Autumn means it's time for new titles on DVD and Blu-ray

"Star Wars: The Complete Saga" is arguably the most anticipated Blu-ray release in the history of the format.

Story highlights

  • Simply put, the three-disc "Thor" set is stunning
  • Making its debut on Blu-ray, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" has been meticulously mastered
  • "Scarface" is released in a nifty red metal tin
The following is a noncomprehensive, purely subjective list of some of the DVDs and Blu-ray titles* coming out this fall. It doesn't mean that the ones not listed aren't worthy, just that I either didn't know about them, didn't have time to watch them or didn't have room to include them. I'm sure they're good, too. Well, I'm sure someone likes them, anyway. Enjoy!
*All titles on Blu-ray unless otherwise noted.
The 400 pound elephant in the corner:
"Star Wars: The Complete Saga" (20th Century Fox, out now)
In 1980, when George Lucas first slapped "Episode V" on the opening crawl for "Empire" and we first got the idea that he was planning 3 prequels (we'll leave the rumors of episodes VII, VIII and IX for another day), we pretty much lost our minds. I mean, the idea of, at that point, four more Star Wars films pretty much blew my 11-year-old mind. Flash forward 19 years and my friends and I are sitting slack-jawed watching "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" in utter disbelief. A trade delegation? Economic sanctions?
Arguably the most anticipated Blu-ray release in the history of the format (this summer's release of the extended versions of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy being the only other real rival) this set is a whopper and I won't lie: My heart skipped a beat when it arrived in the mail. That is until I realized that fully one-third of this set is comprised of films I will never, ever watch again save for the purpose of this review. Le sigh.
However, I am a firm believer in not cutting off one's nose to spite one's face and I don't believe boycotting this set makes any sense at all. The changes made for this version to the two films that really matter (episodes IV and V) are minimal (in fact the gap between Han and Greedo has been shortened even further) and if you've gotten used to the "special editions," you won't notice too much of a change.
The real damage to the series was done in 1997, when Lucas appeared to contract Muppet Fever and started adding digital creatures hopping around Mos Eisley. It's supposed to be a wretched hive of scum and villainy, not a collection of little space wombats making cute squeaking noises!
There is, however, a whole generation of people now in their 20s for whom Episodes I, II and III are "Star Wars." To these poor, misguided souls, all I can say is: This is the set for you.
For the rest of us, the extras for the first three films are legion, many available only on this set and they pretty much make it worth buying. Deleted scenes (including a long one of Luke and Biggs at Tosche Station), interviews, stills and commentaries abound.
Also coming soon: "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," season 3 (Fox, October 18)
Recent films:
"Thor: Limited 3-D edition" (Paramount, out now)
In contrast to the above set, this three-disc release provokes no ambivalence, confusion or anger. The only thing it makes me want to do is name a holiday for the inventor of Blu-ray and whoever mastered this disc. And a holiday for director Kenneth Branagh. Oh what the hell, Thor can have one, too. What's that? He's already got a day of the week? Then never mind.
Simply put, the 2D disc is stunning (I don't have a 3D TV, so you'll have to look elsewhere for a review of that aspect of the disc). The picture is gorgeous, the sound is earth-shattering (if you have a subwoofer and a downstairs neighbor, I suggest making friends before watching this one) and the film itself is a lot of fun! Extras are pretty cool with the commentary by director Branagh the most informative of the lot. More than a director for hire, he seems to have really sunk his teeth into all aspects of the production and his attention to detail and obvious love for the craft of filmmaking is evident.
"Hanna" (Universal, out now)
A compelling action/spy thriller that is also a rather touching family story, starring a teenage female Jason Bourne. How can you go wrong with that? The Blu-ray transfer is amazing. Crisp, clear and vivid, and "Hanna"'s locations (Finland, Morocco, Berlin and others) are so stunning that in 1080p, I wanted to leap through the set. Sound design on this film is top notch and the Chemical Brothers score pounds and whirls through your speakers, accenting the other audio effects.
