Blu-ray: ‘Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection’

Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, Blu-ray) – The box set of 15 Alfred Hitchcock pictures made between 1942 and 1976 (featuring films from Paramount, Warner Bros, and MGM as well as Universal Studios) expands on the 2012 Blu-ray box set Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection with two bonus DVDs highlighting Hitchcock’s work on the small screen.

Universal Home Video

They’re not all masterpieces but they are all from the Master of Suspense so they all have their merits, and the discs are packed with supplements. Each disc includes a gallery of stills, a trailer, and a featurette written, produced and directed by specialist Laurent Bouzereau for the original DVD special edition releases of the films. Each runs between 30 and 45 minutes. Bouzereau constructs detailed stories of the creation and production of the films with the help of surviving artists and actors, and adds just a little interpretive insight. The later films, not surprisingly, feature more first person remembrances and run a little longer. Some discs include more supplements. Note that these are the exact same Blu-ray masters from the 2012 set, which means that the same issues are present in the five problematic discs. More on those later. Here’s the line-up, with notes on some select supplements.

Saboteur (1942) – Robert Cummings is Hitch’s classic wrong man on the run in this rollercoaster romantic thriller, a coast-to-coast chase to find the wartime saboteur who has framed our hero. Climaxes with the memorable scramble over the Statue of Liberty, but the circus wagon scene and the charity ball full of spies are great scenes in their own right. Think of this as one of his “slices of cake.”

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Blu-ray: Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’

The Stepford Wives meets Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in Get Out (2017), the directorial debut of writer / comedian Jordan Peele, a tricky and successful mix of social satire, modern horror, and savvy commentary on race as experienced by a person of color in a largely white society.

Universal Home Video

Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris Washington, a photographer with a promising career and a gorgeous, supportive girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), and after months of dating, he’s finally meeting the parents for a weekend stay. Her parents are white, liberal, and affluent, and on the drive over he finds out that she hasn’t told them that he’s black, which makes him a little uneasy. No worries, they are warm and welcoming, perhaps a little too overeager to make him welcome. Dad (Bradley Whitford) is a chatty hugger who launches into his spiel of how he would have eagerly voted Obama in for a third term. Mom (Catherine Keener) is a therapist who seems to be sizing up all those suppressed feelings, a suburban Earth Mother who seems just a little too eager to hypnotize him. They make a point of just how much they don’t see color, which of course only accentuates how much he stands out in this upstate social pocket where the only other black faces are groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel). They have been with the family so long they have become part of the family, explains Mom. Just maybe not quite in the way you assume.

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Blu-ray / DVD: Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Crimson Peak’ brings back the Gothic

CrimsonPeakGuillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD) has been described, incorrectly, as Gothic horror. This is Gothic romance with notes of horror, bathed in the unreal and magical colors of a giallo and brought to life by Guillermo Del Toro’s beating heart of compassion in the face of evil.

As lush and atmospheric a film as the American cinema has created in years, Crimson Peak stars Mia Wasikowska (whose wide eyes and open face evokes the gothic heroine incarnate) as a smart, passionate American heiress, the daughter of a self-made man (Jim Beaver as the model of paternal affection and American responsibility) and a writer with a romantic streak and an unsullied innocence, and Tom Hiddleston as the dashing suitor from overseas, a handsome aristocrat with a haunted soul whose mystery captures the American’s heart. His calculating sister (Jessica Chastain), however, who dresses in blood red and death black gowns that give her the spiky presence of a predatory insect, has all the warmth of vampire. Suddenly orphaned and swept away to the desolate hinterlands of rural England, she moves into the most haunted manor you’ve ever seen in the movies, a rotting mansion that lets the snow and rain and bitter cold in through the collapsed spire of the roof and literally bleeds red through the floorboards and down the walls. That it is explained away as a geological phenomenon, the churning red clay of hill seeping into the house as it sinks into the hill, doesn’t make it any less ominous. It’s the seeping of that same clay into the winter snows that gives the hill its name.

