This week on Blu-ray offers up an eclectic cross-section of HD entertainment. First up is Moonrise Kingdom, director Wes Anderson's first live-action film since 2007's The Darjeeling Limited. That earlier release did not find the critical and commercial support that made Anderson's Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tenenbaums such enduring modern classics, but the success of his Academy Award-nominated cartoon Fantastic Mr. Fox seemed to have reinvigorated the lovely creative spirit that powers Moonrise Kingdom. A melancholy, funny tale of young love on a (fictional) island off the coast of New England, Moonrise Kingdom provides the same aesthetic and thematic wonders behind Anderson's best features plus a heightened emotional maturity. For perhaps the first time in his career, Anderson does not let his visual eye and pop sensibilities overwhelm the emotional journal - to a person, his leads are lost and profoundly flawed, and Anderson suggests that despite his tale's nominal happy ending, greater hardships lie in wait.
In his Blu-ray review, Kenneth Brown assesses the film from within the context of Anderson's previous works, writing that "Moonrise Kingdom captures the intensity and clarity of young love, pits its preteen rebels-with-a-romantic-cause against the world, and runs with it. It only helps that Anderson is as cool behind the camera as ever, his ensemble represents a full spectrum of exciting talent, and the ease with which the seemingly simple story unfolds is as tangible as the perfect storm of indie quirks brewing within the sleepy seaside town of New Penzance."
Just as impressive is the Season Five Blu-ray set for AMC's Mad Men. As this last season began, all those working for the advertising firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce found themselves trying to process the surprise union between Jon Hamm's enigmatic Don Draper and his (much younger) bride Megan (Jessica Paré, of Lost and Delirious fame). As is usual for creator Matthew Weiner's beloved drama, small changes always beget bigger ones, a condition that gives Don's marriage to Megan greater significance - in Season Five, Don and his co-workers have to process a rapidly evolving culture that does not adhere to the behavioral codes set by the status quo. For much of the season, Weiner and his team are operating at their peak capabilities, crafting moments that rank among the finest episodes of television ever produced. Chief among those this time around? A virtuoso three-part episode (which contains John Slattery's shining hour as Roger Sterling) and the subtle, heartbreaking work of Jared Harris, who turns his Lane Pryce into a tragic hero for the ages.
Jeffrey Kauffman sums up Season Five by noting that, "the series still continues to be one of the most consistently well written shows on television. That said, if you don't simply surrender to this show's deliberately slower rhythm, there's no way to really enjoy it. More so than perhaps any other regular dramatic series currently on the air, Mad Men is a show about characters rather than huge dramatic plot arcs, and that means attention must be paid to the ostensibly smaller elements that float by in any given episode."
Also on Tuesday, Warner Bros. is issuing Volume Two in its Looney Tunes: Platinum Collection series. These sets are no-brainers for animation fans: over fifty classic Looney Tunes, digitally restored and loaded with behind-the-scenes documentaries, archival footage, and audio commentaries. That stuff is all icing on the cake; the Blu-ray would be worth it alone for the shorts, which include gems such as "Buckaroo Bugs," "You Ought to Be in Pictures," and "Tortoise Wins By a Hare." It's animation history, spread over three discs.
Finally, we end on a title making its Blu-ray debut just in time for Halloween. When it premiered theatrically in 1981, filmmaker Tobe Hooper's chiller The Funhouse didn't make near the same impact as his iconic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre; it vanished into the horror movie ether, grossing just over $7 million before finding some notoriety as a video nasty. That lukewarm reception belies the quality of Hooper's work, which stands superior, in many ways, to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The Funhouse is a tense, atmospheric little shocker with terrific widescreen cinematography and even better monster makeup (courtesy of effects wizard Rick Baker), and like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it's nowhere near as grisly as its video nasty reputation implies.
Martin Liebman's Blu-ray review definitely appreciates what Hooper has wrought, praising The Funhouse for not "wast[ing] too much time slugging around in needless character construction, spending only a few opening minutes establishing the heroine-to-be and moving on to poking around the carnival for the rest of the first act, establishing that critical mood and atmosphere that enhances the mystery and unsettling nature of the second act and betters the reveal and panicked pacing of the final act. Hooper gets the most out of every square inch of each frame, crafting a mesmerizing world of the macabre disguised as evil in plain sight. The picture's makeup effects are great, and while the kills are rather tame even by early 1980s standards, The Funhouse feels more frightening thanks to both that makeup and that critical dark, eerie carnival ambience that the film so expertly constructs."
Looney Tunes is pretty cheap on Amazon. When will Warners start using lossless audio on these releases? If you're going to the effort of remastering the picture, why not clean up the audio, too. The reviewer is right - they are two for two but not in a good way.
I'm sure I will get downvoted into oblivion, but I really do think that Wes Anderson's movies are pretentious crap. The only one I have half liked was "Fantastic Mr Fox" yet his stuff always ends up on Criterion.... except for Mr Fox... go figure.
@I*heart*Criterion: You have a legitimate complaint. I don't think Anderson has had a genuine character since Bottle Rocket. They're usually all form and no substance. But then that's the appeal to many people. They like cartoony characters wearing high design outfits and saying things a real person would ever say. I stopped watching his movies for the story and just concentrate on the color palette.
But all that aside, don't you think it's a bit ironic that someone who loves Criterion is accusing a filmmaker with of being pretentious?