‘Samurai Trilogy’ on DVD
Toshiro Mifune in "The Samurai Trilogy"
Updated: July 12, 2012 11:04AM
NEW THIS WEEK
THE SAMURAI TRILOGY
★ ★ ★★
Rated: No MPAA rating
Stars: Toshiro Mifune, Mariko Okada, Rentaro Mikuni
Japanese superstar Mifune consolidated his fame after “The Seven Samurai” by starring in “Samurai I: Mushasi Miyamoto,” the same year for director Hiroshi Inagaki — one of the chief practitioners of the jidaigeki samurai cinema. In addition to being an enormous hit in Japan, it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1955. The trilogy was filmed in 1954, 1955 and 1956, tracing the life and times of 17th century duelist Musashi Miyamoto, from undisciplined young soldier to master swordsman, whose martial arts text “The Book of the Five Rings” has been adopted by modern-day corporate warriors. All three films are visually sumptuous and leisurely paced — with a classic duel concluding the third installment. An epic of character development. This Criterion Collection box set features new hi-def restorations of all three films plus extras including an exploration of the life of the real-life Miyamoto.
THE 39 STEPS
★ ★ ★★
Rated: No MPAA rating
Stars: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll
Classic films don’t come much more entertaining than this. Alfred Hitchcock came into his own with this 1939 sophisticated, funny and thoroughly romantic thriller, freely adapting a fairly standard espionage novel from 20 years earlier. Donat plays a more-or-less everyday guy who suddenly finds himself mixed up with a nest of spies, falsely accused of murder and running for his life across Scotland with the police and the skullduggery gang in hot pursuit — with coolly disdainful Carroll (the original Hitchcock blonde) literally handcuffed to him most of the way, and hating it. At first. Several of the themes Hitchcock explored in his later films made their debut in “The 39 Steps,” but it’s safe to say he got it right the first time. In addition to a new high-def restoration, this Criterion Collection release features extras including audio commentary by Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane, a British TV documentary covering Hitchcock’s pre-war films, footage from a 1966 British TV interview with Hitchcock and original production design drawings.
Critic’s rating: ★ ★1/2
Rated: R for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, language, brief drug use and teen drinking
Stars: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannibal, Sean William Scott
Proof positive that no matter how pointless, painful and ignominious high school might have been, you can look forward to an equally mortifying experience at your high school reunion. While creative dividends have diminished steadily in the “American Pie” franchise, box office returns have not — hence this fairly predictable but still reasonably charming entry that sees our horndog heroes approaching middle age. Fortunately, Eugene Levy is still around to make things work as the world’s most mortifying kindly dad. Extras include an unrated version, alternate takes, commentary and a gag reel.
★ ★ ★
Rated: No MPAA rating
Length: 100 minutes
Stars: Josiane Balasko, Garance le Guillermic, Togo Igawa
It’s difficult to feel much sympathy for 11-year-old Paloma (le Guillermic), who has decided to kill herself on her 12th birthday because of the contempt she feels for the grownups in her life. Fortunately, the soul of “The Hedgehog” is widowed, 54-year-old Renee (Cesar-winning actress/writer/director Balasko of “French Twist”) the concierge of the girl’s luxury apartment building in Paris. Shabby, sour and prickly on the outside, but kindly and refined within, Renee takes comfort from her secret library of great literature, and models a more acceptable adult existence for Paloma. That’s all fairly predictable, but the story takes a surprising turn you’re likely to find either refreshingly unexpected or deeply frustrating--depending on how you feel about happy endings.
ALSO NEW THIS WEEK
BARBARELLA: BLU-RAY DEBUT
This 1968 sex-kitten-in-space fantasy adventure became a bit of an embarrassment for star Jane Fonda when she turned to more serious pursuits. Directed by Roger Vadim (Fonda’s husband at the time), best-known for launching the career of Brigitte Bardot.
ELVIRA’S MOVIE MACABRE: GIANT MONSTERS
The scream queen hosts four B-movie extravaganzas featuring plus-size menaces: “The Giant Gila Monster” (1959), “Teenagers from Outer Space” (1959), “Attack of the Giant Leeches” (1959) and “Monster from a Prehistoric Planet” (1967).
THE FRENCH CHEF: JULIA CHILD’S FRENCH CLASSICS
Child prepares French Onion Soup, Coq au Vin, Quiche Lorraine, Chocolate Mousse and crepes, among other goodies, in six black-and-white episodes from her 1960s TV series.
GOD BLESS AMERICA
Unemployed, divorced and possibly terminally ill, a thoroughly disgruntled guy (Joel Murray) decides to buy a gun and take out his frustrations on reality TV stars. Bobcat Goldthwaite (“Shakes the Clown”) wrote and directed the dark comedy. Rated R for strong violence and language including some sexual sequences.
A skilled mercenary (Willem Dafoe) hired by a biotech company to kill the world’s last Tasmanian tiger has a change of heart after becoming involved with a local family. TV director Daniel Nettheim makes his feature debut with the drama. Rated R for language and brief violence.
MIDSOMER MURDERS, SET 20
Closing out an enormously popular run of more than a decade on British TV, DCI Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) solves four final stand-alone mysteries before leaving the good people of Midsomer in the hands of his cousin, DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon). Extras include a “Barnaby Through the Years” photo gallery.
THE WOMEN OF SNL
Molly Shannon, Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, Nora Dunn, Rachel Dratch, Cheri Oteri, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig are among the SNL alumna gathered for this reunion special mixing old and new sketches.
AVAILABLE NEXT WEEK:
Blu-ray debuts include Jim Jarmusch’s “neo-Beat noir comedy” “Down by Law,” Martin Scorsese’s gangster debut “Mean Streets” and the Christian Slater/Kevin Bacon/Gary Oldman courtroom drama “Murder in the First.”