Sunday, November 28, 2010

November '10 Classics on Disc


Sherlock Jr. and Three Ages (Kino Blu-ray), two classic silent comedies from Buster Keaton, get a hi-def upgrade from Kino, which helps underline Keaton's incredible comic flair throughout both films. Although the clever Three Ages (1923) is a longer (60 minutes) and bigger production—it’s set during the Stone Age, ancient Rome and the Jazz Age—it’s Sherlock Jr. (1924) that crams every one of its 45 minutes with wicked wit, visual invention and riotous special effects. Keaton's comic genius is timeless, and Kino’s latest Blu-ray presentation makes the grade, with an array of enticing extras ranging from several alternate music scores for both films, a featurette on the making of Sherlock Jr., and visual essays showing the locations used by Keaton. Sherlock Jr. also features an audio commentary by historian David Kalat.

Cher: The Film Collection (Fox/MGM) collects a half-dozen of the star's flicks between 1967's Good Times (with Sonny Bono) and 1998's Tea with Mussolini—in between are the best, 1983's Silkwood, with Cher giving her first critically acclaimed performance opposite Meryl Streep, and 1987's Moonstruck, for which Cher won her Best Actress Oscar; The First Modern Sculptor: Donatello (Kultur), an illuminating 1986 BBC documentary, reveals many of the breathtaking achievements of the brilliant 15th century Italian sculptor, with detailed view of several of his masterpieces; in the 2003 documentary Gaughin: The Full Story (Kultur), the French post-impressionist painter’s colorful canvases are seen in their many homes at museums around the world, along with stunning footage of the locations he worked in, including France and, of course, Tahiti; 1986's Highlander and its 1990 sequel, Highlander 2 (LionsGate Blu-ray), have become cult favorites, even if their fantastical stories about immortals are wanting in the drama department: both films' music (Queen songs in the original, Stewart Copeland and Wagner in the sequel) comes off best 20+ years later (best extra: deleted scenes from both films); Fritz Lang's silent sci-fi dazzler, 1927's Metropolis (Kino Blu-ray), has been restored in hi-def, and with the additional 25 minutes recently found in a warehouse, this classic is finally in its most complete form (best extra: 50-minute doc, Voyage to Metropolis); Mutiny on the Bounty (Warners Blu-ray) won the 1935 Best Picture Oscar, and remains a solid drama with a trio of actors—Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone—at the top of their game: the smashing hi-def transfer completes one of Warners' best B&W Blu-rays to date (best extra: vintage short, Pitcairn Island Today); the original 1960 version of Ocean’s 11 (Warners Blu-ray) not only stars the original rat pack (Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford) but also then-starry Las Vegas, which looks quaint compared to today's extravagant Strip (best extra: commentary by Frank Sinatra Jr. and co-star Angie Dickinson); Der Rosenkavalier (Kultur Blu-ay) is a brilliant souvenir of the 1962 Salzburg production of Strauss's sublime opera, conducted by the great Herbert von Karajan and starring a sublime trio of singing actresses—Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Sena Jurinac and Anneliese Rothenberger—in stunning hi-def color (only cavil: no surround sound remix of the score); 1963's Shinsengumi Chronicles (AnimEigo) is a fast-moving samurai flick whose widescreen color compositions bring the many conflicts and battles beautifully to life; a five-disc box set collects all the episodes of Space Precinct (Image), a slightly cheesy mid-'90s sci-fi series that follows Earth cops battling alien criminals on another planet in the year 2040; Alex Cox’s Straight to Hell Returns (Microcinema), an update of his 1986 absurdist crime drama, is visually superior and more violent than the original, and stars such renowned thespians as Courtney Love, Joe Strummer and Elvis Costello (best extra: Cox's and writer Dick Rude's commentary); Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom (Disney) introduced his singularly campy sensibility to audiences in 1992, and this special edition—not on Blu-ray, strangely—adds several extras to the stew, led by Luhrmann's commentary and featurettes; Treasury of 100 Storybook Classics 2 (Scholastic), comprising 17 discs' worth of classical children's stories—including “Good Night Moon” and “The Night Before Christmas”—that amounts to 20 hours of animated family favorites in all, many narrated by familiar voices such as Meryl Streep, Sarah Jessica Parker, Forest Whitaker and Cyndi Lauper (best extra: French-language version of "Where the Wild Things Are").

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