "Holzman's a classic character, a sympathetic-if-pathetic study in generational solipsism, delivering imported French lyricism in clunky flatlands American—miscast by himself in his own life," wrote Village Voice film critic Nick Pinkerton in 2009, remarking that "The film remains more discussed than seen…." The DVD and Blu-ray debut may at least alleviate that somewhat. Features three bonus short films by Jim McBride: "My Girlfriend's Wedding" (1969), "Pictures from Life's Other Side" (1971) and "My Son's Wedding to My Sister-in-Law" (2008).
"Cardiff was the greatest color cameraman who ever lived," proclaims Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr in his review of the documentary "Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff" (Strand), which was released on DVD and Blu-ray last week but only just arrived at my doorstep. "The documentary itself isn’t a work of art but it doesn’t need to be — it just needs to frame Cardiff’s art for our appreciation and it does so handily…. the film’s ace in the hole is its own subject, who tells tales and offers insights like the gracious, engaged fellow he was." Features bonus interviews and additional scenes.
It's quite the Dirk Bogarde retrospective this month. Following the release of his star-making "Doctor in the House" and sequels, we have the 1957 World War II mission thriller "Ill Met By Moonlight" (aka "Night Ambush") (Hen's Tooth), which was also the final collaboration of the great British filmmaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (aka "The Archers"). Based on a real-life event, it follows complications of a mission to kidnap a Nazi General on the occupied island of Crete. The Hen's Tooth release features the uncut British version of the film.
Dirk Bogarde also stars in "Campbell's Kingdom" (VCI), a 1957 drama about a dying man who travels to Canada to spend his last months searching for oil on land he inherited from his grandfather, and in "Agent 8 ¾" (VCI), a 1964 spy spoof made in the early years of Bond-mania. Both are directed by longtime collaborator Ralph Thomas, who made "Doctor in the House" and its sequels (featured on Videodrone here). Both of these films, from VCI's Rank Collection, debut stateside on DVD and Blu-ray.
And the rest:
"The Gruffalo" (NCircle), a 40-minute animated short based on the children's book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler and narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, was a 2011 Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Short. It played on the ABC Family channel in December 2010. The DVD includes "The Making of The Gruffalo" featurette.
Eugene Lourie, once Jean Renior's art director, directs the 1958 science fiction thriller "The Colossus of New York" (Olive), a kind of updated Frankenstein story about a giant robot with the transplanted brain of a brilliant scientist.
"Mystery Science Theater 3000: Red Zone Cuba" (Shout! Factory), Coleman Francis' bizarre film about convicts who volunteer to fight in the Bay of Pigs, and "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Unearthly" (Shout! Factory), starring John Carradine and Tor Johnson, were long ago released by Rhino but have been out of print for years. Now these two fan-favorite episodes are available again in single-disc editions in a Shout! Factory website exclusive. Let the heckling begin.
"Battle: New York, Day II" (Vanguard) is an indie science fiction film that has nothing to do with the recent "Battle: Los Angeles" beyond the title.
Roman Polanski's third feature is a masterful miniature
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." It's also been the hardest of Polanski's films to see, at least in acceptable (and legitimate) editions. Criterion's release is the first official home video release in the U.S. and it is a superb disc and a welcome debut of a brilliant black comedy and a wicked little psychodrama.
It's only Polanski's second English language film, though he wrote the original script with Gerard Brach before making "Repulsion" and then rewrote it to fit the castle location. While it's not as demented as "Repulsion" or as engaging and enraging as "Chinatown," this is as assured and as perfectly crafted as anything in Polanski's career, a miniature where every facet offers multiple reflections. The dialogue is as assured at the filmmaking, and is both right and proper and weirdly warped around the situations, thanks to Donald Pleasance (as the owner of the castle) delivering his lines with twitchy cadences and nervous pauses Françoise Dorléac (as his young French wife) and Lionel Stander (as an American thug crashing their private party while hiding out from a robbery gone wrong) bringing in their idiosyncratic approach to the English language.
Essentially a three-hander (with guests—not always wanted—periodically dropping by), it's described in the liner notes as a "mental ménage-a-trois," which I suppose is as good a description of the shifting dynamics of power and submission as any. There's no real sexual tension (let alone sex) within this group but plenty of playing games and roles, from Pleasance donning a nightgown and eye-shadow in pre-invasion bedroom play with his wife to Stander posing as their surly servant when guests arrive.
