This week on home video, we’re lucky to get another great selection of titles to share with you. While the new releases – which include an action/horror reboot and a Certified Fresh indie – are relatively decent, the real treasures are to be found in the Blu-Ray reissues of some well-liked films and bona fide classics. We’ve got masterpieces from Hitchcock, Kurosawa, and Coppola, a little something for the midnight screening cult classic crowd, and a few modern favorites to round out the bunch. Peep it, yo.
For Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now capped one of the finest four-picture streaks in the history of cinema. With The Godfather, The Conversation, and The Godfather Part II, Coppola solidified his status as one of the New Hollywood’s leading lights. However, the story behind the making of Apocalypse Now is almost as legendary as the film itself — plagued by bad weather, casting changes and negative buzz, the movie seemed cursed, and many at the time doubted that Coppola would be able to pull off his haunting vision of the Vietnam war (loosely based upon Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness). But pull it off he did, and the result was critically acclaimed upon its release and treasured by film buffs in the years since. On Tuesday, Lionsgate will release the Apocalypse Now Three-Disc Full Disclosure Edition on Blu-ray; along with oodles of special features, the set contains the original theatrical release of the film, plus the extended 2001 “Redux” edition and Hearts of Darkness, a 1991 feature-length documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now. If you’ve held off on purchasing this masterpiece for your home library, this is possibly the definitive edition to own. (Also, be sure to check out our interview with Francis Ford Coppola himself, in which he talks about the making of the film, as well as his favorite films, what he thinks of the current YouTube era, and how winemaking is like filmmaking. You can read the interview here.)
Though its sequel was, by most counts, a failure, and though the franchise’s later collaborations with the Alien properties were even worse, 1987’s Predator was a shining example of classic ’80s action, thanks in large part to the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. Hoping, no doubt, to capitalize on the nostalgic affection lavished upon the original, a few notable filmmakers got together to resurrect the series with this year’s Predators, which told an original story unrelated to any of the previous films, save for the principal villain(s): the snarling, camouflaged, dreadlocked (sort of) alien species with a penchant for hunting live human game. In this reboot of sorts, a handful of tough guys and ne’er-do-wells find themselves captured and transported to a foreign jungle on an alien planet, where they soon discover they are being hunted for sport by the Predator race. The film stars Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Laurence Fishburne, and Topher Grace, among others; Nimrod Antal, who scored a hit in 2003 with his Hungarian thriller Kontroll, directs, and producing credits go to Robert Rodriguez, who wrote an early script for the film way back in 1994. Though it probably won’t achieve the classic status of its namesake, Predators still managed to impress enough critics to earn a 63% on the Tomatometer, ensuring a pretty good time for those looking for a thrill.
Nicole Holofcener has made a career of portrayals of the modern woman in various contexts, as evidenced by films like Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing, and Friends with Money, and her astute observations on the topic have also led her to direct episodes of television shows like Gilmore Girls and Sex and the City. Earlier this year, she released her latest directorial effort, Please Give. Catherine Keener (in her fourth collaboration with Holofcener) plays Kate, who, together with her husband Alex (Oliver Platt), runs a used furniture store whose inventory is stocked primarily from estate sales. Kate’s a bit of a self-styled altruist who is plagued by guilt over what she considers a privileged lifestyle in the face of the poverty surrounding her in New York, and she makes an effort to give back through volunteer work and occasional interactions with the homeless in her neighborhood. It’s the sort of slice-of-life dramedy that Holofcener has made into an art, so even if the premise of the film seems like it lacks the bells and whistles of your typical Hollywood release, critics have given Please Give their seal of approval in the form of a Certified Fresh 89% on the Tomatometer. And further to Holofcener’s credit, all of her films have been Fresh at 71% or higher, so there’s no reason to think you’d come away from this one harrumphing with your arms crossed.
Coming on the heels of the success of David Fincher’s “Facebook movie,” The Social Network, this week we have the home video release of another film based on true events and starring Jesse Eisenberg, Holy Rollers. This time, Eisenberg plays Sam Gold, a young Hasidic Jew living in Brooklyn who’s studying to become a rabbi and, disillusioned with his imminent arranged marriage, falls in with the wrong crowd. Specifically, he becomes a drug mule for an Israeli dealer, and after exhibiting some natural aptitude for the trade, Sam begins a downward descent into the lifestyle of a drug dealer until suspicions are levied against him and he’s faced with a choice that could bring about tragic circumstances. The youth-as-a-drug-dealer angle has been tackled before, but there was some novelty in the fact that this story was centered in the Hasidic Jewish community and that it was based on factual events. Unfortunately, critics felt that the film was a tad cliché-heavy, which ultimately took away from the interesting premise and Eisenberg’s strong central performance. Holy Rollers managed to earn a 50% on the Tomatometer, but it generated very little buzz and did poorly at the box office. If you were interested in the film but missed an opportunity to see it, now’s your chance.
