The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2013

[19 December 2013]

By PopMatters Staff

As home video spins off into various immediate options—streaming, simultaneous theatrical and digital release—there are still many gems to uncover in the increasingly obsolete format.

 


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American Masters Philip Roth: Unmasked

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American Masters Philip Roth: Unmasked
PBS

American Masters Philip Roth: Unmasked is a thorough celebration of the greatest living American writer. For many artists, the only fate worse than death is the biography and Roth, who recently turned 80, is known for his reclusive nature and reluctance to grant interviews, making this entry in the American Masters series all the more remarkable. Filmmakers Livia Manera and William Karel were granted ten days with the master, interviewing and filming him both at his Connecticut home and his New York City apartment. The result of their labor is a 90-minute film that doesn’t answer all our questions—nor do we really want it to—but is beautifully filmed and beautifully written. The real show, of course, is the man himself and Unmasked will long be held in high esteem for what it reveals and how it celebrates its great subject. Jedd Beaudoin

 


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The Punk Syndrome

Director: Jani-Petteri Passi, Jukka Kärkkäinen
Cast: Pertti Kurikka, Kari Aalto, Sami Helle, Toni Välitalo, Kalle Pajamaa

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The Punk Syndrome
November Films

As the subject of the sensational documentary The Punk Syndrome (I prefer the Finnish title—Kovasikajuttu—it sounds so much more mysterious to my Western ears), a quartet of learning disabled individuals have its issues… legitimate issues. They are considered handicapped, though we in the Ever-Present Need to Categorize and Label Everyone States of America would instantly recognize and call out such issues as Autism, Aspergers, and Downs. They have been making music since 2009, and use the medium as an unique window into their world as well as a way to complain about the preconceptions over who they are and the battles they must fight every single day. One of the better moments comes when the band members muse on how they are not allowed coffee (apparently, this is a big thing in Scandinavia) because of their condition. Formally, guitarist Pertti Kurikka writes most of the music and some of the lyrics. He shares the latter chore with vocalist Kari Aalto. Add in bassist Sami Helle and drummer Toni Välitalo and you’ve got the Nordic version of Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy/Marky. They’ve released a few singles, an EP, and an album, and when they can, they tour and play live. Bill Gibron

 


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Phantasm II (Blu-ray)

Director: Don Coscarelli
Cast: James LeGros, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, Paula Irvine, Samantha Phillips

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Phantasm II
Shout! Factory

In spite of the Roman numeral, Phantasm II is one of the best movies that emerged during that glorious age of cinematic gore, the ‘80s. Phantasm II‘s ‘healthy doses’ of creepy monsters, gruesome killings, nightmarish images, spooky locations, and flaying silver balls make it an undisputed classic of the horror genre. Phantasm II is a direct sequel to Phantasm, the cult classic from 1979. That is, Phantasm II starts right where Phantasm left off. Not that this matters much, as these flicks are characterized by their uttermost dreamlike quality were logic completely breaks down into tiny pieces. Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to tell what is real, what is a dream, and what is in the imagination of the characters that populate these bizarre films. Marco Lanzagorta

 


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Scandal: The Complete Second Season

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Scandal: The Complete Second Season
Buena Vista

In its ridiculously entertaining second season, Scandal comes into its own as one of television’s great thrill rides. The stellar second season of ABC’s Scandal unfolds – and refolds in on itself, and twists and turns and retwists itself into ever greater, thornier knots; and zigs and zags, and jerks and jukes; and wends and weaves wildly through all its narrative and emotional traffic. Then, after almost plowing into a brick wall going 150 mph—it stops on a dime. Then it immediately shoots off into an unseen tangent aimed straight at another brick wall, then smashes through that brick wall! Then, it builds up again only to plow right back through the brick wall in reverse. Shake and stir, rinse and lather, and repeat repeat repeat (all this sometimes in one episode). If it isn’t quite reaching for the artistic and cinematic brass ring of the great prestige dramas over on cable, it’s because it simply doesn’t care and doesn’t have time. Scandal is going for something maybe even greater, a totality and completeness, a singularity of TV qua TV, that is almost nonexistent in today’s fragmented television landscape—and we would be fools to think it won’t achieve this. Jake Meaney

 


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Halloween: 35th Anniversary Collector’s Edition

Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis

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Halloween: 35th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
Anchor Bay