Extras include director Joe Wright's commentary, an "alternate" ending that is more like the coda they decided not to use, deleted scenes that actually explained something I was curious about when watching the film and a few decent featurettes, the best of which details Saoirse Roanan's combat training for the film.
"The Trip" (IFC Films, not on Blu-ray, October 11)
This 112-minute feature starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as fictionalized versions of themselves was culled from six 30-minute episodes originally shot for the BBC and directed by Michael Winterbottom. The premise is that Coogan has been contracted by the UK newspaper The Observer to do a restaurant tour of Northern England. When his girlfriend decides the two need a break, Coogan brings Brydon along.
It's one of the funniest and at its heart, sweetest films of last year and will have you crying with laughter. One of the clips from the film has gone viral on YouTube with more than 1.2 million views: Coogan and Brydon's dueling Michael Caine impersonations (adult language).
"Incendies" (Sony Pictures Classics, out now)
An Academy Award-nominated film in 2010 (best foreign language film) and one of the best reviewed films of 2010 (92% on Rotten Tomatoes). A family drama, a mystery and a thriller, all from the magnificent mind of Denis Villeneuve.
"Prince of Broadway" (Not on Blu-ray, October 18)
A truly great little indie that won all sorts of awards on the festival circuit. Give it a shot, you won't regret it!
"Breakfast at Tiffany's: 50th anniversary edition" (Paramount, out now)
Making its debut on Blu-ray, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" has been meticulously mastered and restored and but for a few instances of overly smoothed skin (DNR: Which side are you on?) and such, it's a great watch. One thing that jumped out at me was the subtle genius of George Peppard's performance. He was outshone by the luminous Audrey Hepburn but deserves a second look. It's a heartbreaking turn by an actor who all too soon was typecast into second rate action films when he had the chops to be a real leading man with depth.
"Trainspotting: Collector's edition" (Lionsgate/Miramax, out now)
"It's shite being Scottish!" The start of one of the most memorable passages in recent film history and a turning point in this classic touching, heartbreaking, hysterical and ultimately uplifting film that helped to launch the movie careers of Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Kevin McKidd, Kelly Macdonald, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Shirley Henderson and Ewan McGregor's penis! Not to be missed and loaded with extras!
"Scarface: Limited edition" (Universal, out now)
Released in both a nifty red metal tin and a seriously limited (1,000 worldwide) special Scarface-themed humidor (priced at about $1,000), Brian De Palma's updated remake of the 1932 classic gangster film is a must-own for film fans. Not only is the release absolutely loaded with extras, but it includes a DVD of the original Howard Hawks film as well. One of the more amazing U-control features is a picture-in-picture setting that allows you to watch the film and see interview clips with De Palma, Al Pacino and screenwriter Oliver Stone as well as specific scene comparisons with the original.
"Airplane" (Paramount, out now)
This film was absurdly funny in 1980 and it's equally as funny now. Perhaps even more so, now that I have seen some of the films it spoofs. The first film made by the team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker (the "Naked Gun" films, "Hot Shots") "Airplane" is a "don't blink or you'll miss it" laugh a second collection of sight gags, high- and low-brow humor and great comic acting. The picture and sound are top notch and the extras, especially the commentary by the filmmakers and their producer Jon Davison, are great. My only quibble is an inability to access the deleted scenes and interviews outside of watching the "long haul" version.
"Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (Paramount, out now)
Another classic is released on Blu-ray for the first time with a whole passel of extras, including several tributes to late writer, producer, director John Hughes and the late John Candy.
The Criterion Collection
This is serious film geek territory but just because these films are aimed at cineasts doesn't mean the casual moviegoer won't like them, but they tend not to be summer popcorn flicks or rom-coms. On the other hand, they are often among the most widely praised and influential films in history and all have something interesting and original to offer the viewer.
