Digital Week – November 23


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Ran (Lionsgate)

This week’s roundup features several visually mesmerizing upgrades to 4K—Akira Kurosawa’s war epic “Ran,” George Miller’s quartet of “Mad Max” films and Francis Coppola’s “The Outsiders” — and the streaming debut of a new documentary about director Kevin Smith, “Clerk.”

4K/UHD Releases of the Week

Ran (Lionsgate)

Ran (Lionsgate)Akira Kurosawa’s black, bleak 1985 war drama is among the Japanese master’s greatest epics, poetically showing man’s inhumanity as it compellingly welds Shakespeare’s “King Lear” to traditional Noh theater. Kurosawa’s masterly adaptation gives that tremendous actor Tatsuya Nakadai (hidden behind amazing make-up) one of his best roles as the foolish king who destroys his empire by dividing it among his two older sons and banishing the youngest. There’s a surfeit of sequences to gasp at—especially two unforgettably shot battle sequences, the despairing yet breathtaking final moments, and Toru Takemitsu’s perfectly realized score—in a subtly realized new 4K restoration that shows off Kurosawa’s stunning use of realistic and symbolic color. The lone extra is an interview with the French restoration team.

Mad Max Anthology (Warner Bros)

Mad Max Anthology (Warner Bros)Director George Miller’s classic franchise—“Mad Max” (1979), “The Road Warrior/Mad Max 2” (1981), “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (1985) and “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)—comprises a quartet of kinetic action flicks that, as they rolled on, became catnip for those who don’t care about characterization, plot or dialogue but want more explosions, stunts and non-stop action. That’s just what Miller and his crack technical crew do, conjuring wall-to-wall car chases, races and hand-to-hand combat that, after awhile, become bludgeoning and mindnumbing. But the first film remains a truly original creation, with a pre-superstar (and pre-lunatic) Mel Gibson front and center. The ultra hi-def transfers look incredible; lone extras are on the “The Road Warrior” disc: a Leonard Maltin intro, Miller and cinematographer Dean Semler commentary, and “Road War: The Making of ‘Road Warrior’” featurette.

The Outsiders—The Complete Novel (Warner Bros)

The Outsiders—The Complete Novel (Warner Bros)Francis Coppola’s 1983 adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s classic teenage novel was a mess when first released; Coppola later improved it somewhat by dropping his father Carmine’s bludgeoning score and replacing it with appropriate period pop tunes. It’s still a messy mix of great and cringeworthy scenes that’s worth a look for the future stars all in one cast: Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and—best of all—Diane Lane, whose Cherry is the most interesting character. The 4K transfer looks terrific; new extras include restoration interview with cinematographer Stephen Burum, Zoetrope head of archives and restorations James Mockoski and colorist Gregg Garvin; deleted scenes; Coppola intro and “Anatomy of a Scene” featurette; and “Old House New Home” featurette. Vintage extras comprise a Coppola commentary; Dillon, Howell, Lane, Lowe, Macchio and Swayze commentary; “Staying Gold: A Look Back at ‘The Outsiders’”; S.E. Hinton on Location in Tulsa; The Casting of “The Outsiders”; “‘The Outsiders’ Started by School Petition”; and deleted/extended scenes.

Streaming Release of the Week

Clerk. (1091 Pictures)

Clerk. (1091 Pictures)Kevin Smith, who began his career with a bang with 1994’s “Clerks”— which heralded a fresh, funny new movie voice—then spun his wheels with movies that either were “Clerks” retreads or misbegotten attempts to branch out that made one long for “Clerks” retreads, has nonetheless navigated a nearly three-decade long career, which Malcolm Ingram’s a touch too reverential but well-done documentary shows. Smith was one of the first celebrities to grow his audience online, then branched out into comic books, podcasts and live performances, all while continuing to make the movies he wanted to make. Interviews with Smith, his mother, brother, wife, daughter, sidekick Jason Mewes, producer Scott Mosier, and others who’ve worked with him or appeared in his films (Ben Affleck! Matt Damon! Stan Lee!) give this an appropriately exhaustive feel, although bookending the movie with two Springsteen songs is a bit much (at the final “The Wish” works better than the clichéd “My Hometown”).

