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Sunflower Blu-ray Disc Review

Sunflower Blu-ray Disc Review

Sunflower (Sophia Loren Award Collection) [Blu-ray] (1970)

SUNFLOWER (1970, Blu-ray released May 17, 2011 – MSRP $39.95)

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Kino recently released on Blu-ray a trio of classic collaborations between actors Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren and director Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves, Umberto D.) Sunflower is a far different film from the other two in the collection but remarkable nonetheless, and a worthy addition to any home video library.

    An Oscar nominee for Best Score (Henry Mancini), Sunflower is a grandly emotional melodrama featuring a stunning performance from Sophia Loren. In another of the actress’s great collaborations with director Vittorio De Sica (The Bicycle Thief), Loren plays Giovanna, a steel-willed Italian woman on a desperate search to find her husband Antonio (Marcello Mastroianni), who has gone missing on the WWII battlefields of Russia. Making the grueling overland journey years after the end of the war, she tracks Antonio down and finds him a changed man. This heart-wrenching reunion will forever alter the course of their lives. Full of stunning images and powerful acting, Sunflower is a devastating romantic epic you won’t soon forget.

Sunflower has the distinction of being the first Italian feature film shot in Moscow, and one of the first international movies to be made in the U.S.S.R. Out of the gate, that fact lends the film a weight its predecessors lack, standing it apart from De Sica’s later-period comedies. Sunflower is more of a melodrama, but tasks its leads to cover similar ground to their previous pairings. The film opens on a young, sexy Loren and Mastroianni at their comedic best but quickly alters tone, becoming darker and more emotionally intense as both characters age and are drawn apart. It’s not as fun to watch as the other two films in the trio of discs just released by Kino and not quite as classic as De Sica’s earlier neo-realist films but you’ll no doubt find yourself a little choked up if you stick with Sunflower until the end.

Much like the other two De Sica films just released on Blu-ray, the high-def presentation of Sunflower suffers from the state of its source materials and could really use a full-on restoration. With that in mind, Kino, once again, delivers an honest, quite beautiful and film-like transfer, with plenty of detail and a nice sheen of film grain throughout. Once you look past the flaws in the print, this beautiful film is a pleasure to watch. The mono Dolby TrueHD track fares a bit better, with Henry Mancini’s memorable score sounding tight and harsh early on but opening up, given more room to breathe as the film progresses. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout.

Sadly, there isn’t much to speak of in the way of special features here. It would’ve been great to have some historical perspective given to the production in the way of a commentary track or even a short “making-of” featurette or interview. But we’re only left with a stills gallery and some trailers.

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Marriage Italian Style Blu-ray Disc Review

Marriage Italian Style Blu-ray Disc Review

Marriage Italian Style (Sophia Loren Award Collection) [Blu-ray] (1964)

MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE (1964, Blu-ray released May 17, 2011 – MSRP $39.95)

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Kino recently released on Blu-ray a trio of classic collaborations between actors Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren and director Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves, Umberto D.) Marriage Italian Style followed directly on the heels of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow and, while not quite as funny, sexy or critically acclaimed, it is a true classic.

    One of the most famous, and funniest, Italian comedies of all time, Marriage Italian Style received nominations for Best Foreign Film, and Best Actress for Sophia Loren, at the Academy Awards. Marcello Mastroianni co-stars as the irrepressibly carnal businessman Domenico, who discovers Loren’s Filumena as a young prostitute and keeps her as his mistress and confidante. When he chooses to marry a young cashier instead of her, Filumena is furious, and resorts to a series of wild and hilarious ruses to win back his hand. Directed by the great Vittorio De Sica (The Bicycle Thief), Marriage Italian Style is a timelessly bawdy classic.