The unstoppable and vaguely supernatural killer. The knife and the teenage babysitter in danger. The “final girl” who fights the monster to the death… but then we learn the monster isn’t actually dead. All these elements are familiar to movie audiences and have been for almost 40 years. But they wouldn’t be if not for John Carpenter’s Halloween, the independent film that started the golden age of the slasher. The 35th anniversary edition Blu-ray of Halloween gives us a gorgeous transfer of the terrifying experience. If you have only seen DVD prints or the earlier Blu-ray version, you’ll be delighted with this newest transfer. The film’s original cinematographer, Dean Cundey, oversaw this new HD release with new TrueHD 7.1 audio. It looks and sounds fantastic. The most notable new special feature is an all-new commentary track with Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. Although Carpenter goes over some of the same ground you’ve heard before (especially about the origins of the idea of Michael Myers as the Shape), the interaction between the director and his star has the charm of old friends talking. W. Scott Poole

 


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Rocko’s Modern Life: The Complete Series

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Rocko’s Modern Life: The Complete Series
Shout! Factory

It took 17 years, but the best cartoon ever to air on Nickelodeon has finally arrived on DVD. Oh, I know, I know. You can have your Rugrats and your Dougs. For me, Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt will always be the best part of childhood television. From the catchy opening jingle to the protagonist’s triangle-laden polo, Rocko’s Modern Life was a remarkably funny, decade-defining cartoon, and it’s finally, FINALLY available in all its glory. The complete series set features all four seasons, made up of 52 episodes and quite a few fun extras. Series creator Joe Murray provides a commentary track and an instructional video on how to draw all your favorite characters. Also included is the live version of Rocko’s Modern Life performed in 2012 with the main cast and creator. It’s not as deep as some of us old fans would prefer, but the episodes themselves are reward enough after all these years. Ben Travers

 


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Superjail: Season 3

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Superjail: Season 3
Williams Street

Superjail couldn’t be more insular in its self-contained craziness. It plays by its own unique rules which it constantly makes up on the fly only to discard them minutes later for more regulations that will end up meaning very little narratively or rationally. One second, an entire wing of the jail can be wiped out by gargoyles with the heads of Santa Claus. The next, The Warden is walking amongst the very same faces, handing out funny hats and dinosaur donuts. In almost each episode, there is an overriding theme, but these are merely holdovers for the often stunning setpieces featuring death, slaughter, and gallons of red inked arterial spray. Bill Gibron

28 - 22

 


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Schindler’s List: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition (Blu-ray)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz

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Schindler’s List: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition
Universal

A mostly black-and-white film about such a dreary subject was certainly not guaranteed to be a box office hit, but Spielberg and screenwriter Steven Zaillian had an intriguing character at the center of the story. Oskar Schindler was a Nazi Party member interested only in making as much money off the war as he could before heading for less-stressful surroundings, and early in the film we see him enlisting the help of Itzhak Stern purely for that effort. Like the other Germans, he is only interested in getting out of the Jewish community whatever he can, while he can. The film occupies the Blu-ray disc by itself and has never looked nor sounded better. The two accompanying DVDs contain a standard-definition version of the movie along with an introduction to the USC Shoah Foundation Story by Spielberg and About IWitness, a new piece that discusses an online application for schools to use when teaching students about the Holocaust. The second DVD also contains the 77-minute Voices From the List. It features interviews with Holocaust survivors and their descendants and is a worthwhile supplement to the film. Brad Cook

 


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Veep: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

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Veep: The Complete First Season
HBO

In a country that is all about being Number 1, Veep takes us into the world of the most famous Number 2, the Vice President of the United States of America. We meet VP Selina Meyer, and learn that the woman who is one heartbeat away from being the most powerful person on the planet actually has very little power in the Washington machine. Her time is spent trying to keep herself relevant, while recovering from mistakes she and her staff continually make. HBO offers a nice package with its Veep: The Complete First Season release. The show does take time to build, but by the later episodes, the investment is worthwhile as viewers are pulled in to the action and characters’ development. The bonus features complement nicely, providing additional laughs as well as useful background information. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it should be required viewing for all students of American government, it does provide us with a less glamorous but probably more brutally honest look at the machinations of politics and the lack of control the people who control the country actually have. Christine Brandel

 


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Boy (Blu-ray)

Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Taika Waititi, James Rolleston

