New Blu-rays for November 20, 2012: Blood, Guts, Bombs...and Manners
Tarantino XX: 8-Film Collection
Tarantino XX contains eight films chosen by writer-director Quentin Tarantino to illustrate the first 20 years of his career from 1992-2009 - pretty much his entire auteur oeuvre - that has brought joy to lovers of cinema and inspiration to filmmakers everywhere.
They include Reservoir Dogs (1992), True Romance (1993), Pulp Fiction (1994), Jackie Brown (1997), Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), Death Proof, (2007) and Inglourious Basterds (2009).
True Romance, although only written by Tarantino, completely has the vibe and style of a Tarantino movie (if not the visual flair and flourish), much more than it walks or quacks like anything else by its director, Tony Scott (Top Gun, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State). Tarantino's energy and cinematic life force just overwhelm much of the style of the director, as was the case with Natural Born Killers (unfortunately not included here), which is pure Tarantino and nothing like any other Oliver Stone (Platoon, JFK, Wallstreet) movie that went before, although - on the surface - it has influenced some of Stone's later films such as U-Turn and Savages.
We're used to Tarantino reviving acting careers, exposing the true talents of seemingly lesser performers, and introducing unknowns to mainstream American audiences while they played the oddball gangsters, killers, professional criminals, drug users, and fascinating peripheral colorful characters. But even in the two films he didn't direct, the writing is so pure Tarantino that it inspires the actors into highly memorable, uniquely idiosyncratic performances - Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Gary Oldman, Michael Madsen - sometimes surprisingly so, as in Brad Pitt's True Romance stoner. Even the selection of unusual soundtrack songs for each film has Tarantino's pitch-perfect fingerprints on them. The rest of the films in this collection, though, are all-round, all-out Tarantino, displaying his dazzling mastery of the cinematic language - visuals, editing, music, etc. - merging all elements together perfectly as no other American director living today can do.
In this 10-disc set, in addition to the films in glorious high def and lossless sound, and the plentiful extras accompanying each title on its disc, there are also two discs of extra extras including five hours of critics' discussions of the films, a two-hour retrospective of Tarantino's career, a Jackie Brown Q&A event," and a Django Unchained trailer collection.
Reservoir Dogs, Video: 2.39:1. Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, EX, DTS 5.1 ES Matrix, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Playing It Fast and Loose" documentary on the films influence on modern cinema, "Profiling the Reservoir Dogs" featurette on the motivations of each character, "Pulp Factoids Viewer" offering insider information about the film and its sources of inspiration. True Romance, Video: 2.40:1. Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: actors' commentary by Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, director's commentary, writer's commentary by Tarantino, 56-minutes of selective commentaries by Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Michael Rapaport, and Brad Pitt, 36-minutes of deleted and extended scenes including alternate ending, branching interactive featurette, vintage featurette. Pulp Fiction, Video: 2.35:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Not the Usual Mindless Boring Getting to Know You Chit Chat" new 43-minute retrospective with the cast and crew, new critics roundtable discussion, "Pulp Fiction: The Facts "and "Production Design" featurettes, 25 minutes of deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes montages, Siskel & Ebert At the Movies: The Tarantino Generation segment devoted to the writer-director and his influence, Tarantino interviewed by Michael Moore at the Independent Spirit Awards, Cannes Film Festival Palme D'Or acceptance speech, 55-minute Charlie Rose Show interview with Tarantino, poster and Academy Award campaign stills, trivia track. Jackie Brown, Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Breaking Down Jackie Brown critics' roundtable, "Jackie Brown: How it Went Down" featurette, "A Look Back at Jackie Brown" interview with Tarantino, Chicks With Guns infomercial seen playing on television in the background in one sequence of Jackie Brown with director's introduction, Siskeland Ebert at the Movies reviewingJackie Brown, still galleries, Jackie Brown on MTV, trivia track, deleted and alternate scenes with director's introduction, "Soundtrack Chapters" allowing direct access to any of the film's source cues, 27 minutes of trailers of Robert Forster films, 36 minutes of trailers of Pam Grier films, Pam Grier radio spots (with posters) promoting Grier's various films. Kill Bill: Volume 1, Video: 2.40:1. Audio: LPCM 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1. Extras: 22 minute documentary, trailers for Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction,Jackie Brown, Kill Bill: Volume 1 (two versions) and Kill Bill: Volume 2. Kill Bill: Volume 2,Video: 2.40:1. Audio: LPCM 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1. Extras: short documentary, "Chingon" musical performance, deleted scene. Death Proof, Video: 2.35:1. Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Extras: "Stunts on Wheels: The Legendary Drivers of Death Proof," "Introducing Zoe Bell," "Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike," "Finding Quentin's Gals," "The Guys of Death Proof," and "Quentin's Greatest Collaborator: Editor Sally Menke" featurettes, uncut version of "Baby It's You," poster gallery. Inglourious Basterds, Video: 2.39:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: extended and alternate scenes, roundtable discussion in which Tarantino and Pitt are interviewed by Elvis Mitchell, Nation'sPride full cut of the film-within-a-film directed by Eli Roth, "The Making of Nation's Pride," "The OriginalInglorious Bastards," "A Conversation with Rod Taylor," and "Rod Taylor on Victoria Bitter "featurettes, montage of clapperboard one-liners delivered by clapperboard girl, "Hi Sallys" greetings Tarantino and cast sent from the set to editor Sally Menke, tour of the background movie posters, "Killin' Nazis" trivia challenge; digital copy. Bonus Discs Extras: "Critic's Corner" 5 hours of discussions of the films, "Quentin Tarantino: 20 Years of Filmmaking" 133-minute retrospective, "Jackie Brown Q&A: A Film Independent at LACMA Event," "Django Unchained - Coming Soon" trailer collection. Studio: Lionsgate.
The Expendables 2
Yes, the villain's called Vilain, but with characters called Hale Caesar and Toll Road, that's not surprising. Directed by director Simon West (Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) from a screenplay by Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone, this sequel to the 2010 action film The Expendables finds CIA operative Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) sending technical expert Maggie Chan (Yu Nan) along with the reunited mad-ass mercenary group The Expendables for a mission. Led by Barney Ross (Stallone), the team - consisting of knives expert Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), hand-to-hand combatist Yin Yang (Jet Li), heavy weapons guru Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), demolition specialist Toll Road (Randy Couture), new-kid sniper Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth), and all-round-maniac-whose-specialty-is-losin'-it Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) - take on the walk-in-the-park, easy-money job of retrieving an item from a downed airplane in Albania. Except they're ambushed by arms dealer Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), his right-hand man Hector (Scott Adkins), and Vilain's mercenary group, the Sangs, who capture Billy. The Expendables surrender the item in exchange for Billy but Vilain kills him anyway because . . . well, he's a villain, and the team vows vengeance. Maggie reveals that the item is a computer containing the location of five tons of refined plutonium abandoned in a mine by the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War which Vilain intends to sell.
The Expendables follow Vilain to Bulgaria where they are ambushed by the Sangs but then saved by Ross's old friend Booker (Chuck Norris). After locating Vilain and the mine, the team manages to save the enslaved local villagers forced to work in it from execution, but Vilain and Hector escape with the plutonium and blow the mine, trapping the Expendables inside. Church and, Ross's rival and fellow mercenary, Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), rescue them and they all go after Vilain.
The Expendables 2 grossed over $300 million worldwide and so a third outing, tentatively and imaginatively titled The Expendables 3, is in production.
The Expendables 2 is the first film to come to home theater with DTS Neo:X sound which takes the normal 7.1 channel setup and adds an extra four channels designed to give both height and extra width in order to give smoother flowing effects pans and a more immersive experience.
Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: director's commentary, "Gods of War: Assembling Earth's Mightiest Anti-Heroes," "Big Guns, Bigger Heroes: The 1980s and the Rise of the Action Film," "On the Assault: The Real-Life Weaponry of The Expendables," and "Guns for Hire: The Real Expendables" featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel; DVD and digital copies. Studio: Lionsgate.