De Sica crafted Marriage Italian Style from the famous Eduardo De Filippo play, Filumena Marturano (well, famous in Italy, that is.) So, when audiences stormed theatres upon the films release in 1964, they knew what they were in for – a story they were familiar with, starring a couple of their most electric, attractive performers directed by one of the most influential talents in Italian film. It was kind of a given that the movie would be a hit. But thankfully, its appeal transcends time and culture. This is a great film with broad appeal and comedy and drama that plays well, even today. Though it’s clear that De Sica is a master of his trade and that Mastroianni’s performance keeps the film grounded, it’s Loren who, once again, steals the show. She simply is Filumena Marturano, from age 17 to 40-something, from rags to somewhat-riches, prostitute to mother and wife. It’s a bravura performance without a whiff of self-consciousness. One of her finest, in a long career of stellar performances. Outstanding and well worthy of her Oscar nomination.

Kino‘s Blu-ray transfer of Marriage Italian Style is film-like and detailed, affording the film its best presentation on home video to date. But the source material isn’t in the best shape and is crying out for a proper, full (and no doubt costly) restoration. You’ll see white flecks, the occasional damage, colour shifting and a line that runs down the image for a substantial portion of the run-time (to be fair, it’s barely noticeable and I suspect some clean-up has been attempted there.) No digital tampering is present to mar the image, allowing for a pleasurable viewing experience. Audio is clean and clear in a Dolby TrueHD 1.0 track that proves relatively dynamic for its age.

Sadly, there aren’t many bonus goodies of which to speak of on the Blu-ray. Only a Theatrical Promo of nearly 4-minutes length, a stills gallery and trailers for the other discs in the Sophia Loren Award Collection.

Despite the lack of special features and a print that’s far from pristine, this is an honest, enjoyable Blu-ray presentation of a wonderful, must-see film. Recommended!

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Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Blu-ray Disc Review

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Blu-ray Disc Review

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Sophia Loren Award Collection) [Blu-ray] (1964)

YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW (1963, Blu-ray released May 17, 2011 – MSRP $39.95)

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Kino recently released on Blu-ray a trio of classic collaborations between actors Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren and director Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves, Umberto D.), the eldest of which is the Oscar award winning Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow from 1963.

    Winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar at the 1965 Academy Awards, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow“>Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is a sparklingly original comedy that casts Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren in three different stories set throughout Italy. In Naples, they are poor but resourceful, selling black market cigarettes on the streets. In Milan, Loren is costumed in Christian Dior and debates her preference for a Rolls Royce or her husband. And in Rome, Mastroianni is an industry scion who helps Loren’s prostitute set a wavering priest back onto the spiritual plane.

If you don’t fall in love with Sophia Loren after watching this film, I think there’s probably something wrong with you. She’s absolutely radiant here, in all three of the stories, stealing the attention from her leading man and talented director. But that’s as it should be. I doubt the film was crafted as a showcase for her beauty and charisma but De Sica certainly plays into it as much as possible, masterfully keeping his camera at exactly the right distance for her to devour it. Mastroianni gives the impression that he’s always in awe or trying to keep up with her but that’s just him, doing his job, exhibiting how we feel as we watch their relationships play out through the various stories.

Don’t even begin to get me started on Loren’s striptease in the Roman chapter of the film. I have a feeling that the howl let out by Mastroianni wasn’t scripted…

Kino appears to have done their best with poor source materials on this Blu-ray presentation. It’s detailed and film-like, with no untoward digital manipulation at all. Great work on their part and certainly the best this film has ever looked on home video. The print, however, is in need of a lot of restorative work to bring it up to the standards of the better looking transfers of films of its era. But without a major influx of cash, I don’t see that happening. That said, it’s a pleasure to see Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow looking this good. The Dolby TrueHD 1.0 is faithful to the source, clean and clear throughout but limited in dynamic range.

The Blu-ray disc doesn’t contain much in the way of special features – trailers for the other De Sica films on Blu and a stills gallery – but the package contains a bonus DVD of the documentary film Vittorio D., an excellent, feature length look at the life and work of director De Sica. Among a plethora of interviews with actors and producers of European cinema, you find words of praise from the likes of Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen and Mike Leigh, as the doc examines De Sica’s work as an actor, his films, politics and incredible legacy. Vittorio D. is well worth the price of the disc package on its own and is just as highly recommended as Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow“>Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow for fans of Italian cinema and film fans in general.

