We're back with what is technically our second Blu-ray guide of the week after we hit Oscar winners "Birdman", "Big Hero 6", "The Theory of Everything", and "Whiplash" yesterday. Criterion has released some great films with spectacular special features in the last couple weeks, there's an animated masterpiece that should have won an Oscar on Sunday night, and there are a few comedies that might draw your attention, along with our list of hot new releases on Netflix and On Demand services everywhere. Strap in.
8 NEW TO BLU-RAY
Let's start with the Criterion quartet, a really diverse array of a trio of films from three of history's best filmmakers and a truly unique animated masterpiece that's decidedly not for kids. New to Criterion Blu-ray releases in the last two weeks include films by Yasujiro Ozu, Jean-Luc Godard, Federico Fellini, and the truly memorable "Watership Down," a film most of us first saw at a WAY too young age to comprehend or enjoy. "Look, an animated movie about bunny rabbits!" Yeah, "Watership Down" is a little more than that. It's a searing political statement that doesn't soften or simplify its source material to make its point. It's one of those great films in that it further proves something that Brad Bird once said to me: that animation is not a genre, it's a medium. (The great Guillermo Del Toro repeats the same thought in an interview on the Criterion release.) There can be multiple genres within animation and "Watership Down" is unlike nearly any other animated film. The transfer is gorgeous and as GDT says in his interview about the movie, it feels like something that will never happen again. It is a hand-drawn, religious parable for adults that took the British box office by storm and was a critical darling. And it still feels so unusual, daring, and unforgettable.
However, I'd have to say that the best actual film in this quartet is Ozu's final masterpiece, the story of a man addressing his age and his place in a changing society--themes that Ozu had certainly visited before but that feel more resonant knowing that this film would be his last. It's almost a love letter to the films he had made before, like a great musician incorporating familiar musical themes into the last recording of his career. It's a mesmerizing piece of work. Of course, Fellini's career-changing film and Godard's "second first film"--this was his first "narrative," defined loosely of course, in a decade--are invaluable to movie history as well. If anything these three films say volumes about their creators--where they were in their careers and why they mattered.
In terms of interesting supplemental material, "Fellini Satyricon" is the one to get, as it includes copious archival and new special features, and one that kind of counts as both and really should be heard by all fans of the film and Fellini in general. It's an audio recording of a memoir from the set of the film. So it's not a traditional commentary per se but it sheds unique light on the production that we haven't had before. It reveals a chaotic (no surprise) set but also one teeming with creativity and passion for capturing something diferent on film. The Godard has a great video essay by McCabe, "Watership Down" has the GDT interview and one with the film's creator, and the Ozu has a new commentary by David Bordwell. Perhaps coolest of all from Criterion this month is the inclusion of two full episodes of "The Dick Cavett Show" on the Godard film, in which the host interviews the reclusive filmmaker. It will make you long for more intellectual talk shows like Dick Cavett in today's market.
New audio commentary featuring David Bordwell, author of Ozu and the - Poetics of Cinema
Excerpts from Yasujiro Ozu and the Taste of Sake, a 1978 French television program looking back on Ozu's career, featuring film critic Michel Ciment
New and improved English subtitle translation
PLUS: A booklet featuring new essays by film scholars Geoff Andrew and Donald Richie
New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Scenario de "Sauve qui peut (la vie)" (1979), a short video created by director Jean-Luc Godard to secure financing for "Every Man for Himself"
New video essay by critic Colin MacCabe
New interviews with actor Isabelle Huppert and producer Marin Karmitz
Archival interviews with actor Nathalie Baye, cinematographers Renato Berta and William Lubtchansky, and composer Gabriel Yared
Two back-to-back 1980 appearances by Godard on "The Dick Cavett Show"
"Godard 1980", a short film by Jon Jost, Donald Ranvaud, and Peter Wollen, featuring Godard
PLUS: An essay by critic Amy Taubin
Audio commentary featuring an adaptation of Eileen Lanouette Hughes' memoir "On the Set of Fellini Satyricon: A Behind-the-Scenes Diary"
"Ciao, Federico!," Gideon Bachmann's hour-long documentary shot on the set of "Fellini Satyricon"
Archival interviews with director Federico Fellini
New interview with Rotunno
New documentary about Fellini's adaptation of Petronius' work, featuring interviews with classicists Luca Canali, a consultant on the film, and Joanna Paul
New interview with photographer Mary Ellen Mark about her experiences on the set and her iconic photographs of Fellini and his film
"Felliniana," a presentation of "Fellini Satyricon" ephemera from the collection of Don Young
New English subtitle translation
PLUS: An essay by film critic Michael Wood
New interview with director Martin Rosen
New interview with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro about the film's importance in animation history
Picture-in-picture storyboard for the entire film
"Defining a Style," a 2005 featurette about the film's aesthetic
PLUS: An essay by comic book writer Gerard Jones
Do you remember a time not that long ago when it seemed like we might never see Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg's comedy about a boneheaded assassination attempt of a world leader? After the Sony leak, and the company's pulling of the film from their release schedule, there were reporters honestly convinced it would never see the light of day. Now, it couldn't have more light shed on it, as it's available on Netflix and has hit Blu-ray and DVD less than two months after its scheduled release. Is Sony just trying to push past this as quickly as possible? Or striking while it's still in the national consciousness? Either way, now the film itself can be judged apart from the controversry that surrounded it. What's funny is that the movie is just OK. It's not worth getting passionate about in either direction. It's not as consistently clever as "This is the End" or "Neighbors" but has some decent laughs in its too-long running time, particularly from a movie-stealing performance by Randall Park. It's nice that Sony didn't just bury the film with a standard DVD release, padding the Blu-ray with copious special features, many of which further prove how much these guys improvise most of their best material. Yes, there are more jokes that North Korea will find offensive than there were even in the theatrical release. Not only did the attempt to bury "The Interview" fail, it's come back with more jokes designed to aggravate a dictator.
