For the week of May 28th, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment is bringing Joseph Mankiewicz and Darryl Zanuck's Cleopatra to Blu-ray. This historical epic about the iconic Egyptian queen (played by the gorgeous Elizabeth Taylor) was, for a time, the most expensive film ever made. In 1963, it cost over $44 million, or roughly $326 million when adjusted for inflation. To Cleopatra's credit, you can see where the budget went on-screen - this is a massive production, with grand sets and sweeping themes and some of cinema's biggest stars (beside Taylor, Cleopatra stars Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Roddy McDowall, and Martin Landau). Unfortunately, a lot of that money also hemorrhaged the film off-camera, as Mankiewicz and Zanuck needed an inexhaustible cash reservoir to satisfy a script that was never finished and celebrity egos that crippled every step of the production schedule. The result is a fascinating and unwieldy studio project; along with Heaven's Gate and Ishtar, it might be the most famous "flop" ever made.
In his Blu-ray review, Jeffrey Kauffman writes that, "Cleopatra is easily one of the most amazing visual feasts in the entire history of film. The sets and costumes are unbelievable (the costumes and art direction, along with Leon Shamroy's sumptuous cinematography, and the special effects won well deserved Oscars that year), but perhaps the most amazing thing about Cleopatra is its unusually intelligent screenplay. Despite the film having been removed from Mankiewicz's control after he delivered a debilitating five-plus hour initial cut, there is a really visceral intensity to much of this film that makes it one of its era's most compelling epics. Cleopatra the historical figure will live in history forever, and chances are Cleopatra will as well."
May 28th also brings the Blu-ray debut of Doctor Who: Series Seven - Part Two. This was an important year for the Doctor: in November, the series celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, and Series Seven also saw the introduction of the Doctor's new companion, Clara Oswald (the charming Jenna-Louise Coleman). However, that sense of transition has marked what was a very uneven season of television. While current Doctor Matt Smith and Coleman share great chemistry with one another, showrunner Steven Moffat (who is the co-creator of the BBC's Sherlock) hasn't given the Series Seven episodes the spark and verve of his work on the fifth and sixth series. That said, Series Seven ended with a great finale that redeems many of the earlier season missteps.
Finally, we end the week with a grindhouse triple-feature from Shout Factory: Rolling Thunder, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, and Race with the Devil (the last two are available in a Blu-ray two-pack). Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has long regarded Rolling Thunder as one of grindhouse cinema's true gems - Tarantino even named his exploitation distribution company after the picture - and it isn't hard to see why. Though Rolling Thunder traffics in the sadism and graphic violence that were indicative of the genre, it is a far more thoughtful work than the disreputable ilk surrounding it; Rolling Thunder's first third is an intense and sensitive depiction of post-traumatic-stress disorder, as Major Charles Rane (William Devane, in the performance of his career) returns from the Vietnam War ill-equipped to deal with the mundanities of civilian life. Eventually, something terrible happens, and Rane finds himself seeking bloody vengeance, but his revenge mission has real weight, thanks to the combination of Devane's leading work, John Flynn's gritty direction, and Paul Schrader's lean script, which shares more than a few parallels with his brilliant Taxi Driver.
Jeffrey Kauffman's Blu-ray review notes that, "Probably due to its schizophrenic structure, critics have long debated what exactly Rolling Thunder is trying to say. Lots of analysts have wanted to stuff this film into the 'disturbed returning vet' genre (if that can even be termed a genre, as Tommy Lee Jones himself states in the supplementary featurette included on this Blu-ray), but when the stars and even the writer aver that this was more or less a revenge film, pure and simple, it's hard to really argue with them. There are some really fascinating parallels to Schrader's Taxi Driver here that may intrigue some who have neither seen nor in fact heard of Rolling Thunder."
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry is another Tarantino favorite; he even name-checked it in Death Proof. This tale of love and vehicular mayhem isn't the lost treasure that Rolling Thunder is; John Hough's direction is the definition of "workmanlike," and Peter Fonda and Susan George are fairly wooden as the two titular outlaws. What Dirty Mary Crazy Larry has are a terrific, scenery-chewing villain turn from Vic Morrow and some of the best car chases you'll ever see. As Tarantino's Death Proof antagonist opined, this movie has "real cars smashing into real cars...[and] real dumb people driving them," and that verisimilitude gives Dirty Mary Crazy Larry its manic, exciting energy. Race with the Devil is another chase picture that stars Peter Fonda, though this feature takes a decidedly more horrific approach to the cars. The film is essentially one long chase, as an RV of vacationing tourists (led by Fonda and the legendary character actor Warren Oates) find themselves under attack from a cabal of vicious devil-worshippers. It's a ludicrous premise, but the movie itself is a lot of fun, with loads of inventive car action and a relentless pace to keep things going.
@beyondblu: IMDB gives a worldwide $70 millon but only up to 1970. You do realize that the figure is really meaningless as it doesn't take into account the change in value of the dollar since then? Movie grosses are always a pain. Most films make money over a long period of time. Comparing or even determining what a film actually made is fraught with obstacles.
So whats the difference between the Cleopatra Digibook and the regular release? Is it a typical case of the regular release is missing all or most of the extras (i.e. Ben-hur, Ten commandments, wizard of oz) or is it just a packaging difference?
Having seen Garbage: One Mile High...Live on TV I will definitely be picking this up. And DIO warrants a blind buy, though I may wait for a review. But even as a lifelong (in my 50's) metalhead and huge Priest fan, I will not be getting Judas Priest: Epitaph after seeing an hours worth this week on TV. Way too much of Halford letting the audience sing EVERYTHING ... very disappointing. Almost like buying a karaoke concert movie. I understand it being the final show of the tour and all, so perhaps his aging chords were stressed ... but I don't buy a concert Blu-ray to listen to the audience sing.