The DVD Report #144: February 23, 2010

Orson Welles called it the saddest movie ever made. John Ford and Jean Renoir were impressed. George Bernard Shaw wrote him a fan letter. Paramount chief Adolph Zukor fired him because the movie didn’t make any money. Then the Academy, in its wisdom, gave Leo McCarey his first Oscar for “the wrong movie”.

Not that there’s anything wrong with The Awful Truth, which remains the quintessential screwball comedy and one of the best films of all time in its own right. It’s just that, as McCarey rightly rebuked the Academy, Make Way for Tomorrow is the greater achievement and the hallmark of one of the screen’s greatest humanists.

McCarey made his reputation directing Laurel and Hardy comedies in the 1920s and hit his stride in the 1930s with comic masterpieces like Duck Soup and Ruggles of Red Gap, after which he could write his own ticket. Unfortunately that ticket came with a price. When McCarey first refused to put stars into Make Way for Tomorrow, and then refused to give it a happy ending, Zukor was livid, but he gave his ace director the benefit of the doubt. The film opened to rave reviews, but nobody came. Nobody wanted to see a movie about old people.

To this day films about old people are non-starters in Hollywood. On Golden Pond is the only successful film on the subject and that plays more to our affection for its stars than the characters they play. Make Way for Tomorrow offered no such easy out. Its often exasperating elderly couple is played by non-stars, Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi. Moore was an ex-vaudevillian, a light comedy actor and Bondi was an experienced character player noted for melding into the characters she played.

The film opens with Moore and Bondi telling their middle-aged children that their house has been foreclosed on and they have to get out in a couple of days. The children and their spouses are forced to deal with a situation they are unprepared for. One couple agrees to take in the mother and another agrees to take in the father until other arrangements can be made. The strength of the film is that none of the characters are painted as villains. They are all portrayed as real human beings with their own problems and character flaws.

The film, despite its risky subject matter, is never maudlin, nor is it overtly sentimental. As is the case with most of McCarey’s work, the film successfully balances comedy and drama, sometimes in the same scene.

The heart and soul of the film is seventy year old Lucy, played by then 48 year-old Bondi as though she lived every year of the life of the character she plays. When Orson Welles said of the film, “it would make a stone cry”, he’s referring primarily to Bondi’s three big scenes, the one in which she talks too loudly on the phone while daughter-in-law Fay Bainter and her friends are trying to play bridge; the one in which she and son Thomas Mitchell have a discussion about an old age home and her final scene with Moore. “It’s been lovely”, she says about her life, and the film’s legion of admirers have been saying the same thing about the film ever since.

Bondi, Moore, Bainter and Mitchell all give Oscar worthy performances, but like McCarey, their flirtations with the little golden man came for other works.

Moore was never nominated. Mitchell was nominated that year, albeit for his drunken doctor in John Ford’s The Hurricane, a role he would more or less reprise to an actual Oscar two years later in Ford’s Stagecoach.

Bondi had been nominated the year before for The Gorgeous Hussy and would be nominated again for Of Human Hearts the following year. She ironically lost that one to Bainter for Jezebel. Bainter had also been nominated in the lead category for White Banners.

Bondi might well have taken home the Oscar for The Grapes of Wrath, had John Ford not been over-ruled by Daryl F. Zanuck who cast Fox contract player Jane Darwell in the role of Ma Joad while Bondi was living with the Okies to get a feel for the part. Darwell, of course, went on to win the Oscar for one of the great screen characters of all time.

Bondi was subsequently cast by Jean Renoir as the cantankerous great-grandmother in 1945’s The Southerner for which he won his only Best Director nomination. Bondi, despite another great performance, was ignored.

McCarey, whose later works include such beloved films as Love Affair; Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary's, fell out of favor with the critical establishment in the 1950s. Though apolitical, he was thought to be an arch conservative because of his 1952 film, My Son John, which was misinterpreted as virulent anti-Communist propaganda. Actually the film was, as is Make Way for Tomorrow, about the dissolution of family. Had he made his central character a drug addict or a thief instead, the film might not be as universally reviled as it is. Aside from the subject matter, however, it’s not a very good film and it took the remake of Love Affair, the even better An Affair to Remember,to restore his reputation. 

