Blu-rays of the Week
The BFG (Disney/Dreamworks)
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s delightful children’s book might be too determined to conjure up the magical and the sentimental simultaneously, but at its best, it shows that Spielberg still has no equal making movie enchantment that pleases both children and adults. Mark Rylance is a perfect Big Friendly Giant; even motion-capture photography can’t obscure his expressiveness and emotional hugeness. The little girl Sophie is wonderfully played by Ruby Barnhill, and Janusz Kaminski’s dazzling cinematography, John Williams’ lively score and Joe Letteri’s phenomenal special effects add to the fun, even if ultimately pales in comparison to a classic like E.T. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras include featurettes, interviews and an appreciation of scriptwriter Melissa Mathison, who died after the film was finished.
Heart of a Dog (Criterion)
When performance artist Laurie Anderson’s beloved dog Lolabelle died, she dealt with her grief by making this lovely little valentine of a film that’s part catharsis, part shaggy-dog story and 100% pure emotion. At its core, Anderson deals with loss—not only Lolabelle, but also (though unmentioned) husband Lou Reed—even providing insightful personal observations about New York post-Sept. 11 and our current security state. The film’s visuals are more than adequate on Blu-ray; extras include a discussion with Anderson, deleted scenes and her Concert for Dogs, which she performed in Times Square.
Howard’s End (Cohen Film Collection)
The peak of the uneven James Ivory-Ismail Merchant-Ruth Prawer Jhabvala team’s career was this absorbing 1992 adaptation of E.M. Forster’ classic novel about the shifting relations and attitudes among the different classes in Edwardian England: it’s old-fashioned filmmaking done so well that it’s transfixing to watch. Ivory’s directing and Jhabvala’s writing were never equaled by them before or after, while the cast—Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter and Vanessa Redgrave for starters—is flawless. The restored film has a spectacular film-like sheen on Blu-ray; extras include a new Ivory interview, vintage Ivory and Merchant interviews, on-set interviews and featurettes.
The Quiet Earth (Film Movement Classics)
In New Zealand director Geoffrey Murphy’s 1985 sci-fi drama, scientist Zac believes he’s the last person on earth after “The Effect” caused a mass disappearance: soon he meets a young woman, Joanne, and later, Api, a Maori man. This weird ménage a trois (of sorts) is interesting for awhile, but Murphy loses control with a dissatisfying open-ended final sequence that’s visually breathtaking but hollow. Bruno Lawrence is riveting, especially when he’s onscreen alone for the first part of the film. The new hi-def transfer is sharply detailed; the lone extra is an entertaining commentary by astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse with film writer Odie Henderson.
DVDs of the Week
Ants on a Shrimp (Sundance Selects)
Maurice Dekkers’ documentary, which follows chef Rene Redzepi (of Copenhagen’s famed Noma restaurant) traveling to Japan to open a Noma in Tokyo in a tightly compressed five weeks, is captivating in its numerous fly-on-the-wall glimpses of Redzepi dealing with colleagues, balancing the very real cultural differences between East and West and fixing any number of bugaboos targeting such an ambitious endeavor. Best of all are priceless moments such as the looks on several faces when something called “sperm emulsion” is unveiled for eating.
The IT Crowd—Complete Series (MPI)
The punning title—referring to a makeshift IT department of a small company—is the best joke of this painfully uneven four-season-long British sitcom that largely wastes a talented cast: Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade and Katherine Parkinson manage to elevate some of the humor, despite its essential crudeness. (The awful laugh track doesn’t help matters.) The series’ fans will love that this is finally available on DVD, since all 25 episodes—and a true bonus, the never-before-seen finale episode, The Internet Is Coming—are included on the five-disc set.
Neither Heaven nor Earth (Film Movement)
Director Clement Cogitore turns the vast wastelands and battlefields of Afghanistan—where a battalion of French soldiers fights a never-ending battle with mostly vaporous enemy forces—into a metaphysical hellhole where men mysteriously disappear, to the growing dread of the squad and its increasingly bemused leader (played by a terrific Jeremie Renier). Although Cogitore doesn’t quite grasp his demanding concept in full, enough of war’s confusion and futility are intensely conveyed to make this a welcome addition to the genre. Extras are Cogitore’s commentary (in English) and his 30-minute short, Among Us.