Several new titles highlight the BBC’s January releases on DVD and Blu-Ray.
For Dr. Who fans, DOCTOR WHO: THE ANDROID INVASION (98 mins., 1975) finds TARDIS landing in Devesham where Sarah and the good Doc (Tom Baker) find the village mostly deserted and populated with deadly white-suited spacemen. This multi-part mid ‘70s arc, written by Terry Nation, is the latest “Dr. Who” Special Edition DVD from the BBC offering a wealth of extras: commentary from actors Milton Johns, Martin Friend, producer Philip Hinchcliffe and production assistant Marion McDougal; a half-hour Making Of; a profile of Hinchcliffe; a photo gallery; commercial; and plenty of PDF materials are all on-hand.
Jon Pertwee story, INVASION OF THE DINOSAURS (148 mins.,
1974), likewise receives the Special Edition DVD
treatment (here in a 2-disc set), with Dr. Who searching
for Sarah Jane in the midst of a London besieged by
dinosaurs. Commentary tracks, deleted scenes, a photo
gallery and extensive featurettes make for another
must-have for Dr. Who fans.
Season 3 of MERLIN (562 mins., 2010), meanwhile, also arrives on DVD, with Merlin and Arthur undertaking various adventures as the great battle for Camelot wages on. This five-disc set of the popular BBC import offers its complete 13-episode third season with episodes The Tears of Uther Pendragon (parts 1 and 2), Goblin’s Gold, Gwaine, The Crystal Cave, The Changeling, The Castle of Fyrien, The Eye of the Phoenix, Love in the Time of Dragons, Queen of Hearts, Sorcerer’s Shadow, and the two-part finale, The Coming of Arthur. In addition to 16:9 transfers, the DVD includes cast/crew audio commentaries, a Making Of featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes, a photo gallery and wallpapers.
Finally, Volume 3 of PRIMEVAL (581 mins., 2011) also hits home this month on Blu-Ray and DVD. This wacky BBC series (seen on BBC America domestically) offers more dinosaurs, trippy plots and eclectic characters, with the ARC team having been fragmented after leader Danny is whisked off to a Pilocene age Rift Valley while Connor and Abby fight their way through a Cretaceous age of dinos more entertaining than those seen in Fox’s bland “Terra Nova.” Meanwhile, back home, a new ARC team has been assembled in their absence, leading to some inevitable friction between the old and new members. BBC’s Blu-Ray set offers agreeable 1080i high-def transfers, stereo soundtracks and extras including episode prequel webisodes and a Making Of featurette.
COLD MOUNTAIN (**, 154 mins., 2003, R; Lionsgate): Widely praised adaptation of Charles Frazier's book from filmmaker Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient") didn't work for me, but it's possible your tolerance for this pretentious, outlandish Civil War-era soap opera will be substantially higher.
Jude Law plays a Confederate soldier who leaves his beloved (Nicole Kidman) behind for the battlefield of the Civil War. While he's off fighting a futile fight, she's left to run her farm with the help of Kathy Baker and crazy o'l country coot Renee Zellweger (Oscar winner). Ultimately, Law begins a long, long, long journey back to the woods of North Carolina, running into a succession of seedy characters (including Philip Seymour Hoffman and Giovanni Ribisi), plus a new single mother (Natalie Portman) and despicable Union and Confederate veterans along the way.
Zellweger's performance gives some much needed levity to the rest of "Cold Mountain," which is by turns slow, seedy, and depressing. The production, at least, is first class all the way: production designer Dante Ferreti, cinematographer John Seale, and composer Gabriel Yared all provide a strong presentation for the senses, yet when the story feels so unreal and pretentious, it's difficult to admire the artistic work turned in by the top-notch crew. Frazier's book was criticized by some for being overwrought, and the movie itself unsurprisingly suffers from the same fate.
Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray offers a very crisp 1080p transfer with DTS MA audio and numerous extras from the prior DVD edition. These include an informative commentary track with Minghella and sound editor Walter Murch, encompassing the technical and artistic challenges of making the film; a handful of deleted scenes and two documentaries (one of which, "Climbing Cold Mountain," is quite good) are included; while "A Journey to Cold Mountain" is a concert special showcasing the movie's period music, which was obviously patterned after the bluegrass/country flavored compilation made so popular in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?".
Mingella’s earlier Oscar triumph THE ENGLISH PATIENT Blu-Ray (**½, 162 mins., 1996, R; Lionsgate) has also made its way to Blu-Ray alongside several other Miramax Oscar-celebrated titles. This Best Picture winner boasts a satisfying 1080p transfer with DTS MA 5.1 audio and extras ported over from th Special Edition DVD (commentaries and numerous featurettes).
THE PIANO Blu-Ray (***½, 130 mins., 1993, R; Lionsgate): Jane Companion’s offbeat tale of a mute woman (Oscar winner Holly Hunter) who travels to New Zealand along with her daughter (Anna Paquin, another Oscar winner) in order to marry a local man (Sam Neill) hits Blu-Ray in a no-frills (no extras outside the trailer) edition from Lionsgate. The 1080p transfer nicely reproduces Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography and Campion’s visuals. The 2.0 DTS MA soundtrack is solid and well-engineered.
FRIDA Blu-Ray (***, 123 mins., 2002, R; Lionsgate): Julie Taymor’s 2002 portrait of artist Frida Kahlo garnered some six Oscar nominations and offers one of Salma Hayek’s finest performances. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray once again includes a satisfying 1080p AVC encoded transfer with 5.1 DTS MA audio and ample extras from its prior DVD edition (commentary with Taymor; an AFI Q&A with the director; interview with Hayek; numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes).