Sure, at the time of its release in 1980 epic Western Heaven's Gate was a hugely expensive box-office bomb that contributed to the near collapse of United Artists, and that it was considered one of the worst films ever made with near-universally bad reviews, that it destroyed the reputation of its director Michael Cimino whose The Deer Hunter had won 1978 Best Picture Oscar, and that it led to a retreat by the studios from classic 1970s director-originated and controlled films by the likes of Frances Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese into more studio-controlled productions which eventually led to the blockbuster system. But that doesn't mean that it was bad. After a 2012 screening of the 216 minute original version in the Venice and New York film festivals it was widely thought to be a ravishingly-shot, visionary modern masterpiece and that the original re-cutting for the 1980 release which chopped out 70 minutes of the film was one of the great travesties and injustices in cinema.
Twenty years after their 1870 graduation ceremony in Harvard, once young idealists James Averill (Kris Kristofferson) and his close friend, orator Billy Irvine (John Hurt), have moved to boom-town Casper, Wyoming along with many European immigrants in search of the American Dream. Casper's wealthy cattle barons are enraged at the flood of immigrants, seeing them both as un-American foreigners - barely able to speak any English with no interest in assimilating - and possible future competition and so have organized themselves into the Wyoming Stock Growers Association to deal with the problem. Their leader, Frank Canton (Sam Waterston), announces he and some trusted members have put together a list of 125 immigrants who need killing and hired a gang of mercenaries to do their dirty work. Billy, a member of the Association, disagrees with what they intend but these days he's too drunk to be effective in persuading the membership of the folly of their actions. Averill, now a federal marshal, is gonna make them stop.
Averill meets another old friend, John Bridges (Jeff Bridges), the owner of a gambling-saloon and a roller-skating rink - Heaven's Gate - whose best customers are immigrants. Since he's therefore going to lose his income, Bridges decides to help Averill. Rounding out the characters is Nathan D. Champion (Christopher Walken) another friend of Averill and an enforcer for the barons, his friend Nick Ray (Mickey Rourke), and Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert), a French madam of a brothel who is the lover of both Champion and Averill. And even more cast members includes Brad Dourif, Joseph Cotton, Tom Noonan, and an uncredited Willem Dafoe in his first role. Let the battle begin.
Heaven's Gate originally premiered in 1980 in New York at 219 minutes and, after an aborted one-week run, United Artists pulled it. It was then cut to a 149-minute version and re-released in 1981, not just shorter but radically rearranged. In 1982, Z Channel aired the 219-minute version transferred from the premiere print of Heaven's Gate on cable television as a "director's cut," (thereby creating the whole concept). In 2005, the 219-minute cut negative was reassembled by MGM archivist John Kirk, and a print from it was screened in Paris and presented to a sold-out audience at New York's Museum of Modern Art with a live introduction by Huppert. Cimino has since stated, though, that he had been rushed into the 219-minute version which was essentially an unfinished film. A restored, 216-minute version of the film which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2012 is the version being released by Criterion in this two-disc set.
Video: 2.39:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: restoration demonstration, new illustrated audio interview with Cimino and producer Joann Carelli, new interviews with Kristofferson, soundtrack arranger and performer David Mansfield, and second assistant director Michael Stevenson, "The Johnson County War" video interview with historian Bill O'Neal, booklet featuring an essay by critic and programmer Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan. Studio: The Criterion Collection.
That's Entertainment! Trilogy Gift Set
Released in pre-VCR1974 by MGM, That's Entertainment! offered a chance for musical movie lovers to not only get to see favorite numbers performed that they'd otherwise only occasionally see pan-and-scanned or colorized on TV or even more rarely as a tattered print at a repertory movie house, and also exposed them to lesser-known gems for their enjoyment and education. And all in their original aspect ratios! What's more, each of the more than 60 clips was introduced by big Hollywood stars including Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Lawford, Liza Minelli, Mickey Rooney, and more - all gushing their pre-scripted thoughts read from a teleprompter. Seeing clips of all the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films together also offered an overview of the studio's musical department and in addition tributes to a number of its stars. It all added up to boffo box office.
Two years later in 1976 the sequel, That's Entertainment! II had Astaire and Rogers co-hosting the show and performing a couple of dance number together and introducing more lesser-known numbers and tributes that push the focus towards non-musical teams like the Marx Brothers, Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn, and Laurel and Hardy. In addition it had clips showing off the talents of dramatic actors such as Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and John Barrymore.
