Jun 13 2015

Videophiled Classics: Dziga Vertov – ‘The Man with the Movie Camera’

DzigaVertovMan

Flicker Alley

Dziga Vertov: The Man with the Movie Camera and Other Newly-Restored Works (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray) presents four features (and one newsreel short) by the great Soviet filmmaker, all making their American Blu-ray debut. They have been newly scanned from the best sources available and digitally remastered by Lobster Films in France. The collection is a collaboration between Lobster, Film Preservations Associates (and the Blackhawk Films Collection), EYE Film Institute, Cinémathèque de Toulouse, and the Centre National de la Cinématographie and is presented in the U.S. by Flicker Alley.

The Soviet Union’s revolutionary documentarian and film theorist, Dziga Vertov was the head of production and editing of the Kino-Pravda newsreel unit between 1922 and 1925. He put his years of experimentation in weekly newsreels to work in the 1924 feature film with Kino Eye / The Life Unexpected (1924), a continuation of his work on the Kino-Pravda series. The mixture of slice of life observations (often captured with a hidden camera) with documentary studies and playful cinematic tricks was his first attempt to create a new kind of filmmaking celebrating life in the Soviet Union under communism. The episodic film is structured something like a variety show, with the recurring thread of “Young Pioneers,” a youth brigade of Soviet boys and girls dedicated to helping the poor and needy, running through the film as a kind of narrative glue. Nestled between these uplifting sequences are glimpses into taverns and bars, a state home for the mentally ill, and the black market, fanciful documentary investigations into the origins of bread and meat (from the slaughterhouse to the farm), and a scene of kids at play in the water that turns into a gorgeous diving montage that presages Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia by over ten years.

The source for this master was an original 35mm print from the Blackhawk Films Collection

The Man with the Movie Camera (1929) is Vertov’s most famous film, a landmark of Soviet silent cinema and international avant-garde and non-fiction filmmaking—a pretty impressive double play to be celebrated for both capturing and deconstructing reality. Part documentary, part film essay, part cinematic gymnastics, Dziga Vertov’s dazzling masterpiece is a spellbinding piece of cinematic poetry and one of the great non-narrative works of all time. It’s ostensibly a kind of symphony of a city, a day in the life of a big city for the Ukraine, but Vertov shot in multiple cities for his idealized portrait. Using all the ideas and experiments he had explored for years in his newsreel pieces, he created a film essay that celebrated the great Soviet experiment while challenging the very foundations of representation, editing, and narrative with images that dance on the screen. The man with the movie camera and the woman at the editing table are integral parts of a film that is in part about its own making and the possibilities inherent in the cinema. The Alloy Orchestra, guided by suggestions left by director Dziga Vertov, created a score built on their trademark mix of dramatic melody and expressive percussion—which is exactly what Vertov wanted. It’s an exciting, driving score that I now consider the definitive accompaniment. This edition features that score.

It’s also the best looking film on this disc. Previous editions were mastered from compromised prints, missing footage from damage or outright recutting and often duped down many generations for the source. This editions is mastered from a preserved, near-complete 35mm nitrate print struck from the camera negative and preserved in the archives of EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam. It preserves the full silent film image area (rather than a sound-era copy with reduced image area) and, though it has wear and some damage due to screenings over the decades, the image is quite strong. Missing footage was replaced from alternate sources and the high-definition digital copy was further cleaned by Lobster films. A detailed history of the film print and the restoration process is included in an accompanying booklet. In short, this edition features a fuller image and footage missing from previous editions.

ManMovie3

‘The Man with the Movie Camera’

Vertov made his sound film debut with Enthusiasm: The Symphony of the Donbass (1931), his celebration of the Five Year Plan, which is an unqualified success under his direction. It opens on a woman listening to the news of the Soviet experiment over a radio set the scenes play out as if illustrating what she’s learning over the air. No surprise that Vertov treats sound much the same way he treats images: as pieces to be manipulated, cut and mixes to set a scene or make a point. There’s very little synchronized sound and no dialogue (though there’s a speech or two). Rather, he turns to the sounds of machinery and the cheers of crowds, with punctuations of sound effects providing a heightened percussion. Early on we see a conductor leading an orchestra and you would be forgiven for assuming that the symphony is a musical composition. For Vertov, the symphony is the image and sound, the dramatization of workers increasing production in the mines and foundries and on the farms, the building of ideas and themes to socialism triumphant. “The five year plan has been executed in four years!” and the masses rejoice.

There is damage and wear to the source, and a 35mm original print from the Cinémathèque de Toulouse, but there is a great image beneath it and there is great detail in this HD Blu-ray presentation. There is also a warble to the soundtrack, which was restored in 204, in scenes toward the end.

'Enthusiasm: The Symphony of the Donbass'

‘Enthusiasm: The Symphony of the Donbass’

Three Songs About Lenin (1934), Vertov’s tribute to the leader who died in 1924, completes the set. It’s a symphony in three movements celebrating the triumph of socialism and the unity of industry and art. Which is not exactly what Stalin had in mind to teach the masses. Like Eisenstein, Vertov faced pressure to make more naturalistic narratives and clearer propaganda. The original cut of no longer survives—the film was reedited in 1938 under order Stalin’s regime, and again in the 1970s, this time to remove images of Stalin—and the film on this disc was mastered from a 35mm edited print preserved at the Cinémathèque de Toulouse.

All of the films run under 80 minutes, three of them at around an hour apiece. The disc, however, includes one additional film: Kino-Pravda (1925), aka Kino-Pravda Newsreel 21: Leninist Film Truth, one of the many newsreels created by Vertov that mixed documentary, cinema-verité, and agitprop. Also from the Cinémathèque de Toulouse.

All five films are collected on a single Blu-ray disc and the release features an informative booklet with notes on the films and the print sources.

Normally I don’t report on new announcements but if the above release interests you, you’ll likely be interested to know that the newly rediscovered 1916 Sherlock Holmes starring William Gillette (who made a career playing Sherlock Holmes onstage and was the definitive stage Holmes as far as the public was concerned) will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in October by Flicker Alley. There will be a wealth of bonus material, including three bonus films featuring earlier screen appearances by Sherlock Homes. More information at Flicker Alley.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Apr 09 2015

Videophiled TVD: ‘Manhattan: Season One’

ManhattanS1

Lionsgate

Manhattan: Season One (Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD) isn’t about the city. It’s about the project. Set on the Los Alamos, New Mexico, military base in the early 1940s, it is about the development of the atomic bomb and the uneasy society in this gated community guarded by MPs who, like everyone else not directly involved with the project, don’t actually know what the brain trust of physicists and engineers are working on.

The real-life Manhattan Project was developed across multiple sites spread around the country (the series even visits one of those sites) but Los Alamos was at the center of it. This is where the device was to be designed and built and Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the program, had two teams working in competition on separate approaches. That’s where we come into the story with young physics wunderkind Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zukerman), who arrives with his wife Abby (Rachel Brosnahan) to a high-security base that is not on any map (it’s simply identified as PO Box 1663) feels like a cross between a cheaply-built gated community and an internment camp. Charlie is assigned to the favored team led by Reed Akley (David Harbour) but he’s obsessed with impressing Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey), the brilliant leader of the misfit B-team who has a habit of bucking the chain of command. Olivia Williams is Frank’s wife Liza, a botany professor in her own right who is dismissed as simply another base wife by the military command even as she discovers the radiation accumulating around the camp (it’s killing the bees).

