The Best DVDs of 2011

DVD: Insidious (Blu-ray)

Film: Insidious

Director: James Wan

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Andrew Astor, Leigh Whannell

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Display Width: 200Insidious (Blu-ray)
Film District

James Wan’s Insidious delivers scares a plenty, but what’s remarkable about this film is its rich sonic texture — the eerie creak of a rocking horse in an empty room; the unnerving pop of a flash bulb during a séance; the metronomic tick of a grandfather clock (“the pulse of the film,” Wan says). Insidious is a tightly controlled masterpiece as Wan slowly turns the screw, building an atmosphere of almost unbearable dread. When the unseen eventually are seen, the film takes us into another realm, a surreal phantasmagoria of horror. John Grassi

 

DVD: Nurse Jackie: Season Two

TV Show: Nurse Jackie

Director: Paul Feig; Alan Taylor; Adam Bernstein

Cast: Edie Falco, Paul Schulze, Dominic Fumusa, Peter Facinelli, Merritt Wever, Eve Best

Release Date: 2011-02-22

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Nurse Jackie: Season Two
Lionsgate

The second season of Nurse Jackie opens with an idyllic image: Queens, New York resident Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) enjoying a day at the beach with her husband and two young daughters. The sun shines, the water sparkles, and Dionne Warwick’s squeaky-clean “I Say a Little Prayer” fills the air. This glossy snapshot of fulfilled womanhood and family bliss reveals Jackie for what she is: a loving spouse, a devoted mother, and a dedicated nurse at a Manhattan hospital. It also hides Jackie’s gritty interior and the other things she is: manipulator, liar, thief, drug addict, and unfaithful wife. This complexity, and Falco’s brilliant performance, create a fascinating, multi-layered character who is simultaneously unsavory and sympathetic. The second season of Nurse Jackie is even more gripping than the first, as Jackie’s layers are slowly peeled away and her past and present sins shadow her. Each episode is charged with tension and leads to a cliffhanger that causes a craving for the next installment. Although Jackie describes herself as “no prize”, this series certainly is. Lorraine Zago Rosenthal

 

DVD: Bridget Jones’s Diary [Blu-ray]

Director: Sharon Maguire

Cast: Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones

Release date: 2011-07-19

Distributor: Lionsgate

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Bridget Jones’s Diary [Blu-ray]
Lionsgate

To be or not to be… single. That seems to have been the question that entered the mind of single women the world over during the late ’90s, a time when an entire subculture seems to have been created by two landmark pieces of popular culture: Sex and the City and Bridget Jones’s Diary. That the two arrived at around the same time is one of those fascinating coincidences that make us wonder if all along society was leading towards similar conclusions. Or was it all just a happy accident? Bridget Jones’s Diary not only embodies everything that made this wave of “girl power” so inspiring, it also serves as a fascinating time capsule that now, in a newly released Blu-ray version, should invite women to dream big and take control of their sexuality all over again. The beauty of the film isn’t in its destination, however, but rather in Bridget’s muddled journey in which we see her — in the best Madonna fashion — constantly reinventing herself and going from friend to confidante, to sensational TV reporter, to crappy karaoke singer, to loving, affectionate daughter and then ultimately a better version of herself, despite the film’s seeming need to try to restrict and steer her path towards standard societal choices. Jose Solís Mayén

 

DVD: The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965

Director: Murray Lerner

Release date: 2011-07-12

Distributor: Columbia

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The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965
Columbia

In the interview with filmmaker Murray Lerner included as an extra on the DVD release Bob Dylan: The Other Side of the Mirror: Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965, the director mentions the importance of juxtaposition and montage to his aesthetic — how two images edited together can individuate a third idea or concept that carries a unique, discrete charge all its own. This is exemplified with particular force in the film’s opening. Though the film proper moves chronologically from 1963 to 1965, it begins with a brief clip of ’65 Dylan, singing “All I Really Want to Do”. Dylan looks sharp, shrewd, slightly amused, and a little high. Mid-song, the film cuts abruptly to 1963, and the effect is jarring. How did this skinny, skittish Midwestern hick, flat-pickin’ in a pavilion, become the knowing, self-assured rock star we just saw? And in two years? That 1965/1963 cut signifies perfectly the sense of shock and/or awe that must have been felt at the Newport Folk Festival. Nowadays it may be hard to understand what was so exciting and mystifying and maddening about “Bobby Dylan” back then, but that cut says it all, and is just as important as the images it sutures. Guy Crucianelli

