Immersed in Blu-ray/DVD

The Great Escape, Richard III, Badlands, Sansho the Bailiff, and the original Fast and Furious are the latest home entertainment releases I’ve enjoyed.

The Great Escape (Fox/MGM)

This 50th anniversary Blu-ray release of the World War II classic may not be pristine, but it’s all we have for the moment and certainly a step up from the DVD. From Steve McQueen’s legendary solitude in the cooler and motorcycle release to the compassionate friendship between James Garner and Donald Pleasence, the fact-based prison breakout retains its excitement and power, wonderfully directed by John Sturges. The tension between individual expression and the triumph of the group is still a transcendent experience.

Richard III (The Criterion Collection)

My favorite of the Laurence Olivier Shakespeare movies, Criterion offers the most pristine experience yet of the Technicolor delight on Blu-ray (mastered directly from the VistaVision negative for the first time and incorporating all elements into the longest existing version). In light of House of Cards and its Richard III-like DC vibe, it’s the perfect opportunity to rediscover this Machiavellian masterpiece. Olivier struck the right balance between melodrama and black comedy for the ultimate in political conspiracy and paranoia at the height of the Cold War.

Badlands (The Criterion Collection)

Terrence Malick’s debut was an allegorical masterpiece of mid-’70s alienation and pop cultural obsession set against the backdrop of ’50s repression and rage. The Blu-ray beautifully captures the collision of violence and beauty, with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek trying to grapple with their identity crises. The rise of the serial killer, indeed. Malick has obviously continued his naturalistic expression in a series of fascinating and liberating ways.

Sansho the Bailiff (The Criterion Collection)

Speaking of Malick, he once wrote a stage play based on Kenji Mizoguchi’s Japanese classic, a naturalistic work of lyrical beauty set against the backdrop of political exile and enslavement in 11th century feudal Japan. The Criterion Blu-ray is the best rendering yet with greater contrast and shadow detail. It’s easy to see what appealed to Malick and what endures as a cinematic treasure. Sansho the Bailiff is a socio-political, psychological drama stripped of melodrama and sentimentality, with lovely long shots and a compassionate message of liberation and redemption.

Fast Company/Fast and Loose/Fast and Furious (Warner Archive Collection)

Meet the Sloans in this droll, drawing room series of murder mysteries that are like a low-rent version of The Thin Man. Joel is a rare book dealer and Garda is his spousal secretary. Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice inaugurate the series in high fashion, mere months before Ninotchka would make Douglas a star in 1938′s Fast Company.  Next up, Fast and Loose (also ’38) pairs up the dry wits of Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell as the Sloans get swept up in purloined Shakespeare. Finally, Busby Berkeley takes the director’s chair in 1939′s Fast and Furious, guiding the able hands of Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern, who finally goes to the beach for her long-awaited vacation, while Joel gets caught up in another deadly scheme. This is a wonderful DVD manufactured on demand available at the website.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Blu-ray, Home Entertainment

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