For many cinephiles, the most exciting Blu-ray release this week comes courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox's Margaret disc. The story of a Manhattan teenager (True Blood's Anna Paquin) forced to cope with sudden, violent tragedy, filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan's follow-up to his acclaimed You Can Count on Me underwent a torturous post-production schedule almost as intriguing as the actual film; prolonged arguments between Lonergan and Margaret's producers over the picture's runtime led to litigation woes and a release delay of over three years.
When Margaret finally opened in limited release last year, it did so in a 150-minute compromise edit that provoked fierce critical debate; those people who saw the film had a strong reaction, whether they hated it or loved it. The Blu-ray is almost certain to continue the conversation - it offers not just the divisive theatrical cut but also a three-hour extended version (on an included DVD copy) that more closely reflects Lonergan's original vision.
Another notable title is Kino's The Saphead Blu-ray. The 1920 silent comedy marks the feature-length film debut of screen icon Buster Keaton, who plays Bertie Van Alstyne, a pampered Wall Street socialite undergoing a rude awakening to the world around him. As Keaton vehicles go, The Saphead has more historic import than sheer entertainment; it lacks the invention and excitement of his The General or Sherlock Jr., though it does contain one quintessential piece of Buster Keaton slapstick: Bertie's mad dash on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
In his Blu-ray review, Casey Broadwater echoes this sentiment, that "Buster Keaton's first feature is atypical in almost every way - it's more melodrama than comedy, it's short on pratfalls, and Keaton had next to no say in the production creatively. This was the role that made him a star, though, and it's worth watching just to see this transitional phase in his career...[and] there are at least a few scenes that showcase the young Keaton's comic genius."
Regarding the rest of the week's HD fare, Warner Home Entertainment makes the biggest impression: the distributor has unveiled a number of popular catalog titles from its video library. First up is Chariots of Fire, the beloved sports drama that won Best Picture at the 1982 Academy Awards Ceremony. To this day, the feature still maintains its power to enthrall; Jeffrey Kauffman's Blu-ray review notes that "Chariots of Fire is an impeccably handsome film, one suffused with a certain British reticence, but also one that seethes with passion, albeit passion kept nicely tucked just beneath the surface...The film is incredibly heartfelt and manages to craft an engaging story of unlikely rivals who become friends and even comrades, even as they each deal with different kinds of religious prejudice...The film manages to work in some piquant commentary on religion and even the pseudo-religion of sports."
But not all of Warner's new catalog Blu-rays are as high-toned and serious as Chariots of Fire. A number of the studio's cult thrillers hit the HD format on Tuesday, and chief among those is Blade II. This sequel to the 1998 sleeper hit outdoes its predecessor in nearly every way, as director Guillermo del Toro enlivens the franchise with his macabre visual wit and trademark enthusiasm for all things disgusting (the queasy makeup and digital effects for Blade's new adversaries, the genetically unstable Reaper vampires, remain the movie's highlights). Kenneth Brown uses his Blu-ray review to praise the comic-book thrill ride, calling "Blade II...a sequel that not only handily bests the original but stands strong as a terrific actioner, a frightening horror flick, and an entertaining comicbook adaptation. And everything is better. The performances, the script, the fight choreography, the action, the scares, the creatures...All hail Guillermo del Toro, man of many talents, many unsettling visions, and many unforgettable beasts."
Another Warner genre favorite: the sci-fi-thriller Outland. Director Peter Hyams takes inspiration from the 1952 classic High Noon, of all places; his film centers on a proud, decent space marshall (Sean Connery) who uncovers a shocking mining conspiracy on one of Jupiter's moons and vows to stand against it, even as corporate mercenaries pool their forces against him. Michael Reuben gives particular emphasis to Outland's realistic atmosphere, how "the space western [Hyams] created was more Deadwood than The Searchers...He populated his frontier 'town' with scruffy blue collar miners toiling long hours at manual labor and crowded into barracks-like dormitories. Their leisure time is spent with prostitutes or drinking in a space-age saloon with a laser light show and electronic music. No one worries about alien life forms. They worry about their hours, their bonuses, and on-the-job accidents from heat, lack of oxygen, and rapid decompression."
I wanted margaret but I'll wait until both versions are on bluray before I purchase it. already got most of the other new release I want from this week...WB titles and American reunion. Just gotta get 2 more WB titles tomorrow
RE Margaret: I wonder if maybe the Extended Cut doesn't exist in a film or HD form and as such am not sure we could ever expect a BD release of it. Lonergan may not have had a lot of money or resources to create the extended version in HD.
Either way, I loved the Theatrical version (one of my fave films I saw last year, of over 60) so I'm getting it. Will be annoying if I'm sticking with the Extended version from here on though, if it's only available on DVD.