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The Twilight Zone - Season Five (Blu-ray)

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The Twilight Zone - Season Five: Blu-ray
Image Entertainment


The original run of The Twilight Zone included 156 episodes. Not surprisingly, not all of them are masterpieces. The pressure of producing a new show every week, without the assistance of recurring characters or continuing story arcs, must have been tremendous as each episode had to create its own world and deliver a satisfying story in the 30 minutes, minus commercial time, allotted to it (season 4 used hour-long episodes with imperfect results, and season 5 returned to the half-hour format). In retrospect it’s remarkable how many of the episodes are truly memorable, with the best of them ranking among the finest television ever produced.


The Twilight Zone is an example of television done right and not just because of the important ideas incorporated into the programs. The episodes are also case studies in efficient storytelling and seeing them in high definition gives you added appreciation for the care taken with the production values. Each episode is like a little movie with all the attention to cinematic detail which that implies, and many feature soundtracks with music composed specifically for that episode by studio professionals like Bernard Herrmann and Nathan Van Cleave. The Image Blu-ray set is a must-have for fans of the series and scholars of science fiction and the history of television. There’s no better way to watch this series and the extras included on the discs will provide many additional hours of viewing for fans as well as important research materials for scholars. Sarah Boslaugh


 

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Island of Lost Souls - The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: Erle C. Kenton
Cast: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, George Irving

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Island of Lost Souls - The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection


Released in 1932, this is perhaps the best film adaptation of H.G Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau and of course, as it happens with these things, most of it remained lost for decades. Harshly censored and edited when it first was released, the film became famous for making audiences leave theaters out of disgust. For this stunning Blu-ray edition, the Criterion Collection has put together the most complete version of the film yet. Lines have been restored, some of the sadistic salaciousness that had it banned in Europe is back and Charles Laughton’s creepy performance seems majestic with the clear transfer. Bonus features include production stills, a tribute short film made by members of Devo and conversations with historians and horror experts like John Landis and Rick Baker, all of which praise the film’s inventiveness, its profound sociological explorations and lead us to ask ourselves the same question: why isn’t this film more famous? Jose Solís Mayén


 

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The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season (Blu-Ray)

(AMC; US DVD: 8 Mar 2011)

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The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season (Blu-Ray)
AMC


Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock from a horde of hungry zombies, you already know that one of the best television series of the last year, possibly of the next decade, was the first, short season of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Frank Darabont, the genius behind Shawshank Redemption, assembled a pitch perfect cast to bring the popular Robert Kirkman comic book series to undead, hungry life. It’s a measure of our contemporary fascination with the undead that David Ball’s True Blood and Darabont’s Walking Dead, two of the most popular, and two of the best series on television, concern themselves with vampires and zombies. This is not a recent phenomenon and is actually part of a long cultural arc dating to the ‘70s. Various explanations can be given for this fascination, ranging from anxiety over disease (both vampirism and zombification are essentially infections) and general fascination with the corruptibility of the body, as evidenced by American dieting culture and the cosmetic surgery revolution. Like all the best monster narratives The Walking Deadposes questions about the human condition, specifically what it might mean, and what we might become, once the electricity goes off, the toilets stop flushing and the cable goes out… forever. The answers are not pretty and challenge not only our self-conception, but also our conception of the world. W. Scott Poole


 

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The Social Network (2 Disc Collector’s Edition Blu-ray)

Director: David Fincher
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, Justin Timberlake, Monique Edwards

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The Social Network (2 Disc Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures


David Fincher’s film traces back the origins of the Facebook generation and captures the zeitgeist of an era. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eiesenberg) is a brilliant yet socially inept Harvard student. His college buddy Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) has the business savvy and resources to help launch Mark’s fledging ‘Facebook’. An exclusive Ivy League culture with its elite clubs gives rise to the Facebook ritual of ‘friending’. Yet enmity lurks behind the friendship website as it becomes an Internet sensation. Two young men, one website, and what happens when they swim in the murky waters of corporate America. The Social Network is a cautionary tale of friendship, greed, and betrayal. John Grassi


 

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The Terrorizers

Director: Edward Yang
Cast: King Shih Chieh, Cora Miao, Lee Li Chun

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The Terrorizers
Bumerang Pictures


Even in his lifetime, Edward Yang was never what one would even mistakenly call appreciated. Thankfully, his posthumous career has proven exceedingly more considered, yet his work remains criminally under-distributed. In fact, before Sony Music Group’s unexpected and—wouldn’t you know it—overlooked Blu-ray release of his complexly structured, airtight 1986 thriller The Terrorizers, only a single Yang film (2000s landmark Yi Yi) was readily available in the digital marketplace. The highlight of this import-only (but thankfully region-free) series of Taiwanese New Wave classics—which also includes Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Dust in the Wind and Tsai Ming-liang’s Vive L’amourThe Terrorizersmarked the ambitious apex of early Edward Yang, weaving multiple story strands into an austere comment on relationships and coincidence. His next film, 1991s landmark A Brighter Summer Day—which coincidentally saw its U.S. theatrical debut just this year—would find him streamlining this structural ingenuity while somehow managing to expand his overall narrative reach, perfecting the aesthetic preoccupations of a movement he would remain the heart of until his untimely death in 2007. The Terrorizers remains a bit of an anomaly, then: an intricately threaded, occasionally ambiguous experiment in narrative tension, but an emotionally acute and humanistic endeavor just the same… and in that sense, quintessential Edward Yang. Jordan Cronk


