Ryan’s DVD And Blu-ray Picks For The Week Of Tuesday, September 21st 2010

Another Tuesday has passed, another week of awesome DVD and Blu-ray releases to help relieve you of all of your hard earned cash. This week I take a look at incredible silent film collection being released by our friends at Kino Lorber, a surprisingly funny show from HBO, and a ton of stuff that I haven’t see yet, but am interested in.

I’m linking all of the covers to their Amazon counterparts, and will include Netflix options for those titles worthy of a rental instead of a purchase. By purchasing the discs through our site, you’re helping us out!

I obviously skipped several of the bigger titles like Robin Hood, for various reasons. I wasn’t sent any of the big stuff to review, and for the titles I wasn’t sent, I wanted to weed through all of the junk, to find the real gems.

Let me know which discs you’re picking up this week in the comments below. Next week will be a big one for Criterion as we finally get to take a peek at the DVD and Blu-ray of the Thin Red Line and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. See you then!

Available September 21st, 2010:


Fantomas

This week the fine folks at Kino knocked one out of the park with an incredible set of Fantomas films, by the French director, Louis Feuillade. The three disc set contains five films from the series, along with two rare short films from Feuillade: The Nativity and The Dwarf. Released in the years before the first World War, the Fantomas films are a crucial piece of the cinematic historical puzzle that is the 20th century. The films show the exploits of the criminal mastermind, Fantomas, and the attempts to bring him to justice by the Inspector Juve.

Clearly a huge influence on the later works by Fritz Lang, Murnau, and Lubtisch, the Fantomas series sets up a cinematic language of showing the audience something true. They are shot in a very static way, to give the viewers a sense that what they are seeing is really happening. That they are witnesses to these crimes, which made them all the more terrifying and attractive. What also makes the films eerily real is the lack of a “horrific atmostphere,” in that by creating a believable situation, with real characters, you are more likely to accept the villain as being a true threat. These films are based on a series of early pulp novels, and Feuillade assumed in his direction, that the audience was familiar with the stories and the players involved, as he doesn’t necessarily give you everything you’d need.

The restored soundtrack from 1998 is absolutely incredible, despite the fact that it does feel a bit modern when juxtaposed against the clearly dated film imagery. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it took me out, or was distracting, but I definitely made note of the difference in quality. I also consistently love the work that Kino does in restoring the intertitles. With the recent Blu-ray release of the Battleship Potemkin, and the theatrical run of “The Complete Metropolis,” Kino is a powerful player in keeping these silent classics absolutely relevant to modern viewers.

The films contained in the set are certainly an incredible piece of film history, and deserve to be a part of any card carrying film geek’s collection. I’d say that if you only watch the films, without any context as to their importance in film history, they could be seen as a bit of a chore. The long static shots, the slow-moving storylines, certainly build on the themes of terror that are represented by the title character, while at the same time requiring your full attention and investment in the story.

The supplements, specifically the commentary track with David Kalat, will serve as the key to unlock the true historical context of these films. I found him to be incredibly knowledgeable, and often funny when describing the directors filmography, and the people who would later be influenced by Feuillade. The late Claude Chabron was a fan of both the Fantomas stories, as well as Feuillade’s films, eventually going on to remake the story in the late 70s. Last Year At Marienbad‘s own Alain Resnais went as far as calling Feuillade “one of his gods.”

As much as I absolutely loved watching these discs, I have to say that they aren’t for everyone. I’d recommend renting the first disc if you can, to get a taste of what you’re in for. If you’re already aware of the series, and Feuillade’s impressive filmography (he directed over 800 films!), then don’t hesitate. This will be a set you’ll treasure when going through the Criterion Collection’s silent films. You won’t be able to look at the Mabuse films again without thinking of Fantomas.



