New Releases & Criterion Corner
Published: Monday, March 19, 2012
Updated: Monday, March 19, 2012 23:03
While each Tuesday typically brings a flurry of new releases to DVD and Blu-ray, this week and last week have been particularly outstanding in terms of quality.
The Oracle offers a rundown of what films are worth adding to your collection this week.
“The Muppets” (2011)
The return of creator Jim Henson’s gang of friendly puppets, spearheaded by the iconic Kermit the Frog, was a welcome one with 2011’s“The Muppets.” With “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” star Jason Segel and Academy Award-nominated “Enchanted” actress Amy Adams along for this whimsical ride, the pair follow fellow Muppet Walter on one of the crew’s best film outings in many years.
Gary’s (Segel) younger brother Walter (Peter Linz) accompanies him on a supposedly romantic trip to Los Angeles with his girlfriend Mary (Adams), where the trio uncovers a plot to turn Henson’s Muppet Studios into an oil drilling facility by unscrupulous tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). Walter embarks on a journey of self-discovery, with Gary and Mary experiencing relationship troubles, all while they try to reunite the Muppets for a performance to save the studio.
While the film arrives from Disney on DVD and Blu-ray with all the standard special features like behind-the-scenes footage and some hilarious outtakes featuring the Muppets, the appropriately titled “Wocka Wocka Value Pack” comes complete with the film’s soundtrack. Featuring the Academy Award-winning track “Man or Muppet,” the release offers a chance to listen to the film’s jubilant original soundtrack at your leisure.
Before teenagers were battling each other to the death in “The Hunger Games,” the students of Shiroiwa Junior High School were also out for blood in Koushun Takami’s “Battle Royale.” Both in print and onscreen, “Battle Royale” predates the bestselling “Hunger Games” series, but this week’s Anchor Bay release of “Battle Royale” and “Battle Royale: The Complete Collection” seems to be riding the wave of hype this Friday’s release of “The Hunger Games” is riding on.
Long an imported title from overseas, the release marks the first time this tale of a Japanese government that kidnaps a class of ninth-grade students and pits them against each other in a bloody melee has officially made its way onto DVD and Blu-ray stateside.
While this release is great for the rabid cult following of “Battle Royale,” the single-disc release that will appeal to more frugal shoppers will disappoint in its lack of supplementary material. Yet for those willing to splurge on the four-disc “Complete Collection,” two cuts of the film and many insightful feature documentaries await, along with a disc reserved for the film’s lackluster sequel.
“The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988)
The Criterion Collection made a wise choice in releasing the Blu-ray of “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Hugo” director Martin Scorsese’s meditative and controversial adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel of the same name, just a few weeks out from the Easter holiday. For those willing to lend this unorthodox take on the story of Jesus Christ some credence, it will yield some intriguing and insightful results.
Starring Willem Dafoe in an astonishing performance as Christ, Scorsese’s deeply personal portrayal of one of the key figures of his own faith is a harrowing one, chronicling Christ’s bouts with forms of temptation that include fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust in his final days. Along with featuring a stellar acting ensemble that includes David Bowie, Barbara Hershey and Harry Dean Stanton, the film cleverly weaves a tale of a man at odds with his own place in life, angering many Christians by ignoring the commonly accepted Biblical portrayal of Jesus' life in the Gospels.
As usual with a release from Criterion, they don’t skimp on the supplementary materials, and on “The Last Temptation of Christ” they especially count. Yet what’s most worthwhile in the features here are the audio commentary with Scorsese, Dafoe, and screenwriters Paul Schrader and Jay Cocks, along with an interview with the film’s composer and pop superstar Peter Gabriel, altogether making the pristine high-definition transfer of this overlooked gem worthwhile.
“The War Room” (1993)
According to filmmaker Chris Hegedus and “Don’t Look Back” director D.A. Pennebaker’s 1993 documentary “The War Room,” a lot more went into Bill Clinton’s 1992 run for presidency than just the suave demeanor of the silver-haired candidate from Arkansas. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, the film doesn’t just show Clinton’s victorious campaign run from his eyes, but from those of an intense breed of campaign strategists that guided him right to the front door of the White House.