Blu-ray Releases of the Week

Bee Gees—How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (Warner Archive/HBO)

Bee Gees—How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (Warner Archive/HBO)Since the Bee Gees became such massive stars with “Saturday Night Fever” in the late 70s it’s easy to forget they had a pretty good career before and after that juggernaut, as Frank Marshall’s incisive documentary demonstrates. We start from their youth in Australia, hitting it big in Britain then the States in the ’60s and onto huge chart success in the mid-70s as they turned to disco, which extended into the early ’80s. There’s also a sense of sadness, since two of the three brothers Gibb are gone—three of four, if you count younger brother Andy, also a hitmaker in his own right—and Barry, speaking today wistfully about their lives and shared career, looks as you’d expect someone who has had great highs and terrible lows. The Blu-ray image looks good; extras are two promos masquerading as deleted scenes.

The Deceivers (Cohen Film Collection)

The Deceivers (Cohen Film Collection)This soggy adventure, which was directed in 1988 by an out-of-his-element Nicholas Meyer, makes an undeniably fascinating historical subject—a marauding band of local Thuggees, known as “deceivers,” killing and robbing in 1825 India—as urgent and exciting as watching water boil. Pierce Brosnan plays a British officer who goes undercover to infiltrate the gang, but Meyer’s direction, Michael Hirst’s script and Brosnan’s performance drag down this two-hour drama, despite shooting on actual locations and being produced by the eminent Ismail Merchant. The excellent Blu-ray image at least has a fine amount of grain.

National Velvet (Warner Archive)

ational Velvet (Warner Archive)One of the all-time beloved movies is this 1944 melodrama about a teenage girl who, with help from a young drifter, trains her beloved horse Pie for the big race and…well, for those few people who don’t know what happens, I won’t spoil it. Young Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney are an irresistible (and platonic) young couple and the horse sequences are beautifully done, particularly the race footage. It’s corny, sentimental uplift, which is what moviegoers during WWII wanted. The colors literally pop off the screen in hi-def; extras?

Snowpiercer—Complete 2nd Season (Warner Bros)

Snowpiercer—Complete 2nd Season (Warner Bros)The second season of this series based on Korean director Bong Joon Hoo’s 2013 post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick about a high-speed train circling the globe carrying what’s left of humanity after a disastrous attempt to fix global warming (elites in front, dregs in back) brings in Mr. Wilford—the shadowy billionaire behind the super train—who engages in a power play with Layton, the leader of the opposition. Once again, despite incoherent plotting and jerky pacing, flashy visuals and the cast—led by Daveed Diggs (Layton) and Sean Bean (Wilford), although Jennifer Connolly is used to less good effect than in the debut season—provide the energy to keep “Snowpiercer” on track. The season’s 10 episodes look dazzling in hi-def; extras are short featurettes and interviews.

Some Came Running (Warner Archive)

Some Came Running (Warner Archive)Considering daring in its day, Vincente Minnelli’s vicious 1958 evisceration of the hypocritical values of small-town America has lost some of its luster over the decades, but it still has several moments and images that are indelible and potent. There’s also a superlative cast, led by Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, Dean Martin, Arthur Kennedy and Martha Hyer, as well as a canny blend of location and studio shooting that’s pretty seamless. The hi-def transfer looks gorgeous; lone extra is the vintage featurette, “The Story of ‘Some Came Running’.”

DVD Release of the Week

The Early Films of Lee Isaac Chung (Film Movement)

The Early Films of Lee Isaac Chung (Film Movement)Before he made last year’s Oscar-nominated “Minari,” Lee Isaac Chung directed a trio of intimate films that explored the intricacies of relationships, whether young men from different tribes in Rwanda (2007’s “Munyurangabo”), friends dealing with another’s being diagnosed with cancer (2009’s “Lucky Life”) or a lonely middle-aged woman who miraculously finds a companion (2012’s “Abigail Harm”). Chung’s understated technique perfectly illuminates the ordinary but remarkable people that populate these films, and that they comprise mainly unfamiliar faces—Amanda Plummer, as Abigail Harm herself, is the exception—makes them all the more real. The lone extras are a Chung commentary and behind-the-scenes footage on “Munyurangabo.”

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