New Blu-Rays for October 23, 2012: Love Triangles, Vampire Hunters, and the End of the World

Sunday Bloody Sunday

In 1971 English film and stage director John Schlesinger (A Kind of Loving, Billy Liar, Darling) followed up his Best Director and Best Picture Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy (1969) with this sophisticated and subtle story of ménage a trois in which a heterosexual woman and a gay man each have a relationship with a younger bisexual man. The story (screenplay by novelist and critic Penelope Gilliatt) covers a broad social sweep of an era when Swinging London co-existed with the land of the bourgeoisie; its backgrounds — heroin addicts lining up for their methadone, dull dinner parties, football hooligans, racial integration, the nannying of spoilt children, the vandalizing of cars — setting up a multi-layered, multi-textured mood and perspective.

A happily homosexual middle-aged doctor (Peter Finch) struggles with continuing his dull practice, his closetedness when among his repressive traditional Jewish family, and his feelings for a young, free-living artist (Murray Head) who he must share with a moody, divorced recruitment consultant (Glenda Jackson). Amazing for its time, the film is both unapologetically nonjudgmental and unhampered by any political correctness, allowing it to be one of the most honest and complex depictions of all-too-human beings.

This new digital restoration was supervised by director of photography Billy Williams. Those with sharp eyes and the assistance of high-def may spot a 14-year old Daniel Day-Lewis making his film acting debut as one of the vandals.

Video: 1.66:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Extras: new video interviews with Head, Williams, and production designer Luciana Arrighi, illustrated 1975 audio interview with Schlesinger, new interview with writer William J. Mann about the making of Sunday, new interview with photographer Michael Childers (Schlesinger’s longtime partner), booklet featuring essays by film critic Terrence Rafferty and cultural historian Ian Buruma and Gilliatt’s 1971 introduction to the film’s screenplay. Studio: The Criterion Collection.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter 3D

Who knew?

The 16th President of the United States tries to prevent bloodsuckers from taking over the United States. (Obviously he failed.)

The road to the White House is paved with beasts ’n’ tensions and, apparently, Abraham Lincoln had to deal with his fair share of the evil undead — both within his party and the opposition — to finally lead the nation through the greatest bloodletting in its history.

In 1818 Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) is living with his parents Nancy (Robin McLeavy) and Thomas (Joseph Mawle), who work on a plantation owned by vampire Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), who kills Nancy in front of her son. Before Barts can kill him, too, Lincoln is rescued by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who goes on to train him to be a vampire hunter. Later, Lincoln begins his political career campaigning to abolish slavery and — since the vampires use slaves as a source of blood — the undead plantation owners fight back.

This action horror fantasy is based on author Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 mashup book (work of fiction combining a pre-existing classic novel or historical events with more modern genre elements, as in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies); Grahame-Smith also wrote the adapted screenplay and Russian Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch, Wanted) directed and also co-produced along with Tim Burton. The film co-stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anthony Mackie, and Rufus Sewell.

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: commentary with Grahame-Smith, “The Great Calamity Graphic Novel,” “The Making of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” and “A Visual Feast: Timur Bekmambetov’s Visual Style” featurettes, “Powerless” music video by Linkin Park; Blu-ray, DVD, and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: 20th Century Fox.

Magic Mike

Director Steven Soderbergh’s $7 million budget film set in the world of male strippers earned over $113 million at the U.S. box office and $159 million worldwide. That’s a lot of singles in the elastic.

As was the case with Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls, Soderbergh’s Magic Mike is a backstage musical in the mold of 42nd Street, and like 42nd Street’s Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) Magic Mike’s hero gets his big break when one of the stars of the show is unable to go on stage and the ruthless, driven boss sends the newcomer on in their stead (only in this case the star is called Tarzan and he’s incapacitated by ingesting too much of the drug GHB). The youngster is 19-year-old drifter Adam (Alex Pettyfer) who, upon entering the world of the Xquisite Strip Club in Tampa, Florida — owned by ambitious Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) — gets trained, mentored, and guided through the life of party drugs and casual sex with clients by “Magic” Mike Lane (Channing Tatum, the real-life 19-year-old whose experiences the film is based upon). Mike (along with Tarzan, Tito, and Big Dick Richie) is a star performer who’s been with Dallas for six years since the club opened, but he wants to get out of the life and open a custom furniture business . . . but he lacks the funds to do so and he’s also been charged to look after Adam — The Kid — by Adam’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), who he’s mightily attracted to. But Adam has plans of his own — including replacing Mike as the frontman of the show.

Extras include a featurette with lessons teaching how to be a male stripper for those inspired by the film.

Video: 2.39:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master 5.1. Extras: “Dance Party Mode” 20-minute reel of all the film’s dance sequences, “Backstage on Magic Mike” teaching how to be a male stripper, extended dance scenes; DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Warner.

