'Best in Blu-ray' is a weekly column that runs on Tuesday; we recommend titles for both the Blu-ray veteran and newbie, as well as the coolest special feature and most intriguing rental.
For Blu-ray Vets:
Twitter Tag Line: Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman play lounge singers who go on the road in Elaine May's 1987 comedy.
New Features Unique to Blu-ray: Never released on Region 1 DVD, 'Ishtar' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony, which has provided ... absolutely no additional features, as far as we've been able to determine.
Transfer/Audio: Advance copies have not, evidently, been provided for review, since we haven't been able to find any online.
Replay Value: The huge (for its time) budget got more attention than the film itself and may have prejudiced both reviewers and the general public. Eric D. Snider, writing at Film.com, observes: "It's actually a fairly good movie. And I'm not just being contrarian. ... I watched 'Ishtar' and laughed a lot." Drew McWeeney of HitFix declares: "It's a genuinely funny film that got unjustly slammed ... and it's deserved a major rediscovery for some time now." Cinematical commenter Mike D described it as "a sort of gleeful hymn to mediocrity. It embraces the idea that it is better to be happy being bad at something you love, as opposed to being miserable while excelling at something you hate. And the intentionally-awful Paul Williams songs are glorious."
* UPDATED 1/5: Sony has pulled the film and a new date has not been announced, per Blu-ray.com.
For the Newbies:
Twitter Tag Line: The best fire-fighting scenes in cinema history overcome the soap opera dramatics; directed by Ron Howard.
Why See It (Again): The all-star cast, including Kurt Russell, Robert DeNiro, Donald Sutherland, and Scott Glenn, makes the melodramatic plot palatable while you wait for the alarms to go off and firefighters race against time to douse the flames.
As much as the actors and stunt people are to be admired for the well-planned risks they took to capture the sometimes frightening footage in the pre-CGI era, the film is more valuable as a stirring testimony to the courage and valor of the legion of anonymous firefighters who put their lives on the line every day in service of their community.
What to Look For: The transfer of the 1991 film "looks very good," according to Blu-ray.com, "with only very minor softness in a few shots hampering an overall nice looking picture." As far as the audio track is concerned, it "bombards the listener with huge waves of sound which richochet through the soundfield." (Read a second, generally concurring opinion at High-Def Digest.)
Coolest Special Feature:
'The Last Exorcism'
Twitter Tag Line: Satan comes home (again).
Feature Title: "Witness to an Exorcism."
Details: Exclusive to Blu-ray, this audio commentary features "a track with a haunting victim, deliverance minister, and clinical psychologist," in the words of High-Def Digest. "Some of the points of discussion are intriguing, like profiling cultures for their superstitions, and then it goes off the deep end, where the appearance of historical depictions of demons brings about excessive, strong reactions from the 'professionals.'"
"Without question, the most fascinating (of the three audio commentaries) in the package," says Dread Central. "When they get rolling, it's truly riveting and thought-provoking stuff."
Further reading: "One of the best horror films of 2010." (John Gholson, Cinematical) "You don't have to take a leap from the darkness into the fire like Reverend Marcus to appreciate 'The Last Exorcism.'" (Alison Nastasi, Cinematical) And it was named as one of the "Top Horror Movies of 2010" by horror expert Scott Weinberg, right here at Cinematical.
Most Intriguing Rental:
Twitter Tag Line: Social worker Renee Zellwegger tries to save an apparently abused child, aided by Bradley Cooper.
Why Seek It Out on Blu-ray: Basically disowned by both its stars and studio, 'Case 39' ended up as one of the lowest-grossing films of the year. Yet this psychological thriller is "propulsive and exciting," as yours truly wrote in a review for another outlet, not ashamed "to embrace its own cliches." Director Christian Alvart displays an ability to "steer the narrative through sharp, tight turns without slowing down, [which] gives the proceedings a giddy rush that overcomes the story's more ridiculous elements."
Why Rent and Not Buy: One man's "propulsive and exciting" thriller is another reviewer's "big, glossy and ultimately hollow studio product." (Jodie Kearns for Cinematical.) However, Scott Weinberg wrote elsewhere: "It's certainly no kind of new genre classic, but it's a heck of a lot more entertaining than many similar flicks. What 'Case 39' lacks in surprises and originality, it makes up for with a workmanlike approach to some familiar material, and a very welcome pacing that prevents the flick from ever becoming dull."
Also New and Notable on Blu-ray:
'El Mariachi' / 'Desperado.' Two early low-budget features by 'Machete' director Robert Rodriguez are packaged together; DVD Talk notes that, while they're both better than their DVD incarnations, neither will be showcase material for their visual qualities alone.
'Once Upon a Time in Mexico.' Rodriguez made the third film in his 'Mariachi' trilogy with a much bigger budget but a similar sensibility. The package sounds like a mixed bag in the review by DVD Talk, which explains that DVD-ROM material from the special edition DVD was dropped but a "Cutting Room" feature was added that "allows users to edit scenes, incorporate music and generally have an Avid in their home theater."
Even More New January 4 Releases on Blu-ray:
New on DVD & Blu-ray, Week of January 4: 'Dinner for Schmucks,' 'Machete,' 'The Last Exorcism,' 'Catfish' (Moviefone)