New on DVD and Blu-Ray: June 26, 2012

I can’t say I found enough in this week’s New Blu-Ray lineup to provide a fully fleshed-out top 5, yet there still seems to be a few titles out there worth a glance, ranging everywhere from old classics, Oscar nominees, Best-Picture winners and all-time masterpieces.

Here’s what we have to look forward to on DVD and Blu-Ray this week:

Top 4 Releases:

4) The Artist (2011)

Practically everybody at Film Misery was a fan of last year’s Best Picture winner, including yours truly. But let’s face facts: had it not been for Harvey Weinstein’s characteristically aggressive Oscar campaign, Michel Hazanavicius’ loving ode to the silent era would more or less have been a forgotten trifle by now. Granted, it’s a truly entertaining trifle – with some affable performances from Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo and Uggie the Dog. When stacked up against Oscar winners of yesteryear, however, I am prepared to say it is a Best Picture more on par with The Greatest Show on Earth or The Life of Emile Zola than Annie Hall or The Apartment. But hey, check out the movie once more on Blu-Ray if you don’t believe me.

3) Bullhead (2012)

This Belgian film first piqued my interest when it was nominated for last year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar. While I have no doubt that it rightfully lost the prize to the superlative Iranian drama A Separation, I’ve heard mostly positive things about this story of a young cattle farmer who gets caught up in the sketchy dealings of a corrupt beef trader. The synopsis itself doesn’t entice much, but I am to understand it is a rather dark and brooding morality tale. I’m sorry I missed it in theaters, and I plan to rectify that mistake soon enough.

2) The Samurai Trilogy — Criterion Collection Blu-Ray (1954-1956)

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a connoisseur of classic Japanese cinema, but I am still more than a little disappointed in myself for having never heard of this collection of films – each installment starring the legendary actor Toshirō Mifune – until literally today. Directed in its entirety by Hiroshi Inagaki, this trilogy follows the path of a young man as he progresses from a naïve young soldier into a sage, masterly samurai. The first installment actually won the 1955 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and, from what I understand, is also the source of several references to be found in Kill Bill. How could anybody resist?

1) Deliverance (1972)

Some movies evoke imagery that, even after a single viewing, will emblazon themselves into your mind with a haunting, searing permanence. To say John Boorman’s harrowing, 40-year-old classic about four men surviving the punishing Georgia wilderness is such of a movie would be to make a massive understatement. Few moments in the history of cinema have managed to be as simultaneously entertaining and unnerving as the “dueling banjos” scene, and even fewer have matched the true horror of that infamous “squeal like a pig” sequence. Deliverance is a masterpiece of terror, and a brutal commentary on man’s constant struggle with nature, with humanity, and with oneself.

Getting re-released in the form of the Christopher Nolan Director’s Collection are the majority of the Dark Knight Rises director’s bigger films, which include the first two Batman flicks, Memento, Insomnia and Inception. Quizzically missing from this collection are Nolan’s lesser-seen efforts, The Prestige and Following. Jonah Hill’s remake of the popular eighties TV series 21 Jump Street garnered a surprising amount of praise earlier this year. Alex was rather middling on it, and frankly – aside from one brilliant twist toward the end – so was I. The one-take horror film Silent House marks the sophomore performance from 2011’s breakout star Elizabeth Olsen, and she’s pretty much the only reason to see the otherwise silly movie.

Oh, and Wrath of the Titans, the little-seen sequel to that crappy remake of a Ray Harryhausen classic, is out too. See it, lest Liam Neeson release a can of Kraken on yo’ ass.

Streaming Pick of the Week:

Battle Royale (2000)

Currently available on Netflix.

There is a good chance that some of you only heard of this film earlier in the year, when the movie world was busy speculating over whether or not Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books directly pilfered its plot from late director Kinji Fukasaku’s highly controversial swan song. Indeed, the similarities are uncanny; both films pit innocent children against each other in a harrowing duel to the death, all at the behest of a cruel and inhumane government. Though I am willing to take Collins at her word when she defends the originality of her work, I cannot help but feel that not only does Royale cover much of the ground Gary Ross’ blockbuster covers, but it does so with more energy and far more intensity. Despite its well-earned R rating, I’m amazed that  Royale is perhaps even more moral a film, far more literate and honest in its exploration of violence and the effect it has on its subjects. Oh, and did I also mention how much damn fun Battle Royale happens to be?

The film’s sequel, Battle Royale 2, is also available on Netflix Instant. Join me in pretending henceforth that it doesn’t exist.

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