'The French Connection' tops latest Blu-ray titles

Doug Nye
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

An Oscar-winning action thriller, "The French Connection" (20th Century Fox, 1971, $34.98), leads the modest list of titles arriving on Blu-ray this week.

Gene Hackman plays tough-as-nails New York cop Popeye Doyle, whose goal in life seemingly is to hound every junkie and drug dealer in the city. Roy Scheider is his more laid-back partner Buddy Russo. When the duo learn of a drug smuggling operation working out of France, they zealously try to track down the source.

Fernando Rey portrays the smooth and suave Alain Charnier, the man behind the drug deal and someone who would like to see Doyle and Russo eliminated. Also in the cast is Tony Lo Bianco as mobster Sal Boca, another of Doyle's targets.

Directed by William Friedkin in near-documentary style, the film features one of the most memorable car chases in movie history. The chase fits perfectly into this gritty film, which moves at a breathless pace. "The French Connection" was a groundbreaking crime drama for its time and influenced many films in the 1970s. While the action is spectacular, it is the fine performances by the actors that add extra punch to it all.

The movie walked off with five Academy Awards, including best actor (for Hackman), best director, best picture, best screenplay and best editing. The film is just as effective now as it was when first released. The grainy images only add to its realistic feel. Highly recommended.

Other Blu-ray releases this week:

"The French Connection II" (20th Century Fox, 1975, $34.98): Although this sequel doesn't live up to the high standards set by the original, Hackman still manages to turn in another stellar performance. In this one, Popeye Doyle follows the drug trail to France, where he is kidnapped by the narcotics ring. They inject him with heroin and turn him into a junkie in a harrowing sequence. Fernando Rey reprises his role as Alain Charnier. Directed by John Frankenheimer. Recommended.

"Ronin" (MGM, 1998, $34.98): Robert De Niro portrays a roaming American intelligence agent who is on the trail of a briefcase also wanted by several others. John Frankenheimer directed this crime thriller that delivers two hours of solid entertainment and even a few laughs. Recommended.

"Vanishing Point" (20th Century Fox. 1971, $34.98): Barry Newman plays a guy who works for a car delivery service. When he has to deliver a 1970 Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco, his goal is to make the run in 15 hours. Along the way he encounters various characters and also is chased by the cops. Cleavon Little co-stars.

"What Just Happened" (Magnolia, 2008, $34.98): This comedy about Hollywood stars De Niro as a producer trying to salvage two films that appear headed for disaster. Also in the cast are Bruce Willis, Sean Penn, Robin Wright and Stanley Tucci. Based on the memoirs of Hollywood producer Art Linson. Directed by Barry Levinson.

"Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder" (20th Century Fox, 2009, $39.99): Here's another direct-to-DVD movie featuring Matt Groening's 31st century characters from the animated TV show. Ancient dark forces are at work bent on destruction. Meanwhile, Bender has fallen for a married fembot.

Also now available on Blu-ray:

"Friday the 13th Part 2" (101, 1981, $39. 49); "Friday the 13th Part 3" (101, 1982, $39.49); John Carpenter's The Fog" (101, 1979, $30.49).

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