Bored To Death

Last year, as our podcast was still finding it’s footing in terms of news to discuss, we talked about the then upcoming HBO series from Jonathan Ames, starring Jason Schwartzman (the Criterion connection), self described as a “noir-otic comedy.” At the time I wasn’t necessarily sold on the premise of the show, but boy was I won over as the first series aired it’s short first season of eight episodes.

The series follows our lead, the recently dumped writer Jonathan (played by Schwartzman), as he takes up being an unlicensed private detective in modern Brooklyn. I’m not the biggest detective genre fan, I gave the series a shot, and let me tell you, it is barely a detective story series. The orbiting characters in Jonathan’s life, Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danson, are the true stars of this show. Danson constantly steals the scene as Jonathan’s pot smoking, hyper-literate boss, the magazine magnate George Christopher. Galifianakis is a comic book illustrator dealing with his own relationship issues and insecurities. The combination of Schwartzman’s charm, Galifianakis’ neuroses, and Danson’s irreverence make for an incredible comedic ensemble.

The series finally received it’s Blu-ray and DVD release this past week, in preparation for the upcoming season 2 premiere this weekend. As I wrote about last week, I have been absolutely obsessed with the new Flight of the Conchords Complete Set that HBO released, and adding Bored to Death to my rotation was a real joy. As I said on a recent Disc 2 episode, I was a little wary of the show’s “hipness.” I thought that the setting, and the clever writing would be a huge turn off, and leave me feeling the show to be too pretentious. I found it to be the complete opposite of that. The mixed moral messages contained within each episode turns what could otherwise be a cliche-ridden slog, into a truly engaging series with characters that I want to follow for years. The only complaint I can come up with is that the show is over too fast! Eight episodes at thirty minutes each equals a short season in anyone’s book. The show is certainly rewatchable, their are jokes hidden in glances, in references, guest appearances by other HBO alum that you won’t believe. Brother Mouzone (Michael Potts) from the Wire shows up quite unexpectedly, but absolutely perfectly.

One last note, if you’re wavering between the DVD and the Blu-ray, I have to say that the show was shot gorgeously, and you definitely get your money’s worth in the image quality that are packed into the Blu-ray.


Not reviewed, but I’m interested.


Charade Blu-ray

I really can’t wait to get my hands on this Blu-ray. I’ve never seen the film, but from what I’ve seen, heard, and read about the film, it’d be a nice companion piece to all of the Bored to Death that I’ve been watching. For the longest time, I assumed the film was from Hitchcock, mostly based on the cover art for the film, and was a bit relieved when watching the recent video of Guillermo Del Toro at the Criterion offices. In the clip, as he is going through their Blu-ray selection, he picks out Charade, and describes it as “hitchcockian.” On our recent Disc 2 discussion with Moises, he briefly goes through the disc, and addresses the image quality, and updated cover.

In this comedic thriller, a trio of crooks relentlessly pursue a young American, played by Audrey Hepburn in gorgeous Givenchy, through Paris in an attempt to recover the fortune her dead husband stole from them. The only person she can trust is Cary Grant’s suave, mysterious stranger. Director Stanley Donen goes deliciously dark for Charade, a glittering emblem of sixties style and macabre wit.


Actuality Dramas Of Allan King Eclipse Set

One piece of the CriterionCast puzzle that I am most proud of, are David’s “Journey Through The Eclipse Series” blog entries that we’ve posted over the past several months, on a weekly basis. I am, regretfully, not able to keep up with all of these sets, and so I am watching them sporadically, as my local library or video store gets them in. These documentaries from Allan King look to be a piece of modern cinema that I was wholly unaware of until Criterion announced this box set. I love the challenge of producing non-fiction in a creative manner, and from what I can tell, Allan King is a master. Look for these to show up on David’s Eclipse rotation soon, as I’m sure he’ll give them their due examination.