Though it draws inspiration from Rebecca, Notorious, and Jane Eyre, the sensibility is pure Del Toro. Not the American action movie maker but the creator of The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, Spanish horror films of dark fantasy where the supernatural and the otherwordly are beautiful and horrible and terrifying but largely benign. Ghosts are not malevolent monsters or vindictive demons but tormented, tortured beings lost in grief that keeps them stuck on earth, pinned like an insect to the location of their death. It is humans who bring evil into the world

This is old school gothic melodrama with modern movie magic. It’s not subtle, and that’s the point. It is grand and glorious and emotionally outsized, elegantly and delicately florid and Gothic. The ghosts are corpses of blood-red bone and rotted flesh with the markers of their past human lives evaporating around them like gossamer silk dissolving in the air. It didn’t find favor with audiences weaned on more malevolent horrors but I loved it, from its creeping, old-world pace to its deliciously realized metaphors to its steadfast belief in the power of the love to transform the most wretched soul.

Beautifully mastered on DVD and Blu-ray, which preserve the intricate textures and vivid, defining colors of the film, with commentary by filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (whose pride in his work shows through), the featurettes “Beware of Crimson Peak” (a seven-minute guided tour through the manor) and “The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak” (about the set designs and color schemes), and five deleted scenes.

The Blu-ray also includes the four-part “I Remember Crimson Peak,” which looks at four key locations with short featurettes of about five minutes apiece, plus “A Primer on Gothic Romance,” “Hand Tailored Gothic” (on the film’s costumes), “A Living Thing” (the longest of the featurettes, examining the creation of the mansion), and “Crimson Phantoms” (on creating the ghosts), plus bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies of the film.

Also on Cable and Video On Demand from Amazon Video and other VOD services.

Also new and notable:Spectre

Spectre (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), the 24th James Bond film and the fourth starring Daniel Craig, continues to explore the origins of 007 and his connection to a supervillain nemesis (played by Christoph Waltz) whose “secret” identity should be obvious to any fan of the series. The opening scene, set in Mexico City in the midst of the Day of the Dead celebrations, is one of the best in the series. But do we really need to humanize Bond? On Blu-ray and DVD with the usual collection of supplements.

99homes99 Homes (Broadgreen, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), Ramin Bahrani’s drama set in the ruthless culture of mortgage repossessions in the wake of the financial meltdown, has earned plenty of accolades for star Michael Shannon, the devil making a killing on evicting delinquent homeowners who gives one victim (Andrew Garfield) a chance to keep his home by becoming his hatchet man. Shannon won awards from the L.A. and San Francisco film critics and earned numerous nominations pretty much everyone but the Academy Awards. The Blu-ray edition is, at this point, available exclusively from Best Buy. Features filmmaker commentary and a deleted scene.

Paulette (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD) is a French film of genre you probably didn’t see coming: a senior citizen dope comedy, with Bernadette Lafont as a retiree who starts selling cannabis to supplement her pension. In French with English subtitles, with deleted scenes.

Blu-ray / DVD: The raunch of ‘Trainwreck’ and the melancholy of ‘Mr. Holmes’

TrainwreckTrainwreck (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – I don’t think I laughed as hard at any movie comedy this year as I did with Amy Schumer’s big screen debut feature as writer / star. Abetted by the direction of Judd Apatow, who has been moving from male-centric comedies to more inclusive stories, she brings her raunchy style of social commentary and self-effacing humor to the big screen in film that plays with familiar conventions while Apatow gives it that loose, easy-going quality that brings the chemistry.

Schumer plays a version of her stand-up persona so no surprise she keeps her name. Amy is a commitment-phobic magazine editor and writer with a policy of one-night stands and a habit of binge-drinking. Her philosophy of dating—pretty much her entire life, in fact—is the unfortunate product of a misanthropic, irresponsible father (Colin Quinn), who had her and sister chant his motto “Monogamy isn’t realistic” from an impressionable age. Thanks dad. Her sister (Brie Larson in an underwritten role) apparently overcame the conditioning but Amy is living the dream, looking out for her own pleasure and cutting off any possibility of messy emotional complications by sneaking out once she’s sated her sexual needs.

