Blu-ray Highlights for 4/10/12 – Stellaaaa!!!

This week looks a whole lot like last week, as far as new Blu-ray releases go. Our best bet and most worthwhile title is a stone-cold classic. Beyond that, everything else is… well, let’s not get too greedy. Our wallets need a break every once in a while.

Here’s a look at the week’s release slate:


I’ll lead off with the week’s only must-own disc. That would be Warner’s new 60th Anniversary Edition Digibook release of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire‘. The 1951 film, which was directed by Elia Kazan and, of course, adapted from the Tennessee Williams play, features a legendary performance from Marlon Brando. Considering what a bloated parody of himself he eventually became, it’s nice to be reminded of Brando in his prime – young, virile, and a powerhouse actor committed to his craft and his character. This is a stunning film.

Speaking of Brando, even in his heyday, the actor wound up starring in some very odd projects. In the historical romance ‘Désirée‘, Brando plays the notorious French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte. (Hey, this was at least somewhat less strange and less offensive than casting him as a Mexican revolutionary in ‘Viva Zapata!’.) The film was directed by Henry Coster, who just the prior year had made the first CinemaScope epic, ‘The Robe’. Although not particularly well remembered today, ‘Désirée’ was noted as a visual spectacle and managed to score some Oscar nominations for Art Direction and Costume Design. The Blu-ray is available as a limited edition from indie distributor Twilight Time.

Also on tap from Twilight Time is the fizzy 1958 comedy ‘Bell, Book and Candle‘, which is often cited as the inspiration for the sitcom ‘Bewitched’. I’m probably stretching the definition of “classic” to include it in this section, but the movie has plenty of entertaining star power, including Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon.

New Releases

The highest-profile (though certainly not the best) of the week’s new releases would be ‘The Iron Lady‘, the bio-pic about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that recently won Meryl Streep her third Oscar. Consensus has it that Streep’s performance is pretty much the only reason to watch the film, which has otherwise been described as simplistic and bizarrely atonal. I suppose that’s what you get when you put the director of ‘Mamma Mia!’ at the helm of a political portrait.

While disappointingly little seen and ignored by the Oscars, Werner Herzog’s death penalty documentary ‘Into the Abyss‘ was one of the best, if also one of the most distressing, films of 2011. Contrary to expectations, the movie is not an advocacy piece demanding the abolishment of capital punishment. Instead, like many of Herzog’s films, it’s an exploration of how an environment (in this case, the poverty-stricken American south) can drive people to madness. The documentary asks many hard questions about the nature of crime and punishment, but has no easy answers. This is a mesmerizing piece of work.

On a much lighter note, Summit Entertainment gives us the recent alien-invasion flop ‘The Darkest Hour‘ in both 2D and 3D options. No one bothered to see this in theaters, but with 3D content still sparse on Blu-ray, will desperate 3D fans snatch it up on disc anyway?

Catalog Titles

Watching Marlon Brando at his best in ‘Streetcar’ only makes the trajectory of his later career, where he inflated to mammoth proportions and stopped giving a damn about acting anymore, that much more depressing. He’s not quite at his worst in the 1994 ‘Don Juan DeMarco‘, in which he plays a psychiatrist trying to cure Johnny Depp of the delusion that he’s the world’s greatest lover, but it’s clear that Brando is phoning this one in. The movie itself is a largely forgettable (and largely forgotten) star vehicle for Depp.

Along similar lines, this week also brings us other middling romantic dramas and rom-coms from the ’90s and early 2000s, such as Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackson in ‘Kate & Leopold‘, Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow in ‘Bounce‘, and Uma Thurman and… Janeane Garofalo in ‘The Truth About Cats & Dogs‘. I guess titles like these are supposed to placate those female viewers who have frequently complained that the Blu-ray format still mostly caters to men and boys who only watch action and sci-fi movies. But does this really make things any better?

Are you buying anything this week? Tell us in the Comments below.


  1. JM

    My favorite Brando film of all time is still ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau.’

    I loved ‘Don Juan DeMarco‘ for years, but I think I’ve outgrown it.

    Maybe to celebrate the nothingness of this week I’ll rewatch ‘Apocalypse Now.’