Sean Penn won an Academy Award for his portrayal of openly gay San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, and Dustin Lance Black won another for his script, which focused on Milk's activist years in the 1970s. "It's a minor miracle of sheer film making joy and determination," wrote James Rocchi, "and one of the best American films of 2008." With deleted scenes and mini-features "Remembering Harvey," "Hollywood Comes to San Francisco," and "Marching for Equality." Also on Blu-ray. Buy it.
Let the Right One In
My top pick from last year is a dramatic thriller about vampires and young people, old souls and eternal fears, yearning for the unobtainable and the inevitable pains of loving another person. Director Tomas Alfredson takes a traditional tale -- the youngster who is picked on and the new friend who helps -- and rubs in a touch of supernatural, a touch of the old world, and a touch of heart on the sleeve, wrapping it in beauty and agony. Also on Blu-ray. Buy it.
I have no easy defense of my love for Jason Statham as Frank Martin in the Transporter films. Suffice it to say that the action -- fights, car stunts, people stunts -- keeps me occupied, the plots are not hard to track, and I like the interplay between the main character and Inspector Tarconi (François Berléand). In this episode, Jeroen Krabbé as the bad guy is a nice bonus. Also on Blu-ray. Rent it.
As a character, Poppy is so preternaturally positive that she could drive good men to go bad, yet Sally Hawkins finds a reservoir of restrained, controlled feelings beneath the sunny exterior of Poppy, a woman who has made a life choice and is determined to stay above the fray, come what may. With a fierce, sterling performance by Eddie Marsan; directed by Mike Leigh. The DVD includes an audio commentary by Leigh, plus two behind the scenes mini-features.
Rachel Getting Married
I wasn't as enamored of Jonathan Demme's picture as many others -- it felt fat and bloated and trite to me -- but there's no denying the talent involved on both sides of the camera. If it resonates with you, I suspect you'll really groove on the family dysfunctional vibe. With Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, and a very welcome appearance by Debra Winger. The DVD includes deleted scenes, filmmaker and cast commentaries, cast and crew Q & A, and a behind the scenes mini-feature. Also on Blu-ray.
Synecdoche New York
The movie with the unpronounceable title is the directorial debut of celebrity scripter Charlie Kaufman and stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as a theater director dealing with "issues." Featuring an all-star indie supporting cast: Emily Watson, Samantha Morton, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Hope Davis, Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan. The DVD includes several supplemental features, including "Infectious Diseases in Cattle: Bloggers Roundtable." Also on Blu-ray.
Totally insane psychotic killer sequences alternate with candy-coated silly flirty romantic comedy, interrupted occasionally by bouncy dance numbers composed by A.R. Rahman. It's a murder mystery, it's a violent thriller, and a sweet, sad love story, all wrapped up in one gaudy movie. (Note: Will be released on Friday, March 13.)
Also out: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Battle in Seattle, A Secret, Ben X.
"Always let your conscience be your guide." Disney's cheating a little with this 70th Anniversary edition -- the animted children's classic originally came out in 1940 -- but that seems to be the only cheat. Glenn Kenny of Some Came Running posted a very helpful article on Pinocchio, digital restoration and film grain; he says: " If you love it as I do and have a Blu-ray player, go out and grab this; it's pretty much as thrilling as the format gets." The Blu-ray edition includes a copy in standard-definition.
Ang Lee's "gay cowboy drama" stirred controversy upon its release, and even more when it lost the Best Picture Academy Award to Paul Haggis' Crash, but away from the controversy it's an absolutely gorgeous-looking romance featuring sterling performances by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, and it should look splendid on Blu-ray. (Delayed from last week.)
Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology
Tim Burton's very entertaining Batman and Batman Returns, plus Joel Schumacher's dreadful Batman Forever and the somehow-even-worse Batman & Robin, all in one package. High Def Digest runs down all the extras. I'd love to see the first two in Blu-ray, but the second two would be sheer torture. For now, they're only available in the US as a group, though they are available individually as imports.
Howard the Duck: Special Edition
Was anyone clamoring for this movie to be released on DVD? Not only was it a huge box office bomb, it also has the reputation as one of the worst movies of all time. Is that really fair? Based on a comic book series by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik, the film version has been little seen since its release, so maybe the DVD will restore and/or confirm its reputation. George Lucas served as executive producer. The DVD includes archival featurettes, "A Look Back at Howard the Duck," "Releasing the Duck," and teaser trailers.