'Braveheart,' 'Gladiator' fight way to top of latest Blu-ray releases

by Doug Nye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

1 September 2009


Two Oscar-winning epics, “Braveheart” (Paramount, 1995, $39.99) and “Gladiator” (Paramount, 2000, $39.99), top a nice crop of new titles arriving this week on the Blu-ray high-definition format.

“Braveheart” stars Mel Gibson as William Wallace, the legendary Scottish warrior who leads his fellow countrymen in a mighty uprising against English rule. Wallace remembers vividly when he was a young boy that his father and brother lost their lives trying to free Scotland. Now he aims to avenge their deaths and complete what they set out to accomplish.

Opposing him is Longshanks, King Edward I (perfectly portrayed by Patrick McGoohan), who will stop at nothing until he also is king of Scotland. Longshanks is eager to see his massive army crush Wallace and his rebels. The well-staged swashbuckling conflicts, as to be expected, are exercises in bloody violence.

The film, part history and part myth, captured five Oscars and was nominated for five others. Among the wins were Best Picture and Best Director for Gibson. With its sweeping battle sequences and lush countryside, “Braveheart” is the kind of film that was made for Blu-ray. The picture and the sound are knockouts. Highly recommended.

“Gladiator” has Russell Crowe playing Maximus, a victorious and popular Roman general, who is greatly admired by emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). The emperor, however, is dying and sees Maximus as the man to take over for him.

The emperor’s power-hungry son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) has other ideas. After his father’s death, Commodus orders Maximus and his family to be executed. Maximus escapes but is eventually captured. He is trained to be a gladiator and Maximus sets out to be the best. In the back of his mind, however, is always the thought that one day he will have a showdown with Commodus.

Directed by Ridley Scott, “Gladiator” won five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor for Crowe. It received seven other Academy Award nominations. The film has a dark, almost melancholy atmosphere about it. The opening sequence with Maximus and his army in battle is filled with vivid and violent images. Recommended.

Other Blu-ray releases:

“Heroes: Season Three” (Universal, 2008-09, $79.98): There are plenty of new twists and turns as those with special powers confront a number of obstacles and also indulge in some time travel. After a shortened season two, the series again picks up steam in this third season. There are two big story arcs — one 13 chapters, the other 12 chapters — on this five-disc, 25-episode set. The show returns Sept. 21 to NBC for its fourth season. Recommended.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: The Ninth Season” (Paramount, 2008-09, $89.99): Gil Grissom (William Petersen), Catherine Willow (Marg Helgenberger), Nick Stokes (George Eads) and the rest of the team are back to investigate more crime in Las Vegas, Joining the crew this season is Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Raymond Langston. This series has been around a while but it still manages to come up with its riveting moments. The six-disc set includes 24 episodes. The series returns Sept. 24 to CBS. Recommended.

“Supernatural: The Complete Fourth Season” (Warner, 2008-09, $79.98): It’s a battle between heaven and hell. Dean (Jensen Ackles) finally escapes from the tortures of hell. Now he and Sam (Jared Padalecki) must find a way to keep Satan himself from walking the Earth. Along the way, they encounter numerous hair-raising adventures and even do some time traveling hell. The set includes 22 episodes on four discs. The series returns Sept. 10 for another season on The CW. Recommended.

“M(ASTERISK)A(ASTERISK)S(ASTERISK)H” (20th Century Fox, 1970, $34.98): Director Robert Altman’s often humorous look at a U.S. Army mobile field hospital during the Korean War was a hit with many of the anti-military crowd during the Vietnam War. Donald Sutherland plays Hawkeye, Elliott Gould is Trapper and Sally Kellerman plays “Hot Lips” O’Houlihan. It doesn’t quite have the bite it had when first released and is probably best known now for inspiring a top-notch and much better TV series. Recommended for those interested in “M*A*S*H” history.

“Earth” (Walt Disney, 2007, $39.99): Breathtaking photography, even more beautiful in the Blu-ray format, mark this “Disneynature” film that is edited from the series “Planet Earth,” seen on the BBC and Discovery Channel. From the Arctic to Africa and elsewhere, nature’s wonders and marvelous creatures are captured in all their splendor. Narrated by James Earl Jones. Recommended

“State of Play” (Universal, 2009, $39.98): Washington, D.C., newspaper reporter Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe) seems to know everyone in the city and has trusted contacts everywhere. When he begins to investigate the death of an assistant to a congressman, he soon finds out just how many friends he doesn’t have. As he and rookie reporter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) delve deeper into the death it leads to what appears to be a conspiracy within the government. That puts both of their lives at risk. Also in the cast are Ben Affleck and Helen Mirren. Well-done thriller. Recommended.

“High Crimes” (20th Century Fox, 2002, $29.98): Ashley Judd plays a high-powered lawyer whose ex-Army husband is arrested for murder by the FBI. Judd promises to defend him and enlists the aid of Morgan Freeman, who knows the ways of a military court. Judd turns in a fine effort and Freeman, as always, is a pleasure to watch.

“The Girl Next Door: Unrated” (20th Century Fox, 2004, $29.99): Emile Hirsch plays Matthew Kidman, who does a double take when he sees a beautiful girl moving in next door. He soon finds out her name is Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) and is determined to get cozy with her. But he is stunned when his friends tell him that Danielle is a star of porn films.

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