Cool and Classic: 'Twilight's Last Gleaming' with missiles poised to launch
Plus special editions of 'Harry Potter,' Pasolini's 'Trilogy of Life,' Pixar shorts, and more
Jean-Luc Godard's "Weekend" (Criterion) is more than a movie. This landmark of sixties cinema is Godard’s apocalyptic send-off to both consumer society and cinema as we know it. Videodrone's review is here.
Robert Aldrich's "Twilight's Last Gleaming" (Olive) combines the "men on a mission against long odds" adventure with the conspiracy thriller that thrived in the seventies to create a politically-minded heist film. Burt Lancaster leads this mission as a patriotic career soldier and army officer who leads a volatile group of military misfits to take command of a military silo in Montana and hold the nation hostage. More than money, Lancaster wants to reveal the buried truth behind the Vietnam war, a secret that America's military gatekeepers will do anything to keep buried.
Aldrich isn't as sharp a filmmaker as he was even in the early seventies and there's some sloppiness to the action and the storytelling, but Lancaster and Charles Durning (as the President) keep the film grounded and the political stakes carry a punch that seems more prescient than ever. It was a critical and financial flop in 1977 but seen in context of seventies political conspiracy thrillers, it remains one of the more interesting (and plausible) proposals.
Blu-ray and DVD, mastered from a new restoration (it looks superb), with the feature-length documentary "Aldrich Over Munich" on the making of the film.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Parts 1 and 2: Ultimate Edition" (Warner) offers a six-disc set with Blu-ray, DVD, and UltraViolet editions of the two-part finale of the Harry Potter saga. The shadow of doom that hangs over "Part 1," the grimmest of the series, while "Part 2," which brings the saga to a close with grand spectacle but also a sense of urgency and mortal stakes. In part because its more active (none of that hiding out in the wilds stuff here) and in part because it finally brings all the conflicts to a mighty showdown. It's the necessary pay-off, the dawn after the darkness of Harry and friends at their most despairing. The films have been available on Blu-ray and DVD before, but this completes the deluxe "Ultimate Edition" releases by including a 48-page booklet, two more installments of the "Creating the World of Harry Potter" documentaries (previously available only in complete "Harry Potter Wizard's Collection"), an extended version of the already substantial interview "A Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe," and other supplements. There are, however, no Blu-ray 3D versions of the films in this set.
"Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 2" (Disney) present 12 animated short film from Pixar studios. While many of the shorts were created for disc releases (such as "BURN•E" and a series of "Cars" spin-offs with Mater), the highlights are original theatrical shorts that played in front of Pixar features to shorts. Three of these were nominated for an Oscar nominees: "Presto" (2008), a wild battle of wits and magic between a stage magician and a rabbit that decides not to come out of the hat; "Day & Night" (2010), a retro-styled meeting of opposites who become friends; and the fable-like "La Luna" (2011), a lovely little fantasy about the moon, the stars, and the family that sweeps up the skies (also featured on the "Brave" disc release). Blu-ray and DVD, with filmmaker commentary and seven bonus student shorts from Pixar directors John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter. The Blu-ray release also features a bonus DVD copy.
"We Can't Go Home Again" (Oscilloscope), the last feature by maverick American auteur Nicholas Ray, may not have ever been completed by Ray -- he continued shooting and editing up to his death -- but this edition produced by his widow, Susan Ray, is as definitive a version as we're going see. Begun as a collaboration with students of Binghamton University’s Harpur College, where he was a visiting professor, it began as a narrative film and evolved into a freewheeling, experimental work, shot in multiple formats and screened via multiple projectors and overlapping images. While the fractured narrative and visual mosaic never really coheres into anything, it stands as the final expression from the legendary director tapping into the experimental freedom of the early seventies. Blu-ray and DVD, with Susan Ray's 2011 documentary "Don't Expect Too Much," Nicholas Ray's 1974 short "The Janitor," a 1977 TV profile of Ray, interviews, and other archival supplements, plus a booklet with essays.
"Trilogy Of Life: The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales, Arabian Nights" (Criterion), Pier Paolo Pasolini's earthy, raunchy adaptations of three classics of medieval literature, debuts on Blu-ray and DVD stateside in a new three-disc special edition packed with new and archival extras. In addition to the newly-remastered editions of the three films, Criterion offers visual essays by film scholars Patrick Rumble (on "The Decameron") and Tony Rayns (on "Arabian Nights"), new interviews with art director Dante Ferretti, composer Ennio Morricone, and with film scholar Sam Rohdie, four archival documentaries on the films and the filmmaker, and deleted scenes from "Arabian Nights" among the supplements, plus a booklet with new essays and archival articles.
"Abraham Lincoln" (Kino), the 1930 drama starring Walter Huston as the sixteenth President, was the first sound feature by D.W. Griffith and the penultimate feature completed by the silent film legend. No surprise on the timing of this release, with Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" in theaters, but Kino has mastered this new edition from the Museum of Modern Art's 35mm restoration, which features footage missing from other editions. Blu-ray and DVD, with an introduction to a sound-era "The Birth of a Nation" re-release filmed on the set of "Abraham Lincoln" with Griffith and Huston.
"The Definitive Document of the Dead" (Synapse) is an expanded version of the Roy Frunkes' 1988 documentary, originally a 90 minute study of George Romero’s work centered around the production of "Dawn of the Dead," now revised with new interviews and footage from the set of subsequent Romero productions. Features new commentary by Frumkes. DVD only.
- "Stephen Sondheim's Company" (Image) presents the special 2011 production of the 1970 stage musical with Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone, Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer, Christina Hendricks, Martha Plimpton, and the New York Philharmonic. Blu-ray and DVD.
- "Woody Herman: Blue Flame" (Jazzed Media) is a feature-length documentary on the legendary jazz clarinet player and band leader.
- "Schoolgirl Report Volume 9: Mature Before Graduation…" (Impulse) is a 1975 installment in the German sexploitation "expose" series, in its original, uncut German version with English subtitles.