I, Robot 3D

I, Robot (2004), the high-octane sci-fi action film from director Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) is getting a 3D release, having been converted from the 2D format it was shot in. Loosely based on the Isaac Asimov short-story collection of the same name, I, Robot is set in the year 2035, when robots are everyday trusted household appliances and service industry employees. Chicago police detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) is investigating a death — a probable suicide — of Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) the co-founder of U.S. Robotics (USR). However, Spooner, who knew Lanning, believes otherwise. Eight years earlier, when Spooner’s car had crashed into the river, a robot had chosen to save the detective from drowning over his 12-year-old daughter, leaving Spooner hostile and suspicious of robots and the developing technology. Acting on these feelings, and with the help of a babe robopsychologist (Bridget Moynahan), Spooner interrogates the supercomputer V.I.K.I. (Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence) as well as a prototype of the latest USR model, which suddenly flees only to be captured at an assembly factory. In true ’tec tradition, despite his chief (Chi McBride) telling him to lay off the case and several attempts by robots to kill him, Spooner presses on, determined to uncover the plot that he perceives may threaten the human race.

The film co-stars Bruce Greenwood, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, and Shia LaBeouf. It was nominated for the 2004 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

It was cropped to the preferred-for-3D 1.78:1 aspect ratio from its original 2.35:1.

Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master 5.1. Extras: in-movie or separate viewing of extras, three commentaries, one by Proyas and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, a second by screenwriter Jeff Vintar, production designer Patrick Tatopoulos, editor Richard Learoyd, visual effects supervisor John Nelson, associate producer John Kilkenny, animation supervisor Andrew Jones, and visual effects supervisor Erik Nash, and a third by composer Marco Beltrami, “Day Out of Days” production diaries, “CGI and Design,” “Sentient Machines: Robotic Behavior,” and “The Filmmakers’ Toolbox” featurettes, extended and deleted scenes, trivia track; Blu-ray, DVD, and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: 20th Century Fox.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

In yet another end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it romantic comedy — the directorial debut of writer Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist) — a 70-mile-wide asteroid is heading for planet Earth with no possibility of preventing it, three weeks hence, from wiping out the entire human race. While everyone reacts to the news in their own individual way — drugged partying, rioting, suicide, or just turning up at work as normal — two neighbors, Dodge (Steve Carell) and Penny (Keira Knightley), set off on a road trip, he going after his wife who’s left him, she attempting to reunite with her family in England. In the course of a birthday party that, in context of the impending doom, naturally evolves into an orgy, Dodge and Penny spontaneously burst into sex.

The film costars Melanie Lynskey, William Petersen, Adam Brody, Tonita Castro, Derek Luke, Connie Britton, Patton Oswalt, Rob Corddry, Melinda Dillon, Rob Huebel, Gillian Jacobs, T.J. Miller, and Amy Schumer.

Video: 2.39:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master 5.1. Extras: commentary by Lorene Scafaria, her mother Gail Scafaria, producer Joy Gorman Wettels, and actors Adam Brody and Patton Oswalt, outtakes, “A Look Inside Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” featurette,  “Music for the End of the World: What’s on Your Playlist?” discussion in which Carell, Knightley, Patton Oswalt, and other stars from the movie decide what songs they’d want to hear when the world ends; DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Focus Features.

Fear and Desire

This 61-minute debut narrative feature film by a Look photographer who had previously only directed two short documentaries (Day of the Fight and Flying Padre) comes out on Blu-ray in a new restoration that was carried out by The Library of Congress in conjunction with Kino Library and mastered from 35mm archival elements loaned from the George Eastman House. That director, Stanley Kubrick, also acted as producer, cinematographer, and editor, and raised Fear and Desire’s $10,000 budget from his family and friends. He once described it as “a bumbling amateur film exercise” and the jury still seems to be out as to whether he’s right — meaning it’s a pretentiously poetic, symbol-filled, ham-fisted first film like most movie initiates make — or whether, as some experts would have us believe, it’s a cult gem. Either way, Kubrick fans and scholars will be thrilled at the opportunity to see something new from the Master previously only available on the Internet, now in the best condition it’s been in since it was filmed in 1953.

Scripted by Howard Sackler, a high school classmate of Kubrick who went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for his 1968 boxing drama The Great White Hope, this combat action drama tells of four soldiers — Lieutenant Corby (Kenneth Harp), his Sergeant, Mac (Frank Silvera), and Privates Fletcher (Stephen Colt) and Sidney (Paul Mazursky — yes that one) — whose plane has crashed leaving them trapped behind enemy lines. As the troops try to build a raft and escape, the film goes into the same themes in its depiction of how would-be warriors become ruthless and savage in the face of their fears and desire to survive at all cost—war is a hellish, dehumanizing, and absurd experience — that would turn up in the director’s later classics Paths of Glory (1957), Dr. Strangelove, (1964), and Full Metal Jacket (1987).

The set comes with The Seafarers, Kubrick’s first color film, a 1953 half-hour industrial documentary paid for and overseen by The Seafarers International Union.

Video: 1.37:1. Audio: Linear PCM 2.0 stereo. Extras: The Seafarers short documentary. Studio: Kino Video.