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Boy
Kino Lorber

Did you like Eagle vs. Shark? I sure didn’t. Still, this follow-up from said film’s co-writer/director Taika Waititi (also responsible for episodes of Flight of the Conchords) is a decided improvement, if still locked into some of the more questionable creative motives of that previously mentioned movie. For one thing, the filmmaker is also featured as one of our leads, the long lost father of our impressionable title character, and he does a great job of playing failed hero worship. He’s everything his myth suggests, and significantly less. Indeed, Waititi is a lot better at holding the center of a film than his Conchords cohort Jemaine Clement. He understands the charm of addled eccentricity and parlays his performance into something close to endearing. More significantly, he’s grown as a filmmaker. He recognizes that, unless he is aiming for his own obtuse idiosyncrasy akin to Napoleon Dynamite, he has to ground his movie in some manner of reality. In his title character, he does just that, and the back and forth between truth and the unconventional is excellent. Bill Gibron

 


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The Big City: The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: Satyajit Ray
Cast: Madhabi Mukherjee, Anil Chatterjee, Jaya Bhaduri

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The Big City
The Criterion Collection

Considering its subtle attacks on the Indian patriarchy and its focus on a married woman coming into her own, The Big City was/is considered controversial. It was post-Apu Satyajit Ray at his most overtly political. While many of his films used the situation in the country as a means of making valid social commentary points, The Big City actually came out and challenged established morays. This is a film where a young wife, more than happy to care for her family and deal with her dithering in-laws, finally succumbs to the massive financial pressures in her life and takes a job. The freedom that accompanies this decision, as well as the lessons learned from her more “liberated” friend Edith, function in two ways. Bill Gibron

 


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Monsieur Verdoux: The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Mady Correll, Allison Roddan, Robert Lewis, Audrey Betz

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Monsieur Verdoux
The Criterion Collection

Monsieur Verdoux was made by Charlie Chaplin amidst a slew of personal and political problems. America, the country that had fostered and adored him, was turning against him. The Communist scare that would reach full-blown paranoia throughout the ‘50s was in its fierce infancy, and Chaplin, already suspect due to his clear humanist tendencies, was an easy target. Plus, he had recently been taken to court on an overblown paternity suit, which he had settled despite probable proof the child was not his. A Communist and a despoiler? Political paranoia coupled with pseudo-social prudery, and the deal was sealed. Yet rather than roll over and solicit public or official favor, Chaplin reared up on his artistic haunches, drew from his deepest darkest reserves, and attacked. Not in a vulgar, ostentatious manner (never Chaplin!) or even as an overt strike on a person or a political system, as he had with the lethal The Great Dictator, but through a simple but pointed application of his most powerful asset, his artistic refinement and authority. Guy Crucianelli

 


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The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition

Director: William Friedkin

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The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition
Warner Bros.

The Exorcist has been released and re-released over the past 40 years in two different versions so many times that, by now, everyone who ever wanted to has seen The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen. Why continue to release this movie and why do people keep buying every edition over and over again? Because after 40 years, The Exorcist is not only one of the most frightening films ever made, but it’s also one of the best films ever made. Under the skilled direction of William Friedkin (brought on board after the success of his film, The French Connection), the film became not only a box office success, but also a critically acclaimed feature film. The Blu-Ray transfer here is pretty much excellent and makes Dick Smith’s makeup design look all the more incredible. This three-disc 40th Anniversary Blu-ray edition’s bonus features are nothing short of excellent. Both the original theatrical release of the film and the 2000 director’s cut (formerly known as “The Version You’ve Never Seen”). Each disc features at least one commentary track, documentaries, interviews, promotional materials (such as trailers, radio and TV spots) as well as alternate scenes. The third disc focuses only on special features such as the two new documentaries, Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist and Talk of the Devil that explores Father Eugene Gallagher‘s telling of true stories of possession to author William Peter Blatty. The package also contains a 40-page hardcover book (the size of a Blu-ray) that presents the Exorcist-centric parts of Friedkin’s memoir The Friedkin Connection. J.C. Macek III

21 - 15

 


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Rockshow

Cast: Paul McCartney & Wings

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Rockshow: Paul McCartney & Wings
Eagle Rock Entertainment

