The Last Temptation of Christ Blu-ray review

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, Harry Dean Stanton, David Bowie
Director: Martin Scorsese
Language: English
Region: Region 1
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Criterion Collection
Release Date: March 13, 2012
Run Time: 163 minutes

            The controversy surrounding The Last Temptation of Christ now seems more an unbelievable tale of Hollywood folklore than reality, as though the story behind the film were compelling enough to inspire a film of its own. It was a difficult film to sell, and one which was going against the flow of most mainstream cinema in the 1980s. Under the reign of Reagan’s economy and cultural mindset, audiences didn’t want to go to the movies to think anymore. That had passed with the 1970s, and the arrival of the blockbuster for which we owe Steven Spielberg and George Lucas much of the credit. Few serious filmmakers were able to survive in this market without making a blockbuster or two. Martin Scorsese would get there eventually as well, but with the power of his critical praise behind him, he set out to make a passion project of his own.

            The initial attempt to adapt Niko Kazantzakis’ novel was met with fierce resistance from the fundamentalist Christians, forcing the production to shut down a mere two weeks before shooting. This was in 1983, and Aiden Quinn was cast to play Jesus. It wasn’t until 1988 that the production was green lit and finally made, this time with Willem Dafoe cast in the main role. With the completion of the film, the controversy had only just begun. There were protests and flagrant accusations from conservative groups who felt that any type of altering in the biblical text was blasphemous. Regardless of the anger this film caused and the fact that it took fifteen years of work to finally complete, it is actually a rather tame film of honest and thought-provoking spiritual examination.

            The aspect of the storyline which most upset fundamentalist groups was the fact that Jesus (Dafoe) was seen to be more human in this version, given emotions and doubt. He is even given the moments of realization that his purpose might be something greater, and as the title suggests, he is given one last temptation of a life lived in peace and longevity. These images only take up a small portion of the film, though they add layers of humanity to Christ. Otherwise the story is much like many who objected had grown up hearing from the bible. This is not a film meant to question scripture or challenge faith, but a movie which asks questions and investigates faith by humanizing the relationships Jesus had. The relationship with Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey) takes on new meaning, as does the role of Judas (Harvey Keitel) in the life of Jesus.

            The Blu-ray includes a restored and director-approved high-definition digital transfer, supervised by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, Editor Thelma Schoonmaker and sound editor Skip Lievsay. The special features include an audio commentary with Scorsese and Dafoe, along with writers Paul Schrader and Jay Cocks. Also included are galleries of production stills, research materials and costume design. There is also some location production footage which was shot by Scorsese and an interview with composer Peter Gabriel. The insert includes a brief but impassioned essay by film critic David Ehrenstein.

@Suicide Room DVD review

Language: Polish
Subtitles: English
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Wolfe Video
DVD Release Date: March 13, 2012
Run Time: 110 minutes

            @Suicide Room teeters on the edge of many stylistic genre films before plummeting into semi-traditional drama and melodrama, no less effective in execution. An official selection at the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival and box-office hit in Poland, @Suicide Room is the latest from critically acclaimed writer/director Jan Komasa. It is a cautionary tale about school bullying and the ostracizing of homosexual teens, within the cybernetic world teens now socially live.

            Over-privileged teen Dominik (Jakub Gierszal) has plenty of friends until his sexuality becomes school gossip. At first a dare kiss turned into an online video is more flattering socially, but when an interaction with a friend turns into online bullying, Dominik escapes into solitude. Refusing to leave his room, Dominik instead spends all of his time in a virtual online world called the “Suicide Room.” Although he is near graduation, Dominik refuses to return to the ridicule of school.
            The sequences in which Dominik is lost online are shown through animation, bringing the audience into the virtual world. This world allows for the fantasy of release from the torments of real life, and Dominik is able to meet a follow tortured soul in this world. The saddest part of the film is the damaging ways in which the solitude inevitably takes over Dominik and pushes him over the edge rather than helping him to recover. The DVD includes a trailer.  

The Muppets Blu-ray review

Actors: Chris Cooper, Jason Segel
Language: English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 3
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Walt Disney Video
Release Date: March 20, 2012
Run Time: 103 minutes

            I grew up watching “The Muppet Show” and each film which followed, only tapering by the 90s when some of the storylines stretched as far as outer space. By the time the last Muppet movie was made, it seemed that the initial inspiration had been lost. Long gone were even memories of the days when The Muppets were still attached to the variety show which was “The Muppet Show.” The revival film, The Muppets, brings back the variety aspect along with many storylines which are familiar to the first films as well. In short, this is clearly a film made by someone who also grew up watching and loving these unforgettable Jim Henson puppet characters.

            When Jason Segel wrote Forgetting Sarah Marshall, he specifically had Jim Henson’s company in mind for the creation of the puppets used in his musical production within the storyline. They were so impressed with this aspect of the film that Segel had an in to pitch his idea for a new Muppets movie. This is the result; a film in which Segel stars alongside Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, The Muppets and a gang of cameos. The postmodern, self-referential humor is classic Muppets, and even though Segel seems likely to match Big Bird in height, he fits right in with the beloved puppets.

            Segel plays Gary, the brother of a young man named Walter who looks suspiciously like a Muppet rather than a human. When Gary invites Walter along on an anniversary vacation with his girlfriend, Mary (Adams), they end up on a cross-country Muppet adventure. Walter is the world’s biggest Muppet fan, so he is disappointed to find that the Muppet studios are in danger of being destroyed in a search for oil by an evil tycoon (Cooper). In order to save the studio, Walter and Gary help Kermit the Frog round up all of the old gang for one last comeback show. All of the favorites are back, including The Great Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy all the way to Beaker and the chickens, it’s all here, and the Blu-ray combo pack has even more to offer older fans and younger children alike.

            The 3-disc combo pack includes a Blu-ray, a DVD and a digital copy of the film. The digital copy also includes a digital full-length original soundtrack for the film. The DVD includes the film along with the one featurette, “The Longest Blooper Reel Ever Made (In Muppet History—We Think).” This is also included on the Blu-ray, as well as a number of additional features. Among them is the groundbreaking “Disney Intermission” feature, in which the Muppets take over the screen when the film is paused during playback. There is also an extended version of the Tex Richman (Cooper) rap song, explaining his hatred of Muppets. Additional footage also includes eight deleted scenes. Jason Segel also provides a fantastic audio commentary along with director James Brolin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller.