This week on home video, it’s all about Harry Potter. The franchise’s sixth installment comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray this week, but that’s not all. Warner Home Video is also releasing “Ultimate Editions” of the first two films, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which are jampacked with new special features. But if HP and the gang aren’t your thang, then there are several other new releases, from Public Enemies to The Cove, a couple of oldies but goodies, a limited edition box set for a popular TV show, and a workout video (yeah, you read that right). Peruse this week’s column and see if you’ll be picking up any of these choice selections.
The most recent chapter of the Harry Potter phenomenon opened earlier this year to much anticipation, as have all of its predecessors, and like every one of said predecessors, Half-Blood Prince earned itself Certified Fresh status at 83% on the Tomatometer. This latest installment was directed by David Yates, who also helmed the previous film (Order of the Phoenix) and who will be behind the camera for the two-part final volume of the series, and all of the regular cast members have grown up a bit more. As a result, this installment focuses a bit more on the relationships between the major players, and the film resonated with most critics as a dark but surprisingly humorous film that satisfied most fans. With quite an amazing track record thus far, the Harry Potter franchise seems to be in good hands now, and fans can pick up Half-Blood Prince on DVD or Blu-Ray this week. There is a sneak peek of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows included in the special features, so be on the lookout for that.
Public Enemies had all the trappings of a can’t-miss proposition. It stars Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, two of filmdom’s most bankable stars. And it was directed by Michael Mann, who’s made criminality operatic before (most notably with Heat). But pundits were decidedly mixed on the film, which follows the rise and fall of legendary gangster John Dillinger and the g-men that are out to bring him down. The DVD release comes in a two-disc special edition, which includes commentary from Mann, a making-of doc, and several featurettes that take a closer look at Dillinger and his times.
Nora Ephron’s had sort of a mixed career, with a few of bona fide hits (Sleepless in Seattle) and a few misfires (Bewitched), so it was difficult to predict how she would fare with her latest effort, Julie & Julia. It didn’t hurt that she was surrounding herself with top-notch talent, with Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Stanley Tucci in lead roles, and it certainly paid off — the film earned Certified Fresh status at 75% and earned close to $100 million. The plot centers around blogger-turned-author Julie Powell (Adams), who was inspired by chef extraordinaire Julia Child, and Child herself (Streep), intertwining the two women’s stories with each other. It was a tricky proposition, but critics praised Streep in particular for her charismatic portrayal of Child, even if Powell’s half of the film didn’t quite pack the same punch. It’s a light and charming comedy that will leave smiles on most faces, and it’s available this week on both DVD and Blu-Ray.
Louie Psihoyos started out as a photographer for National Geographic, a position he held for 17 years, winning several awards for the images he captured on film. The position led him to an interest in the conservation of aquatic life, and in 2005 he formed the Oceanic Preservation Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating people on environmental concerns. Earlier this year, Psihoyos made his debut as documentary director with his expose on Japanese fishing practices, The Cove. It was guerilla filmmaking at its most extreme, utilizing secret cameras, hidden microphones, and clandestine filming techniques to capture footage in the Japanese fishing town of Taiji. Based on the premise alone, one might have easily dismissed it as your average “Save the environment!” flick, but the film was widely acclaimed by critics (95% on the Tomatometer) for its well-crafted story. It’s available on DVD this week.
Don’t look now, but Bobcat Goldthwait is developing into an interesting filmmaker. His latest, the Certified Fresh World’s Greatest Dad, stars Robin Williams as Lance, a high school English teacher with a wretched son. When Lance’s offspring dies in a tragic accident, he suddenly finds himself in the position to achieve the fame and fortune he always craved through a strange set of circumstances. This dark comedy was a hit with critics, and now it gets another shot on DVD, which includes audio commentary from Goldthwait, deleted scenes, a making-of doc, and outtakes.
With Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince releasing this week, Warner Home Video decided to release the first two films in the franchise in new Ultimate Editions. These are the first two that started it all, folks; both directed by Chris Columbus, 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone set the stage for the epic series, while 2002’s Chamber of Secrets provided more character exploration and took all of us even deeper into the Potter mythology. The Ultimate Editions of the two films include a ton a new special features, like audition tapes for Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson; documentaries and featurettes; and collectible photo books and character cards (two each per film). Knowing the incredible fanbase the series maintains, these are surefire bets for anyone deeply into the franchise.
Five years ago, a handful of passengers on a flight from Australia to Los Angeles crash landed on a mysterious island, and over the course of several months, the survivors began attempting to unravel the mystery behind their temporary new home. LOST became a television phenomenon, and along with a handful of other popular shows, it helped to change the face of tv programming. Brought to us by J.J. Abrams, who also gave us Felicity and Alias, LOST faced its own critical ups and downs, but now seems on track to finish the series (the upcoming season is meant to be its last) on a strong note. With that in mind, this week we get a geekworthy Season 5 gift set on DVD or Blu-Ray that includes a wealth of Dharma-themed extras. First off, there’s the packaging, which is fully outfitted to look like an old volume of Dharma Initiative briefings in a binder. Then there’s what’s inside: a VHS orientation video, patches, all DVDs in the set housed within old-school floppy disk sleeves, and a ton of extras (commentaries, featurettes, special videos, the usual). It’s a bit pricey for a single season collection, but its availability will be limited, and the cool swag it comes with makes it a must for any diehard fan of the show.
Legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa is widely regarded as one of the best ever to craft motion pictures, and his career spanned over 5 decades. The master who brought the world such remarkable films as Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Yojimbo has inspired countless directors and remakes of his work continue to this day. So it’s only appropriate that Criterion would amass an astonishing collection of Kurosawa’s work, including four rare films never before found on DVD, into one box set, just in time for the holidays. AK 100: 25 Films of Akira Kurosawa contains several of his best known movies, including the aforementioned three, as well as titles like Ikiru, The Hidden Fortress, The Bad Sleep Well, and Throne of Blood. The set unfortunately features no bonus features (all discs are movie-only), but for the uninitiated, this is quite possibly the ultimate collection, especially with the inclusion of the four rare films.
There have been a handful of Takashi Miike’s films getting new editions or being upgraded to Blu-Ray in recent months, and this week is no different. Gozu is another mindbending trip into a surreal world built upon the one we all know, which is standard for Miike fare. In this instance, a yakuza gangster attempts to track down the body of his “brother,” whom he unintentionally killed during one of his brother’s deranged fits. Individual scenes are bizarre an otherworldly, and the images range from horrific to downright comical. It’s difficult to know how exactly to interpret Gozu, but fans of Miike’s work and of the film in particular are used to the sort of material the cult director is working with here. Details are difficult to track down on the Collector’s Edition, but hardcore fans will probably want to pick it up anyway.
Noteworthy home video pickings were incredibly slim this week, so we thought we’d take things in a new direction for #10: A new year is just around the corner, so it’s time to start making a list of resolutions. Getting in shape is likely on the list, so what better way to lose those excess pounds than to the tune of a thumping disco soundtrack? Thankfully, legendary exercise guru Richard Simmons is back with Boogie Down the Pounds, which features “Lady Marmalade,” “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and of course, the unique encouragement of the irrepressible Mr. Simmons. Special features include audio commentary, historical documentaries, a making-of featurette -… ha! Just kidding! The special features here are how you’ll be feeling after a good, solid cardiovascular workout!