 

DVD: Pina

Film: Pina

Director: Wim Wenders

Cast: Pina Bausch, Regina Advento, Malou Airaudo, Ruth Amarante

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Pina
Artificial Eye

Intimacy, energy, passion and tension all feature prominently in the work of Pina Bausch. At one point a dancer’s head is caught by her partner literally centimetres from a concrete floor. She drops towards the ground in what seems like an uncontrolled plummet only to be saved by her partner’s hands without flinching. Dance theatre is a dangerous business, at times.

Bausch, who died in 2009, is remembered by members of her company Tanztheater Wuppertal in this portrait of her work by Wim Wenders. Its focus is the work, not the woman that Bausch was, or ‘Pina’ as she is lovingly named by her ‘family’ of dancers. In his director’s interview, Wenders acknowledges that she did not want to be interviewed before her death and that she was never looking to explain or justify her work. She desired for it to stand on its own without supplementary explanation. It’s sufficient that her company account for her influence in their own affectionate and respectful terms. Gabrielle Malcolm

 

DVD: Entourage The Complete Seventh Season (Blu-ray)

TV Show: Entourage

Director: Various

Cast: Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jeremy Piven

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Entourage The Complete Seventh Season (Blu-ray)
HBO

HBO’s Entourage has always been a show that reveled in a brand of Los Angeles-specific decadence, a California Casual fantasia of exotic cars, hilltop mansions, comely women, and an omnipresent sunlit sky as protective umbrella. Despite its stream of wicked repartee and unpleasant tantrums, one imagines that the program makes L.A. perversely appealing to those who’ve never lived there, or even visited, much as Bret Easton Ellis’ horrific 1985 novel Less Than Zero served as a magnet for sheltered Generation Xers of that era, myself included. Entourage is a rude, scabrous, but presumably honest dissection of the manners and mores of the Dream Factory, a comic nightmare of Sammy Glick infecting all those around him. Ominously, Doug Ellin insists that the movie biz he depicts is a toned-down simulacrum of the real deal. It’s been remarked that Hollywood is merely high school with money, and Entourage cheerfully rubs our faces in this notion. Chow down, Entourage fans, ’cause after Season 8, school’s out. Terrence Butcher

 

DVD: Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (Blu-ray)

Film: Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop

Director: Rodman Flender

Cast: Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Stephen Colbert

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Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (Blu-ray)
Magnolia Home Entertainment
Although there are similarities to other tour docs, such as Jason Priestley’s Barenaked in America or Emmett Malloy’s The White Stripes: Under the Great White Northern Lights, director Rodman Flender (a seasoned television director whose recent credits include Ugly Betty and 10 Things I Hate About You) provides much more than a backstage pass. At times interactive while at others purely observational, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a remarkably candid, complex and personal portrait of O’Brien that transcends the late night host’s television persona. Luke Taylor

 

DVD: The Great White Silence

Director: Herbert Ponting

Studio: BFI

Cast: Captain Robert Scott, Simon Fisher Turner

UK Release date: 2011-06-20

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The Great White Silence
BFI

Released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the pioneering Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole, The Great White Silence, consisting of footage filmed by Herbert Ponting (a cinematographer who joined the party for the majority of the fateful trip), is an extraordinary film, and one that’ll have film buffs, archivists and historians salivating. Charming, fascinating and ultimately heart-breaking, The Great White Silence is very highly recommended indeed, and once again represents the important role the BFI takes in ensuring British cinematic treasures are preserved and enhanced for future generations to enjoy. Extras are plentiful, and include a detailed booklet with plenty of information about the film’s restoration, the composer Turner, and members of the expedition. There are also period newsreels, a modern audio recording made in Captain Scott’s genuine cabin, and the original cinema release version of Ponting’s film. Adrian Warren

