|MOS DEF #4: Reviews of Recent Blu-ray Discs
THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 (Sony) 91% (Blu-ray), 78% (Film)
It's obscene to me that this third-rate remake of the original classic 70s nail-biter is on Blu-ray, but the Robert Shaw/Walter Matthau is MIA. Regrettably, the remake of Pelham seemed on paper to be a great idea. Tony Scott, a stylish and reliable director with a strong commercial sensibility, directing Denzel Washington and John Travolta seemed like a can't-miss notion. But unfortunately, like a poor marksmen, he keeps on missing the target. The new film is as bad as the original is good. The only thing it has going for it is the tech credits for the new BD are all excellent with near demo quality video and audio and the supplements are terrific, including a nice package on filming in the New York Subway System. But where the first film is a tight, clever, pressure-cooker with a memorable David Shire score, the remake is just big and dumb adding a ludicrous new twist to Travolta's caper that is absolutely absurd along with an over-the-top performance from the former Barbarino that is the opposite of the seething, silent menace of Robert Shaw in the original.
LOGAN'S RUN (Warner Bros) 89%
I have fond memories of when Logan's Run was released as a special edition laserdisc over a decade ago. Unfortunately, the new Blu-ray doesn't add anything new to that package with a recycled commentary and a kitschy, but admittedly wildly entertaining, vintage featurette. Logan's Run, despite its litany of problems, is a seminal film for many of us of a certain age. It was the last big sci-fi epic before Star Wars changed everything, it was the first film to feature Farrah Fawcett Majors at the height of Charlie's Angels popularity in 1976 and, for those of us who were in elementary school at the time, it was also a PG film with nudity which was pretty awesome ("let's get out of these wet clothes," Michael York tells a resplendent Jenny Agutter). It was only later that we would learn to appreciate the brilliant Jerry Goldsmith score and the impressive miniature work. But one thing that was clear even then was that this wasn't the novel which was far superior to the film and is actually a movie that invites being remade - and while several directors have dabbled with the possibility of revisiting the film, none have actually made the leap. The Blu-ray doesn't do anything for Logan's Run nostalgia and the video transfer looks pretty good considering the state of the negative. Regrettably, no one even bothered to digitally remove the wires during Carousel which could have easily and inexpensively been done during the mastering. This is far from a demo disc, but probably as good as we could expect for a film from the era that was not a blockbuster. More disappointing is the thin supplemental package that warranted being revisited... and probably will be if the film ever is remade.
FUNNY PEOPLE (Universal) 97%
This Universal BD is exceptional in so many ways. Not only is the film, which got an inconceivably bad wrap on its theatrical release, a terrific, moving and, at times, hysterical film from Judd Apatow, but the supplemental package is nearly unmatched on any disc I've ever owned. In addition to the requisite commentary tracks, there are blooper reels, deleted scenes galore, faux episodes of the Jason Schwartzman TV show, "Yo, Teach," vintage comedy bits from Adam Sandler and a great interview with Apatow and Sandler by Charlie Rose. Suffice it to say, I'm not expecting to ever see a double dip on this until the 4K version in 2020. Highly recommended. Not only one of the best films of 2009, but one of the best discs as well.
FIGHT CLUB (Fox) 93%
Fight Club was one of the great DVD releases of the 90s and David Fincher's dark, elegant and nihilistic film considers to pack a considerable punch, pun intended. The new BD despite boasting an excellent video transfer and 5.1 DTS Master Audio ports over the original supplements, but doesn't do much to add to them with two superfluous new featurettes, one on Ren Klyce and the sound design of the film and a second on promoting the film, which is essentially material recycled from the Spike Movie Awards and lauds the film as something akin to Citizen Kane, which it's not. There's also a gimmicky menu bait and switch in which the menu for Never Been Kissed comes up before transitioning to Fight Club. Whatever.
INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (Universal/TWC) 93%
Despite moments of cinematic brilliance and a tour de force performance by Christoph Waltz, there are also a few moments where the film comes off as almost the bus and truck tour version of The Dirty Dozen, most notably with its fanciful re-invention of history in the film's climax. Nonetheless, Tarantino is an original like no other and there are a succession of set pieces that are just staggering in their originality, including the game of wits in the claustrophobic confines of a small bar as well as the film's already legendary teaser. Aside from Waltz, there are a number of sensational performances including Melanie Laurent as a French cinephile and Michael Fassbender as a heroic British film critic (I just love writing those words...). The BD boasts an excellent transfer along with a potent DTS HD 5.1 mix along with the now-requisite digital copy. That said, the bonus material is a huge disappointment. There's no Tarantino commentary and the only real meat when it comes to the making of the film is found in an all too short pre-release promotional interview with Elvis Mitchell with Pitt and Tarantino. There's also a poster gallery and a short interview with Rod Taylor who plays Churchill in the film and starred in the original Inglorious Basterds. Disappointing. Not to mention, where are the BD from Disney of Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair and the long-rumored extended cut of Reservoir Dogs from Lionsgate?
GOODFELLAS: 20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Warner Bros) 91% (BD) 99% (FILM)
I remember vividly walking out of Goodfellas at a screening in Times Square and thinking to myself, now this is why I love movies. It's just such a brilliantly made and executed film that it's hard to think of a better movie of the 90s and it remains the apex of Scorsese's impressive career. That said, this disc doesn't do the film justice. It features the same sub-standard transfer from the original BD and almost all the supplemental features from the previous anniversary DVD are ported over in standard def. There a few new treats including gangster-themed Looney Tunes cartoons and the addition of the entertaining Public Enemies documentary about the history of the gangster film, also in standard def. With a film of Goodfellas stature along with its inclusion in the digi-book line which should be reserved for only the best cinema has to offer, it's unacceptable that there's not a better transfer of the film to be found on home video. Nonetheless, it's still an essential part of any film lover's BD collection despite the many caveats.
THE HANGOVER 87% (BD), 95% (FILM)
This hysterical surprise hit is just as funny on BD as ever, but unfortunately the disc's virtually non-existent supplemental material is a total bust. There's little to be found here that enhances or lends insight into the making of this clever and gut-busting film and the video commentary can only be found on the theatrical cut and not the extended unrated version. Given the film's boffo box-office and beloved status among critics and fans, it's hard to understand why a little more TLC wasn't put into the release. Tech specs are all adequate, but supplemental materials are completely underwhelming leaving me shaken, but never stirred.
MOON (Sony) 95%
Director Duncan Jones' rookie effort is a throwback to the days of more cerebral 70s sci-fi and damned if he doesn't deliver something in the vein of flawed, but thoughtful films like Silent Running. Sam Rockwell is excellent stationed at a corporate moonbase, but where the film really excels is with its eschewing of CGI for some old-fashioned miniature work which really impresses and is able to give the film a verisimilitude that computer graphics continues to lack. Additional kudos to the films extensive bonus package which features commentaries, the directors short film and a detailed and informative Q&A from the film's Sundance premiere.
Also of Note in Standard-Def:
THE PAPER CHASE: SEASON TWO (Shout Factory)
OK, forget the transfers are terrible and there's no special features. The fact that Shout has not only previous put out the short-lived CBS series on DVD and now the Showtime years from 1983 is a true thrill. One of the few TV series that improved on its film pedigree and John Houseman is as memorable as ever as the terrifying, imperious law professor, Kingsfield. Highly recommended.
HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (MPI)
Ti West pays homage to the classic shoestring slashers of the 80s with this suspenseful and clever love letter to the genre. West, who has shown so promise with films like The Roost, proves here he's the real deal and has a bright future in horror.
THE HILLS RUN RED (Warner Bros)
Dave Parker successfully introduces a new iconic horror character in the pantheon, Babyface, in this gory, but immensely satisfying horror-thriller. Special features are ample and entertaining as the crew attempts to make a piece of down-home horror Americana in Bulgaria.
Mark A. Altman