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New on DVD: Specialty Collections Rock

Criterion and StudioCanal Go to the Archives

Above: Jean Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in "Breathless."

Once again I have to go with some old titles as the most irresistible new releases this week.

Criterion has long proven its devotion to proving fans and collectors with the best films and best DVD releases available. Now they are moving into Bluray and this week they offer Jean Luc Godard’s New Wave classic, “Breathless.” This new two-disc Bluray Criterion edition of “Breathless” includes a restored high-definition digital transfer (approved by director of photography Raoul Coutard); interviews with Godard and actors Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg; video essays: a documentary about the making of the seminal film; the French theatrical trailer; and a booklet featuring writings from Godard, film historian Dudley Andrew, Francois Truffaut's original film treatment, and Godard's scenario. That’s just too tempting to ignore. The film still feels fresh even a half century later.

"Delicatessen"

StudioCanal

Above: "Delicatessen"

Ironically, this new Criterion Bluray competes with the StudioCanal Collection release of "Breathless" from March. And StudioCanal is looking to tap into the same cinephile crowd as Criterion and it’s even going for some of the same titles. What’s a collector to do? Anyway, also hitting Bluray today are “Delicatessen” and “The Third Man.” Both are from the StudioCanal Collection. I am well aware of StudioCanal as a French distribution company but have not been aware of what they are doing on the home entertainment front. According to its website: “StudioCanal is proud to announce ‘The StudioCanal Collection’ – exclusive Blu Ray editions of iconic films that made the history of cinema. All include outstanding new bonus features and unique packaging that will appeal to cinephiles and film enthusiasts alike. This international collection launched in 2009 in Europe and early in 2010 in Australia, Japan and the USA.” Sweet!

Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Delicatessen” (1991) is a delightful and original work about a post-apocalyptic world where one landlord prepares a special delicacy. The Bluray offers a making of featurette, an audio commentary by Jeunet, a special treat from Jeunet’s archives, and the trailer.

"The Third Man"

StudioCanal

Above: "The Third Man"

“The Third Man” is the Carol Reed/Graham Greene classic with Orson Welles memorably playing Harry Lime. In addition for it’s famous chase through the sewers, the film is known for its memorable Anton Karas zither score. Among the bonus features are “The Third Man” on radio; audio commentary with assistant director and future Bond director Guy Hamilton and actor Simon Callow; the original trailers; and a stills gallery. This film is a must in any cinephile library.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton star in the big screen adaptation of the video game "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"

Walt Disney

Above: Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton star in the big screen adaptation of the video game "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"

The recent theatrical films debuting on DVD and Bluray this week pale in comparison to these classics. We have “Prince of Persia” with a buffed out (are those CGI biceps?) Jake Gyllenhaal running around the old Middle East and generally looking silly. Based on the video game (and belatedly brought to the screen to try and reignite interest in the game), the film falls flat. At least in the video game you have some control over the action, in this film all you can do is squirm as you watch some blandly choreographed fights and unimpressive CGI. Surprisingly, the film adaptation has been helmed by noted British director Mike Newell but he brings nothing of note to the film… with the minor exception of Alfred Molina in a supporting role. Molina has been bringing zest to a series of minor characters in painfully lame films. Pick up the game and skip the movie.

Also easy to pass up is the historical biography “Princess Kaiulani.” And yes that is as dull and educational as it sounds. The true story of a Hawaiian princess' attempts to maintain her island’s independence in the face of American colonization is a fascinating one. But in Marc Forby’s hands it is simply dry and dull, and looking like a ABC Afterschool Special. Q’orianka Kilcher’s performance as the young and strong willed princess is unflinchingly dignified and resolute but never feels truly flesh and blood. A snoozer.

Still life: Grace Zabriskie, Michael Shannon and Chloe Sevigny in "My Son. My Son, What Have Ye Done"

Absurda

Above: Still life: Grace Zabriskie, Michael Shannon and Chloe Sevigny in "My Son. My Son, What Have Ye Done"

One new film that is of interest is the Werner Herzog/David Lynch collaboration “My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done?” It’s a bizarre tale based on a true story of a UCSD student who killed his mother. Stylistically it feels like Lynch has won out over Herzog in this oddly hypnotic work.

Another older film newly available on DVD is Gilbert and Sullivan’s light opera “The Pirates of Penzance.” The only noteworthy thing about the film is Kevin Kline as the Pirate King. His manic energy fairly leaps off the screen to engage and delight us. Like Robin Williams, he’s an actor who has trouble finding roles that allow him to shine. This is a role that’s perfectly suited to his oversized matinee idol persona.

Quickly I want to note that the following films are now available on Bluray: David Fincher’s bleakly satisfying “Seven;” Rod Serling’s still brilliant TV series “Twilight Zone: Season One;” Philip Kaufman’s excellent remake of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers;” the Peter Jackson “Lord of the Rings Trilogy;” the film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest;” the harsh and effective Aussie western “The Proposition;” and the zombie film that allowed the undead the chance to speak and ask for brains, “The Return of the Living Dead.” On the even cheesier end of the spectrum you can now find “Starcrash” on Bluray from the Corman Cult Collection and Jean Claude Van Damme goodness in the Bluray double feature of “Bloodsport” and “Timecop.”

Video

Raging Phoenix Trailer

Web movie: Raging Phoenix

I also want to highlight the Thai action film “Phoenix Rising” that is available today on BluRay. If you’ve enjoyed the Tony Jaa and Prachya Pinkaew actioners like “Ong-Bak” and “Tom Yum Goong” then you will love this tiny female Thai dynamo. Jija Yanin first gained attention as the autistic, martial arts idiot savant in “Chocolate.” Her follow up film barely musters a plot but delivers some of the most kick-ass action you’ll see this year. If you love Asian action cinema you have to see what this petite young woman can do. She’s amazing.

And finally my "sight unseen" pick of the week is an anime called “Corpse Princess.” What a lovely sounding contrast is suggested just in the title. I am not familiar with this series but the plot description about a dead girl who can’t let go of the real world sounds intriguing. Plus I haven’t picked up any new anime recently so this sounds like one to at least sample. The Corpse Princess and her family were burned to death and apparently she enjoys unleashing bloody vengeance from her twin MAC-11 machine guns on the rotting remains of any who refuse to die... completely. Sounds like a perfect warm up for Halloween.

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