[12 January 2011]
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
Two classic pieces of filmmaking, “Dances with Wolves” and “Raging Bull,” lead the parade of latest titles to arrive on Blu-ray.
It is difficult to find anything to dislike about “Dances with Wolves: 20th Anniversary Edition” (MGM, 1990, $29.99), Kevin Costner’s epic visual ode to Native Americans who were called Indians when this film takes place. It won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Costner.
Costner plays Union Lt. John Dunbar, who is injured during a Civil War battle. When he learns a doctor plans to take his leg off, Dunbar flees, jumps on a horse and rides onto a battlefield. There he heads straight into the fire of the Confederate army.
During his obvious suicide attempt, Dunbar is untouched by bullets and his daring dash inspires the Union soldiers. That leads to a stunning Union victory and Dunbar is hailed a hero. His reward is to choose his next assignment.
Dunbar picks a distant outpost in the western frontier, where he remains alone for a great length of time. When warriors from a nearby Sioux tribe attempt to steal his horse but fail, Dunbar becomes interested in the Indians. He heads to their camp. On the way he encounters Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell), who is a recent widow and has slit her wrist. Dunbar rescues her and takes her to the Sioux camp, where he meets Kicking Bird (Graham Greene).
Because of this act, the tribe becomes just as curious about him as he is about them. Soon he develops a relationship with the tribe and falls in love with Stands With A Fist. Dunbar spends much of the film learning the ways of the Indians and, thus, we also learn them. Also explored is the Army’s attitude toward the Indians and their puzzlement over Dunbar’s move to the “other side.”
“Dances with Wolves” was Costner’s project all the way, something for which he pushed hard. The film is based on the novel by Michael Blake and Costner brought him in to do the screenplay. It is a marvelous Western to watch, especially in high definition. Highly recommended.
“Raging Bull: 30th Anniversary Edition” (MGM, 1980, $29.99) is director Martin Scorsese’s gritty look at the life of middleweight boxer Jake La Motta, brilliantly played by Robert De Niro. This is a vivid and brutal portrait of a man who fought as many inner demons as he battled opponents in the ring.
One of Jake’s problems is the incredible jealousy he has for his young wife, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty). He constantly suspects she is having affairs with other men. Even when there is no evidence, Jake tends to beat to a pulp any man he suspects has messed with Vickie.
Jake isn’t much nicer with his friends and relatives. His brother Joey (Joe Pesci) is often the object of Jake’s rage. This was Pesci’s breakout role and basically introduced him to movie audiences. Although the film received plenty of praise at the time of its release, it also was the object of much criticism for its violence and staccato soundtrack of four-letter words.
It would have been difficult to make a movie about boxing without violent content. The fight sequences are some of the finest ever put on film. “Raging Bull” was nominated for eight Academy Awards and including Best Picture and won two for Best Editing and Best Actor for De Niro. The black-and-white photography looks terrific on Blu-ray. Highly recommended.
Other Blu-ray releases:
“The Social Network” (Sony, 2010, $34.95): Based on the true story behind the forming of the phenomenally successful Facebook Internet site. In 2003 Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) decides to put together a website rating the school’s female students. He soon finds himself in trouble because he hacked into other student’s computers to put the site together. But the incident leads to the founding of Facebook and the court battles that followed. Also in the cast are Brenda Song, Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield. Recommended.
“Once Upon a Time In America” (Warner Brothers, 1984, $24.98): Italian director Sergio Leone had scored big with his vision of the American Western as depicted in “Once Upon a Time in the West” as well as a trio of films starring Clint Eastwood. Here, after supposedly 10 years of planning, he puts his own stamp on the American gangster film. The result is a highly watchable movie, especially the second half of the production. Robert De Niro headlines the cast, which also includes James Woods, Joe Pesci, Elizabeth McGovern and Burt Young. The Blu-ray presents the film in its original 229-minute running time. Recommended.
“Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System — 3D” (A&E, 2010, $29.95): A mesmerizing journey into outer space is served up on this Blu-ray disc. It is made even more stunning for those who have the capability of watching it in 3-D. You must have a 3-D TV, 3-D Blu-ray player and 3-D glasses to enjoy it all. Among the seven wonders are Enceladus, one of Saturn’s outer moons; Jupiter’s Great Red Spot; Mount Olympus, the largest volcano on Mars; and our own planet Earth. Recommended.
“The Great Debaters” (Vivendi, 2007, $19.97): Denzel Washington portrays Melvin B. Tolson, the debate coach at Texas’ historically black Wiley College during the 1930s. Tolson is driven to elevate his students to the same level as white debate teams. Despite the obstacles, Tolson manages to inspire his students to do their best and then some. They get a chance to take on the Harvard debate team and make the most of it. Forest Whitaker, Nate Parker, Kimberly Elise and Gina Ravera are also in the cast. Produced by Oprha Winfrey’s Harpo Productions. Recommended.
“Alpha and Omega” (Lionsgate, 2010, $39.99): Kate, a take charge “Alpha” wolf, and Humphrey, a laid-back “Omega” wolf, are carried away by park rangers and relocated at another park halfway across the country. With the help of some forest friends, Kate and Humphrey begin a fantastic journey back to their home, Jasper Park. Upon arrival, they discover the old home place is in trouble. Among those supplying the voices are the late Dennis Hopper, Justin Long, Danny Glover, Christina Ricci and Hayden Panettiere, This film is fine animated family fun. Recommended.
“Robinson Crusoe on Mars” (Criterion, 1964, $39.95): Absorbing science-fiction film with a near documentary-style approach. Paul Mantee plays Commander Kit Draper who, along with Colonel Dan McReady, crash lands on the planet Mars. McReady dies, but Draper survives and, accompanied by a monkey named Mona, begins to explore the planet. Draper battles Mar’s harsh elements and avoids a landing by alien beings. The story is inspired by Daniel Defoe’s classic novel. Recommended.
“Piranha” (Sony, 2010, $34.95): An earthquake in Arizona splits open the bottom of a lake and unleashes a bevy of prehistoric piranhas. It doesn’t take long for the ugly flesh-eating fish to make their presence known to the world. That leads to a showdown between human and piranha, with the humans winning. Right? Maybe. Richard Dreyfuss, Steven R. McQueen, Jessica Szohr, Elisabeth Shue and Ving Rhames round out the cast. Also available in 3-D version at $39.95.
“Rob Roy” (MGM/UA, 1995, $19.99): Liam Neeson portrays Robert Roy MacGregor, who in early 19th century Scotland led a clan to battle injustice. When a loan he received from Marquis of Montrose (John Hurt) is stolen, Rob Roy finds himself on the run. His inability to pay back the loan has turned him into an outlaw. Meanwhile, he hunts down Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth), the man who made off with the money and also raped MacGregor’s wife, Mary (Jessica Lange).