The tension between the military structure and civilian scientists and families is just part of the drama. Much of the story is caught up in the politics of the base: who gets to work on projects, how the money and equipment is used as leverage, how the culture of secrecy and suspicion undermines a sense of community and shared commitment. Hovering over it all is are representatives of the security services (notably West Wing veteran Richard Schiff) tracking every possible intelligence leak and possible sabotage attempt, especially after their mole in Germany is captured. At this point in the war, the focus is on the war in Europe and they are racing Hitler’s team to the bomb. Those stakes are more than simply a dramatic device. The fear of the Axis beating them to them bomb is a very real possibility.

This is the second original drama from the Chicago cable superstation and aspiring cable player WGN and it reaches for the level of human drama, social commentary, and historical perspective of shows like Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, and Masters of Sex. It largely succeeds. Thomas Schlamme, who visualized Aaron Sorkin’s ideas on The West Wing, is an executive producer and directs the pilot, setting the tone of the show. The Spartan setting helps stretch the budget, which uses the dusty streets, shabby shack housing, and forlorn isolation in the middle of nowhere to define the atmosphere of this community, and the personal dramas and challenges define the culture of suspicion and the social world of wartime America, with all its prejudices and anxieties. Some of the storylines stumble a bit and the personal betrayals at times come off as dramatic contrivances, but at its best the series dramatizes the stakes of the project—and the cost in lives—in human terms, and it casts its gaze on a culture that has not been explored on the screen in any depth.

The second season begins on WGN later this year.

Eight episodes on Blu-ray and DVD with commentary tracks on select episodes and four featurettes. Both also include Ultraviolent Digital copies (the Blu-ray edition has Digital HD).

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Apr 08 2015

Videophiled: ‘A Most Violent Year’

MostViolent

Lionsgate

A Most Violent Year (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) should have been an Oscar contender. Written and directed by J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) and set in the crime-ridden culture of early 1980s New York City (which was the most violent year on record in the city’s history), smart, shadowy tribute to the crime dramas of the seventies and early eighties, when the culture of crime and corruption was treated as a systemic issue rather than an outlier problem solved in the final reel. Oscar Isaac plays an ambitious businessman in the oil heating market determined to succeed without mob ties and Jessica Chastain is his fierce, fearless wife, the daughter of a mobster who is convinced that he needs to mob up when his trucks and his salesmen are targeted and the assistant D.A. (David Oyelowo) is looking into his books (yes, he’s been paying off officials, which is business as usual in that culture). She’s got a bit of Lady Macbeth to her Brooklyn character but Isaac is determined to remain (relatively) honest even when his entire business teeters on collapse as he scrambles to raise money for a deal that will either make him rich or leave him broke. Isaac and Chastain are excellent (though Chastain is left to fill in what the script fails to provide in terms of dimension) and Albert Brooks is almost unrecognizable as Isaac’s pragmatic (and loyal) lawyer

Chandor expertly takes us through gray area between the culture of official corruption and the criminal underworld (organized and unorganized crime both) and favors the human drama over gangster spectacle. It is a violent world, and a shadowy one (the New York winter setting is beautifully shot by Bradford Young, who has a way of suggesting that even daylight is a shadow cast by something wicked), but the violence is all in personal, intimate terms, inflicted on real people who are not equipped for this kind of warfare. His direction is both gritty and graceful, if perhaps a little studied and removed. Though not exactly glorified, the film portrays this business battlefield as a historical set piece, seen from a distance and elevated to Shakespearean dimensions. There is a cost to every decision, including the choice not to fight criminals on their own terms. Isaac’s performance clarifies that conflict beautifully.

Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary by filmmaker Chandor and producers Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb, three featurettes, and deleted scenes. The Blu-ray also feature a bonus Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.

Also on digital and cable VOD and at Redbox.

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Apr 07 2015

Videophiled: ‘The Immigrant’

Immigrant

Anchor Bay

The Immigrant (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD) – Marion Cotillard earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in the Dardenne Brothers’s Two Days, One Night but I think her best performance of 2014 is in this film. She plays Ewa, a Polish immigrant in 1921 New York who, turned away by relatives, is dependent on a mercenary burlesque producer and pimp (played with the cheap charm of a low-rent impresario by Joaquin Phoenix) for her freedom and for the money to get his sister out of quarantine on Ellis Island. (It is, of course, for bribes.)

If you think you know where this film is going based on that premise, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The film, co-written and directed by James Gray, isn’t just about her degrading ordeal (which isn’t explicitly shown but is made awfully clear). The initially shy beauty steels herself to the hard times of life on the margins of society, disconnecting her emotions not just from her work but her every interaction in this unforgiving culture, and Cotillard invests Ewa with the fiery will to survive and save her little sister from deportation. Phoenix, meanwhile, creates a fascinating figure of the pimp Bruno, chasing the American dream in the shadows and falling in love with Ewa as she hardens with every day on the streets. Jeremy Renner co-stars as a stage magician and rival for Ewa’s affections, though his underwritten character is easily overpowered by the vivid and nuanced portraits by Cotillard and Phoenix.

One of the wonders of the film is how Gray reveals unexpected depths and dimensions of these characters throughout their journeys. And Gray and cinematographer Darius Khondji create an atmosphere as compelling as the characters, a dreamy recreation of old New York that is both beautiful and tawdry. It’s a slow, simmering film with intense characters and a drama that demands patience and rewards with a rich drama about the American experience.

Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary by director James Gray and the featurette “The Visual Inspiration of The Immigrant.”

Also on Netflix and Hulu (free with ads)

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Feb 08 2013

Hot Tips and Top Picks: DVDs, Blu-rays and digital debuts for the week of February 5

New Releases:

Flight” (Paramount), starring Denzel Washington as a hero with a substance problem, received Oscar nomination for Washington as the alternately charmingly confident and ferociously selfish and self-destructive pilot, and for screenwriter John Gatins. The first live-action film by Robert Zemeckis is a decade is the kind of grown-up drama that the studios don’t often make anymore. Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand, and at Redbox. Videodrone’s review, with an interview with Oscar nominated screenwriter John Gatins,is here.

A Late Quartet” (Fox) stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, and Catherine Keener as members of an acclaimed string quartet facing the illness and retirement of one of its members. Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand.

Rashida Jones co-writes and stars in “Celeste and Jesse Forever” (Sony), an indie romantic comedy about a married couple (Jones and Andy Samberg) who try to remains friends during their divorce. DVD, On Demand, and at Redbox. Not quite so romantic is “Here Comes the Boom” (Sony) with Kevin James as a high school teacher who moonlights as a mixed martial arts fighter to raise money for his school. Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand, and at Redbox.

Alex Cross” (Summit), starring Tyler Perry (out of drag) as the police detective and profiler previously played by Morgan Freeman, is an utter train wreck of a thriller with Matthew Fox at least going for broke as a sadistic killer (Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand, and at Redbox). Much better is the snow-blind crime drama “Deadfall” (Magnolia) with Eric Bana and Olivia Wilder as sibling thieves on the run in winter snows along the north border with Canada (Blu-ray and DVD).

