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blu-ray DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 12th April 2010

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DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS

The Bicycle Thieves (Arrow Films): A welcome re-release for Vittorio De Sica‘s classic 1947 neorealist film about desperation and struggle in post-war Italy, is the tale of a poor man (Lamberto Maggiorani) and his son (Enzo Staiola) searching the streets of Rome for his stolen bicycle, which he needs to be able to work.

Based on the novel by Luigi Bartolini, it was adapted for the screen by Cesare Zavattini and used non-professional actors to create a telling picture of poverty in post-war Europe. A landmark film in many ways, it still contains scenes of great power and is ultimately a very moving depiction of the love between father and son.

The special features on this re-release by Arrow Films include:

  • Timeless Cinema: A documentary on Vittorio De Sica
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Original Poster Artwork & Lobby Stills

Henri-George Clouzot’s Inferno (Park Circus): A hybrid documentary and part reconstruction of Henri-Georges Clouzot‘s unfinished project L’Enfer (‘Inferno’), an enigmatic film about a hotel manager who becomes possessed by the demons of jealousy. The story of how this project got made is a fascinating one: Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea managed to persuade Clouzot’s second wife, Inès de Gonzalez, to give permission to use footage from Clouzot’s original film, which they then supplemented with interviews of cast and crew members.

Among the contributors are production assistant Catherine Allégret, director Costa Gavras, and assistant cinematographer William Lubtchansky. Bromberg also recreates certain scenes with actors Bérénice Bejo and Jacques Gamblin. A notable arthouse feature on the festival circuit last year (screening at CannesToronto, New York and London) it also received the César Award for Best Documentary. [Buy on DVD]

Wonders of the Solar System (2 Entertain): One of the best TV series to air on the BBC this year sees Professor Brian Cox visit notable locations around Earth to illustrate how the laws of nature have carved natural wonders across the Solar System. The five episodes explore: the Sun; the Rings of Saturn; the atmosphere of Earth and Titan; the size of planets, volcanoes and the moon Io; and the search for life on other worlds, focusing on Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa.

Cox is an engaging and informative host and along with the BBC shows Galapagos and Planet Earth, it is well worth checking out on Blu-ray as it is full of stunning imagery that looks fabulous in HD. The show’s better than expected ratings pleasantly surprised BBC bosses, who according to Cox’s Twitter account have commissioned another series, called ‘Universal’, which they begin shooting next month. [Buy on Blu-ray / Buy on DVD]

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ALSO OUT

Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 – The Squeakquel (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / DVD
Being Human: Complete Series 2 (2 Entertain) [DVD]
Dolan’s Cadillac (Momentum Pictures) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Law Abiding Citizen (Momentum Pictures) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Raging Phoenix (Showbox Media Group) [Blu-ray / DVD]
The Descent: Part 2 (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Tombstone (Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.) [Blu-ray]
Bad Behaviour (Lionsgate UK) [DVD]
Blood and Oil (2 Entertain) [DVD]
Clint Eastwood: Westerns (Warner Home Video) [DVD]
Crude (Dogwoof Digital) [DVD]
Ghost Machine (Anchor Bay Entertainment UK) [DVD]
Glee: Season 1 – Volume 1 (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [DVD]
Henry Lee Lucas – Serial Killer (Lionsgate UK) [DVD]
Humpday (Momentum Pictures) [DVD
I’m Gonna Explode (Artificial Eye) [DVD]
OSS 117: Lost in Rio (ICA) [DVD]
Starsuckers (Network Releasing) [DVD]
The Big I Am (E1 Entertainment UK) [DVD]
Vietnam (Fremantle Home Entertainment) [DVD]
We Live in Public (Dogwoof Digital) [DVD]

The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2009
UK cinema releases for Friday 9th April including Shelter and Whip It

Categories
blu-ray DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 5th April 2010

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DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS

Day of the Dead (Arrow Films): The third film in George A Romero‘s zombie trilogy has often been regarded as something of a letdown after the groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead (1968) and the iconic Dawn of the Dead (1978). It does lack the vitality of its predecessors but over the years has become a more telling satire of the Reagan era than many realised at the time.

