The movie is great, of course -- though it's always had its severe detractors and still does -- but this package is close to an ultimate example of the modern DVD maker's art as well.
CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK
Blade Runner Ultimate Collector's Edition (A)
U.S.; Ridley Scott, 1982, Warner Bros.
Blade Runner was considered a failure in its time -- in 1982 when star Harrison Ford was at his Han Solo-Indiana Jones box-office summit, and the movie's way sub-Star Wars receipts were as unpleasant a surprise as the shocks that waylay Ford's futuristic cop Rick Deckard in this darkest of sci-fi epics.
Nowadays, director Ridley Scott's visually overwhelming film of the Philip K. Dick novel is rightly judged a classic -- a masterpiece of both science fiction and film noir, and a fit subject for this stunning five-disc "ultimate" collector's edition, Dick's novel was originally called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep; the title comes from "beat" master William Burroughs.
The movie, written by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples (Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven) gives us the hard-bitten Deckard as an anti-replicant squad cop in 21st-century Los Angeles, a dark, rainy, neon-drenched city of night in which the look of Heavy Metal is mixed with the mood of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. Replicants are "off world" work (or slave) robots who look (and behave) so real that they often try to pass for human. Deckard's job is to catch some renegade reps led by Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty (the performance he'll never top): a cadre that includes Daryl Hannah, Joanna Cassidy and Brion James ('Time to die!"), with Deckard aided by a savagely streetwise L.A. cop contingent that includes Edward James Olmos and a pre-Blood Simple M. Emmet Walsh. In the middle is Sean Young's Rachael: Is she futuristic Lauren Bacall heroine or replicant femme fatale?
This splendid package contains three commentaries (one by Scott), scads of featurettes and documentaries and four different versions of Blade Runner, including the original 1982 U.S. and International theatrical cuts, the 1992 Director's Cut, and a new Final Directors Cut, which, we're assured, is Scott's last word on the subject. The five-disc set includes another version, called the "workprint" cut and the biggest variant yet -- appropriately for a movie based on Dick, the master of alternative universes.
The movie is great, of course -- though it's always had its severe detractors and still does -- but this package is close to an ultimate example of the modern DVD maker's art as well. The documentaries, by the way, tell us that Fancher intended Runner as a noir from the beginning -- albeit a smaller-scale, lower-budget, pre-Ridley Scott noir -- and that he wrote Rick Deckard not for an actor like Ford but for longtime noir icon Robert Mitchum.
U.K. (Ireland); John Carney, 2007
An Irish rock Brief Encounter. Somewhat overrated -- but this film festival darling is still a good, intelligent, romantic neorealist street musical with great songs by star Glen Hansard, the guy who played the stubborn guitarist in Alan Parker and Roddy Doyle's The Commitments. Here Hansard is "The Guy" (as the credits bill him), and Marketa Irglova is "The Girl" in this bouncy gritty tale of an Irish busker and a Czech flower girl who meet, click and make music, not love. It gets you.
BOX SET CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK
The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Volume Two: The War Years (B)
U.S.; Various directors, 1992-96, Paramount/CBS DVD
A series that's better than its rep, and much helped by the packaging here. George Lucas' brainy adventurer, played by Harrison Ford in the movies, is here impersonated by Sean Patrick Flanery in eight derivative but uncommonly well-produced episodic TV movies. The war here is World War I -- Indy was on the brink of World War II when we met him in Raiders of the Lost Ark -- and the inspirations for the early World War I battle scenes are toney (Paths of Glory and All Quiet on the Western Front). So are the characters; Young Indy crosses with Charles De Gaulle, Lenin, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon and the like. It's all somewhat campy high adventure, but, especially for TV, glossy and thrilling. (Extras: Many featurettes and documentaries, interactive games and timeline.)
Rawhide Second Season, Part Two (B)
U.S.; Various directors, 1959-60, Paramount
Rollin' rollin', rollin'; keep those doggies rollin'.... I have only my 47-year-old memory of this series to go by here. But it was one of the best Westerns on TV in the '50s and '60s. Possibly the best of its time, along with Maverick and the lesser-known, shorter-lived The Westerner, starring Brian Keith and created and directed by Sam Peckinpah.