It took another 18 years before That's Entertainment! III came out in 1994 with a limited theatrical release before going to video, the best of the vaults already having been used, leaving picked-over remains coming from very obscure films. However, there are some great lesser-known performances in cut sequences from better known movies by performers the likes of Judy Garland, Reynolds, and Lena Horne that were censored, a second camera angle on an Eleanor Powell tap dance that reveals the behind-the-scenes efforts that went into shooting it, and side-by-side comparison of different takes of an Astaire number which reveal how identical they are, Astaire literally never putting a foot wrong.
All, Video: various aspect ratios. All, Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1. That's Entertainment! I, Extras: introduction by TCM's Robert Osborne, "That's Entertainment!: 50 Years of MGM" hour-long vintage promotional special, "Just One More Time" and "MGM's 25th Anniversary" vintage featurettes. That's Entertainment! II, Extras: "The Lion Roars Again" and "That's Entertainment!: The Masters Behind the Musicals" vintage featurettes, excerpt from a 1976 "The Mike Douglas Show" on the MGM lot. That's Entertainment! III, Extras: "Behind the Screen" hour-long vintage promotional featurette, jukebox of 16 additional numbers. Studio: Warner.
Game of Thrones: Season One
Just as in Deadwood, Rome, The Tudors, The Borgias, and a host of other TV dramas,the sweeping medieval fantasy saga Game of Thrones follows a large collection of characters in interweaving plot lines as they struggle, scheme, and do battle for power or ultimate power - the throne to the kingdom itself - in a sea of plotting, lust, betrayal, and intrigue. Game of Thrones is created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss based on George R.R. Martin's best-selling novel series "A Song of Ice and Fire" set in the fictional continents of Westeros and, to the east, Essos.
When chief advisor of King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) - known as the Hand - dies mysteriously, Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean, head of House Stark, is asked to become the new Hand of King. A letter to Ned and his wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) from Catelyn's sister, Lysa (Kate Dickie) leads them to believe that the previous Hand's death was caused by the rival House Lannister, sending Ned ned off to the south to investigate the murder. Simultaneously, exiled Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd), son of the former king, believes he still has the rightful claim to the throne and with the help of a warrior tribe led by Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) he intends to form an army to take the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, beyond the wall in the Icy North, an ancient evil force threatens all.
Universally acclaimed, Game of Thrones quickly became one of HBO's biggest hits. This set contains all 10 episodes of Season 1.
Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: seven episode commentaries, "Making Game of Thrones," "Creating the Show Open," "From the Book to the Screen," "The Night's Watch," "Creating the Dothraki Language," featurettes, character profiles, "Complete Guide to Westeros" interactive compendium of the noble houses and lands featured in Season 1 and 24 histories of the Seven Kingdoms as told by the series's characters, anatomy of an episode, in-episode guide, hidden dragon eggs; DVD and digital copies. Studio: Shout Factory.
The Portrait of a Lady
The Portrait of a Lady (1996), the adaptation of the 1881 novel by Henry James by director Jane Campion (The Piano, Holy Smoke!, Bright Star), tells of Isabel Archer (Nicole Kidman), an innocent but headstrong young woman of independent mind who, following the death of her father, is invited by her aunt Lydia Touchett to visit at her aunt's rich husband's estate near London. Wishing to educate herself about the world and find enlightenment in regards to her own nature, Isabel agrees. On arrival, she quickly develops a close relationship with her cousin, Ralph Touchett (Martin Donovan) - whose health is precarious but is a trustworthy friend, spiritual mate, and wise adviser - and her uncle Daniel (John Gielgud) who eventually leaves the estate to her.
Now an heiress, she travels across Europe and makes the mistake of befriending and falling under the influence of Madame Merle (Barbara Hershey), a fellow American who introduces her to the smoothly seductive objets d'art collector Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich) and encourages Isabel to make an alliance with him. Isabel does so, eventually becoming his bride, but soon realizes that she has merely become a part of his collection and that he and Madame Merle are actually lover who've been plotting all along to steal her fortune.
The star-studded cast also includes Mary-Louise Parker, Shelley Winters, Shelley Duvall, Viggo Mortensen, Christian Bale, and Richard E. Grant.
Video: 2.39:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Portrait: Jane Campion" and "Portrait of a Lady" featurettes; DVD copy. Studio: Shout Factory.