Set inside an underground US military complex as zombies have overrun the earth, it explores the tensions between various army and scientific personnel as well as depicting the possibility of ‘humanising’ a zombie. Tom Savini’s landmark make-up effects still hold up strongly and Romero’s direction is smarter than some gave it credit for at the time. The Blu-ray comes with a raft of new extras including new commentaries and featurettes. [Buy the Blu-ray / Buy the DVD]

Delicatessen (Optimum Home Entertainment): With Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s latest film Micmacs not getting the love or attention it deserved at UK box offices, Optimum have re-released the 1991 that put him on the map. Along with co-director Marc Caro, he crafted a delightfully surreal tale about a clown (Dominique Pinon) who moves into a run down apartment building with a delicatessen on the ground floor and falls in love with the butcher’s daughter, Julie Clapet (Marie-Laure Dougnac).

Shot entirely in and around the delicatessen, it is inventive and displays a remarkable visual flair reminiscent of silent comedy and proved very influential, especially on subsequent TV commercials. I’m not sure why there isn’t a Blu-ray version yet, but if you haven’t already got the DVD it is highly recommended. [Buy the DVD]

Funny Games U.S. (Kaleidoscope Home Ent.): Michael Haneke‘s U.S. remake of his own 1997 film was a gruelling affair, even by his own dark standards, but remains a powerful piece of work. Made in 2007, it followed the exact same story with a well-to-do couple (Tim Roth and Naomi Watts) and their son who are slowly terrorised by two mysterious young thugs (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbett) whilst at their holiday home.

Some critics were appalled by what they saw as the pointless sadism of the film, but the fact that it provoked such a hostile reaction – often from the very bourgeois perspective the film directly assaults – was perhaps telling. It is a genuinely horrific film, with little in the way of catharsis or intellectual ambiguity, but remains a bracing and intriguing example of a director revisiting his own material for a different audience. [Buy the Blu-ray / Buy the DVD]

George Carlin: Collection – Volume 1 (Anchor Bay Entertainment UK): A collection of four of the great US comedians best stand up performances taped for HBO which include: George Carlin – On Location – University of Southern California (1977), George Carlin Again (1978), George Carlin at Carnegie (1984) and George Carlin on Campus (1984).

Brilliant observations about life are mixed with some hilarious social commentary and these groundbreaking performances demonstrate why he is still one of America’s greatest comedians, just two years after his death. [Buy the DVD]

* N.B. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is out on Blu-ray this week and would normally be one of my picks. However, the box set consists of the theatrical cuts (with hardly any extras) and I’d recommend waiting until the extended Blu-ray editions come out. *

ALSO OUT

30 Rock: Season 3 (Universal/Playback) [Buy the DVD]
Married, Single, Other (2 Entertain) [Buy the  Blu-ray / Buy the DVD]
The International (Sony Pictures Home Ent.) [Buy the Blu-ray]
Universal Soldier: Regeneration (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Buy the Blu-ray
Who Dares Wins (Arrow Films) [Buy the Blu-ray]
Battle Royale (Arrow Films) [Buy the DVD]
Big Bad Mama (In 2 Film) [Buy the DVD]
Burn Notice: Season 2 (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Buy the DVD]
Chappelle’s Show: Season 2 (Best Medicine) [Buy the DVD]
Feast Trilogy (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Buy the DVD]
Forever Green: Series 2 (Network) [Buy the DVD]
Geisha Assassin (MVM Entertainment) [Buy the DVD]
Ghost Hunt: Complete Series 1 (Manga Entertainment) [Buy the DVD]
Ginger Baker and Friends: Live at the Jazz Cafe (Voiceprint) [Buy the DVD]
Laurel and Hardy: Collection (Lace) [Buy the DVD]
Le Professionnel (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Buy the DVD]
Smokin’ Aces/ Smokin’ Aces 2 – Assassin’s Ball (Universal Pictures) [Buy the DVD]
The Bridge (Metrodome Distribution) [Buy the DVD]

> The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2009
> UK cinema releases for Friday 2nd April including Clash of the Titans, How to Train Your Dragon and Kick-Ass

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blu-ray DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 29th March 2010

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DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS

2012 (Sony Pictures): Roland Emmerich’s latest big-budget blockbuster sees an ancient Mayan prophecy come true as Earth’s techtonic plates unleash global destruction after a solar flare. An alarmed US government scientist (Chiwetel Ojiofor) discovers the disaster; a limousine driver (John Cusack) struggles to protect his family amidst the chaos; the US president (Danny Glover) tries to be stoic; the chief of staff (Oliver Platt) enacts a secret plan and various other characters all respond differently to the coming apocalypse.

