Boogie Woogie (IFC) – In Duncan Ward’s low-key spoof of the modern art world, a snaky art dealer desperately wants to buy the famed Piet Mondrian painting that gives his movie its title. The lunacy of big money being thrown around for art is given an amusing workout by a slate of game actors who put over what begins promisingly then degenerates into repetitiveness, the fault of both Ward and screenwriter Danny Moynihan. Still, simply attempting such an arcane comic enterprise deserves our respect and, with Danny Huston leading the way as the art dealer (the rest of the cast comprises Gillian Anderson, Heather Graham, Alan Cumming, Christopher Lee, Charlotte Rampling and Stellan Skarsgard), Boogie Woogie decently does its job. The superb Blu-ray transfer is unfortunately the lone extra.
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (Sony) – After a terrific opening that recreates the riot accompanying the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in Paris in 1913 (which designer Coco Chanel attended), Jan Kounen’s biopic becomes conventionally romantic. The movie doesn’t excuse its lovers’ adulterous behavior, even if Igor's music began pouring out once the affair began—and Coco, too, becomes inspired creatively, coming up with her famous Chanel No. 5. Anna Mouglalis, a strikingly handsome woman, more physically resembles the real Coco than Audrey Tautou, who played her in Coco Before Chanel. However, the intense Mads Mikkelsen, brawny and broad-shouldered, looks nothing like the short, thin composer. Unlike Chris Greenhalgh’s book—which begins and ends on the day Coco dies—the movie briefly shows the former lovers long after their affair, a confusing sequence that reveals bad old-age makeup. This hi-def release aces the visual test; the lone extra is a making-of featurette.
Delicatessen (LionsGate) - Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro's fantastical tale about a family serving up Sweeney Todd-like meat dishes was followed by the even more visually outlandish The City of Lost Children. Jeunet then directed Alien Resurrection, Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, proving that the exquisitely twisted “look” of the first film probably owes more to his sensibility. If you’re looking for coherence, you’re in the wrong place; like Belgian Terry Gilliams, Jeunet and Caro are more interested in hitting on indelible images of their own, which the good (but not quite top-notch) hi-def transfer shows off: it’s the best-looking Delicatessen around. Extras include Jeunet's commentary and archives; The Making of Delicatessen; and a retrospective feature.
Forbidden Planet (Warners) – In this 1956 sci-fi classic, a U.S. spaceship touches down on an alien planet light-years from earth, where a mad scientist, his beautiful daughter and robot named Robby are living. Soon, astronauts are killed, the ship's captain falls in love with the daughter, and the nods to The Tempest become too overwhelming. For its time, there’s a primitive charm to the whole enterprise, and knowing Shakespeare can either help or hinder your fun. Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon and Anne Francis remain straight-faced throughout, while director Fred M. Wilcox imaginatively utilizes the widescreen space and what were then state-of-the-art effects: today, the first-rate Blu-ray image only accentuates their horrible cheesiness. Still, that’s part of the charm of a 54-year-old movie. Extras include the second feature starring Robby, The Invisible Boy; an hour-long documentary about 50s sci-fi flicks, Watch the Skies!; cast interviews; deleted scenes and lost footage.
Janeane Garofalo: If You Will (Image) - Though an unapologetic liberal, the humor of Janeane Garofalo is based more on observations of the everyday or the mundane, if you will. (Her reiteration of that last phrase gives this disc its title.) Onstage in Seattle, Garofalo delivers an hilarious set that’s not much different from when I saw her at Manhattan’s Comix last April. No matter: her artlessness—epitomized by her omnipresent onstage notebook—comes from artful timing, and she always delivers the goods. The Blu-ray image’s sharpness puts her many tattoos front and center, if that’s your thing; otherwise, the lone extras are short comic videos.
The Killer Inside Me (IFC) – Michael Winterbottom’s disturbingly clinical study of a deputy whose placid exterior masks darker impulses is dominated by Casey Affleck's intense performance. His affair with a prostitute unleashes his violent streak, and after beating the poor woman to death—in a scene less shocking for its brutality than for what it does to one of Hollywood’s most beautiful faces, Jessica Alba’s—he plays cat-and-mouse, daring others to find him guilty of his heinous crimes. Despite Winterbottom’s skillful direction and Affleck’s acting, The Killer Inside Me fades from memory as soon as the man's final fantasy of forgiveness and martyrdom explodes. Winterbottom’s pristine compositions—many shadowy interiors and nighttime sequences—include deep blacks that are realized superbly on Blu-ray. Extras are slim: three short making-of clips featuring Affleck, Alba and Kate Hudson.
