Blu-Ray Round-Up: Imperialists and their Semitic Subjects Embroiled in Deadly Struggle — That’s Entertainment!

Today we’re talking about three deluxe Blu-Ray releases of three highly notable films, each hugely important and influential in their own way. Coincidentally, each film also deals with what happens when European powers decide they’d really like to control a piece of the Islamic and/or Judaic world.

* “Ben Hur”— I finally caught up with this most popular of religious epics many moons ago at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, where it was introduced by it’s then elderly but still fairly hale star, Charlton Heston. Heston might have still been in good shape in the late 1990s or early 2000s, but the 35mm print that was shown on the giant screen, theoretically the best then available, was washed out and wan.

That disappointment is now a thing of the past with a restoration made frame-by-frame from the original 65mm negative that was so painstaking this “50th Anniversary” edition of the 1959 film actually arrives 52 years after the original “Ben Hur” release. At last, the spectacle looks as spectacular as a spectacle should, even if it’s now on relatively small home screens. (My 42 incher is by far the biggest TV I’ve ever had, but it’s obviously not the Cinerama Dome.)

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Red carpet chatter with some folks from “Backwash”

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If, like me, you grew up a weird kid compulsively watching the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and, yes and alas, the Three Stooges, then you might well enjoy “Backwash,” an enjoyably dippy web series with its final episode to be uploaded on Crackle this Monday night, December 20. The series stars Joshua Malina, who also wrote it, as the grumpy and conniving Val, who is, for whatever reason, charged with the care of the childlike and lovably idiotic Jonesy (Michael Panes). When they accidentally rob a bank with a sausage — you kind of have to be there — and hook up with a flamboyant ice cream truck driver, Fleming (Michael Ian Black, who I was unable to nab for a quick interview), the on-the-lamb trio begins a cross-country odyssey of sorts.

The enjoyably lowbrow but sometimes surreal silliness is book-ended by introductions from a rogues gallery of comic and acting talent, the funniest being a mysteriously bearded Jon Hamm, Allison Janney, John Cho, Dulé Hill, and Sarah Silverman. Somehow, Victorian author William Makepeace Thackeray is maligned as being the originally author of this more or less contemporary travesty lovingly directed by Danny Leiner, who also helmed “Harold and Kumar Go to Whitecastle.”

It was my privilege to chat with with some of the actors and creators of “Backwash” at the theatrical premiere of a somewhat shortened feature-length version of the web series. I started with Josh Malina, an actor I’ve been rather fond of since I stumbled over “Sports Night,” the show that convinced me that the writer of “The Social Network” was something more than an entertainingly glib semi-hack, actually a lot more.

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Serious offers and old gossip

Just another sane Monday in movieland.

A robot* Halcyon, a somewhat odd firm with an all but empty website, has officially put its one and only asset and reason for being, the rights to “The Terminator” franchise, on the auction block. So reports Variety and Nikki Finke. Suddenly, over at Whedonesque — yes, the Joss Whedon fansite where the beloved cult TV and occasional film creator occasionally posts  — Whedon links to it and posts a very serious offer. So serious, in fact, that Finke — who occasionally claims she “doesn’t do geek” runs the item. Meanwhile, back at Whedonesque, the Whe-man and a commenter who appears to be both a fan of the Joss and the late singer-songwriter Warren Zevon (some folks are just blessed with too much taste) note an earlier serious offer.

Quote of the week (probably):

Well, here’s what I have to say to Nikki Finke: you are a fine journalist and please don’t ever notice me.

* Sony Classic has picked up the rights to “Mother and Child,” the latest film from arthouse/cable director Rodrigo Garcia, still probably best known to a lot of people as the son of Columbian literary great Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s not too surprising a pick-up, even in this tough market, given that the cast includes Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, up-and-comer Kerry Washington (“Ray,” “The Fantastic Four”), and Samuel L. Jackson.

* The box office “actuals” for most of the big releases turned out to be a couple of million higher than the estimates I reported yesterday. Sorry MJ’s ghost.

* Thinking about “The Men Who Stare at Goats” which comes out this Friday, Jeff Bridges gets appropriately trippy but not in too dudish a way.

* This is a few days old, but for those of us who find ourselves unduly fascinating by the Church of Scientology, via Kim Masters, here’s an interesting new story opened up last week. Writer-director Paul Haggis (“Crash”) announced he’s leaving the church.

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