Film

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2013

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.

28 - 22

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

Film: Schindler's List

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

 
DVD: Veep: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

TV Show: Veep

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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

 
DVD: Grateful Dead: View from the Vault III and IV

Film: Grateful Dead: View from the Vault III and IV

Cast: Grateful Dead

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Grateful Dead: View from the Vault III and IV
Shout! Factory

Fans of the Grateful Dead all have their favorite era, but in 1987 and 1990, the San Francisco outfit was playing some of the best shows of its career. These two volumes are proof positive of that. During July 1987, Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead teamed up for six dates on the East and West coasts. These gigs afforded the Dead the chance to play on its own each night, then take to the stage with Dylan. Two of those gigs are captured in the newly reissued View from the Vault IV, featuring the venerable San Francisco act Oakland Stadium on 24 July and Anaheim Stadium on 26 July. Volume III, also out once more, finds Jerry Garcia and company at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California on 16 June 1990. The group that took the stage on the latter date was in fine form, sounding better than it would be just a few weeks later when it rolled into Pittsburgh for an 8 July gig at Three Rivers Stadium (seen on the first volume of the View from the Vault series). As good as the 8 July gig is, the 16 June date captures the group having fun and going for the throat, taking to the stage with a booming, unapologetic reading of "Let The Good Times Roll" and moving, without pause, through "Truckin'", "Touch of Grey", "Mama Tried" and "Big River". Not only is it a kind of greatest hits night, it's the hits played at maximum capability. Jedd Beaudoin

 
DVD: Boy (Blu-ray)

Film: Boy

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

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

Film: The Big City

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

 
DVD: Monsieur Verdoux: The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Film: Monsieur Verdoux

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

 
DVD: The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition

Film: The Exorcist

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

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