Canadian director Allan King is one of cinema’s best-kept secrets. Over the course of fifty years, he shuttled between features and shorts, big-screen cinema and episodic television, comedy and drama, fiction and nonfiction. It was with his cinema-verité-style documentaries, though’”his ‘actuality dramas,’ as he called them’”that King left his greatest mark on film history. These startlingly intimate studies of people whose lives are in flux’”damaged children, warring spouses, the terminally ill’”are always done without narration or interviews, are riveting and at times emotionally overwhelming. Humane, cathartic, and important, Allan King’s spontaneous portraits of the everyday demand to be seen.


Power Of Myth

As I’m sure with most geeks that grew up with Star Wars, we’ve all heard George Lucas talk about Joseph Campbell, and his obsession with mythology and human civilization. This re-release of the Power of Myth series from PBS is a classic, and I am definitely going to pick this up from the video store as a rental. I’m not sure if this release has seen any restoration, but Campbell is someone that I can listen to for hours, no matter the video quality.


Mythbusters 6

How can you not love the Mythbusters? While these DVD collections aren’t complete seasons of the Discovery Channel mega-hit series, the collected episodes are always the cream of the crop. I often go back and forth, as to which of the leads I most identify with. Some episodes I’m a huge Jamie fanboy, other episodes, Adam is clearly my skeptic/comic god. With their recent deal with Epix now underway, Netflix has added most of the collected Mythbusters episodes to their Watch Instantly line-up, and when this DVD was released on Tuesday, these episode also made their way onto the streaming options. From various interviews that I’ve heard with Adam Savage, the show will continue on for a few more seasons, so you have plenty of time to get addicted to watching these guys blow up all kinds of stuff made out of blasting gelatin.


Dragon Ball Z: Dragon Box 4

As my good friend Moises can attest to, Dragon Ball Z is a damned addicting show, that is a master class in teasing out storylines over the course of many, many episodes. While I’ve been getting the “uncut”, “remastered” sets of Dragon Ball Z, the completist in me wants to own these Dragon Boxes, if only for the awesome artwork. The Cell saga, which is included in this “Box 4”, is a pretty sci-fi heavy season, and requires some past experience with the show to follow some of the subplots. If you’re not already a fan of the show, I’d give some of the early episodes a shot, but honestly, I think most of my affection for Dragon Ball Z is nostalgia. I don’t know if I have the patience these days to try and go through hundreds of episodes all over again, when so many of them are almost a complete tease.


Gamera vs Gyaos / Gamera vs. Viras

Gamera vs. Guiron / Gamera vs. Jiger

As can be learned from listening to any of our podcasts, I’m a big sci-fi / fantasy geek, and these big Japanese monster movies also fall into that “I loved these as a kid, hopefully I’ll love them as an adult” category. Shout Factory is reliably releasing some of the greatest cult movies on DVD and Blu-ray over the past year, and these Gamera movies fill a perfect hole that other distributors have left. So far, James has done an incredible job in reviewing these movies that he loves so much, and I’d highly recommend checking out his review of these two double features, released on DVD this past week.


The Secret In Their Eyes Blu-ray

Finally, I have to mention the Academy Award winning film, The Secret In Their Eyes. I can’t believe that I still haven’t seen this film, despite all of the attention it got during the awards season, but I will definitely be correcting that this weekend by renting this Blu-ray. Everything I’ve read has led me to believe this film is fantastic, and I can’t wait to see for myself.


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1 Comment

  • Thanks for plugging my series! I’m definitely eager to get into that Allan King set, so look for a review of “Warrendale” within the next few weeks (I’ve already got the next two planned.)

    You’re not alone in thinking that Charade was a Hitchcock film, I think the whole set-up of the movie gives that impression, especially with mid-60s Cary Grant in the lead. However, if it really was a Hitchcock film, Criterion would not be releasing it! One main reason that they are is that the film went into the public domain immediately upon release, because Universal Studios forgot to put a copyright symbol on the opening credits! That means anyone can legally release a DVD of Charade and sell it commercially, which is why this film is so easy to find on low-budget re-issues, but of course always in crappy transfers – unless it’s the Criterion edition!

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