 

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West Side Story (50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray)

Director: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise
Cast: Natalie Wood, George Chakiris, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno

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West Side Story (50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray)
MGM


It was about time MGM decided to release West Side Story in HD, it’s a shame however that they rushed through the transfer and messed up with the prologue. This error might be too small to make a fuss, but proves just how protective fans are of this beloved musical. The rest of the film, looks more glorious than ever, with the vibrant colors popping out of the screen and the new audio mix making each song sound even more powerful. The 50th Anniversary Edition Giftset includes three more discs with documentaries, cast interviews and an unnecessary tribute CD with renditions by Charlotte Church and Gloria Estefan among others. There are also postcards featuring worldwide marketing and a photo album. Best of all? Selected audio commentary with lyricist Stephen Sondheim, it’s like listening to Michelangelo talk about how he made the Sistine Chapel. Jose Solís Mayén


 

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The Civil War: 150th Anniversary Edition

Director: Ken Burns
Cast: David McCullough, Sam Waterson, Jason Robards, Morgan Freeman, Arthur Miller

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The Civil War: 150th Anniversary Edition
PBS

In 1990, Ken Burns produced The Civil War, a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking that stands today, even after 21 years, as the definitive examination of the subject, and seems poised to hold that title for the foreseeable future. The Civil War is a feather in the cap of not only Burns, but also PBS; it’s unlikely that such a film could have been produced on a for-profit, commercial network. PBS allowed Burns to create a truly powerful work the way he wanted, and helped him find a welcoming and thankful audience. Michael Patrick Brady


 

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Sweetie - The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Genevieve Lemon, Karen Colston, Tom Lycos, Jon Darling, Dorothy Barry

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Sweetie - The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection

Early in Jane Campion’s phenomenal freshman effort Sweetie, Kay (Karen Kolston) disrupts a meditation class by demanding of the teacher “Excuse me, but I don’t feel anything?” In fact, Kay feels more than she can bear and finds in her psyche a terrifying collection of images centered on the gnarled interior of a tree and the equally intertwined nature of human relationships.


This meditative vision becomes representative of the film as a whole, indeed, of Campion’s larger aesthetic vision. It’s a vision of a thousand small moments, shattered fragments of life that can never be reassembled or formed into a coherent narrative. And yet each of these shards embodies revelatory meaning. Campion’s 1989 Sweetie layers symbolisms to worry its audience about how we connect (or refuse connection) to a complex world of things and people, all asserting their claims of meaning and significance upon us. W. Scott Poole


 

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Taxi Driver (Blu-ray)

(US DVD: 5 Apr 2011)

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Taxi Driver (Blu-ray)
Sony


Martin Scorsese knows how to dismantle the American dream but Taxi Driver, arguably his best film, shaped a terrifying American nightmare. Its recent release on Blu-Ray allows us to visit a ‘70s New York that seems dystopian in its terrors. Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle is both Dante and Virgil for this tour of a modern inferno, guest and guide to a cold and loveless hell on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 13th Street. Bickle, with his clichéd optimism, his naïve moral certainties and ultimately his terrifying violence, embodies an America stripped of illusions. Like the country he fought for in Vietnam, Bickle arms himself and embarks on a war with no meaning. He is Holden Caulfield but with Southeast Asia instead of prep school at his back. His hatred of phonies ends in a bloodletting. His existential loneliness becomes a wasteland, reflecting the wasteland of 42nd Street where he spends his long night shifts.


The new print available on Blu-ray for the 35th anniversary of the film remains as unsettling as in 1976. In that year, Scorsese’s modern Bosch painting won the prestigious Palm d’Or, a selection that was greeted with boos from the audience. Although a financial success, 13-year-old Jodi Foster’s participation fueled controversy. The camera’s final survey of the carnage after the savage denouement announced a new, and controversial, way of showing violence in American movies. W. Scott Poole


 

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Treme: The Complete First Season

(HBO; US DVD: 29 Mar 2011)

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Treme: The Complete First Season
HBO


Treme, created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer, chronicles life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Simon’s previous series, The Wire bears a striking resemblance to Treme, not in subject matter but in larger overarching themes, such as people surviving in extenuating circumstances and issues of institutional corruption. New Orleans, post-Katrina, is rife with complexity and struggle, and Treme offers a riveting portrait of a city in the midst of such disarray. Treme is unflinching in its depiction of post-Katrina New Orleans, focusing on loss and devastation without easy answers or solutions, all the while unapologetically celebrating the history of a city as rich in culture as New Orleans. Whether it be music, food, or politics, they all play a role in telling this story, and combined with an excellent cast, Treme brilliantly does so without succumbing to any storytelling conventions that would cheapen or disrespect the city in such a trying time. As the season ends, there’s an open-ended messiness to the overall story that mirrors the same unsettled time felt by the ‘real’ New Orleans. J.M. Suarez


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