'Best in Blu-ray' is a weekly column that will run on Tuesdays and examine the week's new Blu-ray releases while focusing on recommending titles for both the Blu-ray veteran and newbie.
For Blu-ray Vets:
Twitter Tag Line: Nearly impossible to sum up in a few words, the outrageous 1977 film from Japan's Nobuhiko Obayashi must be seen to be believed.
Special Features: Notable for a 1966 short film by Obayashi running about 40 minutes and a 46-minute interview piece.
Transfer/Audio: "Shows far superior detail ... Seeing it in the higher resolution was a treat and because it visually looks so different from the SD-DVD -- it was almost like watching it for the first time." (DVD Beaver)
Replay Value: Unreeling like a half-remembered fever dream, 'House' follows young Oshare and her schoolgirl friends as they visit her aunt in the country. What they don't know is that Oshare's aunt is not what she appears to be and within her home resides an endless parade of freaky, otherworldly horrors. The film is so jam-packed with visual delights that it takes multiple screenings to catch all of them, and somehow feels like a different experience with every viewing.
Further Reading: Moviefone's Eric Larnick observed: "Calling it 'weird' for the sake of being weird is an insult to the level of experimental, absurd filmmaking at work."
Also consider: 'Paths of Glory.' Stanley Kubrick's anti-war classic stars Kirk Douglas and is now available in a new edition, also from the Criterion Collection.
For the Newbies:
'Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy'
Twitter Tag Line: Marty McFly travels through time to set matters straight between his parents and the entire known universe!
Why See It (Again): Home video anniversary editions can be a bit dodgy if they don't add anything new to the experience of watching a movie you've already seen multiple times. In the case of the 'Back to the Future' films, they seem very much rooted to the era in which they were released, the epitome of 80s mainstream entertainment presented by Steven Spielberg. The passage of a quarter century allows us to see that for all their dated references, the breathless narrative approach is, excuse the expression, timeless.
What to Look For: The new high-definition transfer is said to be a "vast improvement" over the DVD release. Most, if not all, of the extras from the previous DVD release are included, along with numerous new bells and whistles, notably a 2-hour documentary featuring all new interviews with the cast and filmmakers. Unfortunately, the packaging leaves something to be desired, according to The HD Room.
Further Reading: If all the time-hopping in the 'Back to the Future' trilogy gets you confused, we've got an interview with co-creator Bob Gale, and Movieline has published a helpful timeline of every day visited in the films.
Also consider: 'Alien Anthology' (see below)
Coolest Special Feature:
Twitter Tag Line: In space, no one can hear you scream with joy that two of the best movies in science fiction history are finally out on Blu-ray (plus 2 other 'Alien' flicks).
Details: The new edition features 65 hours of special features, which makes picking out just one an exercise in futility (especially since this writer has not received a copy in time to meet his deadline). Nevertheless, those who are gluttons for excess information may want to try out the "Mu-Th-Ur Interactive Experience," which reportedly pops up information that can be accessed "via 'Audio', 'Visual' or 'Weyland-Yutani Datastream,'" apparently giving a "running text narration/explanation of what is going on," according to DVD Beaver.
Further Reading: Bill Hunt at The Digital Bits provides more details: "First, you can see what's being discussed on the audio commentaries at that moment, in case you want to listen to it. You can also access a text track, called the Weyland-Yutani Datastream, which offers lots of little bits of information and trivia. Finally, it also lets you select different topics for which there may be relevant videos, photos and artwork on Disc Five and Six of the set. When you select them, the player remembers your selections, so that when you get to Discs Five and Six, you can go directly to those items if you wish." The review is also wonderfully exhaustive in listing all the features that were retained from the previous editions, and the new items added.
Most Intriguing Rental:
'Maniac': 30th Anniversary Edition'
Twitter Tag Line: A grotty, completely uncomfortable slasher flick that will unnerve all but the strong of heart (and stomach).
Why Seek It Out on Blu-ray: One look at the cover tells you that this movie is not based on the song "Maniac" from 'Flashdance.' As our own Luke Mullen explains, 'Maniac' "follows a serial killer out for the blood of women as a twisted kind of revenge for the abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother. The film featured makeup by the legendary Tom Savini, who did makeup effects for such films as the original Friday the 13th and Creepshow." Released in 1980, 'Maniac' has most often been seen on crappy videotape and low-resolution cable broadcasts.
Why Rent and Not Buy: This is strong material and not something to seek out if you're simply looking for a nostalgia kick from the more routine slasher flicks that followed in the 80s. The bonus materials should be worth a look, but it's hard to imagine that multiple viewings are needed to burn the movie into your memory.
More New Blu-ray Releases:
'Winter's Bone.' Jennifer Lawrence is terrific as a teen girl looking for her father.
'The Girl Who Played With Fire.' The second installment of the sensational mystery trilogy from Sweden.
'South of the Border.' Oliver Stone's preachy, pedantic documentary on Latin American politics.
Comedies, Christmas, High Altitude Thrills and a Chinese Drama:
'Sex and the City 2.' Best friends travel to Abu Dhabi to try the patience of everyone except their hardcore fans.
'Santa Claus: The Movie - 25th Anniversary Edition.' Dudley Moore and John Lithgow star in this origin story.
'Elf - Ultimate Collector's Edition.' Will Farrell and James Caan play an unlikely father and son.
'Altitude.' Five teens in a small airplane find themselves locked in deadly battle with supernatural forces. (Read more from our own Peter Hall.)
'Legend of the Black Scorpion.' Originally known in English as 'The Banquet,' this sumptuous drama stars Zhang Ziyi and was directed by Feng Xiaogang, with action choreography by the legendary Yuen Woo-ping. The period piece is an adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' and looks amazingly good, as far as the cinematography, art direction and costumes are concerned. Unfortunately, the drama never catches fire and the film becomes a bit of a chore to sit through. It's still of interest for Asian film fans who haven't seen it yet.