Make Way for Tomorrow is available on standard DVD only, in a digitally restored print from Criterion. Extras include on-screen interviews with director Peter Bogdanovich and critic Gary Giddens and a booklet with essays from among others, director Bertrand Tavernier.

Steven Soderbergh won an Oscar nomination for his screenplay to 1989’s sex, lies and videotape and dual Oscar nominations for directing Erin Brockovich and Traffic in 2000, winning for the latter. Since then his films have been mutually exclusive critical or box office successes. His best shot at returning to both was 2009’s The Informant! The film won the critical support it needed, but stalled at the box office with a total haul of $33 million, chump change in today’s market.

Matt Damon provides his most inspired performance since The Departed as Mark Whitaker, the real life whistleblower who went undercover for the FBI to inform on his company’s price fixing in the agri-business market. The trouble was that he was a compulsive liar who embellished the truth all the while hiding his own crimes. Scott Bakula and Joel McHale are also first-rate as his FBI handlers while most of the supporting cast is comprised of unfamiliar faces. Even Tom Smothers and Candy Clark are unrecognizable, the latter as Whitaker’s presumed dead mother.

The Informant! is available on both Blue-ray and standard DVD.

The remake of an Italian film with the same title in English, Kirk Jones’ Everybody's Fine lacks the deft comic tough of Jones’ previous films, Waking Ned Devine and Nanny McPhee but is worth seeing for Robert De Niro’s best performance in years.

De Niro, playing the role Marcello Mastroianni had in the original, is a retired man whose wife passed away just a few months earlier. When his four scattered children are unable to make it home for Thanksgiving, he plays them a surprise visit one by one. None are happy to see him and he returns home, sadder but wiser.

Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore are three of the children and they’re all fine, but it’s De Niro’s quiet dignity that gives the film its strength. James Frain, Melissa Leo and Brendan Sexton III have minor roles.

Everybody's Fine is available on standard DVD only.

The acting/writing team of Michael Sheen and Peter Morgan has come up with another winner in The Damned United.

Morgan won Oscar nods for his screenplays of The Queen and Frost/Nixon in which Sheen played, respectively, Tony Blair and David Frost. In their latest collaboration, this dynamic team takes on England’s greatest soccer manager, Brian Clough.

What makes this film stand out from the usual sports movie is that it doesn’t show its protagonist in his greatest light. The film concentrates on his disastrous 44 day stint as manager of the Leeds United team. Brash, arrogant and self-important, he makes all the wrong moves starting with breaking with his long time assistant coach, played by Timothy Spall. Both actors are excellent as are Colm Meaney, Maurice Roeves and Jim Broadbent in support.

The Damned United is available on both Blue-ray and standard DVD.

The now perennial British mystery series, Midsomer Murders has just released another splendid set of four whodunits in Set 14. Filled with the kind of complex cases we might expect of Law and Order, the bucolic English countryside atmosphere remains as deceptively congenial as any place we might have expected Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher to have found themselves in. This time, though, it’s the brilliant Chief Inspector Barnaby, played by John Nettles, who figures it all out.

Midsomer Murders: Set 14 is available on standard DVD only.

The DVD Report #143: February 16, 2010

Some day they may make a good movie about Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, but Anne Fontaine’s Coco Before Chanel isn’t that movie.

Oscar nominated for its gorgeous costume designs, the film looks pretty and is better constructed than last year’s TV movie, Coco Chanel, but is still a vacuous conceit that plays footsy with the truth.

The real Chanel worked her way up the food chain through a series of stints as rich men’s mistresses, but the several films made about her life portray those liaisons as love affairs. By ending this one with the death of her British lover, Boy Capel, this one at least doesn’t have to skirt the issue of whether or not Chanel was a Nazi collaborator during World War II.

Audrey Tautou has come a long way since her gamine portrayal in 2001’s Amelie split critics down the middle. Although something of a fish out of water in The Da Vinci Code, she is grandly at home here in her native language whether singing and dancing in nightclubs, designing dresses or playing at romance.

Alessandro Nivola does his usual competent work as Boy Capel.

Coco Before Chanel is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.

One of the most harrowing films of recent years, newbie director Steve McQueen’s Hunger, previously reviewed here in its Region 2 release, has now been given the deluxe Criterion treatment.

Not an easy movie to watch, the film chronicles the 1981 IRA prison hunger strike led by Bobby Sands, who pushed his body beyond its limits and died of starvation for the cause.

The film, which had an Oscar qualifying run in Los Angeles in December, 2008 was not nominated for any Oscars but did appear on numerous ten best lists in 2009, the year of its general release.

Michael Fassbender gives a gut-wrenching performance as Sands, especially in the scenes in which his body is just wasting away. Fassbender, who was born in Heidelberg, Germany and raised in Northern Ireland, has a German father and Irish mother. He currently resides in the U.S. and made a big impression as one of the Jewish U.S. soldiers in the Oscar nominated Ingourious Basterds.

Hunger is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD. Extras include new video interviews with Fassbender and McQueen, a documentary on the making of the film and a contemporaneous BBC documentary on the actual hunger strike from 1981.

One of the funniest films ever made, Alexander Mackendrick’s The Ladykillers was a huge hit all over the world in 1956. Its 2004 Hollywood remake is probably better known today, but it isn’t half as funny, or half as good.

The term “lady killer” means a man who is irresistible to women or has the reputation of being so. That is not the derivation of the term used in the title of the film, which refers to a gang of crooks who kill women, or least try to!

Alec Guinness, in one of his most delightful performances, heads the gang of five (Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green) professional thieves in a planned robbery executed from the rented attic of an eccentric little old lady (Katie Johnson). She unwittingly assists them in the crime. When she discovers what they’ve done, she insists they turn themselves in to the police. The nutty lady must die! The five bungling thieves draw straws to determine which of them gets to do the dirty deed. One by one they find they can’t, and are instead killed themselves by the remaining gang members.

If this one doesn’t strike your funny bone you probably don’t have one.

The Ladykillers is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD and contains typically splendid Criterion supplements including an introduction by Terry Gilliam and video interviews with various filmmakers on the career of director Mackendrick.

An Oscar nominee this year for Best Documentary, Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove is a fascinating look at the secret world of Japanese fishermen who methodically kill the dolphins they can’t sell to theme parks and other venues. The killings average 23,000 per year in Taiji’s infamous cove. The dolphin meat, which is then sold to restaurants and schools, is passed off as whale meat and other delicacies. The mercury level in dolphins is toxic.

The Cove is available on standard DVD only. Extras include an equally fascinating 18 minute interview with Robert Kennedy, Jr., in which he links the mercury used in the making of vaccines in the U.S. to the increase in autism in the U.S. population born after 1990.

Richard Barthelmess was a hugely popular silent screen star, most notably in D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms and Way Down East and Henry King’s Tol'able David. He was one of the three actors nominated for an Academy Award in Oscar’s first year, along with Charlei Chaplin and Emil Jannings, who won.

The two films he was nominated for were The Patent Leather Kid and The Noose. The former is an epic fight film, the latter a routine crime saga. Both are extremely rare films that are seldom shown.

Of Barthelmess’s talkies, 1930’s The Dawn Patrol (aka Flight Commander) and 1939’s Only Angels Have Wings, both directed by Howard Hawks,are the best known. He is the star of the former and has a role in support of Cary Grant and Jean Arthur in the latter.

Now the Warner Archive has made available four more Barthelmess films.

Frank Lloyd was an Academy Award nominee for 1929’s Weary River, a part talkie that was a hybrid between a prison drama and a musical in which Barthelmess’ voice was scandalously dubbed singing the title tune.

Lloyd directed Barthelmess again in 1930’s Son of the Gods, in which he is the son of a wealthy Chinese banker with Caucasian features. Constance Bennett is the woman who loves him until she learns of his heritage. Their jaw-dropping confrontation is one of the most wince inducing scenes of all time.

Frank Albertson has a nice bit as Barthelmess’s college buddy and prolific child actor Dickie Moore has an interesting bit as Barthelmess as a boy.