 

DVD: The Adventures of Tintin: Season One

Cast: Colin O’Meara, David Fox, Wayne Robson, Susan Roman (English language version)

Director: Stephan Bernasconi

Production Companies: Ellipse (France), Nelvana (Canada)

Network: USA – HBO, UK – Channel 4, Canada – Family

Distributor: Shout! Factory

Release date: 2011-11-22

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The Adventures of Tintin: Season One
Shout! Factory

The ‘Curious Fox’, Georges Remi, was born in 1907 in Brussels. His career as a writer and cartoonist covered the most turbulent and violent years of the 20th century. He maintained an outlook towards his work that was always thorough and well-researched. He survived accusations of Nazi collaboration after the Second World War to achieve international renown through his creations: Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus and Thompson & Thomson. Remi gave himself the pen-name Hergé, based on the reversal of his initials ‘R.G.’ This title and his nickname of the ‘Curious Fox’ when he was a boy scout help us to relate the origins of his hero, Tintin the Boy Reporter, to his own life. He was proud of the resourcefulness developed when a scout, and admired the research skills and mobility of the investigative journalist. From this he created a body of work that has an attraction like no other. His use of ligne clair: a precise and fluid style of draughtsmanship, marks out the Adventures of Tintin as an interesting combination of the most pure and simple of cartoon worlds but with the most meticulous accuracy. Gabrielle Malcolm

 

DVD: Breakfast at Tiffanys 50th Anniversary Collection Blu-ray

Film: Breakfast at Tiffanys

Director: Blake Edwards

Cast: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam

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Breakfast at Tiffanys 50th Anniversary Collection: Blu-ray
Paramount

Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Golightly but it was the waifish Audrey Hepburn who ended up getting the role and creating one of the most iconic movie characters ever. This new HD edition of Breakfast at Tiffany’s justifies whoever made that casting decision. Audrey sparkles in this pristine transfer that also highlights the rich colors of New York City, George Peppard’s eyes and the bright Givenchy outfits worn by the heroine. Previous home media incarnations had been lacking in bonus features and supplements, this version more than makes up for that, with countless mini documentaries about the fashion, the music and the lovely Audrey. Despite the film’s obsession with beauty and glamour, the disc also contains a short featurette addressing the film’s racist stereotypes. You don’t see such stylish social conscience every day! Jose Solís Mayén

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DVD: Exit Through the Gift Shop (Blu-ray)

Film: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Director: Banksy

Cast: Banksy, Thierry Guetta, Shepard Fairey

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Display Width: 200 Exit Through the Gift Shop (Blu-ray)
Oscilloscope

A documentary that begins with the street artist movement: Banksy, the British guerilla artist with his subversive stencils that have amused and shocked England over the last decade; the American Shepard Fairey, the man behind the iconic OBEY stickers; and the French artist Invader, who decorates Paris with Space Invader mosaics on street signs, bridges, and overpasses. Yet as street art becomes a commodity and collectors rush in to capitalize on the latest trend, Exit Through the Gift Shop raises serious questions regarding artistic merit and aesthetic judgments. “Maybe art is a joke,” Banksy posits. John Grassi

 

DVD: [REC]2

Film: [REC]2

Director: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza

Cast: Jonathan Mellor, Manuela Velasco, Óscar Sánchez Zafra, Ariel Casas, Alejandro Casaseca, Pablo Rosso, Pep Molina

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[REC]2
Magnolia Home Entertainment

An occult bookend to the satanic original, the REC 2 timeline begins 15 minutes after the end of the first film. A Barcelona SWAT team enters a quarantined apartment building. They’re led by Owen, an official from the Institute of Health. He’s actually a priest with orders from the Vatican to take a blood sample from the demonically possessed within the building. “I just want to get out of this Hell,” the SWAT captain tells Owen. He speaks for the audience — we’re trapped among the damned and the terror is relentless. John Grassi

 

DVD: Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series

TV Show: Torchwood

Network: BBC

Cast: John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Burn Gorman, Naoko Mori, Gareth David-Lloyd, Kai Owen

