Goddamn Criterion goddamn Amazon sale eating up my goddamn savings and sucking up all my available goddamn blog time!! I woke up yesterday morning and promptly emptied my wallet into the gaping maw that was my Amazon cart, buying for myself a crapload of on-sale Criterion discs that I don’t yet have in my collection. In spending all that time shopping and then blogging about the sale I ran out of time to get this new Blu-ray release post finished. I’m sorry it’s getting out there to you a whole day late but… well, I just can’t control myself when there’s a killer sale on. Can you?!
Anyway, it’s a great week for Blu-ray releases what with two new Criterion discs, a couple of classic Jodorowsky fliks making their hi-def debuts along with some anime and foreign classics.
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1. HUMAN PLANET
“Following in the footsteps of Planet Earth and Life, this epic eight-part blockbuster is a breathtaking celebration of the amazing, complex, profound and sometimes challenging relationship between humankind and nature. Humans are the ultimate animals – the most successful species on the planet. From the frozen Arctic to steamy rainforests, from tiny islands in vast oceans to parched deserts, people have found remarkable ways to adapt and survive. We’ve done this by harnessing our immense courage and ingenuity; learning to live with and utilize the other creatures with which we share these wild places. Human Planet weaves together eighty inspiring stories, many never told before, set to a globally-influenced soundtrack by award-winning composer Nitin Sawhney. Each episode focuses on a particular habitat and reveals how its people have created astonishing solutions in the face of extreme adversity. Finally we visit the urban jungle, where most of us now live, and discover why the connection between humanity and nature here is the most vital of all. “
Well now, it seems like BBC is going to make these ‘natural history’ disc releases an annual “Earth Day” affair, doesn’t it? Released in conjunction with Warner Home Video, the British studio/channel has produced another impossibly beautiful series of programs with hours of the most stunning, breathtaking photography you’ve ever seen. This time around, instead of focusing their HD lenses on flora and fauna, BBC’s Natural History Unit have decided to train their cameras on humanity, showcasing us in all our unique glory. Who knew that we were so gosh-darn attractive?! (Trying to tone down my language here)
The image on the discs might technically fall short at only 1080i but you’ll never notice. This is an exceptional HD presentation that’ll prove to be a excellent showcase for your home theatre equipment for years to come. This is a trouble free transfer with only the rarest instances of artifacting and banding, exhibiting stunning detail and colour throughout. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track isn’t going to rattle your china, being heavy on the John Hurt narration and light on the Michael Bay-style, explosive sound design. Nitin Sawhney’s exceptional score sounds rich and dynamic throughout.
In addition to almost 90-minutes of additional documentary content on the disc, you’ll also find a BD-Live portal on disc-3 of the set. The bonus featurette, “Zanskar” is already available for viewing with the promise of a lot more content appearing in the very near future. Finally, a usage of the BD-Live format that makes it feel worthwhile!
- Behind the Lens – A set of 10 ten-minute “making of” featurettes, one at the end of each episode plus two bonus featurettes!
- Special BD-Live added feature “Zanskar,” about the people of this remarkable land on the edge of the Himilayas
2. BLOW OUT
“In the enthralling Blow Out, brilliantly crafted by Brian De Palma, John Travolta gives one of his greatest performances, as a movie sound-effects man who believes he has accidentally recorded a political assassination. He enlists the help of a possible eyewitness to the crime (Nancy Allen), who may be in danger herself, to uncover the truth. With its jolting stylistic flourishes, intricate plot, profoundly felt characterizations, and gritty evocation of early-1980s Philadelphia, Blow Out is an American paranoia thriller unlike any other, as well as a devilish reflection on moviemaking.“
I almost can’t believe that Brian De Palma’s Blow Out is available on Blu-ray. Nevermind that it’s been released in HD by Criterion. Add to that, the fact that this is a brand new, director-supervised transfer on a disc with an extraordinary collection of special features (including an entire additional early De Palma feature film) and you’ve got a Blu-ray disc not to be missed. Oh yeah, and it just happens to be on sale at Amazon right now for the ridiculously low price of $18.99. Grab it up now before the sale ends!
I’ve got a full review of the disc coming up on the blog shortly and will update this post with a link when it’s published.
3. FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS
“It is 1971, and journalist Raoul Duke barrels toward Las Vegas—accompanied by a trunkful of contraband and his unhinged Samoan attorney, Dr. Gonzo—to cover a motorcycle race. His cut-and-dried assignment quickly descends into a feverish psychedelic odyssey. Director Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits, Brazil) and an all-star cast headlined by Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Donnie Brasco) and Benicio Del Toro (The Usual Suspects, Che) show no mercy in adapting Hunter S. Thompson’s legendary dissection of the American way of life to the screen, creating a film both hilarious and savage. “
I know, I know. There are a lot of you out there who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but seriously guys, this is a great film. I’m not even talking about it in terms of the manner in which it was brought to life (Gilliam hired last minute, re-writing the script in days and shooting from the hip) or the miracle that it exists at all. No, I mean, the fact that this is a brilliantly shot, wonderfully imaginative take on the material that fashions Gonzo journalism into cinema at its purest. And Criterion, as you’d expect, have knocked the Blu-ray out of the park.
