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:
'Sweet Smell of Success'
What It's About: A powerful entertainment columnist abuses the weakness of a desperate press agent to break up his sister's romance. With Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.
New Features: Audio commentary by film scholar James Naremore, 46-minute documentary on director Alexander Mackendrick, 22-minute feature on cinematographer James Wong Howe, video interviews with Neil Gabler on Walter Winchell and James Mangold on Mackendrick
Transfer/Audio: "Looks highly remarkable - a magnificent transfer," according to Gary Tooze at DVD Beaver.
Replay Value: As corrosive and cynical as it is, 'Sweet Smell' rewards multiple viewings. For one thing, it affords the opportunity to appreciate the acid-laced dialogue in the script by Ernest Lehman, a one-time press agent himself who knew a thing or two about the dynamics of power and persuasion, as well as the gorgeous black-and-white photography.
More than one viewing also allows you to soak in the brutal performances by Burt Lancaster as the cold, manipulative, merciless columnist and Tony Curtis as the self-loathing press agent, as well as the eternal questions the film raises: What price ambition? Does power always corrupt? What place, if any, does morality have in the marketplace?
Further reading: Our own David Ehrlich reviewed the film in his Criterion Corner a few days ago.
For the Newbies:
What It's About: Rural recluse Robert Duvall plots his memorial service with the help of funeral home director Bill Murray and neophyte salesman Lucas Black. With Sissy Spacek.
Why See It (Again): You may have missed this film when it was released in theaters this past summer, but it's a soft-spoken gem that stands up to repeat viewings. In the local community, legends have sprung up about the trigger-happy Duvall, fires that he is always ready to stoke on his occasional forays into town. But, sensing that his days have drawn short, he prepares to give up the secrets that he has been hiding for decades.
Duvall is a pleasure to watch as he struggles with his conscience as well as his legacy, while Murray balances him nicely as a man who has a good sense of how to deal with other people. 'Get Low' is a low-key treat that is refreshing for its simplicity and its emphasis on characters.
What to Look (and Listen) For: The transfer is "just magnificent, beautifully reproducing the crisp, detailed, evocative photography," says DVD Talk. "Because of the period setting, much of the nighttime action is played by the light of the fire--lanterns, fireplaces, and the like. Those scenes play out in a warm, golden glow, while the black levels of those nighttime scenes are just excellent--rich, inky, just about flawless."
Coolest Special Feature:
What It's About: The 12-issue limited series by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely asks: What would Superman do if he knew he was dying? (Hint: Think Lois Lane and Lex Luthor.)
Feature: 'Superman Now'
Description: This feature, presented in high definition, presents insights from Morrison and DC Comics co-publisher Dan Didio on the genesis and realization of the project intended to look at the iconic character from a fresh perspective. "This is an outstanding, remarkably revealing glimpse behind-the-comic that should not be missed," raves Blu-ray.com.
In light of Zack Snyder's upcoming new version, this animated film (and the special feature) shed light on the challenges of updating and refreshing a character in a way that appeals to the faithful while reaching out for those who are not terribly interested in the same old "truth, justice, and the American Way."
Most Intriguing Rental:
What It's About: A cop springs a convict to track down a murderous fugitive. With Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy. Directed by Walter Hill.
Why Seek It Out on Blu-ray: How times have changed. At the time of its release in December 1982, it was rumored that Hill felt pressured to speed up the pacing, to better compete against the furious pace of 'The Road Warrior,' released earlier in the year to great acclaim. In addition, Eddie Murphy was an unproven commodity in movies, and the buddy cop formula was not yet established.
Murphy became a star on the basis of '48 Hrs.,' most famously for the scene in which he impersonates a police officer in a redneck bar (in San Francisco, of all places). Nowadays the pace almost feels relaxed, thanks especially to the loose-limbed interaction between Murphy and Nolte, which fairly well established the comic sparring that would mark the plethora of buddy cop flicks to come.
Yet Hill's direction is sure-handed, and the action sequences, though modest by today's standard's, are tightly-focused. James Remar and David Patrick Kelly contribute dark turns as Murphy's former partners in crime. It's an 80s film that's dealing with a hangover from the 70s, and in this case, that's good thing.
Why Rent and Not Buy: The transfer is not exceptional, according to several reviews, and the only extra is a trailer.
More New Releases on Blu-ray:
(Note: Titles in boldface below are ones we also recommend for rental.)
'Alien vs. Ninja.' As the title indicates. More from Simon Abrams.
'Birdemic: Shock and Terror.' Bizarre homage to Hitchcock's 'The Birds' with CGI flying creatures.
'Due Date.' Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. More from Moviefone's Harley W. Lond.
'Embodiment of Evil.' Spanish horror.
'Fish Tank.' Andrea Arnold's drama gets the Criterion Collection treatment. More from Cinematical's David Ehrlich.
'Killshot.' The Witness Protection program isn't what it used to be.
'The Last Unicorn.' Animated version of Peter S. Beagle's richly-imagined fantasy.
'Lemmy: 49% Motherf**cker, 51% Son of a Bitch.' Documentary on the longtime leader of Motorhead.
'Megamind.' Will Ferrell voices a villain with a heart of gold; also with Tiny Fey. More from Moviefone's Harley W. Lond.
'Memento: 10th Anniversary Edition.' Christopher Nolan sends Guy Perce back in time.
'Mesrine: Killer Instinct.' French gangster saga. More from Moviefone's Harley W. Lond.
'Psych:9.' Don't go in a recently-closed hospital alone, especially if you're mentally unstable.
'Senso.' Luchino Visconti's film is rescued by the Criterion Collection. More from Cinematical's David Ehrlich.
'The Stieg Larsson Trilogy.' Box set of the Dragon Tattoo trilogy.