Criterion remasters two early Kubricks for DVD and Blu-ray
"The Killing" (Criterion), Stanley Kubrick's hard-edged 1956 heist thriller, gets the Criterion treatment in a new edition on DVD and Blu-ray. It's not being sold as a double-feature but in essence it is. The highlight of the supplements is a remastered edition of Kubrick's 1955 shadowy boxing drama "Killer's Kiss," technically his second feature but the earliest feature that most of us are able to see. (Kubrick kept his debut feature, "Fear and Desire," essentially unavailable for decades and, but for the rare retrospective screening, his estate continues to keep it suppressed.)
"Killer's Kiss" is a stripped-down, low-budget urban thriller shot on the streets of New York City. Kubrick was a former photographer and he brings that eye to shooting the city, making the film austere and shadowy and atmospheric, just the kind of solution an ambitious young filmmaker would bring to the pulp story of a scruffy underdog boxer (Frank Silvera) in love with a gangster's girlfriend.
"The Killing," while still low budget by Hollywood standard, is much more elaborate production with a bigger cast, a complicated puzzle of a plot and a clever construction that slips around the timeline of a racetrack heist. The precision that would define Kubrick's great films is first seen here as is his mordant humor. Sterling Hayden stars as the mastermind and familiar film noir faces Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Marie Windsor and Ted De Corsia co-star, with stand-out supporting performances by Elisha Cook Jr. (perfectly pathetic as a mousy cuckold manipulated by the scheming Windsor) and Timothy Carey, standing out in a small role as a sharpshooter with a different kind of assignment.
Both have been available on DVD previously but Criterion's newly remastered DVD and Blu-ray editions are a marked improvement in clarity and detail. Both the DVD and Blu-ray also feature a new 21-minute video interview with producer James B. Harris, a new interview with Jim Thompson biographer Robert Polito about Thompson's work with Kubrick, a video appreciation of "Killer’s Kiss" with film critic Geoffrey O’Brien and about 25 minutes of interviews with Sterling Hayden excerpted from the French television series "Cinéma cinemas," plus a booklet.
Brian Gibson's 1980 punk rock/New Wave drama is a fiction that captures the energy and anger of an era
Brian Gibson's 1980 "Breaking Glass" (Olive) is a terrific rock and roll drama set in Britain in the late 1970s. Hazel O'Connor, a singer/songwriter in her own right, stars as the driven artist who just wants to perform her music and Phil Daniels, fresh off "Quadrophenia" and tossing off the nervous energy of a street kid hustling his way into the music business, is equally driven as the self-styled manager who "discovers" her. "Sign a record contract and you become part of the machine," is Kate's mantra, and sure enough she predicts the cost of her own fame, but it's less a matter of selling out than simply getting tangled up in the sudden success. Daniels' Danny, meanwhile, is just as invested in her music as he is in her success. As the record company's control becomes more pervasive, he's often the one calling her out on compromises. Jonathan Pryce is marvelous as the band's partially deaf sax player and you spot future British stars Jim Broadbent, Richard Griffiths and Michael Kitchen in small bits.
Gibson's low-key film isn't free of music business melodrama and success story clichés but they remain backdrop to the characters and the texture of the era, from the dive clubs that the band plays to the social turmoil and racial violence of the era that she channels into her lyrics. O'Connor writes and performs her own songs, which are anthemic and aggressive and authentically straddle punk and New Wave (the soundtrack spawned a couple of hit songs, in fact) and her performance constantly reminds us that being a passionate artist doesn't stop her from being an affectionate, angry, frustrated, loyal and often confused human being. Gibson, who went on to direct Angela Basset to an Oscar nomination in "What's Love Got To Do With It," surely deserves at least some credit for that. He maintains a rough, spontaneous quality to the scenes on and off stage and avoids the obvious romantic clichés to build a more organic relationship between Kate and Danny. Less convincing is Jon Finch as a superstar producer who moves in on Kate professionally and personally.
Olive's DVD release presents the American cut of the film, which is about ten minutes shorter than the original British release. Having never seen it, I can't compare the two, but based on descriptions of the British cut (which carries the story beyond the freeze frame of this disc), the American cut sounds more ambiguous. No supplements.
Plus "Outcasts" and animated heroes
The BBC-produced "Outcasts" (BBC) is science fiction TV with more grit and intelligence (as well as more ambition and heavy-handed allegory) than what you can find anymore on the SyFy Channel. Which is one of the frustrations of the show: cancelled by the BBC after eight episodes, it is more unrealized potential than satisfying drama, but the potential itself makes it more engaging than you might expect. Videodrone's review is here.
"Dexter: Season Five" (Paramount) finds Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), the blood-spatter specialist of the Miami PD forensics unit who moonlights as cable TV's favorite vigilante serial killer, dealing with his guilt over the violent death of his wife, Rita, at the end of last season and trying to manage as a single parent when he doesn't even believe he has it in him to love. He also takes on a new nemesis and a protégé: Julia Stiles is the survivor of a brutal little cabal who discovers Dexter's secret and asks his help in taking revenge on her attackers.
