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Blu-ray slight return: March madness edition

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 Tristana (3/12, Cohen Media Group) serves up a heaping dose of Luis Buñuel filtered surrealism although to be sure this 1970 effort has more realism and occasional melodrama that most of his other films. Set in Spain in the 1920s and based on a famous 19th century Spanish novel (Benito Galdós) Tristana weaves themes of sexual repression by religious minded hypocrites, all honorable yet flawed, which of course is pure Buñuel territory. It’s later in his career and he’s mellowed, but it’s the start of other careers. Catherine Deneuve, Fernando Rey, and (Django himself) Franco Nero star. Please note that releases from the Cohen Media Group are as slick in many ways as Criterion Collection offerings. To wit: The Blu-ray transfer has just the right film look; Tristana comes with a booklet with excerpts from Deneuve’s on-set diary, as well as two brief essays by Buñuel scholars. Additionally Deneuve and film writer Kent Jones provide a commentary track, there’s a featurette that focuses on visual fetishes of Buñuel’s film, plus the usual assortment of Spanish and French trailers.

Many times I am awed by Blu-ray releases that I’ve never heard of as in why didn’t this film get a wide release. Day of the Falcon (3/26, Image Entertainment), a bona fide epic that walks the walk, fits all the criteria for grand cinematic entertainment. You’ve got direction by Jean-Jacques Annaud, an international cast led by Antonio Banderas, Frieda Pinto and Mark Strong, and an absolutely majestic score by James Horner. The story takes place among rival Arab families in the early 20th century as an age old battle is renewed over newly found oil. Day of the Falcon always projects a glorious face, enhanced by dynamic desert locations. Two battle sequences in particular are choreographed to perfection to include the confrontation of horse and sword with rifle and tank. Blu-ray image is very sharp and the CGI background effects are impressive.

A couple of box sets bowing today include The Carol Burnett Show: This Time Together (Time Life), featuring 17 eps, with guests like Lily Tomlin, Dick Van Dyke, many others, the usual cool extras, interviews with cast members and clip reels. Carol Burnett was at the tail end of quality television variety shows as this pick of the litter demonstrates.

From Shout! Factory comes the 26th edition of Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXVI. Films that get mocked include The Mole People, Alien From L.A., The Magic Sword, and Danger!! Death Ray. Box includes mini-posters of these films as well as some extras that I actually preferred to the movie mockathons like candid interviews with directors Bert Gordon and Albert Pym. Frankly I’d like an option to just watch said movie on its own rather than with the often not-snarky-enough comments.

Less vivid were a trio of Blu-rays that were more genre in scope. In order of interest I found Shadow People (3/19, Anchor Bay) capable of eliciting interest and occasional chills. Dallas Roberts plays a down on his luck radio talk show host (of the late night spooky stuff) who gets caught up in an investigation of unexplained nocturnal deaths. There’s some other stuff like nudity and Roberts’ backstory that I won’t get into in the sense that it’s what will compel you through it. What I will mention is the creative way the filmmakers make it seem that the movie is based on real events and use found footage that’s intercut with the narrative story.

Other movies use this Blair Witch crutch to dwindling returns, such as The Frankenstein Theory (3/26, Image Entertainment), which not only borrows the Blair Witch device. It actually appropriates the same ending. But TFT starts out promising with secret manuscripts, strange family legends, and the idea of a modern day Frankenstein existing out in the tundra. There’s a Mary Shelley vibe mixed with a Jules Verne adventure. Needless to say, complications ensue and interest wanes.

Border Run (Anchor Bay, 2/26) portends to offer drug wars mayhem with Sharon Stone and Billy Zane as a crusading reporter and her cartel-kidnapped brother. The gunfire action is so-so and the dramatics are high on the histrionic scale.

- Michael Bergeron

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