DVDs for 5/5/09 – Benjamin Button, Wendy and Lucy and Harvey

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (Paramount) comes out on DVD in a two-disc special edition DVD and Blu-ray with a Criterion logo and spine number, but Paramount release and distribution. I don’t know what the relationship between these two companies – the major American studio and the gold standard for definitive editions of classic (and some contemporary) movies on DVD – but it’s resulted in a magnificent production.

You're not getting any younger, but Benjamin Button is

The disc features the handsome, austere Criterion art and menu design, which loads right up and takes you to the movie and the supplements without having to wade through trailers. The transfer is sterling (taken directly from the digital master of the largely HD-shot film) and supplements are serious, in-depth productions for serious film folk. But the documentary producers are not Criterion veterans but professionals with credits on DVD special editions from Paramount and Fox (including the non-Criterion releases of Fincher’s Panic Room and Zodiac, which are excellent editions in their own right). Whatever the breakdown of responsibility and credit, this is an amazing DVD production anchored by a very serious and typically observant commentary by Fincher (who drops a few harmless F-bombs in his solo commentary tour of the movie) and the documentary/production study The Curious Birth of Benjamin Button. Hit the “Play all” function and you get an almost three-hour documentary featuring almost every major collaborator on either side of the camera, who take you on a tour of the film from its initial attempts at adaptation in 1990 through the technology harnessed to create a backwards-aging Benjamin in the screen to the release. It’s dense and interesting and entertaining, far more engaging and captivating than the majority of such supplements. But there are also featurettes not included in the “Play all” that you can access separately and galleries of storyboards, art direction and costume sketches, and production stills. It’s not for everyone, but this is the kind of epic production documentary that fascinates me, not just because of the detail of information but also for the insights it offers into the collaborative process of filmmaking and the marriage of creative decisions and practical solutions. Whether or not it was the Criterion logo that inspired the DVD producers to take such an exhaustive and intense approach to the supplements, it’s a production that does the logo proud.

For more on the film itself, see my review on the MSN DVD column here.

Wendy and Lucy (Oscilloscope)

Shot in Portland by New York-based filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, Wendy and Lucy is ostensibly about a young woman, Wendy (Michelle Williams), traveling to find work in Alaska, and her detour when her car breaks down and her traveling companion, a dog named Lucy, goes missing at a stop in Portland. But as Reichardt presents her story (from a script co-written with Oregon writer Jon Raymond), it becomes something much more: a down-to-earth portrait of single woman of limited resources on a road fraught with potential predators and random potholes. Wendy is like a lot of folks just scraping by, merely one disaster away from losing it all. It’s a tender, tough, uncompromising film, photographed with a disarming directness and seeming simplicity that reverberates with the precariousness of her situation.

I write about the film in more detail for Parallax View here.

Enchanted April (Miramax)

Josie Lawrence and Miranda Richardson are the two quietly miserable middle-class wives who impulsively (and passionately) decide to escape their dreary world in post-World War I London and their distracted, pompous husbands and rent a castle on the Italian coast. When they wake up in their villa after a rainy nighttime arrival (Britain still seems to follow them like a cloud), they open their windows to a sunny spring morning on the Italian coast, the hills exploding in flowers and foliage, the Mediterranean waters a captivating azure catching the sun with white accents. It’s a fairy tale awakening for them in every way, but director Mike Newell manages to ground their unabashedly romantic odyssey in the physical textures of their world and in the compassion he affords these ordinary folks rediscovering the passions and desires that have atrophied over time.

What keeps Enchanted April from slipping into fantasy is the earthy grounding that director Mike Newell provides. It’s not about escape or rebirth, it’s about renewal and appreciation. It can be overly precious and restrained in that oh-so-British manner of period movies, but it’s also generous and romantic and uplifting in a way that feels emotionally genuine. Joan Plowright and Polly Walker co-star as their villa partners and Alfred Molina, Jim Broadbent and Michael Kitchen are the men in their lives.

I write about the film for Parallax View here.

Last Chance Harvey (Anchor Bay)

Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson are lonely strangers who feel left out of their lives and connect at a chance meeting in this understated romantic drama. The second feature from Joel Hopkins is an understated and introspective romantic drama focused more on people than plot and built up out of shared moments of people getting to know one another. Hoffman and Thompson make real (or at least relatable) people of these characters who have nothing to lose and everything to gain and Hopkins directs with warmth and affection and a simple respect for all the characters. I reviewed the film earlier on my blog here.

Crusoe: The Complete Series (Universal)

The flip side of the new DVD access to short-lived cult shows with passionate followings is the access to those shows that no one really cares much about. NBC’s short-lived adventure show reworks Daniel Defoe’s classic novel as a 17th Century Lost, or maybe the missing link between Pirates of the Caribbean, Prison Break and Gilligan’s Island. Regardless, this Robinson Crusoe is a veritable MacGyver who, in a few short years on his tropical island, has created a lavish series of treehouse living quarters, bridges, elevators and other devices out of materials that the Army Corps of Engineers would have trouble salvaging. Woven through the day-to-day adventures fighting off pirates, mutineers, cannibals and other visitors (for an uncharted island, it sure gets plenty of tourists) are flashbacks and scenes back home that sketch out a conspiracy.

Dexter: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray (Paramount)

Michael C. Hall is a blood-spatter specialist of the Miami PD forensics unit who moonlights as a serial killer in the feisty second season of Showtime’s darkly comic. This season, Dexter hits an identity crisis, which is a dangerous thing for a serial killer and part of makes it one of the most strangely entertaining shows on cable.

For the rest of the highlights (including Adam Rifkin’s Look, Chris Marker’s A Grin Without a Cat and the Blu-ray releases of Saturday Night Fever and Grease), visit my weekly column, which goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment, or go directly to the various pages dedicated to New Releases, Special Releases, TV and Blu-ray.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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