A good week for Blu-ray releases, though Tuesday’s street date’s offerings are clearly overshadowed by Earth Day’s huge Blu-ray event: the release of Avatar (which HD Report will be reviewing in full before the month is out).
This week’s highlights include:
One of Leonardo DiCaprio’s first major roles featured him as youthful author/musician Jim Carroll (who recently died, died) in an adaptation The Basketball Diaries (New Line/Palm, 1995), Carroll’s 1978 memoir detailing his times as a hard-scrabble heroin addict and prostitute… all the while maintaining his status as a star basketball player on his high school team. It’s an interesting story, though the film it pretty much makes mince-meat of Carroll’s life with a heavy-handed anti-drug message and mediocre directing. Nowadays, the main reason to watch is to see both DiCaprio and a very good Mark Whalberg on the rise as they found their acting chops for more adult roles. DiCaprio has a few harrowing scenes and its easy to see why he’d go on to serious dramatic roles with top-notch directors… the kid was just that good, and he comes across as very believable. The Blu-ray release is probably not on any home-theater aficionado’s purchase list, but is definitely worth renting purely for the acting. The BD offers a standard 1.78:1 widescreen HD transfer that makes junkies look pretty in 1080p, and a decent audio mix in DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0. There are cast and director interviews left over from the DVD as well as an interview with Carroll himself with a reading of his poetry. The current price is a bit steep for this mid-range release soon to be in cut-out bins everywhere.
Jeff Bridges recent Oscar-winning performance comes to Blu-ray with Crazy Heart (20th Century Fox, 2009). I like to think he really won the Oscar for his role as the Dude, a classic slack-ass portrayal of zen spirit amidst the craziness of life. Bad Blake in Crazy Heart kind of builds on that performance, and Bridges really wears the skin of a sad, dilapidated country star perfectly. His co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal does a stand-up job similar to her work in Sherrybaby, and it’s impressive that she holds her own with a living legend, both in the film’s reality and ours, for Bridges dominates the film as a pastiche country singer-songwriter in the mold of Merle Haggard or Waylon Jennings. The T-Bone Burnett produced music is spot-on and Ryan Bingham does outstanding work that earned him a Golden Globe and Oscar for his performance of “The Weary Kind,” Crazy Heart’s main theme, which will sound great via the Blu-ray’s DTS-MA 5.1 track. The hi-def video transfer will offer a widescreen, 2.35:1 image in glorious 1080p… there’s also deleted scenes, cast interviews with Bridges, Gyllenhaal and the great Robert Duval that’s all too short, and well, that’s about it for this bare bones release… a shame since it could have included interviews with the novelist Thomas Cobb who wrote the book as well as the legendary Burnett and young director Scott Cooper who worked like crazy to get this film made.
Peter Jackson misfires yet again with his adaptation of Alice Seybold’s morbid fantasia on a young girl’s early demise, The Lovely Bones (Wingnut/Dreamworks, 2009). While many of us cried out for him to get involved with a certain hobbit for more Middle Earth sequels, Jackson has had other ideas, indulging his adolescent quest to remake King Kong, and moving toward serious fare reminiscent of his utterly fantastic Heavenly Creatures, itself a tale of girl’s dreams and sorrows. Though a small film by Jackson’s more recent standards (with a reported production budget of $65M), it never found an audience despite some fine acting by young Saoirse Ronan and vet Stanley Tucci (nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar) and the popularity of the novel, which is a shame as its not nearly as lousy as some reviews have made it out to be, but comes mighty close to flying off the rails by presenting heaven (or, the “in-between”) as a happy fun place of CGI wonderment similar to the atrocious What Dreams May Come (a syrupy mess of CGI crapola that starred Robin Williams). The Blu-ray version released this week features a beautifully rendered 2.35:1 widescreen image that really looks amazing (Jackson always makes his films pleasing to the eye even when shooting non-CGI material, he’s a true cinematic craftsman with the newest Red HD camera system). With terrific clarity of image and gorgeously saturated colors in those heavenly scenes, the disc is, well… lovely. The audio is wonderful rendered, too, in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 that plays with channel phasing to create the supernatural feel and mixes the dialogue perfectly with the music and sound effects. The 2-Disc BD offers the entire theatrical film on one disc while disc two offers what amounts to Peter Jackson’s School of Filmmaking. “Filming the Lovely Bones” takes the viewer through the entire production process and breaks it down into three segments: “USA Principal Photography (1h, 28m)” which covers the US locations and Jackson’s interaction with the ensemble cast, “New Zealand Principal Photography” (1h) which shows the set shooting and some of the pre-EFX filming, and “Visual Effects Photography” (30m) which covers just that… all the digital effects work of the “in-between.” This is a rich disc that that’s an HD exclusive in 1080p and probably the only reason worth owning the Blu-ray unless you dig what Jackson did with aspects of the novel that left Seybold purists (and Jackson fans alike) none too happy.
One of my favorite films of the prior decade was Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (20th Century Fox/Dreamworks, 2002), his adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story that follows the “Precrime” unit of Washington DC’s police department as they prepare to launch a rollout of their unique plan to prevent crime with the help of special savants with precognitive ability… in this case, the tragic ability to presage murders before they occur. With its realistic future designs and bleached-out look, Minority Report is one of those films that tells us exactly what kind of future we’re headed for as a species and culture. Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner the film is a hallmark of futurist design that seems so plausible as to already be here in our hands (if you’re reading this article on a subway via an iPad you might know the feeling). Tom Cruise, who’s usually the most irritating aspect of recent productions he’s been a part of, is terrific here and seems to be yet another good Everyman match for Spielberg to wrap his story around. They also worked quite well together in the big-budgeted War Of The Worlds remake a few years later, and suffice to say, I liked Cruise as an actor in this film and I think owes a great deal to Spielberg’s direction and control of the mega-star’s screen presence. It certainly makes his turn as John Anderton, a top-cop suffering from drug burnout after the tragic loss of his son, all the more believable. That cop is more than just a run-of-the-mill detective, he’s the head of the Precrime division that relies on three precognitive somnambulists, human with heightened sensory abilities due to a pharmacological mishap, capable of “seeing” snatches of future events limited solely to the shock of murder. Precrime uses them to ferret out murders before they occur and are so successful at doing this in the DC area that the only murders that still occur are crimes of passion (red ball murders) that precogs cannot see until the last moment. Anderton’s boss, Lamar Burgess (played by the awesomely sinister Max von Sydow) and Department of Justice lackey, Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell) are butting heads over how to take the program national and in the midst of that pissing match manage to frame Anderton for murder… but which one did it, and how will Anderton get out of it, while also perhaps solving his son’s murder? That’s the story that Spielberg expertly tells while also adding mad dashes of gadget porn amid a plausible urban culture that still loves cars (especially super-cool, non-polluting mag-lev vehicles) and elaborate conveniences, but can no longer avoid the gamut of advertising that literally calls out to them personally while their every move is tracked via retinal scans. The film offers all the best of Spielberg, and very little of his worst filmmaking habits… there are a few exciting and inventive chase sequences, and then there are emotional moments that verge on classic Spielschmaltz, but never completely nose-dive into it. Granted, there are also plenty of darkly humorous moments that Spielberg doesn’t often get to do, but usually does quite well, and the entire work is easily on of his breeziest efforts since Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Which doesn’t mean it blows off PKD’s paranoid philosophies and speculative themes, but it does make for a rambunctious action movie that is so deeply entrenched in the look of “future reality” that the SF elements fade to the background, allowing the story to breathe and the viewer to get involved with the mystery while still marveling at the fantastic details and design elements of the various vehicles, spider-bot surveillance units and multi-touch gloves that make computing seem like conducting a symphony. This is one Blu-ray to own if you felt the DVD was lacking (though for its time, the DVD release looked pretty terrific) for it features a deep, gorgeous looking transfer to 1080p in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Keep in mind that the look of the film is as close to the theatrical as it can be with Spielberg authorizing the HD transfer… the movie purposefully look bleached out with heavy shades of blue and lots of greys and blacks. The muted tone suits the tech noir feel of the film, and the BD version beautifully replicates the theatrical presentation showing the grime and mold of urban decay as well as the glossy-glass structures and tech that make up Precrime headquarters. Sound is impressive in DTS-HD MA 5.1 with lots of center channel clarity and creepy ambiance (along with John Williams chilling score, nicely presented in the lossless mix), but the real reason to buy this 2-disc set? The extras! In addition to everything the standard DVD contained (a great set of extras itself), the BD contains a whole new bunch of bonus features… all in HD! These include:
- The Future According to Steven Spielberg
- Inside the World of Precrime
- Philip K. Dick, Steven Spielberg and Minority Report
- Minority Report: Future Realized
- Minority Report: Props of the Future
- Highlights from Minority Report: From the Set
- The Hoverpack Sequence
- The Car Factory Sequence
- Minority Report: Commercials of the Future
- Previz Sequences
- The Hoverpack Sequence Previz
- Maglev Chase Previz
Other BD releases this week include two from Criterion: Oliver Assayas’s Summer Hours and Godard’s Vivre se vie, considered by some critics of the time to be a nearly perfect film. Kino releases Eisenstein’s landmark Battleship Potemkin in HD and there’s also The Young Victoria with Emily Blunt as Queen Victoria when she was a hottie and before becoming a world-class prude. This one, an Oscar-winning costume drama, should look great on Blu-ray.
Summer Hours| Reg. $39.95 | Sale: $29.99 | Available at Amazon.com
Vivre sa vie| Reg. $39.95 | Sale: $29.49 | Available at Amazon.com
Battleship Potemkin| Reg. $34.95 | Sale: $25.99 | Available at Amazon.com
The Young Victoria| Reg. $34.95 | Sale: $22.99 | Available at Amazon.com
The rest of what’s up for grabs this Tuesday:
44 Inch Chest| Reg. $35.98 | Sale: $32.49 | Available at Amazon.com
Cheech and Chong’s Hey Watch This| Reg. $24.99 | Sale: $21.49 | Available at Amazon.com
Chickenfoot: Get Your Buzz On – Live| Reg. $20.98 | Sale: $19.99 | Available at Amazon.com
The Drawn Together Movie: The Movie!| Reg. $24.99 | Sale: $21.49 | Available at Unavailable from Amazon.com
A Fork In The Road| Reg. $24.98 | Sale: $22.49 | Available at Amazon.com
Here’s a helpful link to Amazon pricing on all new Blu-ray releases this week.