Eat Pray Love (Sony) – Elizabeth Gilbert’s mega-best-selling self-help memoir is now a star vehicle for Julia Roberts, who, over the course of 2-1/2 hours merely strikes varied poses, giggling to herself or staring wide-eyed at the natural delights and male hunks cast opposite her. It’s hard not to be cynically dismissive at such self-indulgent foolishness, but at least director Ryan Murphy makes sure that the heroine’s road trip to Rome, India and Bali is filled with awe-inspiring sights and delicious food. Throughout, Roberts gets by on movie-star wattage, and her revolving door of men (Billy Crudup, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Javier Bardem) isn’t much more than ornamentation. There’s a solid Blu-ray transfer of both the theatrical version and six-minute-longer director’s cut; extras include a three-part, 45-minute making-of featurette and a short Murphy interview.
Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 (Disney) – Finally on hi-def, one of Disney’s most important films looks and sounds brilliant on Blu-ray. The original Fantasia made waves when it premiered in 1941 with irreverent (even daringly irrelevant) visualizations of beloved works like Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, with its peak (or valley, depending on your viewpoint) being the dancing hippo ballerinas during Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours. The less successful sequel, Fantasia 2000, basically rehashes what was innovative way back when, but its inventive moments work wonderfully, such as the 1930s Manhattan seen in Rhapsody in Blue. The hi-def images on both movies are fantastic, especially the original’s vivid color. Extras include audio commentaries, featurettes and the Blu debut of the Disney-Salvador Dali short, Destino.
The Lightkeepers (Image) – Strong performances by a handful of veterans (Richard Dreyfuss, Blythe Danner and Bruce Dern) partially compensate for this slow-moving period piece, directed by Daniel Adams, pitting two generations of men against two generations of women, with predictably cutesy results. Dreyfuss and Danner make a wonderfully sparring pair, and Dern shows up late for one terrific scene, but otherwise the movie becomes wanly tiresome when concentrating on the dull young couple (Mamie Gummer and Tom Wisdom). Visually lush—lots of shots of the lighthouse and its wide-open spaces environs—the movie looks splendid on Blu-ray; the extras comprise interviews with Dreyfuss and Adams.
Love Ranch (NEM) – Helen Mirren gives it her all as the heroine of this gimmicky, patently strange serio-comic look at a Vegas madam who falls for a younger prizefighter whom her gangster husband foists on her to train. The movie proceeds along melodramatic lines, and if it wasn’t for Mirren’s formidable presence—Joe Pesci’s typically sleazy hubby and Sergio Peris-Mencheta’s undistinguished boxer don’t help—her husband Tyler Hackford’s cliché-ridden flick would be even less memorable. The Blu-ray image is fine, if nothing earth-shattering; extras include a Mirren/Hackford intro, nearly an hour’s worth of deleted scenes (which can be viewed during the film to make a director’s cut of sorts), and a Hackford commentary.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Warners/New Line) – This rejiggering of the 1980s horror franchise begs the question: hasn’t anybody in the movie seen the originals and realize what the heck is happening? That absurdity aside, this is a plodding attempt to update Freddie Krueger’s nightmarish revenge on newly unsuspecting (and even some suspecting) teens, going so far as to include the ho-hum “surprise” shockeroo ending that’s always been par for the course in these films. The sparkling Blu-ray image emphasizes the color red, so consider that a warning; extras include interviews, featurettes and an alternate opening and ending.
The Pacific (HBO) – From the Band of Brothers team comes another ambitious, multi-part HBO mini-series about the American men who fought so valiantly to defeat the Japanese during WWII. Although it has the same immediacy in the battle scenes and a genuine sense of camaraderie among the soldiers, there’s a certain old-fashioned melodrama to their personal stories that robs them of true emotion. Still, in a deluxe package that’s the equivalent of what Criterion puts out, HBO has another Blu-ray winner: the hi-def image is exhaustively first-rate, and the valuable extras (insightful interviews with filmmakers, crew, actors, men who served and their families) shed light on an heroic era for our country’s armed forces.
The Pillars of the Earth (Sony) – Based on Ken Follett’s massive historical novel set in the Middle Ages, this eight-hour-long mini-series has a high pedigree, seeing as it’s been executive produced by Ridley Scott and stars a top-notch ensemble cast led by Donald Sutherland, Hayley Atwell, Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane and Alison Pill. The result is a visually sumptuous production (which looks particularly appealing on Blu-ray) that has its dramatic lows—there are subplots that could be cut or at least pared down—but also has the excitement and intrigue of adventurous storytelling, sort of like a subtler The Tudors. Extras include three featurettes on the making of the film, the visual effects and the title sequence.
South of the Border (Cinema Libre) – Oliver Stone’s documentary portrait about Latin American leaders (headed by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez) is revealing, not of the democratically-elected presidents but of Stone himself, who swallows their socialist ideas lock, stock and barrel. Without self-restraint or nuance, Stone blames the U.S. for many problems, showing these men and women as the lone beacons of hope in a troubled world. But Stone undermines his arguments by being skeptical about our government while losing skepticism when he travels south, where he seems like a cheerleader, not a serious journalist. The Blu-ray looks good, but you don’t watch for astonishing visuals; extras include deleted scenes, a Chavez Q&A and two Stone interviews.
V: Complete First Season (Warners) – This new sci-fi series recycles tropes that go back to The Twilight Zone, if not further: members of a superior alien race arrive on earth, saying they’ve come “in peace,” although their methods are soon shown to be suspect. For a weekly one-hour show, that’s not enough to fill air time, so we also get a resistance movement and satire of a media complicit in every piece of pro-alien propaganda. It’s done with maximum stylishness and even good acting, and, on Blu-ray, the whole thing—especially the effects—looks spectacular. But whether it actually has anything original to say about contemporary governmental affairs and media lackeys is murkier. Extras include deleted scenes and several behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Van Gogh: Brush with Genius (Image) – This 40-minute exploration of the great Dutch artist’s life was originally shot for IMAX, so it’s without question one of the best hi-def discs out there. Of course, most of that has to do with seeing Van Gogh’s thickly-layered paintings in their riotously full color—that’s the main reason to watch this decent if overly talky overview. It’s too bad that Jacques Gamblin, who narrates as Van Gogh has a thick, almost impenetrable accent: and there are no subtitles, unfortunately. But that’s a minor cavil: otherwise, this is a must for anyone who wants to find out (a little bit) about the artist. The extras comprise a 20-minute making-of featurette and a slide show of the artworks featured in the film.