Published on March 20th, 2011 | by Greg0
New on Blu-Ray: Miyazaki, Rain Man, Last Tango, and Every Day
San Francisco is in the middle of the rainy season, so we’ve been spending some time testing out audio and video equipment while watching some new releases. Only one of these movies is new, strictly speaking, but the remainder are new to Blu-ray. And we’ve got something for just about everyone in today’s round-up, from some classics to animated films.
Let’s start with the oldest. Last Tango in Paris offers one of Marlon Brando’s best roles, and had a major impact on seventies cinema. This movie has held up quite well over time- about 38 years since it’s theatrical release. We watched it with a few people who had never seen it before, and they were pretty shocked- the movie is seductive and sexy, and bittersweet in it’s portrayal of an mourning expat who meets a French woman and forms a sexually-charged relationship. Everything here is strong- from the music to the cinematography, and it’s all held together by the excellent acting. It’s rated NC-17, note, for a good reason. For those who own the movie on another medium, you won’t gain a lot from the Blu-ray presentation. Sound and video are fairly basic, if solid- colors are clear and crisp, but there is some noise. And the lack of extras was sad- the only one included is a trailer. Available widely for $20.
Rain Man is a must-see. Think what you might about Tom Cruise, in 1988 he was a major actor and at the top of his game, and played one of the worst characters of all time with aplomb. And Dustin Hoffman might not be drawing a lot of attention these days, but as the autistic savant brother, he made the movie what it is- basically a sort of road trip, family drama with plenty of broad comedy. The premise is simple- Cruise is the brother left out of the family fortune which was instead left to Hoffman’s character. Hijinks ensue, and this Best Picture and Best Actor Academy Award winner is both easy to enjoy and offers plenty of depth for multiple viewings. On Blu-ray, MGM steps up their game a bit- the movie doesn’t even have a menu, for better or worse, and the transfer looks a bit muddy at times- this isn’t a remaster, and the age definitely shows a bit. Audio is surprisingly good though, booming through six channels, with only a few audio oddities (a couple of lines of dialogue were hard to catch, perhaps intentionally). But the real prize is the audio commentary by director Barry Levinson- two others are included, but are not quite as strong or as interesting. The single included deleted scene was worth seeing, but we only scanned through the PSA featurette “Journey of Rain Man”. $20, available widely.
Onto something different- a pair of animated films from Miyazaki father and son, the elder a master of anime and the younger presenting his first feature. Both Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Tales from Earthsea are making their way onto Blu-ray for the first time. There hasn’t been a bad film from Studio Ghibli- from Ponyo to Spirited Away, they’ve been matched only by Pixar for sheer consistent quality. Rated PG, Nausicaa features a really good dub featuring folks like Uma Thurman, Patrick Stewart, and Shia LeBeouf. We’re partial to subtitles and the original audio track, but the English dub is surprisingly good… maybe even better, perhaps since it’s almost 30 years newer. Available as a combo DVD/Blu-ray pack, this film might not grab younger kids the way Princess Mononoke can… but the message is there and the characters as strong as always and the film looks pretty good on BD (though not quite as crystal sharp as other recent Disney/Ghibli releases). There are plenty of bonus features as well, including trivia, storyboards, and a neat documentary/interview with the director himself. Some call this among the best animated films of all time, and it’s easy to see why. Though it’s not even the best Miyazaki, it has held up amazingly well over the years, and shines despite it’s age.
Tales from Earthsea, on the other hand, is from the son, Goro, and based not on an original idea bu the book by Ursula LeGuin. And despite some great scenes and some lovely animation, it just doesn’t hold up- it feels uneven, and even the dubbing is a bit second-rate. The film certainly looks great- the transfer is sterling and this is Blu-ray that is easy to show off, with vivid colors and lush sound. Again, some trivia is available, along with a behind-the-scenes bonus, but we compared to Nausicaa, it couldn’t really compete. Each film runs under $20, and are available now.
Finally, the newest of this batch of films… and sadly, perhaps the weakest. It’s unfair to compare it to Rain Man, it’s true, but we simply wanted Every Day to be a decent romantic comedy. Starring Liev Schrieber, Helen Hunt, Carla Gugino and even Eddie Izzard, the cast seemed to have potential. But nothing much works here, as characters feel unreal and hollow, not to mention shallow. The gay son, overbearing boss, stressed out wife all feel a bit stale and routine, with only a few sharp one-liners and the fairly likable main character hauling the audience along for the ride. It isn’t a painful ride, and at 93 minutes, pretty brisk. But there just isn’t a whole lot to recommend, even on Blu-ray. Rated R, the Blu-ray is as good as you’d expect from a film of this kind and only the darks feel a little off. Sound is excellent, with a nice mix actually. The tagline says it all: “Not quite the party you signed up for”. Deleted scenes and a trailer, along with cast interviews round out the extra features on the disk. $16, available widely now.