Most Paul McCartney fans have been waiting a long time to see Rockshow. Many fans were not alive when Rockshow premiered in theaters in 1980. Furthermore, those few who were able to snag a copy of the 1982 laserdisc release were subject to grainy picture quality, and sub-par sound. This version also formed the basis for the numerous bootlegs floating about the internet in recent years. The most recent release on DVD and blu-ray is, naturally, a marked improvement over the old laserdisc edition, with crystal clear picture quality, and a stellar 5.1 digital surround sound mix. To see McCartney perform in 1976 was to see him at his best. Since the Beatles had ceased touring a decade earlier, McCartney had only made sporadic live appearances, though you wouldn’t know it by watching Rockshow: the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is obviously well-rehearsed and in top-form, and accompanied by a more-than-capable supporting group composed of drummer Joe English, rhythm guitarist (and Moody Blues alumnus) Denny Laine, lead guitarist Jimmy McCullogh, keyboardist Linda McCartney, as well as a four-man brass and woodwinds section. Zachary Stockill

 


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Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Third Season

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Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Third Season
HBO

After a second season that can only be described as disappointing, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire sprang back to life. Yes, a bad season or episode for this show is still pretty good, but the 2011 version was a little self-conscious, a little heavy on the Oedipal stuff, and just a notch down from the Boardwalk‘s impressive debut. (But, hey, is the Eiffel Tower as breathtaking the second time around? OK. Never mind.) With Jimmy Darmody gone, Nelson Van Alden living under an assumed name and Eli Thompson out of prison, there’s plenty of action to be had. This time out we meet a handful of new characters, including Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), Billie Kent (Meg Steedle), Dean O’ Banion (Aaron Shiver) and Gaston Means (Stephen Root). Each season it seems needs an ephemeral showgirl for Nucky (Steve Buscemi) to bed and in this case it’s Billie Kent who becomes the object of his obsession. Though, in truth, he’s also obsessed with maintaining his power and early on he and Rosetti clash, leading to a series of events that are violent, depraved and, yes, sometimes even funny. Extras on this five-DVD set include audio commentaries with Steve Buscemi, Gretchen Mol, Bobby Cannavale, and others, a look at the season with Executive Producer Martin Scorsese, directors Tim Van Patten and Allen Coulter breaking down various scenes from the season and a look back at season two. Jedd Beaudoin

 


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The Vincent Price Collection

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The Vincent Price Collection
Shout! Factory

Much like The Abominable Dr. Phibes, The Vincent Price Collection leaves the audience wanting more, perhaps in the form of more entries into the potential series of discs. Shout! Factory has proven to be excellent at finding and collecting bonus features from around the world, from multiple eras. The films themselves and their impact, as well as the bonus features that give great focus and revelation to the star of this package make the whole thing worth enjoying. That said, fans who are forking over their hard-earned $80 for this package can be forgiven for wanting a bit more perfection in the film transfers. The best features on this disc, that rival the entire collection, are the interviews. Price’s daughter Victoria Price gives a great insider view of the man himself and talks about who he was as a father and what it was like to grow up with a master of terror for a parent. The 1987 interview entitled Vincent Price: The Sinister Image was conducted by David Del Valle and goes into great depth with Price about much of his career (with a slight refocus on his horror films). This hour-long interview with Price is worth every second of the time it takes to watch and gives us a real look at this classic actor in his own words. His remembrances of co-stars like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and so many others and his in-depth behind-the-scenes stories of the making of so many of his biggest films are enchanting and often feel like a favorite uncle regaling the audience with cool stories that never get boring. Del Valle also writes a 24-page book for this package with deep knowledge of the films and several pages of glossy promotional materials for these movies. J.C. Macek

 


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Things to Come (Blu-ray)

Director: William Cameron Menzies

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Things to Come
The Criterion Edition

Things to Come is one hell of a movie, an ambitious, audacious polemic that strives to pack all of humanity’s future history into 96 minutes. Penned by H.G. Wells (based upon his book The Shape of Things to Come), it’s not a conventional story as we are accustomed to, but it’s a good representation of the books Wells was producing later in life, works he called “future history”. Unsurprisingly, the Criterion Collection has done a masterful job with this release. The picture is gorgeous and the sound as clear as can be expected, with Bliss’s score sounding vibrant and impressively dynamic. There is a commentary by film historian David Kalat, which is useful in placing this film in context, and an interview with Christopher Frayling focusing on the movie’s visual look. Other features include an audio recording of HG Wells reading an extract from his book (be prepared for an unexpectedly reedy voice) and a “visual essay” about Bliss’s score. Moreover, there is four minutes of unused, previously unseen special effects footage created by artist Lazlo Maholy-Nagy that was removed from the final cut of the movie (originally much longer, the film was edited several times before and after release); these images are strikingly abstract. Finally, O’Brien’s essay is included in a substantial, 24-page booklet filled with photos and production notes. David Maine

