What's new on disc this week? We have quite a few that make my fingers tingle right now as I type.
During the final days of communism in Romania, two college roommates, Otilia and Gabita, are busy preparing for a night away. But rather than planning for a holiday, they are making arrangements for Gabita's illegal abortion and, unwittingly, both find themselves burrowing deep down a rabbit hole of unexpected revelations.
Here's one of the best-reviewed yet little-seen films of early this year. It's one I meant to catch in one of the two or three metropolitan theaters within driving distance that showed it, but I never got around to it. Now I'm looking forward to finally catching it at home, where the popcorn's better anyway and the couch is more comfortable.
An Errol Morris documentary is always worth paying attention to, and Standard Operating Procedure -- a challenging, questioning probe into what the Abu Ghraib abuses say and mean -- received quite a lot of positive attention earlier this year. This time Morris asks, Is it possible for a photograph to change the world? Photographs taken by soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison changed the war in Iraq and changed America's image of itself. Yet, a central mystery remains. Did the notorious Abu Ghraib photographs constitute evidence of systematic abuse by the American military, or were they documenting the aberrant behavior of a few "bad apples"? How could American values become so compromised that Abu Ghraib -- and the subsequent coverup -- could happen? (Sony Picture Classics)
Meanwhile, speaking of the late unpleasantness, John Cusack stars in Joshua Seftel’s less well received comic satire, War, Inc., which also gets a renewed chance to win over hearts and/or minds. Apparently Dr. Strangelove it ain't. (Although, for what it's worth, the user comments at its Amazon.com page seem to like it more than the professional critics did.)
Two titles that pack in the Big Damn Hero star power are also out this week. Crystal Skull you already know, of course, and our glowing opinion of its home video presentation, if not the movie itself, is here.
Chaplin, the good-looking 1992 biopic by Richard Attenborough, is one the finest early showcases for Robert "I'm Iron Man" Downey Jr. The place where we talk about it is just one click away.
Ah, 'tis the season! Look what's getting a 30th Anniversary Box Set. Lift the mask and you'll find:
- John Carpenter's original pathbreaker, Halloween - the Restored original 1978 film
- Halloween Extended Edition
- Halloween 4 The Return of Michael Myers
- Halloween 5 The Revenge of Michael Myers
- Halloween: 25 Years of Terror
- "SPECIAL BONUS DISC"
- Price tag: $89.97 -- scary!
Last year's Rob Zombie undead retread also returned from the Great Video Beyond last week in a three-disc edition.
From Warner Brothers comes The Ultimate Matrix Collection, a new Blu-ray box of red-pill action, next-gen special effects techniques, The Keanu, and Laurence Fishburne's noticeable weight gain. In hypnotically fine high-def and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio, you get the Wachowski brothers’ The Matrix, The Matrix: Reloaded, and (for a really shiny drink coaster) The Matrix: Revolutions. Plus the animated collection The Animatrix. All that and it's lo-o-o-o-o-oaded with extra features (in standard def) about the productions. It had better, given its $129.95 list price. If you already have the DVDs, this set doesn't bring you much that's new -- but if you don't and you want to see every fine detail with that bullet-time clarity, take the red pill by first swallowing the Blu.
Capricorn One -- What a cast! Sam Waterston, James Brolin, Hal Holbrook, Elliott Gould, Brenda Vaccaro, David Huddleston ... O. J., Simpson? Peter Hyams directed this 1978 conspiracy thriller about a faked mission to Mars and the murders used to cover it up. This time O.J. for sure didn't do it. It's your standard big dumb 1970s fare, but still a pretty decent by-the-numbers actioner with a memorable Jerry Goldsmith score. With both Elliott Gould and James Brolin in the cast, I'd like to watch this one at Barbra Streisand's house.
Short Cuts -- You can't go wrong with The Criterion Collection, and this week they offer us Robert Altman's kaleidoscopic adaptation of Raymond Carver short stories, plus Criterion's usual exemplary DVD production values.
Mongol -- With an epic scope of vast battles and thundering hooves, here's Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov's story of how a scrappy kid grew up to be Genghis Khan. It was shot (beautifully) over years in Mongolia, the actors are some of the best you'll see this year, and the Mongolian dialogue is so natural you'll soon forget about the subtitles. I saw this one twice in the theaters, and each time came away impressed and with an urge to destroy my enemies utterly. (Cargill will be telling us about this DVD very soon, so stick around.)
Holiday Inn -- Universal gifts us with a new three-disc edition of the "all singing, all dancing" Christmas chestnut. Disc 1 hold the original black-and-white version plus a retrospective of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, a "making of" piece, and an audio commentary with film historian Ken Barnes with archive audio comments by Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and John Scott Trotter. Disc 2 brings us a "New Color Version" plus a featurette on (gulp) "Coloring a Classic." Disc 3 is a music soundtrack CD with 12 Irving Berlin holiday songs from the original soundtrack including Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" and "Happy Holiday." A whiter Christmas there never was.
Lifeboat, Spellbound, and Notorious are my favorite titles in MGM's Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection. The set also delivers Rebecca, The Lodger, The Paradine Case, Young and Innocent, and Sabotage.
(It's a good month for Hitchcock fans all around, I'd say.)
TV on DVD this month hands us box sets such as these: