This week, there just weren’t very many brand new releases, period. Of course, there is the one big new release that tons of folks have been waiting for (here’s a hint: it’s a Pixar movie), as well as the home video release for a well-received WWII miniseries, so you can’t go wrong with those. But most of this week’s heft comes from the new editions (primarily on Blu-Ray) of older films. With that in mind, we’ve got another award-winning classic war film, a couple of iconic musicals, and a bit of 1980s nostalgia. Check out the full list to see what’s avaialble:
Pixar’s done it again. After establishing a new precedent for quality in animated film with the first installment of the Toy Story franchise, the Disney-backed studio managed to recapture the magic with its first sequel, Toy Story 2, which was, for a long time, the best-reviewed film on Rotten Tomatoes. When news of a third installment came about, some wondered if Pixar could do it all again, and by most accounts, they did. This time around, little Andy is all grown up and ready to head off to college, which means his old toys (including Woody and Buzz) will either have to be packed away into storage or donated to a daycare facility. Through a slight mixup, the whole Toy Story gang ends up at Sunnyside Daycare, where they meet a host of new friends… and a few enemies. Critics felt that Toy Story 3 was a fitting finale for the animated toys audiences have come to love, again blending comedy, adventure, and honest emotion to craft an entertaining and fully satisfying story. As with other recent Pixar releases, the Toy Story 3 comes available in a package that includes the film on Blu-Ray, regular DVD, and a digital copy you can download for your mobile devices. There’s also a healthy serving of special features to extend the experience and provide a look at how the film was made. Definitely worth a pickup for any Pixar/Toy Story fan, and if you haven’t pulled the trigger on acquiring either of the previous films, you can also pick up all three in a trilogy pack.
Sometime in 2006, a video began circulating on the internet that showed outtakes from a 1980s television commercial selling Winnebagos. The short clips displayed a spokesman who was apparently losing his cool during the shoot, cursing and throwing wild tantrums on set. The video quickly went viral, and the “Winnebago Man” (aka Jack Rebney) became an amusing footnote in internet history. A few years later, in 2009, a curious young director decided to go in search of Rebney to see what became of him, and the result was Winnebago Man, a well-received documentary that sought to uncover the identity of the man behind the tirades. Director Ben Steinbauer tracked down Rebney’s contact information and made a little trek out to the mountains of northern California to meet the man and find out exactly what he was like under “normal” circumstances. As the film progresses, Steinbauer discovers exactly how colorful Mr. Rebney is, and the resulting story makes for a thought-provoking examination of unwanted fame and its effect on one person’s life. Sitting at a Certified Fresh 90% on the Tomatometer, Winnebago Man managed to impress most critics, even though some felt that Steinbauer sometimes seemed as if he was trying to elicit the same kind of meltdown Rebney had become famous for. In the end, most found the film fascinating, and it’s available on DVD this week.
War movies have been a staple of Hollywood since the early days of cinema, and while recent films like Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down have earned accolades for their visceral and realistic portrayals of battle, 1957’s The Bridge on the River Kwai, based on the novel The Bridge over the River Kwai and borrowing story elements from historical events, was noted more for its thought-provoking examination of right and wrong during wartime. Alec Guinness plays Colonel Nicholson, the commander in charge of a battalion of British soldiers who surrender to the Japanese during World War II. Taken to a POW camp and tasked with building the titular bridge, Nicholson takes charge of his men in order to build the bridge properly in exchange for better treatment of his soldiers, while an escaped prisoner, Shears (William Holden), is asked to lead a commando mission ordered to destroy the bridge itself. The Bridge on the River Kwai remains one of the most iconic war films ever made, and one of the best American films made, period. It holds a Certified Fresh 95% on the Tomatometer, it won seven Oscars (including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, among others) and it’s been selected for the US Library of Congress National Film Registry. If all you got with this release was the film itself, you’d still have a treasure on your hands, but the bonus features, which include a William Holden narration of the London premiere of the film, an appearance on the Steve Allen Show by both Holden and Guinness, and a simultaneously playing trivia track, make this a classic film purchase not to pass up.
There’s little room for agreement on The Sound of Music: some find it to be an insufferable schmaltz-fest, while for others, it’s one of their favorite things. Regardless, this Certified Fresh Best Picture winner about a musical family that escaped the Nazis with the help of a nun-turned-governess occupies a hallowed place in the movie cannon. It’s a fine example of the kind of lavish, big-budget musicals that Hollywood was making even as Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider loomed on the horizon, and even the coldest of cynics have a hard time resisting such catchy tunes as “My Favorite Things” and “Do-Re-Mi.” If you’re a fan, you’ll be likely to climb every mountain to get your hands on The Sound of Music (Limited Edition Collector’s Set), a bountiful blu-ray box that commemorates the movie’s 45th anniversary. It’s loaded with interactive features, including a trivia quiz, a virtual map of the locales, a sing-along option, tons of interviews, documentaries, rare photos, and more.
After the monumental success of 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, director Steven Spielberg and star Tom Hanks executive produced an HBO miniseries about the experiences of a US Army Infantry regiment during WWII called Band of Brothers, which was also highly successful both from a critical and audience reception standpoint. Earlier this year, Spielberg and Hanks paired up again to help bring another WWI series to HBO, and the response was similarly positive. The Pacific focuses on the stories of three soldiers, as adapted from the memoirs of two of them and the firsthand account by a soldier who fought alongside the show’s third main character. Like Band of Brothers, The Pacific spans 10 episodes, during which the three soldiers’ involvement in various major military operations is portrayed, including battles at Guadalcanal, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima, and it netted 23 Emmy nominations, taking home 8 of them, most notably for Oustanding Miniseries. This week, the complete series is available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and the set includes bonus features like profiles of the real marines features in the show, a behind-the-scenese look, and an exploration of the genesis and impact of the Pacific theater of WWII. If you loved Band of Brothers (and many did), you’ll likely enjoy this series as well.
Typically, Christmas planning in the US doesn’t begin until after the Thanksgiving holiday, but this week, you’ll have the opportunity to own a bona fide yuletide classic even before the Thanksgiving turkey has been carved. Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) and starring screen legends Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, White Christmas is the story of two WWII veterans (Crosby and Kaye) who promise to join up after the war and become one of the hottest entertainment acts in the country. After making it big, the duo (along with their newfound female counterparts, played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) decide to bring their act to a struggling Vermont inn operated by one of their former commanding generals (Dean Jagger). Though this classic musical is, again, somewhat too sentimental for some, the film is simply too joyous and cheerful to resist for most, and the combination of its star power, timeless music, storybook-like setting make it an absolute must-see every Winter. This new Blu-Ray transfer offers the best picture quality yet available on home video, and though its bonus features are largely HD imports of content previously available on DVD editions, it’s all high quality material that offers some thoughtful insights into the production and impact of the film.
Last week, children of the ’80s rejoiced with the 25th Anniversary edition of Back to the Future, but not to be forgotten, another blockbuster adventure from the same year gets its own 25th Anniversary Blu-Ray release this week. The Goonies is another fan favorite that emerged from a decade full of similar films for kids and young adults, full of quirky and memorable characters, endlessly quotable lines, and improbable situations for the young cast to overcome. The story revolves around a group of pre-teens and teenagers who hail from Astoria, Oregon and who face foreclosure on their homes by a man seeking to build a country club… until Mikey Walsh (Sean Astin) discovers what appears to be a treasure map in his attic. Together, the “Goonies” follow the map in hopes that it will lead to a pirate fortune great enough to save their homes. Currently the film only registers a 64% on the Tomatometer, with most critics enjoying the ride, but others who feel the film really only holds up strictly as a children’s entertainment. However, special screenings around the country and continued fan support to this day seem to indicate there’s still a lot of love for the film, so those of you who are fans might be interested in some of the extras, which include everything from the 2001 DVD release of the film, plus a healthy serving of memorabilia like a reprinted souvenir magazine, storyboard cards, and a new board game.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Tim Ryan