 


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A Token of His Extreme

Cast: Frank Zappa

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Frank Zappa: A Token of His Extreme
Eagle Vision

Never before available for commercial release A Token of His Extreme isn’t the Holy Grail Frank Zappa release, but it’s one of them. In August 1974, Zappa and the Mothers of Invention could do no wrong. The maestro had assembled arguably the best lineup of the group since he first disbanded the group in 1969. He’d retire the name entirely in 1975 after Bongo Fury, his final collaboration with Captain Beefheart. For the rest of his career as a live performer he’d move through a series of lineups that offered varying degrees of awesomeness but few could match the unit he’d brought together for this recording on 27 August at KCET in Hollywood. This is the same lineup featured on 1988’s You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore Vol. 2: The Helsinki Concert and more or less the same one found on Roxy and Elsewhere, most of which was recorded in late 1973 and released just a few weeks after this show took place. These were players—bassist Tom Fowler, percussionist Ruth Underwood, keyboardist George Duke, drummer Chester Thompson and vocalist/saxophonist Napoleon Murphy Brock—who had an incomparable musical rapport and their tenure with FZ has probably been under-documented in the wide Zappa oeuvre. Jedd Beaudoin

 


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The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Complete Series (Blu-ray)

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The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Complete Series
Image Entertainment

The Dick Van Dyke Show certainly was, if not the first modern sitcom, at least the proper lead-in to the modern sitcom. Its seamless duality as neither a workplace-only sitcom nor a family-centered sitcom layered the show in a way that modern shows have emulated and carried forward. Instead of watching a father and his briefcase come home from a mysterious unseen job, like on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet or Leave It to Beaver, the series admirably devoted equal time to the main character’s workplace and family life, which was unheard of during that era, yet the storytelling in both settings remained remarkably strong. The gag writing scenes at work were especially rambunctious with each actor hamming it up; meanwhile, the droll scenes at home were especially relatable. Though humor was almost always present, the Petries even showed that it was possible to argue about virtually anything that happened under their roof. Jeremiah Massengale

 


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Shoah: The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: Claude Lanzmann
Cast: Various

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Shoah
The Criterion Collection

Much of the first half of Shoah is shot in places that no longer resemble death camps. Instead of the concrete bunkers and shacks that one might expect, there is simply nothing. At some sites, huge stone monoliths engraved with the names of Jewish communities exterminated during the Holocaust are the only reminder of what happened at those places. Despite these reminders, the visuals of the film are still very much idyllic. It’s a striking contrast to the words spoken by witnesses who were at the death camps or lived in the communities where the camps were located. That only the memory of these grizzly places still exists is the perfect illustration of Karl Marx’s sentiment that, in modernity, “all that is solid melts into air”. Made up entirely of footage shot by Lanzmann, the film is a powerful reminder of events and places that the Nazis intended history to forget. Dorothy Burk

14 - 8

 


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The Best of Warner Brothers 20 Film Collection: Thrillers

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The Best of Warner Brothers 20 Film Collection: Thrillers
Warner

While it might make for easier historical systemization to claim of the big ol’ Hollywood studios, “RKO did this kind of film, MGM did that kind…”, in truth each studio made different kinds of films to different degrees. One such studio, Warner Brothers, is celebrating its 90th anniversary with year-long releases attesting to the scope of its own output. The Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collections include Best Pictures, Musicals, Comedies and this Thrillers set. As the term “thriller” encompasses quite a bit, the 20 film collection narrows it down to sub-categories: Thrills and Chases (1931-1980) and Chills and Capers (1993-2010). The collection itself achieves a kind of rounding out with this question. Having commenced with James Cagney’s Public Enemy expressing his choice by slamming a fruit into his moll’s face, it ends with The Town’s Ben Affleck balancing a more selfless yet dangerous attitude. It’s nice to know that 90 years has brought some kind of change. Guy Crucianelli

 


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The Bruce Lee Legacy Collection

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The Bruce Lee Legacy Collection
Shout! Factory

The Bruce Lee Legacy Collection is a Bruce Lee fan’s dream come true for a boxed set. Let’s look at the packaging to begin with. This is no standard “boxed set” offering with discs on the clamshell packed into a thin cardboard sleeve. Rather, this collection is, in itself, a commemorative Bruce Lee book with the first six (double sided) pages holding the 11 discs and the following 64 pages covering highlights from Lee’s career in full color, glossy pages. The book portion reaches back to the 1966 – 67 TV show The Green Hornet, on which he played Kato, and proceeds film by film (a chapter on each) through Game of Death with detailed articles and beautiful representations of posters and promotional art. Even without the videos on the discs themselves, this makes for a mighty fine coffee table volume and tribute to the world’s most famous martial artist. What warrants 11 (well, really, seven) discs worth of material are the incredibly thorough extras here. While Warner’s Enter the Dragon disc is mostly comprised of previously released bonus features, Legacy shows Shout! Factory at their most thorough, sparing no expense to gather old and new extras to pack every single disc to the very excesses of their capacities. In fact, each individual disc outdoes most recent Shout! Factory releases by that proverbial country mile in the extras category alone. J.C. Macek III

 


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City Lights: The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: Charles Chaplin

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City Lights
The Criterion Collection

The final moments of City Lights are a beautiful impossibility. Impossible not simply in how the scene works, but that it works at all. Describe it to someone who hasn’t experienced those last few minutes and it sounds like sentimental nonsense. A fey tramp, a blind flower girl. A literal description comes across as a badly conceived metaphor in a not-very-good love letter. And yet, its one of the most important moments in cinematic history. Charlie Chaplin’s greatest moments are always like this. He created beauty through understatement. This low-key and eccentric humor emerged in part from the fact that he tied his comedy to the least funny elements of modern life. His films managed not only to whistle past graveyards but also to pantomime past the soulless dead zones of factories, class oppression, and even the horrors of fascism. The new Criterion Blu-ray release of his classic, City Lights, not only reminds us of this, it celebrates the power and simplicity of his work. The supplementary materials make it clear that, as we’ve always known, Chaplin represents the archetypal auteur. They also remind us that he had a lot of help. W. Scott Poole

 


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The Up Series: Special 7 Disc Collection

Director: Michael Apted
Cast: Various

11

The Up Series
First Run Features

After the popularity of the first television film, Michael Apted became the series producer and director who filmed the original 14 children at seven year intervals to follow their developments. He states in the DVD commentary, “Class is still the spine of the film, but its power is elsewhere.” He locates this “elsewhere” in the series’ humanistic approach through the emotional identification generated by following the personal, professional, and familial developments of the films’ participants. Although Apted says the series has been critiqued for not offering enough societal and historical background to situate its people’s lives, he asserts that the political periodically manifests itself through their individual stories. Chris Robe

 


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Clint Eastwood: 20 Film Collection

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Clint Eastwood: 20 Film Collection
Warner

As a man of his time and place, Clint Eastwood has fit right into narratives about war and peace, political corruption, familial collapse, sin and redemption, and life and death. He’s aged through cycles of individual and national histories and reflected successive versions of them on screen. Six decades of American history have been the backdrop and provided subtext for his starring roles. And as a director and producer, his chosen themes and dramatic situations have exceeded immediate circumstances, often creating timeless, universal tales of conflict between humanity and inhumanity. The latest collection of his work is Clint Eastwood: 20 Film Collection on Blu-ray from Warner Home Video. Releases around Father’s Day, this set offers a version of American masculinity that honors the strong, straight-faced man of few words widely recognized as Eastwood’s onscreen persona. But even more apparent than the treatment of his developing persona is the set’s attention to the core themes of his filmography. Viewed in order, these 20 films are a journey through the social and political conditions of America and a broader history of human violence that crowns no winners and knows no end. Thomas Britt

 


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Treme: Season 3

9

Treme: Season 3
HBO

Like The Wire, the series previously master-minded by David Simon, Treme is layered, “novelistic” television. Unlike its predecessor, Treme avoids genre storytelling. It is not, essentially, about cops and drug dealers or about the kinds of good guys and bad guys that cop shows and noir novels have made the public comfortable with. Treme takes a less obvious, yet deeply meaningful path toward its audience’s heart. The most compelling protagonist is a trombone player who fails at leading a band and becomes a high school music teacher. He’s not Tony Soprano or even Stringer Bell. He doesn’t even own a car. Treme is the most kaleidoscopic show being produced these days. It forces viewers to connect the dots. Its artistry in the arc of the episodes demonstrates gorgeous design throughout the season. But this show has a tone and sensibility that is absolutely singular and clear. There is a beautiful ache to Treme, a yearning that comes from the music and dreams of the characters. It feels like nothing else on television. The DVD box set contains all the usual extras: commentaries mainly, and particularly about the music. These days, those may be the best reasons to buy boxed sets, what with so much video available on demand for less money. But Treme feels like a show you might just want to “own”, if that concept still has any meaning. Maybe it’s not for binge-watching so much as for savoring . Will Layman

