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Michael Giltz

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DVDs: The King And Still Champ: Citizen Kane

Posted: 09/17/11 01:16 AM ET

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CITIZEN KANE ULTIMATE COLLECTION ($79.89 deluxe BluRay or $64.99 BluRay or $49.92 DVD; Warner Bros.) -- Hell yes it deserves to top the list of Greatest Movies Of All Time. It's not my number one favorite. That might be Casablanca. Or The Philadelphia Story. But it's in my Top 10 and it's in the Top 20 of almost every hardcore cineaste I know. (The rest are just trying to be different.) It's there for a number of complicated reasons, just as The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band tops music polls. But never forget that the main reason is that it's a terrifically entertaining movie that's brilliantly acted and directed and superior on every level. All the boxed sets contain Citizen Kane itself, plus the Oscar-winning documentary film The Battle Over Citizen Kane and the Emmy winning movie about the making of it called RKO 281. You'll find many of the extras from earlier incarnations, notably Roger Ebert's brilliant audio commentary, which puts Peter Bogdanovich's dull one to shame. But all of this has been available before in one set or another. The main reason is for the upgrade in picture quality and, I must say, the BluRay looks and sounds stunning. The movie is always fresh but the improved image allows you to pay attention all over again. If you own the most recent version, I wouldn't feel compelled to buy it again, but if any classic is worth it, this is the one. And yet none of this matters. Because the real news is the super deluxe BluRay version which contains -- for the first time on DVD -- yet another Orson Welles' masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons. It's available as an exclusive from Amazon. And let me say again how much I HATE these exclusive deals. It's really annoying having to figure out whether to go to Best Buy or Amazon or Kmart to get the version of the album/movie/TV show that you want. I wish these exclusives would end. Famously chopped up by the studio, even with its final reel butchered, The Magnificent Ambersons is a remarkable film. Those friends who don't automatically list Citizen Kane in their Top 10 usually include Ambersons and it's not just contrariness. It's that great a film. I still dream the lost footage will be dug out of some closet one day but you shouldn't hesitate to see it in its current form. Why it's on DVD and not BluRay is a mystery, especially since it's not part of the DVD boxed set, just the BluRay deluxe version available only at Amazon And cruelly, I can't tell you how it looks or about any extras because it wasn't sent to me. That's about the only way a movie lover could be sent such a lavish set like this in the mail and feel cheated, like a kid given a baseball bat but no glove. Absolutely no one who buys this set should even consider purchasing the slightly cheaper BluRay version available elsewhere. You've got to get The Magnificent Ambersons now that it is finally available. Who knows, some day if that lost footage is restored we might be saying that the king and still champ is Ambersons?

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BRIDESMAIDS ($34.98 BluRay combo or $29.98 DVD; Universal) -- If watching chicks behave as boorishly as dudes is your idea of funny, then this flick is for you. I wasn't feeling it, but any movie that can boost the profile of the hilarious and adorable Melissa McCarthy of Gilmore Girls is fine by me. Loads of extras like "Drunk-O-Rama" and the unrated version. And really, if you want to see women behaving badly, don't you need the unrated version? Yes, there will be a sequel.

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MEEK'S CUTOFF ($34.99 BluRay or $29.99 DVD; Oscilloscope) -- Director Kelly Reichardt gets better and better with every film; here she fulfills the promise of Old Joy and Wendy & Lucy. The latter starred Michelle Williams as a woman who lost her dog; her central riveting performance kept the slight story afloat. Here, Williams is part of a marvelous ensemble, and while the plot comes fast and furious, it's presented in a low-key, ambiguous manner that suits Reichardt to a "t." In this Western set during the 1800s, three families are headed west with their guide Meek (Bruce Breenwood). Meek is either lost or being urged by residents of the territory they're headed for to steer newcomers away to their deaths. (Too many Americans might turn the territory over to the U.S. in a vote.) Meek may be clueless or cruel but they undoubtedly need water and the capturing of a "savage" gives them a chance to ignore Meek and use this man to save them. There you go. That it's, all delivered in an open-ended manner sure to frustrate general audiences. But what a cast. Paul Dano is wonderful as a weak-willed man who only seems strong compared to his hysterical wife (Zoe Kazan) who sees Indians lurking behind every tree. The inestimable Shirley Henderson is wittily on target as a woman constantly keeping an eye on her wandering son and a husband who refuses water when it's scarce (to all of their detriment). Greenwood is wonderfully offbeat as the guide and Will Patton is a rock of common sense as the husband of Williams, though their relationship is a little tense. (She's his second wife and he seems uncertain about this woman with opinions.) Without a hint of modernism, Williams creates a strong, fascinating character who insists on seeing the captured savage (Rod Rondeaux) as a man and not just an object of scorn or even pity. Exceptionally well-acted, quiet and observant, this is pure art house fare, which is meant as a warning for those who might want, you know, a little action and some answers, and as praise for a talented director coming into her own.

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THOR ($54.99 for 3-D BluRay combo; $44.99 BluRay combo; $29.99 DVD; Paramount) -- Marvel took a huge gamble, in my mind, when they chose to self-finance a movie starring the rather oddball comic book character of Thor. Surely that archaic sounding god would be an even harder sell than Iron Man? It paid off mightily when the movie grossed $448 million worldwide, making it a significant franchise for the studio and helping to set up The Avengers movie. Sight unseen, I would have considered Captain America a safer bet. It's certainly the better movie, though Thor has a few brief moments of fun when Thor and his friends interact with humans. Mostly, it's a rather laborious affair, handled competently by director Kenneth Branagh. The 3-D was ho-hum in movie theaters, but if you have a 3-D compatible TV and glasses and a 3-D BluRay player and the right connections, you can judge for yourself. The deluxe pack contains three discs (BluRay 3-D, standard BluRay, standard DVD) and a digital copy, making it as easy as possible for you to enjoy the movie anyway you want.

