New Blu-rays for August 7, 2012: Cowboys, Cops, Monsters, and Martyrs

Rio Grande and Johnny Guitar

This week Olive Films are releasing these two classic westerns from the early 1950s. Rio Grande (1950) is part of what is known as John Ford’s cavalry trilogy — along with Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) — based on stories by James Warner Bellah. John Wayne portrays Lieutenant Colonel Kirby Yorke, the commander of a Calvary troop on the Mexican border in 1879 who’s given charge of protecting settlers against marauding Apaches. At the same time he must deal with his West-Point-washout soldier son (Claude Jarman, Jr.), his estranged wife who’s come to take her offspring home (Maureen O’Hara), and a fort full of colorful characters (ably played by Victor McLaglen, Ben Johnson, and Harry Carey, Jr.). Shot in Monument Valley and other locations in southeastern Utah and filled with the usual entertaining Ford musical and comedy moments — it could be claimed that Ford actually directed musicals— Rio Grande captures all the romance, ritual, and thrills of the best Westerns.

Johnny Guitar (1954), the bizarre, seething, overheated, bigger-than-life, operatic psychodrama from Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause, Bigger Than Life) tells the legend of Vienna (Joan Crawford) a tough Western woman who has built a saloon-gambling house outside of town so that when the railroad is put through she’ll be in a prime position to build her power base. The townsfolk, led by the wonderfully manically neurotic Emma (Mercedes McCambridge), believe she’s running a gang of desperados led by The Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady) and want to run her off but cool Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden) turns up to play in her saloon and generally unbalances the conflict further. With unresolved, unspoken passions (and nostrils) flaring all around, this florid pash-fest co-stars Ward Bond, Ernest Borgnine, and Ben Cooper.

Both, Video: 1.35:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Extras, Grande: “The Making of Rio Grande” featurette.Guitar, Extras: introduction by Martin Scorsese. Studio: Olive Films.

Strike Back:Cinemax Season One

Strike Back is a playful, sex-filled, adrenaline driven action series in which two highly-trained members of a British top-secret anti-terrorist branch of MI6 known as Section 20 are sent around the world on special ops missions shooting über-evil bad guys and blowing things up, rescuing the hostages, and trying to find out about and prevent “Project Dawn.” Based on the novels of British author Chris Ryan, Strike Back teams a straight-laced English sergeant (Philip Winchester) with a philandering, dishonorably discharged Delta Forces operative  (Sullivan Stapleton). The boys are supported by their tough boss (Amanda Mealing), an action-girl cohort (Eva Birthistle), an intel expert (Rhashan Stone), and a brilliant mission planner (Michelle Lukes). This is actually the second season of Strike Back, the first one having only been broadcast in Britain, but this relaunched series nonetheless has a lot of American fans because of its 24-like constantly gripping drive. The set contains ten 50-minute episodes on four Blu-ray discs.

Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: five commentaries with executive producer Daniel Perciva and stars Winchester, Stapleton, Mealing, and Liam Cunningham; DVD and digital copy. Studio: HBO.

High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank

This week Disney brings out separate releases of two of actor John Cusack’s best comedies. High Fidelity (2000), based on Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel and directed by Stephen Frears, tells of a miserable, cynical, self-pitying Chicago record store owner and music fanatic who vainly tries to gain meaning, understanding, and order in his life after his heart is broken through hanging with his network of friends, rearranging his vinyl, and compiling top-five lists including Top Five Breakup Songs.

In director George Armitage’s Grosse Pointe Blank  (1997), Cusack plays a professional assassin in early-mid-life crisis of conscience who, on the advise of his shrink (Alan Arkin) and his secretary (Joan Cusack), goes to his tenth year high school reunion in the Detroit suburbs to try to reconnect with his old flame (Minnie Driver) and the innocent guy he once was before taking up the hit-man profession. Unfortunately, his killer-for-hire competition  (Dan Aykroyd) intends to take advantage of this momentary humanity to eliminate his rival.

Both, Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras, Fidelity: conversations with writer/producer Cusack, conversations with Frears, 14 minutes of deleted scenes. Blank: none. Studio: Disney.

Grimm: Season One

In this dark supernatural fantasy series set in modern day Portland, Oregon homicide detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) finds out that he is a Grimm — a guardian with special abilities whose task it is to help save humanity from the creatures thought to be just Grimm’s Fairy Tales myths. Only descendents of the author have the inherited ability to see the beasts and, aided by his partner (Russell Hornsby) and a reformed creature (Silas Weir Mitchell), Burkhardt sets about detecting the evil lurking among us — it is an election year — while trying to deal with the problems of his everyday life. If it all sounds a bit familiar it’s because the series was created by writers David Greenwalt (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Jim Kouf (Angel), and Stephen Carpenter (Blue Streak). This five-disc set contains all 22 first-season episodes.

Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: deleted scenes, gag reel, “The World of Grimm” and “Making Masters,” featurettes, “Grimm Guide” interactive book, collector cards; UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Universal.

Sebastiane and The Tempest

These audacious experiments from British filmmaker Derek Jarman (Caravagio, The Last of England) portray characters attempting to transform their lives into more spiritual existences. In Sebastiane (1976) a soldier (Leonardo Treviglio) is demoted and banished to Sardinia, a remote outpost of the Roman Empire, because of his growing attraction to Christianity. He soon becomes the object of his commanding officer Severus’s desires, though, which will eventually lead to Sebastiane’s much-painted martyrdom. Sebastiane has a soundtrack by Brian Eno. The Tempest (1979) is Jarman’s campy adaptation of William Shakespeare’s theatrical masterpiece which includes a full-scale Hollywood production number of Elisabeth Welch singing “Stormy Weather” amongst a chorus line of hunky sailors. Jarman transforms the magician Prospero (Heathcote Williams) who lives on an on enchanted island with his daughter (Toyah Willcox) into a struggling artist who’s desperate to transform his bleak world and so summons up a tempest to shipwreck a group of travelers.

Sebastiane, Video: 1.66:1. Audio: Latin (with English subtitles) LPCM mono. Extras: none.  The Tempest, Video: 1.33:1. Audio: LPCM mono. Extras: three short films by Jarman: A Journey to Avebury (1971), Garden of Luxor (1972), and Art of Mirrors (1973). Studio: Kino.