Monday, January 10, 2011

Blu-ray Releases: The Week of Jan. 10th, 2011 - The Facebook Edition

What does it take to make a great film? Bombastic CG special effects to wow the audience (as well as deafen them)? Big stars who bring much-needed name recognition to the film? A story based on historical tragedies or legendary heroes? Maybe they should just ask David Fincher, who in 2010, crafted one of year's best films out of a subject matter that seemed superficially trivial and at best, a seemingly throwaway movie that would be forgotten in a week. Or so we thought. That film is now a shoo-in for an Oscar Best Picture nomination and it comes to Blu-ray this week. Other titles slated for release this week include a schlockly fishy tale and a set of movie classics. So here they are:

The Social Network [Blu-ray]Piranha [Blu-ray]Piranha [Blu-ray 3D]Raging Bull (30th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray]Once Upon a Time in America [Blu-ray]Dances with Wolves (20th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray]Army of Shadows (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Also commonly known as "that Facebook movie," The Social Network is a David Fincher masterpiece that is ironically less about the founding of the internet phenomenon than it is about a metaphor for this generation's need for power, wealth and most importantly, social standing. When I first heard about the movie, my immediate thoughts went back to the 1999 made-for-TV drama, Pirates of Silicon Valley, a film about the rivalry between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates during the fledgling years of the personal computer boom. I mean, how interesting can the founding of Facebook be? It's akin to making a story out of say, the establishment of stalwart companies like General Motors or Motorola. However, Fincher took the screenplay, written by Aaron Sorkin (The West WingA Few Good Men) and adapted from the book, The Accidental Billionaires by Harvard alumnus Ben Mezrich, and brought it to a whole new level. On Rotten Tomatoes, The Social Network rates an amazing 97% average from a total of over 250 total reviews, losing out only to Toy Story 3, which ranked at an even more amazing 99%. The Social Network comes in a 2-disc set with 1080p video, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and plenty of supplemental material. Recommendation: Buy it! Buy it! The Social Network is specially priced at $16.99 this week on Amazon and also at Best Buy.

Quick, what are the three B's that go into making a great campy cult movie classic? Babes in bikinis, bods (preferably hot) and bait (the human kind). Remaking a Roger Corman B-movie classic like 1978's Piranha (directed by John Sayles) takes balls, I tell ya. No, not because the original has so much schlock that it can't easily be topped. On the contrary, I can't imagine why would anyone even waste any time and money on such an endeavor? Well, tell that to Richard Dreyfuss (who is no stranger to battling man-eating fish), Ving Rhames, Elizabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth and Jerry O'Connell, a surprisingly large cast of well-known names who give the new remake (also titled Piranha) some much needed acting depth. Directed by Frenchman Alexandre Aja (High Tension), Piranha sticks close to it campy B-movie roots and never tries to turn it into anything else. Please be warned that Piranha is a horror gore-fest, with gallons upon gallons of fake blood spilled, limbs severed and enough naked bodies to fill an entire episode of Girls Gone Wild. lest you think of this film as just disgusting or despicable, you should consider its source material. The film comes as advertised, it is schlock for the sake of schlock and if you are mature enough to get the point, then this film is a fun romp. It is what it is and it is fun to watch. Piranha comes in a single disc version with 1080p video, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and a robust set of supplements and a Blu-ray 3D version with the same specifications. Recommendation: Buy it when the price drops to $10.

Next up is a another great release from the Criterion Collection titled, Army of Shadows (1969), a film about the French Resistance during World War 2. It is directed by legendary French director Jean-Pierre Melville, who is most famous for his epic gangster films Le Samourai and Le Cercle Rouge that starred another famous French name, Alain Delon. Army of Shadows (L'Armée des ombres) is Melville's masterpiece about an intrepid band of Resistance fighters culled from all walks of life who must not only fight against Hitler's occupying regime, they must also grapple with honor, loyalty and suspicion in a climate of mistrust. Based on a novel by Joseph Kessel, Army of Shadows has been hailed as one of the most authentic cinematic portrayal of the French Resistance. Army of Shadows is released in a single disc set with restored 1080p video and a choice of French LPCM Mono or DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks. Like all other Criterion releases, there is no shortage of supplemental material accompanying this release and fans should be pleased. Recommendation: Buy it!

These are the 3 big releases of this week but 3 other previously released classic films gets the Blu-ray treatment as well. They are: Martin Scorsese's boxing epic, Raging Bull (30th Anniversary Edition) (which won Robert DeNiro a Best Actor Oscar), Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America (also starred DeNiro) and the 1990 Best Picture winner, Kevin Costner's epic Western, Dances with Wolves (20th Anniversary Edition).
Raging Bull was first released on Blu-ray in 2009 as a single disc set. Now, on its 30th anniversary, the award-winning film is getting another hi-def treatment, this time in a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD set that adds a further 50 minutes of new supplemental material. As for the other two releases, this is their first time on Blu-ray. Once Upon a Time in America is presented here in its uncut 229-minute. Early reports have stated that the high-def transfer is, although much improved from its standard-def DVD transfer, leaves room for improvement. Apparently, Warner Bros. used the MPEG-4 encode instead of the usual VC-1 encoder, resulting in a lower bitrate. On the other hand, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track supplies a much richer depth to the Dolby Digital 5.1 track from the DVD. Dances with Wolves (20th Anniversary Edition), on the other hand, has been given a great Blu-ray treatment. This 2-disc set possesses great 1080p visuals and a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio that is off the charts. All three films get a "Buy it!" recommendation.

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