Saturday, February 26, 2011

February '11 Classics on Disc


Sweet Smell of Success (Criterion Blu-ray) – One of the landmark American movies, this cynical 1957 satire was directed by Alexander Mackendrick with biting wit and gleeful nastiness. The Broadway gossip scene has never seemed so full of acid, and Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis make a formidable team thanks to Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman’s sparkling dialogue. Then there’s James Wong Howe’s amazing B&W photography, which gives the entire movie a nourish feel, captured brilliantly in Criterion’s usual first-rate hi-def transfer. Extras include a commentary by film scholar James Naremore; Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away, a 1986 documentary; James Wong Howe: Cinematographer, a 1973 documentary; and interviews with film critic and historian Neal Gabler and filmmaker James Mangold.


Carnival Magic (Virgil Films Blu-ray), an infamous “lost” children’s film from 1981, might be one of the most incoherent movies ever made, and even the talking chimp doesn’t help: the hi-def transfer is decent at best (best extra: 20 minutes of outtakes with—mercifully—no audio); the extended cut of Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves (MGM Blu-ray), 1990’s Best Picture Oscar winner, gets immaculate hi-def treatment, and if it’s not an outright classic, this epic western tells an absorbing story of huge scope and ambition (best extra: 75-minute making-of documentary); a forgotten 1952 film noir starring John Payne (not Wayne), Kansas City Confidential (Film Chest Blu-ray) shows its age not least in the acceptable but unimpressive hi-def transfer; Bernardo Bertolucci’s overrated but still controversial 1973 Last Tango in Paris (MGM Blu-ray) is worth seeing for Marlon Brando’s most self-indulgent performance, coming on the heels of his Best Actor win for The Godfather, even if its hi-def transfer is not quite what it could be; The Last Unicorn (LionsGate Blu-ray) is an 1982 animated fantasy that’s become a cult favorite and now, thanks to how splendid and eye-popping it looks on Blu-ray, will probably gain new fans (best extra: commentary by author-screenwriter Peter S. Beagle and his publisher Connor Cochran); The Learning Tree (Warners), Gordon Parks’ 1969 film about growing up that‘s been selected to the National Film Registry, avoids sentimentality and earns hard-earned tears through its natural and winning ensemble; finally on Blu-ray, Moonstruck (MGM Blu-ray) is an enchanting romantic comedy that holds up nearly 25 years later, thanks to John Patrick Shanley’s charming screenplay, director Norman Jewison’s light touch and Cher’s best screen performance (best extra: commentary by Cher, Jewison and Shanley); Network (Warners Blu-ray), Paddy Chayefsky’s prescient and savage 1976 satire on TV news and the debasement of our culture, could have been made in the last five years, so dead-on is its accuracy: skillfully directed by Sidney Lumet and brilliantly acted by William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch and Beatrice Straight (the latter trio won Oscars), the movie seems even more immediate on Blu-ray (best extra: 85-minute Behind the Story documentary); Gary Ross’s melodramatic satire of all-American values, 1998’s Pleasantville (Warners Blu-ray), is less incisive than it thinks it is, even if its merging of color and B&W is unerringly recreated on Blu-ray (best extra: 33-minute featurette The Art of Pleasantville); the still-pertinent 1974 Susan Sontag documentary Promised Lands (Zeitgeist/KimStim) explores the Middle East conflict in ways that makes it seem as current as today’s news, unfortunately; Senso (Criterion Blu-ray) is Luciano Visconti’s impossibly lush and tragic 1954 romance that’s been restored to its original visual luster, although it can’t cover up the movie’s melodramatic excesses (best extra: English-language version, The Wanton Countess); Dudley Moore and writer-director Blake Edwards are a funny team in “10” (Warners Blu-ray), but this hit-or-miss 1979 farce fails to make Bo Derek a believable pinnacle of female beauty: even more disappointing is its soft look on Blu-ray (lone extra: vintage promo featurette); Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan phone in their performances in You’ve Got Mail (Warners Blu-ray), Nora Ephron’s mildly diverting 1998 rom-com that at least utilizes actual Upper West Side locations (best extra: The Shop Around the Corner,Mail). Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 Jimmy Stewart-Margaret Sullavan comedy that inspired Mail).

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