Little White Lies” (MPI, Blu-ray and DVD), a kind of “Big Chill” reunion drama with Marion Cotillard, François Cluzet, and Jean Dujardin, arrives from France and new documentaries include “Side By Side” (New Video, Blu-ray and DVD) and “Paul Williams: Still Alive” (Virgil, DVD).

Browse the complete New Release Rack here

TV on Disc:

Southland: The Complete Second, Third, and Fourth Seasons” (Warner) is a return to the gritty, human, life-on-the-streets drama of uniform cops and detectives on the LAPD. TNT picked up the show after NBC cancelled it after a brief first season and kept it going with its core cast intact and sensibility intact. This set collects all the TNT seasons of the best cop show on television. 26 episodes on six discs on DVD. Videodrone’s review is here.

With the American remake now available on Netflix, the original “House of Cards Trilogy” (BBC), starring Ian Richardson as the most seductively ruthless politician you’ve ever had the pleasure to watch claw his way to the top (over the corpses of his rivals), get a DVD rerelease and Blu-ray debut. Reviewed on Videodrone here.

From Britain comes the sitcom “Spy: Series One” (BFS), with Darren Boyd as a bumbling single dad who is inadvertently recruited at an agent for MI-5, and the mini-series “Public Enemies” (BFS) with Anna Friel and Daniel Mays. Both DVD.

Cougar Town: The Complete Third Season” (ABC), the final network season of the Courtney Cox sitcom, hits DVD before the fourth season debuts on TNT. And “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth: 25th Anniversary Edition” (Athena) gets a new edition. DVD.

Flip through the TV on Disc Channel Guide here

Cool and Classic:

Cabaret: 40th Anniversary” (Warner) Bob Fosse’s superb adaptation of the Broadway musical, won eight Academy Awards, including Best Director for Fosse and Best Actress for Liza Minnelli. Fosse’s “divinely decadent” touch brings a garish energy to the music hall performances, all the better to counterpoint the growing power of the Nazi party seen in the margins of the story. It makes it Blu-ray debut in a new restoration, which is also used for the new DVD edition. Videodrone’s review is here.

Peter Pan: Diamond Edition” (Disney) marks the Blu-ray debut of the 1953 animated classic from Disney, which brings a sense of wonder, a dash of pixie dust, and first rate animation to J.M. Barrie’s timeless fantasy of the who wouldn’t grow up. Debuts on both a 2-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack (with a bonus DVD) and a 3-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack (with bonus DVD and digital copy). Reviewed on Videodrone here.

Barbra Streisand produces and headlines the 1976 “A Star Is Born” (Warner), the third version of the Hollywood classic about a rising talent in love with a self-destructing star on his way down. Debuts on Blu-ray.

The Ballad of Narayama” (Criterion) is the original 1958 adaptation of the stories of Shichirô Fukazawa, directed by Keisuke Kinoshita. Blu-ray and DVD.

Also new on Blu-ray are the classics “How Green Was My Valley” (Fox), directed by John Ford; “Gentleman’s Agreement” (Fox) with Gregory Peck, and Elia Kazan’s “Wild River” (Fox) with Montgomery Clift.

On the manufacture-on-deman​d side of Fox Home Video, I review a batch of discs released over the past few months on 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives here.

All of the Cool and Classic here

New on Netflix Instant:

House of Cards,” the second original series produced for Netflix, launched on the subscription streaming video service on Friday, February 1. David Fincher produces and directs the first two episodes of the savage political satire starring Kevin Spacey as a congressman who takes a slash and burn approach to stepping up the political ladder. It is an impressive investment — $100 million for 13 serialized hours — and as impressive a production as you’ll find on the more extravagant cable shows. Videodrone’s review is here.

A big new batch of movies is now available on the streaming service, including a number of popular hits and award winners that need no review from me: “Top Gun” (1986), “The Karate Kid” (1984), “Terms of Endearment” (1983), “Ordinary People” (1980), and “Love Story” (1970). Here are some film you might not be so familiar with.

James Brooks directed stars Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt to Academy Awards in “As Good as it Gets” (1997), a romantic comedy for grown-ups.

Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel match wits and wills in “Holy Smoke” (2000), Jane Campion’s libidinous stew of sex and desire and power in the outback. Michael Almereyda’s “Hamlet” (2000) sets Shakespeare’s poetry in a vision of glass and steel in modern New York with Ethan Hawke as the brooding and sullen Prince.

David Cronenberg’s “eXistenZ” (1999), a virtual reality video game thriller, blurs the line between fantasy and reality, and “Tremors” (1990) is a lively monster movie with a spirited tongue-in-cheek attitude.

Newly available classics include the delirious “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) and the hard-edged British crime thriller “They Made Me a Fugitive” (1947).

Browse more Instant offerings here

New On Demand:

The Oscar nominated “Flight” with Denzel Washington leads off a big week of new releases, including the drama “A Late Quartet” with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Christopher Walken and the comedies “Celeste and Jesse Forever” with Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg and “Here Comes the Boom” with Kevin James and Salma Hayek.

Also new is the thriller “Alex Cross” with Tyler Perry (out of drag) and Matthew Fox and the dramas “In Our Nature” and “The Playroom.”

Arriving in advance of disc is the documentary “Brooklyn Castle” and on Friday, February 8 (same day as theaters) comes the horror film “Would You Rather” with Brittany Snow and Jeffrey Combs.

Available from Redbox this week:

Arriving day and date with video stores is the Oscar nominated “Flight” (Paramount) with Denzel Washington, along with the comedy “Here Comes the Boom” (Sony) and the thriller “Alex Cross” (Summit), all on Blu-ray and DVD. The romantic comedy “Celeste and Jesse Forever” (Sony) and “So Undercover” (Millennium) with Miley Cyrus are available on DVD.

Also arriving in Redbox kiosks this week is “The House at the End of the Street” (Fox) with Jennifer Lawrence and “Hit and Run” (Universal) with Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, both on Blu-ray and DVD. And coming back to Redbox is the 2011 release “The Help” (Touchstone).

For a calendar of upcoming releases, click here

Feb 01 2013

Hot Tips and Top Picks: DVDs, Blu-rays and digital debuts for the week of January 29

New Releases:

Hotel Transylvania” (Sony) – Adam Sandler reunites old friends (Kevin James, David Spade, Steve Buscemi) to fill out the mad monster party of this animated kids movie from the comedy star whose sense of humor has always tended toward the juvenile, not to say the sophomoric. So expect poop jokes along with the heartwarming lessons. Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, On Demand and at Redbox. Videodrone’s review is here.

Seven Psychopaths” (Sony) stars Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, and Christopher Walken in bloody black comedy of dognapping and retribution from director / writer Martin McDonagh. Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand and at Redbox

One of the most acclaimed films from Sundance 2012, “Hello, I Must Be Going” (Oscilloscope) gives Melanie Lynskey the lead in a tale of a recent divorcée who moves back in with her parents and slips into an affair with a 19-year-old, just one of many bad decisions in this comic drama. DVD.

