Blu-Ray Roundup: June 3rd 2014

Blu-Ray Roundup: June 2nd 2014

by Pete M

Good morning readers, and welcome to the 1st installment of the Blu-Ray Roundup column on We Live Film! As a recap, this is my weekly series where I review the latest High Definition (and some DVD) titles in brief. Without further ado, here are my mini-reviews/thoughts on the latest home video releases.

Touch of Evil- Universal Home Entertainment

Touch of Evil (Universal)

Touch of Evil

Distributor: Universal Home Entertainment

Street Date: April 15th 2014

 

  • This Limited Edition Blu-Ray set for Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil is simply tremendous. Featuring a brand new restoration of the classic film noir from high-resolution 35mm film elements, this is the version to own on home video. From the famous opening tracking shot to the final, shocking moments, Touch of Evil remains a landmark film, and one of the very best thrillers from Hollywood’s golden age. Charlton Heston plays a Mexican (!) drug enforcement agent investigating a car bomb that exploded on the American side of the border. He gets in over his head when shady Police Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) joins in the efforts, and he suspects that Quinlan and his crew are not only planting evidence, but they have been “fixing” criminal cases to win convictions for years. Janet Leigh plays Heston’s girlfriend Susie, who unwillingly becomes entangled in the conspiracy, adding more drama to the case. The dialogue is incredible, the black and white cinematography gorgeous, and this film still moves at an enchanting pace after all these years. The Blu-Ray edition from Universal features the aforementioned restored and remastered transfer that is stunning to behold, with authentic and lively DTS-HD master audio sound. This is packed with great special features to boot, including: a retrospective documentary, behind-the-scenes of the “reconstruction” cut, four commentaries, and three different cuts of the film itself. If you pick up this Limited Edition set, you’ll also get some great packaging that includes a booklet featuring Orson Welles’ personal notes from the production in a digipack slip-box treatment. Outstanding, and a must own Blu-Ray!
I, Frankenstein (Lionsgate)

I, Frankenstein (Lionsgate)

I, Frankenstein

Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Street Date: May 13th 2014

 

  • Ouch. As a huge fan of Mary Shelley’s original novel, the Universal Pictures’ classic franchise, and even the Hammer film entries, this new ‘take’ on the character (based on a graphic novel) is horrendous. What starts out semi-promising with the original story told fairly faithfully in the opening segments, ends up with Gargoyles taking Frankenstein’s monster from his arctic home, subsequent centuries of demon slaying, and a secret war between gargoyles and demons straight out of the Underworld “ franchise. While researching the movie, I found out that there was originally going to be a cameo in the film from Kate Beckinsale’s Selene character, further cementing the connection and intended focus for this intended franchise. It’s shame, because I really like Aaron Eckhart as an actor, and it shocks me that he signed on to a script this laughable. The special effects range from OK to ridiculous, and the production design is seemingly borrowed from several other (better) franchises. The good news is that, for what it’s worth, the Blu-Ray edition from Lionsgate looks splendid in High Definition. This is a very dark film for the most part, and the transfer handles that aspect with ease, with inky black levels and a green/blue color grading. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track is another area of strength, with plenty of dynamic range for the never-ending onslaught of action and sound effects. The Blu-Ray also features two audio commentaries and numerous featurettes on the making of the film. Unless you’re a fan of the Underworld series and dig these modern day “updates” on classic Horror stories, I recommend renting this one first, even with the fine technical presentation.
Weekend at Bernie's (MGM/Fox)

Weekend at Bernie’s (MGM/Fox)

Weekend at Bernie’s

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Street Date: May 6th 2014

 

  • It’s amazing that this one-joke movie has retained such an avid fan-base and cult following twenty-five years after it’s release, and I say that respectfully, as I still get a kick out of Weekend at Bernie’s. But you do have to admit this is a one-joke film, cleverly written to keep the laughs coming with each unique situation our young protagonists get themselves into. You know the plot by now, two eager young insurance company employees find themselves in a bizarre predicament when their boss is killed by the mob, and they’re wrongly implicated in his embezzlements and fraud he left behind. Without a choice in the matter, Larry and Richard have to pretend that their former boss Bernie is alive and well throughout a weekend of partying, shenanigans, and a determined (and increasingly frustrated) mob hit man. I had completely forgotten that Night of the Comet’s Mary Catherine Stewart was in this one, and she turns in a fun performance as well. 20th Century Fox’s Blu-Ray release features a surprisingly good transfer, which must have been cared for quite well over the years. Detail is solid, colors are bright, and film grain is healthy and prominent. The audio, while never impressive, gets the job done here and dialogue comes through clear. Unfortunately only the films original theatrical trailer is included as the lone supplement. Still, this one is a lot of fun, and comes recommended.