Although the film isn’t in any danger of winning any awards for acting or screenwriting, the set pieces are impressively rendered and the sheer scale of CGI destruction is a sight to behold, even if there are too many ”just in the nick of time’ escapes.

The transfer to Blu-ray is excellent and although sometimes high definition can spotlight weak visual effects, here they stand up very well indeed with tsunamis, earthquakes and collapsing buildings and all manner of destruction coming across in pristine detail.

The extras are fairly extensive too, the most notable being the BD-Live™ enabled movieIQ, which allows you to access updated information on the film’s cast, crew, production and soundtrack while watching the film. [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy the DVD]

Blu-ray Special Features

  • movieIQ and BD-Live connect you to real-time information on the cast, music, trivia and more while watching the movie
  • Interactive Mayan Calendar – Enter a date to reveal your horoscope and personality profile! Delve even further into the secrets by watching Mysteries of the Mayan Calendar
  • Picture-In-Picture: Roland’s Vision-Includes Pre-Visualization, storyboards and behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with filmmakers, cast and crew
  • Commentary with Writer/Director Roland Emmerich and Co-Writer Harald Kloser
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Alternate Ending
  • Designing The End Of The World
  • Roland Emmerich: The Master of the Modern Epic
  • Science Behind The Destruction
  • The End Of The World: The Actor’s Perspective

DVD Special Features

  • Commentary with Writer/Director Roland Emmerich and Co-Writer Harald Kloser
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Alternate Ending
  • Roland Emmerich: The Master of the Modern Epic

Stargate (Optimum): The other Roland Emmerich release of the week is his 1994 sci-fi adventure about an academic (James Spader) and a military unit (headed by Kurt Russell) who venture through a teleportation gateway to another planet.

The third collaboration between director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin – they had worked Moon 44 (1990) and Universal Soldier (1992) – was on a bigger budget and they crafted something more entertaining and polished. Here you can see the roots of the mega sci-fi success they would have with Independence Day (1996) – although we’ll politely ignore Godzilla (1998).

Stargate was one of the first Lionsgate Blu-ray releases back in August 2006, but that had hardly any extras and the audio was only lossy DTS High Resolution. This version has both the theatrical and the extended cuts of the movie, and four hours of extras, including three new featurettes, a trivia track, and a gag reel. [Buy the Blu-ray]

The Informant (Warner Home Video): Steven Soderbergh’s latest film bears some resemblance to Erin Brockovich (2000), an entertaining exposé of real life corporate chicanery concerning a biochemist (Matt Damon) who in 1992, became an informant for the FBI after his company got involved in price fixing.

What makes it unusual is the breezy comic tone and the extraordinary behaviour of the central character (who seems to be an undiagnosed manic depressive). Much of the comedy comes from the continual frustration of the FBI with their star witness who often tells the truth, but unfortunately mixes it with lies. It got a rather muted reception on the festival circuit last year, but Damon shows great comic timing in the central role, whilst Marvin Hamlisch’s score and the distinctive visuals (shot by Soderbergh under his regular pseudonym Peter Andrews), all add to the mix. [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy the DVD]

Homicide – Life On the Street: The Complete Series (Fremantle Home Entertainment): Fans of The Wire can now enjoy the first TV series that was inspired by the reportage of David Simon, as this box set includes all 122 episodes spread over 33 discs. A dark and realistic crime series that ran from 1993-1999, it was adapted from Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, the non-fiction book based on his experiences with a Baltimore Police Department homicide unit.

The action centres on the homicide division of an inner-city Baltimore police station, with a large and fluid cast passing through the precinct’s door during the series’ seven seasons on the air. Simon was a consultant and producer on the series and although not as good as The Wire, it is still one of the landmark US TV shows of the 90s. [Buy the DVD]