What I've always liked best about the show is the way Dexter tries to navigate his way through the social world, convinced he can't feel human emotion and yet responding with paternal protectiveness when his adoptive family is threatened in any way. He deals with Rita's loss by avoiding confronting his feelings, which is awfully human, and stumbles his way through reconnecting with his adoptive children. Meanwhile his own department—including his detective sister (Jennifer Carpenter)—gets closer than ever to discovering his identity when a corrupt cop (a perfectly creepy Peter Weller) turns a private investigation into a blackmail opportunity.
12 episodes on three discs on DVD and Blu-ray. The cast and crew interviews and bonus episodes of "Californication" are accessible only through E-Bridge Technology on DVD and BD-Live on Blu-ray. The Blu-ray set also offers the first two episodes of Showtime's "The Borgias" via BD-Live.
If the prospect of the fall TV season without Charlie Sheen headlining a sitcom is too much to face, get a flashback with "Spin City: Season Five" (Shout! Factory), his first season filling Michael J. Fox's shoes as Deputy Mayor, playing watchdog to Barry Bostwick's doofus mayor and locking horns with Heather Locklear. 23 episodes on five discs in a standard case with hinged trays.
"Voltron: The Legend Begins" (Vivendi) features the seven episodes from the 1984 animated series about a giant robot warrior created out of five smaller robot lions. Fitting, as the American show was actually built out of two different Japanese anime shows. Also includes the "Voltron 101" overview, an art gallery and a preview of the new "Voltron" series.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Season 9" (Lionsgate) presents eight episodes from the original run of animated adventures of the heroes in a half-shell turned pizza-munching fighting force and the two-disc "Batman – The Brave and the Bold: Season Two, Part One" (Warner) presents 12 episodes of Batman and friends from the new Cartoon Network show.
And the rest:
Molly Parker stars in "Gone" (A&E), a Lifetime Original Movie about a mother who takes on a conspiracy when her child is kidnapped. "Paranormal State: Season Five" (A&E) presents 21 episodes of Ryan Buell and the Paranormal Research Society investigating more paranormal activity. "September 11th Memorial Edition" (History) collects four documentary specials about the World Trade Center attacks, including the Emmy-winning "102 Minutes that Changed America."
The short-lived BBC science fiction drama bristles with unrealized potential
The BBC-produced "Outcasts" (BBC) is science fiction TV with more grit and intelligence (as well as more ambition and heavy-handed allegory) than what you can find anymore on the SyFy Channel. Which is one of the frustrations of the show: cancelled by the BBC after the initial run of eight episodes, it stands more as unrealized potential than satisfying drama, but the potential itself gives an intriguing backstory to the heroes of the otherwise conventional struggle for control over the fortified outpost five light years from Earth.
Liam Cunningham (a reliable vet of British TV and film roles) and Hermione Norris (Roz from "MI-5"), as the president of the fledgling frontier community of Forthaven and its no-nonsense Head of Protection and Security (PAS) respectively, anchor the cast with all the authority their presence brings (which is not insubstantial). They are both compromised heroes, nursing guilt over past mistakes, as are the younger cast members who get most of the action and romance: Daniel Mays and Amy Manson as PAS officers and Ashley Walters as the hot-headed Expeditionary who wants to go to war with the "advanced cultivars," or ACs, that live in the hills outside the walls of the town.
The ACs are essentially genetically modified clones created to survive in the hostile environment and then sentenced to be "destroyed" when they were (incorrectly) blamed for a plague that killed many of the settlers. To say they don't trust the humans is an understatement, especially when a power-grabbing politico (Eric Mabius), hiding his militaristic plans behind a front of religious hypocrisy, attempts to beat the drums of fear into a call for war.
Plus "Hoodwinked Too," "The Bang Bang Club" and more foreign releases.
"Jane Eyre" (Universal), an American co-production with BBC films, is perfectly cast (Mia Wasikowska as Jane, Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester), beautifully produced and terribly engaging, and one of the best British literary adaptations since the 1995 "Pride and Prejudice" mini-series. Videodrone's review is here. Horror movie master John Carpenter returns with "The Ward" (Arc Entertainment), his first feature in ten years, and while MSN film critic Glenn Kenny finds the material wanting, he praises Carpenter as "comfortable, confident, ready to do what it is he does." Videodrone celebrates the release here.
