'Best in Blu-ray' is a weekly column that runs on Tuesday; from the week's new Blu-ray releases, we recommend titles for both the Blu-ray veteran and newbie, as well as the coolest special feature (unique to the format) and most intriguing rental.
For Blu-ray Vets:
'The Black Pirate'
Twitter Tag Line: Douglas Fairbanks stars as a pre-Johnny Depp swashbuckler in this innovative silent film from 1926 -- in color!
New Features Unique to Blu-ray: Organ score, 30 minutes of previously unreleased outtakes, photo gallery. Other features are carried over from the DVD edition.
Transfer/Audio: "Kino's restoration-and this Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer-is a wonder to behold. There's something completely surreal about watching color footage from 1926. ... The music sounds exactly as it ought to-clear, dynamically solid, and unobtrusive." (Blu-ray.com)
Replay Value: "The first great pirate movie and one of the best early uses of Technicolor, 'The Black Pirate' (1926) features Douglas Fairbanks in a role that's equal parts 'The Count of Monte Cristo' and 'A Fistful of Dollars,' one that arguably flaunts his skills as a silent-era action hero as no other" (Baltimore City Paper)
For the Newbies:
'True Grit' (1969)
Twitter Tag Line: John Wayne won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a rip-snortin' marshal teamed with a teen to catch her daddy's killer.
Why See It (Again): The most obvious reason is to compare it with the new version by the Coen Brothers (see Erik Davis' positive review). Another good reason is to see how well the 1969 film, directed by Henry Hathaway, holds up on its own. Is John Wayne's performance hammy and over-the-top, or seasoned with the right proportion of bluff and bluster for the over-the-hill character? Does the movie sustain interest beyond Wayne's charming personality?
What to Look For: Key supporting roles are played by Robert Duvall, Jeff Corey, Dennis Hopper and Strother Martin. Filmed on location in Colorado and California, the landscape is lovingly photograped by the great Lucien Ballard, who also shot 'The Wild Bunch' and 'Ride the High Country.' The extra features are carried over from the 2007 DVD "Special Collector's Edition."
Further Reading: 'True Grit,' the 1968 novel by Charles Portis, tells the story from the point of view of an aged Mattie Ross, remembering events that occurred when she was 14 years old. It's a very good story with a singular, authentic voice.
Coolest Special Feature:
Twitter Tag Line: The Minions are coming, the Minions are coming!
Details: Exclusive to Blu-ray, the "Gru-Control" feature shows behind-the-scenes footage and filmmaker interviews utilizing picture-in-picture technology. That sounds pretty straightforward, but DVD File describes it as an interactive feature "that has the Minions pop up and switch things around as the movie plays."
That sounds like a lot more fun for your kids, especially when they want to play the movie for the 9th time in a row. Is it like hitting "shuffle" on the play button? We don't have a copy on hand here at Cinematical headquarters to try it out for ourselves, so we're not sure what, exactly, the Minions switch around as the movie plays, but this definitely sounds like the coolest special feature of the week.
Most Intriguing Rental:
'Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work'
Twitter Tag Line: Cameras follow Joan Rivers at home and on the road as she travels ceaselessly to perform and promote.
Why Seek It Out on Blu-ray: Say what you will about the comedienne, she's carved out a remarkably long-lasting career, transforming herself from a more genteel housewife humorist into a caustic critic with barbed wit and thin skin. The documentary by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern provides a degree of context, but mostly just allows Rivers to speak for herself, a steady stream of wisecracks, joking asides, and occasional tears accompany her shopping trips, interactions with family and business associates, and club appearances.
Why Rent and Not Buy: The movie is worth watching once, but replay value is quite limited. The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary, deleted scenes, and Q&A session from its debut at Sundance, which is about the right amount of content for a normal rental period.
Further Reading: "This rather fine documentary reminds us that, yep, even those 'old' celebrities we don't have much use for anymore are actual people. In this case, it's a very smart person." (Review by Scott Weinberg, Cinematical)
Also consider: 'Hard Boiled,' John Woo's spare-no-bullets police drama stars Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. This is the movie for which the phrase "jaw-dropping action" was invented; the teahouse scene alone is worth the price of admission. For reviews of the Blu-ray, check Big Picture Big Sound, DVD Beaver and DVD Town. (Our conclusion: A rental, at best.)
More New December 14 Releases on Blu-ray:
'The Other Guys'
'Nanny McPhee Returns'
'Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole'
'Mother and Child'
Further reading on titles listed above: New on DVD & Blu-ray, Week of December 14 (Moviefone)
'Vampire Circus.' A horror flick from British film studio Hammer, 'Vampire Circus' features a traveling troupe of shape-shifting vampires visits a cursed village and children begin to disappear. Directed by Robert Young. Details on the extras at the official Synapse Films website.