John Monk Saunders, who wrote the first Best Picture winner, Wings,and won an Oscar for doing the same for The Dawn Patrol, supplied the source material for 1931’s The Last Flight, directed by William Deiterle, a last minute replacement for Wings’ William A. Wellman.

The narrative closely follows that of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, which was first published in 1926. Barthelmess, David Manners, Johnny Mack Brown and Elliott Nugent are four former World War I flyers now drifting through Europe as part of the lost generation. Helen Chandler is the girl who follows them from Paris to Lisbon with tragic results. All five leads are excellent.

Wellman finally got a chance to direct Barthelmess himself in 1933’s Central Airport, in which he plays a World War I veteran flyer who turns to barnstorming aerial tricks to make a living after the war. Sally Eilers is the daredevil parachutist with whom he falls in love, only to lose her to his younger brother, Tom Brown. The climax of the film is Barthelmess’s rescue of a downed plane piloted by Brown and co-piloted by John Wayne. The film contains all the action and suspense we’ve come to expect from Wellman.

The DVD Report #142: February 9, 2010

Joel and Ethan Coen have tried to make something profound in the guise of a black comedy with A Serious Man, one of ten films nominated for this year’s Best Picture Oscar.

The film is a re-telling of The Book of Job from the First Testament, in which God sets terrible plagues upon a good man to test him. When he fails the test, God smites him and his eldest son. In the Coen Brothers’ version, the good man is a Professor of Mathematics at a small college in the American mid-west of the 1960s. Sets are filled with the ugly furniture and tacky clothes of the day which serve to undermine the bleakness of the tale. It is so bleak, in fact, that it isn’t really a comedy at all. The title is a misnomer. It should have called A Miserable Life.

On one hand, it’s intriguing to see how the Coens translate the old biblical tale to modern existence, even throwing in Schrodinger's cat", a thought experiment, a paradox of the 1930s, relating to theories in quantum physics. Cerebrally, it’s masterpiece.

On the other hand, this is not entertainment for the masses as we have come to expect from the writing, directing team of Fargo and No Country for Old Men. Though the text may be religious, it is not uplifting. There are no singing rabbis, or for that matter, singing nuns, here. God may be good, but he’s not nice in this movie.

The largely unknown Michael Stuhlbarg is excellent in the lead, but the film’s lackluster box-office receipts would seem to suggest that he’ll be going back to supporting roles on TV shows rather quickly.

A Serious Man is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.

Max Mayer is a TV feature writer-director whose first film, the excellent Adam deserves a higher profile than it’s gotten.

Hugh Dancy stars as a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome whose ordered life is shattered when his father dies and he loses his job as a developer of computer generated toys. Rose Byrne plays his new neighbor, a schoolteacher with writing aspirations, who helps him cope. There is a subplot involving Peter Gallagher as her jackass of a father and Amy Irving as her mother, which we could have done without, but the scenes between Byrne and Dancy and, in fact, all of Dancy’s scenes, contain a poignancy that is rare in romantic comedies these days and are a joy to behold.

Byrne has deservedly become a star in TV’s Damages. Dancy, whose career hasn’t exactly been chopped liver, has been on the verge of major stardom for the last decade, but never quite seems to get there. He was marvelous as the grown David Copperfield in Peter Madek’s 2000 telefilm, the only version in which the actor playing the grown David is more memorable than the kid playing him as a child. He was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of the young Earl of Essex in Elizabeth I opposite Helen Mirren. On the big screen, he was Anne Hathaway’s Prince Charming in Ella Enchanted and the geeky lover of an older Maria Bello in The Jane Austen Book Club. He was nominated for a Satellite award for his performance in Adam, but poor marketing, or karma, or whatever, has kept him from capitalizing on the opportunity.

Adam is available on standard DVD only.

Columbia has followed up its recent success with its Film Noir Classics: Vol. 1 with The Bad Girls of Film Noir. No classics, these, but an interesting collection of B pictures, some of which are better than others.

Based on a true story about an outbreak of small pox in New York City, 1950’s The Killer That Stalked New York changes the source of the epidemic, but not the basic story which saw the emergency vaccination of six million New Yorkers in 28 days. I actually remember having to be vaccinated during the epidemic as a child.

Only the second of three films helmed by second unit director Earl McEvoy, the film has a real feel for life on the mean streets. Evelyn Keyes, in a rare starring role, excels as a gem smuggling singer who picked up the disease along with $50,000 worth of diamonds in Cuba. Charles Korvin is her no good husband, Lola Albright her two-timing sister, Whit Bissell her frightened brother, William Bishop the doctor whose patient is the first to die, Dorothy Malone his loyal nurse, Jim Backus a sleazy nightclub owner, Barry Kelley and Richard Egan the treasury agents on Keyes’ trail, Carl Benton Reid the health commissioner, Roy Roberts the mayor, Ludwig Donath a concerned doctor, Art Smith a rare gem appraiser and Connie Gilchrist, Keyes and Korvin’s landlady. It was quite a cast for such a deceptively minor film, and they’re all good.

Henry Levin was a well known Hollywood director and Lizabeth Scott, Edmond O’Brien and Alexander Knox established veterans of film noir when they made 1951’s Two of a Kind. Too bad they didn’t have a better script.

This one is the old chestnut about an imposter claiming to be the long lost son of an elderly couple in order to cash in on an inheritance when the old folks finally croak.

Terry Moore, in one of her last squeaky clean good girl roles before Come Back, Little Sheba appears in an interview about her career and the making of the film. She talks about learning how to wear her hair from Scott’s example. The amusing thing is that no one has seen the now 81 year-old actress’s hair in decades. She continues to wear an obvious, unbecoming long blond wig in her public appearances. The presumption is that she is bald.

Irvin Rapper was a long way from the sublime 1942 classic, Now, Voyager when he directed 1953’s Bad for Each Other about a once idealistic doctor who abandons the poor for the good life until a disaster strikes, bringing him to his senses.

There are some good performances here, notably by Charlon Heston between spectacles, Lizabeth Scott, nominally bad as the girl who gets him to stray, Dianne Foster as an idealistic nurse and Mildred Dunnock as Heston’s mother, but there is nothing in the telling of the story you won’t see coming.

Maxwell Shane was a prolific Hollywood writer who rarely got to direct, but all five of the films he did direct, were exceptionally well made, not the least of which is 1953’s The Glass Wall.

Vittorio Gassman makes his American film debut as a World War II displaced person, a stowaway who is stopped from leaving his ship when it docks in New York. His escape leads to a manhunt ending in a chase through the newly erected United Nations building. Gloria Grahame is the girl who helps him and Jerry Paris is the former G.I. whose identification can help him stay in the country if only he can be found. Atypical of film noir, this one has a richly earned happy ending.

The trailer for the film is a hoot. It begins with a picture of Shelley Winters and a voiceover saying Shelley Winters loves him, and you will, too." Winters is not in the film, but she had famously married the Laurence Olivier of Italy" the year before.

Based on a long running radio program that later became a TV series, 1946’s Night Editor, directed by Henry Levin, tells the tale in flashback of a good cop brought low by a bad woman.

William Gargan was an actor who was often better than his material and he’s that once again here, but Janis Carter is so one-note as the conniving femme fatale that it strains credulity that it takes him as long as it does to come to his senses and turn her in for murder.

There’s a nice O. Henry style twist at the end that makes it worth your while.

Cleo Moore’s own life story will someday no doubt make a better film than most of the duds she appeared in.

Married to notorious Louisiana Governor Huey Long’s son at the age of fifteen, the marriage lasted just six weeks, after which she made her way to Hollywood and struggled to make a name for herself.Eventually she was given a few starring roles, enough to help finance her own unsuccessful run for Governor of Louisiana in 1965. She died of a heart attack a week before her 45th birthday in 1973.

Moore was at the height of her beauty and her fame in1953’s One Girl's Confession, the second of seven films she made for actor/director Hugo Haas. In it she plays the ward of a crook who learns to fend for herself, beating the bad guys at their own game. This is the one in which she had the immortal line:

"Men are all alike, their faces are just different so you can tell them apart."

