For the week of February 19th, HBO Home Entertainment is bringing Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season to Blu-ray. With its attention-grabbing sex and violence and complex fantasy enviroment, the first season proved itself one of HBO's breakout hits, and this sophomore year maintains the series' popularity, despite some major issues. Showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have deviated from George R.R. Martin novel A Clash of Kings in ways that don't necessarily improve on the text, the plotting often sacrifices character development for narrative momentum, and no character - not even Peter Dinklage's wonderful Tyrion Lannister - anchors the show in quite the same way as Sean Bean's heroic, flawed Ned Stark. Still, though it isn't as accessible as Year One, when Season Two works, there's nothing quite like it on television.
Kenneth Brown gave the Blu-ray set high marks in his Blu-ray review, writing that, "it's high fantasy done right, from its spellbinding source...to its casting, production design, scripting, storytelling, ever-shifting game board of power players and opportunists, gripping politics, blistering drama, vile villains, flawed everymen and shocking developments. Hardly an episode passes without something of consequence altering the rules of the game, and life and death are far from certain. Martin and...David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are willing to sacrifice any character if the story demands it, and have done so despite the occasional outcry of devastated fans. Season Two is no stranger to such sacrifice, and advances with authority, meticulous strategy and a merciless end to every means. It isn't a perfect run...but as sophomore seasons go, Game of Thrones charges ahead with confidence and conviction, and it's the series' growing fanbase that reaps the reward."
Also hitting the HD format is Warner Home Entertainment's Argo. The third feature film directed by Ben Affleck, this intense docudrama has already doubled-down on the accolades given to his Gone Baby Gone and The Town; in addition to the various awards it has already won, Argo is currently nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor. It did not, however, receive a Best Director Nomination, and that's a shame, considering how accomplished Affleck has grown behind the camera. Both Gone Baby Gone and The Town were immensely enjoyable pictures, but Argo shows Affleck sporting a newfound ease and storytelling maturity. If he keeps this streak going, he could become one of the great actor/directors - I can see him eventually combining Clint Eastwood's gravitas with Sydney Pollack's populist leanings.
Kenneth Brown's Blu-ray review notes that "not only has Affleck proved himself a legitimate filmmaking force to be reckoned with - yet again - Argo is a tense, expertly crafted, masterfully acted adaptation of a harrowing true story. Some have dismissed it as too slow. Others have called it overrated. I call it deserving; deserving of every nomination, award and ounce of praise it receives. I wouldn't go so far as to call it the undisputed best picture of the year, but it certainly ranks among the best."
On Tuesday, the Criterion Collection is also hosting the high-definition debut of another Academy Award-winner, the iconic crime drama On the Waterfront. Time has, unfortunately, soured the popular reception towards the film; many cineastes view it now as director Elia Kazan's attempt to justify his testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952, and you certainly don't need to stretch to see the connection - Kazan's hero, former boxer Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) rises above the influence of a powerful crime syndicate in order to expose the rampant corruption fueling his local union. Accurate as it may be, such a politically loaded viewing also robs On the Waterfront of its undeniable dramatic power. This is one of the all-time masterpieces, flawlessly directed, written (by Budd Schulberg), and acted, with Brando giving a career performance as the tragic, gentle Malloy.
Svet Atanasov writes that "stylistically On the Waterfront has a lot in common with the works of the great Italian neorealists. It is raw and gritty, at times looking a lot like a documentary feature about life around Hoboken's dangerous docks. But there are small episodes that also look like they were extracted from a stylish noir film about gangsters and hoodlums. The film's beautiful soundtrack was composed by the great Leonard Bernstein. It blends moody solos (the French horn solo in the beginning of the film is legendary), spunky jazz themes, and lush orchestral arrangements. This was the one and only soundtrack Bernstein composed that was not used in a musical. "
Finally, we end the week with The Thief of Bagdad. If you're only familiar with the Technicolor version directed by Michael Powell and Alexander Korda, then this 1924 silent version is ripe for rediscovery. Director Raoul Walsh (The Big Trail) brings to life this fantastical, energetic tale about a thief who gets in over his head when he falls in love with the Caliph of Bagdad's daughter; as the title character, Douglas Fairbanks helps galvanize the picture with his wry charm and fleet stuntwork, the latter of which still holds up eighty-nine years after The Thief of Bagdad's theatrical release.
Jeffrey Kauffman indicates in his Blu-ray review that "The Thief of Bagdad is often cited as the most outstanding fantasy film of all time...and whether or not you personally agree with that assessment, there is no denying the magic and whimsy, as well as the considerable technical achievement, that this formidable silent offers even to today's jaded, fantasy-proof audiences. One can only imagine what 1924 audiences must have thought when seeing a film like The Thief of Bagdad, a film rife with fantastic sets, outrageous overall production design, and some still rather appealing (if quaintly "old school") special effects."
I will wait for the Criterion sale at B & N, unless Amazon goes low for On the Waterfront. All the rest (Argo, The Insider, The Thief of Baghdad, Terminator, and Game of Thrones 2) will buy on price drops.
The Terminator remaster and The Insider are sure buys for me. I still have to catch some episodes of Game of Thrones season 2 on HBO On Demand...I'll wait and see if I want to buy the Blu as I did with season 1, which was a terrific set.
Didn't realize this week was big on releases. For me:
Monsters Inc 3D - to complete my Pixar collection
On the Waterfront - to fill another gap in my Best Picture Oscar collection
Battlestar Galactica B&C - to complete my BSG collection
And very interested in eventually either seeing or obtaining these:
March is gonna be a go for broke month with all the Disney titles coming out.
Strange line from the On the Waterfront trailer: "...as warm and moving as 'Going My Way' (but with brass knuckles!)" The only connections I'd make between Going My Way & On the Waterfront is (a) they both won Best Picture (10 years apart) and (b) they both have priests. When's the next B&N Criterion sale?