Running a film festival every July does not make for getting June and July's columns out on time. The good news is that June is done and ....drumroll.....so is July (which will go up next week). August will publish on time at the end of August and all will be right with the world.
In the meantime find, herein, brief defenses of the much maligned John Carter and Sherlock Holmes Game of Shadows, listen as I celebrate the Three Stooges release in a massive box set, and wonder at the thrills of Breaking Bad, Deliverance, Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Miss Minoes, and vintage Clint.
The Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection DVD
I never bothered collecting the Three Stooges box sets as they were released. They always seemed like something I could pick up later. When word of this massive collected set came out. I requested it never dreaming it would be sent. It is, after all, mostly just a repackaging of the two disc sets. In fact, minus the new thin cardboard box, it barely qualifies as a repackaging at all. But when it came, well.... to say I was blown away is an understatement. If you don't have the box sets and are a Stooges fan then get this immediately. It is by far the most cost effective measure and all 190 shorts have benefited from a massive cleanup so forget those scratchy dull TV airings, these shorts look fabulous. You even get the two original 3D shorts and glasses.
The most important of the extras is an extra two disc set containing 28 solo comedy shorts made by Shemp Howard, Joe Besser and Joe Derita. It isn't comprehensive but it is important for fans of the vast wave of Columbia comedy shorts that were churned out during this period- stuff that will likely never see the light of day. Other than that the previous box sets offer few extras in general and as far as I could see, no commentaries. BluRay someday, complete with encyclopedic commentaries etc.? Would be nice but the major thing here is the price point.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + UltraViolet Digital Copy)
I laughed constantly during this film when I saw it at the theater and I'm looking forward to diving in again. It was trounced by reviewers who, in the main I think, missed the point. Holmes has always been ripe for spoofery and redefinition and this is certainly the most enjoyably energetic comedic take on the character. The plot? It makes less sense than most of the canon stories but then again Holmes himself has never made much sense. He has always been every bit a fiction despite attempts to render his preternatural qualities scientifically plausible. Here the emphasis is on broad comedy and spectacle. It's not exactly a Sherlock Holmes story but rather a period action comedy that employs Holmesian plotlines and characters as jumping off points. If you like one liners, Robert Downey as the worst drag queen ever and a constant series of breath takingly photographed 'splosions you'll enjoy it just fine. The worst that can be said of this film is that it heavily tweaks the best Sherlock story ever, The Final Problem and plunges the concerned parties into Reichenbach Falls without delivering the emotional oomph that Doyle managed. But the film has one dilly of denouement that only a cynic could dismiss as unsatisfying. Extras are middling here. What is listed as Maximum Movie Mode is in reality a simple pic in pic commentary by Downey. You can also pull up the Focus Points separately.
Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season BluRay
Breaking Bad has continued to be one of the best things on TV for a while now. In fact it is so much better than it has a right to be that it's darker than dark twists and turns are not only earned, but urgent. Bottom line is, if you have been waiting for the show to dip in quality and thus give yourself a reason not to bother with it, you may have to wait a while. My advice is get on board one of the best cautionary narrative trips in recent TV history. The extras make up for a slight dip in video quality here but even that minor flaw is hardly a reason to skip purchase. Audio is dynamite. You get commentaries on every episode and deleted scene. There are more than twenty featurettes and all the video podcasts are present and accounted for. One extended sequence Gale's Karaoke Video allow you to see that poor chemists rendition of Major Tom in its entirety. Basically there are so many mini-features offering so much info you'd be hard-pressed to watch it all. The best of the bunch however are the Gag Reel and the, now expected, Better Call Saul Commercials which, though short, are pretty darn hilarious.
Deliverance: 40th Anniversary Digibook BluRay
Okay, right off the bat purists should just swallow. This is very good transfer that maintains the integrity of Boorman's original softer vision for the film. That said it could be a tiny bit crisper. Non-purists will never see it. This is taken from the same master for the previous BluRay release and in essence what you are buying here is the packaging. There is a nice 30 minute retrospective interview with Reynolds, Cox, Beatty and Voight but everything else is ported over from that previous release. You also get a good lossless audio boost here.