The Robert Redford-directed "The Conspirator" (Lionsgate) tells the story of Mary Surrat, the sole woman charged with conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln, but modern parallels aside, MSN critic James Rocchi finds little effective drama in the true story. "From the first frame, "The Conspirator" looks like a bad idea," he warns. "Its (bleeding) heart is plainly on its sleeve, and its brain is nowhere to be found." Robin Wright stars as Mary and James McAvoy, Kevin Kline, Danny Huston, Evan Rachel Wood, Justin Long and Tom Wilkinson co-star. The two-disc DVD and Blu-ray editions features commentary by director Redford, a feature-length documentary on the assassination of Lincoln, a "making of" documentary and a collection of featurettes among the supplements.
The foreign title of the week is "Queen to Play" (Zeitgeist), starring Sandrine Bonnaire as a hotel chambermaid on a cozy village on the island of Corsica who discovers a flair for chess and asks gruff American doctor Kevin Kline (performing entirely in French) to tutor her in the game. It's not about romance, mind you, but a life-changing moment from a wife and mother who realizes that the world has more offer and she has more to offer it. "It's the best kind of unforced filmmaking, able to make its points with delicacy and tact," writes Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan. "And the best thing about it is that it is [director Caroline] Bottaro's feature directing debut. We have a lot to look forward to."
"Something Borrowed" (Warner) is more romantic comedy fluff with Kate Hudson in the familiar role as the self-absorbed best friend of a meek good girl (Ginnifer Goodwin) who is hopelessly in love with Hudson's fiancé (Colin Egglesfield). "Goodwin is unchallengingly Cute and Good, while poor Hudson, once a promising starlet and now largely seen as a Quality Cinema Kiss of Death, is, well, present," observes MSN film critic Glenn Kenny, who predicts that "it seems a given that the balance of the film will be a brisk countdown to emotional showdowns, a comeuppance for the borderline sociopath, and bliss for [Goodwin] and [Egglesfield], all unfolding in a bland but gorgeously sun-dappled tri-state area. With the usual breezy supplements on DVD and Blu-ray. Also available On Demand and for Download.
"Priest" (Sony), a mix of horror epic and dystopian science fiction thriller based on a graphic novel, stars Paul Bettany as a futuristic priest who goes rogue to battle a vampire conspiracy led by a swaggering daywalker (Karl Urban) who looks like the villain from a spaghetti western. Priests who fight and float like Shaolin monks from a Hong Kong martial arts movie add more inspirations to the genre mix. "Its B-movie sins are many, worst among them an icy hero and a plot that feels like it was built from relics of other, better films," complains Entertainment Weekly film critic Adam Markovitz. On DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D, with commentary, deleted scenes and featurettes, plus Blu-ray exclusive picture-in-picture mode.
The animated "Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil" (Anchor Bay) revisits the sub-Pixar fairy tale spoofing of the original "Hoodwinked," with Hayden Pantierre taking over vocal duties on Red Riding from Anne Hathaway. MSN film critic Kathleen Murphy complains that the sequel "reprises the original's formulaic failings: infantile humor, unrelenting wisecracks and popcult references, and flat characters who don't engage one's eyes or interest." Hits home video on DVD, Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack and 3D Blu-Ray 4-Pack editions. Meanwhile the direct-to-DVD sequel "Marley & Me: The Puppy Years" (Fox) is available exclusively at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club.
"Breath" (Palisades), from Kim Ki-duk, the bad-boy of South Korean cinema, is a 2007 drama about female sculptor who bonds with a death row inmate after she learns of his failed suicide attempt. The DVD comes with a making-of featurette, interviews and footage from the film's premiere at Cannes 2007. "Masquerades (Mascarades)" (Global Film Initiative) is a comedy from Algeria about an arranged marriage and a lie that spins out of control and "Shirley Adams" (Global Film Initiative) is a drama about a single mother caring for her paraplegic son in contemporary South Africa.
And the rest:
Ryan Philippe and Taylor Kitsch are part of "The Bang Bang Club" (eOne), young combat photographers capturing the chaos of post-Apartheid South Africa, in the drama based on the memoir by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva. Malin Akerman co-stars. The DVD and Blu-ray releases feature commentary, deleted scenes and interviews among the supplements.
"The Best and the Brightest" (New Video) is an indie comedy about middle-class parents (Neil Patrick Harris and Bonnie Somerville) tangled up in the cutthroat competition to get their five-year-old daughter enrolled in a private kindergarten. On DVD, video on demand and digital download. Kim Cattrall stars in "Meet Monica Velour" (Anchor Bay) as a former porn star now appearing in seedy strip clubs to make ends meet. On DVD and Blu-ray.
"The Grace Card" (Sony) is a faith-based drama about a cop in crisis. "Medium Raw: Night of the Wolf" (Anchor Bay) is a serial-killer thriller starring William B. Davis and John Rhys-Davies. "Double Crossed" (Screen Magic) is a twisty gangster drama about a hitman, a mob boss and a debt.