She’s assigned to profile of sports surgeon Bill Hader, a sweetly nerdish guy who asks her out despite all the red flags her unfiltered interview sends out. They make a strangely cute couple, which creates a crisis for Amy, who has managed to keep commitment and emotional entanglement out of her life. Commitment is scary and that calls for another drink.

You could say Schumer upends the expectations of the traditional sex comedy, taking the role usually reserved for the crude, sex-obsessed guy whose cruel wit and pose of brutal honesty is just an excuse for self-absorbed insensitivity, but that undervalues her work. It’s not simply a matter of showing us that women can be just as glib and shallow and raunchy as men. She’s confident and brazen, a power professional with an unapologetic sexual appetite and an arrested emotional development, perhaps not an original but certainly someone we haven’t seen quite like this on the screen.

Schumer is the center of it all but she’s generous with the laughs, spreading it around the entire cast, and Apatow brings the chemistry out of the cast, from the guy talks between Hader’s doc and friend and former patient LeBron James to the strained date between Amy and boy toy John Cena, a personal trainer who fails hilariously when asked to talk dirty during sex and manages to make trash talk threats sound weirdly homoerotic. I credit Apatow and Schumer for making Cena authentically funny. It’s a little too generous at times, by which I mean overlong, a common issue with Apatow’s films, but on home video that’s less of an issue. And Schumer also makes the film’s one serious tearjerker of a scene completely authentic, a nakedly honest display of unconditional love for someone who never earned it. Mostly though it’s funny, a mix of filthy and sweet that makes it all work.

The film was released in an R-rated version to the theaters but there’s also a longer unrated version (about four minutes longer) for home video. Both versions are available on Blu-ray and DVD, along with commentary by Apatow and Schumer with associate producer Kim Caramele, the usual collection of deleted scenes, a gage reel, and the Apatow disc staple “Line-O-Rama,” which offers montages of improvisations from select scenes.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray is a “Behind the scenes” collection of a dozen short featurettes, the featurette “Directing Athletes: A Blood Sport” featuring the athletes who appear in the film, all the clips from the unbearably pretentious fake film within the film “The Dogwalker,” video and audio clips from the film’s promotional tour, extended scenes, and more deleted scenes, plus bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies of film.

MrHolmesMr. Holmes (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – Behind a beak of a nose and a face dotted with liver spots, Ian McKellen doesn’t just look old. His 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes quavers with tremors, his face droops like melted wax, and at times the glint in his eyes glazes over like he’s momentarily checked out, dull and absent. As he forgets even the names of his closest companions, the worst fears of a man defined by his mental acuity are realized.

Directed by Bill Condon (who first collaborated with McKellan on Gods and Monsters), this post-Doyle Holmes mystery is ostensibly the secret of the forgotten last case that prompted the great detective’s retirement, but it’s really about all those human experiences Holmes is least equipped to confront: friendship, compassion, human connection, the reasons to continue living as his sharp intellect loses its edge. It’s fitting that his best friend is a spirited and curious schoolboy (Milo Parker), the son of his widowed housekeeper (Laura Linney, whose light Scottish lilt comes and goes), and he’s most alive while they’re up to mischief.

McKellan is touching as Holmes at 93, a man losing his memories and at times his ability to focus, and his frustration with his own fragility is all too real. He also plays the middle-aged Holmes in flashbacks, piecing together a case that he doesn’t recognize from Watson’s description and tries to reconstruct from clues found in an old cabinet. It’s all very low key and understated, refreshing after Condon’s time in the Twilight universe, and rooted in the complications of character and the culture of post-war England (an field growing green over the fading wreckage of a downed war plane and a visit to the ashen hillside of Hiroshima are reminders of both how close and how far away the war is in 1947). And it rather neatly plays with the idea of Holmes as both a real person and a fictional creation adored by readers of the stories, with the real Holmes bemusedly ticking off the fictional flourishes that Watson provided.

It’s all a bit tidy for a film that challenges Holmes’s belief that explanations are solutions with the unpredictable messiness of real life, but I guess even Holmes deserves a happy ending.

Blu-ray and DVD with two featurettes and bonus Ultraviolet Digital copies of the film.