The DVD Report #276

With Skyfall, the 23rd film in the now 50 year-old James Bond franchise about to open, MGM/UA through their association with Fox Home Entertainment, has released all previous Bond films except for Warner Bros. 1967 spoof of Casino Royale and the same studio’s renegade 1983 production, Never Say Never Again, in a single set. Called Bond 50: The Complete 22 Film Collection, it’s available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD. While all 22 have previously been released on standard DVD, 9 of the films are making their Blu-ray debut.

The series began with what are to my mind still the three best films in the series: 1962’s Dr. No (1963 in the U.S.); 1963’s From Russia With Love (1964 in the U.S.) and 1964’s Goldfinger. Who can forget Sean Connery’s initial impression in those films, the first Bond girls (Ursula Andress, Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton) or those first dastardly villains (Joseph Wiseman, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Gert Frobe)?

I found the fourth entry, 1965’s box office behemoth Thunderball, a distinct letdown after the first three and have greeted every subsequent Bond film with a certain amount of skepticism. Although many have been disappointing, there have also been some well-made outings such as 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with the underrated George Lazenby; several of the Roger Moore films, notably Live and Let Die; Octopussy; A View to a Kill; The Living Daylights with Timothy Dalton; and Casino Royale with current Bond, Daniel Craig. While I have pleasant memories of the Bond films made by Pierce Brosnan, all of them tend to run together in my head. I probably need to see them again to determine a favorite.

In any event, all 22 films in the set promise to look stunning in their high definition Blu-ray transfers, none of which I’ve see yet.

Comic books can be the source of excellent films as the Superman; Spider-Man, Batman and some would say X-Men franchises have reminded us in the past, but films centered around other superheroes have generally come up short. The latest to take the box-office by storm, The Avengers or Marvel’s The Avengers as it has been re-titled for DVD release is a film whose critical hosannas mystify me.

One might expect the film to enrapture the pre-pubescent set who would be its natural audience and the legion of grown comic book aficionados who flock to such films good or bad, but why have so many critics of a certain age and beyond embraced it so? The film has style and energy, yes, but suffers from bland dialogue, under-developed characters and an appalling lack of emotion.

Six superheroes – Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.); Capt. America (Chris Evans); Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); Thor (Chris Hemsworth); the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye – are brought together by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to save the world from Thor’s evil adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and they do. The End.

The six superheroes don’t exactly work together. Iron Man and Capt. America have the most scenes together, followed by Thor and Hulk and the Black Widow and Hawkeye. Hulk and the Black Widow also get together to kick ass – each other’s. None of the actors, most of whom have given memorable performances in the past, has much to do beyond establishing his or her character’s quirks. If only they had invested as much in writing an emotionally involving story as they did the continuous visual effects they might have had something.

Marvel’s Avengers is available on 3-D Blu-ray; regular Blu-ray and standard DVD.

One of the nice surprises of the previous TV season was FX Channel’sAmerican Horror Story from Ryan Murphy, the creator of Glee.

While the storylines tend to be on the gruesome side, the presentation generally keeps the gore to a minimum. Much of it plays like a tongue-in-cheek riff on golden horror clichés from Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy to The Night of the Living Dead, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street with touches of Poltergeist, Psycho and even Romeo & Juliet thrown in for good measure. The most predominant story line of the first season is the one focusing on a Rosemary’s Baby style pregnancy with Jessica Lange in a great Golden Globe and Emmy award winning performance channeling Ruth Gordon’s equally great Oscar winning turn in the 1968 classic.

Most of the cast including Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Evan Peters, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Zachary Quinto and Teddy Sears deliver superb performances as well. The one exception is Kate Mara, shrill and over-the-top in a ghostly take-off on Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Many of the first season cast will back in different roles in the second season.

American Horror Story is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

Two films from the 1990s about Clintonesque U.S. presidents have been given Blu-ray upgrades by Warner Bros.

Nominated for Best Screenplay, 1993’s Dave, directed by Ivan Reitman, is a clever comedy about a look-alike stand-in for the sitting president who is in a coma. Kevin Kline provides one of his best screen performances in his dual role with excellent support from Sigourney Weaver as the First Lady; Ben Kinsgley as the Vice President and Frank Langella as the White House Chief of Staff.

Nominated for Best Original Score, 1995’s The American President, directed by Rob Reiner, is a beguiling romance between a widowed president played by Michael Douglas and a lobbyist played by Annette Bening. Richard Drefuss is opponent.

This week’s new DVD releases include a Blu-ray upgrade of the Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection as well a Blu-ray upgrade of Disney’s Cinderealla.

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