Citadel” (Flatiron) is a British horror about an agoraphobic single father fighting his illness and a hooded gang to protect his daughter. Blu-ray, DVD, and at Redbox. “Tales of the Night” (eOne), an animated film from France, celebrates stories, storytelling, and creativity. Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand.

Plus: The British horror film “The Awakening” (Universal) with Rebecca Hall and Dominic West (Blu-ray and DVD), the horror sequel “Paranormal Activity 4” (Paramount) (Blu-ray and DVD, On Demand and at Redbox), and the indie superhero thriller “All Superheroes Must Die” (Image) (Blu-ray and DVD).

You can check out the recent direct-to-disc and made-for-cable movies at the monthly “B-Sides” round-up here.

Browse the complete New Release Rack here

TV on Disc:

Pan Am: The Complete Series” (Sony), the short-lived network series set in the early sixties and built around a quartet of young stewardesses who revel in the opportunity to travel the world, has gorgeous stars (Christina Ricci, Kelli Garner, and Margot Robbie among them), a handsome evocation of the era, and a veritable fashion show of a wardrobe. Too bad the writing never rises above slick nighttime soap opera with a dash of cosmopolitan romance and Cold War spy thriller. 14 episodes on three discs on DVD. Videodrone’s review is here.

Downton Abbey: Season 3” (PBS) is season of weddings and funerals, births and deaths, and an aristocracy stuck in the past dragged indignantly into the 20th century. The mix of wistful idealization of this world of privilege and ritual and wily critique of the aristocracy who embrace privilege as their duty and their right is so smooth it’s hard to separate one from the other. Which may be why it is such a success on both sides of the pond. Eight episodes plus the “Christmas Special” series finale on three discs on Blu-ray and DVD. Reviewed on Videodrone here.

Misfits: Season Two” (BBC) continues the British series of troubled teens imbued with super powers with more dark stories of survival in a world gone feral, filled with violence, death, sex, bad decisions, and a wily gallows humor. 7 episodes on two discs, DVD.

Femme Fatales: The Complete First Season” (eOne), an original series made for Cinemax, is a lurid pulp crime show laden with sex, violence, and gratuitous nudity. The channel still earns its old nickname – Skin-emax. 14 episodes on three discs, DVD.

Flip through the TV on Disc Channel Guide here

Cool and Classic:

To celebrate its 90th Anniversary, Warner Home Video is releasing a series of big box sets. Some of them real big. In fact “Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection” (Warner) weighs in as the biggest single box set released by a studio to date, with 100 films and two new documentaries on 50 discs, while “Best of Warner Bros. Best Pictures 20 Film Collection” (Warner) carves out 20 movies from that set that won the Academy Award for Best Picture (out of 22 winners) on 23 discs. Both DVD only, but there is also a Blu-ray box: “Best of Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection” (Warner). Videodrone’s review is here.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2” (Warner) completes the DC Universe animated original adaptation of Frank Miller’s landmark graphic novel with Peter Weller voicing old man Bat and Michael Emerson taking on The Joker. Blu-ray and DVD. Reviewed on Videodrone here.

The 1932 “White Zombie” (Kino), starring a divinely satanic-looking Bela Lugosi, is the first true zombie film. This bargain bin regular is remastered from a fine grain print and presented in digitally remastered and “raw” versions, the former clean and scrubbed of texture, the latter scratch and grainy and full of detail. Blu-ray and DVD

Kit Carson” (Hen’s Tooth), starring Jon Hall and Dana Andrews, is an old-fashioned western with great landscapes and a marvelous supporting turn by Ward Bond. DVD.

All of the Cool and Classic here

Blu-ray Debuts:

That Obscure Object of Desire” (Lionsgate) is the final film from Luis Bunuel, who was almost 80 when he completed this surreal story of love and obsession. His shock effects have mellowed but he’s as unpredictable as ever: he casts two different actresses (cool French model Carole Bouquet and sensual Spanish actress Angela Molina) to play the part of the ambiguous beauty pursued by patronizing bourgeois cad Fernando Rey. With bonus interviews.

The Duellists” (Shout! Factory), the feature debut of Ridley Scott, is a sumptuous period drama accomplished on a tiny budget. Based on a Joseph Conrad story, it stars Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine as officers in Napoleon’s army trapped in a cycle of duels that goes on so long the ostensible affront is long forgotten. With commentary and featurettes. Videodrone’s review is here.

Plus three 3D German undersea documentaries in 3D+standard editions: “Amazing Ocean” (Universal), “Fascination: Coral Reef” (Universal), and “Fascination: Coral Reef – Mysterious Worlds Underwater” (Universal).

Peruse all the new Blu-rays here

New on Netflix Instant:

Available on streaming before disc release is “Death of a Superhero” (2011), which is not a superhero picture, mind you, but a coming-of-age drama about a teenage boy dying of cancer. Ian Fitzgibbons directs and Andy Serkis stars as the therapist who tries to reach the angry young man. Reviews here.

Direct from disc release comes “Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft” (2012), a B-movie with show Booboo and Fivel Stewart as American teenage descendants of the fairy tale siblings, and “Breathing” (2012), the German drama of an orphan teen in a juvenile detention center.

Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story” (2012) is a second generation look at civil rights history from filmmaker Raymond De Felita and “The Giant Mechanical Man” (Tribeca) an indie romantic comedy with Jenna Fischer and Chris Messina.

Browse more Instant offerings here

New On Demand:

The animated Adam Sandler family comedy “Hotel Transylvania,” the black comedy “Seven Psychopaths” with Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell, the British horror film “The Awakening” with Rebecca Hall and Dominic West, the horror sequel “Paranormal Activity 4,” and the action thriller “The Cold Light of Day” with Sam Worthington and Bruce Willis.

Arriving days after theatrical release is “Knife Fight” with Rob Lowe and Julie Bowen.

Debuting Friday, February 1 is “The Haunting In Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia,” same day as theaters, and “Wrong,” a comedy by Quentin Dupieux, in advance of theatrical release.

Available from Redbox this week:

Day and date with video stores is the animated comedy “Hotel Transylvania” (Sony) from Adam Sandler, the black comedy “Seven Psychopaths” (Sony) with Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell, the British indie horror “Citadel” (Flatiron) and the horror sequel “Paranormal Activity 4” (Paramount).

Also arriving in Redbox kiosks this week is “Fat Kid Rules the World” (Arc), which arrived for sale and for rent in video stores last week.

For a calendar of upcoming releases, click here

Jan 25 2013

Hot Tips and Top Picks: DVDs, Blu-rays and digital debuts for the week of January 22

New Releases:

End of Watch” (Universal), from writer / director David Ayer, adopts a found-footage / surveillance camera aesthetic for the story of two patrol officers and best friends (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña) on the mean streets of modern day Los Angeles. The crime drama takes some unexpected turns but the heart of the story is the byplay between these partners and buddies who have one another’s backs on and off the job. Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand, and available at Redbox. Videodrone’s review and an interview with the director are here.

The Paperboy” (Millennium), Lee Daniels’ overheated crime thriller follow-up to “Precious,” is a swamp noir that courts an aggressively disreputable atmosphere of sordid sexuality and hothouse obsession, thanks in large part to a fearlessly trashy performance by Nicole Kidman. Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, and John Cusack co-star. Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand. Reviewed on Videodrone here.