Rawhide is famous now, of course, as the launching pad for co-star Clint Eastwood, who plays feisty second-in-command Rowdy Yates to Eric Fleming's dour trail boss Gil Favor. But it had more to offer than Clint. Centering on season-long cattle drives, it was a mostly outdoor show, in contrast to TV Westerns like my then-favorite Maverick, starring the amiable and bemused James Garner as gambler Bret. (On that show, which was directed in some early episodes by Budd Boetticher, young Clint once assayed a terrific heavy).
Rawhide had that slightly ersatz realism that was the hallmark of creator Charles Marquis Warren (Gunsmoke) and it was, like its predecessor, resolutely an adult Western. More scenic and ambitious, it was also a better show than Gunsmoke, The title song, of course, is sung by Frankie Laine.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
The Simpsons Movie (B-)
U.S.; David Silverman, 2007, 20th Century Fox
Homer, Marge and Bart (voiced by Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner and Nancy Cartwright) face the abyss. Not as good as the TV show, but longer! Scripted by James Brooks and cartoonist-creator Matt Groenig.
U.S.; Mel Gibson, 1993, Paramount
It may not have deserved the best picture Oscar. (Many of the winners don't.) But this lavish period epic about the 13th-century Scottish revolt led by William Wallace (Gibson) is an exciting, chest-thumping Rob Roy of a show and still director-star Gibson's best movie. The settings are lush, the action is exciting and brutal and the picture as politically incorrect, as you'd expect. The unusually good supporting cast includes Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan (as England's Edward I), Brendan Gleeson, Ian Bannen, and Brian Cox.
The Evil Dead Ultimate Edition (B)
U.S.; Sam Raimi, 1983, Anchor Bay/Starz
The Evil Dead, shot by Michigan State guy Raimi and other students, became the scariest movie of 1983, by following the low-budget, high-dread course laid down by George Romero in Night of the Living Dead and followed or elaborated on by many others, including David Cronenberg in Shivers and Peter Jackson in Dead Alive. Here, a too-confident quintet faces a series of shocks, beginning with the nastiest plant attack ever. (Extras; Commentaries by Raimi and others, documentaries and featurettes, reunion panel, trailer.)
El Compadre Mendoza (B+)
Mexico, Fernando de Fuentes, 1933, Cinemateca/Facets
One of three rediscovered de Fuentes classics: a memorable portrait of national idealism and private cynicism in wartime, which French critic Georges Sadoul called "one of the great accomplishments of the Mexican cinema." Like de Fuentes' other '30s drama/adventures -- all revolving around Mexican revolutionary times -- it's a national prize by one of the country's best and most vibrant early sound filmmakers. With Alfredo del Diestro. (Extra: Photo gallery.)
Prisoner 13 (B)
Mexico, Fernando de Fuentes, 1933, Cinemateca/Facets
The most melodramatic of the three de Fuentes films but a corker nonetheless. Conservative father and liberal son play out a reverse-Oedipal drama with a firing squad deadline against a backdrop of political turmoil. With del Diestro.
Let's Go With Pancho Villa (A)
Mexico, Fernando de Fuentes, 1936, Cinemateca/Facets
Six male friends join the revolution together, meet and impress General Pancho Villa himself, and -- one by one -- fall victim to the evil fortunes of war. Fuentes' masterpiece is, in the opinion of many Mexican critics, one of the great Mexican films. Primitive and often predictable it might be, but this is still a marvelous film, a national epic that focuses on the grim fate beneath noble dreams. With Domingo Soler and Antonio R. Frausto. (Extras: Alternate ending, photo gallery, cast and crew bios.)
OTHER NEW AND RECENT BOX SETS
The Ruth Rendell Mysteries (B)
U.S.; Various directors, 1995-97, Acorn
Rendell, a biting, marvelous and prolific mystery writer, contributes edgy, memorable characters and smart plots to these superior British TV adaptations of her works. Except for Claude Chabrol (The Ceremony), name filmmakers have tended to neglect Rendell, so this collection (the second volume of Rendell TV movies) is welcome, nicely mounted and finely wrought. It's also beautifully cast: The actors include Susannah York, Janet Suzman (magisterial in Front Seat), Richard Johnson, and others. The set includes: Bribery & Corruption (Mike Vardy), Front Seat (Sandy Johnson), A Case of Coincidence (Gavin Millar), A Dark Blue Perfume (Johnson), May & June (James Cellan Jones), and The Orchard Walls (Gwennan Sage).