July 7, 2010

Jason and the Argonauts

Jason and the Argonauts (Sony) In the stop-motion filmography of FX wizard Ray Harryhausen, three productions stand out: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and Clash of the Titans (1981). My vote goes to the middle one. It has everything: swashbuckling skeletons, a multi-headed hydra, a colossal bronze statue, even an enormous merman. Memorable creatures emerge throughout this non-stop fantastic voyage that has more personality in its Achilles tendon than nearly every latter-day CG production. It was adapted from Greek mythology and directed by Don Chaffey, but Harryhausen is the true auteur at the helm. Available for the first time on Blu-ray, Jason’s adventures can now been appreciated in their correct 1:66 aspect ratio.  Add to that a remarkable set of extras that includes two brand-new commentaries (one featuring Harryhausen, another featuring long-time admirer Peter Jackson), original skeleton-sequence storyboards, interviews with Harryhausen and filmmaker John Landis, a 25-minute Harryhausen featurette and, best of the bunch, an hour-long doc narrated by Leonard Nimoy.

Also Available 
Night Train to Munich (Criterion, eOne) Carol Reed’s obscure 1940 adventure is a good indication that the man would go on to do amazing things (see Odd Man Out and The Third Man). Reed has it down to a science when effortlessly shuffling elements of comedy, romance and suspense into one neat hand. Seasoned cineastes should note that this was considered a quasi sequel to Hitch’s far superior, albeit impossible to match, The Lady VanishesNight Train features the same writers and leading actress (Margaret Lockwood, playing a different character), and the same ambiguously gay cricket aficionados, Charters and Caldicott. While not as harrowing as the underground showdown between Harry Lime and the police force in The Third Man, that cable car climax is all kinds of rad. Extra: lengthy and revealing chat between film scholars Peter Evans and Bruce Babington. 

Tromeo & Juliet (Troma) Troma’s perversion of the greatest love story ever told is almost certainly the most inventively outlandish motion picture adaptation the Bard has ever inspired. Owing more than a lot to screenwriter James Gunn, who went on to make the hella underrated SlitherT&J is one of the studio’s classiest undertakings, also signalling the final stretch of their ’80s-’90s golden age. Destined to polarize even open-minded viewers, this update takes its share of lewd liberties: 16th-century Verona has become 20th-century NYC, the Capulets and “Ques” are battling over a porn studio and Juliet has nightmares about a giant dick monster. This is a swell starting point for those uninitiated with Troma’s iffy oeuvre. Extras: four commentaries, interviews, fan re-enactments, laserdisc intro/outro, more.

A Single Man (Alliance) Based on the celebrated queer novel that follows a dejected professor grieving over the loss of his lover, fashion guru Tom Ford made his film-directing debut at last year’s TIFF to surprising acclaim. As has already been said, it’s a photographic wonder. But weighty source material is somewhat eclipsed by Ford’s ambitious ?imagery. In spite of this, A Single Man is an overall emotionally gratifying period piece boasting an Oscar nom-worthy performance by Colin Firth at its stylish, inscrutable core. Extras: smashing Ford commentary, snappy making-of.

Super High Me (Alliance) A sloppy cash-in on Super Size Me, potheads should nevertheless be amused by this exposé of stand-up comic Doug Benson’s drug experiment that sees him quitting weed for 30 days and then smoking it constantly for the next 30. As this proves to be insufficient material for a feature-length doc, the filmmakers provide broader social commentary while refusing to undermine the gravity of the issue or merely offer tiresome factoids. Also, look out for totally cool celeb cameos. Extras: extra footage and some David Cross.