Fat Kid Rules the World” (Arc), the directorial debut of Matthew Lillard, adapts the young adult novel about a misfit kid who finds an identity when he forms a punk band. Roger Ebert calls it “smart and observant.” DVD.

For a Good Time, Call” (Universal) is a female buddy comedy starring Ari Graynor and Lauren Anne Miller as opposites who find common cause in a sex-phone business and “Keep the Lights On” (Music Box), from director Ira Sachs, is a drama of friends and lovers struggling through a relationship troubled by addiction. Both Blu-ray and DVD.

The Oscar-nominated documentary “Searching For Sugar Man” (Sony), the stranger-than-fictio​​ n story of a forgotten folk singer (Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand, available at Redbox), headlines the non-fiction releases. The list also includes Wim Wenders’ dance documentary “Pina” (Criterion) (Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, and DVD) and the acclaimed “The Imposter” (Vivendi) (DVD). All reviewed here.

And Miike Takashi’s “Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai” (New Video), a remake of the classic samurai drama (Blu-ray and DVD), and the martial arts film “Tai Chi Zero” (Well Go) (Blu-ray and DVD), topline the foreign releases.

Browse the complete New Release Rack here

TV on Disc:

The Men Who Built America” (History), the eight-part miniseries about the industrialists and moguls who developed the modern industrial nation between the Civil War and World War I, is a documentary as melodrama: a look at the original robber barons building their empires as real-life J.R. Ewings more interested in crushing their opponents than building a vision. Blu-ray and DVD. Videodrone’s review is here.

Twenty Twelve” (BBC) takes the mockumentary format of “The Office” for a comic look at the team charged with making the Olympics happen in London in 2012. Hugh Bonneville of “Downton Abbey” heads the cast and David Tennant narrates. DVD.

Also new this week: the documentary “The American Experience: The Abolitionists” (PBS) and the comic adventure series “Scarecrow and Mrs. King: The Fourth and Final Season” (Warner) with Kate Jackson and Bruce Boxleitner, both DVD only.

Breaking In: The Complete Series” (Sony Pictures Choice Collection), the short-lived sitcom with Christian Slater and Megan Mullally, and the 1970s TV movies “The Boy and the Plastic Bubble” (Sony Pictures Choice Collection) and “Wonder Woman” (Warner Archive) are among the TV shows recently featured in the latest MOD TV round-up.

Flip through the TV on Disc Channel Guide here

Cool and Classic:

The Quiet Man: 60th Anniversary” (Olive) presents an all-new edition of one of John Ford’s most beloved films, a sweet and sentimental drama with a rough-and-tumble humor, an earthy beauty, and a powerhouse pairing of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara romancing one another in a shamrock green Irish village full of blarney and charm. It’s been remastered from the original camera negative and looks absolutely gorgeous. Blu-ray and DVD. Videodrone’s review is here.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” (Shout! Factory), based on a novel by Nicholas Meyer, imagines the meeting between Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson) and Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin), and of course sends them on a mystery. Blu-ray+DVD Combo pack.

Indiscreet” (Olive), directed by Stanley Donen, reunites Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in a continental romantic comedy. Blu-ray and DVD.

Deadly Blessing: Collector’s Edition” (Shout! Factory) is the disc debut of the Wes Craven horror on both Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary and interviews.

Also new: Hal Hartley’s “Trust” (Olive), the Stephen King horror “Cujo” (Olive), the seventies sex comedy “The Sex Thief” (Kino), and three early John Wayne westerns, all Blu-ray and DVD.

All of the Cool and Classic here

Blu-ray Debuts:

Ivan’s Childhood” (Criterion), the debut feature by Andrei Tarkovsky, views the Russian front of World War II through the eyes of a boy who serves as a scout for the Russian soldiers. Also known as “My Name is Ivan,” the 1962 film debuts on Blu-ray in an edition featuring bonus interviews.

Hannah and Her Sisters (MGM), one of Woody Allen’s most popular films, arrives along with the sci-fi spoof “Sleeper” (MGM), one of his “earlier, funnier ones.”

Peruse all the new Blu-rays here

New on Netflix Instant:

The Switch” (2010), starring Jennifer Aniston as a single woman who decides to have a child via artificial insemination and Jason Bateman is her neurotic best friend who switches the selected donor sperm with his own, is “a better-than-you-fear​​ed example of the recent comedies revolving around reproduction,” according to MSN film critic James Rocchi.

5 Broken Cameras” (2012), a documentary on life in the West Bank, is a 2013 Oscar nominee and an award-winner at Sundance 2012.

From France comes “Unforgiveable” (2011), André Téchiné’s romantic thriller with André Dussolier and Carole Bouquet, and “17 Girls” (2011), which relocates a real-life American story to a small French town.

Lars and the Real Girl” (2007) stars Ryan Gosling as a shy child-man in a tale with a good heart, and Shane Carruth’s “Primer” (2004) is one of the most inventive time travel movies ever concocted.

Browse more Instant offerings here

New On Demand:

Rough and ready L.A. cop drama “End of Watch” with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña and hothouse swamp noir “The Paperboy” with Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, and Nicole Kidman.

Three documentaries also debut: the 2012 Oscar winner “Undefeated” (a month before disc), 2013 Oscar nominee “Searching for Sugar Man,” and the acclaimed “The Imposter.”

Arriving before theaters is “The End of Love,” a drama written and directed by Mark Webber and starring Webber, Shannyn Sossamon, and Michael Cera, and the comedy “Supporting Characters” with Alex Karpovsky and Tarik Lowe.

Available from Redbox this week:

Day and date with video stores: the hothouse swamp noir “The Paperboy” (Millennium) with Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron, and Oscar-nominated music documentary “Searching For Sugar Man” (Sony).

Also arriving in Redbox kiosks this week is “Paranormal Activity 3” (Paramount), a week before the fourth installment arrives on home video.

For a calendar of upcoming releases, click here

Jan 19 2013

Hot Tips and Top Picks: DVDs, Blu-rays and digital debuts for the week of January 15

New Releases:

To Rome With Love” (Sony) takes Woody Allen’s continental road show to Italy for a quartet of stories – really, more like extended skits – with an international cast, from Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page to Roberto Benigni and Penelope Cruz. Allen is refreshed with his sojourn in Europe and it doesn’t hurt to have the beauty of the Rome as the gorgeous backdrop to his comic romances and dizzy farce. Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand, and at Redbox. Videodrone’s review is here.

Taken 2” (Fox) finds retired CIA agent Liam Neeson facing the blowback from his actions in the first “Taken” as his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and daughter (Maggie Grace) are targeted on a vacation in Istanbul. Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand.

Won’t Back Down” (Fox) stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, and Rosie Perez as concerned parents who take on the failing school system. Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand

Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgewick star in “The Possession” (Lionsgate), a horror film built on a Jewish legend (Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand, available at Redbox), and “Branded” (Lionsgate) is a sci-fi thriller about corporate mind control starring Ed Stoppard, Leelee Sobieski, and Jeffrey Tambor (Blu-ray and DVD, available at Redbox).

