Blu-rays of the Week
Big Pacific (PBS)
Yes, the Pacific is—as our president might say—the “bigliest” of our earth’s oceans, as per this superbly filmed chronicle of the multitudes of life teeming within and around it (whether off the coast of British Columbia, New Zealand, Africa, South America or the U.S.). The truly incredible above- and underwater footage in each of the four episodes—titled “Mysterious,” “Violent,” “Voracious” and “Passionate”—featuring everything from whales and sharks to turtles and the tiniest specimens on the ocean floor is brilliantly edited and narrate for maximum visceral impact and narration filled with scientific insight and analysis. The hi-def footage is, of course, stupendous; lone extra is a 50-minute making-of featurette.
Brigadoon / Waiting for Guffman (Warner Archive)
Vincente Minnelli’s classic 1954 adaptation of Brigadoon—Lerner and Loewe’s hit Broadway musical—has the matchless Gene Kelly and Syd Charisse (their song and dance duet on “The Heather on the Hill” is a highlight), tuneful songs and stunning color photography. Like his other mockumentaries, Christopher Guest’s 1996 Waiting for Guffman is well-written, -acted and -staged—but only intermittently funny. Despite a talented cast including Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, cowriter Eugene Levy and cowriter-director Guest himself, this is essentially a 10-minute sketch stretched out beyond its slender means to 84 minutes. Both films have quite good hi-def transfers; Brigadoon extras are musical number outtakes and audio outtakes, and Guffman extras comprise a Guest/Levy commentary and deleted scenes with their commentary.
Churchill (Cohen Media)
Brian Cox’s intensely gripping Winston Churchill is anything but a caricature in Jonathan Teplitzsky’s mostly melodramatic dramatization of the British prime minister’s pushing against the specifics of the upcoming D-Day invasion. Miranda Richardson is a hoot as wife Clemmie, John Slattery a non-descript Eisenhower and Julian Wadham a tough-as-nails Montgomery in a film that never persuasively illustrates a few very important days during World War II, especially when we know the outcome. There’s a stellar hi-def transfer; lone extra is a making-of featurette.
The Death of Louis XIV (Cinema Guild)
Albert Serra’s often mesmerizing but repetitious account of the final days of the French king Louis XIV is a sumptuous-looking attempt at recording history similar to Roberto Rossellini’s The Taking of Power by Louis XIV. Serra emphasizes the inability of the king’s minions to stop his gangrene from becoming fatal; nearly the whole time, Jean-Pierre Léaud—giving his best performance since his debut as Antoine Doinel in Truffaut’s 400 Blows—lies in his royal bed, growing weaker by degrees while trying to retain the last vestiges of nobility he’s had his entire life. The candle-lit imagery looks striking on Blu-ray; extras are last year’s New York Film Festival press conference with Serra and Léaud and Serra’s 2013 short, Cuba Libre.
Don’t Torture a Duckling / Suspicious Death of a Minor (Arrow)
Two more Italian giallos from the fertile early ‘70s era have been lovingly rescued in hi-def by Arrow. Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture (1972) is an unapologetically violent and seamy thriller about the murders of young boys in a small Italian town, with the Catholic Church hovering over it all. Equally bizarre and compelling is Sergio Martino’s Suspicious Death (1975), which follows an undercover Milan cop trying to make sense of murders of various witnesses to another killing. The films are by turns gritty and ridiculous; extras include audio commentaries, new and vintage interviews, and featurettes.
The Legend of the Holy Drinker (Arrow Academy)
Italian master Ermanno Olmi made this exquisite 1987 adaptation of Joseph Roth’s droll novella about a homeless drifter in Paris who cannot, no matter how hard he tries, return the 200 francs he received as a loan. Olmi’s elegant, dream-like fable is filmed with typically lovely understatement and exacting quietude; Rutger Hauer is superb in the lead, his face precisely etched by Olmi and cinematographer Dante Spinotti. This wonderful, life-affirming drama has been superlatively restored, and contains both Italian and English language audio tracks; extras are a new Hauer interview and a vintage one with co-writer Tullio Kezich.
DVDs of the Week
Cinema Novo / Stray Dog (Icarus)
Eryk Rocha’s documentary Cinema Novo is a superb primer on the 1960s/70s Brazilian film movement that introduced several original directors to a wider audience: exclusively through clips of classic films like Black God White Devil and archival interviews with artists like Nelson Pereira do Santos, Glauber Rocha (Eryk’s father), and Ruy Guerra, Cinema Novo displays the still reverberating legacy of the Brazilian New Wave. Stray Dog is Debra Granik’s poignant 2014 documentary portrait of Ron Hall, a biker from Mississippi who fought in the Vietnam War, which still affects his life today, more than four decades later.
The Best of The Carol Burnett Show (50th Anniversary Edition) / The Tonight Show: Johnny and Friends and The Vault Series Collector’s Edition (Time-Life)
Some of the greatest moments in the history of television live on in these new DVD sets. The six-disc The Best of The Carol Burnett Show (50th Anniversary Edition) comprises 16 episodes from each of the 11 seasons (1967-78) of the beloved comedienne’s classic variety show, with many favorite sketches and many guest stars from Ella Fitzgerald to James Stewart. Two new Johnny Carson collections—Johnny and Friends and The Vault Series Collector’s Edition—are must-watches for anyone who stayed up after 11:30 from the ‘60s to the early ‘90s. Friends rounds up 28 episodes with several of Johnny’s best guests, from David Letterman and Burt Reynolds to Don Rickles and Steve Martin. Vault has 12 full shows (with the original commercials), standouts being the 10th and 11th anniversary specials. Burnett extras include interviews, featurettes and bloopers.