 

A Field in England (Drafthouse Films)

A Field in England (Drafthouse Films)

A Field in England

Distributor: Drafthouse Films

Street Date: April 8th 2014

 

  • Ben Wheatley is a filmmaker that I have much respect for. Like a modern day Kubrick or Lynch, his films defy explanation sometimes, and rely on the viewers experience more than a specific solution, conclusion, or traditional narrative. Therefore, allow me to engage in the hypocrisy of explaining a film that doesn’t want to be explained. A Field in England takes place during the 17th century English civil war. We encounter a group of men who side-trek to find a buried treasure, they’re soldiers, deserters, outcasts of their kind. Through the influence of psychedelic mushrooms, the already confusing story takes an even stranger course, with 2001 inspired sequences of light and sound. Sound incomprehensible? It is for the most part, but it’s part of the enjoyment of this little unique gem from Wheatley. The Blu-Ray edition from Drafthouse Films features a very fine Black and White High-Def presentation, more than suitable audio to support dialogue and the wackier audio-centric moments of the film, and comes loaded with special features. Some of the more enjoyable supplements include: commentaries, featurettes, interviews, costume design, anatomy of a scene, and the 16-page booklet included. Definitely recommended, though you should prepare yourself for a strange ride.
Double Indemnity (Universal)

Double Indemnity (Universal)

Double Indemnity

Distributor: Universal Home Entertainment

Street Date: April 15th 2014

 

  • Like their release for Touch of Evil, Universal Home Entertainment has gone back to the vaults and restored this brilliant film noir for it’s 70th Anniversary. Double Indemnity stars Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff, our narrator and insurance salesman who simply cannot resist the captivating Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). Walter falls right into Phyllis’ scheme to murder her husband, stage it as an accident, and collect the insurance money from the double indemnity clause in their policy. All the while Edward G. Robinson’s Barton Keyes suspects that something sinister could be happening behind the scenes of this “accident.” Double Indemnity is the epitome of film noir, with a mood and style that other genre moves have envied and recycled since its release. The performances are note perfect, the cinematography executed to perfection, and the music sizzling, which all make for a brilliant viewing experience. It was a pleasure revisiting Double Indemnity on this 70th Anniversary Blu-Ray edition, which features a remarkable restoration from the 35mm negative, surprisingly capable and dynamic HD audio, and a wealth of bonus material for fans to sift through. Supplements include: an introduction by TCM host Robert Osborne, a “shadows of suspense” featurette looking at films from the 1940’s, a feature commentary with critic Richard Schickel, a feature commentary with screenwriter Lem Dobbs and Twilight Time’s Nick Redman, and the full-length television film version from 1973. The packaging is fantastic as well, with an attractive digi-slip box that includes a theatrical reproduction poster, lobby cards, and a still from the alternate ending. Highly recommended!

 

Vampire Academy (Anchor Bay)

Vampire Academy (Anchor Bay)

Vampire Academy

Distributor: Anchor Bay Home Entertainment

Street Date: May 20th 2014

 

  • Twilight meets Mean Girls in Vampire Academy; a truly awful film experience that I imagine even the Twilight fans will scoff at. Based on the novel of the same name, Vampire Academy follows Rose and Lissa, two young vampire friends who, after escaping from St. Vladimir’s Academy (Hogwarts for blood suckers), are returned against their will to a school environment in the midst of hierarchal and social change. I expected a lot more from the Director of Mean Girls and the writer of Heathers, two films that not only made me laugh out loud, but remain comedies that I’ve revisited multiple times. The love story is as dull as can be, the dialogue recycled, and the darkly “comedic” moments just don’t work here. The Blu-Ray release from Anchor Bay looks nice enough, with a well-balanced transfer and a decent audio track. Special features include an alternate opening, deleted scenes, and an interview with the author of the book series. Unfortunately, I recommend skipping this one altogether.

