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 most intriguing rental. Look for it every Tuesday.
For Blu-ray Vets:
'Last Tango in Paris'
What It's About: A man, a woman, an empty apartment and a stick of butter. With Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.
New Features: None; only a trailer is included.
Transfer/Audio: "The film is more akin to loss and pain and the image is meant to reflect the emotional response," says Gary Tooze at DVD Beaver. "This Blu-ray exports the film's painterly qualities as strongly as possible." Jeffrey Wells wrote at Hollywood Elsewhere, "I loved the look of this disc. I've never seen 'Tango' look better."
Replay Value: Limited. On a superficial level, 'Last Tango' is neither romantic nor sexy; the characters are unhappy and desperate, the visuals dark and gloomy. On closer examination, it's still not what anyone would call "an easy watch." It puts you through an emotional wringer, and you tend to come out feeling battered and torn.
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times recently observed, "What's striking about the film, beyond that it was an American (X-rated and then R) hit, beyond Brando's beauty and Ms. Schneider's too-tender youth, is its blissfully un-self-conscious sexism, its celebration of maudlin masculinity and warmed-over crazy chick clichés."
For the Newbies ('70s Edition):
'All the President's Men'
What It's About: Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman star as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the real-life Washington Post reporters who helped expose the truth about Watergate.
Why See It (Again): In all the talk about its "importance," relative to both politics and journalism, sometimes it's forgotten that 'All the President's Men' is a riveting film, thanks especially to the script by William Goldman, direction by Alan Pakula, photography by Gordon Willis, editing by Robert J. Wolfe and production design by George Jenkins. It feels like we're eavesdropping on history.
What to Look (and Listen) For: The new Blu-ray is packaged in a "Digibook" that features 40 pages of text and pictures. "This is a very natural-looking transfer that lacks any digital doctoring," according to High-Def Digest. "Purists and fans who recall the film from its original release should be satisfied." As far as the audio presentation, "the mono track does a surprisingly good job of immersing us in the atmosphere."
What It's About: Television newscaster Howard Beale (Peter Finch) rants, raves and slowly loses grip on his sanity, to the glee of executives Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall, and the sorrow of his friend William Holden.
Why See It (Again): "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" remains a potent rallying cry. Paddy Chayefsky's script is a series of magnificent, theatrical screeds. William Holden's weary network executive is a figure of pain and loss. Peter Finch's final performance is angry and galvanizing. Sidney Lumet's direction is precise. Owen Roizman's photography illuminates and clouds, as appropriate to each scene, and progressively becomes less gritty.
What to Look (and Listen) For: "This Blu-ray edition features a markedly-improved audio and video presentation that fans will appreciate," High-Def Digest says, "porting over the same bonus material as the two-disc special edition."
For the Newbies ('80s Edition):
What It's About: After his estranged father dies, the always-hustling Tom Cruise kidnaps Dustin Hoffman, the autistic brother he never knew he had, in a bid to secure a share of the multi-million dollar inheritance.
Why See It (Again): At heart, Hoffman may give a one-note performance (possibly two or three), yet it's a note that very few other actors could hit. Cruise's change of heart still comes far too quickly, but he's at his best as an arrogant, selfish bastard. Hans Zimmer's score, along with the selection of songs, provides period-appropriate accompaniment for this 1988 road trip across America.
What to Look (and Listen) For: "The visuals are thick and rich and colors seem brighter and truer than SD could relate," reports DVD Beaver. "Skin tones seem quite warm -- and contrast exhibits healthy, pitch black levels."
Most Intriguing Rental:
What It's About: A family seeks to avert a global disaster created by an errant avatar in a social media network.
Why Seek It Out on Blu-ray: Receiving only a token theatrical release ahead of its debut on home video, 'Summer Wars' is a Japanese family film about the end of the world. (Possibly.) It's cheerful, sunny and positively groovy in the comfortable vibes it radiates. 'Summer Wars' is suitable viewing for many families, but it should be on the radar for anyone interested in upbeat, absorbing stories. (Which is everyone, right?)
As our own Jette Kernion wrote: "The animation style is lovely, and the characters are engaging and fun to watch. Natsuki's extended family is one of the most delightfully loopy seen onscreen since 'The Host' -- everyone a little offbeat but still generally loving and happy. In addition, the film's depiction of the dark side of social media might make it a great double-feature with 'The Social Network.'"
Why Rent and Not Buy: Some may be put off by an animated film that doesn't feature U.S. celebrities or come from Pixar or Dreamworks. To those folks, we implore you: Give this film a chance! Rent it. It's one of the most "family positive" films we've seen in a long, long time.
More New Releases on Blu-ray:
(Note: Titles in boldface below are ones we also recommend for rental.)
'Big Daddy.' Adam Sandler as the worst foster father in the world.
'Chaplin.' Robert Downey Jr. gives a bravura performance in Richard Attenborough's ambitious biopic, which is too sprawling and scattershot to be truly intimate or enlightening. Still, there are multiple pleasures to be found in the historical reenactments and parade of lovely women.
'Game of Death.' Not to be confused with the Bruce Lee movie, this one stars Wesley Snipes as a secret agent sent to Detroit to eliminate an arms dealer. With Zoe Ball, Robert Davi and Gary Daniels, so it can't be all bad. (Truthfully, only a glimmer of hope.)
'Glorious 39.' Romola Garai stars in a suspense thriller set in 1939, with a host of familiar names popping up: Julie Christie, Christopher Lee, Jenny Agutter, Jeremy Northam, Bill Nighy, plus Juno Temple. Romance, dark secrets and betrayal are promised.
'Hoodwinked.' Animated version of Little Red Riding Hood features the voices of Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, Patrick Warburton and James Belushi.
'Kansas City Confidential.' According to multiple reviews, Phil Karlson's terrific film noir has received an indifferent transfer to Blu-ray.
'Kites.' Bollywood film that Brett Ratner re-edited for mainstream American audiences.
'Moonstruck.' Cher tells Nicolas Cage "Snap out of it!" and it's one of the great moments in '80s romantic comedies. The film also served to introduce Olympia Dukakis to a broad audience. Norman Jewison directs with love and affection.
'Mr. Deeds.' Adam Sandler remakes Frank Capra. For the masochist in all of us.
'The Stranger.' Orson Welles' thriller, like 'Kansas City Confidential,' has received only a passable transfer on Blu-ray, according to multiple reviews.
'Unstoppable.' Denzel Washington plays a working class railroad engineer in Tony Scott's pulse-pounding thriller. With Chris Pine and Rosario Dawson. The film is fully engaging even while it constantly threatens to go off the rails.
'Waiting for 'Superman.'' Davis Guggenheim examines the public school system and pronounces it broken. Using animation, talking heads, and undisclosed recreations, Guggenheim argues in favor of better, more accessible charter schools as the only solution. Well-intentioned, if disingenuous.
'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.' Woody Allen directs Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Antonio Banderas and Josh Brolin in a tale of marriage and infidelity. The actors struggle with material that is overwrought and freighted with banalities.