This is an upgrade of the previously available DVD edition of the film that Criterion released a handful of years ago, sporting the same bevy of ridiculously awesome bonus content (including, amongst many other notable extras, 3 commentary tracks – one by Gilliam, one with stars Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro and one with the late, off the rails Hunter S. Thompson himself!) but upping the game with a knockout 1080p transfer of the film and couple of killer DTS-HD Master Audio tracks (English 5.1 and 2.0 versions of the audio).
A full review of the disc is coming up shortly. Keep your eyes peeled!
4. HOLY MOUNTAIN
“The scandal of the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s flood of sacrilegious imagery and existential symbolism is a spiritual quest for enlightenment pitting illusion against truth. The Alchemist (Jodorowsky) assembles together a group of people from all walks of life to represent the planets in the solar system. The occult adept’s intention is to put his recruits through strange mystical rites and divest them of their wordly baggage before embarking on a trip to Lotus Island. There they ascend the Holy Mountain to displace the immortal gods who secretly rule the universe. “
Anchor Bay is rocking your world this week with a couple of amazing, classic Jodorowsky films on Blu. I wouldn’t recommend The Holy Mountain to everybody but this is fantastic stuff. It’s a film without plot, with a narrative that feels like a meandering journey through a neverending stream of metaphor and symbolism. But there’s a point to Jodorowsky’s madness. What it lacks in apparent classic structure, The Holy Mountain makes up for in impact. It’s a muscular, rewarding journey for those willing enough to brave it.
The restoration of the film is remarkable but doesn’t turn out a perfect Blu-ray experience. Don’t get me wrong, the film looks great here, in it’s HD debut but it’s just a little too slick for my tastes. I understand that noise reduction had to be used to sort out a lot of the inherent weaknesses of the source material (there’s an excellent short featurette on the restoration process) but they didn’t leave a lot of film grain behind in the process. The good news is that there’s never an instance of image smearing or waxy complexions in the film. The presentation is overall a detailed one with brilliant colour and fairly even contrast. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a pleasant one, extrapolated from the original mono and expanded to provide an effective atmosphere through surrounds. Extras include a director’s commentary track (in Spanish, subtitled in English), deleted scenes with commentary, a featurette on ‘The Tarot‘, some stills and a trailer.
5. EL TOPO
“It was the landmark cult film that began the whole Midnight Movie phenomena of the counterculture crazy 1970s. El Topo was the most talked about, most controversial quasi-Western head trip ever made, transforming the way risk-taking audiences, seeking mainstream Hollywood alternatives, watched edgy underground films. Classic Americana and avant-garde European cinema sensibilities meet Zen Buddhism and the Bible as master gunfighter and cosmic mystic El Topo (played by writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky) must defeat his four sharp-shooting rivals on an ever-increasingly bizarre path to allegorical self-enlightenment and surreal resurrection. “
Three years before he scaled The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky unleashed his wandering western epic, El Topo on unsuspecting audiences. It’s like being inside the fever dream of Leone‘s Man with No Name – a surreal spaghetti-gunfighter flik that somehow morphs into uncanny religious allegory. It’s great stuff but not for everybody. Certainly not for anyone expecting something along the lines of an Eastwood western or Young Guns.
Much like Holy Mountain, El Topo has been restored and looks better here, on Blu-ray, than it has in years. Most likely, much better than it appeared in many of those art houses which screened it during the Midnight Movie phenomena. But again, grain structure is inconsistent, leaving the image looking, quite often too smooth for a film of it’s age. However, detail and colour are impressive and the overall impression is a positive one. The original Spanish language DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is thin but clear and fairly clean. Extras include a director’s commentary track (in Spanish, subtitled in English), an interview with the director, a photo gallery and a trailer.
6. THE SCENT OF GREEN PAPAYA
“In this Academy Award Nominated film (available for the first time in its original theatrial aspect ratio), little things mean a lot in the world of 10-year-old Mui, a girl who’s trained to be a house servant in 1950s Vietnam. As Mui grows up in pre-war Saigon, she finds quiet love with a family friend. Dialogue seems almost tertiary in this film that celebrates the senses, as the young girl discovers the world around her and marvels at every new sight, sound and scent she experiences while going about her workday life. “
Kino has done a bang-up job of bringing The Scent of Green Papaya to Blu-ray, standing toe-to-toe with Human Planet for the most breathtaking Blu-ray presentation of the week. The photography here is gorgeous, the print used for the transfer seems flawless and the resulting Blu-ray disc image is stunning. Nevermind that the audio is an less-than-impressive LPCM 2.0 Vietnamese language track, with no surround information and a light low-end. The visuals, and the compelling narrative, are reason enough to pick this disc up. Extras include a 13-minute featurette, a gallery of stills and a trailer.
7. THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME
“Makoto Konno is having one of those days. After getting up late for school she’s hit with a pop quiz. She just started a fire while cooking in her home economics class and then she gets knocked down by some of the guys while they wrestle. How much worse can this day get? While performing an errand for her mother, Makoto loses the brakes on her bike and barrels headlong down the street into an oncoming train. This would have been the capper for a horrible day, but for some reason something strange has happened. Time has suddenly stopped and moved her backward. With her newly discovered ability to literally leap backwards in time Makoto finds that tests become a piece of cake, embarrassing situations are corrected and she can have her favorite food anytime she wants. Unfortunately her carefree time traveling has adverse effects on the people she cares for. With every successful leap Makoto somehow alters the fate of those around her. This wasn’t supposed to happen and as she races back in time to fix everything, she notices that her abilities are not limitless but with every successful jump she’s one step closer to discovering the most wonderful secret in her young adult life. “
Overall, not the most impressive showing of anime on Blu-ray. The film is now a classic but the transfer here is far from perfect. It’s a step up from the horribly interlaced DVD presentation but fails to provide any sort of HD ‘wow-factor’. Audio comes in two flavours – both English and Japanese Dolby True-HD tracks. The Blu-ray disc has no features itself but the package includes a DVD with commentary tracks, a music video, a ‘behind the scenes’ featurette, footage from the premiere, a trailer and more.
Watch the trailer for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time Blu-ray here.
8. EDEN OF THE EAST: THE KING OF EDEN
“The intrigue goes international in The King of Eden, a feature-length conspiracy thriller that continues the action of the acclaimed Eden of the East. The deadly game that began in Japan now intensifies on the streets of New York City. The rules are the same: Do whatever it takes to win. Die if you lose. Takizawa prevented Japan’s destruction – and then he vanished. Six months later, clues lead Saki to the Big Apple in search of her missing friend. Meanwhile, the remaining Seleção are plotting their final move. Some of them would prefer Takizawa dead and out of the way. Some might even be willing to help him achieve his goals. Unfortunately, some are prepared to destroy everything if it means claiming checkmate in Mr.Outside’s puzzling game. “
I haven’t see this new Eden of the East film but I’m recommending it based upon the high quality of the series it follows and the exceptional Blu-ray disc editions of the episodes from FUNimation (read my ravings about the series here). I expect the presentation to be at least equal to the impressive transfer given to the series, with a couple of quality Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks that also live up their predecessor’s. Along with some trailers, the disc appears to include a feature called ‘Air Communication‘ that seems to be an edited version of the TV series. I wish I could tell you more but having not seen the disc for myself I’m left to speculate. I’ll update you if/when I get my hands on it!
9. BETTY BLUE
“A French cult classic, Betty Blue (37°2 le matin) was an international smash when released in 1986. Directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix (Diva) and featuring an indelible screen debut by Béatrice Dalle, Betty Blue hypnotized audiences with its uninhibited sexuality and all-consuming vision of amour fou that defined youthful passion for an entire generation. An intimate portrayal of obsessive love, Betty Blue is the story of Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade), an aspiring novelist who gets by as a handyman and Betty (Dalle), a beautiful, unpredictable temptress who turns his life upside down. As Betty’s mental state turns dark, Zorg desperately attempts to comfort her. Even when ensconced in a dreamy rural town, Betty’s fantasy world encroaches on her reality as she slowly spirals out of control. “
Jean-Jacques Beineix’s 37°2 le matin, known as Betty Blue on these shores, arrives on Blu-ray in a less-than-impressive 1080i transfer from Cinema Libre. I definitely recommend this disc as a rental for the quality of the film alone but the presentation here leaves a lot to be desired, exhibiting an unusually filtered, interlaced image with a lossy French Dolby Digital audio track. The good news is that the sole extra, an almost hour-long interview with the director, is informative and well worth your time.
“One of the great, unfinished works in film history, Inferno, by Henri-Georges Clouzot was an audaciously experimental film with a virtually unlimited budget that was stopped only three weeks into production. Working closely with Clouzot’s widow, Inès, Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea reconstructs Clouzot’s original vision, filling and explaining the gaps with new interviews, re-enactments and Clouzot’s own notes and storyboards, delivering an in-depth look at the masterpiece that might have been. “
Hey, didn’t I just review Inferno a few days ago?!
Far from the work of Dario Argento‘s horror of the same name, Clouzot’s Inferno is one of the great unfinished films of the last century, arriving on Blu-ray this week courtesy of Flicker Alley. I didn’t get a chance to see the film in theatres and have no idea what the Blu-ray edition will be like but I recommend checking it out based on reviews of the film from it’s festival rounds last year and on the basis of Clouzot’s outstanding body of work.
ALSO AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY THIS WEEK
Clicking an image will take you to Amazon.com where you can learn more about and purchase the Blu-ray disc: