Based on real-life events, the nail-biting dramatic thriller Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, is set at the height of the chaos of the Iranian revolution when, on November 4, 1979, militant students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran taking 52 Americans hostage and six embassy workers went out the back door. The film chronicles the covert operation concocted by a CIA exfiltration specialist, Tony Mendez (Affleck), to free the six Americans who took shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). Combining the talents of the CIA and Hollywood, Mendez creates — with makeup artist (John Goodman) and movie producer (Alan Arkin) — his own production within a production. He directs the six terrified, trapped Americans to playact being members of a Canadian film crew of a Star Wars-like movie, Argo, who’ve been location scouting in Iran.
Argo has won Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture Drama and Best Director and was nominated for six Oscars, winning for Best Picture, Editing, and Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published.
Argo’s use of a combination of home movies, old news footage, with the newly-shot, perfectly-lit movie works well because the period dressings are so accurate and convincing, from the humble haircuts and facial hair to the dire end-of-the-1970s clothing. The bright 2.40:1 picture has good contrast with a wide range of distinct tones. Blacks in Iranian women’s chadors and headscarves and Hollywood suits are deep, shirts a bright white. Although palettes tend to a wide range of restrained autumnal tones or CIA-office steely blues, occasional, almost startling splashes of rich color appears such as scarlet screenplay covers or orange taxis. Lighting is very natural with lots of silhouettes in dim rooms and slightly overexposed exteriors, but everything is crisp and well differentiated with solid figures, and faces rounded and dimensional. Even low-lit scenes and shadows provide plentiful detail. Facial flaws are visible as are lines in hands and hairs in sweaters. Car number plates are readable (if you know Farsi).
The low-key acting and action are initially matched by the sound mix, 1970s pop songs tied to front channels keeping it real and maintaining the period vibe. Gradually, though, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack brings surrounds into play in score and atmospherics as the danger mounts in the bazar and airport. In both cases you are convincingly immersed in the chatter and clatter of humanity. Even hiding out in the Canadian ambassador’s house, the threatening outside world of motorbikes, army trucks, and demonstrations is forever infiltrating the rooms adding an edge.
Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: “Picture in Picture: Eyewitness Account” 120-minute featuring interviews with the survivors of the Iran hostage crisis, President Jimmy Carter, Tony Mendez, Mark Lijek, Bob Anders, Cora Lijek, Kathy Stafford, Lee Schatz, and USMC hostage Al Golacinski, commentary by Affleck and writer Chris Terrio, “Rescued from Tehran: We Were There,” “Absolute Authenticity,” and “The CIA and Hollywood Connection” featurettes, Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option 47-minute standard-def 2005 television documentary; DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Warner.
Winter is coming. . . . Game of Thrones, the epic television series created by David Benioff and D.B Weiss, is based on George R.R. Martin’s best-selling high-fantasy novels collectively called A Song of Ice and Fire. (Benioff jokingly suggested as the tagline for the television adaptation, “The Sopranos in Middle-earth.”) The first season became the home entertainment industry’s best-selling television title for 2012 as well as the fastest-selling TV on Blu-ray title of all time.
In Season 2, adapted from A Clash of Kings, winter is fast approaching in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and with it the likelihood of war as members of five noble houses continue to compete for control of the coveted Iron Throne. Its present occupant, the spoilt, cruel, brat Jeffrey (Jack Gleeson), counseled by his conniving mother Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and wily uncle Tyron Lannister (the marvelous Peter Dinklage) who has come to King’s Landing temper the young king's excesses and now been appointed Hand of the King. Now that word has spread of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) being beheaded at the behest of the King Joffrey, and of Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) swearing revenge upon the Lannister clan, promising her son Robb Stark (Richard Madden), the new Lord of Winterfell, that they will kill every last one of them, the Lannister hold on the Throne is under assault on many fronts.
Robb and his northern army continue the war against the Lannisters, seeking autonomy in the North and taking Cersei's brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) prisoner in battle. Meanwhile, on the island of Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), rejecting Joffrey's legitimacy, allies himself with a fiery, powerful priestess of a strange god, Melisandre (Carice van Houten), to raise a naval invasion to claim his late brother's throne, while his brother Renly (Gethin Anthony) has maintained his own claim since fleeing King’s Landing.
Across the sea, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), in an attempt to shore up her depleted power in the East, treks through the Red Waste in search of allies with her three newborn dragons and khalasar of the Dothraki clan. In the North, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) presides over a threadbare Winterfell while, outside the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the Night's Watch must now face the peril of a new leader rising among the wildings.
The second season of Game of Thrones was nominated for 11 Emmys (including Outstanding Drama Series) winning six. The five Blu-ray and two DVD set contains all 10 of the 52-minute Season 2 episodes plus a host of extras.
Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: 12 commentaries with cast and crew including Benioff, Weiss, Martin, Clarke, Dinklage, and Harington, “War of the Five Kings” interactive guide that allows you to track the claims, strategies and key players involved in the battle for the Iron Throne and follow the movements of various armies detailing their victories and defeats, “Histories & Lore” 19 animated histories detailing the mythology of Westeros and Essos as told from the varying perspectives of the characters themselves and featuring, in-part, illustrations from Game of Thrones storyboard artist Will Simpson, In-Episode Guide that provides background information about on-screen characters, locations and relevant histories, Hidden Dragon Eggs with even more never-before-seen content, “Creating the Battle of Blackwater Bay” exclusive, in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the climatic episode with epic Battle of Blackwater Bay, 30 minute feature showcasing never-before-seen interviews with cast and crew, “Game of Thrones: Circle” 24-minute roundtable discussion with actors Clarke, Harington, Headey, Michelle Fairley, and Cunningham moderated by executive producers Benioff and Weiss, “The Religions of Westeros” authors Martin, Benioff, and Weiss discuss the competing religions in the series and how they influence the various characters in Westeros and beyond, character profiles of seven major characters as described by the actors portraying them including Renly Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Robb Stark, and Theon Greyjoy; DVD and digital copies. Studio: HBO.
The screenplay for On the Waterfront (1954) by Budd Schulberg was based on “Crime on the Waterfront,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles in the New York Sun by Malcolm Johnson which detailed widespread union violence and corruption among the longshoremen of Manhattan and Brooklyn. It’s widely considered to be director Elia Kazan’s response to those who criticized him for naming names — identifying former Communists in the film industry — before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1952.
In the film, Marlon Brando gives an astonishingly true performance playing rough-tough, inarticulate but beautiful Terry Malloy, a one-time prizefighter, now longshoreman working for the racketeer-controlled union. Because he’s the brother of Charley (Rod Steiger), right-hand man to crooked union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), Terry get all the easy jobs, but as the film progresses Terry gets more involved with Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint), the sister of a dockworker, Joey, whose fall off a building was organized by Friendly in order to keep him quiet. His relationship with her opens Terry up to himself and he progressively finds it more difficult to live with the guilt of his involvement in Joey’s murder, a moral crisis that will gradually force him to chose between remaining loyal to Friendly or talk to the Crime Commission and in doing so lose the respect of the community, his soft lifestyle, and endanger his loved ones and himself.
The raw and gritty yet naturalistically poetic direction of Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, Gentleman’s Agreement) and the performances he gets out of not only Brando, but Steiger, Cobb, Karl Malden, and Saint, Schulberg’s terse script — filled with simple yet highly memorable street dialogue and speeches — Leonard Bernstein’s scintillating and lyrical music, his only original film score, all make for an astonishing and moving film and a compelling social drama. It was a huge success and won eight Oscars, including best picture, director, actor (Brando), supporting actress (Saint, in her first role), and screenplay.
The gorgeous 1.66:1 black-and-white photography of Boris Kaufman (12 Angry Men, The Fugitive Kind, The Pawnbroker) has been given a new 4K digital restoration. Two alternate presentations of the restored feature in two additional aspect ratios — 1.85:1 (widescreen) and 1.33:1 (full-screen) — are included in the two-disc set as well as an alternate 5.1-channel surround soundtrack in addition to the original uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
Video: 1.85:1, 1.66:1, 1.33:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, LPCM Mono. Extras: commentary by authors Richard Schickel and Jeff Young, new conversation between filmmaker Martin Scorsese and critic Kent Jones, Elia Kazan: Outsider 1982 hour-long documentary, new 45-minute documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with scholars and critics Leo Braudy, David Thomson, Lisa Dombrowski, Dan Georgakas, Victor Navasky, new video interview with actress Saint, archival interview with the director from 2001, “Contender” 2001 featurette on the film’s most famous scene, new video interview with longshoreman Thomas Hanley who acted in the film, new video interview with author James T. Fisher (On the Irish Waterfront) about the real-life people and places behind the film, visual essay on Bernstein’s score, “On the Aspect Ratio” segment explaining why Criterionpresents the film in three different aspect ratios, booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Almereyda and reprints of Kazan’s 1952 ad in the New York Times defending his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, one of the 1948 New York Sun articles by Malcolm Johnson on which the film was based, and a 1953 Commonweal piece by Schulberg. Studio: The Criterion Collection.
The Insider (1999), a gripping drama by writer-director Michael Mann (Thief, The Last of the Mohicans,Heat) and co-writer Eric Roth based on true-life events, tells of former tobacco executive and research chemist Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) who, on being fired by his employer —the third largest tobacco company in the country — first agrees to become a paid consultant of veteran 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) and then to blow the whistle on the alleged unethical practices within the industry. In doing so, he invokes the ire and retaliation of Big Tobacco who bring him under personal and professional attack — including a PR company smear campaign — in an attempt to crush him and undermine his reputation and credibility and that of Bergman. In the process of the battle that ensues, Wigand risks losing a lot, lot more as Corporate America uses all legal means at its disposal — and possibly some less-than-legal ones such as death threats — to save their billion-dollar-a-year trade in addiction. When the 60 Minutes story aired in November 1995 it was in an altered form, without the interview, after objections by Laurence Tisch who then owned CBS who claimed it could potentially leave CBS open to a multi-billion dollar lawsuit. Tisch, by coincidence, also controlled the Lorillard Tobacco Company. The story was finally aired on February 4, 1996.
The Insider co-stars include Christopher Plummer (as Mike Wallace), Michael Gambon, Bruce McGill, Debi Mazar, Colm Feore, Gina Gershon, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall, and Lindsay Crouse and cinematography by Dante Spinotti (L.A. Confidential, Heat, Wonder Boys). It was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (Crowe). The Insider comes to Blu-ray in an all-new digital restoration.
Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: 7-minute production featurette in standard def. Studio: Disney.
Director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, Hanna) brings a new vision of the epic love story, Anna Karenina, adapted by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love, Brazil, Empire of the Sun) from Leo Tolstoy’s classic realist fictional portrayal of betrayals, jealousies, and social judgments. Set in late-19th-century Imperial Russian high-society, the aristocrat Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) lives a sheltered life in St. Petersburg as the beautiful younger wife of one of Russia’s most honored, esteemed, and wealthy men, senior statesman Alexi Karenin (Jude Law), and mother of their son, Serozha (Oskar McNamara). She seems to have it all.
Anna travels to Moscow to advise and lend support to her sister, Dolly (Kelly Macdonald), who has discovered that her husband, Prince Stiva (Matthew Macfadyen), is having an affair. By chance encounter, she meets a dashing cavalry officer, Count Alexi Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and there’s an instant mutual attraction between them. Despite the threat it poses to all the rest of her way of life, the two soon become involved in a passionate love affair filled with secret and dangerous meetings, but their deepening feelings becoming ever harder to hide. Soon her whole elegant life and reputation begin to slip away as well as, perhaps, her love.
The sumptuous Anna Karenina was nominated for four Oscars — Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, and Best Original Score — winning for Best Costume Design (Jacqueline Durran).
Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: director’s commentary, deleted scenes, “Anna Karenina: An Epic Story About Love,” “Adapting Tolstoy,” “Keira as Anna,” “On the Set with Director Joe Wright,” “Dressing Anna,” and “Anna Karenina: Time-Lapse Photography” featurettes; DVD, UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Universal.
In 1912, after Nadine Hale (Ann Miller) breaks up her longtime dancing and romantic partnership with Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) to be a solo star in the Ziegfeld Follies, to prove that he doesn’t need her he brags to his best friend, Johnny (Peter Lawford), that he could take the first dancer he sees and train her to replace Nadine. So when hoofer Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) comes onstage in the bar which he’s drowning his sorrows in, he tells her to start work with him in the morning.
Over the course of rehearsals, while Don’s attempting to transform her into a second Nadine à la Scottie and his Madeleine in Vertigo, all the while hoping to get Nadine back, Hannah begins to fall for him, Nadine gets the hots for Johnny, and Johnny goes for Hannah when they share an umbrella. ’Aint that always the way?
Irving Berlin’s 1948 romantic musical, Easter Parade (directed by Charles Walters) includes the beloved Astaire- Garland numbers “We’re a Couple of Swells,” and “Easter Parade” as well as Astaire’s classic solos “Drum Crazy” and “Steppin’ Out With My Baby.” Other numbers include Astaire’s routine with Miller to “It Only Happens When I Dance With You,” Garland’s rendition of “I Love A Piano” and “Better Luck Next Time,” Miller’s “Shakin’ The Blues Away” and “The Girl on the Magazine Cover,” and Lawford’s “A Fella With An Umbrella.” There’s also a medley of “Snookie-Ookums,” “The Ragtime Violin,” and “When That Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves For Alabam,’” and a reprise of "It Only Happens When I Dance With You," by Astaire and Garland.
Video: 1.37:1.Audio: TBA. Extras: commentary by Ava Astaire McKenzie and John Fricke, “Easter Parade: On the Avenue,” American Masters – Judy Garland: By Myself, Mr. Monotony Outtake, Mr. Monotony Dailies, Radio Promo (audio only), 3/11/1951 Screen Guild Theater Broadcast (audio only). Studio: Warner.