Release date: 2011-07-19

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Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series
BBC

A spin-off of Russell T. Davies’ revival of Doctor Who, Torchwood is a more adult cousin to the series. Davies manages to retain much of Doctor Who’s humor and irreverence even in the face of more serious and momentous events. While both shows share themes and a specific charm, Torchwood is interested in larger, more ambiguous questions. Torchwood is a complex show in that the big questions and dilemmas are neither answered easily nor neatly. Death is omnipresent in the series and is handled in direct, sometimes uncomfortable ways, but its always authentically presented in the context of the episode. Rather than taking the easy or well established way out, Torchwood upends many of the tropes that have come to be associated with a science fiction series, and in turn, it sometimes offers less traditionally satisfying resolutions. Torchwood is the rare series that manages to bring the equally bizarre and epic to life while still maintaining consistent characterization and emotional resonance. Culminating in the excellent five-part Torchwood: Children of Earth, the UK series goes out in a big way, both in terms of story and character portrayal. In fact, the final chapter of the UK series is the most ambitious and shocking in a series filled with such events. J.M. Suarez

 

DVD: Fat Girl – The Criterion Collection Blu-ray

Film: Fat Girl

Director: Catherine Breillat

Cast: Anais Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Libero de Rienzo, Arsinee Khanjian, Romain Goupil

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Fat Girl – The Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
The Criterion Collection

Remembered mostly for its infamous sex scene, complaints of child pornography and its shocking finale, Fat Girl is actually Catherine Breillat’s most sensitive, accessible work. Within its grotesque structure, the provocative filmmaker finds a realistic look at sibling relationships and sexual awakening. When the film begins, we meet Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) an obese, precocious, 13-year-old. In the best fairy tale tradition, she walks through the woods with her classically beautiful sister Elena (Roxane Mesquida) who’s 15. The sisters discuss sex. Elena, who has done everything but actual penetration, still talks about meeting someone special to whom she can give her virginity. Anaïs looks at her contemptuously, calls her a slut and then confesses she would never lose her virginity with someone she loved. Instead she would rather lose it to a total stranger, who then would have no rights over her. Jose Solís Mayén

 

DVD: The Sacrifice: 2-Disc Remastered Edition

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

Cast: Erland Josephson, Susan Fleetwood,Tommy Kjellqvist

Distributor: Kino

Release date: 2011-06-28

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The Sacrifice: 2-Disc Remastered Edition
Kino

There is an overwhelming feeling of sadness that pervades upon realizing that The Sacrifice was Andrei Tarkovsky’s last film. Throughout the movie there’s a distinctive elegiac feeling, as if the filmmaker was giving his all, knowing that this would be the last time he would be able to put his ideas onscreen. Of course, this could very well be said of almost every film in Trakovsky’s oeuvre. During a career that spanned a little over two decades, the Russian filmmaker crafted just seven works, each more affecting and mature than the previous one. From the dark ode to youth that was Ivan’s Childhood to his stunning Stalker which was sci-fi by way of The Wizard of Oz , Tarkovsky specialized in creating haunting artworks that resonate because of their extreme melancholy and existentialist wonderment. To watch his films in chronological order allows you to deduce a sequence of sorts in which we see him create a dialogue with a supreme force he wasn’t even sure even existed. Jose Solís Mayén

 

DVD: The Complete Jean Vigo – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Film: Various

Director: Jean Vigo

Cast: Michel Simon, Jean Dasté, Dita Parlo, Louis Lefebvre, Louis Berger

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The Complete Jean Vigo – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection

Few filmmakers can deem their entire filmography to be absolutely flawless and influential, yet upon his death at the ripe age of 29, Jean Vigo left behind a truly incomparable filmic legacy: he made four movies in the space of four years, all of them truly magnificent exercises in filmic poetry and each of them topping the previous one in terms of artistry and beauty. Criterion once again shows immeasurable passion for the preservation of film classics and besides restoring Vigo’s first three films to luminous perfection, they have gone and remastered his last film L’Atalante to such pristine levels that you won’t avoid but be transfixed by its gorgeousness. Widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made — and almost quite certainly the most romantic — L’Atalante is rivaled only by Citizen Kane in terms of pushing the medium of cinema beyond what anyone would’ve expected. It’s a true pleasure to see that Criterion has done such great justice to Jean Vigo’s limited, but absolutely essential filmography. In terms of pure worth for your money value, this set demands to be seen, owned and studied. It’s a true thing of beauty. Jose Solís Mayén