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MY LIFE AS A DOG ($39.95 BluRay; Criterion) -- Any movie that can charm curmudgeons like writer Kurt Vonnegut and comic Stephen Wright is a very special movie. Lasse Hallstrom will never make a better film than this charmer about a little boy whose father is far away, whose mother is quite ill and who enjoys imitating dogs. Europeans seem to take children much more seriously, at least in the movies, and this is just one more example of the quiet observation of youth that seems to reveal so much about the joys and pain of life for everyone, not just little boys. It's a great movie. Criterion's extras are a little more modest than usual, with Hallstrom appearing in a video interview. But the one main extra is a doozy: it's a 52 minute movie by Hallstrom from 1973, made right before he started helming all those ABBA videos. That makes this set practically a double feature and a welcome chance to see more of his early work.

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MST3K: MANOS THE HANDS OF FATE ($24.97; Shout) -- So many movies clamor to be considered the worst of all time (Trolls 2, anyone?) that it can get a little exhausting plowing through them. "Yep, that's bad; but it's not the worse." So thank God for Mystery Science Theater 3000. Even if a movie is just plain no good (rather than gloriously ungood) you can rest assured their jokey comments will keep you entertained. And they rarely did it better than with Manos, a movie that inspired them to heights of mockery. Hence this special edition in which you get all sorts of extras, including the original film without their commentary so you practice mocking it all on your own.

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DIANA RIGG AT THE BBC ($49.98; BBC) -- Be aware that this is not the "complete" Diana Rigg at the BBC. It does contain two entire runs: the comedy Three Piece Suite and the better romp Mrs. Bradley Mysteries. You also get one-offs like Genghis Cohn from 1993 (with Daniel Craig), Unexplained Laughter (Rigg as a sad journalist) and Little Eyolf. Of course, there's no pleasing some people since fans of the great Dame immediately wondered why the BBC didn't include the 1989 four hour miniseries Mother Love, with one of her juiciest roles. Ah well, for fans there's a lot to savor here that hasn't been available before. The productions may vary in quality but Rigg never does.

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WISHFUL DRINKING ($19.98; HBO) -- If you've read her books/memoirs, most of the stories Carrie Fisher tells here will be familiar ones. That won't matter. She has such a deliciously good time relating them, they're worth hearing all over again. Her childhood, her gay lover, those buns -- it's all here, delivered up with wry bemusement. Ideally, you'll watch this first and then dive into her books for even more detail and dish.

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THE WARPED WORLD OF KOREYOSHI KURAHARA ($69.95; Eclipse/Criterion) -- Criterion continues to delve into unexpected and rewarding corners with this boxed set devoted to the Japanese director. Intimidation is a noir-ish drama about a rising bank manager blackmailed into robbing his own safe. It's good fun, but Kurahara really comes into his own with seminal '60s works like The Warped Ones, Yukio Mishima adaptation Thirst For Love, the less typical glossy I Hate But Love and the jazz crazy Black Sun with a score by Max Roach. Wild and wooly stuff in great looking prints.

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NEDS ($26.95; Tribeca Film/New Video) -- The first half of Neds (short for Non-educated Delinquents) had me very excited. Director Peter Mullan's earlier drama, The Magdalene Sisters, was a well-acted if heavy-handed look at the abuses of young women by the system. Now he is telling the story of a smart young kid with a vicious dad, a criminal older brother and a world that wants to lower his expectations at almost every turn. The casting of the two young actors who play John McGill (Gregg Forrest and Conor McCarron) is spot on. They're both excellent and look strikingly similar, making his growth from little kid to bulky teenager very believable. John is very bright and some teachers do encourage him. But the spectre of his older brother, his nasty father and his poor circumstances frustrate the boy at every turn. He snaps, finally, when a nice kid he befriends from a wealthy family is cut off from him simply because he's lower class. John takes refuge in a gang and they drink and thug around in increasingly violent ways. John is both victim and persecutor here. But I simply didn't buy the ham-handed way he descended into Taxi Driver territory, no matter how inexorably brutal his world may be. A compelling case study became a whacked out tale with multiple hard-to-swallow twists (especially from his dad) and not one, but two crazily metaphoric moments, one with Christ stepping down from the Cross and the other with John walking through a field of lions that is spoiled by what appear to be obvious digital effects. Mullan has great skill and brought together an excellent cast. But like so many directors he pushes his stories into the extreme when small and quiet was proving far more effective.

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TRAINSPOTTING ($19.99; Miramax/Lionsgate) -- Some films just explode with talent; you get a contact from seeing so many artists -- actors, writers, directors, cinematographers, production designers -- all suddenly getting an opportunity to strut their stuff and making the most of it. That's the joy of Trainspotting, an outwardly depressing story of drug addiction that is made genuinely thrilling by the sheer delight of director Danny Boyle, star Ewan McGregor and all the rest wowing everyone, not least of all themselves. The BluRay fully exploits the great look and that great soundtrack. Great fun.

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the co-host of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It's available free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes. Link to him on Netflix and gain access to thousands of ratings and reviews.

NOTE: Michael Giltz is provided with free copies of DVDs to consider for review. He typically does not guarantee coverage and invariably receives far more screeners and DVDs than he can cover each week.

 

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