Glenn Langan and Hass co-star.

Lewis Seiler had a long and somewhat distinguished career, but by the time of 1955’s Women's Prison he was no longer directing major films. Sadly, none of the many fine actresses in this film were at the peak of their careers either.

Ida Lupino chews the scenery as a nut job prison superintendant and Juanita Moore, several years away from her Oscar nomination for Imitation of Life, makes her entrance on her knees scrubbing the prison floor while singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot".

In-between we get Jan Sterling, fresh from her Oscar nomination for The High and the Mighty in a rare, for her, highly sympathetic role as a good-time gal with a heart of gold, Cleo Moore, Audrey Totter and Phyllis Thaxter as various other inmates and veterans Gertrude Michael and Mae Clarke as prison matrons. Howard Duff and Warren Stevens have the principal male roles, the former as the prison doctor, the later as a male prisoner who breaks into the women’s side of the shared prison to visit his wife.

It’s all rather fun in a loopy sort of way.

Cleo Moore returns as nightclub photographer with a sideline in blackmail in Seiler’s Over-Exposed from 1956.

A now seasoned Moore and a young Richard Crenna make an incongruous couple, but veterans Isobel Elsom and Raymond Greenleaf manage to give it some class. Constance Towers, in only her second film, is also on hand.

Two half-hour TV dramas from the 1950s, The Payoff and Remember to Live are included as extras in the two set, four disc collection.

The DVD Report #141: February 2, 2010

One of the year’s most eagerly anticipated films, Mira Nair’s Amelia turned out to be one of the year’s biggest disappointments.

On a technical level, the film looks great. The period detail of the period from 1928 to 1937 is letter perfect and the recreation of the planes flown by Amelia Earhart are stunning, but the long, dull screenplay saps the film of its energy.

Hilary Swank is probably incapable of giving a bad performance and her incarnation of the aviatrix, the most famous woman of her time, fully captures the legend. Her look, walk and speech all convey the real Amelia, but it’s all surface acting. We never get to know what the character is really thinking.

Entirely too much screen time is given to Richard Gere, who sleepwalks through his co-starring role as Amelia’s husband, publisher George Putnam. Far better are Ewan McGregor as flight instructor Gene Vidal (Gore’s father) and Christopher Eccleston as Fred Noonan, the navigator who went missing with Amelia in her plane over the Pacific.

A scene in which Amelia takes Eleanor Roosevelt on a flight in which she allows the First Lady to take control of the plane should have soared, but is played in such a muted fashion by Cherry Jones as Mrs. Roosevelt that it is as dull as any of Gere’s scenes. Thankfully Gabriel Yared’s lovely score is vibrant enough to keep you awake throughout.

Amelia is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.

The various DVD companies continue to convert their most popular titles to Blu-ray.

Criterion’s Blu-ray edition of Wim Wenders’ 1984 film, Paris, Texas, comes with all the bells and whistles we have come to expect from Criterion including commentary from Wenders, various interviews and an insightful booklet on the making of the film.

The film, generally regarded as Winders’ best American work, is best remembered for its beautiful cinematography and the performances of Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell, Hunter Carson and Nastassja Kinski. An evocation of late 20th Century American family life, the film holds up exceptionally well.

A bit of trivia: Child actor Hunter Carson is the son of actress Karen Black and writer Kit Carson, who adapted Sam Shepard’s screenplay for Paris, Texas.

Criterion has currently released a standard DVD version of Paris, Texas, but it is the Blu-ray format that does it full justice. It’s also selling for $6 less at Amazon!
Universal has made two of British director Joe Wright’s films, Pride & Prejudice and Atonement available on Blu-ray. Both come with the same features available on their earlier standard DVD versions, but the picture and sound are noticeably superior.

Nominated for four Academy Awards, Pride & Prejudice looks scrumptious but like most bonbons is rather an empty treat when compared to at least two earlier version of Jane Austen’s masterpiece, both the 1940 Hollywood version and the landmark 1995 BBC version. Nevertheless leading lady Keira Knightley has her fans and her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennett accounted for one the film’s four Oscar nods.