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Top 10 New Blu-ray releases for the Week of April 26

Top 10 New Blu-ray releases for the Week of April 26

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.

As always, clicking the Blu-ray package art will zip you over to Amazon where every purchase you make through our links helps the site stay on its feet. We appreciate every single click and thank you again for continuing to read The Blu-ray Blog.


1. HUMAN PLANET

Human Planet [Blu-ray]


    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!

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • 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

AMAZON: $32.99


2. BLOW OUT

Blow Out (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (1981)

    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.

AMAZON: $18.99


3. FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (1998)

    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!

AMAZON: $27.99


4. HOLY MOUNTAIN

The Holy Mountain [Blu-ray] (1973)

    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.

AMAZON: $27.99


5. EL TOPO

El Topo [Blu-ray] (1970)

    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.

AMAZON: $27.99


6. THE SCENT OF GREEN PAPAYA

The Scent of Green Papaya [Blu-ray] (1994)

    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.

AMAZON: $24.99


7. THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time [Blu-ray] (2006)

    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.

AMAZON: $34.99


8. EDEN OF THE EAST: THE KING OF EDEN

Eden of the East: The King of Eden (Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

    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!

AMAZON: $19.99


9. BETTY BLUE

Betty Blue: Original Theatrical Release [Blu-ray] (1986)

    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.

AMAZON: $22.49


10. INFERNO

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno [Blu-ray] (2011)

    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.

AMAZON: $35.99


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:

South Park: Complete Fourteenth Season [Blu-ray]Sniper: Reloaded [Blu-ray] (2010)The Terror [Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack] (1964)Dementia 13 Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack (1963)



Sin City (Two-Disc Theatrical & Recut, Extended, and Unrated Versions) [Blu-ray] (2005)K-On! Vol. 1 [Blu-ray]The Dorm That Dripped Blood [Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack] (1982)Machine Girl [Blu-ray] (2008)



Daylight [Blu-ray] (1996)Sacrifice [Blu-ray] (2011)Poor Pretty Eddie Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack (1975)The Universe: The Complete Series Megaset [Blu-ray]



Jolene (Blu-ray) (2008)Chawz [Blu-ray] (2011)Dinoshark [Blu-ray] (2010)Blood Out [Blu-ray] (2011)



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Top 10 New Blu-ray releases for the Week of March 29

Top 10 New Blu-ray releases for the Week of March 29

This is one hell of a Blu-ray release day. I have to admit, I’m a touch overwhelmed by all the fantastic new titles hitting shelves today. I’ve had the pleasure of viewing a good many of them before release day and can honestly say that some rank among the finest Blu-ray discs I’ve ever seen. Among those not screened but worthy of attention are the most recent season of the hit show Madmen, a complete collection of the classic Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films and the high-def debut of the ’80s classic, Teen Wolf starring Michael J. Fox.

As always, clicking the Blu-ray package art will zip you over to Amazon where every purchase you make through our links helps the site stay on its feet. We appreciate every single click and thank you again for continuing to read The Blu-ray Blog.


1. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

The Ten Commandments (Two-Disc Special Edition) [Blu-ray] (1956)


    Throughout film history, Hollywood has produced a number of sweeping epics and generation-defining movies. However, one film – Cecil B. DeMille‘s The Ten Commandments – has stood the test of time. Universally recognized among critics as a cinematic masterpiece, this unforgettable motion picture has also been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the “Top Ten” epics of all time. From its Academy Award-winning director and revolutionary Oscar-winning special effects to its memorable music score and all-star cast, The Ten Commandments presents the story of Moses in all of its stunning glory. Starring Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter and a “who’s who” of legendary screen talent, the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture of 1956.