Mars Attacks! (Warners) - One of the silliest films in a career predicated on supreme silliness, Tim Burton's 1996 mega-flop is a dopey spoof of the bad '50s sci-fi films Burton obviously loves. With many stars (Jack Nicholson, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Glenn Close, Danny DeVito) acting up a storm of embarrassing goofiness and the typically grade-Z special effects standing in for modern CGI, Mars Attacks! is truly for Burton completists only, a dizzyingly—and unapologetically—dumb compilation of the clichés those awful flicks have to offer—and then some. On Blu-ray, the movie looks even chintzier than it originally did; too bad a more recent hi-def transfer wasn't used. There are no extras.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Criterion) - Nagisa Oshima’s 1983 war drama is nothing like his thorny explorations of disaffected youth and other outsiders. With Tom Conti as the title character and David Bowie a British soldier brought into the Japanese prison camp that Conti “runs,” the movie is a bumpy ride, not even considered a superior achievements by Oshima apologists. Indeed, aside from a handful of scenes that work effectively, Mr. Lawrence skates by with barely an eyebrow raised as one watches. Even so, Criterion (of course!) presents the movie in as good and imposing a package as it will ever receive, with a superb transfer preserving its grain and an array of special features (making-of featurettes, interviews) highlighted by an hour-long documentary on the real Mr. Lawrence.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Warners) - After 35 years, Randall P. McMurphy remains Jack Nicholson’s signature role: the intense stare, smirking line readings, energy to burn and sarcastic attitude are present and accounted for here, which won him his first (and most deserved) Best Actor Oscar. Milos Forman’s bittersweet comedy about inmates at an Oregon insane asylum remains a touchstone film, mainly for the terrific actors supporting Nicholson (Oscar winner Louis Fletcher, Brad Dourif, Will Samson, William Redfield, Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd). There’s also Forman's tenderness in presenting these people as victims of unfeeling bureaucracy, something unoriginal even then but which continues to reverberate strongly. Warners’ tremendous package—a terrific new transfer, many special features (commentaries, new documentary Completely Cuckoo, other interviews, deleted scenes)—includes a keepsake book, postcards and other memorabilia usually reserved for The Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind.
The Prince of Persia—The Sands of Time (Disney) - This swashbuckler based on a video game was supposed to start an action franchise starring Jake Gyllenhaal, but no one told the audience, which stayed away from theaters and probably won’t make a difference at home to propel this toward sequel-land. It’s competently made and has enticing scenery, but Gyllenhaal’s heart doesn’t seem to be in it as the hero, as if he knew this was a mistake and he’s dutifully honoring his contract. Opposite him, Gemma Atherton shows gumption, but she is seen to far better advantage in Tamara Drewe. Admittedly, the Blu-ray’s hi-def visuals present so much detail that it's a virtual feast, but as an action movie, it’s mainly famine. Extras include The Sands of Time, a two-hour interactive experience that goes behind the scenes with the filmmakers.
The Thin Red Line (Criterion) - Terrence Malick’s philosophical meditation on war, man, and nature was an anomaly when it came out, and a dozen years later, it’s still an extraordinary achievement by a singular artist (Badlands, Days of Heaven and The New World, anyone?). Based on James Jones’ novel about American soldiers fighting the Japanese during WWII, Malick’s film only nods toward its source, as interlocking storylines, shots of indigenous plant and animal life, multiple narrators and lack of generic battle sequences show. The director's tremendous vision transforms a war novel into a treatise on the folly of men murdering one another amid the world's terrible beauty. Criterion’s simply glorious transfer preserves Malick’s austere, astute vision—which is underlined by the work of his superb cinematographer John Toll—while adding worthwhile extras (crew commentary, cast interviews, audition footage, outtakes, interview with Jones’ daughter) that make this another first-class package.
The Third Man (LionsGate) - Carol Reed and Graham Greene struck lightning with their 1948 mystery classic stuffed with impossibly atmospheric B&W visuals and Anton Karas’ impossibly catchy zither soundtrack. Reed and Greene were also smart enough to cast Orson Welles as the mysterious Harry Lime and Joseph Cotten as his old friend who tries to track him down. A damned entertaining movie like this deserves a better Blu-ray disc than this new release. It actually had one in Criterion’s masterly Blu-ray from last year, which went out of print to make way for the LionsGate/Studio Canal release. The visuals are good enough, but not in Criterion’s class, while the extras, pleasing in some ways (a new, informative commentary and vintage audio interviews with Cotton and Greene), lose their luster when compared with Criterion’s jam-packed set. Still, if you don’t want to pay top dollar for the OOP Criterion, this is an adequate substitute.