A couple of beloved film franchises get spiffed up for Blu-ray and a stunning, Oscar-winning documentary arrives on DVD for the first time in this look at the week's new releases.
"Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie" (Icarus, 1988, two discs, $34.98). Marcel Ophuls' taxing but engrossing look at "The Butcher of Lyon" maintains its power more than two decades after winning the Oscar as best documentary, and anyone looking for insight into the Holocaust will certainly find it here.
In fact, one could argue that the film's impact is even greater now, given other holocausts around the world that have since come to light.
Barbie was one of Hitler's most notorious henchmen, a Gestapo chief who killed and tortured more Jewish men, women and children than he could keep track of. In fact, toward the end of the film, Barbie tells a South American TV journalist, "I've forgotten. If they haven't, it's their concern." Which, of course, gives impetus to the "never forget" mantra of those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
In 1987 Barbie was finally brought to trial for war crimes after having been protected by French and American military organizations that used him as a mentor for interrogation techniques during the Cold War!
Wisely, Ophuls eschews horrifying newsreel footage to instead allow victims and military officers — American, French and former SS — to tell the story. The filmmaker himself is also on camera (long before the technique was co-opted by Michael Moore) so we can see how he extracted some of his interviews, which lends depth to the proceedings.
"Hotel Terminus" is a worthy companion to Ophuls' seminal "The Sorrow and the Pity," as well as Claude Lanzmann's "Shoah," all of which are, arguably, the best documentaries on this subject.
Extras: full frame; booklet
"Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy" (Universal/Blu-ray, 1985-90, PG, $79.98). Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd star in this still highly entertaining trio of fantasy flicks. In the first film, Fox is a teenager who travels to the past and meets his own parents in high school. But when he fouls up the space-time continuum, his journeys in the sequels send him to an alternate reality and then to the Old West (the latter filmed in southern Utah).
This set has all the bounteous bonus features of earlier editions, plus two hours of additional features, and, of course, upgraded picture and sound like never before.
Extras: widescreen, three movies, digital copies of each movie, deleted scenes, audio commentaries, featurettes, music videos, photo galleries, trailers (also on DVD, $49.98)
"Alien Anthology" (Fox/Blu-ray, 1979-97; R for violence, language, brief nudity; six discs, $139.99). Smaller is the new bigger with this set, as the unwieldy 2003 "Quadrilogy" container has been replaced with a smaller, hard, 26-page book-box with six discs containing bonus materials so vast that even a true "Alien"-phile may get lost among them.
Ridley Scott's 1979 "Alien" is the anchor, of course, in which the stylish filmmaker had the clever idea of upgrading the old low-budget sci-fi thriller "It! The Terror From Beyond Space," which essentially took the familiar monster-in-a-haunted-house motif and transplanted it into a space ship. The film made Sigourney Weaver a star and introduced a slimy, drooling creature for the '80s.
Then James Cameron gave us a sequel in "Aliens" that upped the monster ante but traded horror for action. The third was an attempt at an existential revisiting of "Moby Dick" and the fourth returned to the trappings of the first film.
Weaver stars in all four films, of course, and the two latter entries, while weaker, may be of increased interest since some of the behind-the-scenes talent has gone on to greater stardom — in particular directors David Fincher ("The Social Network") and Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Amelie"), as well as writer Joss Whedon (TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") — they now have interest on another level.
The Blu-ray redo is as sharp as can be and lends an especially creepy atmosphere in picture and sound to the first film.
Extras: widescreen, deleted/extended scenes, audio commentaries, documentaries, featurettes, photo/art galleries, trailers/ad spots; 16-page booklet; book-style box with photos
"Sex and the City 2" (Warner/Blu-ray, 2010; R for sex, language, nudity; two discs, $35.99). This unnecessary, unfunny sequel has the TV cast heading for Abu Dhabi, where they run into Arab stereotypes and Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is tempted to cheat on her husband (Chris Noth).
Extras: widescreen; Blu-ray, DVD and digital versions; audio commentary, featurettes, trailers (also on single-disc DVD, $28.98)
"Skeletons" (IndiePix, 2010, $24.95). Terry Gilliam had nothing to do with this offbeat, low-key comedy, but he could have been a source of inspiration. This British farce has psychic detectives removing skeletons from damaged people's proverbial closets, and it benefits from the chemistry of deadpan British comedy team of Andrew Buckley and Ed Gaughan.
Extras: widescreen, deleted scenes, featurettes, trailer
"Nice Guy Johnny" (FilmBuff, 2010, $24.98). Yet another disposable romantic comedy-drama from filmmaker/actor Edward Burns, who is still trying to be Woody Allen. The plot has Burns as the womanizing uncle of the gentle title character (Matt Bush), whom he whisks away for a weekend of debauchery. Instead, Johnny meets someone who might be Ms. Right.
Extras: widescreen, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featuretes, trailer
"Harrison Montgomery" (IndiePix, 2010, $24.95). Strange, meandering tale of a drug dealer who hides out in a hotel where he meets the title character (Martin Landau), a recluse who sees hidden messages in "Wheel of Fortune." Hindered by a lack of focus and a very low budget.
Extras: widescreen, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes, trailer
"Last Day of Summer" (eOne, 2009; R for language, violence, drugs; $24.98). DJ Qualls is a fast-food employee harassed by his boss until a breakdown prompts him to impulsively kidnap a customer (Nikki Reed).
Extras: widescreen, featurette, trailers
"Lake Placid 3" (Sony, 2010 $24.96). Baby crocs grow to giant-size maneaters in this sequel with no continuing characters. Predictable, silly and loaded with really bad computer graphics.
Extras: widescreen, trailers