'John Adams,' 'The Greatest Game' lead a stellar list of Blu-ray titles

by Doug Nye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

17 June 2009


One of the best miniseries of all time, “John Adams” (HBO, 2008, $79.98), and a terrific film about a historic golf match, “The Greatest Game Ever Played” (Walt Disney, 2005, $34.99), are among a sparkling lineup of new titles arriving on Blu-ray this week.

The Emmy-winning “John Adams” looks fantastic in the high-definition format. The details from the brick buildings in old Boston to the beautiful countryside at Adams’ farm are astonishing.

Paul Giamatti shines as Adams, as does Laura Linney as his wife, Abigail. Not surprisingly, both won Emmys for their work. Other notable performances include Stephen Dillane as Thomas Jefferson, Tim Wilkinson as Benjamin Franklin and David Morse as George Washington. They all come off as real people complete with flaws.

The miniseries excellently demonstrates just how diverse a group it was that first gathered in Philadelphia to consider the idea of declaring independence from Britain. That they managed to overcome their differences and give birth to a new nation makes their accomplishment that much more amazing.

The DVD set comes with various extras and among the best are “The Making of..” featurette and a special on David McCullough, the author of “John Adams” and other books that eloquently and vividly bring historic events and people alive. His voice is well known as narrator of numerous documentaries such as Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” (1990) and “Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided” (2001).

“John Adams” is a memorable piece of filmmaking. Included are the seven episodes on three discs. Highly recommended.

Stephen Dillane turns in another fine performance as British golfing legend Harry Vardon in “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” In 1913, Vardon came to America to play in the U.S. Open, a tournament he had won before and was expected to win again.

Surprisingly, his biggest challenge came from a young unheralded American amateur; former caddie Frances Ouimet (marvelously played by Shia LaBeouf). Ouimet stunned the golf world by defeating Vardon in an 18-hole playoff. In the process, he demonstrated that golf was not just a rich man’s game.

“The Greatest Game,” excellently directed by Bill Paxton, is about that tournament and the events that led up to it. The film wonderfully re-creates the era and captures the tension and magic that accompanies a brilliantly played golf match. It also addresses the prejudices then held by “gentlemen golfers” for those who played the game for a paycheck. Highly recommended.

Among the other Blu-ray releases:

“Ghostbusters” (Sony, 1984, $28.95): One of the fun movies of the 1980s hasn’t lost its ability to entertain and provide plenty of frightful laughs. College professors Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) specialize in the study of the paranormal. After the university kicks them out, the trio sets up their own business called Ghostbusters. Using a TV advertising blitz, they promise to rid any haunted house or building of its resident spooks. After several successful jobs, their business booms. Eventually, they end up saving New York City from disaster, Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis are also in the cast. Recommended.

“Miracle” (Walt Disney, 2004, 34.99): A well-done account of one of the most stirring moments in American sports history — the USA hockey team’s march to the gold medal during the 1980 Winter Olympics. Kurt Russell is just fine as Herb “I’m not your friend, I’m your coach” Brooks, the man who put the American squad through seven months of grueling training and exhibition games. The film focuses on the players as they go through those tough practices and also on USA’s stunning upset of the Soviet Union in the semifinals. It gave Americans a big lift after the country had suffered through some deflating events during the 1970s. Recommended.

“Lost: The Complete First Season” (Walt Disney, 2004-05, $69.99): Survivors of a plane crash find themselves stranded on a remote island. They soon discover there are unexpected dangers on their new “home.” The series, which has won numerous Emmys and other awards, will return for a sixth season in the fall. And, yes, it looks great in Blu-ray. Includes 24 episodes on seven discs. Recommended.

“Lost: The Complete Second Season — The Extended Experience” (Walt Disney, 2005-06, $69.99): The survivors find they are not alone on the island. Meanwhile, discontent, suspicion and mistrust continue to fester. Includes 23 episodes on seven discs. Recommended.

“Morning Light” (Walt Disney, 2007, $39.99): An absorbing true-life adventure about the selection and training of a young crew for the oldest and most prestigious open sea race in the world: the Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Roy E. Disney, a sailing enthusiast himself, co-produced this unscripted documentary. Also available in standard DVD, but do yourself a favor and watch it in Blu-ray. Highly recommended.

“Generation Kill” (HBO, 2008, $79.98): A gritty, bold miniseries that tells of the initial 40 days of the Iraq War as experienced by Marines of the First Recon Battalion. It often seems that the war is nothing more than chaos among confusion. Based on the best-selling book by Evan Wright, a Rolling Stones reporter who was there with the Marines. Lee Tergesen portrays Wright in the film. Included are all seven episodes on three discs. Recommended.

“The Diary of Anne Frank” (20th Century Fox, 1959, $34.98): Adapted from the Broadway play that was inspired by the diary, this film follows the gripping real-life story of a young Jewish girl who hid out with her family during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Millie Perkins is excellent as Anne Frank, who somehow found moments to enjoy despite her harrowing situation. Joseph Schildkraut plays her father Otto Frank. Also in the cast are Shelley Winters, Richard Beymer and Lou Jacobi. Highly recommended.

“Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (Sony, 1964, $38.96): Stanley Kubrick directed this film that has been hailed for its satire of the Cold War between the Soviets and the United States. It was made at a time when half the population thought we would blow ourselves to bits before the end of the 20th century. That we’re still here doesn’t diminish the humor found in the film. Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden and Slim Pickens are unforgettable. Packaged in a book style format. Recommended.

“Friday the 13th” (Warner, 2009, $35.99): Jason is back, hockey mask and all, in this remake of the original film. Once again, several dumb teenagers decide to head over to Crystal Lake. Strictly for the blood-and-gore crowd.

“Friday the 13th Part 2” (Paramount, 1981, $29.99): This one takes place five years after the events of the first movie. Yep, Jason is back and ready to kill again.

“Friday the 13th Part 3 3-D” (Paramount, 1982, $29.99): Here we go again. The 3-D, though, isn’t half bad.

Other new Blu-ray titles: “Spaceballs” (MGM, 1987, $29.99) Mel Brooks, John Candy; “Striking Distance” (Sony, 1993, $28.95) Bruce Willis, Sarah Jessica Parker; “No Way Back” (Sony, 1995, $28.95) Russell Crowe, Helen Slater; “The Cell 2” (Warner, 2009, $35.99) Frank Whaley; “Fracture” (New Line, 2007, $28.99) Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling

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