This week’s releases include: a sci-fi tour de force; a famous, tragic love story; a plunge into darkness; the true story of a kind-hearted drug dealer; the ultimate public, political betrayal; an entrancing mafia tale; a new Charlie Brown narrative; an amazing crime drama; an appalling future; an HBO series about the New Orleans; and a documentary that demonstrates one man’s trash is another’s treasure.

2001: A Space Odyssey on blu-ray2001: A Space Odyssey (Blu-ray steel book)
This is Stanley Kubrick’s dazzling, Academy Award-winning picture: a compelling drama of man versus machine, and a meld of music and motion. Kubrick, who co-wrote the screenplay with Arthur C. Clarke, first visits our prehistoric, ape-ancestry past, then leaps forward a millennia into colonized space, and ultimately whisks astronaut Bowman (Keir Dullea) into uncharted space, perhaps even into immortality.

2001 was a revolution in science fiction and has become engrained in our culture – there have been countless homages to the film that range from reproductions of the monolith scene to imitations of HAL (both of which have occurred on the great gauge of pop culture, The Simpsons). The film won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects (1968) and set the bar for many sci-fi pictures that followed. The HAL sequence is the best part of the film, but the movie on a whole is a masterpiece, exploring man’s evolution to a future that still does not yet exist.

Special features include: commentary by Dullea and Gary Lockwood; Channel Four documentary, “2001: The Making of a Myth”; “Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001”; “Vision of a Future Passed: The Prophecy of 2001”; “2001: A Space Odyssey – A Look Behind the Future”; “What is Out There?”; “2001: FX and Early Conceptual Artwork”; “Look: Stanley Kubrick!”; 1966 Kubrick interview conducted by Jeremy Bernstein (audio only); and the theatrical trailer. (Warner Home Entertainment)

Antony and Cleopatra on DVDAntony and Cleopatra (DVD)
Charlton Heston made his Broadway debut, appearing in a supporting role in Antony and Cleopatra. Twenty-five years later, he brought his authoritative presence and literary command to the lead role of Marc Antony in this movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s tale of Rome’s hero and Egypt’s queen (Hildegarde Neil). Heston wrote the adaptation and also directed, opening up the story to its cinematic possibilities with spectacle, pyramids, warfare at sea and a clash of armies on land.

This film was a massive production, which at times resembled Heston’s Ben Hur. Thousands of extras formed the Egyptian and Roman armies in the desert – not a CGI replication of a few dozen. Incredible detail is paid to Shakespeare’s words and their on-screen presentation. Heston’s and Neil’s performances are inspired; he’s passionate and masculine, while she portrays the ultimate seductress. They lack any noteworthy chemistry, but their execution is exceptional and distracts from their lack of connection.

Special features include: “The Making of Antony and Cleopatra with filmmaker Fraser C. Heston). (Warner Home Entertainment)

Black Swan on blu-rayBlack Swan (Blu-ray)
Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina in the New York City Ballet trying to make it to the top. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), also impresses Leroy and becomes Nina’s competition. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly with her innocence and grace, but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan with her fiery personality. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.

In one word, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is powerful. It didn’t present a wildly different interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” as promised, but it is a solid one. Portman, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress, is excellent as the slight young woman who slowly loses her mind in an effort to be perfect. Kunis is surprisingly good, playing the role of bad girl/temptress. And Barbara Hershey is exceptional as the disturbingly doting mother attempting to relive her failed dreams through her daughter. The story is quite formulaic and predictable, but the execution is brilliant from start to finish.

Special features include: “Metamorphosis: A Three-part Series”, a behind-the-scenes look at the filmmaking process, from directing to acting to special effects; “Behind the Curtain”, a look at the costume and production design; “Ten Years in the Making”, Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky discuss their creative journey; and cast profiles. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Blow on blu-rayBlow (DVD)
Based on a true story, Blow chronicles the high-speed rise and fall of George Jung (Johnny Depp), who became the largest importer of Colombian cocaine to the United States, forever changing the face of drugs in America. Set in the decadent 70’s and 80’s, the film traces Jung’s partnership with Pablo Escobar, one of the most infamous and dangerous drug lords in history.

To say this is one of Depp’s best performances doesn’t hold much water since he’s consistently brilliant in almost every role. But Depp’s portrayal of George makes him sympathetic, even as he funnels millions of dollars of narcotics into North America. George’s desire to make something of himself – to live the American dream – was surely misguided, but at their basest level, his motivations were understandable. Ray Liotta plays George’s father, who struggles to be supportive even when his son is openly defying the law. His mother (Rachel Griffiths), on the other hand, acts in the exact opposite, which evokes even more compassion for George. There are also some very memorable scenes that involve an absurd amount of money, threats of death and Paul Reubens.

