Add to Queue 69: Critical hit

Media | A2Q Archives | A2Q #69 | December 16, 2008

Featured Titles: The Criterion Collection on Blu-ray

While my usual modus operandi here is to lavish praise on a specific movie, this time I’m lavishing praise on an entire company: Criterion. Cinephiles already are well aware of The Criterion Collection, which is well-regarded due to its selection, the care taken in the course of transferring the movies to video, and the comprehensive extras included with each release. A film enthusiast could do a lot worse than just watch every movie Criterion releases — and you’d get a better curriculum than what is offered in most film studies courses in the process. If you’ve ever enjoyed an audio commentary track on a laserdisc, DVD, or BD, you can thank Criterion for that; their release of the 1931 King Kong was, according to Wikipedia, the first home video release to include that feature. Criterion also deserves a lot of credit for their pioneering work in the letterbox format. It might seem hard to believe for some of my younger readers, but there was a time when it was impossible to get a home video version of a movie in its original intended aspect ratio. It’d be like if the only prints available of the Mona Lisa had 33% of the painting cut off of the top and bottom to fit the frame size popular at the time, or every album on CD was missing a third of the tracks that appeared on vinyl. (Of course, if you’re old enough to remember vinyl-first releases, you probably remember standardized pan-and-scan.)

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Now at long last, Criterion is starting to release some of its catalog in high definition. After seeing what the company was able to accomplish on DVD, I’m really excited to see where Blu-ray takes them. Their first four releases include a couple of my personal favorites: The Third Man is from Orson Welles at the height of his prowess; Bottle Rocket marks the beginning of Wes Anderson’s feature career; The Man Who Fell To Earth is a visually striking science fiction film starring David Bowie; and Chungking Express comes from the highly regarded Chinese director Wong Kar-wai. All of these movies are worth a look.

Also Out This Week

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Death Proof and Planet Terror make their belated appearance on Blu-ray. Before the high-definition format war died its welcome death, the Weinstein Company was HD-DVD exclusive. Thankfully, all that noise is behind us and those nerds (including me!) still into physical media don’t have to choose which format to invest in while knowing that either choice will cause them to miss out on something cool. Of the two “Grindhouse” movies, Death Proof is by far my favorite. Maybe I just like fast cars, hot chicks, and a brutal, senseless bad guy more than I”m into zombie apocalypses. Could it be that I’m finally growing up? Nah — I still think Frank the Tank, Will Ferrel’s character in Old School, is frickin’ hilarious. Fans of comedy might be distressed to notice that I’ve accidentally left Tommy Boy off of my BRD wrap-up image up there. I miscounted the movies I needed to cover! In other tragedies, an Uwe Boll movie (In The Name of the King) gets pointlessly rereleased on BD, and the terrible new Mummy film makes its home video debut.

Thanks for reading (and hopefully commenting on) Add to Queue, Levi’s weekly round-up of US home video release highlights. Sorry, rest of the world; region locks are the industry’s way of saying they still don’t understand the Internet. Cover art courtesy of Amazon. There are few things as fetching as a bruised ego on a beautiful angel. . Follow me on Twitter. Add me to your PSN or XBL friends list: VsRobot. You can also e-mail me at levivsrobot [at] gmail [dot] com.

10 thoughts on “Add to Queue 69: Critical hit

  1. A lot of my pals don’t like Death Proof, but I think that’s because they were expecting something exactly like Planet Terror.

    Planet Terror is my favorite, but I still like Death Proof a whole lot!

  2. I wasn’t aware that The Man Who Fell to Earth* was amongst the first wave of Criterion blu-ray releases. It looks like a significant amount of my pay-check will be going towards that and Bottle Rocket. (I am hoping that the more visually striking Anderson features will make it to blu-ray soon)

    *This movie is one of the rare occasions where the film is no better or worse than the book. Both are pretty good for different reasons, and both are worth the few hours it takes to devour each.

  3. I reactived my dormant Netflix subscription specifically for these CritCo releases, but it turns out I really love the streaming Netflix on the 360. Hopefully I’ll be able to tear myself away from all the television I’m catching up on to watch these four BDs when they arrive in the mail.

  4. It should be noted, The Third Man isn’t “from” Orson Welles, whatever that means. It’s directed by Carol Reed. Welles of course plays a key role in the film, but not the starring role either.

  5. And the Weinstein Company disappoints me by releasing the two Grindhouse movies separately. I realize that “double feature” doesn’t really translate to home video, but if I remember correctly, the separate releases on DVD lacked the fake trailers inserted at the start and in-between the two films. If these Blu-ray releases contain the additional trailers, then I suppose I can get over my resentment that the two films aren’t release on the same disc and look into buying them.

  6. I was going to gripe about the home video division of the Grindhouse movies, but I see someone’s already got my back on that :) Seriously, though, if they’re going to continue to leave out the trailers (and the Mexican restaurant ad and the kitten/panther rating announcement!!), they can just edit the fake weathering right the hell back out and take the “Grindhouse presents” thingy off the cover.

    Also, let’s hope that “A Dungeon Siege Tale” and the mummy movie don’t kill Blu-ray.

  7. I love Death Proof but I wish for crying out loud that they’d release the theatrical cut of Grindhouse on DVD. The extended DVD version of Death Proof especially has its pacing completely ruined.

  8. I’m happy to be in on the ground floor of these Criterion Blu-rays. By the time I knew of the company they already had too many DVDs for me to catch up. I already have received and watched my pre-ordered Bottle Rocket and Chungking Express (I forgot how much I liked that film). I’ve never seen The Third Man, and ambivalent about The Man Who Fell to Earth, but both are winging their way to me now. I’ve also signed up for the pre-order of The Last Emperor and El Norte. I liked The Last Emperor as a kid when it was first released, never even heard of El Norte, but it’s worth the chance.

    Speaking of aspect ratios, new edition of The Last Emperor is being presented at 2:1 instead of the 2.35:1 of the previous DVD release. Which is still wider than 16:9 (1.78:1) “wide-screen”, but not the scope which is expected of most feature films. You can read all about the change here:

  9. Death Proof was shit. I mean, the first half of it was OK, but the group of girls from the second half were incredibly annoying and there were wayyyy too many scenes of them sitting around shooting the shit. I know that’s par for the course in Tarantino movies, but the dialogue here was flat-out boring. There was like 20 minutes of them deliberating about whether or not they should do that idiotic “hood surfing” stunt before they actually did it, by which point I was really hoping that Kurt Russell would kill them all.

    Planet Terror was equally dumb, but much more fun.

  10. Nester, I love you. I couldn’t agree more. I just can’t understand what people see in that movie. I would have liked it if it had been about 90 minutes shorter.

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