"Africa: Eye to Eye with the Unknown"

March 2013

AfricaBBC Earth Documentary Is One of the Best of Its Kind

BBC Earth
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****1/2

Extras
****

Have you ever wondered what the black rhinos and elephants do after dark down by the watering hole? Puzzle no longer, as the newest BBC Earth documentary, Africa: Eye to Eye with the Unknown, uses special new starlight cameras to show you. Spoiler alert: it turns out that rhinos aren't really loners all the time, and that they can even go a little crazy by the light of the moon. One truly trips out. Elephants, not to be outdone, have their own sort of post-hippie love fest.

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"On the Waterfront"

February 2013

On the WaterfrontNo Matter What the Aspect Ratio, Brando's Performance Towers

The Criterion Collection 647
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
*****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

The Criterion Collection has consistently brought us the best extras to contribute to a fuller enjoyment of its feature films. But for On the Waterfront, the company has outdone itself, bringing us three different versions of the movie. To clarify, it’s exactly the same cut presented in three different aspect ratios: 1.66:1 on the main Blu-ray Disc, and 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 on a second Blu-ray.

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"The Awakening"

February 2013

The AwakeningStandard Ghost Story Benefits from One Good Extra Feature

Universal 61124958
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****1/2

Extras
***

Extras can often heighten one's enjoyment of a Blu-ray's feature presentation, but they are usually self-congratulatory puff pieces. There are plenty of those here, as director Nick Murphy really likes to talk, even when he's just repeating what he's already said. But imagine my surprise to find a genuinely interesting special feature on this Blu-ray: a little piece called "A Time for Ghosts."

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"The Tin Drum"

January 2013

The Tin DrumThe Banned German Classic Now on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 234
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***1/2

Made in 1979, The Tin Drum is a visually stunning film that will leave every viewer with images to remember, although it will probably be a different list for each person. Directed by Volker Schlöndorff, and based on the popular novel by Günter Grass, the movie tells the story of Oskar Matzerath, who decides at age three that he doesn't want to be an adult. To get his wish, he falls down a flight of stairs, and from that point on, with one exception, he never grows on the outside but matures inside until he becomes a 17-year-old boy in a child's body. And Oskar has a weapon to keep the adult world at bay: his scream breaks glass -- everything from spectacles to windows.

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"Purple Noon"

December 2012

Purple NoonA Handsome Blu-ray Transfer for Highsmith's Ripley

The Criterion Collection 637
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***

Purple Noon is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith titled The Talented Mr. Ripley. If that sounds familiar, it might be because director Anthony Minghella made a film in 1999 based loosely on the same novel, with Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow in the leads.

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"Manufactured Landscapes"

December 2012

Manufactured LandscapesOutstanding Film Honoring Photographer Edward Burtynsky

Zeitgeist Films 21148
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
***1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***

Zeitgeist Films has a solid reputation for releasing outstanding, obscure titles on DVD. The company has quite a few dramas, but its documentaries are where it really excels. Zeitgeist has just made the transition to Blu-ray, and Manufactured Landscapes is one of its first releases in that HD format.

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"Rashomon"

November 2012

RashomonKurosawa's Masterpiece on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 138
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

There's little disagreement that Rashomon is one of Akira Kurosawa's greatest films, and there's sure to be a consensus that the great Japanese director's masterpiece has never looked better than it does on this Criterion Blu-ray Disc. I found it near astonishing at times, as copies I had seen before were riddled with noise and looked fairly washed out as far as contrast goes. This Criterion release blows them all away, even their own earlier DVD version.

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"Rosemary's Baby"

November 2012

Rosemary's BabyRoman Polanski’s Classic Thriller Still Terrifies

The Criterion Collection 630
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

Rosemary’s Baby is still an atmospheric and scary thriller, but when it premiered in 1968 it was even more: a controversial shocker that generated water-cooler and cocktail-hour talk. Until that time, witches' covens, with a few notable exceptions like Burn, Witch, Burn and The Seventh Victim, had been portrayed as fanciful, exaggerated, and unbelievable. But Rosemary’s Baby brought witchcraft home by showing a coven as your New York City brownstone neighbors next door.

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"Moonrise Kingdom"

October 2012

Moonrise KingdomWes Anderson Creates a Storybook World on Blu-ray

Universal 62123585
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
*1/2

Starting with Bottle Rocket, Wes Anderson has created a string of movies very unlike typical Hollywood films. They deal with real issues but in a storybook way. All of his films offer subtle humor through warm, often wacky characters we can root for. In a way, the movies are like contemporary fairytales. Throughout his various projects (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Fantastic Mr. Fox among them), Anderson has emerged as a director with a refreshing vision.

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"Les visiteurs du soir"

October 2012

Les visiteurs du soirLove Conquers All on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 626
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
**1/2

Extras
**1/2

I'd never seen Les visiteurs du soir (1942) before this Criterion Blu-ray. I doubt that many others have -- or if they did, they saw it only on badly transferred videocassettes where it could scarcely make a good impression. Director Marcel Carné's Les enfants du paradis (1945) has received much attention, with some calling it the greatest film ever made. Les visiteurs du soir, meanwhile, has been pushed to the background.

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