Blu-ray Picks of the Week for June 29th

This week is long on releases…  check ’em out below.  A few are recommended, and one is partially recommended, but the rest are a mixed bag, though the concert films should be outstanding on Blu-ray.

The Crazies (Overture Films/Anchor Bay, 2010) is yet another in a long line of remakes embraced by mega-producers who can thank of nothing else to do but re-invent classic and quasi-classic films from prior generations, leaving the current generation of new filmgoers (i.e. those now of age and with disposable incomes) with nothing original to savor for themselves.  Mostly the remakes are dumbed-down exercises in hack-work, but with there’s always an exception to any rule.  Director George A. Romero was a pretty original cat himself, the kinda guy who established himself as the template for just about any individual hoping to get it on with a screenplay and a camera, but not a lot of money.  In 1968, he took an old genre— zombie movies ―and re-invented them himself by removing the basis for their somnambulist manner and violent behavior from the realm of mystical voodoo magic, and instead making them something to fear as shambling, awful creatures that craved human flesh… no matter the foundation for this disease of the brain.  Rather than simply making them disgusting monsters, Romero used these creatures to reflect upon the human condition… they just were, and they were us, and they did their thing, and it was horrifying, capturing the imaginations of filmgoers and filmmakers who aped his style, toned down the gore, and used those walking dead hordes to comment upon other aspects of humanity and the world we created for ourselves.  Romero, a political filmmaker who often used satire to soften the blows of his own frustration with how the world worked, took advantage of the stories of his time…  things like the Vietnam War, Kent State and a series of bio/chemical near-disasters in the US during the late 60s/early 70s fueled one of the first films he made after his landmark horror film Night of the Living Dead (1968), a little movie called, appropriately enough, The Crazies (1973).  Taking direct inspiration from a nerve-gas accident in Utah in 1968 (caused by an accident at the Dugway Proving Grounds where chemical and biological warfare agents were often tested), Romero uses that factoid to delve into the dynamic between people under enormous pressure from an catastrophic, but very human, threat (a frequent theme of his) and how the survivors react to the situation as well as to the burgeoning inhumanity of their fellow survivors.  Romero often let large portions of his horror films go by without much gore or scares in order to focus on the human element and how folks simply cannot pull together when the shit hits the fan.  In the case of The Crazies, he pitted the citizens of small-town Americana against the very people tasked with protecting them… the military and political leadership who would rather cover up their little bio-accident and clean up the mess, while keeping it all under the radar.  All it takes to move things from standard equilibrium to utter, bloody chaos, is the introduction of a nerve-type agent that drives normal people insane, causing them to commit weird acts of violence… and Romero does a great job of playing that to the hilt.  However, this BD Pick isn’t really about Romero’s original film (see it! It’s rather good at times despite the somewhat amateur performances and the obvious low-budget)… instead it’s about the remake starring Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood‘s grim, taciturn Sheriff Seth Bullock) and Radha Mitchell.  As I said, there’s exceptions to every rule… and Romero, who has now had a few of his films remade, has gotten lucky twice with two remakes of his concepts that actually are pretty good, though nowhere near as great as the films Romero created.  Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead is one of ’em… a film that generally defies the crapastic cycle of half-assed remakes and turns out to be a stylistic wonder (but not much else… the first 15 minutes of that film are shockingly good, but the rest– um, just okay).  Director, Breck Eisner, was handed the reigns of The Crazies remake, and did a reasonably good job.  Eisner, the progeny of former Disney chief Michael Eisner and a line of hair care products (I’m kidding… he does have an actual mother), shoots effective scare scenes, and has trimmed the fat off of Romero’s original concept, keeping the pace fast.  Romero’s work was adapted for this remake by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright, while giving the old master a story/co-producer credit in the bargain and they’ve conveniently left out the socio-political commentary that allowed Romero’s films to transcend the horror genre and remain memorable. The remake of The Crazies becomes a rather shallow effort when all is said and stabbed, but for horror fans, it’s worth a look.  Eisner plays up the sense of dread and suspense quite well throughout and, overall, it’s a well made film that effectively does the job of making the viewer feel really uncomfortable at times.  As it should… after all these are after all our friends and neighbors going mad and killing off each other, it should be a shock to see such a thing, even in this jaded age.  Anchor Bay, a company that has always given horror films a fair shake on home video, presents the Blu-ray edition in a VC-1/1080p transfer that retains the theatrical release’s 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio.  The video quality is getting high praise with a sharp image that is unhampered by digital processing and enhancements.  The glow of small-town Americana in the opening segment comes across vividly to most reviewers, while later shadowy sequences are considered to have solid black levels without losing details in the darkness and little or no grain present in the slick quality of the image.  The LPCM 5.1 delivers everything the theater experience did according to some.  Anchor Bay has apparently paid loving attention to the intense mix and home theater systems will find plenty of creepy ambiance, lots of rear-channel effects that make good, dynamic use of multi-channel surround. For less discerning ears there’s a 5.1 DD mix (as well as English SDH and Spanish subtitles), but why would you bother, go with the best for your expensive system.  The package is completed by a wealth of bonus materials (proving Anchor Bay loves you) as well as a digital copy of the film for iPods n’ iPads n’ such:

  • Audio Commentary (with Breck Eisner)
  • Behind the Scenes with Director Breck Eisner (HD, 1080p)
  • Paranormal Pandemics (HD, 1080p)
  • The George A. Romero Template (HD, 1080p)
  • Make-Up Mastermind Rob Hall in Action (HD, 1080p)
  • The Crazies Motion Comic Episode 1 & 2 (HD, 1080p)
  • Visual Effects in Motion (HD, 1080p)
  • Storyboards: Building a Scene (HD, 1080p)
  • Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery (HD, 1080p)

WHITE SPACE

WHITE SPACE

Lucino Visconti’s lush epic, The Leopard (Criterion Collection) (20th Century Fox/Criterion, 1963), was adapted from an Italian novel of the same name, and features a terrific performance by Burt Lancaster as Prince Don Fabrizio Salina, a member of a decrepit, aristocratic Sicilian family facing the waning days of their political power as democracy and revolution supplant their once regal lifestyle.  With Garibaldi unifying Italy, and their power fading, can the Prince accept and adapt to the new realities, or will he go down fighting against the inevitable… those are the choices he and his family face.  The film is grand, slow-moving and rewarding in the fine performances and stately pace.  Well worth watching… it’s a somewhat sad, tragic film that reflects on the a once powerful man’s ability to accept change with resignation and humility.  Criterion offers a Blu-ray that only makes Visconti’s beautifully composed widescreen images look more impressive by all accounts thus far, keeping the original Super Technirama aspect ratio (2.21:1) and retaining the natural colors and hues of that era of filmmaking.  The MPEG-4 AVC/1080p image is being hailed as one of Criterion’s best, and the LPCM 1.0 (mono) soundtrack is also getting some praise for its clean sound in the Italian language version, which the best way to see this film (with English subtitles).  Nevertheless, this 2-disc set also offers an alternate, English dubbed version of the movie called the “American Release” (be forewarned, as this version was cut by 20th Century Fox from the original’s 185 minute length to 161 minutes.  It is not Visconti’s preferred edit).  There’s quite a few special features, and no EPK’s of course… this is Criterion and they do an in-depth analysis of the film with film scholar, Peter Cowie, for example.  You can check out the rest of the features and read the essays on the film HERE.

Criterion is also releasing Swedish filmmaker, Jan Troell’s gorgeously shot semi-biographical film, Everlasting Moments (IFC Films/Criterion, 2008)… the cinematography is the star here and Criterion offers a transfer that respects the filmmaker’s vision.  You can get more information on this one at Criterion’s site for the BD release.

WHITE SPACE

WHITE SPACE

GET TO THE CHOPPAAAAAAAAH!  Yes, it’s Predator (Ultimate Hunter Edition) (20th Century Fox, 1987) coming our way to Blu-ray this week.  In light of the soon-to-be-released remake “reimagining,” we’re given a collector’s set that ought to push the old Blu-ray version (in a tepid, low-bit rate transfer) off the shelf of your home video library.  Really, if you don’t know this action movie by now, you should… it’s one of the best examples of 80s high-concept, pastiche cinema that mixed genres to provide a new(ish) experience for movie fans.  In this case, it’s the action template mixed with the science fiction/monster film, and it works splendidly… with John McTiernan’s direction providing for swiftly drawn characters, intense firefights and explosive set-pieces that were exceptional enough back in the day to cement his action cred for future films like Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October. But, never fear, this is really Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie, and he flat-out frickin’ rocks as “Dutch” Schaeffer, head of a CIA sponsored Delta Force team is out to retrieve a foreign presidential minister from the clutches of some rag-tag banana republic rebels… this is what you’d expect so far from a Schwarzenegger testosterone-fest, but then… once the mission is more or less pulled off, comes the surprise (already telegraphed by an opening sequences that recalls the opening sequence to John Carpenter’s brilliant remake of The Thing)…  the hunters are now being hunted by an alien life from the planet Rastafari (kidding again!) who has come to kick ass, take names and a few human skulls as trophies.  The Stan Winston realized Predator was a marvel of tough-guy bipedal creature design with a head that contains a multiple mandibled mouth… that maw proceeds to derive much of its horror from the unexpected vagina dentata weirdness, which is added to by the creature’s day-glow green blood and obvious intelligence.  It’s not just a single-minded brute that views killing as a means to an end.  Rather, it’s out to have some fun… the thrill of the hunt against some rather prized quarry.  The fact that his prey shoots back only makes the hunt more significant for the Predator.  Before Schwarzenegger can go mano-a-beasto with the Predator, we’re treated to some great chase sequences, fear-driven gun battles (mostly a lot of shooting into the jungle, since the Predator is using a clever cloaking device to blend in with his surroundings) and pure gore-filled face-offs between the Predator and the likes of (former bodybuilder and Minnesota governor) Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Carl Weathers of Rocky I and II fame, a mean looking Bill Duke (he shaves without shaving cream as a form of habit… scrape scrape scrape) and crazed, machete wielding Sonny Landham.  The lone woman of the bunch, Elpidia Carrillo (more or less the damsel in distress when not being cast as a red herring), seems to understand what’s out there, but the guys can’t count on her… and it’s up to Schwarzenegger to sort it all out before losing his own life in the bargain.  The film’s full of clever stuff (Ah-nold covered in mud, discovers that the alien’s thermal imaging equipment can’t pick him up… so he spends the rest of the movie as a mud-caked madman), but can only sustain the bloodshed for so long before it becomes obvious “Dutch” will somehow defeat the Predator.  Nevertheless, the film never really lets up, and is always ready to spring a new surprise on the viewer.  Fox’s new Blu-ray, supposedly a step up from their prior release, isn’t getting very good reviews from true technophiles and HD connoisseurs.  At the outset of my musings on Predator, I noted it “ought” to knock the prior release off your video shelf… but alas, it may not be the replacement disc some are searching for.  Indeed, many are finding that the low-bit version might be better in regards to image quality, due to the severe amount of digital scrubbing found on the new transfer.  It’s a clean image, sure, but according to most early eyes on this disc, the DNR and edge enhancement just about kill the details previously found on faces and clothing as well as the intricate jungle locations.  The old disc had a fair amount of grain, but that’s common to older releases and in many cases, lends BDs a film-like quality that is sorely missed here by some.  While the prior release’s digital noise and artifacting isn’t missed, the word on the street is that the new BD makes actor’s features look indistinct and plastic, though a few are happy with the cleaner look of many scenes.  Unfortunately the majority say the new transfer is just too overdone to be considered a respectable release of this film and must be considered just a double-dip from the studio (or a complete screw up, take your pick).  The audio is basically the same as the prior release… a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that rocks the house, makes viewers feel the swish when the Predator’s thermal vision is switched on and is utterly involving during the fire-fight scenes and other action sequences, though some complain of a lack of fullness and use of surround channels, this again is to be expected of older releases though Fox could have surely kicked this version up a notch with a 7.1 remastered mix that utilized the dynamics of today’s home theater systems.  As this is a pumped-up edition (you can glean that in the use of “Ultimate” on the box and case) you’ll get a whole bunch of features on Predator, including:

  • Commentary by director John McTiernan
  • Text Commentary with Film Journalist/Historian Eric Lichtenfeld
  • Predator: Evolution of a Species: Hunters of Extreme Perfection (HD, 1080p)
  • If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It: The Making of Predator (SD)
  • Inside the Predator (SD)
  • Special Effects (SD)
  • Short Takes (SD)
  • Deleted Scenes and Outtakes (SD)
  • Theatrical Trailers (HD, 1080p)
  • Photo Gallery (HD, 1080p)
  • Predator Profile (HD, 1080p)
  • Predators: Sneak Peak (HD, 1080p)

While Predator: Ultimate Hunter Edition might be offered with a caveat, the film is definitely worth seeing… but as this one won’t be available via rental for some time, perhaps borrow a friends (if they get it) before purchasing your own.

WHITE SPACE

WHITE SPACE

Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte; Sony Pictures Classics/Sony, 2009) deservedly won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in its year, and went on to critical acclaim as a film focusing on horrifying events in a small pre-WWI era German village, but where the horror is largely hidden until it bursts forth as twisted violence and sickening acts of the repressed townsfolk and their children.  Director Haneke, who has made quite the career in crafting films that are difficult and uncomfortable to watch, outdoes himself with what many have called a masterpiece.  In order to show how the roots of evil lie in the repressed attitudes of the townsfolk, Haneke presents a series of action/reaction moments such as a pastor scolding his young wards against impurity and sin, forcing them to wear white ribbons as a reminder of their goodness, but only to find that he’s driven the children to loath those around them, turning their fear into hate, allowing them to bully and terrorize others to cover for their own inadequacies.  Haneke wants to show how certain absolutist value systems create monsters of their own, and though its easy to see the seeds of Fascism being sown in these children, The White Ribbon also augurs for the future and other black and white worldviews like extreme Islam or Christianity… where the seeds of terrorism and sociopath behavior are fostered in the young through a repressive stranglehold under the guise of faith and religion.  Definitely worth experiencing, but not an easy film to digest by any means, The White Ribbon is a challenging, rewarding film with gorgeous black and white cinematography by Christian Berger (actually the film was shot in color, then drained of all color to achieve its look similar to the way Roger Deakins shot the Coen Brothers The Man Who Wasn’t There)… it’s a cinematic look that lends itself to the stark, harsh village attitudes and power games, and also lends an air of menace to the proceedings.  That look is well transferred to Blu-ray disc in 1080p/1.85:1 widescreen through an MPEG-4 AVC transfer.  Those who’ve seen it say it’s spectacular and perfectly captures the theatrical experience.  Reviewers are saying the blacks have the vibrancy of liquid India ink and contrast nicely with the white/gray palette.  There’s lots of detail in the brighter scenes, while the darker scenes tend to lose finer detail, but this is generally consistent with the theatrical presentation seen by many.  To compliment the imagery there’s a German 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix (the preferred mix) with English subtitles that is mainly driven from the center channel for dialogue.  However, for those who can’t deal with subtitles, there is also a dubbed version of the mix in English, DTS-HD MA 5.1.  Extras include “Making of: The White Ribbon,” a featurette on the director called “My Life” and the theatrical trailer.  Along with the main extras there’s some minor ones like a segment on the film’s Cannes premier and a short interview with Michael Haneke regarding the film.  This one’s worth owning for not just the artistic merits, but for the re-watchability of the unfolding mystery that’s never, ever solved.

WHITE SPACE

More Blu-ray releases for June 29, 2010 include:

  • A Traveler’s Guide to Planets (National Geographic)
  • Beautiful (E1 Entertainment)
  • Black Sabbath: Paranoid (Eagle Rock)
  • Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same (Factory 25)
  • Crazy (Screen Media, 2007)
  • Don McKay (Image)
  • The Eclipse (Magnolia)
  • Hot Tub Time Machine (MGM/UA)
  • Kill Switch (First Look)
  • Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (20th Century Fox
  • Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (Rounder)
  • Stolen (MPI)
  • Uncle Sam (Blue Underground)
  • Versus (Tokyo Shock)
  • The Warlords (Magnolia)
  • When You’re Strange: A Film about The Doors (Eagle Rock)
  • Wicked Lake [Soundtrack + Director’s Cut DVD] (Shriek Show)



Here’s a list of all this week’s Blu-ray releases for June 29, 2010.

WHITE SPACE

Share this post

PinIt
Christian Hokenson

Christian Hokenson

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.

2 Replies to “Blu-ray Picks of the Week for June 29th”

  1. Bill says:

    I appreciate the Blu-Ray reviews but I’m having trouble following them since they are all one big paragraph. Can you please separate relevant content into paragraphs to make it easier to read and follow?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*

scroll to top