Where Have You Gone, Roland Joffe?
Just the other day I was having a conversation with a friend about directors who made a huge name for themselves in the 1980s but have since basically disappeared off the face of the Earth. In addition to Alex Cox, Roland Joffe’s name came up – a filmmaker who made a big splash with “The Killing Fields” and “The Mission,” but who petered out after directing several high-profile flops in the ‘90s (though I still confess to having enjoyed “The Scarlet Letter,” colonial hot-tub scene and all!).
How odd, then, that not only did I receive two new Joffe films last week, but did so...on the exact same day! Neither, alas, is likely to get his career going again.
THERE BE DRAGONS (**, 122 mins., 2011, PG-13) is highly uneven but ranks as the superior of the two films; a tale of the life of Saint Josemaria Escriva (Charlie Cox), who founded the Opes Dei movement in the Catholic church. Well mounted and nicely shot in widescreen by Gabriel Beristain, “There Be Dragons” is unfortunately derailed by Joffe’s own, uneven screenplay, which mixes in a contemporary story involving journalist Dougray Scott (who’s writing a book on Escriva) with scenes of Escriva’s life and times during the Spanish Civil War. The film doesn’t work but has its moments along with a fine supporting cast (Olga Kurylenko, Charles Dance, Geraldine Chaplin, Wes Bentley and Derek Jacobi among them). Fox’s AVC encoded 1080p Blu-Ray transfer is excellent and the disc also includes deleted scenes, a featurette with Bentley and a DTS MA 5.1 soundtrack.
Despite its obvious shortcomings, “There Be Dragons” fares much better than YOU AND I (*, 101 mins., 2011, R; Lionsgate), an awful, unreleased bomb produced by the “Russian American Movie Company” several years ago that’s been languishing on the shelf. The plot, involving two girls (Misca Barton, Elena Katina) who fall in love at a “t.A.T.u” concert in Russia, is a mess and makes even Joffe’s worst work look watchable by comparison. Lionsgate’s DVD includes just a 16:9 (2.40) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR DVD (*, 97 mins., 2011, R; Sony): Disastrous Adam Sandler-produced comedy functions purely as a vanity vehicle for star Nick Swardson, who co-wrote the script for this tale of an aspiring adult film star with buddies Sandler and Allen Covert. Despite the presence of Christina Ricci, “Bucky” made many a “Worst of 2011" critic list, and with good reason: the lead character is grating and annoying, and the film devoid of laughs. Sony’s DVD of this box-office bomb (one of the lowest-grossing wide releases of recent years from a major studio) includes several featurettes, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.
WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER? Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**, 106 mins., 2011, R/Unrated; Fox): Even though this disappointing Anna Faris comedy died at the fall box-office, the minimal charms of this rom-com (which Faris produced herself) might be more palatable on the small screen. “Captain America” himself, Chris Evans, co-stars in a pedestrian vehicle about a typical gal who decides to go through her exes in order to find Mr. Right; some scattershot laughs pop up here and there, but ultimately not enough of them, with the film struggling to stay afloat on the basis of Faris’ comedic skills. Fox’s Blu-Ray includes an extended unrated version of the film, deleted scenes, a gag reel, DVD and digital copy as well.
THE WHISTLEBLOWER Blu-Ray (**, 112 mins., 2011, R; Fox): Clumsily-told true account of Kathryn Bolkovac, an American cop who agrees to become a U.N. peacekeeper in Bosnia where she uncovers a prostitution ring and associated conspiracy. Rachel Weisz gives a terrific performance in “The Whistleblower,” but she’s undone by a mediocre script and indifferent direction by Larysa Kondracki. Fox’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack and a behind-the-scenes featurette of the real Bolkovac.
ALSO NEW FROM HISTORY CHANNEL/NewVideo: FROZEN WORLD: THE STORY OF THE ICE AGE (aprx. 5 hours) offers four different Ice Age-related History Channel documentaries: “Clash of the Cavemen,” “Volcanic Winter,” “Journey to 10,000 BC” and the sky-is-falling speculation special “Mega Freeze”...KING ARTHUR AND MEDIEVAL BRITAIN (aprx. 5 hours) likewise boasts a “Best Of” compilation of assorted specials related to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table: “Quest for King Arthur,” “King Arthur: His Life and Legends,” “Ancient Mysteries: Camelot,” “Knights and Armor” and “Quest for the Holy Grail”.
NEW FROM MPI: Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s COLD SWEAT (80 mins., 2011) stars Facundo Espinosa as a young man trying to find his girlfriend when he runs into a pair of crazy old political radicals in this Spanish import. Dark Sky Films’ DVD includes a number of extras, including commentary, deleted/extended scenes, trailers, a comic book (!), behind-the-scenes segments and more. The 2.35 (16:9) transfer is terrific, as is the 5.1 sound...CHALET GIRL (97 mins., 2011) boasts Felicity Jones as a tomboy skateboarder who finds her true calling on the slopes in this snowboarding pic co-starring Brooke Shields, Ed Westwick and Bill Nighy. IFC’s DVD includes commentary, interviews, featurettes, viral videos, a trailer, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.
TYLER PERRY’S MEET THE BROWNS Season 4 DVD (440 mins., 2009-10; Lionsgate): Three-disc set includes episodes 61-80 (the complete season 4) from the popular TBS-Tyler Perry sitcom. 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks are on tap throughout the 20 episodes.
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