Special features include: commentary by director Ted Demme and Jung; deleted scenes; Demme’s production diary; Jung interviews by Demme; “Lost Paradise: Cocaine’s Impact on Columbia”; “Addiction: Body and Soul”; character outtakes; Nikki Costa’s music video for “Push and Pull”; “Fact Track”, a trivia subtitle track; and theatrical trailers. (Alliance Films)

Fair Game on blu-rayFair Game (Blu-ray)
As a covert officer in the CIA’s Counter-Proliferation Division, Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) leads an investigation into the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Valerie’s husband, diplomat Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), is drawn into the investigation to substantiate an alleged sale of enriched uranium from Niger. But when the administration ignores his findings and uses the issue to support the call to war, Joe writes a New York Times editorial outlining his conclusions and ignites a firestorm of controversy.

This film is very well constructed. The first act clearly sets up the remainder of the movie as we watch Valerie in the field. It shows she plays an integral role in several operations that involve forcing sources to cooperate and gaining vital information regarding Iraq’s weapons’ programs. It’s estimated up to 70 of her contacts in various countries were killed or disappeared after her secret was revealed. Penn and Watts are brilliant. Watts is a rock as Valerie, while Penn appears natural in his quest for the truth. In emotional situations, Watts maintains composure just like one would expect a trained agent to do, which makes her eventual, singular breakdown that much more significant.

Special features include: audio commentary by Plame and Wilson. (Entertainment One)

Goodfellas on blu-rayGoodfellas (Blu-ray steel book)
Following a trio of gangsters over 30 years, we witness their rise up the criminal ranks and eventual falls to personal demons. Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) are a couple of half Irish kids that want nothing more than to be a part of the mob that runs their neighbourhood; however, their heritage guarantees they’ll never be full members of the crime family. Nonetheless, with their friend Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), the group makes their impression and gains the boss’ trust. Tommy’s temper and business choices threaten their careers many times, but they have each other’s backs almost to the end.

The illicit tale is based on true events, but Scorsese’s brilliant storytelling truly brings the narrative to life. It is also no surprise Pesci earned an Academy Award for his role, as he presented one of the most memorable personalities and delivered one of the most repeated pieces of dialogue in film history, which begins with “What do you mean I’m funny?” The film was also nominated for five other Oscars, including best picture and best director (both categories were lost to Dances with Wolves). Goodfellas is on par with the greatest mob picture, The Godfather. And if imitation is the best form of flattery, then “The Goodfeathers” on Warner Bros.’s Animaniacs was a significant compliment.

Special features include: commentary with Scorsese, Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Vincent, co-screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, producers Irwin Winkler and Barbara De Fina, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and editor Thelma McDonald; another commentary with Henry Hill and former FBI Agent Edward McDonald; “Getting Made,” a making-of featurette; “Made Men: The Goodfellas Legacy” comprised of filmmakers such as Jon Favreau, Joe Carnahan, Antoine Fuqua and Frank Durabont discussing film’s influence; “The Workaday Gangster,” in which actors and filmmakers tell stories about growing up in a world of small-time hoods; ‘Paper is Cheaper than Film,” a glimpse into Scorsese’s creative process; and the theatrical trailer. (Warner Home Entertainment)

Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown on blu-rayHappiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown (Blu-ray)
Linus is pushed to his limits when he learns grandma is coming to visit and plans on ridding him of his childish security blanket. As grandma’s arrival looms closer, the Peanuts Gang tries to help Linus learn to cope without his blue crutch. Lucy is particular eager to cure Linus’ dependency using her own psychiatric techniques, but while Charlie Brown tries to help he just doesn’t have the heart to see Linus suffer. All the while Snoopy is constantly agitating matters because he wants the blanket for himself.

Charles M. Schultz created the beloved Peanuts characters 50 years ago. They began entertaining in newspaper comic strips and later in television holiday specials, which extended the series’ longevity and became a staple of many celebrations. This feature is based on the late artist’s creations and co-written by his son, Craig Schultz. It’s definitely faithful to the original material. However, it’s so loyal that it mostly feels like a few weeks’ comic editions strung together to create one, extended episode. The protagonist is Linus and his irrational attachment to his blanket, but the narrative is littered with glimpses of other characters’ hang-ups. Even though Linus references these in the end to make a point, they feel unnecessary to the story as a whole.

Special features include: “Deconstructing Schultz: From Comic Strip to Screenplay: How the Peanuts Comic Strip was Made into a Movie”; “Happiness is… Finding the Right Voice”, an introduction to the voice cast; “24 Frames a Second: Drawing and Animating a Peanuts Movie”; and a deleted scene featuring an introduction by director Andy Beall. (Warner Home Entertainment)

Heat (Blu-ray steel book)
Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is an expert thief with a cutthroat philosophy: don’t become attached to anything you can’t walk away from in 30 seconds if the cops get too close. His crew (Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore) gains the attention of Detective Vince Hanna (Al Pacino) with a series of professional robberies that culminate in a shootout outside a federal bank. However, both men have met their match and are determined to win at the expense of their personal relationships.

