‘King Kong,' ‘The Notebook' top list of latest Blu-ray titles

Doug Nye
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

An enthralling new take on an old classic, "King Kong" (Universal, 2005, $29.98), and an endearing love story, "The Notebook" (Warner, 2004, $39.99), lead the parade of this week's new Blu-ray releases.

Even those avid devotees of the original "King Kong" have to admit that director Peter Jackson's new version is a stunning piece of a moviemaking. He makes full use of today's wondrous modern computer technology to create an atmospheric 1933 world that seems real and alive; be it on the crowded streets of New York City or in the thick jungles of Skull Island.

While Jackson's film is driven by special effects, he still manages to excellently develop his characters and let us get to know them. The results are particularly pleasing to watch (and hear) in the Blu-ray high definition format.

The story of Kong by now is legendary. Egomaniac filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) leads the crew of the tramp steamer Venture on a voyage far away to a mysterious uncharted island. Among those on board are down-on-her-luck actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann) and actor Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler). None of them suspect the danger and perils that await them.

Jackson takes more than an hour to get the Venture to Skull Island, but once there, the film moves at a near breathless pace. When Ann is kidnapped by the native tribe to offer as a sacrifice to their "god" Kong, the well-armed crew sets out to rescue her. Along the way, they meet an assortment of monstrous creatures both on land and in the swampy waters. Then, there are also huge, gruesome insects to contend with.

Meanwhile, Ann develops a special bond with Kong after he saves her from three tyrannosaurus rexes during a spectacular battle. Eventually, the crew - or what's left of it - saves Ann and heads back toward the shore with Kong in hot pursuit. Denham, ever the showman, already has plans for the big gorilla. With dollar signs dancing in his head, Denham knocks the creature out with a bottle of chloroform. What an attraction he will be!

Back in New York, Denham rents a theater, has Kong chained and gets ready to showcase him as the eighth wonder of the world. Kong escapes and wreaks havoc on the city as he searches for his beloved Ann. The exciting climax atop the Empire State Building is a memorable one as a fleet of planes attempts to shoot down Kong despite the protests of a heartbroken Ann.

The 1933 original still owns its place in film history but the 2005 version now has its place there, too. The Blu-ray includes both the theatrical version (188 minutes) and the extended version (200 minutes). Highly recommended.

"The Notebook" comes in a limited edition gift set box that includes a 46-page photo album, decorative stickers, two bookmarks and a set of 16 notecards and envelopes. While the extras are nice, it is the film that is the star of this set.

Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, the movie stars James Garner as Noah "Duke" Calhoun and Gena Rowlands as his wife, Allie. Both are in the twilight of the their lives but Allie is suffering Alzheimer's. Each day, Noah drops by to read to her from a notebook that chronicles their lives from the first time they fell in love through the ups and downs they faced.

Thus, their story is told in flashbacks, with Ryan Gosling playing the younger Noah and Rachel McAdams playing the younger Allie. She was from a rich, snobbish family and he was from a blue-collar background. For Noah, it was love at first sight. Allie's family, however, did not want to see their daughter involved with that "kind" of person. Obviously, the two eventually got together, anyway.

What makes it all so poignant are the moments the elder Noah and Allie spend together. The rare times, when Allie's memory comes back briefly make for several lump-in-the-throat screen moments. Highly recommended.


Other new Blu-ray releases:

"The Express: The Ernie Davis Story" (Universal, 2008, $39.98) is a well-made film about the first African-American to win college football's coveted Heisman Trophy. Rob Brown is excellent as the young Davis who, during his sophomore season, led an undefeated Syracuse football team to the national college football championship in 1959. The football scenes are terrific and the movie is an overdue tribute to an outstanding athlete who many people might have forgotten or never even heard of him.

The film fumbles the ball, however, by stretching the truth and fabricating "facts." During that championship season, according to the movie, Syracuse played at West Virginia, where bottles and racial slurs were heaped upon the Orangemen as they took the field. It never happened: The truth is West Virginia played at Syracuse during that 1959 season. Also, the film has Syracuse beating Texas in the Jan. 1, 1960, Cotton Bowl by a 22-14 score. Actually the score was 23-14.

If the filmmakers got these couple of things wrong, it makes you wonder how many other errors are in the movie. That's too bad, because Davis' courageous story needed no fictional enhancement.

"Antwone Fisher" (20th Century Fox, 2002, $29.99): An emotional and moving film that stars Denzel Washington as psychiatrist Jerome Davenport, who attempts to help sailor Antwone Fisher (played by Derek Luke) deal with his quick temper. Through the sessions with Davenport, Fisher learns to come to grips with painful moments from his past and deal with his anger. Davenport learns a few things about himself, too. This marked Washington's first stint in the director's chair. Recommended.

"Election" (Paramount, 1999, $29.99): Reese Witherspoon shines as Tracy Flick, a self-absorbed high school student who seems to win everything and be involved in all activities. Now she's running for student body president and she wants to win because ... well ... she can't imagine anyone as popular as herself not winning. One of her teachers, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), thinks it's time she's taken down a peg or two.

"Unfaithful" (20th Century Fox, 2002, $29.99): Here is a steamy tale of adultery that will have you guessing right up to the end. Connie (Diane Lane) and husband Edward (Richard Gere) seem to be a happily married couple living with their 9-year-old son. One windy day, while on the streets of New York City, Connie literally falls on rare book dealer Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez). She suffers only minor bruises, but Paul invites her upstairs to make sure everything is OK. Minutes later, a sizzling love affair begins.

"The Pink Panther" (Sony, 2006, $28.95): Did anybody really need to remake this movie? Steve Martin's Clouseau pales when compared to Peter Sellers in the 1963 film directed by Blake Edwards.

"Amusement" (New Line, 2009, $35.99): This straight-to-video film is for hardcore horror fans. Three longtime friends are haunted and stalked by someone from their school days. Who is he or she? And how many people will end up as corpses before the final credits roll?





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