 

DVD: The Street: Complete Series

Cast: Bob Hoskins, Timothy Spall, Gina McKee, David Bradley, Lee Ingleby, David Thewlis

Network: BBC One

Distributor: BFS

Release Date: 2011-10-18

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The Street: Complete Series
BFS

If there has ever been a television series that has come within inches of perfection it’s The Street, a show that is as touching, real, and thought provoking as the best literature. This British television drama lasted three seasons (or ‘series’ in the parlance of British TV lovers) and a new DVD set that collects all 18 episodes across six discs is a textbook example of great acting and writing. Set in a working class neighborhood in Manchester, The Street examines how minor revelations and everyday secrets transform our lives suddenly, inexplicably, inevitably. Throughout, the characters are fully human and behave as such — they rely on each other for guidance and for answers (when it becomes difficult to establish the nationality of a character in “Asylum” no one opens their laptop and performs a Google search, a sure sign that the series is doing something right), whether that guidance or those answers are right or wrong. There are no bonus features on this set but that hardly matters; in a way, the absence of any such materials only enhances the experience and allows us to believe that maybe everything we’ve seen across those 18 hours is more real than we imagined. Jedd Beaudoin

 

DVD: The Times of Harvey Milk – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Film: The Times of Harvey Milk

Director: Robert Epstein

Cast: Harvey Milk, Harvey Fierstein, Anne Kronenberg, Tory Hartmann, Tom Ammiano

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The Life and Times of Harvey Milk – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection

In January of 1985, a documentary filmmaker named Robert Epstein stood to receive the first Oscar ever given to a film that dealt with gay and lesbian history. In thanking the academy and his colleagues for recognizing his work on The Times of Harvey Milk, Epstein made Oscar history a second time by publicly thanking his male partner for his love and support. Epstein would follow up this success with the award winning Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt and a host of other documentary and narrative projects, including the 2010 film, Howl.

If you are not familiar with Epstein’s work, you almost certainly know Gus Van Sant’s Milk, an extraordinary evocation of a time, a place and a hero of human rights and American civil liberties. Sean Penn’s performance, perhaps the finest of his career, lifted an already extraordinary story into the sublime. If you loved, and learned, from the bio-pic, you must see Criterion’s release of Epstein’s academy award winning documentary. Criterion has worked its usual magic in revitalizing and sharpening a film now more than a quarter of a century old. Absolutely packed with important historic featurettes beyond the usually “making of” material, this is an essential document for educators, scholars, activists and filmmlovers. W. Scott Poole

 

DVD: The Ricky Gervais Show – Season One

TV Show: The Ricky Gervais Show

Director: Craig Kellman

Cast: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Karl Pilkington

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The Ricky Gervais Show – The Complete First Season
Warner Bros.

He’s either the greatest creation ever by a comedic mind or a piece of found genius. He’s so out of step with the real world that he actually believes the BS he reports as “Monkey” news while questioning the very fabric of individual existence. He’s Karl Pilkington and the obvious star of Ricky Gervais’ animated version of his classic podcasts. As a TV series, the cartooning looks a lot like the Hanna-Barbera of the late ’50s/early ’60s. The humor, however, is straight out of the new millennium, a self referential riot where everything is meta and means more/nothing to anyone listening. If idiocy is Zen, then Karl is its king… and The Ricky Gervais Show is it amazing outlet. Bill Gibron

 

DVD: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Film: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Director: Terry Gilliam

