‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ vintage musicals lead Blu-ray parade

[30 March 2009]

By Doug Nye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

The Oscar-winning Best Picture “Slumdog Millionaire” (20th Century Fox, 2008, $39.99) and a trio of classic musicals top the list of movies arriving on the high-definition Blu-ray format this week.

“Slumdog Millionaire” is a one-of-a-kind love story told in a most unusual way courtesy of director Danny Doyle, who won one of the film’s six Oscars. The movie also piled up numerous other awards, including four Golden Globes and seven BAFTAs.

A young man named Jamal (Dev Patel) is hauled into a police station for questioning after winning big money on India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” This happens just as he is on the verge of going for the top prize. The police inspector (Irrfan Khan) is all but convinced that Jamal has been cheating his way to victories. How else could an uneducated boy who grew up in the filthy slums of Mumbai know the answers to such questions?

The police put on a video tape of Jamal’s appearance on the show and, going question by question, ask him to explain how he knew the answers. In a parade of flashback sequences, Jamal begins to explain how certain experiences in his life allowed him to gain such knowledge.

Those experiences, which begin when he is a young boy, are sometimes grim and sometimes exhilarating as he and his brother wander through cities and the countryside. They become little con artists and thieves, often on the run from police.

Along the way, Jamal meets a young girl named Latika (Freida Ponto) and, even though they become separated, he never forgets her. As he grows up, Jamal continues his search for Latika. His biggest challenge is to convince the police that he is telling the truth. Long after the film is over, many of its images linger in the mind. Highly recommened.

The musicals include:

“An American in Paris” (Warner, 1951, $28.99): This Best Picture Oscar winner is one of Hollywood’s most innovative musicals, thanks in no small part to its star Gene Kelly, who did the choreography. But he had plenty of help. The memorable musical score was provided by George and Ira Gershwin and Vincent Minnelli directed. Kelly plays an ex-G.I. who decided to stay in Paris after World War II and pursue his painting career. While there, he falls for dancer Leslie Caron. Among the great musical pieces are “‘S Wonderful,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You,” “Our Love is Here to Stay” and the climatic ballet. The Technicolor is absolutely gorgeous on Blu-ray. Presented in its original 1.33:1 (4x3) aspect ratio. Highly recommended.

“Gigi” (Warner, 1958, $28.99): Beautifully re-creating turn-of-the-20th century Paris, the delightful visual feast captured nine Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director for Vincent Minnelli. The songs were provided by the legendary team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. The terrific cast is headed by Maurice Chevalier, Leslie Caron (as Gigi), Louis Jourdan, Hermione Gingold, Eva Gabor and Isabel Jeans. This being Paris, the movie focuses on love and romance. Jourdan plays a rich playboy who is gradually captivated by teen Caron. Among the songs are “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore"and “Gigi.” A must on Blu-ray. Highly recommended.

“South Pacific” (20th Century Fox, 1958, $34.98): The film version of the smash hit Broadway musical from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II looks smashingly good on Blu-ray. The scenery is marvelous and the music sounds terrific. This edition contains the157-minute version that was shown in most theaters around the country as well as the 172-minute roadshow version, which had a limited release. The roadshow effort was restored and pieced together with the best elements available various sources. The result is that a number of scenes suffer poor color registration. Nevertheless, Fox is to be applauded for giving us the opportunity to study both versions. Rossano Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor, John Kerr, Ray Walston and France Nuyen head the cast. Among the songs are “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “Bali Ha’i,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Younger than Springtime” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy.” Highly recommended.

Other Blu-ray releases this week:

“Marley & Me” (20th Century Fox, 2008, $39.99): Based on the best-seller by John Grogan, this is a wonderfully entertaining movie with plenty of humorous moments and a lot of heart. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston star as journalists John and Jennifer Grogan, a newly married couple. Hoping to put off having a child for a while, John gives his wife a puppy called Marley (named after the legendary reggae singer Bob Marley). He is like most puppies - frisky and prone to chew on a variety of items. The only problem is Marley never outgrows his hyperactive ways. Eventually, the Grogans have three children, and Marley grows fond of each one. The film is not only a story about a dog but also about a family. This edition includes the Blu-Ray disc, a digital copy and a regular DVD version. Highly recommended.

“Tell No One” (MPI, 2006, $34.98): Pediatrician Alexandre Beck (Francois Cluzet) is still haunted by the brutal murder of his wife Margot (Marie-Josee Croze) eight years earlier. He was a suspect then and is again when the case is re-opened. Imagine Alex’s surprise when he receives a mysterious e-mail that hints that his wife is still alive. The Blu-ray includes a version featuring the original French soundtrack with English subtitles. Recommended.

“Pitch Black” (Universal, 2000, $29.98): Vin Diesel stars as Richard B. Riddick, a ruthless convict who, along with nine others, survives a crash on a distant planet where three suns shine. But every 22 years, the planet goes dark and strange creatures come out to feast. Although fearful of Riddick, the survivors find themselves needing him because of his ability to see in the dark.

“The Chronicles of Riddick” (Universal, 2004, $29.98): Vin Diesel is back as Riddick. In this one, he finds himself on another hostile planet where he takes on a group that is intent on doing away with all humans. The film is packed with special effects.

“Ghosts of Mars” (Sony, 2001, $28.95): In the year 2176 on the red planet, a group of policemen including Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) has been sent to track down the murderer Desolation Williams (Ice Cube). When Ballard returns alone, she tells the story of what happened to the other members if her group. It turns out that warrior ghosts from the Martian past caused them big problems. Directed by John Carpenter.

“The One” (Sony, 2001, $28.95): In this sci-fi film, we find out that there are 123 alternate universes out there. Jet Li plays Gabriel Yulaw, a former cop who has been imprisoned after killing another version of himself in one of those alternate universes. Yulaw escapes and sets out to hunt down the other122 copies of himself.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/72481-slumdog-millionaire-vintage-musicals-lead-blu-ray-parade/