Deleted & Alternate Scenes
Directors of This Movie
Spies Among Us
Randall Park Audition Tape
Getting Into Character
Here Kitty Kitty
Dating a Dictator
Naked and Afraid
"The Tale of the Princess Kaguya"
As unique as "Watership Down" was to the animation landscape, so does Isao Takahata's masterful fairy tale feel like something distinct, even in the legacy of the essential Studio Ghibli. From its loose, hand-drawn style to its unapologetic running time to its complex storytelling, "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya" is defiantly the product of an artist. There is never the sense of compromise or committee decision-making that pervades SO much modern animation. It is not a product that has been created to appeal to the widest possible audience. It is an expression, a classic fable passed down through generations and now brought to life by a team of animators at the absolute peak of their craft. I saw it for the first time months ago at TIFF, and the film haunted me. I know that sounds cheesy, but it's a work that I've thought about way more than dozens of the films I've seen since that Canadian screening. It lingers, like only our best stories do.
Announcement of the Completion of the Film
Japanese Trailers and TV Spots
"Isao Takahata and His Tale of The Princess Kaguya" - A feature-length documentary on the making of this masterpiece
Theodore Melfi's comedy is nowhere the artistic product as are most of the Blu-rays in this week's packed HECG but I can't help but feel the movie got a bit of a bum rap when it was released in theaters. I stand by my assessment, which is that it's perfectly entertaining, crowd-pleasing fare, with solid performances all around, especially the leading one by Bill Murray, who hasn't really been allowed to break free to this degree in too long. A loose, fun comedy leading performance from Murray is something of value, at least to this viewer, and Melfi's direction is unforced, letting him, Naomi Watts, and Melissa McCarthy roam within this film's likable construct. There's nothing overly memorable about "St. Vincent" but it's a sweet, enjoyable film. We could use more of those.
Bill Murray is "St. Vincent": The Patron Saint of Comedy
"Game of Thrones: The Complete Fourth Season"
The fourth season of HBO's massive fantasy hit started to lose me a bit more than the first three. I think it's the weakest overall, and I do think the show has started to become repetitive in its characterizations of abominable behavior. Having said that, it's still totally worth watching, and ABSOLUTELY worth buying on Blu-ray. I mostly included this this week so you could see how remarkably HBO is treating fans of this program in terms of special features. These are not Blu-ray releases, they're interactive adventures for fans. Other studios should take note. And it's not just the bonus material. HBO can also boast the highest quality HD video and audio on the market. They're leading the way.
In-feature resource that provides background information about on-screen characters, locations, and relevant histories.
Histories and Lose
Learn about the mythology of Westeros as told from the varying perspectives of the characters themselves.
The Fallen: A Roundtable
Writer Bryan Cogman sits down with a few of the many cast members who meet demise in Season 4. From first learning of their death to shooting their final scenes, this 30-minute feature will shed light on what it's like to live- and die- in the "Game of Thrones" world.
The Politics of Power: A Look Back at Season 3
Revisit the brutal events of Season 3 to see the power shifts that define Westeros at the start of Season 4.
Bastards of Westeros
Hear showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and author George R.R. Martin discuss the role bastards play in the Seven Kingdoms.
Behind the Battle for the Wall
Follow the cast and crew as they create the most ambitious battle to date. This extensive documentary explores the challenges of putting together one of the series' most intense episodes, with never-before-seen material.
11 audio commentaries with cast and crew including David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, George R.R. Martin, Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Kit Harington, Jack Gleeson, Natalie Dormer, Pedro Pacal, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and more.
New Characters & Locations
Explore the new societies, culture and locations of Season 4.
2 Deleted Scenes
Season 4 Blooper Reel
Finally, there's "Laggies," a semi-sweet coming-of-age piece that debuted at Sundance over a year ago, was quietly released in theaters, and is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. Why include it here in a column that's designed to draw attention to only the worthwhile new releases? Because I adore Sam Rockwell, Keira Knightley, and Chloe Grace Moretz. I want them to get more work. As much as possible. In better films than "Laggies."
Audio Commentary with Director Lynn Shelton
"Lagging On with Lynn Shelton" Featurette
"Shooting Seattle: The Look of 'Laggies'" Featurette
"Maps to the Stars" (available Friday)
"Serena" (available tomorrow, 2/26)