Heat was a revelation – it was the first time heavyweight actors De Niro and Pacino took the screen together (they’ve since repeated the milestone event in Righteous Kill). Though they only shared the screen for one incredibly performed conversation, the cat and mouse drama still lived up to all expectations. Moreover, there is not a single weak performer amongst the entire cast. At just under three hours, writer/director Michael Mann ensures there is never a dull moment whether through daylight shootouts, struggling relationships or life-changing decisions.

Special features include: additional film content supervised by Mann; commentary by Mann; 11 additional scenes; five documentaries: “True Crime,” which recalls the lives of the story’s inspirations; “Crime Stories,” which explores the film’s history and start; “Into the Fire,” a production featurette; “Pacino and De Niro: The Conversation”; and “Return to the Scene of the Crime,” revisiting the real-life Los Angeles filming locations years later; and theatrical trailers. (Warner Home Entertainment)

Soylent Green on blu-raySoylent Green (Blu-ray)
In the year 2022, overpopulation and the greenhouse effect have made life extremely difficult for the majority of people. The population of New York City is 40 million and the constant heat is unbearable. The city’s infrastructure has broken down, water is rationed and fresh food is virtually non-existent. Instead, most of the population survives by eating soylent green, a mysterious substance supposedly made from ocean vegetation and formed into tasteless green wafers. Thorn (Charlton Heston) is a detective prowling the dank streets of a polluted, trailing a murderer – and the trail leads to a stunning discovery.

This movie was produced during a period when some experts were predicting the world would suffer a massive food shortage or worse by now – and while we are currently incurring high inflation rates on some items, there is still food to be had. But if there wasn’t, would people so easily accept a 100 per cent manufactured, mystery substance as their main source of nutrients? Or do we already eat so much processed food that it wouldn’t be much of a stretch? Soylent Green isn’t a major achievement in filmmaking, but it is incredibly thought-provoking and can lead to a variety of post-screening discussions. Therein lays its strength and appeal.

Special features include: commentary by director Richard Fleischer and actor Leigh Taylor-Young; two vintage featurettes: “A Look at the World of Soylent Green” and “MGM’s Tribute to Edward G. Robinson’s 101st Film”; and the theatrical trailer. (Warner Home Entertainment)

Treme – The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Amid the ruins of an American city, ordinary people – musicians, chefs, residents – find themselves clinging to a unique culture and wondering if the city that gave birth to that culture still has a future. The series is set in New Orleans, in the aftermath of the greatest man-made disaster in American history. From the creators of The Wire, this new series is about adversity and the human spirit.

So many post-war or post-disaster pictures focus on the tragedies or heroes of the event. Treme puts the spotlight on the regular people attempting to simply live in the aftermath. Of course a lot of their issues stem from Katrina, but these New Orleanians are dealing with all the normal everyday things too. In addition to battling insurance companies and cleaning up the debris, couples are struggling to connect and individuals contend with the usual vices, such as drug addiction and infidelity. It’s also a wonderful exploration of the buoyant culture in New Orleans, from the parades to the food to the spirit. The series closes with no major issues left to be solved, but there are definitely some interesting stories still to be told in the second season beginning April 24th on HBO.

Special features include: “Down in the Treme: A Look at the Music and Culture of New Orleans”; “The Music of Treme”; a making-of featurette; “Treme: Beyond Bourbon Street”, an exploration of the series’ namesake neighbourhood; five audio commentaries by creators/executive producers David Simon and Eric Overmyer, executive producer Nina Kostroff Noble, producer/director Anthony Hemingway, writer George Pelecanos, cast members Wendell Pierce, Khandi Alexander and John Goodman, and TV critic Alan Sepinwall; and music commentaries by WBGO’s Josh Jackson and NPR Music’s Patrick Jarenwattananon. (Warner Home Entertainment)

Waste Land on DVDWaste Land (DVD)
Filmed over nearly three years, Waste Land follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world’s largest garbage dump – Jardim Gramacho – located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. There, he photographs an eclectic band of “catadores”, or self-designated pickers of recyclable materials. Muniz’s initial objective was to “paint” the catadores with garbage. However, his collaboration with these inspiring characters as they recreate photographic images of themselves out of garbage reveals both dignity and despair as the catadores begin to re-imagine their lives. Lucy Walker has great access to the entire process and, in the end, offers stirring evidence of the transformative power of art and the alchemy of the human spirit.

Special features include: extended bonus footage: “Beyond Gramacho”; and “An Untold Story”. (Entertainment One)

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