As part of the Warner Bros. Blu-ray Elite program, Fat Guy Kevin Carr was sent a batch of free drama Blu-rays to enjoy. Thanks to Warner Home Video for giving him a chance to watch and review Casablanca, Gone with the Wind and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close again.
What it’s about: Humphrey Bogart plays Rick, a successful night club owner in Casablanca on the eve of America’s involvement in World War II. While he tries to make an honest (and sometimes dishonest) living, he finds himself amid a stream of people escaping Europe for America and using Casablanca as a stepping stone. When his former girlfriend Isla walks into his night club, he becomes involved in helping her and her revolutionary husband escape the clutches of the Nazis.
The movie: Rocks! – Believe it or not, I have only seen this movie once before, and that was well into my adult life. I wasn’t as well-versed in film – especially older films – when I first saw it, so I wasn’t enthralled. Now, watching it again after years of being a critic, I do appreciate it a lot. What I find fascinating about this movie isn’t as much how well it plays. There’s romance; there’s villains (Nazis, no less); there’s movie stars; there’s an exotic location; there’s a nice dose of humor. These are the things that make a movie fantastic. However, it is the knowledge of how haphazardly this film was assembled, with shooting beginning before the script was complete, that makes it a wonder. There’s a lot of heart and cohesion to this movie, and it taps into the human element in all of us, both good and bad. It doesn’t linger, moving forward with deliberateness. Watching the 70th Anniversary Blu-ray truly makes me appreciate how much it has lived.
The bonus material: Rocks! – There’s a fantastic amount of bonus features on the disc, including two commentaries, theatrical trailers, radio broadcasts, audio scoring sessions, outtakes, cartoons and deleted scenes. Featurettes (both short and feature-length) include “Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of,” “Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic,” “Great Performances: Bacall on Bogart,” “You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca” and “As Time Goes By: The Children Remember.” Of course, one of the neatest elements to these Warner Bros. library releases is the “Warner Night at the Movies” feature, which presents the film with shorts, newsreels and cartoons just like they did back in the day.
Notes on the Blu-ray experience: Being that this film is 70 years old, there’s only so much quality that can be pulled from the original negative. Still, the restoration and the image looks fantastic, with low grain and not too much artifacting.
Gone with the Wind
What it’s about: Margaret Mitchell’s epic romance against the backdrop of the Civil War in the South is brought to the big screen in what many say is the greatest film ever made. Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) goes from rich southern belle to struggling in poverty as the economy of the South collapses. Finding her own independent spirit, Scarlett seeks marriages into money and falls in love with the roguish Rhett Butler (Clark Gable).
The movie: Kinda rocks! – I’ve never been a huge fan of Gone with the Wind, and the first time I saw it was when I was sent the 70th Anniversary DVD to review back in 2009. Revisiting it again allowed me to appreciate it more, but boy is that movie long. It was made for an age different than today. I love to see films with overtures and entr’actes, so this was fun to watch. But in the end, Gone with the Wind is a soap opera for the South. It’s more about the love and relationships than it is about the politics and the Civil War. I appreciate the spectacle, but certain elements – like the rampant racism of both the Civil War and the 1930s as well as the glorification of the South – can be hard to swallow.
The bonus material: Kinda sucks! – The single-disc Blu-ray I was sent only includes a commentary by historian Rudy Behlmer. True fans of the movie should seek out the multi-disc box set for plenty of bonus material.
Notes on the Blu-ray experience: Like Casablanca, there’s only so much quality that can be pulled from a movie that’s more than 70 years old. However, the restoration process is fantastic, offering brilliant colors and beautiful imagery.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
What it’s about: After his father dies in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, young Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) must come to terms with his death. Already facing social challenges from possibly having Asperger’s syndrome, Oskar faces his fears of interacting with other people and the outside world when he finds a key hidden in his father’s belongings. He uses this key to track down a message he is sure his father has left him from beyond the grave.
The movie: Kinda sucks! – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was one of those movies from late 2011 that the industry told us we should like. But while there are elements that are well done (mainly the quite stunning cinematography and award-quality acting), the film itself is a bit of a dud. Not having read the book, I’ve only heard this was an impossible story to adapt because it all takes place in Oskar’s head. This leads to all-too-obvious narration and a removal from the main character that makes him a bit too abrasive to really cheer for. It seems that in films and TV, too often the writers use Asperger’s or autism as a crutch to make a more interesting character. It’s getting old, and it’s a cop out for really examining the human condition. I’m all for awareness of the condition, but I have always found it a bit exploitative to use it as such a deliberate set-up in a film. Finally, the movie has an overly convenient, painfully coincidental and forced ending in three parts that I just didn’t buy at all.
The bonus material: Kinda rocks! – There’s an average amount of bonus material on this disc. This includes the standard “Making Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” as well as a look at the casting process for the character of Oskar. There’s a touching but not terribly well-made profile on the victims of 9/11 ten years later. The saving grace is an in-depth look at Max von Sydow’s performance.
Notes on the Blu-ray experience: As the only modern film in this batch of Blu-ray Elite titles, this movie made the easiest transition to the format. The cinematography looks fantastic in the transfer, and that’s what makes the disc nice to watch.