Bluray Reviews: 'Cinderella,' 'French Connection,' 'Wall Street,' 'Princess Bride,' More…

Bluray Reviews: 'Cinderella,' 'French Connection,' 'Wall Street,' 'Princess Bride,' More…

Under no condition will I convert my entire  3,000 title DVD collection (yes, I have a problem) to Bluray. It’s not only too expensive, but regular DVDs look pretty amazing on my high-def TV enhanced through a Blu-ray player. This is not true, however, for all titles.

Certain titles universally regarded as classics or that I claim are classics, demand the fullest possible experience, which is what Blu-ray offers. And not just in the arena of picture quality, but also special features that allow you to savor the experience long after the credits roll.

To avoid sounding repetitive in the reviews below, let me say upfront about each of these titles, that I consider them all to be must-own masterpieces. In the truest sense of the word, each is a work of art — American art — every bit as worthy as anything hanging in some foo-foo museum. These are also titles that are either new to Blu-ray or enjoying a special re-release.

Just to keep things interesting and difficult for myself, I’ll review them in the following order: Most Awesome to Least-Most-Awesome-But-Still-Most-Awesome.

We good?


French Connection (1971) – Filmmakers Signature Series

Now I’m gonna bust your ass for those three bags and I’m gonna nail you for picking your feet in Poughkeepsie.

The choice for first place on this list wasn’t even close to a difficult one. Director William Friedkin’s Oscar-winner for Best Picture isn’t just my favorite on this list, it’s a top-five all-time favorite and has been for decades. I could run out of Internet gushing over The Mighty Gene Hackman’s second-to-none performance as Popeye Doyle, the crackling screenplay by Ernest Tidyman (“Shaft”), the you-are-there (without being self-conscious about it) cinematography, and what might be the greatest car chase ever filmed.

But you know all of that.

What I will tell you is that this Bluray looks absolutely incredible; one of the best transfers ever of a film from this era. This is important because the look and feel of “The French Connection” is absolutely essential to the viewing experience. This is New York and Brooklyn when they were still New York and Brooklyn. Disney and every generic chain restaurant and Broadway show had yet to take over. The city is still alive, vibrant, unique, filthy… Don’t get me wrong, you wouldn’t want to live there, but on the screen the city never looked better or had more character.

There are movies that stay with you for days afterwards. But like “The Searchers,” “Goodfellas,” and Hitchcock’s “Notorious,” “The French Connection” has stayed with me since the first time I saw it over 35 years ago. I can never watch it enough, and to see it again in all its high-def splendor only makes me want to watch again right now.

If you love the film even half as much as I do, the extras are an absolutely must.


Jaws (1975) [Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet]

Mr. Vaughn, what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It’s really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks, and that’s all.

Steven Spielberg’s brilliantly entertaining blockbuster finally gets a Bluray release and one worthy of its status.

This two-disc collection includes a gorgeous widescreen transfer and enough special features to chew through an entire day: a half-dozen documentaries, deleted scenes, and those trailers we old-timers remember stirring up a genuine cultural phenomenon in the summer of 1975.

If you haven’t seen “Jaws” in a while, what’s going to surprise you is how the story takes its delicious sweet time when compared to the frantic blockbusters released today. We’re over an hour in before our three protagonist (Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss) step foot in that boat they’re going to wish was bigger. And yet, the pacing feels absolutely perfect. The time were given to explore the characters and watch their relationships evolve is much more satisfying than the shark scenes — and those are about as chilling and suspenseful as it gets.

A perfect piece of filmmaking.


Cinderella (Two-Disc Diamond Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo in Blu-ray Packaging) (1950)

And yet, through it all, Cinderella remained ever gentle and kind, for with each dawn she found new hope that someday her dreams of happiness would come true.

Other than “Snow White” and “Lady and the Tramp,” “Cinderella” is my favorite among Walt Disney’s early animated classics — that thirty-year reign between 1937 and 1967. A lot of this has to do with a beautifully told story rich in theme and character, but the score — especially the songs — are among the best in any musical, animated or otherwise.

“A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” “So This Is Love,” “Sing Sweet Nightingale,” “The Work Song,” and “Cinderella,” are memorable standalones, but they also move the story and fill in our characters without a lot of exposition.

Like everything released as part of Disney’s “Diamond Edition,” the package is first rate. The Bluray transfer is gorgeous and the extras rich and plentiful.

