'Best in Blu-ray' sifts through the week's new releases, recommending titles for both the Blu-ray veteran and newbie, as well as the coolest special feature and most intriguing rental. Look for it every Tuesday.
For Blu-ray Vets:
What It's About: After his mother dies of a drug overdose, a 17-year-old boy moves in with his grandmother (Jacki Weaver, above), the matriarch of a paranoid family of nasty, self-absorbed criminals. With Guy Pearce as a police detective.
Features: Audio commentary by director David Michod; 71-minute "making of" (in 1080i); 33-minute Q&A session with Michod, Weaver and James Frencheville (SD); theatrical trailer.
Transfer/Audio: "A gritty, thick atmosphere that translates well ... the textures are evident throughout. ... By modern standards this is fairly tame visually but as a representation of the original - I doubt it could be more accurate." (DVD Beaver)
Replay Value: A low-key drama, 'Animal Kingdom' begins so quietly, and features such an introverted character as its lead, that you might wonder if it will ever pay-off. But it does, as the atmosphere slowly tightens and dramatic pressure builds. When the true extent of the family's more frightening dimension is revealed, it ties a knot in your stomach. It's a bloody reminder that appearances are deceiving: great evil can lurk within the most unlikely of bodies.
For the Newbies:
'The Naked Kiss'
What It's About: A reformed prostitute makes a new life for herself in a small Midwest town. She becomes romantically involved with a millionaire philanthropist, only to discover that he has secrets of his own.
Why See It (Again): Of the two Blu-ray titles directed by Samuel Fuller released today by the Criterion Collection, 'The Naked Kiss' provides an easier entry point to the director's work, which is raw, chaotic and absolutely essential to understanding the potential of cinema.
In its initial theatrical run in 1964, the New York Times reviewer acknowledged that Fuller had "style to burn" and noted that the film's climax "brought down yesterday's 42nd Street house." What will audiences say today?
What to Look (and Listen) For: "This is a dramatic increase in video quality," says DVD Beaver. "Contrast is a notable improvement as are detail, grain visibility, and the visuals are cleaner without disruptive damage marks." The package includes a 2007 interview with star Constance Tower, three archival video interviews with Fuller, and a 26-page booklet.
Coolest Special Feature:
What It's About: A reporter goes undercover at a mental institution to investigate a murder.
Feature: 'The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera'
Details: This is a superb 55-minute documentary by Adam Simon, featuring Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, Tim Robbins and the man himself, director Sam Fuller. He talks about his early days in the newspaper business and his experiences in the Army infantry during World War II, as well as his films. I first saw the documentary on the IFC Channel and ended up watching it several times; Fuller is a charismatic storyteller.
"As an historical document this movie is invaluable," wrote Peter Tonguette at Senses of Cinema, "offering a great filmmaker in the twilight of his life (Fuller died in 1997) an opportunity to reflect on his life and films." Happily, since the documentary was made, more and more of Fuller's films have become available on home video, though several key works are still missing. If you're new to Fuller, the documentary is a great starting point.
Most Intriguing Rental:
'Freakonomics: The Movie'
What It's About: The best-selling book by two economists comes to life through various segments directed by an all-star lineup of veteran documentarians.
Why Seek It Out on Blu-ray: The film received only a limited theatrical release last fall. It's snappy and fast-moving, and should look sharp on Blu-ray.
Why Rent and Not Buy: As our own Christopher Campbell wrote in his review, the film is "a mixed bag, though, in that it oftentimes is successful, mainly when it is more inspired by the source rather than simply based upon it." For the more successful segments, he points to the episodes on cheating among Sumo wrestlers, directed by Alex Gibney, and financial incentives offered to among schoolchildren, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady.
Indeed, this writer agrees that the documentary as a whole is very uneven, with limited replay value, which makes it an ideal rental.
Criterion Corner Preview:
'The Naked Kiss'
What It's About: Our own David Ehrlich has photos of the inside of this week's two new Criterion Blu-rays, which continue the shocking pop art cover theme. We've linked to them above. He also details and comments on the releases announced for April.
Further reading: Criterion Corner on Tumblr.
More New January 18 Releases on Blu-ray:
'The Army of Crime.' 2009 drama detailing the resistance efforts of immigrants in France against the Nazis. Apparently no extras beyond the two interviews included on the DVD.
'Checking Out.' 1989 comedy with Jeff Daniels. No extras save 35-minute SD montage of trailers.
'Cold Dog Soup.' Indie comedy stars Frank Whaley and Christine Harnos, with Randy Quaid as "a lunatic cabbie." No word on any extras.
'Death Race 2.' Prequel to the 2008 all-action, no-comedy, rather dreary remake, this time without Jason Statham. Includes audio commentary by the director and about 33 minutes of extras.
'Fire on the Amazon.' The cover proudly bills the "2010 Academy Award Winner" as star, and a very young Sandra Bullock does, indeed, co-star in the film with Crag Scheffer. She also appears briefly, partially naked and not happy about it. From the future director of 'Anaconda' but without any of that film's campier elements, and no extras save a trailer. Boo.
'Jack Goes Boating.' Philip Seymour Hoffman directs and stars. About 10 minutes of extras, including the trailer.
'Lebanon.' Terrors of modern combat, circa 1982, as Israel invades Lebanon. Reportedly a good transfer with good sound; extras limited to the trailer and a behind-the-scenes feature.
'Nomad: The Warrior.' Historical epic. No extras.
Further reading: New on DVD & Blu-ray, Week of January 18: 'Buried,' 'Stone' and 'Takers' (Moviefone)