 

Big Bad Wolves (Magnet Releasing)

Big Bad Wolves (Magnet Releasing)

Big Bad Wolves

Distributor: Magnet Releasing

Street Date: April 22nd 2014

 

  • When a movie is hailed as the “Best Film of the Year” from none other than Quentin Tarantino, cinema aficionados take notice and seek it out. Big Bad Wolves, while I wouldn’t praise it as highly as Mr. Tarantino, is still a brutally disturbing film experience that I would recommend. When the innocent youth in an Israeli town are disappearing and showing up murdered, the public eye falls on a local teacher named Dror. After a police team including lead investigator Micki tortures Dror with no leads, a video of the interrogation and torture posts online, and Micki is fired from the force. Still determined to get his man, Micki and the father of one of the missing victims kidnap Dror, taking him to an abandoned house to force him to reveal the locations of the girls. It’s safe to say that things don’t quite go as planned. That’s all I’ll say regarding the plot in an effort to not spoil this brilliant little thriller for you. It reminded me of the recent Prisoners starring Hugh Jackman, in both its execution and unsettling nature. The Blu-Ray edition from Magnet Releasing features superb video quality, with very fine detail and a somewhat washed-out color scheme. In addition, the audio track serves the film well. Special Features include a making of, featurette, and a trailer. Recommended, but beware that this is a gruesome and quietly unsettling motion picture.

 

Stalingrad 3D (Columbia/Sony Pictures)

Stalingrad 3D (Columbia/Sony Pictures)

Stalingrad

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Street Date: May 13th 2014

 

  • Stalingrad set box office records in Russia, but has not been widely promoted in the United States. Set during the famous and brutal battle of Stalingrad during World War II, the film follows Gromov and his fellow soviet troops as they fend of German-Nazi invaders while trying to hold the city as they wait for reinforcements to arrive. A love story plays out between Gromov and a female survivor who lives in the building the soviet troops are occupying. This is an odd mix of a War film, with visuals and action sequences, however impressive they may be, nearly glorifying war as if it’s straight out of Call of Duty. To make matters stranger, the awkward and melodramatic love story is frequently jarring among the brutal action and battle sequences. This is a film I will absolutely revisit for select moments, as the battles are incredibly effective, with quality special and practical effects employed. Unfortunately, I’ll be fast-forwarding to those moments, skipping over the unfortunate human story, which could have been handled better. The Blu-Ray edition from Columbia Pictures/Sony is mighty impressive, boasting gritty and bold cinematography, incredible production design, and a bleak, depressing color grade. The audio is equally as impressive, especially throughout the battle sequences that will easily give your system a workout. Special features include the making of Stalingrad and a Blu-Ray exclusive stereoscopic Stalingrad featurette. This is a rental recommendation for sure, simply to behold the incredible visuals and battle sequences.
Still Mine (20th Century Fox)

Still Mine (20th Century Fox)

Still Mine

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Street Date: May 6th 2014

 

  • I’m hard pressed to think of a reason why anyone wouldn’t adore Still Mine, which despite it’s obvious intentions to pull at your heart strings, features outstanding performances from James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold, beautiful cinematography, and a love story that will warm your heart. Based on a true story, Still Mine tells the tale of an elderly married couple whose love remains as deep and true in their elder years as it was when they first met. Craig (James Cromwell) is struggling with the fact that Irene’s (Genevieve Bujold) memory is fading, and their old home is no longer fit to accommodate her illness. He decides to build a small house overlooking a scene that he knows Irene adores, but fails to follow the correct guidelines to do so (blueprints, permits, paperwork). The film follows the ensuing battle between the headstrong Craig and his determination to make his wife happy in their final years. I really loved this film, it’s quaint charm and relative simplicity in its storytelling is incredible. The Blu-Ray from 20th Century Fox features a transfer that retains the theatrical look of the film, with charming country colors and beautiful scenery. The audio serves the film well, balancing dialogue and music accordingly. The only unfortunate aspect of this release is the complete lack of special features, however, it’s such an extraordinary film that it still receives my highest recommendation. Beautiful stuff folks!

 

Black Nativity (20th Century Fox)

Black Nativity (20th Century Fox)

Black Nativity

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Street Date: April 15th 2014

 

  • Kasi Lemmon’s Black Nativity tells the story of young Langston, forced to move to his Grandparents house in Harlem after his mother (Jennifer Hudson) faces eviction from their home. Langston is a typical teenager, full of angst and not willing to accept the courtesy or teachings of his pastor Grandpa (Forest Whitaker) or his loving Grandma (Angela Bassett). A fairly typical but harmless sequence of events ensue, as Langston learns to accept his extended family, embrace Faith, and mature into a young man. This atypical musical, based on the play of the same name, wasn’t for me. The performances are fine, but the plot is nothing new or intriguing, and the message of the film comes off a tad forceful, even though it’s handled in relatively subtle fashion. The Blu-Ray from 20th Century Fox does feature a pristine print of the film, with great fine object detail and clarity. The audio fits perfectly here as well, enhancing the musical sequences and dialogue comes through clean and clear. Special features include deleted scenes and multiple featurettes. The end result is a slight recommendation for a rental if faith-based movies are your thing.

 

August: Osage County (Anchor Bay)

August: Osage County (Anchor Bay)

August: Osage County

Distributor: Anchor Bay Home Entertainment

Street Date: April 8th 2014

 

  • If there was a single film from 2013 that I just can’t understand the critical praise for, it’s August: Osage County, a film so blatantly full of itself, and so exhausting to sit through, that I just can’t imagine a human being enjoying it. To break down the plot for you, the Weston family comes together after many years of separation following the death of their Father. Meryl Streep plays Violet, the matriarch of the family, who despite the empathy involved in understanding her character’s prognosis and despair, is despicable to endure for an audience. The performances from the majority of the cast are incredibly over-the-top, even borderline hammy at times. While the dialogue may seem strong for some, these characters are so unlikeable that you’ll be left wondering why on earth you’re even continuing to watch the film in the first place. The Blu-Ray edition from Anchor Bay does indeed feature a beautiful transfer that showcases the one strong point of the film: the cinematography. The DTS-HD audio is fine and dandy as well, supporting the endless dialogue of the film (which frankly could have featured more quiet, retrospective moments). Special features include an audio commentary, deleted scenes, a making-of documentary, and a featurette on the writing process. Not recommending this one in the slightest, but if you enjoyed it, the Blu-Ray is technically impressive.
Laverne & Shirley (The Final Season)

Laverne & Shirley (The Final Season)

Laverne & Shirley: The Final Season

Distributor: Paramount/CBS Home Entertainment

Street Date: May 6th 2014

 

  • The release of the eighth and final season of Laverne & Shirley marks another fantastic classic TV release from Paramount and CBS Home Entertainment. While I was never as consistently enamored with the show as I was with Happy Days, you to have to admit that this spin-off features a great cast with plenty of memorable episodes. From the season opener where Shirley gets married to Laverne’s various jobs this season including working at Ajax Aerospace and becoming a playboy bunny (an episode featuring a stunning Carrie Fisher…oh yeah, and Hugh Hefner too), this season has plenty of laughs. Adam West’s in The Gymnast Show is a particular treat. Though this final season features one of the worst “final” episodes of all-time, there is still so much to enjoy with this classic TV series, which you can now enjoy with the complete series available on DVD. The video quality is surprisingly good, with great color reproduction and barely any artifacts or anomalies to be seen, and the audio serves the dialogue and laugh track well. Special features include original promos for select episodes and a gag reel. This final season comes highly recommended.

 

 

Well folks, that’s going to do it for this week’s Blu-Ray Roundup column. Stay tuned to We Live Film in the coming weeks for the next installment featuring reviews in brief for Sony’s recent Godzilla releases, McClintock with John Wayne, Parts Per Billion, 13 Sins, Rawhide: The Eighth & Final Season, & much more.

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