The Ten Commandments is a classic. It’s long, clocking in at over three and a half hours, but races by in a heartbeat. This is timeless, compelling stuff, with iconic, scene-chewing performances from the likes of Heston and Brynner.

Given the length of the film, Paramount has wisely opted to spread it over two Blu-ray discs, breaking at the intermission point, allowing for an optimal bitrate for its high-def debut presentation. And let me tell you, this thing looks fantastic! The Ten Commandments is one of the finest looking restoration/transfers I’ve yet seen on the format. Colours absolutely sing, brought to vivid, new life on Blu-ray by Ron Smith and his team of film restoration experts, with shocking amounts of detail and rock-solid contrast. I can’t get over how perfect this transfer is! The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is also impressive, never able to achieve the full dynamic range of a modern soundtrack but always clean and clear, ably enhancing the source material with subtle, respectful use of multiple channels.

My only gripe about this release is that in order to get all of the special features, you need to purchase the Limited Edition Gift Set. The more modest, film only version which I was able to review, only includes the commentary track (which is excellent and quite authoritative, I might add), newsreel footage and some trailers. Aside from the books, DVDs and gift-stuff that I couldn’t care less about, the Gift Set also includes an additional Blu-ray disc which features the original 1923 version of The Ten Commandments for the first time in HD along with a newly produced hour-long documentary on the making of The Ten Commandments, “Making Miracles.” I love a good doc and it kind of pisses me off to think that in order to have the complete set of Blu-ray features I’m forced to own a giant, gimmicky package (it splits apart like the Red Sea, revealing two plastic tablets that hold the discs) filled with extra stuff I don’t want. One can only hope that the studio releases a 3-Disc version of the film in the future, with the complete set of features and without the added junk.

Paramount’s new Blu-ray release of The Ten Commandments receives out highest possible recommendation!

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Commentary by Katherine Orrison, author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments
  • Newsreel: The Ten Commandments – Premiere in New York HD
  • Theatrical Trailers HD

AMAZON: $22.99

ALSO AVAILABLE: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS GIFT SET

The Ten Commandments (Limited Edition Gift Set) (DVD/Blu-ray Combo)


SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • An all-new, never-before-seen, hour-long documentary on the making of The Ten Commandments, “Making Miracles.”
  • Commentary by Katherine Orrison, author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments
  • Newsreel: The Ten Commandments – Premiere in New York HD
  • An extensive photo gallery packed with never-before-seen photos from the Cecil B. DeMille’s BYU Archives
  • A “Making of” Trailer from 1956 as well as Theatrical Trailers for subsequent re-releases of the film
  • Hand-tinted footage of the Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea Sequence from the 1923 Silent Film.

AMAZON: $54.99


2. THE MIKADO and TOPSY TURVY

The Mikado (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (1939)Topsy-Turvy (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (1999)


On any other week, this new Gilbert and Sullivan-focused duo of films, new on Blu-ray today from Criterion, would have stolen all of my attention and been an easy pick for the number-one slot on the list of best new discs. As it stands, these are both exceptional Blu-ray releases (would you expect any less from Criterion?) with Topsy Turvy being a must-own for any film fan or fan of the work of director Mike Leigh. Read my full reviews of both films here:

The Criterion Collection: Topsy Turvy Blu-ray Disc Review

The Criterion Collection: The Mikado Blu-ray Disc Review

AMAZON: $25.99 each


3. BLACK SWAN

Black Swan [Blu-ray] (2010)

    Movie Summary A psychological thriller set in the world of New York City ballet BLACK SWAN stars Natalie Portman as Nina a featured dancer who finds herself locked in a web of competitive intrigue with a new rival at the company (Mila Kunis). A Fox Searchlight Pictures release by visionary director Darren Aronofsky (THE WRESTLER) BLACK SWAN takes a thrilling and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a young ballerina whose starring role as the Swan Queen turns out to be a part for which she becomes frighteningly perfect.