Cast: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire, Cameron Diaz

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection

Fear and Loathing may not have the faithful followers of The Big Lebwoski, but it has all of its brilliant scenes, memorable lines, and absurd characters. Yet it also has none of the accessibility. The only way to get in is to fully engross yourself; to embody the mentality of Gonzo Journalism completely; to become a part of the movie as no other film has asked you to do. It sounds abstract and pompous as I write it, but Gilliam has always forced his viewers to accept and embrace or reject and detest his work. Whether it was Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Twelve Monkeys, or Brazil (another member of the Criterion collection), he is a director who challenges you and accepts either reaction, as long as its extreme. Fear and Loathing is not a film to watch for two hours — it’s a mentality needing to be embraced. Like the invented medium responsible for its literary inception, Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing marks the most spectacular failure of modern moviemaking. Ben Travers

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DVD: The Twilight Zone – Season Five (Blu-ray)

TV Show: The Twilight Zone

Director: Joseph M. Newman, Richard Donner

Cast: Bill Mumy, George Takei, Gladys Cooper, Jack Klugman, Jackie Cooper

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Display Width: 200 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

 

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

Film: Island of Lost Souls

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

 

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

TV Show: The Walking Dead

Network: AMC

Distributor: Anchor Bay

Release date: 2011-03-08

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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

 

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

Film: The Social Network

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

 

DVD: The Terrorizers

Film: 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

 

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

Film: West Side Story

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

 

DVD: The Civil War: 150th Anniversary Edition

Film: The Civil War

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

 

DVD: Sweetie – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Film: Sweetie

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

 

DVD: Taxi Driver (Blu-ray)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle

Distributor: Sony

Rated: R

Release date: 2011-04-05

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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

 

DVD: Treme: The Complete First Season

TV Show: Treme

Network: HBO

Cast: Khandi Alexander, Rob Brown, Kim Dickens, John Goodman, Michiel Huisman, Melissa Leo, Lucia Micarelli, Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce, Steve Zahn

Release date: 2011-03-29

Distributor: HBO

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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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DVD: If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise

Film: If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise

Director: Spike Lee

Cast: Calvin Mackie, Mitch Landrieu, Jacques Morial, Fred Johnson, Tanya Harris

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Display Width: 200 If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise
HBO
In the politically timid artistic climate of contemporary Hollywood, it’s no surprise that Spike Lee, once derided and celebrated as the prototypical Angry Black Man, would be forced to mount projects such as this at HBO, a sort of de facto African-American studio, when one considers the number of black-themed programs they’ve aired in the past two decades. Lee has proven himself adept at juggling vast amounts of information and points of view in his two documentaries about Katrina’s wake in New Orleans and its Gulfside neighbors. Of course, a la Michael Moore, he slams the powers-that-be with a vengeance, but he also clearly gives voice to a wide stratum of opinion here, something even his fiercest critics would have to concede. Terrence Butcher

 

DVD: Late Mizoguchi – Eight Films (1951-1956)

Film: Various

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi

Cast: Kinuyo Tanaka, Nobuko Otowa, Michiyo Kogure, Machiko Kyo, Aiko Mimasu

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Late Mizoguchi – Eight Films (1951-1956)
Eureka Entertainment

Released all the way back in January, Masters of Cinema’s Late Mizoguchi collection instantly set the bar at an exceedingly high level for any successive DVD released this year. And in terms of breadth, quality, and contextual materials, it couldn’t and wouldn’t be touched. Collecting eight films the Japanese master would make over just a five year period in the twilight of his career, Late Mizoguchi represents that rarest of box sets that’s essential for both die-hards and neophytes alike. Despite being anchored by two of the greatest films to ever come from the East, 1953s Ugetsu and 1954s Sansho the Bailiff, the set ultimately serves its most vital function as an outlet for six other rare Mizoguchi gems, including 1951s Miss Oyu, 1953s Gion Festival Music, and 1954s The Crucified Lovers. Japanese film historian Tony Rayns handles most of the supplemental material, providing video introductions on all eight films and an audio commentary track for 1956s Street of Shame, Mizoguchi’s final film before his early passing that very same year. Highly detailed essays on each film are included in accompanying two-film booklets and original posters and artwork are featured throughout the set. This was, by some distance, the box set of the year (though it is, it should be noted, Region B-locked), and it may be the single best release Masters of Cinema have yet produced. Jordan Cronk