 


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The Life of Oharu: The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Kinuyo Tanaka

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The Life of Oharu
The Criterion Collection

Criterion’s release of The Life of Oharu includes a short documentary, “The Travels of Kinuyo Tanaka,” about a goodwill tour that Oharu’s lead actress took to Hawaii and California in late 1949. It’s composed of archival film footage and photographs documenting her trip that mixes the brisk pace of a newsreel with the haunted air that old home footage often emits. Tanaka was a major movie star and serious actress, dubbed the “Bette Davis of Japan,” and the trip was meant to help heal war wounds and show her socializing with Hollywood stars. For that very reason Tanaka was treated harshly upon her return by a Japan still angry over the war and US occupation. The reception reportedly had a serious effect on her psyche. Michael Buening

7 - 1

 


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On the Waterfront: The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: Elia Kazan
Cast: Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden

7

On the Waterfront
The Criterion Collection

When it comes to reissues of DVDs or even upgrades to Blu-ray, the new edition really has to prove itself worthy. Of course, there are no worries whenever the Criterion Collection is involved. So when news came down they were releasing what PopMatters critic Jose Solis called “one of the most revolutionary films of the ‘50s”, the Marlon Brando-starring classic On the Waterfront last February, it was greeted with nothing but excitement. Of course, it was well deserved. The spectacular Blu-ray release features the film in three different aspect ratios (three), an hour long documentary on director Elia Kazan, multiple essays, and a brilliant 4K restoration of the film itself. And, as is customary with Criterion releases, there are simply too many extras to list here. Be excited. Ben Travers

 


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Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Three (Blu-ray)

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Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Three
Paramount

Season three of Star Trek: The Next Generation contains perhaps the best known story arc in the series: the encounter between the Enterprise and the all-consuming techno-imperialist enemy the Borg. The Borg represents an enemy that threatens not only the destruction of human civilization, but also its complete ingestion. It also gives season three one of the best cliffhangers in the history of American television. The Borg are really the perfect villains of the Star Trek universe. The Klingons of the classic series are simple warmongers, interested in political and military expansion growing out of their sense of imperial hubris and tribal notion of honor and warfare. The six discs that make up Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 3 include a wealth of special features that explore the next gen mythos. An overview of season three explores the direction taken by the third season with a special emphasis on the famous return of Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) for the rift in time episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise”. Other special features include Seth McFarlane moderating a behind-the scenes discussion with the writer’s room. Sitting down with the group on the 46h anniversary of the first series, it’s a free-ranging conversation that explores how a series that seemed like it was in a death spiral got its nose up and became groundbreaking TV. W. Scott Poole

 


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Naked City: The Complete Series

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Naked City: The Complete Series
ABC

In Naked City there are rarely clear instances of heroism or cowardice. Guilt and innocence are always subjective, and early impressions are more often than not reversed by the final reel. Needless to say, this is a surprising thing to find in a ‘50s crime drama. The DVD set is impressive, with an excellently restored picture, and sound about as sharp as can be expected for such dated material. There are virtually no jitters or jumps, a testament to the hard work that went into this show’s restoration. There are disappointingly few extras, just an array of television commercials from the era. No matter, though: the series stands on its own.

Given that crime dramas never seem to go out of style, and that cop shows set in New York have been a staple of television since the medium came into widespread popularity, it’s impressive that the myriad tales of Naked City continue to startle and engage as much as they do. Viewers familiar with Blue Bloods, NYPD Blue and CSI: NY would do well to take a look at this series. In some ways it’s the ancestor of all the rest. In some other important ways, and despite its limitations, it continues to appear gleefully unorthodox. David Maine

 


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Prime Suspect: The Complete Series (Blu-ray)

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Prime Suspect: The Complete Series
Acorn

The first five Prime Suspect series were shot consecutively and each allowed Helen Mirren to find new layers in her character. It might sound blasphemous to suggest that Mirren’s television work is much more impressive than anything she’s done on the big screen, but this has a lot to do with the way in which she’s not overtly sexualized or turned into a holy cow. Her approach to Tennison’s behavior is efficient and natural, while her movies have always highlighted her impressive technique. Tennison feels like a completely lived-in woman, Mirren’s voice even adjusting to her volatile but mostly serene character. Watching Tennison quietly demand something from her staff is more intimidating than watching some of her recent cinematic performances which turn her into a screaming diva.

Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection was released by Acorn Media in a luxurious Blu-ray set containing all the series. Despite their age and the lack of visual splendor in the aesthetics, it’s extremely pleasant to watch the show as its creators intended it to be seen. Bonus features are limited to a few making-of specials and are mostly dedicated to the newer series. While it unarguably would’ve been a delight to see Mirren talk about the character throughout the years (but who could’ve predicted where home media would go?), bonus features aren’t exactly necessary in a boxset whose major flaw is that you’ll want to sit through the entire thing all at once. Prime Suspect is television at its finest. Jose Solis

 


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3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Featuring Ingrid Bergman: The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: Roberto Rossellini
Cast: Ingrid Bergman

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3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Featuring Ingrid Bergman
The Criterion Collection

In 1948 Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman wrote a heartfelt letter to Italian director Roberto Rossellini in which she basically asked him to rescue her from mediocrity. Bored with a career that seemed to be going nowhere, she offered her services to the director of Rome, Open City who in return fired his then-lover Anna Magnani and cast Bergman in Stromboli where she played the wife of a brutish fisherman. During the shoot, Bergman and Rossellini fell in love leading her to leave her husband to have the director’s child. Following a scandalous divorce she was practically banned from returning to conservative Hollywood (her immorality was even discussed in Congress) and forced to work exclusively in Europe with her new husband.

They would go on to collaborate in five motion pictures, three of which are contained in this gem of a set put together by the Criterion Collection. In Europa ‘51, Bergman is turned into a saint, while Voyage to Italy has her play the heartbroken woman who realizes her marriage might not be salvageable. Rossellini shot her in a way no one else had ever done before, and while their marriage ended unhappily, their work together had them as co-creators who explored the subjects of cultural re-appropriation, forced displacement and the effects of war in human relationships in a way no one else was doing anywhere in the world. Jose Solis

 


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John Cassavetes: Five Films: The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: John Cassevetes
Cast: John Marley, Gena Rowlands, Lynn Carlin, Seymour Cassel, John Cassavetes

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John Cassevetes: Five Films
The Criterion Collection

The John Cassavetes: Five Films collection, newly released on Blu-ray by Criterion, showcases the filmmaker Cassavetes at his most intense, searching and experimental. His aesthetic, both in front of and behind the camera, was less Method immersion than mad (as in gleeful) exploration, skirting the emotional edge without tripping into or wallowing in cathartic excess. That said, the films are tough, and oftentimes tough to watch. The transfers of these originally intentionally gritty films are outstanding, while the extras for the collection are beyond copious: Alternate and restored versions, actors workshop footage, a French television special devoted entirely to Cassavetes, audio commentaries, documentaries (including the important A Constant Forge), as well as filmed interviews with Cassavetes himself, and the actors, technicians and friends who worked with and loved him best; and a dense 60-plus page booklet filled with interviews and essays by the likes of critics Gary Giddins, Stuart Klawans, Kent Jones and Phillip Lopate, novelist Jonathan Lethem, and self-professed Cassavetes student Martin Scorsese. This collection is essential not only for Cassavetes fans, or cinema fans in general, but anyone interested in experiencing the work of a true maverick, rather than just someone claiming to be one. Guy Crucianelli

 


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Nosferatu: Kino Classics 2-Disc Deluxe Remastered Edition

Director: F.W. Murnau
Cast: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim,Greta Schröder

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Nosferatu
Kino Lorber

Few characters in cinema have proved as indomitably influential as Max Schreck’s Count Orlok in F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. Even those who think they haven’t seen Murnau’s iconic horror ur-text actually have only secondarily. They have experienced it in homages and parodies, seen its influence on every successive horror film that has made use of the pioneering techniques of German Expressionism, been terrified by the image of a slinking shadow climbing across a wall. Lorber’s comprehensive overhaul left no stone unturned. The print is vibrant and pristinely restored, as is the accompanying soundtrack. The release also features some of the best special features of any disk this year. Not only is there an expansive hour-long documentary on Murnau and the making of the film, but there is a rare collection of Murnau’s short films and excerpts from all his others as well. He would go on to make Tabu, Greed, and Faust, all well-regarded, canonical titles in their own right. But you need look no further than his Nosferatu to see how Murnau influenced countless films, filmmakers, and storytellers. John Oursler

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/177566-the-best-dvds-and-blu-rays-of-2013/