Foreign films arriving this week include “Farewell, My Queen” (Cohen) with Léa Seydoux and Diane Kruger (Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand) and “17 Girls” (Strand) (DVD), both from France.

And documentaries this week include Oscar nominee “5 Broken Cameras” (Kino Lorber) (DVD), “The Other Dream Team” (Lionsgate) (DVD), and “Detropia” (Docurama) (DVD and On Demand).

Browse the complete New Release Rack here

TV on Disc:

Men of a Certain Age: The Complete Second Season” (Warner), starring Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher as college buddies facing fifty with the realization that they aren’t where they want to be, was a light drama with a low-key charm and easy chemistry. The TNT original series had a small but strong following. 12 episodes on three discs on DVD. Videodrone’s review is here.

Life’s Too Short: The Complete First Season” (HBO), created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, reworks their mockumentary format to spoof the career of Warwick Davis, star of “Willow” now on hard times, or so this seven-episode series claims. DVD. Reviewed on Videodrone here.

The Jackson 5ive: The Complete Animated Series” (DreamWorks Classics) is quite the nostalgia release: all 23 episodes of the 1971 -1972 Saturday morning cartoon series produced by Rankin/Bass, with 46 songs. Blu-ray+DVD combo pack. Reviewed on Videodrone here.

Plus 15 episodes of “Perry Mason: Season 8, Volume 2” (Paramount) and new seasons of the British shows “Being Human: Season Four” (BBC), “Merlin: The Complete Fourth Season” (BBC), and “Waking the Dead: Season Seven” (BBC), all on DVD.

Flip through the TV on Disc Channel Guide here

Cool and Classic:

Wake in Fright” (Image), a brutal, blackly funny thriller of an urban schoolteacher (Gary Bond) in the sun-blasted Australian Outback where his veneer of culture crumbles when he gets stranded in the grimy mining town of Bundanyabba, where he unravels in non-stop drink and kangaroo hunts. This 1971 film was thought lost for years but was recently rediscovered, restored, and re-released. Drafthouse Films presents the American release. Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary, featurettes, and other supplements. Videodrone’s review is here.

The original “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (Criterion), Alfred Hitchcock’s first international thriller of innocents caught up in the intrigue of spies and killers, set the template for the romantic thrillers that made his name. Previously available in substandard versions, it’s been remastered by Criterion for a special edition on Blu-ray and DVD. Reviewed on Videodrone here.

The Tin Drum” (Criterion), Volker Schlondorff’s 1979 adaptation of Gunter Grass’ acclaimed novel, was cut on its American release. Criterion releases a special edition of the director’s cut, which was restored in 2010, with new and archival supplements on Blu-ray and DVD.

King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis” (Kino) presents the complete 1970 documentary, restored to its original three-hour running time. Two discs on DVD.

The weekly MOD movies report looks at a collection of movies previously available in box sets only, now in a la carte editions.

All of the Cool and Classic here

Blu-ray Debuts:

Our Man Flint” (Twilight Time), starring James Coburn as secret agent Derek Flint, was one of the many spy movie spoofs that followed in the success of the James Bond films, and one of the best. This is the rare Twilight Time release packed with supplements, including commentary and featurettes, in addition to their trademark isolated musical score.

Experiment in Terror” (Twilight Time) is a lean, taut thriller from Black Edwards, starring Glenn Ford as an FBI matching wits with a brilliant kidnapper with a penchant for playing games.

Jackie Chan Double Feature: Crime Story / The Protector” (Shout Factory) presents one of Jackie’s rare dramatic action films, the sober cop thriller “Crime Story” (1993), along with an older American co-production, on a single disc.

Peruse all the new Blu-rays here

New on Netflix Instant:

The Lorax” (2012), the animated feature based on the fable-like storybook by Dr. Seuss, is the big New Release of the week, but there are more interesting films.

Mon-Rak Transistor” (2001), an offbeat and colorful film from Thailand’s Pen-ek Ratanaruang, is a cautionary comic tragedy of show-biz dreams with old-fashioned musical numbers and unexpected diversions. And it is not available on disc.

My Sucky Teen Romance” (2011) is a high school horror comedy from a 17-year-old writer/director. Walter Hill’s “The Warriors” (1979) comes out to play with funky comic book energy and Michael J. Fox stars in Peter Jackson’s Hollywood debut “The Frighteners” (1996).

The Instant TV highlight is “Being Human: Season Two,” the most recent season of the American incarnation of the TV series about supernatural roommates trying to live human lives.

Plus: the all-star disaster movie “Earthquake” (1974), the spy movie spoof “In Like Flint” (1967), and the fast, funny, and foul minor league sports comedy “Slap Shot” (1977).

Browse more Instant offerings here

New On Demand:

Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love” starring Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz, and Rome, the action thriller “Taken 2” with Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace, the horror film “The Possession” with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick, and “Won’t Back Down” with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis.

Also new: “Farewell, My Queen” from France and the documentary “Detropia.”

Available months in advance of disc is the award-winning documentary “The House I Live In” from Eugene Jarecki.

Available from Redbox this week:

Day and date with video stores: Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love” (Sony) and the horror film “The Possession” (Lionsgate), both on Blu-ray and DVD, and the science fiction thriller “Branded” (Lionsgate) on DVD only.

Also arriving in Redbox kiosks this week: Tim Burton’s Oscar-nominated animated feature “Frankenweenie” (Disney), the college musical “Pitch Perfect” (Universal), family comedy “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” (Fox), and the TV mini-series “Hatfields & McCoys” (Sony) with Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton.

For a calendar of upcoming releases, click here

Jan 15 2013

‘Tomorrow is Another Day’ on TCM

The fugitive couple on the run is a classic film noir trope, a situation steeped in romance and desperation and dreams and doom, from Fritz Lang’s tormented lovers in the proto-noir You Only Live Once (1937) to the innocence trampled in They Live by Night (1948) to the l’amour fou detonated in Gun Crazy (1950).

Tomorrow Is Another Day is a low-key take on the situation starring Steve Cochran as Bill Clark, a 34-year-old man who leaves prison after serving more than half his life behind bars, and Ruth Roman as Cay, a hard-shell dame at a dime-a-dance joint mixed up with a corrupt cop. A bad bounce of fate sends both of them on the road, two strangers tossed together on the run from a murder rap as. The story could have easily slipped into the cliche of the innocent corrupted by the predatory femme fatale, but there’s much more to both characters in this unassuming thriller directed by Felix Feist.

Ex-con and social naif Bill is a lamb in an urban culture of wolves (“I guess I’m the patsy this time,” he mumbles, resigned to getting the short end of every situation) and Cay has been hardened by years of getting knocked around and making a living off her looks. Both are slow to trust, but once they start, it softens both of their shells and inspires both of them to tough out a hard life of manual labor rather than turn back to their previous lives. For a film in the bleak culture of noir, it’s one of the more hopeful portraits of love among the damned.