"Carlos" (2010), directed by Olivier Assayas (September 27)
Simply put, this is an epic on a scale that very few filmmakers would attempt. Originally conceived as a three-part, 330 minute miniseries for television, it was also released theatrically in the United States by IFC films in both the full length and a trimmer 140-minute version. Don't sell yourself short. Watch the full-length film. It's one of the most extraordinary cinematic experiences you're ever likely to have and the Criterion release contains enough video and written extras to keep you occupied for hours more.
"Orpheus" (1950) directed by Jean Cocteau (Blu-ray, out now)
A true renaissance man, Cocteau was a poet, novelist, playwright, designer and filmmaker and one of the most influential artists of his time. This re-imagining of the Greek Orpheus myth stars Jean Marais (Cocteau's real-life partner), Marie Déa and Maria Casarès.
"If...." (1968) directed by Lindsay Anderson (out now)
Color and black and white, reality and fantasy, Anderson's film depicts a violent uprising at an English boys public school (what Americans would call a private school). It's Malcolm McDowell's first screen role and it won the Palme d'Or at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival. As usual with Criterion discs, the extras are copious, including a commentary with McDowell.
The Complete Jean Vigo (out now)
For the more serious cineasts among you, this collection includes four films (three shorts and one feature) made in the tragically short life of French filmmaker Jean Vigo, who died of tuberculosis at age 29. Interestingly, his feature, "Zéro de conduite," was reportedly a major influence on Lindsay Anderson's "If...." (see above).
"3 Women" (1977), directed by Robert Altman (out now)
A classic film from an era (the 1970s) that many have called the heyday of American writer-directors, a time when studios financed and distributed films that nowadays would be called independent films. It stars Sissy Spacek and frequent Altman collaborator Shelley Duvall.
"Community: The Complete Second Season" (Sony pictures Home Entertainment) and "The Office: Season 7" (Universal) both out now.
Two of the funniest shows on TV and both sets are loaded with extras. How can you pass these up?
"Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People" (Cartoon Network, not on Blu-ray, September 27)
One of the oddest, most entertaining "not really for kids" cartoons out there. You won't regret checking it out, assuming you have a slightly offbeat sense of humor like me, of course!
"The Hour" (BBC, September 27)
An exceptional and suspenseful six-episode spy thriller set in 1956 London against the backdrop of the cold war and the upheaval of domestic political and cultural change. It's basically "Mad Men" meets John Le Carré with an English accent and jazz. It stars Dominic West ("The Wire"), Romola Garai ("Atonement") and Ben Whishaw ("Bright Star").
"Planet Earth" (BBC, October 4)
Anyone who remembers the original PBS broadcast knows how astonishing this landmark series was. On Blu-ray it's even more so. I dare anyone to watch one episode and not marvel at the wonder of our planet and begin to at least think about what they can do to preserve life on Earth. The technology developed for the series, including new helicopter mounts that enable smooth HD to be captured from thousands of feet in the air helped scientists learn more about the behavior of animals than they ever could have from on the ground. Copious extras round out a set that I consider one of the few truly essential home video collections.
"Drinking Made Easy" (Magnolia, not on Blu-ray, October 4)
Those of you familiar with Zane Lamprey's previous series, including the late, lamented "Three Sheets" will dig this one. It's sort of like "Three Sheets," except he stays in the United States and you get to meet the oft-discussed but rarely seen Steve McKenna! The set includes 24 episodes set in 53 cities in 26 states. Each episode also includes some hysterical (and possibly nausea-inducing) eating challenges between Zane and Steve, including one where Zane eats almost six pounds of Chicago deep dish pizza.
"Beavis & Butthead: Mike Judge's Most Wanted" (Paramount, not on Blu-ray, October 4)
Frog Baseball, uncut. Not to mention The Great Cornholio and scenes from the upcoming new season! Heh heh heh.