‘Amadeus, ‘ Raging Bull' top bevy of latest Blu-ray releases

by Doug Nye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

10 February 2009


The Academy Award-winning “Amadeus” (Warner, 1984, $35.99) and the gritty boxing biopic “Raging Bull” (1980, MGM, $39.98) lead a lengthy list of titles arriving on Blu-ray this week.

Director Milos Forman serves up a stunning piece of filmmaking with “Amadeus” which, with its detailed costumes and lavish sets, perfectly recreates 18th century Europe (at least, how most of us imagine it). The focus is on the relationship between court composer Antonio Saleri (F. Murray Abraham) and young genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce).

Saleri, who struggles to put together simple compositions, is amazed and angered that the vulgar and often silly Mozart can turn out masterpieces of music almost without thinking. The jealous Saleri wonders why God would choose a clown to posses such a gift and not pick him.

Based more on speculation than fact, the film is a grand piece of entertainment that attracted and fascinated even non-clasical music lovers during its theatrical release. “Amadeus” was nominated for 11 Oscars and won eight including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Abraham). The high-definition 2-disc release is packaged in a book-like format. Highly recommended.

“Raging Bull,” a black-and-white gem from director Martin Scorsese, features a memorable performance by Robert De Niro as troubled boxer Jake LaMotta. The sequences inside the ring are brutally realistic but it is LaMotta’s emotionally unstable personality that makes this such an absorbing viewing experience.

When it comes to life away from the arena, LaMotta is his own worst enemy because he really doesn’t know how to properly interact with people, including his own family. His inner rage often erupts in displays of a frightening temper. “Raging Bull” was nominated for eight Oscars but won only two, including Best Actor for De Niro and Best Film Editing. The movie is based on LaMotta’s autobiography. Highly recommended.

Other Blu-ray releases for the week:

“Pretty Woman” (Walt Disney, 1990, $34.99): A feel-good movie that oozes with romance. Richard Gere plays millionaire businessman Edward Lewis who has made a high-stakes game out of taking over vulnerable corporations. When he needs an escort for some business-related social outings, he hires prostitute Vivian Ward, marvelously played by Julia Roberts. Eventually, Edward finds himself falling in love with Vivian. Adding to the pleasure of this one are fine performances by Ralph Bellamy, Jason Alexander, Hector Elizando and Laura San Giacomo. Then there is the tune “Pretty Woman” as sung by Roy Orbison. Everything clicks in this film directed by Garry Marshall. Highly recommended.

“A History of Violence” (Warner, 2005, $28.99): Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, a seemingly easygoing fellow who runs a diner in a small Indiana town. He’s happily married with a wife (Maria Bello) and two kids. Then one day, two guys walk in the diner with the intention of robbing it. In an instant, Stall reacts and blows the intruders away. In the process, he becomes a local hero, but it’s a role that makes him uncomfortable. Unknown to the town’s folks, Stall is hiding a dark secret. Recommended.

“The Boondock Saints” (20th Century Fox, 1999, $34.99): After killing some Russian mobsters, Connor McManus (Sean Patrick Flanery) and his brother Murphy (Norman Reedus) decide they’ve been put on earth by God to rid the planet of evil. They begin bumping off bad guy after bad guy. Soon FBI agent Paul Smecker (William Dafoe) is on their bloody trail but has mixed feelings about catching the two. Secretly, he admires them for doing what he has always wished he could do.

“Frozen River” (Sony, 2008, $39.95): A well-done film about an unsual friendship. Melissa Leo and Misty Upham play two husband-less mothers who live in Quebec close to the U.S.-Candian border. Both are struggling financially and, to make ends meet, they begin smuggling aliens into the U.S. To do it, however, they have to drive across a treacherous frozen river.

“Soul Men” (Weinstein, 2008, $34.99): Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac play estranged soul singers who, after having not spoken to each other in years, agree to get together for a reunion at the Apollo Theater. The film is filled with great music and both actors seem to be having a wonderful time. Unfortunately, this was Bernie Mac’s final screen appearance. He died Aug. 9, 2008. You will miss him again after you watch this.

“The Pelican Brief” (Warner, 1993, $28.99): Julia Roberts plays a law student who becomes interested in the assassinations of two Supreme Court justices and does some research on the dead men’s backgrounds. What she discovers puts her future in danger. The fine cast includes Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard and Robert Culp. Based on a novel by John Grisham.

“A Time to Kill” (Warner, 1996, $28.99): Here is another film based on a Grisham book. Two men who raped a 10-year-old black girl are murdered and the girl’s father (Samuel L. Jackson) is arrested for the killings. Matthew McConaughey plays the lawyer who steps up to defend Jackson’s character. Among the others in a stellar cast are Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey, Charles S. Dutton, Oliver Platt, Donald Sutherland, Kiefer Sutherland, Ashley Judd and Patrick McGoohan.

“Miracle at St. Anna” (Walt Disney, 2008, $34.99): Spike Lee directed this World War II story about four African-American soldiers (Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso and Omar Benson Miller) who survive a fierce battle with the Nazis and find themselves in a small Italian village. Lee uses part of the film to address the dilemma blacks faced fighting for a country where racism flourished; a subject well worth exploring. Too bad that an overabundance of subplots often get in the way.

“Donnie Darko” (20th Century Fox, 2001, $34.98): Here’s a film that will have you guessing after it’s over. Jake Gyllenhaal plays teenager Donnie Darko, who doesn’t seem to get along with anyone. A rabbit named Frank befriends Donnie and supposedly helps him peer into the future. Donnie is the only who can see the big bunny. Is just a troubled young man or does Donnie have a supernatural gift?

“Nights in Rodanthe” (Warner, 2008, $35.99): Richard Gere and Diane Lane, previously seen together in “Unfaithful,” are back together in this romance based on the bestseller by Nicholas Sparks. Gere plays a surgeon who has long been divorced and Lane is woman trying to get on with her life after finding out that her husband has cheated on her. Gere and Lane happen to meet at a remote inn on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where they discover that love can blossom again.

“W.” (Lionsgate, 2008, $39.99): Oliver Stone directed this look at George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) from childhood to his becoming president of the United States. The cast includes Richard Dreyfuss as Vice President Dick Cheney, Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush, James Cromwell as George H.W. Bush, Ellen Burstyn as Barbara Bush and Sayed Badreya as Saddam Hussein. Since there has been no outcry from the Bush family, one supposes the movie is pretty accurate.

“Doom” (Universal, 2005, $29.98): Something has gone haywire at a research facility on Mars, so the Marines are sent there to find out what the heck has happened. Dwayne Johnson, aka “The Rock,” stars. Based on a video game.

“The Rundown” (Universal, 2003, $29.98): Here’s Dwayne Johnson again. This time he plays a guy sent to the Amazon to track down a mobster’s son. Once there, he has more adventures than he had planned on.

“Street Fighter” (Universal, 1994, $29.98): Another movie based on a video game. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a commando who leads a team of street fighters against the force of an evil general (Raul Julia).

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