‘Woodstock: 40th Anniversary,’ ‘Gran Torino’ top new Blu-ray titles

[9 June 2009]

By Doug Nye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

A documentary classic, “Woodstock: 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition” (Warner, 1970, $69.99),” and an absorbing Clint Eastwood film, “Gran Torino” (Warner, 2009, $34.99), lead this week’s new Blu-ray releases.

Forty summers ago, more than 400,000 people and dozens of musicians gathered at a dairy farm in the rural town of Bethel, N.Y., for what was called the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. The rain-soaked event and its images have become iconic symbols of the 1960s generation. Producer Bob Maurice and director Michael Wadleigh were there with a film crew to vividly record it all.

You don’t have to be an aging flower child to appreciate the director’s cut of “Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music.” It quite simply is a great piece of filmmaking and editing and gives viewers a real sense of what it was like to be there. Then there’s the music, with such performers as The Who, Arlo Guthrie, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Sly & the Family Stone, Sha-Na-Na, Cosby, Stills and Nash and many more. While the camera zooms in on the artists, it also records the people who came by foot, car and truck to experience the happening.

This boxed collection includes 18 previously unseen performances as part of more than three hours of bonus footage, a 60-page commemorative Life magazine reprint, an iron-on Woodstock patch, reproductions of festival memorabilia and a new retrospective “The Museum at Bethel Woods: The Story of the Sixties & Woodstock.”

What the “Woodstock” set gives us is a slice of history and a look at the bead-wearing, pot-smoking, free-loving generation that thought it could change the world. Like the young generations of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, they grew up and had to face reality. But at least for three days during the summer of ‘69, they were able to continue to dream and enjoy being young. For them, “Woodstock” will be wondrous nostalgia trip. Highly recommended.

“Gran Torino” excellently showcases both Clint Eastwood the actor and the director at their best. Eastwood, now 78, plays Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran and widower who lives alone in a neighborhood he has seen go through numerous changes. He isn’t very happy about those changes, which include numerous immigrant families moving into the area.

Kowalski’s idea of an enjoyable day is being alone and sipping on a few beers with his dog Daisy by his side. He also has a lot of hate, especially for his next-door neighbors, who are Hmongs. He doesn’t care for the Latinos and African-Americans who live around him, either. One night, a disturbance brings Kowalski out of his house. A gang is trying to get his shy teenaged neighbor Theo (Bee Vang) to steal Walt’s Grand Torino.

With rifle in hand, Kowalski tells them to get off his lawn. Theo’s family sees Walt as a hero and brings him gifts. Gradually, Kowlaksi begins to change his attitude about his neighbors and becomes involved in the lives of Theo and his sister Sue (Ahney Her). Eastwood does a terrific job of pulling off the transformation from bigot to someone who cares. In the end, Kowalski demonstrates just how much he cares. You’ll also learn much about the Hmong culture. Highly recommended.

Other Blu-ray titles:

“Fatal Attraction” (Paramount, 1987, $39.99): This movie probably scared the daylights out of half the male population in America in 1987. Michael Douglas plays Dan Gallagher, a happily married New York attorney with a loving wife (Anne Archer) and a 6-year-old daughter. Then he meets Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) and invites her to have dinner while his family is away. That leads to a night of passion. Gallagher sees it as a one-night stand and thinks it’s over, but Close does not. She hounds Gallagher and his family seemingly everywhere. A real horror film because it could actually happen.

“Indecent Proposal” (Paramount, 1993, $39.99): Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson play Diana and David Murphy, a happily married couple who are having difficult financial times. The two borrow money from his dad and head to Las Vegas, where they hope to win a bundle. Instead, they lose it all. Billionaire John Gage (Robert Redford) could be the answer to their problems, but there is a big catch. He’ll give them $1 million if they agree to let Gage spend a night with Diana.

“Predator 2” (20th Century Fox, 1990): The vicious alien hunter is back to roam the earth and leave a trail of dead bodies everywhere he goes. Danny Glover plays a cop who is bent on tracking down the unwanted visitor and blowing him away. Entertaining but not nearly as effective as the original 1987 effort.

“The Siege” (20th Century Fox, 1998, $29.99): It’s kind of unsettling to watch this film when you realize it was released three years before 9-11. After an Islamic religious leader is abducted by the U.S., a wave of terrorist attacks sweeps across New York City. It becomes so bad that martial law is declared. The film also touches on prejudices against Arab-Americans. Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis, Annette Bening and Tony Shalhoub star.

“The International” (Sony, 2009, $39.95): Clive Owens plays Interpol agent Louis Salinger, who is determined to expose those responsible for acts of terrorism around the world. Naomi Watts is the Manhattan assistant district attorney who lends him a hand. What they uncover is even more than they bargained for.

“Fired Up!” (Sony, 2009, $39.95): Another teenage comedy with plenty of crude humor. This one is about football players who want to spend the summer surrounded by beautiful girls at a cheerleading camp.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/94762-woodstock-40th-anniversary-gran-torino-top-new-blu-ray-titles/