We’ve sung the praises of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa many times before in this column, and it seems like overkill to repeat those accolades every time there’s a new release of one of his masterpieces. That being said, Seven Samurai is often regarded as Kurosawa’s greatest achievement, and for good reason. The film is an epic action movie with memorable characters, rousing performances, incredible action sequences, and an engaging story that makes its 207-minute running time fly by. Starring frequent Kurosawa collaborators Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura, among others, Seven Samurai tells the story of a small village in 16th Century feudal Japan who hire seven rogue samurai, or ronin, to protect their village from a gang of bandits who frequently terrorize them. Sound familiar? The plot structure has been mimicked in countless later films, and several have borrowed the story almost completely, most notably the 1960 Western The Magnificent Seven. This week, Criterion releases the Blu-Ray transfer of the film, along with a slew of special features that includes two commentary tracks, a making-of documentary, a two-hour conversation between Kurosawa and contemporary Nagisa Oshima, a documentary on the samurai traditions and films that influenced Seven Samurai, and more. Those folks at Criterion do some good work, don’t they?
The Queen of the Midnight Movie circuit arrives on Blu-ray this week, and those crimson red opening lips have never looked so glossy — nor sounded so rich. For those not familiar, Jim Sharman’s 1975 film of the hit stage show follows the sexual misadventures of an uptight married couple (Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick) who fall into the Transylvanian lair of flamboyant cross-dresser Frank-N-Furter –played to the lascivious hilt by Tim Curry, in the role that will forever define him. Beyond those fantastic glam rock songs — “Time Warp” being only the most famous — the film is an affectionate homage to/satire of B-movie sci-fi and horror, as well as a celebration of the risqué and fringe; no wonder it’s attracted such a vocal cult following in the 35 years (and counting) since its release. Speaking of which, the Blu-ray release has tried to replicate some of that notorious audience participation, including the original theater crowd track and a function that allows you to “throw” things at the screen. Sweet transmission, indeed.
This week, Warner Home Video is releasing the next two Harry Potter Ultimate Editions, and they are, appropriately, the third and fourth films in the series so far: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. These two also happen to be the two best-reviewed films of the franchise up to this point, so they’re arguably the best of the bunch. Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban (90% Tomatometer) finds the titular wizard navigating his third year at Hogwart’s under duress, as he’s gotten word that an escaped wizard, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), is coming for him. Then, in Mike Newell’s Goblet of Fire (88% Tomatometer), Harry returns for his fourth year and enters the Triwizard Tournament under suspicious circumstances. By all counts, the releases of these two films on Blu-Ray include all the previously available special features, but Prisoner of Azkaban also comes with the third installment of the “Creating the World of Harry Potter” featurette series, focusing on “Creatures,” and Goblet of Fire includes Part 4, which focuses on “Sound & Music.” Pretty nifty for fans, to be sure, even if the discs don’t include the extended versions of the films, like the Blu-Ray ports of the first two Harry Potter films did. Though the recent news that the films will be converted to 3D on Blu-Ray sometime in the future may cause some to hold off on making this purchase now, this is probably the best we’ll have for the time being, and some may not want the 3D transfer anyway, so it’s a good pickup nonetheless.
Another potential Blu-Ray double feature one could put together based on this week’s releases would be a Baz Luhrmann night, complete with gaudy costumes and kitschy pop music. That’s right; those of you who are fans of the bold and visually inventive Aussie director may rejoice, for both Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet shall adorn the shelves of video stores in high definition tomorrow. These are the latter two films in what has become known as Luhrmann’s “Red Curtain Trilogy,” which isn’t so much a trilogy in the traditional sense, but one that ties the films together based on theatrical themes. The stories behind both films are well known (one arguably more so than the other), so Luhrmann took the opportunity to put his own spin on them, setting Romeo + Juliet within a more modern context with automobiles and guns, and infusing the musical numbers of Moulin Rouge with pop songs by the likes of Madonna and The Police. Both were successes, with the latter going on to earn eight Oscar nominations (winning two of them). The discs themselves, as one would expect, contain plenty of special features to keep fans engaged for hours after the credits roll, and with a visual style as luscious as Luhrmann’s, the films are sure to look great in hi-def.
Talk about getting bang for your buck. First of all, this is Psycho we’re talking about here, one of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock’s most celebrated masterpieces (and probably his best-known), a timeless psychological thriller that some even consider the first modern “slasher” film, one whose most iconic elements (the shower scene, the music, the twist ending) are indeed some of the most iconic in the history of film itself. Then you take a look at all the special features included on this 50th Anniversary Edition: featurettes on the making of the film, its new audio mix, the legacy of Alfred Hitchcock; excerpts from the interview that Francois Truffaut conducted with Hitchcock; various versions of the infamous shower scene, including Saul Bass’s storyboards; production photos, newsreel footage, trailers, etc. There isn’t much new material here, but they seem to have ported over almost all of the previously available bonus features, which is nice. Then you consider it’s on Blu-Ray – only the second Hitchcock film to make the high-definition leap – and that this is all available for as low as $18 (on Amazon, anyway). That’s a great deal for a bona fide cinematic classic such as this. What’s that you’re saying? What about the story? Alright, for the fifteen of you who have no idea what it’s about, here’s the short synopsis (beware of “spoilers”): An embezzling woman on the run suddenly goes missing, and when the police begin to investigate, they find that her last point of contact was a creepy, secluded motel run by a friendly but eccentric young man. You can discover the rest for yourself.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Luke Goodsell