Best in Blu-ray sifts through the week's new releases, recommending titles for both the Blu-ray veteran and newbie, and reporting on the coolest special feature and most intriguing rental. Look for it every Tuesday.
For Blu-ray Vets:
What It's About: Federico Fellini's Academy Award-winning film refracts his childhood through a lifetime of experience, spinning a yarn about a year in the life of a small town.
New Features: Extras from the 2006 Criterion Collection DVD edition are carried over to their new Blu-ray version, along with the 66-page booklet, which includes an essay by film scholar Sam Rohdie and Fellini's essay on his home town.
Transfer/Audio: "Any distracting artifacts prevalent on the SD transfers are eliminated," says Gary W. Tooze of DVD Beaver. "Overall, I expect this is as good as Fellini's 'Amarcord' will ever look for your home theater indulgence."
Replay Value: In his original 1974 review, Roger Ebert placed 'Amarcord' in the context of Fellini's career, feeling that it marked his return to "the very top of his form. ... A totally accessible film. It deals directly, hilariously, and sometimes poignantly with the good people of this small town." More recently, Jeffrey M. Anderson at Combustible Celluloid observed: "Ultimately, what's so surprising about this film is just how loose and effortlessly enjoyable it is, despite all its ideas and images. It's one of the director's very best."
If you've never seen 'Amarcord,' now is the time to catch up and marvel. And if you have seen it, the Blu-ray looks like a splendid upgrade.
For the Newbies:
'Thelma & Louise'
What It's About: Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis find freedom on the open road through the liberal use of bullets and a fast car.
Why See It (Again): It's been 20 years since 'Thelma & Louise' exploded onto the scene, twisting the "criminal road trip" genre with a feminist perspective, expressing righteous anger about chauvinistic men and introducing Brad Pitt as a hot young boy toy. Has it aged well? Does the message get in the way of the action? Was this really director Ridley Scott's best film between 'Blade Runner' and 'Gladiator'?
What to Look (and Listen) For: Advance reviews are scarce to non-existent as of this writing. Features from the previous DVD release appear to have been carried over, including two audio commentaries (one with Scott, one with Sarandon, Davis and scripter Callie Khouri). The Blu-ray is priced at a suggested retail price of $19.95, which sounds very good if this catalog title received a good transfer to high definition.
Coolest Special Feature:
'A River Runs Through It'
What It's About: Robert Redford directs Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt as brothers with a strict minister / father (Tom Skerritt) and a love for fly-fishing in Montana.
Feature: 'Looping Video Environments.'
Details: Four "environments," each running about 10 minutes, feature footage from the Blackfoot River and are, in the words of DVD Beaver: "Gorgeous. ... I'll be using this a lot - they are fabulous."
P.S. Redford is featured extensively in a 30-minute "making of" feature presented in high definition. Other extras highlight the ecology and fly fishing, along with deleted scenes. The Blu-ray was previously released in 2009 in a Digibook edition and is now re-released at a lower price with more routine packaging.
Most Intriguing Rental:
What It's About: A spoiled rich girl is disinherited by her family and finds her true talent lies in the repossession game.
Why Seek It Out on Blu-ray: The film received only a token theatrical release last month but deserves to find its audience. Working on a tiny budget at a rapid-fire pace (10 or 11 days shooting) entirely in a studio, with absurdist green screen projection -- think model cars and trains mixed with toys and animation -- writer/director Alex Cox (the original 'Repo Man,' though this is not a sequel) fashioned a knee-jerk response to the 2008 economic crisis (filming commenced in January 2009) that nonetheless is demented and delightful.
It's a bizarre concoction. Jaclyn Jonet plays Pixxi De La Chasse, the would-be heiress, as a vapid, ripped from the tabloids young woman with a surprisingly fierce determination, that is, once she finds her true calling. Miguel Sandoval, Rosanna Arquette, Chloe Webb, Xander Berkeley, Karen Black, and Robert Beltran have fun with their characterizations of Pixxi's family and co-workers. The plot bogs down somewhat during a long riff featuring terrorism on a train, but just when your patience is being tested, a toy model insert pops up to remind you that it's all a crazed pop-colored fever dream.
Why Rent and Not Buy: After 10-15 minutes, I was ready to give up, but then the whole "so bad there must be some reason behind it" aesthethic infected me and I gave in, instead. The infection may not be contagious for everyone, however. For those who do pick up the Blu-ray, the transfer will not be transportive, but it does appear to render colors accurately. The 27-minute behind the scenes feature is well-paced and highly informative, especially if you have any interest in low-budget green screen productions.
More New Releases on Blu-ray:
A monster week for Blu-ray!
'Beauty & the Briefcase'
'For Colored Girls'
'I Spit on Your Grave'
'It's Kind of a Funny Story'
'Legends of the Fall'
'Life As We Know It'
'Meet the Robinsons'
'My Soul to Take'
'National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets'
'Ong Bak 3'
'Paranormal Activity 2'
'The Princess and the Frog'
'A Private Function'
'The River Wild'