Jun 22, 2010

New Spy DVDs Out This Week (And Last)

There are two very high-profile spy titles of note out this week, from Universal and Criterion. Uni unleashes what's for my money the best spy movie of the year–and best movie, for that matter (so far)–on DVD and Blu-ray: Green Zone.  Hopefully it will do better on home video than it did in theaters.  The generous DVD special features include a commentary with star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, deleted scenes, featurettes ("Inside the Green Zone", "Matt Damon: Ready for Action"), and a that stupid digital copy of the film that all the studios are still so crazy about. The Blu-ray release includes all that plus additional BD-Live and U-Control features.  Hopefully more people will discover this amazing action movie on DVD than saw it in the theaters.  As I said in my review, fans of Greengrass's Bourne movies are likely to love Green Zone; the thrust-the-viewer-in-the-thick-of-it action scenes are just as good as those in the awesome Bourne Ultimatum (and far, far superior to Mark Forster's attempt to replicate the style in the lacklustre Quantum of Solace). And, just to be clear, Green Zone is a propulsive spy action movie, not a grim antiwar drama or a political diatribe, as some would suggest. Read my full review of Green Zone here.

As I mentioned just last week, today [er, next Tuesday, that is] also sees the release of one of the terrific spy films of the Forties long absent from DVD, courtesy of The Criterion Collection: Carol Reed's Night Train to Munich, starring Rex Harrison and The Lady Vanish's Margaret Lockwood. Lockwood isn't all that this decidely Hitchcockian comedic thriller has in common with The Lady Vanishes, either.  Besides a train setting, the two movies also share a couple of screenwriters (Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat) and the cricket-loving comic relief characters Charters and Caldicott (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, who also played the roles in a second feature included on Criterion's Lady Vanishes DVD).  Night Train to Munich (1940) follows Harrison as a dashing British secret agent accompanying a Czech scientist and his daughter across war-torn Europe as they attempt to evade Nazi spies.  Besides the first-rate transfer Criterion is known or, DVD features include a "new video conversation between film scholars Peter Evans and Bruce Babington about director Carol Reed, screenwriters Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, and the social and political climate in which Night Train to Munich was made" and a booklet with an essay by film critic Philip Kemp.

EDIT: Whoops!  Looks like I jumped the gun on this one. I guess that's what happens when you try to sneak in updates while on vacation.  Night Train to Munich isn't out until next week.

There were also a few notable spy releases last week that I didn't get around to posting about. 

Many industry pundits were surprised when Sony opted to forgo theaters and release the Samuel L. Jackson counter-terrorism thriller Unthinkable directly to DVD (and Blu-ray). Despite favorable reviews, however, that's exactly what happened, and here it is.  Jackson plays a counter-terrorism agent who clashes with Carrie-Anne Moss's by-the-book FBI agent when he resorts to torture techniques that would make even Jack Bauer blush when interrogating a terrorist (Michael Sheen) who has planted bombs in multiple American cities.

Anthony Valantine (Callan's psychopathic cohort Toby Meres) takes on an equally rakish but altogether more charming role as the ultimate Victorian anti-hero in Raffles: The Complete Collection, out this week from Acorn Media. Cricketer by day and high society cat burglar Raffles and his partner in crime Bunny were conceived by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's brother-in-law as the anti-Holmes and Watson.  The episodes themselves are Holmsian enough that Raffles would be right at home in an episode of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, but it's lucky for us that he actually got two seasons of his own TV show instead! Naturally, like many of those rivals, Raffles (who was a later member of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) also finds himself dabbling in espionage when he's contracted by Her Majesty's Government to steal some sensitive documents during the second season.  Raffles has been on DVD before (though it's long out of print), but Acorn's collection represents the first time ever that the pilot episode (which proves to be quite good) has been available on home video.  If you like Sherlock Holmes (or, more to the point, perhaps, if you like his Rivals), then you'll probably enjoy Raffles.  If you're not sure, why not check out the pilot as Video On Demand from Amazon?


Delmo said...

I don't remember a review for "The Killers". Are you saving it so you can compare/contrast with "Knight & Day" which I saw Wednesday and enjoyed immensely?

Tanner said...

I've been traveling, and I haven't seen either one yet! I'm dying to see Knight & Day (and glad to hear you liked it), but Killers feels like homework. That doesn't mean I won't still try to get around to it...