New Releases & Criterion Corner

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 Hensons gang of friendly puppets, spearheaded by the iconic Kermit the Frog, was a welcome one with 2011sThe 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 crews best film outings in many years.

Garys (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 Hensons 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 films soundtrack. Featuring the Academy Award-winning track Man or Muppet, the release offers a chance to listen to the films jubilant original soundtrack at your leisure.

Battle Royale(2000)

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 Takamis Battle Royale. Both in print and onscreen, Battle Royale predates the bestselling Hunger Games series, but this weeks Anchor Bay release of Battle Royale and Battle Royale: The Complete Collection seems to be riding the wave of hype this Fridays 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 films 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 Scorseses 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, Scorseses deeply personal portrayal of one of the key figures of his own faith is a harrowing one, chronicling Christs 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 dont skimp on the supplementary materials, and on The Last Temptation of Christ they especially count. Yet whats 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 films 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 Dont Look Back director D.A. Pennebakers 1993 documentary The War Room, a lot more went into Bill Clintons 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 doesnt just show Clintons 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.

Focusing primarily on campaigners James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, the film crackles with an intensity left out of Hollywood political thrillers like the recent The Ides of March, as it paints a breathtaking portrait of the inspired antics of those who feverishly worked in Clintons name as if they were the ones set to take the seat in the Oval Office.

Criterion is responsible for this in-depth release available on both DVD and Blu-ray, which even boasts the highly sought 2008 documentary The Return of the War Room, which saw the return of the original filmmakers along with Carville and Stephanopoulos as they ruminate on their time spent with the campaign. The War Room is a rare and detailed account of life on the campaign trail to an extent we havent seen since.