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Classic ‘Casablanca' leads bevy of new Blu-ray titles

Doug Nye
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

In a week filled with new Blu-ray releases, a 66-year-old production that is arguably the most popular movie ever made stands at the top of the list.

"Casablanca: Ultimate Collector's Edition" (Warner, 1942, $64.99) showcases the Oscar winner starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman supported by a cast of stellar Hollywood veterans. The film is presented in its original non-widescreen 4:3 (1.33:1) aspect ration. That means instead of black bars at the top and bottom of the screen they are on the right and left sides of the picture.

The pristine black-and-white print is absolutely spectacular in the Blu-ray high definition format. You can bet that the last time "Casablanca" looked or sounded this good was when it was first released theatrically.

For those who haven't had the pleasure of seeing this film, Bogart plays Rick Blaine, who operates Cafe Americain in the city of Casablanca located in French Morocco during World War II. Many of the people who come there are looking for a way to escape Nazi-occupied Europe. Rick supposedly has no interest in war and politics, but eventually his long-suppressed patriotic feelings surface.

Bergman plays Ilsa Lund, who was once in love with Rick but now is married to Czech resistance fighter Victor Laszlo, played by Paul Henreid. Much to Rick's surprise and dismay, the two visit his cafe. Seeing Ilsa again triggers memories from the past. Surrounding this love story is the turmoil of the war and the impact it is having on the lives of so many.

The rest of the cast is superb. Claude Rains is Capt. Louis Renault, head of the local police. Conrad Veidt is the Nazi officer General Strasser. Peter Lorre is Ugarte, who makes money by illegally obtaining letters of transit. Throw in Sydney Greenstreet, Dooley Wilson at the piano, director Michael Curtiz, a music score by Max Steiner and a script by Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch and you've got all the ingredients of a classic.

Among the numerous extras are the documentaries "Bacall on Bogart" and "You Must Remember This," commentaries by Roger Ebert and historian Rudy Behlmer, an episode of the 1955 TV series "Casablanca," Bugs Bunny's "Carrotblanca" and a radio production of the movie. Throw in a 48-page book, 10 one-sheet cards, a passport holder and luggage tag. An extra disc features the documentary "Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul." It's one heck of a Blu-ray release.

Other Blu-ray releases this week:

"The Shawshank Redemption" (Warner, 1994, $34.99): It's difficult to believe that someone could make a feel-good prison movie, but here it is. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman shine in this outstanding effort directed by Frank Darabont, who also did the screenplay based on a Stephen King short story. Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, a banker sent to Shawshank Prison in 1947 after being convicted of murdering his wife and her lover. There is a suspicion that Andy is actually innocent. Freeman is "Red" Redding, a lifer who already has spent 20 years behind the walls. Although the film has a few violent scenes, it mostly focuses on the friendship that develops between Red and Andy. The Blu-ray release includes numerous behind-the-scenes extras as well as a 32-page booklet. A great addition to any film library.

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (20th Century Fox, 1951, $34.99): This science-fiction classic is as relevant today as it was 57 years ago. Michael Rennie is perfect as Klaatu, the visitor from outer space who lands his saucer-shaped ship in Washington, D.C. Accompanied by his towering robot Gort, he comes to warn earthlings to stop their petty wars or else. Patricia Neal plays the woman who, along with her son played by Billy Gray, shows Klaatu that not everyone who inhabits the planet is hostile. Sam Jaffe plays Professor Barnhardt, who attempts to help the alien. Presented in its original 4:3 (1.33:1) aspect ratio. Includes various extras as well as a preview of the upcoming remake starring Keanu Reeves.

"X-Files Movie 2-Pack" (20th Century Fox, $59.99): David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reprise their roles of Fox Muldar and Dana Scully in these two films. In "I Want to Believe" (2008), the two are called in on a case involving an ex-priest who claims to be having visions of a kidnapped FBI agent. "Fight to the Future" (1998) was produced during "The X-Files" TV run and has Muldar and Scully trying to confirm that aliens have colonized Earth.

"Home Alone" (20th Century Fox, 1990, $34.99): This is the film that introduced the screaming Macaulay Culkin to moviegoers. He plays a kid who is accidentally left behind when his family flies to Paris for Christmas. He uses his wits to outsmart crooks Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern when they try to break into the house. Also in the cast is John Candy. The entire family will enjoy this one.

"Jingle All the Way" (20th Century Fox, 1996, $34.99): It seems everybody wants to get his kid a Turbo Man action figure for Christmas. That includes Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who is discovering that they are hard to find. But he is determined to find one somewhere in the city. It's a race against time as the big day nears. Also in the cast are Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson and James Belushi. A piece of holiday fun.

"Austin Powers Collection" (New Line, $74.98): Mike Myers plays superspy Austin Powers, who is after Dr. Evil (also played by Myers) in the 1960s. Both of them end up in a gryogenic freeze and are awakened in the 1990s. For those who loved these movies, this is the set for them. It includes all three films; "International Man of Mystery" (1997), "The Spy Who Shagged Me" (1999) and "Goldmember" (2002).

"Wanted" (Universal, 2008, $39.98): Angela Jolie plays Fox, who recruits Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) to be a part of the secret and centuries-old society of assassins called the Fraternity. Wesley's job is to take down the man who killed his father who also was a member of the society. Morgan Freeman plays Sloan, the man who heads up the organization. If you're looking for a non-stop action film, then this it.

"The Longshots" (Genius, 2008, $34.99): A surprisingly warm and funny film starring Ice Cube as Curtis Plummer, who takes a ragged bunch of kids and turns them into a winning Pop Warner football team. He gets help, though, from his young niece Jasmine (Keke Palmer), who happens to be one heck of a quarterback.

"Le Femme Nikita" (Sony, 1990, $28.95): A felon named Nikita (Anne Parillaud) is arrested for murdering a cop. But instead of being put behind bars, she is given a choice - die or become a trained assassin. No problem guessing which one she picks. The French film, a huge worldwide hit, includes English subtitles or you can choose an English-dubbed soundtrack.

"The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" (Sony, 1999, $28.95): Here is another take on the story of the young French maiden who supposedly was urged by God to lead an army to victory. Russian-born Milla Jovovich plays Joan. The cast also includes Faye Dunaway, John Malkovich, Vincent Cassell and Dustin Hoffman.

"Stranger Than Fiction: Special Edition" (Sony, 2006, $28.95): Will Ferrell plays Harold Click, an FBI agent who discovers he's the lead character in a novel being written by Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson). That explains why he has been hearing the voice of Karen narrating his life. He also discovers that Karen likes to knock off her characters in various ways. Can Harold find her before she writes his demise? Also in the cast is Dustin Hoffman. Includes new footage.

"Step Brothers" (Sony, 2008, $39.95): They look like adults, but Brennan (Will Ferrell again) and Dale (John C. Reilly) are two middle-aged guys who never grew up. They still hang around their houses, gobbling food and watching TV. They suddenly find themselves living together when their parents get married. One-joke comedy is only mildly amusing.

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