Continue reading at TCM

Plays on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, January 17

Jan 11 2013

Hot Tips and Top Picks: DVDs, Blu-rays and digital debuts for the week of January 8

New Releases:

Frankenweenie” (Disney), Tim Burton’s adolescent twist on the classic story, sends a schoolboy Victor Frankenstein into his attic lab to bring his beloved pet dog back to life. Burton mixes in a love of horror movies with an innocently ghoulish sense of humor and harmless gross-out gags, capturing that childhood fascination with monster movies and the macabre in a story full of heart and soul and a film alive with stop-motion magic. Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, and On Demand. Videodrone’s review is here.

Dredd” (Lionsgate), the second screen version of the satirical British comic book of merciless lawmen in a violent future, is a brutal, blood-spattered action film of a dystopian future where life is cheap and cops are also judge, jury, and executioner – and they’re the good guys. Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, and Lena Headey star. Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, On Demand and at Redbox. Reviewed on Videodrone here.

Compliance” (Magnolia), the button-pushing, “based on a true story” drama starring Ann Dowd as a fast food manager manipulated into abusive behavior, stirred aggressive reactions in both festival screenings and theatrical showing. Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand.

Samsara” (MPI) – Ron Fricke’s five-years-in-the-ma​​ king visual essay, shot across the globe on 70mm film, contrasts the impersonal technology and culture of modern society with the serenity and spiritualism of rural life and Eastern religion. Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand.

The White Meadows” (Global Lens), from Iran, is a visually striking yet startlingly bleak odyssey through a metaphorical Iran of medieval practices and brutal oppression. Farsi with English subtitles. DVD only. Videodrone’s review is here.

Also new this week: the horror film “House at the End of the Street” (Fox) with Jennifer Lawrence and the action comedy “Hit and Run” (Universal) with Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard (both Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand), and the indie romantic drama “Jack and Diane” (Magnolia) with Juno Temple (Blu-ray and DVD).

Other foreign arrivals this week include the Spanish thriller “Sleep Tight” (Dark Sky) from Jaume Balaguero (Blu-ray and DVD) and the Finnish comedy “Lapland Odyssey” (Artsploitation) (DVD only).

Browse the complete New Release Rack here

TV on Disc:

Smash: Season One” (Universal), a drama set around the creation of a (wholly fictional) Broadway production of a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe, gets high marks for convincingly ready-for-the-big-ti​​ me original showtunes (thanks to the songwriting team of movie, TV, and Broadway veterans Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) and a cast filled with stage-seasoned performers along with the TV vets. The rest of the show warbles between contrived backstage drama and soap opera silliness. 15 episodes on four discs on DVD. Videodrone’s review is here.

In “Anger Management: Season One” (Lionsgate), Charlie Sheen’s sitcom comeback, he plays an anger management counselor, sort of a Bob Newhart reconceived as a horny single dad still trying to keep the rage-aholic under control. It’s a perfectly familiar sitcom format made for FX, but Sheen is in his element. 10 episodes, Blu-ray and DVD. Reviewed on Videodrone here.

There’s more debut seasons rolling out this week, from HBO’s acclaimed “Enlightened: The Complete First Season” (HBO) with Laura Dern to the cable reboot of the iconic nighttime soap “Dallas: The Complete First Season” (Warner) with Larry Hagman to the Showtime sitcom “Episodes: The Complete First and Second Seasons” with Matt LeBlanc.

Game Change” (HBO), the HBO original movie about the stranger-than-fictio​​ n drama of the Sarah Palin circus of the 2008 election, won five Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Actress for Julianne Moore’s amazing incarnation of Palin, Outstanding Miniseries or Movie, and awards for direction and writing. Blu-ray and DVD. Less acclaimed is “Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden” (Anchor Bay), which debuted on the National Geographic Channel. Blu-ray and DVD.

The Hour: Season Two” (BBC) ups the ante of the superb British series about a BBC news hour in the 1950s with a government conspiracy and a new team member and “Archer: The Complete Third Season” (Fox) continues the adventures of Sterling Archer (code name: Duchess) in the FX animated cult hit. Both on DVD and Blu-ray.

Flip through the TV on Disc Channel Guide here

Cool and Classic:

Four classic movies by John Brahm, including “Let Us Live” (Sony Pictures Choice Collection) with Maureen O’Sullivan and Henry Fonday, and the film noirs “The Locket” (Warner Archive) and “The Brasher Doubloon” (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives), are now available thanks to manufacture-on-deman​​d discs. Videodrone’s review is here.

Blu-ray Debuts:

The Jazz Singer” (Warner), a hybrid silent film with synchronized sound sequences, is the film that turned sound film from a gimmick to the industry standard. It’s absurdly maudlin, a creaky story of modern American son (Al Jolson) with “jazz music” in his soul banished from home by his old-world Cantor father (Warner Oland), but Jolson is marvelous and his impromptu dialogue in two scenes was as thrilling to audience as his musical numbers. The 3-Disc Blu-ray debut is filled with supplements, including commentary, documentaries, and archival sound shorts. Videodrone’s review is here.

Two-Lane Blacktop” (Criterion), the great American existential road movie, ostensibly follows a cross-country contest between a pair of street-racers (James Taylor and Dennis Wilson) and a middle-aged drifter (Warren Oates) in a GTO, but the roads they follows go everywhere and lead nowhere and they can’t work up enough speed to escape themselves. Reviewed on Videodrone here.

Two classic Oscar winners: “Grand Hotel” (Warner), Best Picture of 1932, is a star-studded production with Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone, and Jean Hersholt, and “Mrs. Miniver” (Warner), a rousing wartime drama of life in rural England during Hitler’s siege, won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), and Best Actress (Greer Garson).

Peruse all the new Blu-rays here

New on Netflix Instant:

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (2011), the fourth in the big screen series with Tom Cruise as agent Ethan Hunt and the first live-action film from animation auteur Brad Bird, is brisk, spirited, clever, and more fun than it ought to be. Videodrone’s review is here.

Blue Valentine” (2010) stars Michelle Williams in an Oscar-nominated performance opposite an equally intense and committed Ryan Gosling as young marrieds in an unraveling relationship. Reviewed on Videodrone here.

Aaron Johnson plays the young John Lennon in “Nowhere Boy” (2009) and Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones are “The Company Men” (2010) in the drama of life in the recession.

Family friendly drama includes “October Sky” (1999) and “Searching for Bobby Fischer” (1993), a pair of intelligent and inspiring dramas about smart kids who continue to challenge themselves.

And new Instant TV offerings include the 2012 cable mini-series “World Without End,” the 1998 science fiction miniseries “Invasion: Earth,” and the brilliant comedy “Fawlty Towers,” created by and starring John Cleese.

Browse more Instant offerings here

New On Demand:

Tim Burton’s animated family comedy “Frankenweenie” and the brutal action film “Dredd” are both available in 3D as well as standard editions.

Also arriving same day as disc: the horror film “House at the End of the Street” (Fox) with Jennifer Lawrence, the action comedy “Hit and Run” (Universal) with Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, the controversial indie drama “Compliance,” and the visual essay “Samsara.”

Debuting On Demand in advance of theater is the comedy “Charles Swan” with Charlie Sheen and Bill Murray, and same day as theaters (on January 11) is the documentary “Sellebrity” with Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lopez.

Available from Redbox this week:

Arriving day and date with video stores is “Dredd” (Lionsgate), on Blu-ray and DVD, the indie drama “Now is Good” (Sony), and the British comedy “The In-Betweeners Movie” (Lionsgate).

Also arriving in Redbox kiosks this week: the animated feature “Ice Age: Continental Drift” (Fox), the talking teddy bear comedy “Ted” (Universal), and the Bourne sequel “The Bourne Legacy” (Universal) with Jeremy Renner.

For a calendar of upcoming releases, click here

Jan 06 2013

‘Seven Thieves’ on TCM

A disparate collection of crooks, small-time hustlers, and disreputable characters knocking around Monte Carlo are brought together to rob a casino in an elaborate heist in Seven Thieves (1960), an unshowy caper film from Hollywood veteran Henry Hathaway. Edward G. Robinson plays the mastermind of the job, Theo Wilkins, a once-respected scientist whose career foundered after serving time for theft, and Rod Steiger plays his loyal friend, partner, and right hand Paul Mason, a sophisticated career criminal brought over by Theo to run the untrustworthy crew.

The film was promoted by Fox as “Little Caesar meets Al Capone,” referring to the pairing of old school gangster star Robinson with method actor (and Al Capone star) Steiger. In fact, Theo is much closer to another Robinson role from his gangster past: The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938), where Robinson’s titular doctor joins a criminal gang to research his book and ends up plotting their robberies. Theo could be Clitterhouse twenty years later, an old pro more interested in the mechanics and execution of the perfect plan than the money.

Joan Collins plays the key to their scheme, a stripper in a second-rate nightclub where the nervous assistant director of Monte Carlo’s biggest casino arrives nightly to watch her dance, and Eli Wallach is her mentor and mother hen Poncho, who blows the saxophone (and at one point becomes a partner in her routine) in the club’s jazz combo. The team is filled out by Michael Dante as the grinning safecracker, Berry Kroeger as the driver and team muscle, and Alexander Scourby as the reluctant partner inside the club, the casino assistant director pressured by Collins to be their inside man.

Continue reading at TCM

Plays on Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, January 8

Jan 04 2013

Hot Tips and Top Picks: DVDs, Blu-rays and digital debuts for the week of January 1

New Releases:

Cosmopolis” (eOne), David Cronenberg’s vivid adaptation of Don Delillo’s massive novel, distils the tome down to a two-hour odyssey through a long day drive in a space shuttle of a limousine creeping through the gridlock of an anonymous New York City. Robert Pattinson, perfectly disaffected in a mix of boredom and anxiety, plays financial kingpin Eric Packer, whose grand market gamble is the beginning of his self-destruction, and Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, Jay Baruchel, Mathieu Amalric, and Paul Giamatti co-star. It’s a savage satire of modern life under a cool surface of steel and glass and electronic screens, a bubble from which we watch the world disintegrate outside, and one of the best and most challenging films of 2012. Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand. Videodrone’s review is here.

Looper” (Sony) is the smartest science fiction thriller of 2012. On the surface a clever collision of killer-for-hire action and time-travel conundrum, Rian Johnson’s juiced-up genre blast ostensibly pits a callow young executioner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) against his future self (Bruce Willis), come back in time to change his future. Johnson’s creative approach to a familiar genre elements, however, is simply our entry into a superb character drama, with Gordon-Levitt doing a brilliant Willis and Willis as a dead man walking who remains just as self-involved decades on. Emily Blunt provides fierce support, as usual. Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand. Reviewed on Videodrone here.

Also new this week: the indie comedy “The Trouble with Bliss” (Anchor Bay) with Michael C. Hall, Chris Messina, and Lucy Liu, and the documentary “Putin’s Kiss” (Kino Lorber), a snapshot of the volatile political culture in contemporary Russia.

Browse the complete New Release Rack here

TV on Disc:

Justified: The Complete Third Season” (Sony) continues one of the best cable dramas on TV with a new season that pits Timothy Olyphant’s slaw-talking, quick-shooting, self-destructive U.S. Marshall against a carpetbagger of a Chicago crime lieutenant (Neal McDonough, all smooth and smarmy sadism) trying to set up his own drug empire in Kentucky. This series features some of the best and most vivid characters on TV, notably Walton Goggins as philosophical backwoods crime boss Boyd Crowder. 13 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD. Videodrone’s review is here.

Being Human: The Complete Second Season” (eOne), the American incarnation of the original British series about a vampire (Sam Witwer), a werewolf (Sam Huntington), and a ghost (Meaghan Rath) who become roommates in a Boston house, holds its own just fine with its inspiration as it stakes out its own identity this season, with its tale of the vampire mafia, possessed souls, and ghost madness. 13 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD. Reviewed on Videodrone here.

Trial & Retribution: Set 6” (Acorn) features the final four feature-length episodes of the British crime series created by Lynda La Plante.

Flip through the TV on Disc Channel Guide here

Cool and Classic:

Two uniquely British comedians are celebrated in a pair of double features.

Will Hay Double Feature Vol. 1: Boys With Be Boys / Where There’s a Will” (VCI) features two comedies from the thirties featuring the music hall star turned screen comedian playing variations on his stage characters. “Norman Wisdom Double Feature Vol. 1: Trouble in Store / One Good Turn” (VCI) presents the two breakthrough hits for the West End funnyman turned screen comedy superstar. Both on single discs DVD editions.

All of the Cool and Classic here

New on Netflix Instant:

Jeff, Who Lives at Home” (2011), a quirky comedy starring Jason Segal, Ed Helms, and Susan Sarandon, is one of two films from filmmaking brothers Jay and Mark Duplass no available. The other is the low-budget indie comedy “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” (2012).

Daniel Auteuil directs and stars in “The Well-Digger’s Daughter” (2011), an adaptation of Marcel Pagnol’s novel about a widowed father raising six girls in rural France in the years between the World Wars. It arrives days after its disc debut. Other new releases include “Red Lights” (2012) with Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, and Robert De Niro, and Todd Solondz’s “Dark Horse” (2011) with Jordan Gelber and Selma Blair.

The documentary “How to Survive a Plague” (2012), which placed on the MSN Top Ten Films of 2012 compilation, arrives on Netflix Instant in advance of disc.

Two past Oscar winners: “The Hours” (2002), with Best Actress Nicole Kidman and co-starring Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep, and “The Usual Suspects” (1995), directed by Bryan Singer from an Oscar winning script by Christopher McQuarry.

Plus: Mike Leigh’s “Topsy-Turvy” (1999), the Coen Bros.’s “Miller’s Crossing” (1990), and Brian DePalma’s “The Untouchables” (1987).

Instant TV offerings include “Wallander: Series 1-3” with Kenneth Branagh, Steven Moffat’s Britcom “Coupling: Seasons 1-4,” and “The West Wing: Seasons 1-7

Browse more Instant offerings here

New On Demand:

Looper,” the inventive time-travel thriller with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, is available same day as DVD.

The Other Dream Team,” the documentary about the fledgling basketball team from the newly independent nation of Lithuanian at the 1992 Olympics, debuts On Demand before disc. Reviews here.

Best of 2012:

Click here for Videodrone’s Best Disc DebutsBest Blu-ray Releases, Best TV on Disc, and Best MOD Releases and Notable Achievements for 2012

For a calendar of upcoming releases, click here

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