 

DVD: The Battle of Algiers – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Film: The Battle of Algiers

Director: Gillo Potecorvo

Cast: Brahim Haggiag, Jean Martin, Saadi Yacef, Samia Kerbash, Fusia El Kader

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The Battle of Algiers – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection

You probably know that The Battle of Algiers is both a beautiful film and a close examination of the nature of violence. You likely even know that director Gillo Pontecorvo drew heavy inspiration from Franz Fanon’s 1961 book, The Wretched of the Earth. Perhaps you’ve even heard that both the Black Panthers and the IRA have used scenes in the film as training videos. But I bet you didn’t know that Paul Newman was considered for the lead role. The Criterion collection’s new Blu-ray transfer of The Battle of Algiers shows us all the grit and grime of embattled streets where children kill colonial police, informers and collaborators are machine-gunned without mercy, and the occupying French brutally torture suspected members of the National Liberation Front (FLN). Capturing a calamitous year in the struggle against French colonialism, the film succeeds in that most difficult of tasks: its both high art and one of the 20th century’s most important political statements. W. Scott Poole

 

DVD: Modern Times – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Film: Modern Times

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Cast: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard

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Modern Times – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection

Charlie Chaplin’s first significant dalliance with sound — made at the zenith of his popularity — stands proud in a career of almost incomparable brilliance, and represents one of his finest achievements. It features incisive social commentary, a charming relationship of equals, some of his most iconic slapstick and — though predominantly rooted in the concerns of its time — it looks ahead with playful speculation and scintillating savvy to the future. Emma Simmonds

 

DVD: Platoon: 25th Anniversary Edition

Director: Oliver Stone

Cast: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe

Rated: R

Distributor: MGM

Release date: 2011-05-24

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Platoon: 25th Anniversary Edition
MGM

Oliver Stone fashioned a monument alive with the horror of history with this film, and shaped it out of the terrors of his personal and America’s collective angst. Platoon is a tale of the pity of war combined with a soul-wrenching look at the choices, lies, false hopes, and spoiled innocence of another era. An era that sometimes looks too much like our own. The 25th anniversary Blu-Ray edition contains a wealth of extras focused on placing the film in context and attempting to explain how it mediated the memory of the Vietnam War. The primary theme of these features tends to be Stone and technical advisor Dale Dye discussing their respective experiences in Vietnam and how those experiences influenced the film. Stone’s willingness to talk about his own experiences in relation to the film immeasurably strengthens both the commentary and the special features. Even if you have seen this five times, it makes all the difference to hear Stone describe how Sheen’s Taylor is in many ways the embodiment of a young Stone, an idealistic but deeply torn soldier. W. Scott Poole

 

DVD: Jackie Brown (Blu-ray)

Film: Jackie Brown

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert DeNiro, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton

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Jackie Brown (Blu-ray)
Lionsgate/Miramax

Adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch, this movie offers an intriguing mix of the author’s voice and Tarantino’s unique style of dialogue. What’s surprising is how much remains from the original book in this film. It pays tribute to the source material while providing a new spin from the young director. The big change was in the lead character, which was changed from the white, blond-haired Jackie Burke to the African-American Jackie Brown (Pam Grier). This shift adjusts the movie’s tone, but it also gives Grier the chance to deliver a stunning performance. She originally rose to prominence in “Blaxploitation” films like Foxy Brown and Coffy during the mid-‘70s. Although she continued to work throughout the ‘80s, this movie brought her back into the public consciousness. The attention was well-deserved, and it’s nearly impossible to envision another actress playing this role. Dan Heaton

 

DVD: Videodrome – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Film: Videodrome

Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: James Woods, Debbie Harry, Sonja Smits, Peter Dvorsky, Leslie Carlson

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Videodrome – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection

David Cronenberg’s classic bit of uncategorizable prescience stands up amazingly well today, almost 30 years later. A grotesque, bloody, but always cerebral fantasy about the curious ways media are affecting our experience of reality, Videodrome hit the film community like a cannon shot back in 1983. Following a series of increasingly assured (but always singular and “difficult”) films, this Canadian wunderkind had finally scored a full spectrum triumph. As clever as it was entertaining, as sexy as it was revolting, and at all times unrelentingly imaginative, Videodrome set the standard for what has developed into a bit of a subgenre: the “transnational media as enemy” film.

