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 Michael Bergeron
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Blu-ray & DVD slight return: Formula edition

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One of the greatest thrills for a movie maven is finding a movie you never heard of and being blown away by same. I certainly didn’t discover Weekend of a Champion (MPI Home Video, 5/20) but it’s new to me and now sits on the shelf of fame. Weekend of a Champion is in every respect a Roman Polanski film. Polanski and Jackie Stewart spend a weekend in Monaco at the 1971 Grand Prix, which by the end of the film Stewart has won. Helmed by documentary director Frank Simon the film takes the audience up close and personal to the world of Formula One racing. Princess Grace shows up briefly as do other famous race drivers of that era. Originally released in 1972 at 80-minutes the film has had an epilog shot recently with the now aged Polanski and Stewart reminiscing about life and runs about a half-reel longer. WEEKENDCHAMPION-articleLarge

Don’t count me as a Formula One fan. Not my cup of oil. I do however totally dig a well-constructed film set in any sports arena. Take Ron Howard’s Rush from last year – excellent film that places you in the driver’s seat. In the beginning of Weekend of a Champion Stewart takes us on a timed practice run of the track, and by the time we are in the actual race we know what lies beyond each turn and even to what gear Stewart is shifting. Weekend of a Champion will appeal to racing fans, documentary admirers and anybody who likes action pacing and edge of your seat turns.

Dracula has never left the common conscious of literature and movies for over a century (not quite as old as Drac himself). A couple of new Blu-ray releases offer twists on the vampire legend by two noted directors. Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (Shout! Factory, 5/20) retells the Murnau silent version with Bruno Ganz, Isabelle Adjani and Klaus Kinski as Nosferatu. Herzog adds some and subtracts with a bit of Bram Stoker here and Herzog’s own sense of moody naturalistic atmosphere there.download

Disc includes both German and English language versions of the film, along with a making of featurette and Herzog commentary. There’s also two commentary tracks with Herzog, one in English and one in German. Maybe a bit slower paced in tone with its European setting but constantly beautiful in its imagery (accented by a spectacular transfer to disc). Herzog talks about shooting trained bats at 500 frames-a-second. This production also used over ten thousand rats obtained from an Eastern European lab to great effect.

Another horror-meister Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows) made a television version of Dracula starring Jack Palance. Dan Curtis’ Dracula (MPI Home Video, 5/27), on Blu-ray in a sharp transfer, added a love story to the plot, a device that was also used in the subsequent ‘90s Coppola version. Extras include brief interviews with Palance and Curtis. I suppose if one were a completest they would also seek out the comedy Love at First Bite (1979) and the Frank Langella Dracula (1979).JACK PALANCE DRACULA 2a

Some interesting war related stories come out on DVD this month. Docu-wise, The First World War: The Complete Series (E One, 5/20) unfolds in ten chapters, based on a book by historian Hew Strachan. What’s fascinating about WWI is the fact that the news and found footage of the era was not shot in a manner familiar to today’s audience. Cinema was still silent so any footage was not shot with a matinee newsreel style in mind. One may see a flamethrower in use or tanks shooting ordinance but the next shot could be any flaming landscape or explosion. Another interesting thing about this series is how many of the names and places are unfamiliar. Sure you may have heard of Baron von Richthofen or T. E. Lawrence but there are lots of names and places that aren’t part of everyday knowledge. Often the show will depict a battlefield or important place with what it looks like today. The First World War is from a 2003 British series.

Flying Tigers (Olive Films, 5/13) from 1942 stars John Wayne and depicts a group of mercenary pilots assisting the Chinese against the Japanese in the months before America actually joined WWII. There’s a hint of Only Angels Have Wings as the flyers bond, fight amongst themselves and then become friends again, only to have someone inevitably fly a suicide mission.tn-gnp-dvd-review-war-film-takes-an-unvarnishe-001

Home of the Brave (Olive Films, 5/13) from 1949 was important then as now as a film that tackles the subject of race in the context of men fighting in the American army during the Second World War. James Edwards stars as a soldier suffering from a psychosomatic disorder. Edwards was not the first black actor to star in a mainstream film yet he was the first of the modern stars to hold his own. Others that would follow include Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte in the ‘50s. Lloyd Bridges and Jeff Corey co-star. Home of the Brave, based on a stage play, uses the war genre cleverly in the way it establishes the ensemble cast.

- Michael Bergeron

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