It’s another one of those weeks where I haven’t had a chance to screen many of the most intriguing Blu-ray discs on offer. As a result, the Top 5 list ends up being comprised of titles in order of my excitement for them, balanced with what I’ve read in early reviews. Here we go!
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- “It is 1942 and the German submarine fleet is heavily engaged in the so called “Battle of the Atlantic” to harass and destroy English shipping. With better escorts of the Destroyer Class, however, German U-Boats have begun to take heavy losses. “Das Boot” is the story of one such U-Boat crew, with the film examining how these submariners maintained their professionalism as soldiers, attempted to accomplish impossible missions, while all the time attempting to understand and obey the ideology of the government under which they served.“
All right, not only is this Wolfgang Petersen‘s best film ever, Das Boot is also one of the best films ever made. It presents an unflinchingly tense look at the lives of the captain and crew of U-96, as they alternately battle the allied forces across the Atlantic and battle boredom and frayed nerves awaiting action in their claustrophobic, underwater tin can. You’d think nearly four hours of waiting and sweating and not ever seeing the sun would be tedious but it’s to Petersen’s credit that the film just rockets by. We sympathize with the plight of the men, all the while biting our nails waiting for the next encounter, the next malfunction or simply for submarine life to get the better of their spirits. It’s astounding work that holds up thirty years on.
Sony has got another winner on its hands, presenting the 1981 film, in its Blu-ray debut, in both the original theatrical cut and the much longer, more involved Director’s Cut, each on its own disc. There’s no hint here of the longer, uncut version, released to German television with a lengthy 293-minute runtime in 1988 and on DVD in 2004 but you know, that’s all right with me. The film becomes ungainly with that much extra footage anyway. In every other way, though, this 2-disc set is complete. While the transfers won’t wow most viewers new to the film, this is clearly the best it’s ever looked on home video. The Director’s Cut maxes out its dual-layer platter, leaving room for little else on the disc. I noticed some artifacting (clearly, the film doesn’t compress easily to fit the 50-gig limit) but it’s slight and won’t offend. Both versions appear similar, otherwise, with inconsistent grain and black levels, less detail than you’d hope but stable, if appropriately dull colour throughout. The longer cut features a nice DTS-HD Master 5.1 track, while the Theatrical Cut sports a lossless 2.0 track (advertised as 5.1).
Special features are fantastic across the board, highlighted by the feature length commentary on the Director’s Cut (hosted by disc producer Ortwin Freyermuth and featuring Petersen and actor Jürgen Prochnow) and the 45-minute HD doc, “Wolfgang Petersen-Back To The Boat“. I also really enjoyed “The Perfect Boat” featurette, which looks at the creation of the Director’s Cut of the film, finding a cut of the film that could exist between the truncated Theatrical version and the Uncut version that aired on TV.
- Wolfgang Petersen-Back To The Boat
- Going Deeper:
- Maria’s Take
- The Perfect Boat
- Rooms Overview
- Entry Conning Tower
- Torpedo Room & Crew Quarters
- Captain’s & Officers’ Rooms
- The Control Room
- Petty Officers’ Room & Galley
- Diesel & Electric Motor Rooms
- Historical Material
- Behind the Scenes (1981)
- Battle of the Atlantic (1983)
- Director’s Commentary – Wolfgang Petersen
- “In The Sacrifice, Alexander’s (Erland Josephson) birthday party is interrupted by news that World War III has begun and mankind is hours away from annihilation. To avoid war, Alexander promises to God that he’ll sacrifice all he has — even his son. This new remastered edition of Tarkovsky‘s final film features a new, much improved transfer of the film in anamorphic widescreen and the first time on Blu-ray! Special features include the feature length documentary ‘Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky’, a behind the scenes look at one of the most influential directors of our time, photo gallery, trailers and more! (NOTE: This two disc set features the movie on Blu-ray and the second disc with the special features is a DVD) “
Tarkovsky’s final film, The Sacrifice is out today on Blu from Kino and it’s killing me that I haven’t been able to take a look at it yet! This is one of the most exciting releases of the month, sporting a transfer that is apparently the best the film has seen on home video. DVD Beaver has noted, however, that there is edge enhancement present, possibly a holdover of the print used (doesn’t quite make sense to me, unless the print was digitally processed at some point.) Nevertheless, the word on the disc is generally positive. I’ll have more to say about this one when I get my hands on it.
3. 13 ASSASSINS
- “Cult director Takashi Miike (“Ichi the Killer”, “Audition”) delivers a bravado period action film set at the end of Japan’s feudal era in which a group of unemployed samurai are enlisted to bring down a sadistic lord and prevent him from ascending to the throne and plunging the country into a wartorn future.“
New Takashi Miike with tons of bloody samurai action. ‘Nuff said. If you’re a fan of the man’s work or a fan of the genre you’re going to be so pleased with this film and, from what I’ve read around the ‘nets, pretty pleased with the Blu-ray disc from Magnolia Pictures. Word on the street speaks of a pretty film-like transfer and a booming Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 that’ll knock your eardrums silly during the climactic battle sequence. Extras include almost 20-minutes of deleted scenes, an interview with Miike and trailers.
- “Eight French Christian monks live in harmony with their Muslim brothers in a monastery perched in the mountains of North Africa in the 1990s. When a crew of foreign workers is massacred by an Islamic fundamentalist group, fear sweeps though the region. The army offers them protection, but the monks refuse. Should they leave? Despite the growing menace in their midst, they slowly realize that they have no choice but to stay… come what may. This film is loosely based on the life of the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, from 1993 until their kidnapping in 1996.“
I have to admit that I’m not exactly aching to watch Of Gods and Men, despite the accolades it received throughout the past year. I’m sure it’s amazing but it seems like it’ll be a slow moving drama about a bunch of monks. At least the photography, from what I’ve seen so far, is quite stunning. The disc is receiving rave reviews, with Martin Liebman over at Blu-ray.com giving it a 5/5, calling it “one of the finest around“. Pretty strong words! The French-language DTS-HD MA 5.1 receives similar praise, with the lack of special features on the disc referred to as its only “weak spot”.
- “A train pulls into the station – it’s the end of the line. A Hobo jumps from a freight car, hoping for a fresh start in a new city. Instead, he finds himself trapped in an urban hell. This is a world where criminals rule the streets and Drake, the city’s crime boss, reigns supreme alongside his sadistic murderous sons, Slick & Ivan. Amidst the chaos, the Hobo comes across a pawn shop window displaying a second hand lawn mower. He dreams of making the city a beautiful place and starting a new life for himself. But as the brutality continues to rage around him, he notices a shotgun hanging above the lawn mower… Quickly, he realizes the only way to make a difference in this town is with that gun in his hand and two shells in its chamber.“
Oh man, I can’t wait to watch Rutger Hauer do his thing with a shotgun!
That didn’t come out right.
I’ve been waiting a long time to see this film. Since the fake trailer appeared as a part of Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse interstitials (Well, to be fair, it was screened here in Canada along with the other trailers, as the winner of the SXSW trailer competition. I guess you folks south of the border didn’t get to see it on the big screen.) And now, having missed my chance to see the film on the big screen, I’m excited to catch this Canadian production on Blu. The Blu-ray of the digitally lensed film has been getting positive reviews for its technical merits and is also stacked with extras. A full listing of the bonus goodies can be found in our previous post, here: Hobo with a Shotgun coming to Blu-ray in July
CANADIAN EXCLUSIVE: ESSENTIAL KILLING
- “A Taliban member who lives in Afghanistan is taken captive by the Americans after killing three American soldiers. He is transferred to Europe for interrogation but manages to escape from his captors and becomes an escaped convict on a continent he does not know.“
Sometimes I feel really lucky to be in Canada. Today is one of those days. Today we’re graced with a Blu-ray release of Essential Killing, the exceptional 2010 film by Jerzy Skolimowski, the filmmaker most well known for writing Roman Polanski’s Knife on the Water. Here, he crafts something of an existential chase film, a survival thriller, if you will, with the remarkable Vincent Gallo on the run, at the centre of the proceedings. Nearly wordless, the film launches Gallo into the wild, alone and wouded, hunted by foreign forces anxious to reclaim their Taliban prisoner.
It goes without saying that Gallo is fantastic here, bleeding and killing to survive. It’s probably his best performance since his own Buffalo 66. But what’s also remarkable is the restraint Skolimowski exhibits in his writing. Nothing is wasted in this film. There isn’t a single false note. Dialogue is spare but right on the money, while action is key. The often abstract score by Pawel Mykietyn (with consultant Janice Ginsberg) compliments the gorgeous, stark photography of Adam Sikora. With it’s off-kilter tone and wordless tale, Essential Killing isn’t for everyone but will reward those who give it a chance.
The Blu-ray disc from eOne isn’t a stunner but that’s more than likely due to the low-budget source material. Blacks are uneven, often looking dark grey and, while detail is acceptable, it will never blow you away. Colours are muted by choice but are stable and accurate. Fairing better is the strong 5.1 English/Polish DTS-HD Master Audio track. Dialogue is clean and clear, there’s plenty of ambient sound and while the explosions in the early part of the film don’t quite compare to big budget Hollywood, they’ll give your china a good rattle. Sadly, there are no special features on the Blu-ray disc.
AMAZON: $18.89 CDN
ALSO AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY THIS WEEK
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