If I had kids, until they were at least thirty-five years old, I wouldn’t let them near the crap Hollywood’s crafting today. Instead, I’d wean them on Turner Classic Movies, John Wayne and Disney’s early films. It’s not only a way to protect their innocence and teach them the kind of values that make for a happy and fulfilled life — but this is true American art, the best we have to offer.

“Cinderella” is also one of the few films I’ve sat down and watched two and three times in a row. It’s just that good. (For the record, the others are: “Life with Father,” “The Wizard of Oz,” Errol Flynn’s “Robin Hood,” and “The Big Chill.”)


Wall Street (1987) – Filmmakers Signature Series

You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal.

The anti-Wall Street film that launched a million stockbrokers.

Oliver Stone’s masterpiece (one of many) doesn’t really capture the eighties as much as it captures the left’s vision of a Reagan-era they claim to despise. Almost by accident, though, Stone tells a morality tale that defends capitalism and everything that makes our free enterprise system what it truly is — the greatest slayer of poverty in the history of the world and a positive moral force.

In the end, the bad guy, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas winning a much-deserved Oscar), ends up in prison because the regulation and oversight in place works as intended. The good capitalists (Terence Stamp, Hal Holbrook) win out and we learn that our system really does work to weed out corruption.  

“Wall Street’s” essence, though, is a classic Faustian tale about a young man, Bud Fox (the always under-appreciated Charlie Sheen), eager to shed his working-class roots and to climb into the heights of everything that makes Manhattan so alluring. The Devil is named Gekko and Bud offers him his soul.

But can he get it back before it’s too late?

Once upon a time, Oliver Stone was as great a filmmaker and storyteller as we had in this country. This was when he worked in story and character instead of agenda, but still had the ability to say what he wanted to say through universally appealing themes and ideas. The story of Bud Fox is a universal one, a father and son tale all fathers and sons can relate to. That’s why, a quarter of a century later, “Wall Street” still works.

Sure, Stone perfectly captures a specific time and place — that was the whole idea. But the story and therefore the film, remain timeless.

Great transfer, plenty of extras… Dig in!

Ed Wood (1994)

Really? Worst film you ever saw. Well, my next one will be better. Hello. Hello.

Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” is my favorite movies about making movies. It’s also my favorite movie about loving movies. Our protagonist, played with perfect eccentricity by Johnny Depp, does both — he makes and loves movies, and he just happens to be the worst there ever was at the former.

But if you’ve seen the real Ed Wood’s films, as bad as they are (and they are awful), there’s something intoxicating about the enthusiasm behind them. This is what Burton and Depp set out capture, and the film really works because of it. 

As you know, Woods was something of a strange man in other respects. Comfortable among his deviant cronies, he was an exhibitionist who wore women’s clothes. What I liked about the way in which Burton captures this side of Wood is that he actually presents this as counter-culture. Unlike a lot of films these days, Burton doesn’t try to pass off this behavior as normal. If he had, the film would’ve been unwatchable and lost much of its heart and poignancy. Wood and his friends are a group of talentless, pathetic outsiders who at least have one another — and that’s the heart of the story.

Also at the heart is Martin Landau in his unforgettable Oscar-winning role as The Mighty Bela Lugosi (one of my favorite actors). Again, the deviancy of Wood and his pals makes Lugosi’s late-in-life plight all the more poignant as we witness one of America’s greatest acting legends reduced to … this.

The lush Bluray transfer of the black and white cinematography is as big a selling point as the film, and while the extras don’t do the film justice, there’s still plenty to sink your teeth into.


The Princess Bride (1987): 25th Anniversary Edition

Is very strange. I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.

25 years later this irreverent and totally unique heartfelt romantic comedy still charms and elicits laughs as though it were released yesterday.

Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn (“Inconceivable!”), and Andre the Giant really steal the show, as do Billy Crystal and Carol Kane in one show-stopping scene. But in the central roles of the young lovers desperate to find a way to be together, Cary Elwes and Robin Wright are almost perfect — as is Chris Sarandon, in an under-rated role every bit as menacing, sniveling, and ultimately insecure as anything Basil Rathbone ever did.

Is a Bluray transfer of mid-scale budgeted comedy really necessary? Probably not. Fans will, however, want to buy it  for the extras, many of which are brand new.

One warning: Kids will love this to the point it’s likely to be rewatched again and again. Thankfully, it’s central tale of herosim and true love will do them no harm and because it’s ridiculously quotable, parents won’t mind it being looped for a month or two.


Follow  John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC