DVD & Games Forecast: 'North By Northwest' and 'Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut' on BluRay
Welcome to the DVD & Games Forecast for November 3, 2009.
There are some great titles coming out this week, both new and catalog, and it's beginning to look like the holiday deluge. The next few weeks are going to be sort of non-stop huge, and I'm doing my best to sort through everything showing up here at the house, while also dealing with the fact that certain companies have just plain dried up on titles, and there's almost nothing to be done about it.
It's painful having to pick and choose with this much good stuff flying onto the shelves, but that's exactly why this column exists, so we can discuss what is or isn't worth laying out the cash.
THIS WEEK'S FEATURED TITLES:
By now, if you're a "Watchmen" fan, you most likely have at least one copy of the film in your house. And if you're like me, you probably have both of the earlier releases, the theatrical cut and then Zack Snyder's longer version. This week, however, we're going to finally get the BluRay that was the impossible dream when they first announced that they were going to turn the classic Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons book into a movie... a version of the film that fully incorporates all the "Tales Of The Black Freighter" stuff right into the running time, as part of the narrative. This is it, the final bells-and-whistles release, and it caps off not just a long year of "Watchmen," but a development process that has taken longer than I've lived in Los Angeles, and I've been here since summer of 1990.
Looking back, I'm sure Lucasfilm would have handled the launch of this film a little different than they did, and instead of putting the theatrical film out, they would have just focused on getting the series up and running. The film contained one character who almost single-handedly poisoned people on this all-CGI animated series, and that would have been a shame, because the show has turned out to be pure "Star Wars," straight from the tap, and it just keeps getting better as it goes.
There's a real sense of scale to the series, and the format allows the filmmakers to focus on minor or major characters, depending on what story they want to tell each week. Even Ashoka, Anakin's padawan learner, has grown on me over the course of the season, and I'm starting to get a bad feeling about where the series is going to take her. After all, she didn't show up in "Revenge Of The Sith," so I'm guessing she won't make it out of the show alive. How Lucasfilm handles that is going to be fascinating, and a clear sign that they don't think of this as kiddie fare, no matter where the series airs.
"North By Northwest: 50th Anniversary Edition"
This is, in my opinion, the single BluRay you have to pick up this week if you can only afford to add one title to your collection. This transfer is so jaw-on-the-floor amazing that I had to remind myself repeatedly that this is not a brand-new movie. Hitchcock himself would be thrilled by the visual presentation of one of his most pure and delicious entertainments. I wish I'd never seen the film before so that I could have had this as a fresh experience, but with a transfer as good as this, it almost felt like the first time I'd ever seen the movie.
"Walt Disney Treasures: Zorro," Vol. 1 and 2
I love the "Walt Disney Treasures" series. They've put so much of the Disney ephemera out there that is part of the company's legacy on TV, things I was fairly sure I'd never get a chance to see again, and the real pleasure of it all is how strong much of it is, how well it holds up. The "Zorro" series is genteel, restrained by the standards of today's action entertainment, but it buckles a swash as well as any swashbuckler of its era, and it's got charm to spare. Between these two collections, you'll end up with something like 20 hours of the show, and that should be enough to not only get new young viewers hooked, but then also to feed that new addiction quite ably.
This is the other big title for me today, Criterion's BluRay release of this haunting Wim Wenders fable about an angel who wants to experience life as a human. These days, the arthouse and the mainstream have become so closely co-mingled that I'd argue there is no real difference anymore, but when "Wings Of Desire" came out, you had to really hunt if you wanted to see it theatrically, and the buzz on the film was so pervasive that it actually became a mainstream crossover. Wenders may have accidentally influenced an entire generation of Calvin Klein perfume ads, but don't hold that against him, or the vaguely rotten Hollywood remake. Wenders has usually been a guy who makes movies I like in bits and pieces rather than as a whole, but every now and then, he hits the target dead-center, and "Wings Of Desire" is one of those moments. And if you want to discuss a standard for black-and-white on BluRay, this transfer would be a great place to start that conversation.
I know this film has the iconic image of Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) with the boom box, serenading Diane Cort (Ione Skye) with Peter Gabriel, but that's not the only thing this early Cameron Crowe film has to offer. The love story I've always found most affecting in the film is the one between father and daughter, as John Mahoney offers up an excellent case study in "do as I say, not as I do," driving his daughter to excel, holding her to a high moral standard that he knows he doesn't personally pull off. The film perfectly captures that moment when a father has to accept that there is a man in his daughter's life who has become more important to her than he is, and the tension that inevitably exists between that man and the father. I love the supporting cast, the laconic pace, the quietly clever dialogue, and the preposterous plushness of a 20-something Ione Skye. And when they find themselves side-by-side on that plane at the end, Crowe delivers one of the best final moments in any film from the '80s. This is a BluRay that will definitely find a home in my collection soon.
ALSO ON BLU-RAY:
Action fans have a few great options available to them. For the younger fans in the house, "G.I. Joe: Rise Of Cobra" (BluRay/DVD) is a safe bet. I really enjoyed the film as a shining example of little-boy-cinema, and it seems like Stephen Sommers really crystallized his own excess into a winning formula with this one. I can't comment on the BluRay transfer, though, since Paramount no longer feels the need to send product for review. Sony's release of the new Tony Scott version of "The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3" (BluRay/DVD) is great for sound and picture, and if you liked the film more than I did, pick it up, because it'll give your system a real workout. I'm curious to see if the Sapphire Series has created another hit ("Braveheart") or miss ("Gladiator") with this new "Forrest Gump" (BluRay) transfer, but again... Paramount doesn't want you to know that information. They expect a blind buy from you, even after the debacle of that label's launch. I'm hoping Toshi doesn't see any ads for "Aliens In The Attic," (BluRay/DVD) because it looks like exactly the sort of thing that would tickle his four-year-old funnybone, and I can't imagine sitting through it. I do hope people give "I Love You, Beth Cooper" (BluRay/DVD) a second shot on home video. It's not perfect, and the uneven tone of the film is a problem, but there's some genuinely good stuff in the movie, and it's worth a watch. I'm not sure I can really say I enjoyed "Food, Inc" (BluRay/DVD), but it's a bracing look at the way we have grown disconnected from the way our food is manufactured, and there is some upsetting material in the film, especially if you think you're making "safe" choices about what you eat. Learning that it's all a shell game leads me to wonder if there's any way to get loose from the system at all. Criterion's also releasing "Howard's End" (BluRay/DVD) today, and for Merchant Ivory fans, this is one of the very best of their collaborations. I've always been partial to "Remains Of The Day," but there's no denying that "Howard's End" is a high watermark for this creative team, a smart and beautifully acted dissection of English manners. My wife's Christmas list just got a lot shorter for me with the release of "Rocky: The Undisputed Collection" (BluRay) since she loves BluRay discs and, more importantly, she adores the "Rocky" movies. Each and every one of them. Even the fifth one. Who better to get that box for than her? And speaking of Christmas, you can tell the season's right around the corner when today's new releases include "It's A Wonderful Life" (BluRay), the Alistair Sim version of "A Christmas Carol" (BluRay), and "Love Actually" (BluRay), which is starting to look more and more like Richard Curtis putting it all together just right just before he crapped out.
ALSO ON DVD:
It's nice to round out my collection with "Mission: Impossible - The Final Season," even if it's not one of the strongest seasons of the show. The same is true of "The Rockford Files: The Movie Collection, Vol. 1," which doesn't represent the very best of the long-running James Garner series, but which still features enough of the familiar charm of the show to be worth watching. By contrast, I'd argue that "The Shield: The Complete Series" just got better and better as it went, and by the end, it was as daring and blisteringly angry as anything that's ever been on TV. "Fraggle Rock: The Complete Series" is also out today, and the box set has given both of my kids hours of joy so far. Technically, "Fraggle Rock" may not hold up as well as it could, but that's a direct result of Jim Henson and his collaborators on the show really pushing the envelope in terms of TV production in the '80s. They took some big risks in how they made that series, and everyone else continues to enjoy the benefits from that experimentation today. I signed up for a test account with Epix this weekend, mainly so I could see "Eddie Izzard: Live From Wembley," but it was one of the many titles they used as a come-on without allowing you to actually watch it. I'm sure it's great... Izzard is one of the best live performers I've ever seen, and he's consistently great at what he does. It's exciting to finally have John Huston's "The Dead" out on DVD. I haven't seen the film since its theatrical release, and I remember being deeply moved by it. I know I said I was going to wait when I posted my piece about the trailer for the new Mel Gibson film "Edge Of Darkness," but now that it's out domestically, I may break down and watch "Edge Of Darkness: The Complete BBC Series" anyway. I wish I'd loved "Will Ferrell: You're Welcome, America," his Broadway tribute to George W. Bush, but I thought the entire thing was sort of a one-note joke taken to an almost unbearable extreme. I missed "The Answer Man" at Sundance, and I heard mixed things about the Jeff Daniels comedy, but I'll probably catch up with it at some point. I definitely want to check out the documentary "Unmistaken Child," since I'm always fascinated by the Tibetan culture and their ideas of reincarnation. If you haven't seen "Before The Fall," a small Spanish sci-fi thriller, check it out. It's a grim little ride, but offers some very true observations about human behavior. I love the way studios put out packages of catalog titles, and I am one of those people who will buy the collections even if I don't know the films already. Both "Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics, Vol. 1" and "The Claudette Colbert Collection" are going to get their turn at bat here in the house just as soon as I can pick them both up. And finally, fans of Pedro Almodovar can fill in their collections with some reissues of his earlier work today, including "Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown," "Law Of Desire," "All About My Mother," and one of my favorites of his films, "Matador." Psychotic Spanish melodrama for the win, indeed.
ALSO IN GAMES:
I'm glad it's such a low-key week for game releases. I'm sure plenty of people are excited about "Band Hero" or "Lego: Rock Band," but I have no interest in either. The same is true of the fantasy role-playing game "Dragon Age: Origins". There's an eager audience for that game, but I'm not it. As a result, I get to sit out buying any new games this week, which will help when the real deluge comes in the weeks ahead.
NEXT WEEK: Pixar brings "Up" and "Monsters Inc." to BluRay, Warner Bros.releases "Heat" on BluRay, and Kino drags Buster Keaton's "The General" into the high-def era.
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