One of the best films of the past year, and without question, the best film of writer/director Aronofsky, is on store shelves today in a stunning new Blu-ray edition from Fox. Perfectly capturing the gritty 16mm/digital SLR photography in a gorgeous, faithful transfer, the disc does justice to cinematographer Matthew Libatique‘s every composition. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is also faithful to the cinematic experience, putting the surround channels to great use with effects that ramp up the terror of the film. There isn’t a commentary track on the disc but the special features are plentiful, including the nearly-hour-long making-of doc, “Black Swan Metamorphosis“, which is a must-watch for any fan of the film.

Highly Recommended!

AMAZON: $19.99


4. TANGLED

Tangled (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (2010)

    Disney presents a new twist on one of the most hilarious and hair-raising tales ever told. Your whole family will get tangled up in the fun, excitement and adventure of this magical motion picture. When the kingdom’s most wanted – and most charming – bandit Flynn Rider hides in a mysterious tower, the last thing he expects to find is Rapunzel, a spirited teen with an unlikely superpower – 70 feet of magical golden hair! Together, the unlikely duo sets off on a fantastic journey filled with surprising heroes, laughter and suspense.

I’ll be posting a video review of the new Tangled Blu-ray disc release from Disney later this week, marking the return of my niece and nephew to their long-absent film critics’ chairs. The latest and apparently final ‘Princess’ film from the studio was born of a troubled background, taking years and several creative teams to finally bring it to the big screen, but thankfully the completed work shows few signs of its arduous journey. It’s light and fun and resonates with the younger crowd (believe me, I have proof). Who cares if the songs aren’t quite up to Alan Menken‘s usual high standards when the kids are still singing along?

The Blu-ray disc, of course, is near reference quality, with an exceptional audio and visual presentation. Special features aren’t quite as robust as Disney’s Diamond Edition discs but well produced and plentiful just the same.

UPDATE: Read my full Tangled review (and watch my niece’s video review) here.

AMAZON: $19.99


5. KING OF KINGS

King of Kings [Blu-ray]

    The producer of El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire and the director of Rebel Without a Cause and 55 Days at Peking team for this powerful, moving tale of the life of Christ that’s rich in scale, set against the tumult of Roman occupation and filled with notable performances by Jeffrey Hunter (Jesus), Rip Torn (Judas), Harry Guardino (Barabbas) and others. From the Nazarene’s humble birth to his nomadic ministry, from the teachings to murderous conspiracies, from death on a cross to resurrection — key events of 33 years that changed the world are here. An epic that both entertains and ennobles, King of Kings wears its crown with reverence and strength.

There have been a lot of Biblical classics hitting Blu-ray in the past couple of weeks and given the lack of fanfare surrounding Warner‘s release of King of Kings I assumed the studio was just dumping an old transfer on the shelves. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong! What an exceptional disc! The film itself may not be the iconic classic that The Ten Commandments is – it’s treatment of the story is a quite cold and distant, very by-the-letter adaptation of the King James Bible – but the production design is stunning and the Miklós Rózsa score is nearly worthy of the purchase alone.

For this, the 50th Anniversary of the film, Warner has gone back to the original film elements to give King of Kings the Blu-ray debut it deserves and it looks and sounds spectacular! I’m not sure how much restoration was performed, but the film looks like it’s in great shape. Colours are strong, blacks deep, and the detail here will just knock your socks off! I can’t sing the praises of this disc highly enough I really pray it doesn’t get overlooked. Includes a vintage featurette, premiere newsreels and the theatrical trailer.

AMAZON: $14.99


6. TREME: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON

Treme: The Complete First Season [Blu-ray] (2010)

    Amid the ruins of an American city, ordinary people–musicians, chefs, residents–find themselves clinging to a unique culture and wondering if the city that gave birth to that culture still has a future. From the creators of The Wire comes a new series about adversity and the human spirit, set in New Orleans, in the aftermath of the greatest man-made disaster in American history. Welcome to Treme.

I haven’t made it all the way through HBO‘s New Orleans drama Treme yet. It’s really a tough one to get into, you know, starting off slow and heating up over the course of the first half of this first season. It’s a commitment that I’m hoping will bear out, as I near the end of the collection of episodes. I’ll tell you this up front, the disc set looks and sounds great, as I’m sure you’d expect from HBO. As there’s a great focus on the music of the city in this series, you’ll be happy to know that the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is absolutely pitch-perfect – a demo-quality soundtrack with great dynamic range during the musical interludes and convincing atmosphere throughout. Special features are abundant, with episode commentaries, music commentaries, “making-of” featurettes, and an interactive “Look at the Music and Culture of New Orleans“.

AMAZON: $55.99


7. INFERNO

Inferno [Blu-ray] (1980)

    A young woman stumbles upon a mysterious diary that reveals the secrets of “The Three Mothers” and unleashes a nightmare world of demonic evil. As the unstoppable horror spreads from Rome to New York City, this unholy trinity must be stopped before the world is submerged in the blood of the innocent.

    Written and directed by Dario Argento, INFERNO is the visually stunning second chapter of the “Three Mothers” trilogy begun with the classic SUSPIRIA. This surreal shocker stars Irene Miracle (NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS), Daria Nicolodi (DEEP RED) and Leigh McCloskey (DALLAS), and features a pulse-pounding original score by Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Any new Argento on Blu-ray from Blue Underground is cause for celebration. And the debut of Inferno is no exception. I haven’t had a chance to screen the disc yet but early reviews are quite positive, noting that definition and detail is on-par with other high-def versions, but with more accurate colour timing and less digital processing. Great news for fans! Blue Underground’s Blu-ray edition of the film includes an interviews with stars Leigh McCloskey, Irene Miracle, Argento and assistant director Lamberto Bava, the theatrical trailer and an intro by Dario Argento himself!

AMAZON: $20.99


8. FAIR GAME

Fair Game [Blu-ray] (2010)

    From the director of The Bourne Identity comes this riveting thriller inspired by the experiences of real-life CIA officer Valerie Plame (Academy Award® nominee Naomi Watts). When Plame’s retired ambassador husband Joe Wilson (Academy Award® winner Sean Penn) writes a newspaper article challenging the basis for the U.S. war on Iraq, the White House leaks Plame’s undercover status—leaving her international contacts vulnerable, her career in shambles and her life in danger. Crackling with sharp dialogue, gripping intrigue and heart-pounding suspense, Fair Game is the adventure that’s so unbelievable, it can only be real.

I really like the work of Doug Liman (Swingers, Go and of course, The Bourne Identity) and count Fair Game among his best to date. This is a fantastic, taught spy film, more along the lines of le Carré than Fleming (Bond, and even Bourne, fans looking for a quick super-spy fix should look elsewhere.) It’s no surprise that both Watts and Penn are exceptional in their roles here, both drawing every ounce of sincerity out of their their real-life counterparts, helping to put faces to some of those whose lives were torn apart by Bush administration bureaucrats. The film looks amazing on Blu, almost demo-disc quality, exhibiting bold, accurate colours and tremendous detail. I had an issue with the soundtrack of my disc but haven’t found another review online with the same problem, so I’ll have to do a little more research on that one and get back to you. The only supplemental feature is a really fantastic one – a commentary track by the real Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson! Awesome!

AMAZON: $19.99


9. SOYLENT GREEN

Soylent Green [Blu-ray] (1973)

    Soylent Green is landmark screen science-fiction, a riveting entertainment and a cautionary tale that holds a mirror to a tomorrow rife with ecological disaster. Working well again in the futuristic genre following Planet of the Apes and The Omega Man, action titan Charlton Heston portrays Thorn, a detective prowling the dank streets of a polluted, overpopulated Big Apple gone rotten in 2022. He’s trailing a murderer – and the trail leads to a stunning discovery. Vividly realized, Soylent Green’s world gains its power not just from its special effects but from its heart – a human dimension magnified by the performance of legendary Edward G. Robinson in his moving screen farewell.