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ALSO OUT

Bunny and the Bull (Optimum) [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy the DVD]
Cracks (Optimum) [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy the DVD]
Planet 51 (EV) [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy the DVD]
South Park: Series 13 (Paramount) [Buy the Blu-ray]
The House of the Devil (Metrodome Distribution) [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy the DVD]
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Lionsgate UK) [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy the DVD]
Catweazle: The Complete Series
(Network) [Buy the DVD]
Extreme Prejudice (Optimum) [Buy the DVD]
Glorious 39 (Momentum Pictures) [Buy the DVD]
Godzilla (Sony Pictures) [Buy the Blu-ray]
Holly (Soda Pictures)
Impact (Sony Pictures) [Buy the DVD]
Jason and the Argonauts (Boulevard Entertainment Ltd) [Buy the DVD]
Johnny Handsome (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Buy the DVD]
Seraphine (Metrodome Distribution) [Buy the DVD]

The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2009
UK cinema releases for Friday 26th March including The Blind Side and Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang

Categories
blu-ray DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 22nd March 2010

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UK DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS

Dumbo (Walt Disney): One of the greatest animated films from Disney, this story of a shy little elephant with some large ears arrives on Blu-ray for the first time. Separated from the rest of the circus animals, he befriends a mouse who encourages him to exploit his ears for fame and fortune.

After being goaded by a group of crows, Dumbo discovers that his ears have given him the ability to fly. The animation and writing is magical and the Blu-ray comes with a decent selection of extras including behind the scenes featurettes, bonus short features, and a copy of the DVD. [Buy it on Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]

Fish Tank (Artificial Eye): Writer-director Andrea Arnold’s second feature-length film, and another deeply impressive piece of work after her Oscar winning short Wasp(2005) and Red Road (2006). The tale of a teenage girl named Mia (Katie Jarvis) chronicles her struggle with her mother and younger sister on an poor Essex housing estate.

Frustrated with her life and lack of options, things begin to change when she strikes up a friendship with her mother’s new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender). Unlike many British films which feature aristocrats in period costume or gangsters who swear a lot, this takes what seems like humdrum material and does something really special with it. For some reason the Blu-ray is only being released two months after the DVD (read our longer review here), but is well worth buying if you haven’t yet seen it. [Buy it on Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]

Twin Peaks: Definitive Gold Edition (Universal Playback): With Season 2 of Twin Peaks finally being released in the UK, Universal Playback have decided to release Season 1 and Season 2 on a definitive box set. Directed by David Lynch, this series picks up from the first season cliff-hanger that saw Agent Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan) shot repeatedly as he closed in on the mystery surrounding the brutal murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee).

Twin Peaks originally aired between 1990 and 1991 and quickly became one of the most critically acclaimed and popular TV series around the world. Taking root in popular culture, even today it regularly features in lists of classic TV shows. [Buy it on DVD]

The Double Life of Veronique (Artificial Eye): A 1991 French-Polish drama directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski stars Irène Jacob in a dual role as two women, one in Poland (Weronika) and one in France (Veronique), who have a mysterious connection.

A thoughtful and beautifully constructed film, it has an entrancing central performance from Jacob, some inventive cinematography from Sławomir Idziak and also anticipates the Three Colours Trilogy (1992-94) which cemented Kieślowski as one of the great European filmmakers of his generation. [Buy it on Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]

The Passion of the Christ (Icon Home Entertainment): Mel Gibson‘s unflinching and brutal retelling of the final hours of Jesus (Jim Caviezel) was one of the most successful and controversial films of 2004. From a purely technical level there is much to admire in the film: Caleb Deschanel‘s cinematography, the costumes, make-up and use of the Italian town of Matera, all combine to paint a highly convincing picture of the period.

Even for a non-believer, the spectacle of suffering and persecution is moving, even if Gibson lays it on a bit too relentlessly. The claims of anti-Semitism against the film, fuelled by the depiction of the Jewish priests as Christ killers (as they are in the Gospels), were off-base, although Gibson’s drunken rant rant in 2006 gave one pause about his own personal beliefs. [Buy it on Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]

Under the Sun of Satan (Eureka/MOC): A re-release for this 1987 allegorical drama, adapted from the Georges Bernanos novel of the same name, sees a French priest (Gerard Depardieu) struggle to save the soul of young woman (Sandrine Bonnaire).

An impressive examination of good versus evil, it won the Palme d’Or at the 1987 Cannes Festival, which led to verbal protests from sections of the audience and defiant gesture from director Maurice Pialat. This new release has had a new anamorphic transfer in its original aspect ratio, with new and improved English subtitle translations. The extras are also plentiful with interviews, lengthy featurettes, on set footage and a 36-page booklet. [Buy it on DVD]

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ALSO OUT

Blood On Satan’s Claw (Odeon Entertaiment) [Buy it on DVD]
Bodysong (BFI) [Buy it on DVD]
Bullet Boy (Verve Pictures) [Buy it on Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]
Galaxy Quest (DreamWorks) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
Harry Brown (Lionsgate UK) [Buy it on Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]
Katyn (Artificial Eye) [Buy it on Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]
Paranormal Activity (Icon) [Buy it on Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]
Patti Smith: Dream of Life (Drakes Avenue Pictures) [Buy it on Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]
Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (Verve Pictures) [Buy it on DVD]
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Paramount) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
Star Trek 5 – The Final Frontier (Paramount) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
Star Trek: First Contact (Paramount) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
Star Trek: Generations (Paramount) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
Star Trek: Insurrection (Paramount) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
Star Trek: Nemesis (Paramount) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
Straightheads (Verve Pictures) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
Talk to Me (Verve Pictures) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
The Neverending Story (Warner Home Video) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (E1 Entertainment) [Buy it on Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]
Twin Peaks: Series 2 (Universal Playback) [Buy it on DVD]
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (Artificial Eye) [Buy it on Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]

The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2009
UK cinema releases for Friday 19th March including The Bounty Hunter, Old Dogs and I Love You Phillip Morris

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Images Posters Thoughts

The Difference Between Cinema Posters and DVD Covers

When you compare the poster of a theatrical release with the DVD and Blu-ray cover you often see that they have different approaches.

Up in the Air is a recent release – an acclaimed comedy-drama from writer-director Jason Reitman starring George Clooney as an air-mile addicted corporate down-sizer –  that recently came out on DVD and Blu-ray in the US.

You may notice that the poster you saw in your local cinema (on the above left) is notably different from the cover of the disc you will buy or rent (on the above right).

The cinema poster – designed by BLT Associates – is fairly conceptual. It depicts the three main characters of the film (Clooney in the middle, flanked by Anna Kendrick on the left and Vera Farmiga on the right) but they are distant, in silhouette and made to look small by the airport glass and plane outside.

The Helvetica font and colour scheme (cool blues, mixed with whites and blacks) are very reminiscent of an airport and the overall effect is neat as it captures both the bittersweet mood and basic themes of the film.

Reitman recently said that he got the basic idea for the poster by taking a similar photo whilst filming on location at an airport but that some folks at Paramount marketing (the studio that funded the film) were keen on getting a little more of Clooney in the image.

After all, if you have paid a considerable amount for a star, you want to get your money’s worth even if he’s working at a reduced rate on a prestige, Oscar-candidate project like this.

But now the DVD and Blu-ray has come out in the US (that would be on the above right), you can see the difference.

Althought they have inverted the colour scheme of the theatrical poster, the main image features a much more prominent Clooney (laughing) alongside Vera Farmiga, with them both laughing at a bar.

The combined effect emphasises the comedy/feel-good aspect of the film alongside the romance and downplays the more serious themes of recession, job firings and isolation that crop up eslewhere in the story.

Personally, I think it looks horrible and doesn’t do justice to the quality of the film, but – even for a home entertainment release – it also looks pretty ropey, as if an intern was asked to do it on Photoshop on his lunch break.

So, what to make of all this?

Firstly, movie posters come out of a tradition where they are seen at cinemas, bus stops and various outdoor displays which mean they have to be larger in size. In comparison, DVD and Blu-rays are smaller so they have less space to grab your attention, often resulting in a face shot of the actors.

Secondly, one of the time honoured traditions in Hollywood is for everyone to blame the marketing if a film doesn’t do well at the box office. Although Up in the Air was by no means a flop – especially given its relatively lean budget – maybe Paramount felt they could dupe new audiences into thinking it is some kind of romantic comedy.

Thirdly, given that the (literal) shelf life of a film is longer in the shop than it is at cinemas, you would think that more time and effort would be spent on getting it right, rather than just reacting to what happened on the theatrical release.

Finally, it seems that the UK DVD & Blu-ray release of Up in the Air has exactly the same design as the theatrical poster, which could mean that: a) We have better taste over here b) Paramount UK couldn’t be bothered to change it or c) None of the above applies.

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> A lengthy blog post from 2007 entitled Why Do Great Movies Get Awful DVD Cover Art?
> Anna Kendrick talks to me about Up in the Air