'Best in Blu-ray' sifts through the week's new releases, recommending titles for both the Blu-ray veteran and newbie, and reporting on the coolest special feature and most intriguing rental. Look for it every Tuesday.
For Blu-ray Vets:
'All About Eve'
What It's About: Hiding in a cloak of innocence, ambitious Eve (Anne Baxter) sets her sights on possessing all that Broadway star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) holds dear.
New Features: Promotions for Davis and Baxter, plus a "26-page Digibook with essays and photo case," per DVD Beaver. Nearly all of the special features from the 2-disc special edition on DVD are carried over, save for the restoration comparison.
Transfer/Audio: "Looks fabulous," says DVD Beaver. "Very film-like ... I was expecting it to improve beyond the DVDs, but not this much. I think many fans will swoon."
Replay Value: Backstage theatrical dramas are a tough sell for some, so what if we called the script by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who also directed, the 1950 version of Quentin Tarantino, only without the profanity and meta-cultural references?
That doesn't quite cut it, because 'All About Eve' is more daring, in that its "heroine" is not terribly likable and its "villain" seems so sweet and natural. (And the man who saves the day is a critic played by George Sanders.) The dialogue slashes through all the characters; it's terribly well-written and terribly well-spoken. Somehow the superficial nature and pretenses of the theater -- and by extension, the world of cinema -- is shattered by someone who's standing nearby to pick up the pieces. So, yes, multiple replays are rewarded.
For the Newbies:
What It's About: Modern-day siblings Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon are magically transported to the black and white 1950s setting of a TV sitcom, where they proceed to shake things up.
Why See It (Again): 'Pleasantville' debuted at no. 1 at the box office in late-October 1998, but the returns were relatively modest overall. And it seems a good time to revisit the themes explored by writer/director Gary Ross. "The film's politics are a better fit for 2011 than 1998," observes Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant. "As if tuned in to today's events, J.T. Walsh [as the town's mayor] looks and acts like none other than Glenn Beck."
What to Look (and Listen) For: The late J.T. Walsh was always a pleasure to watch, and Joan Allen is wonderful as the liberated/troubled sitcom mother. (William H. Macy plays the father.)
The new Blu-ray "allows us to enjoy its carefully executed visual effects in hi-def, where they look even better than they did in original release prints," DVD Savant reports. "The image is dazzling throughout, but is especially exciting when we see color and B&W items existing so naturally, side by side in the same image."
Coolest Special Feature:
'Alice in Wonderland' (1951)
What It's About: A girl falls down a rabbit hole and has some wonderful and/or terrifying adventures. Lewis Carroll's classic gets the Disney treatment.
Feature: "Through the Keyhole: A Companion's Guide to Wonderland"
Details: In his review of the Blu-ray, our own Scott Weinberg described this feature as "an absolute delight." He says: "Half video commentary and half documentary, this fantastic piece offers the film alongside Carroll biographers, Disney historians, and contemporary animators. Great for kids and even better for adults, it offers tons of historical perspectives on both Lewis Carroll and Walt Disney, and is packed with great little visual touches and tasty trivial tidbits."
He concludes: "Simply put, Disney should do one of these companion pieces for every one of their classic films."
Most Intriguing Rental:
What It's About: A road trip leads to romance for a couple trying to get home by traveling through territory that's been invaded by aliens.
Why Seek It Out on Blu-ray: The film received exposure at festivals before becoming available via Video on Demand services and a limited theatrical release. Because of its title, however, some might have avoided the movie, thinking it's a creature feature (which it's not). Anyone interested in off-the-beaten-track science fiction or lo-fi road movies should check it out.
Why Rent and Not Buy: As yours truly wrote in his review of the world premiere for another outlet, 'Monsters' is "languid and dreamy." Filmmaker Gareth Edwards "creates a tantalizing, evocative atmosphere in which very little that is expected takes place." It's a love story that just happens to take place in a world where monsters are real and might eat you if you trespass on their territory. Oh, and Edwards created all the visual effects on his laptop computer.
As is sometimes the case, emotions ran hot, cold, and lukewarm on 'Monsters,' so if you'll not sold yet, definitely try renting first. If you decide to buy, the package is packed with extras, nicely detailed at Blu-ray.com.
'Let Me In' Matt Reeves' well-crafted remake of an unusual vampire story relies more upon atmosphere and characters than blood and chills.
'Never Let Me Go' Mark Romanek directs Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield and Cary Mulligan in a tale of the future that is subdued, mournful and anything but flashy.
More New Releases on Blu-ray:
'10': Middle-age crisis strikes Dudley Moore in a big way when he sees Bo Derek running on the beach. With Julie Andrews. Directed by Blake Edwards. The movie seemed funnier in 1979.
'An Affair to Remember': Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr yearn, tastefully.
'Bad Boys': Sean Penn is a teenage delinquent.
'Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2': If you must.
'Boys Don't Cry': Hilary Swank pretends to be a boy, wins Oscar.
'Chain Letter': Horror, evidently.
'Conviction': Hilary Swank lawyers up to save her brother.
'Hatchet II': Horror sequel by Adam Green piles on the gore.
'Night Catches Us': Black Panther comes home to roost.
'Ray': Jamie Fox does Ray Charles, wins Oscar.
'Shopping': Jude Law and Sadie Frost shop the old-fashioned way: smash and steal.
'The Tillman Story': Searing documentary.
'A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop': Zhang Yimou remakes the Coen Brothers.
'Welcome to the Rileys': Kristen Stewart strips (modestly), James Gandolfini pretends not to notice.
'You've Got Mail': Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan yearn, noisily.