Top 5 DVD's of the Week 5/25/10

PICK OF THE WEEKMystery Team (DVD)

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The Derrick comedy troupe (Donald Glover, D.C. Pierson, Dominic Dierkes are the performers with Dan Eckman directing, Meggie McFadden producing, and all writing) made this film, and it played Sundance, but had a very limited release. It basically went around the country week to week. Of the group, the person you’re most likely to have heard of is Glover; he was a creative force behind 30 Rock until he took up on Community as Troy Barnes. And Mystery Team is the sort of film that’s good to see now because then you can say you saw it before everyone else finally caught up. The premise is that young mystery solvers (ala the Hardy boys, or Encyclopedia Brown) grows up but still acts the same, but now they have a new case. This will also be playing Friday and Saturday at the New Beverly if you’re in Los Angeles.  

 

RETRO – Stagecoach (DVD/Blu-ray)

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John Ford’s seminal western was the film that turned John Wayne into a star. And you can see it happen in the film. Wayne is introduced as the camera zooms in on him as he spins his Winchester to reload it. Of course now we approach this shot with the hindsight of seventy-plus years, but I can imagine even in 1939 most people in the audience realized they were seeing one of the greatest introductory shots ever. The film, though obviously dated, is a model of an action ensemble, with well sketched characters acting in archetypical ways, but not without conviction (there’s a drunken doctor, a self righteous banker, and a hooker with a heart of gold). But when you watch it, even now, it just works. The Criterion collection edition features the film in a restored but still speckled edition with a number of extras, including a feature-length interview with Ford and one of his silent films. From the interview one gets the sense that hell for Ford would be never-ending junket interview.

 

RETRO – Spartacus (Blu-ray)

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One of Stanley Kubrick’s rare compromised films, Spartacus is a fascinating effort from a director who obviously could not get one over on the studio system here, and seemed to come in as a favor to star Kirk Douglas after Anthony Mann was let go. The voice that defines Kubrick’s other work is rarely seen at any length here. As a sword and sandal epic, the film is okay, one of the better ones of that ilk (I’ve never really been a big fan of that genre, as the films are often defined by bloat), but it is fun to see people like Peter Ustinov and Charles Laughton hamming it up. And there’s a great Woody Strode performance and a terribly awkward Tony Curtis one as well. Universal’s Blu-ray has fallen under controversy for looking cleaned up digitally. I didn’t hate the transfer as much as some, but I can see the problem, it looks shiny and lacking grain.

 

RETRO City of the Living Dead/ Django (Blu-ray)

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Blue Underground seems to have sprung from the ashes of the not-dead Anchor Bay, but which was once the B movie cousin to The Criterion Collection. Until the beginning of this century, many of the films of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci were only available in grey market bootlegs. American edition were often cut to ribbons or just plain terrible transfers. And – to a certain extent – their lack of availability was helped drive their cult following. This was getting remedied by some nice laserdisc editions, but it wasn’t until the DVD revolution that some of the most important and infamous Italian films became readily available. And now Blue Underground is releasing my favorite Lucio Fulci film, and the most famous Spaghetti Western that Sergio Leone didn’t direct. Both are definitely worth checking out.

 

NEW – The Road (DVD/Blu-ray)

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The Weinstein Company’s pained release of this Cormac McCarthy adaptation will likely be considered one of the nails in their coffin if Harvey Weinstein has run out of spare lives (also up for a role as a nail in the coffin: Nine). Though the book was very popular, the bleak material made for a horrible Christmas release, even if it was supposed to be Oscar bait. But the film found few fans, and so it ambled off. At home perhaps its merits can be more properly assessed, but it’s a bleak film with little hope. Perhaps it will find a cult following eventually, but it may become more famous for its failure than its quality.

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