New on DVD and Blu-Ray: July 19, 2011

Amidst the other changes occuring around Film Misery will be yet another adjustment in my DVD column. I know I’ve moved this around a lot. But I think what we have here is a pretty finalized version. With a little patience, I think this will be very rewarding. There will be more information, it will be disbursed over two to four posts per week, and it will be easier to archive. I will post once per week an overview of all the major releases that will center around my top 5 choices of the week (it will look like this post and contain a run-through of the top rentals in the country). It will be a vague post that covers a lot of territory. This is the first overview post.

Separately, beginning later this week, I will write one to three ‘DVD Reviews’ in which I will review and assign letter grades to a few of the films from my top 5.

The Oscar season releases are at this point entirely past and 2011 releases are hitting the shelves. Currently,  the two most rented films in the country come from the historically box-office-failing western genre. After years of failed attempts to revitalize the genre (Unforgiven, 3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Appaloosa), the Coen brothers and an animated film have finally done it, financially at least. I personally love both films; True Grit  being a favorite of mine from the past year. And Rango felt like the film that Cars 2 wasn’t. It isn’t surprising that Rango is popular at  the moment; it came out only last week. But on top of making over 250 million at the worldwide box office, True Grit  has been the number one most rented film in the country for over a month now. I guess it is still possible to please the critics, mainstream audiences, and the academy. And I doubt any of this weeks releases will break Rooster Cogburn’s streak.

Top 5 Releases:

5. Chocolat (2000) – Blu-Ray

Chocolat is a delicate film that doesn’t quite have a cult following, but has a significant cultural reputation as being schmaltzy. I think it is most commonly percieved as a guilty emasculating pleasure. In reality, it is a genuinely good film. Produced by the Weinsteins as a team and starring Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Juliette Binoche, and Johnny Depp, Chocolat  is a period piece glossed over in French romance. It isn’t an art film, but it is mounted like one–and I mean that as a compliment. It challenges how we view pleasure in both serious and charming ways without convoluting the narrative. While I doubt hi-def will significantly change the cultural perception of this film (I Love You, Man didn’t exactly help), it will at least  circulate the film a little more, and who is to complain about that?

4. Amelie (2001) – Blu-Ray

Continuing with the French theme of this post so far, is Jean Pierre Jeunot’s Amelie. Similar in tone to Chocolat, Amelie is lighthearted with serious implications. But much like the rest of Jeunot’s work (Delicatessen, MicMacs, etc.), it feels forced and contrived when it tries to take itself too seriously. It tells a charming story of an awkward young woman who helps strangers by doing them very personal small favors discreetly. The first hour so of the film is utterly magical. The onset of her own love story slightly hinders the film in the latter half. Overall, it is still one of the best films of 2001 and worthy winner of the Foreign Language Oscar that year.

3. The Music Room (1959) – Criterion Collection

I have never seen The Music Room;  but I have faith that it is one of the better releases this week, if for no other reason than the Criterion Collection has selected it. Their taste can be occasionally pretentious, and occasionally surprising (Michael Bay, Really?). But more often than not they select an unbiased and wide variety of films from both world and American cinema. This French classic (also in Roger Ebert’s ‘Great Movies’) tells the tale of a dying breed of landlords, the last of which clings stronger to his desire to live a luxurious life than to his finances. It sounds a bit like Barry Lyndon, a personal favorite.

2. Limitless (2011)

Bradley Cooper is a star that has been drifting around Hollywood pulling minor roles in insignificant films like Yes Man and  He’s Just Not That Into You. His biggest recognition is probably for The Hangover, but even then he wasn’t the show stealer by any means. I question his talent, but eagerly await to see him try out a leading role in this film about a drug that helps an author finish his book and sort out his life. I love films about the creative process and am intrigued by the exaggerated dangers versus the actual dangers of some drugs. The fact that the film stars Rober DeNiro doesn’t hurt it any either. —Review Coming Soon!

1. Beauty and the Beast (1946) – Criterion Collection

Jean Cocteau is one of the most impressive figures of the twentieth century to me. He is an artist, plain and simple. He was a painter, a sculptor, a poet, and a filmmaker. Although his film career was small (it only consisted of Blood of a Poet, Orpheus, Testament of Orpheus, and Beauty and the beast), it is basically flawless. His films are dark and cynical, but they are truly fantastic. He captures the sense of awe that should be a part of this fairy tale better than the legendary Oscar nominee from 1993. Like all fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast is a moral fable. This one is about loyalty, superficiality, and family. Maybe the costume of the beast seems a little outdated and his camera effects are obvious, but just as Cocteau requests of his audience at the beginning of the film, it is nothing a little “childlike simplicity” cannot resolve. —Review Coming Soon!

The other releases are lacking significantly. None of the TV stuff interests me at all; I find the new Doctor Who series to reprehensible even. I won’t even pretend to know anything special about Tekken or Take Me Home Tonight. Just from the posters, I’ve mostly lost interest. Boyz n the Hood (released on Blu-Ray) is a popular film, but one that I have never successfully sat through. No offense to those who love it, but I find it obnoxious.

The Blu-Ray release with ‘Boy’ in the title is much better. That film would be The Boy with the Striped Pajamas. It isn’t a classic war film by any stretch, but it will satisfactorily pull the emotional heartstrings. It has a powerful conclusion.

Film Misery Recommends:

The Criterion Collection release of Beauty and the Beast may be the release I have most anticipated all year. Whether you have seen the film or not, this is definitely worth checking out.

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