My thoughts on book packaging are this. Some films deserve a slightly elevated packaging presentation. Deliverance is one of those. Great casting, and a masterful adaptation from director John Boorman from James Dickey's source novel are just some of the reasons this film has aged so incredibly well and remains one of the great survival thrillers of all time. And those ported over extras include an excellent Boorman commentary, an hour long retrospective doc, a vintage production doc featuring Dickey, and a trailer.
John Carter (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
I've seen this twice and come away both times thinking how underrated it is. Bottom line? I had a great time, loved the characters, loved the design etc. Is there a more adult version of the story to be had? Something grittier? Certainly. But that is precisely what I loved about this film. This is a kid's movie and a movie for people who want to remember being twelve again. It pulls out all the stops to achieve exactly that. The adult version can still be made anytime someone wants to give it a try. Perfectly cast, absolutely gorgeous to look at and better than any of the new Star Wars prequels (that at their heart were straining for the same thing this does effortlessly), John Carter is a hoot. Flawless video and audio presentation are augmented with a director producer commentary, an option to sync the device with your tablet or laptop and get info on the film while watching, a couple of decent featurettes, deleted scenes with commentary and a meh blooper reel.
Miss Minoes DVD
Charming, family friendly and a damn site more interesting than the average film of it's kind, Miss Minoes should be on the short list of anyone who wishes their children to engage with world cinema. The story concerns a cat who turns into a young lady and helps a hapless journalist uncover a plot against the pet world. There's really nothing not to like about this engaging fairytale. Parents may want to be warned that there are some intense scenes of danger but overall the PG rating listed on the box is an accurate reflection of the content. Oddly I did notice (as did other reviewers) that an R rating is listed on the disc. I can only imagine that this is erroneous having viewed the film. There are no real extras here. Some brief kitty bloopers and a trailer are about all you get but it is a real pleasure to watch the non-animatronic animal performers here and the casting is pitch perfect. Carice van Houten stars and although this was made in 2002 her performance is a testament to her range. Those who have encountered her via Game of Thrones or Black Book (2006) or Black Death (2010) will scarcely recognize her.
Entourage The Complete Eighth and Final Season BluRay
Love it or hate it the journey of Ari and friends is now over. I know plenty of folks who fall on either side of that equation. The final season only polarized viewers further. For my money the show did a good job of ending its run with a number of reminders about what it has always been about at heart. Could it have been a tad more clever? Sure. But the characters were always compelling even when the writing seemed sloppily open ended. As a rumination on the way that Hollywood can challenge friendships and character Entourage was effective even when it meandered. Perhaps naysayers real objection here had to do with the inevitable sadness and ambiguity of it all. The only extra here is a 30 minute retrospective featurette and one can't help but wonder if the ultimate irony is that show seems to have been dismissed in the same way by HBO as the characters were by the fictional fame and fortune they chased so fervently.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Eighth Season DVD
Curb Your Enthusiasm isn't as consistently funny as it used to be but it's still a joy to watch and when David and company are firing on all cylinders there is barely anything as clever or funny on TV. Perhaps that's to be expected after eight seasons. But the bottom line is episodes like Larry vs. Michael J. Fox, in which David starts to suspect Fox of using his Parkinson's as an excuse for bad behavior, are simply a wonder to behold. The extras included here don't seem like much until you get into them. Roundtable Discussion with Larry and the Cast turns out to be a feature length moderated discussion that is better than almost any doc would have been and Leon's Guide to NYC is a ten minute walking tour by the very funny JB Smoove. Seinfeld ain't ever comin' back, and even if it does it can hardly be expected to live up to this show at it's best. Count yer blessings folks, you are currently eight seasons in.
This is no SE but it does offer a strong upgrade in image and audio for Eastwood-philes. Personally I've always thought this film was a bit underrated. Eastwood himself is predictably great in a role that may be a bit too much like his aging Secret Service agent in the far superior In The Line of Fire (1993). But a solid twist has his lawman character working under the burden of a bad ticker. He's 60 days post op on a heart transplant and having to help profile and, of course, catch and fight the baddie. Sure, in the light of stuff like Dirty Harry (1971), this movie was never going to be much more than a modern day B movie genre thriller but Eastwood knows how to milk the theatrics and lend unexpected weight to the proceedings. You get an 18 minute featurette and a 14 minute conversation between cast members.