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Top 5 New Blu-ray releases for the Week of November 9

Top 5 New Blu-ray releases for the Week of November 9

The last couple of weeks have been absolutely overwhelming with scads of killer Blu-ray releases that have been making my head spin (and my eyes exhausted from all the hours of viewing time I’ve been cramming in, outside of the hours of monitor viewing I cram in as part of my daily office grind.) This week is a bit more manageable for we Blu-aholics but, thanks to a couple of A-list films and a few surprises, it’s absolutely just as enjoyable.


1. ANTICHRIST

Antichrist: (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]


I know that the films of Danish auteur Lars Von Trier aren’t for everyone but I kind of worship the ground the man walks on. It’s pretty tough to effect me on any level with film these days but Von Trier seems capable of touching some kind of nerve in me with every one of his works. I wouldn’t call any of his films perfect, by any means. But they’re all masterworks of the medium hewn by one of the finest craftsmen working in the business today. His latest opus, Antichrist might be the most raw and effecting of anything he’s released to date. And it is, without question, the most incredible Blu-ray released today. But if your stomach is easily turned or if you have no taste for a little “art” in your “film” then you’ll most likely want to skip Antichrist.

Special Features:

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Lars von Trier and supervised by director of photography Anthony Dod Mantle with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
  • Audio commentary by von Trier and professor Murray Smith
  • Video interviews with von Trier and actors Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg
  • A collection of video pieces delving into the production of Antichrist, including interviews with von Trier and key members of his filmmaking team as well as behind-the-scenes footage
  • Chaos Reigns at the Cannes Film Festival 2009, a documentary on the film’s world premiere, plus press interviews with Dafoe and Gainsbourg
  • Three theatrical trailers
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Ian Christie

Amazon: $29.49

ALSO AVAILABLE:

If the premium Criterion Collection edition of the film profiled above is a little beyond your budget, eOne films is also releasing a more affordable version of Antichrist on Blu-ray today. No word on how the transfers of the two discs compare but the special features look relatively similar.

The Visual Style of Antichrist from eOne Films on Vimeo.

Antichrist [Blu-ray]


Special Features:

  • Feature Commentary with Director Lars von Trier and Journalist Murray Smith
  • The Antichrist Test (English subtitled)
  • Antichrist – Chaos Reigns at the Cannes Film Festival 2009
  • Confessions About Anxiety
  • Eden – Production Design
  • The Sound and Music of Antichrist (English subtitled)
  • The Three Beggars – The Animals of Antichrist
  • The Make-Up Effects and Props of Antichrist
  • The Evil of Woman
  • The Visual Style of Antichrist (English subtitled)
  • Interviews

Amazon.ca: $19.99 CDN


2. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy) (2010)

It’s almost half-way through November and I still haven’t seen Scott Pilgrim yet. Sigh…I’m starting to believe it’s never going to happen. Honestly, I have pals who’ve seen it three, four times already and I’m still waiting for the chance to have my Pilgrim-cherry popped. I won’t have any time to run out and grab this disc any time this week, so I’ll be waiting to hear what you think of it. Do you think it’s been worth the wait? Does the disc live up to the film itself?

READ MORE: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Blu-ray officially announced

Amazon: $24.99


3. SHERLOCK

Sherlock: Season One [Blu-ray]

I love Sherlock Holmes mysteries in any form. I guess it was only a matter of time before some genius had the idea of taking those famous tales by Arthur Conan Doyle and giving them a modern spin. But as wonderful as the script-work of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat happens to be, the real breakout star for North American audiences is going to be the electrifying Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. Martin Freeman, our future Bilbo Baggins is also wonderful as faithful partner Watson.

Amazon: $27.99


4. DC SHOWCASE: ANIMATED ORIGINAL SHORTS

Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam (DC Showcase) [Blu-ray]

If you’ve been reading our reviews of the last number of DC Animated Blu-ray releases, you’ll note that no matter the quality of the main feature, one of the aspects of the discs that stands out as truly spectacular time and again is the DC Showcase short film. This new release from the studio collects the last number of shorts and adds a brand new, exclusive Superman/Shazam team-up to the mix. This is some of the best stuff that Warner animation has created in years, if not ever and definitely worth a look.