What would happen if the mind, the body, the human, became a kind of cog in a media-driven system in which monologue overwhelmed connected interaction? What if this has already happened, and media (whether unwittingly or not) merely serve to reinforce our enslavement to some systemic infection of the mind? What if those screens we are all staring into every day were to become the dissemination point for a global plague, a mass hypnosis, or, you know, FOX news? Videodrome suggests these, among many other, unsettling questions as it leads us down the rabbit hole. Stuart Henderson

 

DVD: Blue Velvet (Blu-ray)

Film: Blue Velvet

Director: David Lynch

Cast: Kyle McLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern

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Blue Velvet
MGM

Eraserhead got him noticed. The Elephant Man proved he could transfer his unusual muse to a more mainstream ideal. Indeed, for the first few years of his fledgling career, things were looking up for David Lynch. Then Dune came along and crushed whatever commercial credibility he had. Even critical acclaim and Oscar nominations couldn’t put aside the stigma of being yet another member of the failed blockbuster club. Desperate to again redefine himself and his work, Lynch shopped a script around centering on a mystery, a young man, and the ugly underneath the seemingly tranquil facade of small town America. Entitled Blue Velvet, many were turned off by its overt violence and seedy sexual content. Lynch never gave up, finally finding financing to bring his unencumbered vision to life.

Divisive at the time (Siskel loved it, while Ebert called it an abomination), it has come to be regarded as Lynch’s first legitimate masterpiece, a work of wild imagination and even greater professional skill. From the opening music that mimicked Hitchcock to an ending which offered both finality and a fairytale, it would become the benchmark by which all other efforts in the auteur’s oeuvre would be gauged. Currently getting the glorified HD treatment thanks to Blu-ray, one can re-experience the magic and the menace of this amazing film all over again. Indeed, for those of us who are students of the experience, there are certain beats, individual moments and concepts that create the work of art Lynch intended. Bill Gibron

 

DVD: Three Colors Trilogy – The Criterion Collection Blu-ray

Film: Red, White, Blue

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski

Cast: Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy, Irene Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Zbigniew Zamachowski

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Three Colors Trilogy – The Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
The Criterion Collection
Those brilliant cinephiles of The Criterion Collection outdid themselves with the stunning release of Krzysztof Kieslowski´s Three Colors Trilogy. The Blu-ray boxset contains the three seminal films in breathtakingly beautiful high definition (the cinematography in Blue is particularly mesmerizing) and might be the most complete Kieslowski set released in the Western hemisphere. The films themselves should be enough to make this appealing, but the supplements and bonus features make it a must-have in every serious film lover’s collection. There are behind-the-scenes TV shows, interviews with Julie Delpy, Irene Jacob and Zbigniew Zamachowski, scene commentary with Juliette Binoche, three Kieslowski short films (you have to see The Face) and cinema lessons given by the late director himself. This is film school in a box. Jose Solís Mayén

 

DVD: Citizen Kane: 70th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray

Film: Citizen Kane

Director: Orson Welles

Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorehead

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Citizen Kane – 70th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
Warner Bros.

Carrying the weight of “best film ever made” must not be easy, but this 70-year-old has never looked better than in this pristine HD transfer. Orson Welles’ masterpiece about the rise and fall of a newspaper mogul, explores themes that resonate with audiences seven decades after its release and still remains an aesthetic and technical landmark (did you know that you can turn off the images and the film works as a radio play?). The movie itself should be the main attraction but Warner has made sure to stack this edition with enough extras to make it the most important historical home video release of 2011. Bonus features include the award winning documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane as well as the made-for-TV RKO 281 which dramatized the behind the scenes chaos that underwent Kane’s production. Best of all — and as of now only exclusive to Amazon — was the inclusion of Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, a butchered masterpiece that still remains an impressive artistic achievement. Jose Solís Mayén

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