Buy, Rent, Or Skip: March 2009 - Home Video

Posted on 05. Mar, 2009 by Administrator in Film/TV

by Todd  Gilchrist

As 2009 gets going with movies both smart and spectacular, it’s important to note that many worthy choices can be enjoyed in the comfort of our own homes. No, that doesn’t mean bootlegging Watchmen, but checking out the latest releases on DVD and Blu-ray. No small part of the appeal of home entertainment lies in the ability to forego sticky floors and talkative neighbors, but the larger charm of these releases is the longevity and visibility of their content, affording fans to revisit their favorite films even as newcomers discover them for the first time. So, without further ado, here are a collection of picks for March that are worth considering when time comes to choose between venturing out to the multiplex or hunkering down at home.



Before the term “costume drama” was used invariably in reference to superheroes and comic book characters, Milos Forman’s Amadeus (Warner Brothers, $35.99) gloriously recreated the life and times of one of classical music’s most famous composers. Released on Blu-ray Feb. 10, the new two-disc set offers Forman’s director’s cut of the film, which dives further into his dramatic rendering of the relationship between Amadeus (Tom Hulce) and his greatest admirer-cum-adversary, Salieri (F. Murray Abraham, who won an Oscar for his portrayal).

Never intended to be an accurate portrayal of the composer’s life but a meditation on one man’s battle with his self-worth through the prism of another man’s talent, the film remains a towering, brilliant achievement, beautifully preserved via a transfer that looks breathtakingly gorgeous. Additionally, Forman and writer Peter Shaffer contribute a commentary that highlights some of the differences between the theatrical and director’s cuts, while a making-of documentary offers interview footage with members of the cast and crew as they recount the on and off-set chemistry between actors and actresses, directors and actors, and friends and enemies. And if the film itself weren’t enough to stoke one’s interest in Amadeus’ music, the set comes with a CD of the tracks used in the film, showing that the composer didn’t merely make for a great story, but made some truly great music as well. Buy It.


The Bird With the Crystal Plumage

Italian director Dario Argento is one of the forefathers of the contemporary horror film, although much of his work remains unfamiliar to mainstream fans of the genre, and especially non-fans. Thankfully, companies like Blue Underground are committed to changing that: releasing his directorial debut The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (Feb. 24, $34.95) on Blu-ray affords a new opportunity to see how he helped craft the template of movies for decades to come. The film stars Tony Musante as an American who finds himself caught up in a murder investigation after interceding upon a scuffle between a married woman (Eva Renzi) and a mysterious attacker.

Because the film comes together beautifully both as a visual stunner and a compelling whodunit, you would never guess that behind the scenes battles between Argento and his star, Argento and his producer, Argento and several others almost derailed the production multiple times. The single-disc set features an informative but excessively self-satisfied commentary by English critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman, but it’s the featurettes, including interviews with Argento, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, composer Ennio Morrricone, and actress Eva Renzi, that truly reveal the dirt out of which the film eventually grew. And ultimately, while its influences are often as transparent as the legacy which it inspired, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is a real, standalone masterpiece that is as transgressive as it is conventionally shocking. Buy It.


Body of Lies

Though it went largely unappreciated by critics and audiences during its theatrical run last year, Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies (Warner Home Video, $35.99) finds new life on DVD and Blu-ray starting Feb. 17. Scott assembles a remarkable cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, and Mark Strong to tell the story of a CIA operative in Jordan who finds himself juggling his boss’ intractable demands from the other side of the globe, the Jordanian police’s tenuous partnership, and his own conflicted morality.

Though the film interjects plenty of familiar conventions (including a romance between DiCaprio’s agent and a local Jordanian girl) into its philosophical briar patch, it manages to work effectively as both a white-knuckle action film and a political potboiler. A wealth of bonus materials, including a commentary by Scott and screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed) provides creative context, while an interactive series of featurettes explores the various characters, their relationships, and their place in the continuing Middle East conflict. While other similar films veer into melodramatic sentimentality or rhetorical monologuing, Body of Lies is a taut, captivating thriller that deserves attention both from thrill-seekers and thinking people. Rent It.

The French Connection

Much attention has already been given to William Friedkin’s reported “transformation” of his beloved and acclaimed The French Connection (Fox Home Entertainment, $34.98) on Blu-ray. The truth is, it’s grainy as hell, owing to Friedkin’s contention that he always intended to make a largely black and white film with only muted or washed-out color thrown in for a verite feel. While I wasn’t significantly distracted by this unexpected, George Lucas-esque revision, it’s something that viewers should note when deciding whether to buy the film following its release on Feb. 24.

The movie itself is unassailably great, featuring Roy Scheider and Gene Hackman in two of the most famous roles – street beaters on the trail of a French drug dealer that leads to one of the cinema’s all-time greatest chases. Additionally, an introduction and commentary by Friedkin offer insights into the making of the film both technically and artistically. (Incidentally, the text commentary, while theoretically a good idea, occupies too much of the frame, making it an addition to only second or third rather than initial viewings.) The second film, made seven years later, works less consistently than its predecessor, but as a two-fer you could do worse than these hard-boiled adventures, with or without all that grain. The French Connection: Rent it. The French Connection II: Skip It.

Raging Bull

Robert De Niro cemented his status as the hardest-working man in show business with his portrayal of Jake La Motta in Raging Bull (Fox Home Entertainment, $34.98), newly released on Blu-ray Feb. 10. An essential addition to the libraries of all true cinephiles, the film is a triumph both for De Niro and his director, Martin Scorsese, as this stuffed set ably demonstrates.

A film often discussed and deconstructed by academics, the new Blu-ray features not one but three commentaries featuring various members of the cast and crew, multiple featurettes, documentaries, and side-by-side comparisons of De Niro’s performance to the real Jake La Motta. These bonus materials somewhat predictably discuss in detail how and why the film almost didn’t get made, time after time (which always seems to be the case with would-be classics), but overall they provide a remarkable backdrop for Scorsese’s look inside the dark heart of his protagonist, and the astonishing commitment of De Niro to transform himself emotionally and physically into this self-destructive pugilist. As indicated above, an essential purchase for audiences who truly appreciate cinema, Raging Bull continues to amaze and devastate almost 30 years after its initial release. Buy It.

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3 Responses to “Buy, Rent, Or Skip: March 2009 - Home Video”

  1. Todd

    07. Mar, 2009

    [polldaddy 1433411 polldaddy]

    Reply to this comment
  2. Femei frumoase

    15. Mar, 2010

    Roy Scheider and Gene Hackman in two of the most famous roles – street beaters on the trail of a French drug dealer that leads to one of the cinema’s all-time greatest chases.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Traduceri autorizate

    11. Feb, 2011

    Femei frumoase you are right, but body of lies also rocks.

    Reply to this comment

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