Blu-ray Picks of the Week for June 14th

This week offers up many new Blu-ray titles, but few worth owning… However, if you’re a fan of Japanese cinema (no, no the shock type, but a more poetical picture) Criterion has a little something for you… and they’re also releasing an underrated Nicolas Roeg headtrip for your viewing pleasure.  For those with more mainstream tastes there’s a slew of recent theatrical films on Blu-ray, and Warner’s catches fans up with Harry Potter with more HD Ultimate Editions of the successful franchise.

Kon Ichikawa late-career film The Makioka Sisters [Sasame-yuki] (Criterion), continues the late Japanese filmmaker’s penchant for literary adaptations, though this is probably the best of his post-60’s output (he had collaborated frequently with wife/screenwriter Natto Wada, but she retired after working on Ichikawa’s 1965 documentary Tokyo Olympiad, and many critics felt his films suffered without her input.  However, The Makioka Sisters returns Ichikawa to terrain he knows best… the family dramas of post-WWII Osaka, and the changing family dynamics and way of life brought on by Western culture via the Allied occupation of Japan.  The story is rather simple…  a lyrical look at a wealthy family and their attempts to marry off a difficult middle daughter, so that their youngest may also find a husband, but much like the the fleeting moments of cherry blossom leaves falling like snow flurries, the family realizes their cosmopolitan way of life is changing as their tenuous hold on an upper-middle class lifestyle diminishes.  In Ichikawa’s hands, the film is a rich character study that reveals the turmoil of change amidst cultural tradition and economic upheaval.  As usual, Criterion does a remarkable job on a transfer of an older foreign title, while maintaining the integrity of the original work.  Criterion is offering a new high-definition digital restoration with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition… and though the extras are slim (a booklet, trailer and improved subtitles that offer up better nuance from the original Japanese are the only items of note), the film is perfect for those with a love of 60’s era Japanese cinema (the film was shot in the early 80’s, but is a throwback of sorts to an older style of filmmaking) who wish to add to their HD film collection.

Nicolas Roeg’s 1985 sly dramatic fantasia, Insignificance (Criterion), also gets a release.  The story of what might have happened if Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, Joe DiMaggio and Joe McCarthy (or at least their reasonable facsimiles) had come together for meeting of the minds in a 1950’s era hotel room is adapted from the stage by Terry Johnson (adapted his play) and features rich, oddball performances by Gary Busey, Theresa Russell (Roeg’s significant other at the time), Tony Curtis, and (whatever happened to) Michael Emil as the characters search for meaning of life in the nuclear age, while the film itself is a commentary on the nature of national icons.  It’s an interesting meta-work from one of cinema’s most iconoclastic filmmakers and Criterion has given it a director approved edition with a restored digital transfer (with the original monaural soundtrack), and new video interviews with Roeg, producer Jeremy Thomas and editor Tony Lawson.  There’s also a short documentary (making-of) feature along with an informative booklet.  For Roeg fans, it’s a must… for others it may be worth a rental… Nick Roeg is an acquired taste, but well worth the effort for cinema fans that like their entertainment challenging rather than just passively entertaining.

Though already released on Blu-ray, Warner Bros is continuing to roll out variations on the Harry Potter franchise with Ultimate Editions of the successful and much loved series this week for Order of the Phoenix (HP 5) and Half-Blood Prince (HP 6).  The extensive set for each includes the previously released BD transfer (which looks amazing for the HD home theater), and an upgrade in audio from Dolby TrueHD to the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 format…  There is also a slew of fantastic extras… some of which have already been released on prior 2- and 3-disc editions (new material, exclusive to the Ultimate Edition is noted*, standard-definition items are noted by SD):

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Ultimate Edition (Warner Brothers)

44-page hardcover book with rare photographs and images
Character Cards (Luna Lovegood and Dolores Umbridge)*
In-Movie Experience
Focus Points
Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 5: Evolution*
Additional Scenes
Building the Magic: Behind the Sets of Harry Potter*
The Rebellion Begins  (SD)
Fulfilling a Prophecy  (SD)
Behind the Magic  (SD)
Trailing Tonks
The Magic of Editing
Theatrical Trailers

WHITE SPACE

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Ultimate Edition (Warner Brothers)

48-page hardcover book with rare photographs and images
Character Cards (Draco Malfoy and Albus Dumbledore)*
Maximum Movie Mode (PiP)
Focus Points
Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 6: Magical Effects*
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Behind the Magic*
Additional Footage  (SD)
Interstitials*
J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life
Close-Up with the Cast of Harry Potter
One-Minute Drills
What’s On Your Mind?
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
First Footage from The Deathly Hallows
Theatrical Trailers
Digital Copy (Auth. code only with expiration date, SD format suitable for mobile devices, but accessed for download only with iTunes or Windows Media)

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While I’m usually no fan of double-dips on home video, I’d say these go against the usual double-dip crassness to give fans of the boy wizard what they really want… which is more of Harry, Hermione and Ron along with treats to please fans of just about any age, but especially those who want greater insight on the grand achievements of these films and their place in cinema history.  If you’re a casual fan, this probably isn’t for you and you’d be fine with the regular Blu-rays, but if you love these films, then Warner’s really is giving you a treat here and you might consider making your money disappear Evanesco! in exchange for these fantastically produced editions.

Battle: Los Angeles Blu-ray/DVD ComboThe rest of the recommended Blu-ray releases for Tuesday, June 14th are definitely a mixed bag, but for those that love Steve McQueen and/or movies about poker (of which there’s a true dearth) there’s The Cincinnati Kid… and for those who love movies that pointlessly (and shamelessly) blow stuff up, there’s Battle: Los Angeles.

  • Battle: Los Angeles (Sony) | Battle: Los Angeles (Combo Pack) (Sony)
  • Boondock Saints: Truth & Justice Edition (20th Century Fox)
  • The Cincinnati Kid (Warner Brothers)
  • Point Break (Warner Brothers reissue of previous Fox OOP Blu-ray release)

And the rest of the bunch… worth a rental perhaps:

  • 36th Precinct (Palisades Tartan)
  • Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (20th Century Fox)
  • Camille 2000: Extended Edition (Cult Epics)
  • Dance In the Vampire Bund: Complete Series (FUNimation)
  • Hall Pass (Warner Brothers) | Hall Pass (Enlarged Edition) (Warner Brothers)
  • Haven: The Complete First Season (E1)
  • The Image (Synapse Films)
  • Jackass 3.5: The Unrated Movie (Paramount)
  • Johnny Mnemonic (Image)
  • Kill the Irishman (Starz/Anchor Bay)
  • Kingdom of War: Part 1 (Magnolia)
  • Kingdom of War: Part 2 (Magnolia)
  • Kingdom of War: Part I & II (Magnolia)
  • Last Exile: The Complete Series (FUNimation)
  • Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (Well Go USA)
  • Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen: Collector’s Edition (Well Go USA)
  • Marvel Knights Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. / Iron Man: Extremis (Shout Factory)
  • N-Secure (20th Century Fox)
  • Red Riding Hood (Warner Brothers) | Red Riding Hood: Alternate Cut (Combo Pack) (Warner Brothers)
  • Supernatural: The Complete Second Season (Warner Brothers)
  • When They Were Young (Image)

WHITE SPACE

Here’s a link to all Blu-ray Disc releases for the week of June 14, 2011.

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About the Author:
Christian Hokenson enjoys knife throwing, growing exotic mosses, and that warm spot where the sun shines through the corrugated box. Christian also writes for Gadget Review. You can also find Christian on Google+, and Twitter.

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