For my money, Knightley fares much better in 2007’s Atonement as the young woman whose lover, James McAvoy, is unjustly accused of rape by her over-imaginative 13 year-old sister, played to chilling effect by Saoirse Ronan.

The film’s central conceit is the playing of Ronan’s character, Briony, by three actresses who look amazingly alike. Romola Garai plays her as a young woman and Vanessa Redgrave as an old one. The film’s set piece is an amazing tracking shot that follows McAvoy through a World War I scene of utter destruction.

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actress (Ronan) and won one for its musical score. It did better at the Baftas (the British Oscars) where it was nominated for fourteen awards including Best Actor (McAvoy), Actress (Knightley) and Supporting Actress (Ronan) and won two – Best Film and Best Production Design.

An Oscar winner for Best Actor, The Last King of Scotland, has been released on Blu-ray by Fox.

Forest Whitaker has a field day playing Ugandan dictator Ida Amin in this 2006 film which introduced the previously mentioned James McAvoy to world-wide audiences as Amin’s Scottish doctor, through whom the story is told.

Whitaker’s Oscar was the film’s only Academy Award nomination. Like Atonement, it did better with its British counterpart. The film won for Best British Film, Best Screenplay and Best Actor (Whitaker) at the Baftas. McAvoy was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and the film was nominated for Best Film.

Another bit of trivia: Director Kevin Macdonald, who won an Oscar for the 1999 documentary, One Day in September, is the grandson of Emeric Pressburger, the legendary writing, directing partner of Michael Powell, who himself won an Oscar for the screenplay of 1948’s The Red Shoes.

Once again, the Blu-ray transfer improves upon an already excellent DVD.

Fox has also released the long delayed Blu-ray version of William Friedkin’s 1985 film, To Live and Die in L.A. The film, one of Friedkin’s best, was presumed delayed so that Fox could work on special features. Instead, the Blu-ray has been released on two discs, the Blu-ray and a standard DVD version of the film. Friedkin’s commentary and a making-of documentary confined to the standard DVD.

Why the film isn’t more highly regarded than it is difficult to fathom. William Peterson and Willem Dafoes both give excellent performances as the L.A. detective and his prey, a master counterfeiter and the chase sequence against traffic on an L.A. freeway is actually more tense and exciting than the acclaimed chase sequence in Friedkin’s Oscar winning The French Connection.

Not to be outdone, Warner Bros. has newly converted one of its own recent Oscar winners, 2003’s Mystic River to Blu-ray with once again, stunning results.

Clint Eastwood’s moody crime saga from Dennis Lehane’s acclaimed novel, won Oscars for Best Actor (Sean Penn) and Supporting Actor (Tim Robbins) and was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Supporting Actress (Marcia Gay Harden).

Yet another bit of trivia: Penn and Robbins won their first Oscar nominations eight years earlier for another film they made together, Dead Man Walking, for which Penn was nominated for Best Actor and Robbins for Best Director.

Warner Bros. has also released 1962’s The Music Man on Blu-ray.

The Blu-ray format is especially kind to great musicals and Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, directed by Morton Da Costa, was one of the great ones of the 1960s. Robert Preston, recreating his legendary stage role, Shirley Jones at her most beguiling and the rest of the cast are as wonderful as you remember them. The only sour note is the ugly look of the extras, transferred from the standard DVD without cleaning them up.

Still another bit of trivia: 7 year-old Ronny Howard shows early signs of his future career as he directs Jones and Pert Kelton in the reprise of Gary, Indiana".

One of TV’s most enduring shows, Murder, She Wrote, showed no signs of coming to end in its eleventh season (1994-1995). Angela Lansbury, in her iconic portrayal of mystery writer Jessica Fletcher, still managed to solve crimes that baffled the authorities whether at home in fictional Cabot Cove, Maine; New York City or one of the many places her travels brought her. If anything had changed in the 11th season it was that her travels became more diverse. She was as apt to be found in Alexandria, Egypt or County Cork, Ireland as she was the U.S. Midwest or South this season.

Murder, She Wrote - The Complete Eleventh Season is available on standard DVD only. It contains, as a bonus, two episodes from the twelfth and final season.