“The Nativity Story” leads several features receiving Blu-ray upgrades this week, while a wide variety of older titles come to DVD for the first time.
“The Nativity Story” (New Line/Blu-ray, 2006, PG, two discs, $19.98, Blu-ray and DVD versions, featurette, trailers). Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Whale Rider”) stars in this retelling of the birth of Jesus from the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke, a flawed but sincere and reverent film that should satisfy those of us who hunger for movies of this kind in the 21st century.
The film is perhaps a bit too reverent, especially in Castle-Hughes’ pouty performance and the gray, metallic-looking cinematography, which has the Holy Land appearing to be perpetually cloudy. But it gets better as it goes along, and Shohreh Aghdashloo’s portrayal of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth wonderfully observes that a visit from an angel and the promise of a deliverer is reason to rejoice.
“Mulan”/“Mulan II” (Disney/Blu-ray, 1998/2005, three discs, G, $39.99; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes, music videos, trailers). Disney’s animated retelling of a 2,000-year-old Chinese legend about a young woman (voiced by Ming-Na Wen) disguising herself as a man to join the Imperial Army is fast-paced and amusing. The straight-to-video sequel has more songs but less emphasis on story and character. (Also on DVD, $29.99)
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”/“The Hunchback of Notre Dame II” (Disney/Blu-ray, 1996/2002, three discs, G, $39.99; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; audio commentary, featurettes, trailers). Disney’s animated adaptation of the Victor Hugo classic is surprisingly good, with heart and humor in all the right places, some nice songs and wonderful voice performances from Tom Hulce as “Quasi,” Demi Moore as Esmerelda and Kevin Kline as the captain of the guard. But it’s also too violent and sensual for the very young. How’d this one get a G rating? The straight-to-video sequel is deplorable.
“Brother Bear”/“Brother Bear 2” (Disney/Blu-ray, 2003/2006, three discs, G, $39.99; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; deleted scenes, deleted song, featurettes, outtakes, music videos, sing-along, trailers). This one is an OK time-waster kids will like (though parents may blanch at the animal bodily function gags), borrowing perhaps a bit too much from Disney’s legacy (“Bambi,” “The Lion King”) and another studio’s “Ice Age” franchise. The story has an Iniut boy changed into a bear. The straight-to-video sequel is weak.
“Tristana” (Cohen/Blu-ray, 1970, PG-13, $24.98, in Spanish with English subtitles, alternate ending, audio commentary w/Catherine Deneuve, featurettes, trailers; 20-page booklet). Deneuve delivers a brilliant performance in this tragedy about sexual dynamics by the notorious Spanish surrealist Luis Bunuel. She’s an orphan adopted by aging nobleman Fernando Rey, who goes from father-figure to husband-figure until the tables turn a few more times. (Also on DVD, $19.98)
“South Pacific”/“Gypsy” (Mill Creek, 2001/1993, not rated, $9.98). These are the two TV-movie versions of these classic Broadway musicals, “South Pacific” starring Glenn Close and Harry Connick Jr., and “Gypsy,” with Bette Midler in the lead. One can argue about the merits of “South Pacific” compared to the lavish 1958 movie version, but there’s no question that “Gypsy” is tailor-made for Midler’s talent and her presence boosts this one a few notches above the 1962 film version.
“The Hudsucker Proxy” (Warner Archive/Blu-ray, 1994, PG, $19.95). Gentler in tone and sunnier than most Coen Brothers’ comedies, this period fantasy stars Tim Robbins, perfectly cast as a naïve country boy in New York becoming a patsy for a large corporation led by manipulative Paul Newman. Longish but charming and funny. (Available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
“Five Golden Hours” (Sony Choice Collection, 1961, b/w, not rated, $17.95). Ernie Kovacs is well cast as a con artist in Rome preying on wealthy women who have just lost their husbands, but when he falls for a supposedly penniless “black widow” (Cyd Charisse), she ends up fleecing him. Kovacs is hilarious and this farce is loaded with twists right up to the finale. George Sanders and Dennis Price co-star in this Italian-British production. (Available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
“There’s Always a Woman” (Sony Choice Collection, 1938, b/w, $17.95). Very funny comedy-mystery blatantly patterned after “The Thin Man” has Melvyn Douglas as a district attorney looking into a murder, unaware that his wife (Joan Blondell) is also investigating the case, having accepted a client after Douglas shuttered his private-eye business. Lots of witty banter, and Blondell is at the top of her game.
“The Boy From Oklahoma” (Warner Archive, 1954, not rated, $18.95). Will Rogers Jr., a ringer for his dad (and nearly as good with a rope), stars in this amiable western as an easygoing wannabe lawyer coerced into becoming sheriff of a small town despite an aversion to guns. Amusing diversion (reworked later for the “Sugarfoot” TV series) features Nancy Olson, Lon Chaney Jr. and Merv Griffin in support. (Available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
“The Gun Hawk” (Warner Archive, 1963, not rated, $18.95). Rory Calhoun stars in this colorful action-packed western as a gunslinger returning home when he is egged into a shootout, which sends him on the run, pursued by the local sheriff (Rod Cameron). Makes up for its B-movie budget with flourish. Ruta Lee co-stars. (Available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
“Cole Younger, Gunfighter” (Warner Archive, 1958, not rated, $18.95). Frank Lovejoy, who was more at home in urban thrillers, is an unlikely choice for the title character in this post-Civil War B western. Even more unlikely is the story, which has Younger taking under his wing a youthful cowpoke (James Best) innocently accused of murder. Abby Dalton co-stars. (Available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
“Hollywood Homicide”/“Hudson Hawk” (Mill Creek, 1991/2003, PG-13/R for violence, $9.98). These are two much maligned cop/crime comedies but neither is as bad as its reputation would suggest though they’re no great shakes either. “Hollywood Homicide” stars Harrison Ford and “Hudson Hawk” is a vanity project for Bruce Willis. Gladys Knight has a small acting role in Ford’s film.
“When a Stranger Calls”/“Happy Birthday to Me” (Mill Creek, 1979/1981; R for violence, language, sex; $9.98). The first 18 minutes of “Stranger” is taut and chilling as a babysitter (Carol Kane) is harassed by phone, then the film goes flabby until it picks up toward the end. Kane and Charles Durning are good. “Birthday” is a by-the-numbers ’80s slasher picture with former “Little House on the Prairie” star Melissa Sue Anderson trying to change her image and Glenn Ford trying to salvage his career. Neither succeed.
“A Nightmare On Elm Street Collection” (New Line/Blu-ray, 1984-1994; R for violence, sex, nudity, language; five discs, $49.99, seven movies, alternate scenes/endings, audio commentaries, documentaries, featurettes, music videos, trailers, two episodes of TV series: “Freddy’s Nightmares”). The first “Elm Street” was a step up in the slasher-movie trend of the 1980s with a real story and Johnny Depp in his film debut. The sequels were up-and-down affairs but equally less exploitative — until the last in the original series, “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,” which mixes self-reverential with self-spoofing. They’re all here, so you can pick your poison.