Amazon: $19.99


5. OCEAN’S 11

Ocean's 11 (50th Anniversary) [Blu-ray] (1960)

This is the classic. The real-deal. The good stuff. Sinatra and all his boys making trouble and messing things up in Vegas. This new 50th Anniversary Blu-ray edition of Ocean’s 11 from WHV isn’t going to blow your mind if you’re not already a fan but will certainly impress those who’ve been longing for a little Rat-Pack in HD. The image is clean and clear with vibrant, if not slightly unstable colours and more detail than you’ve ever seen in the film before. The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix isn’t very modern but will no doubt delight fans of the film. An excellent commentary track from Frank Sinatra Jr. and Angie Dickinson is the highlight of a collection of special features that also packs in a couple of trailers and a bunch of vintage clips.

Amazon: $19.99


6. CIRCUS

Circus [Blu-ray]

Boy, did this show ever take me by surprise (and no, it’s not because it’s number six in our Top 5 list this week!) Circus is a new reality show from PBS following the Big Apple Circus from the inception of one of its yearly productions through to their “350-show tour – an epic, unforgettable journey from town to town and stand to stand, from the big top to “backyard” where the trailers are parked and the heart of the circus beats.” It seems to have just debuted on the network last week but the entire 6-episode series is already available on Blu-ray today. It’s unfortunately shot and transferred in 1080i, which only impacts the image a handful of times (an unfortunate “ghosting” effect.) Otherwise, this is a great looking high-def representation of a beautifully photographed reality show.

Recommended!

Amazon: $31.49


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:

Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series [Blu-ray] (2010)Grown Ups (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (2010)Charlie St. Cloud [Blu-ray] (2010)Tremors [Blu-ray] (1990)



Xam'd: Collection 2 [Blu-ray]Love Ranch [Blu-ray] (2010)Metalocalypse: Season 3 [Blu-ray]Scooby-Doo 1 & 2 Collection [Blu-ray]



Hunt to Kill [Blu-ray] (2010)Knucklehead [Blu-ray] (2010)Damned by Dawn [Blu-ray] (2009)Ramona & Beezus [Blu-ray]



Robin-B-Hood [Blu-Ray] (2006)Locked Down [Blu-ray] (2010)The Dry Land [Blu-ray] (2010)A Christmas Carol [Blu-ray] (1984)


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North By Northwest: 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Disc Review

North By Northwest: 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Disc Review

NORTH BY NORTHWEST: 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (1959, Blu-ray released November 3, 2009 – MSRP $34.99)

North By Northwest Blu-ray DiscWe’re entering into an unprecedented era of film restoration. As time marches on, we run the risk of losing our cellulose acetate film treasures to vinegar syndrome, fire and neglect. Luckily for us, Warner has stepped in on this count and delivered a revelatory new edition of Alfred Hitchcock‘s North By Northwest. This is, no doubt the finest presentation the film has seen since first being exhibited in theatres fifty years ago!

But before rambling any further about restoration and film transfers allow me a moment to address the film itself. North by Northwest is one of those rare Hitchcock films that has eluded me for years. I don’t mean that I’ve had difficulty grasping its meaning. I’ve just never had the chance to watch it! Crazy. I know. I own countless numbers of Hitchcock DVD boxed sets, catch his films on TV when I can and have even had a rare occasion to enjoy a few on the big screen. But never North by Northwest. That is, until I got my hands on the new Blu-ray 50th Anniversary Edition from Warner Home Video!

North By Northwest is what you’d call a “typical” Hitchcock thriller, crafted on a familiar thematic backbone in his familiar style. The isolated “wrong man”, in this case cocky ad exec Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant in one of his most famous roles), who is confident and popular by nature, now lost and alone. Mistaken for a government agent and drawn into a world of espionage and danger with nowhere safe to turn. The femme fatale (Eva Marie Saint) who may be keeping him from danger or leading him to his death. The heavy (James Mason) and his lethal underling (a very young and lean Martin Landau). All the pieces are in place and set to a fantastic, humourous tale of intrigue featuring some of the most famous and signature scenes in all cinematic history – the bi-plane pursuit in the the cornfield, the stabbing in the U.N. building, the chase across the faces of the Mount Rushmore monument. This is classic, perfectly sculpted intrigue. A romantic thriller and a perfect showcase for the charm, comic timing and charisma of Grant.

The Blu-ray disc features a brand new restoration of North By Northwest from the original VistaVision elements. And holy crap, the results just blew me away! Watching this disc makes me want to hug someone over at Warner. Somebody over there really, really cares! Make no mistake, the film still has the appearance of something made mid-century but the film transfer to video in this case is damn near perfect. This must be what it was like to watch North By Northwest in 1959! Um…except that there wasn’t an awesome Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track to enjoy back then.

The Blu-ray comes packaged in a beautiful, little hardcover digibook. I’ve mentioned a few times how much I’ve come to love these things. If I have to own packaged media, let it be book style! The BD-50 disc is completely crammed with bonus features. To be honest, I’m not quite sure how Warner managed to include the film in such a high-bitrate encode AND squish all of these extras on there along with it. Amazing compression work. Aside from a commentary track by screenwriter Ernest Lehman (recorded five years before his death in 2005) which begins a bit dull but quickly heats up, the disc presents you with four documentary features of varying lengths – a couple of them in HD and exclusive to the Blu-ray! They’re all quite wonderful and include a “making-of” from the 2000 DVD release, a near-90 minute 2004 PBS biography of Cary Grant and a half-hour look at the film by a host of modern filmmakers. My favourite of the bunch, however was the hour-long “The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style“. My only complaint is that the doc is far from comprehensive, primarily focussing on Hitchcock films in the Warner library. I guess that doesn’t come as much of a surprise in a Warner produced feature. Trailers and a gallery of 43 stills round out the set.

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The National Parks: America's Best Idea Blu-ray Disc Review

The National Parks: America's Best Idea Blu-ray Disc Review

THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA (2009, Blu-ray released October 6, 2009 – MSRP $129.99)

The National Parks: America's Best Idea Blu-ray Disc ReviewWho doesn’t love a Ken Burns documentary? The man who changed the world of non-fiction filmmaking forever with his incredible Civil War, Baseball and Jazz series’ for PBS (and the namesake of iPhotos finest still-image effect) is back with The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, a six part, twelve hour miniseries now available on Blu-ray!

I’m almost embarrassed to say that I’ve never been to any of the parks that are the subject of this documentary series. I shouldn’t really be too hard on myself. I am Canadian after all. These are not technically my National Parks (Read about Parks Canada at their official website.) And yet, I found The National Parks: America’s Best Idea an engrossing viewing experience. It’s not at all what I was expecting. I had a feeling that I was going to see something akin to the Planet Earth series. You know, a lot of nature. A lot of discussion about plants and animals, geology and history. Instead, Ken Burns serves up compelling stories of the men and women responsible for making the parks the protected landmarks we know today. If you’re not in the right mood for these or don’t have the time, you might find yourself a little frustrated by the pacing but know that you’re watching one of the most well researched, well assembled documentary series of the decade. This is amazing stuff. It just might not be for everybody.

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea comes to Blu in a beautiful 6-disc package, each disc containing one of the 2-hour long episodes and a bonus feature. I’d love to say that you’re going to get reference-quality material here but, sadly, you’re not going to be using these discs to show off your home theatre set-up. Video is presented in 1080i (Not exactly sure why PBS used an interlaced transfer…Weird) that seems quite well done and accurate to the source material. I think it’s the film itself, or more specifically how the Super 16mm film elements themselves were handled that is problematic. The photography is gorgeous here, don’t get me wrong. And when the film pans over still images or cuts to an interview clip everything is sharp and detailed. The problem is the noisy and often overly-soft nature photography. Super 16mm, while not possessing the relative resolution of 35mm, should contain more video information than Blu-ray is capable of displaying. The shots in question from Ken Burns’ doc, however often lack fine-image and shadow detail and appear to have been “pushed” to draw out more colour or contrast. Everything you’ll see is picturesque and beautiful. I don’t think there’s a poorly photographed moment in the 12 hours of programming. It’s just not going to be the smooth, slick, modern-looking Blu-ray showcase that Planet Earth is.

There is plenty of value here, beyond the documentary itself. Each of the six discs sports a bonus feature. Included you’ll find a making-of featurette, a 20 minute piece on the photography, music videos, deleted segments, additional short documentaries and more. Most of the extras add about 30-40 minutes of additional content to the disc.

Watch a 26 minute preview of the National Parks: America’s Best Idea series below!

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