It’s almost unbelievable – two films starring Heston and Edward G. Robinson on Blu-ray on the same week! Soylent Green is something of a sci-fi classic but hasn’t stood the test of time as other films in the genre. Director Richard Fleischer‘s vision of the future includes too many ’70s throwbacks for the film to feel timely today but the story still holds up. The disc looks to have been minted from an older HD source but is strong just the same. I found the mono DTS HD-MA track thin but clean and legible, most likely quite accurate to its source. The commentary track from the late director and star Leigh Taylor-Young has been ported over from the previously issued DVD, as have the two vintage featurettes and theatrical trailer.

AMAZON: $14.49


10. DOGTOOTH

Dogtooth [Blu-ray] (2011)

    Graceful, enigmatic, and often frightening, DOGTOOTH is an ingenious dark comedy that won the Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, propelling Yorgos Lanthimos to the forefront of contemporary cinema’s most ambitious young filmmakers.

    In an effort to protect their three children from the corrupting influence of the outside world, a Greek couple transforms their home into a gated compound of cultural deprivation and strict rules of behavior. But children cannot remain innocent forever. When the father brings home a young woman to satisfy his son’s sexual urges, the family’s engineered “reality” begins to crumble, with devastating consequences.

    Like the haunting, dystopic visions of Michael Haneke and Gaspar Noé, DOGTOOTH punctuates its compelling drama with moments of shocking violence, creating a biting social satire that is as profound as it is provocative.

I haven’t seen Dogtooth yet but by all accounts it’s fantastic. I include it here as it was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

AMAZON: $20.99


Anime of the Week: EVANGELION: 2.22 YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE

Evangelion: 2.22 You Can [Not] Advance [Blu-ray]

    The landmark anime Evangelion evolves, reaching new heights of intensity in the feature film: Evangelion 2.22. In this explosive new story, brutal action and primal emotion clash as a group of young pilots maneuver their towering cyborg Eva Units into combat against a deadly and disturbing enemy.

    In the battle to prevent the apocalyptic Third Impact, Shinji and Rei were forced to carry humanity’s hopes on their shoulders. Now, as the onslaught of the bizarre, monstrous Angels escalates, they find their burden shared by two new Eva pilots, the fiery Asuka and the mysterious Mari. In this thrilling experience for fans of giant robot destruction, the young pilots fight desperately to save mankind – and struggle to save themselves.

Another disc I’ve yet to lay eyes on but recommend all the same! If FUNimation‘s Blu-ray disc of anime-fan favourite Evangelion 2.22 can even approach the audio/visual splendour that was their previous volume (read my gushing review here) we’re all in for a treat.

AMAZON: $19.99


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:

Mad Men: Season Four [Blu-ray] (2010)Sherlock Holmes: Complete Collection [Blu-ray] (1939)The Resident [Blu-ray] (2010)Teen Wolf [Blu-ray] (1985)



Made in Dagenham [Blu-ray] (2010)Scream [Blu-ray] (1996)Scream 2 [Blu-ray] (1997)Scream 3 [Blu-ray]



All Good Things [Blu-ray] (2010)The Secret of NIMH [Blu-ray] (1982)Against All Odds (Special Edition) [Blu-ray] (1984)Awakenings [Blu-ray] (1990)



The Greatest Story Ever Told [Blu-ray] (1965)The Terror [Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack] (1964)Dementia 13 Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack (1963)Poor Pretty Eddie Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack (1975)



Attack Force Z: Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray] (1981)Charlotte's Web [Blu-ray] (2006)The Long Kiss Goodnight [Blu-ray] (1996)Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 (Part 2) [Blu-ray] (2011)



All Dogs Go to Heaven [Blu-ray] (1989)All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 [Blu-ray]The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (Two Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (2004)Invincible [Blu-ray] (2006)



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