- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2015

Let’s celebrate some classic musicals, a gritty Academy Award-nominated performance, a blockbuster and a dose of Johnny Depp weird with some of the tops picks in Blu-ray home entertainment this week.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: 10th Anniversary (Warner Home Video, rated PG-13, $34.99) — Full disclosure, Gene Wilder’s 1971 portrayal of an eccentric candy maker in will always be the de facto cinematic version of Roald Dahl’s famed book, in my opinion.

Begrudgingly, I understand the allure of director’s Tim Burton’s 2005 version of the work. Although less musical, it’s more of a faithful adaptation as the movie delivers a truly bizarre version of a pale Mr. Wonka (courtesy of Johnny Depp) and co-stars Freddie Highmore (Charlie Bucket), Helena Bonham Carter (Charlie’s mother), Deep Roy (as the Oompa-Loompas) and a quirky musical score by Danny Elfman.

Viewers get the same pristine transfer delivered in the 2011 Blu-ray release highlighting the chaotic color scheme almost making it look like a digitally created cartoon as Wonka takes some lucky tykes through his candy factory.

Unfortunately, the extras are also repeated without even a new retrospective celebrating the film’s anniversary. Fans do get a full-color photo booklet and a piece of paper with a personal message from Mr. Burton in the package, both of which are hardly satisfying.



Still, for viewers that do not own a copy, the collection of extras really sweetens up the Blu-ray purchase. Besides a commentary track from Mr. Burton (he’s a bit too subdued and quiet throughout), fans get 10 featurettes to enjoy, including an “Attack of the Squirrels” and 17 minutes devoted to the work of Dahl.

Best of all, an “In-Movie Experience” delivers text facts and video pop-up boxes, photo cutouts, jokes and sound effects during the film to offer cast and staff interviews, production art and storyboards, and Oompa-Loompa shenanigans. It’s a weird, fun and oddly informative presentation.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Rated PG-13, $39.99) — This bridge movie slowly begins to roll out the final conflict between the Districts and the Capitol in the nation of Panem. Viewers familiar with the previous “Hunger Games” film will most appreciate the methodical plot as our bow-wielding heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) accepts the symbolic leadership role of the Rebellion’s Mockingjay. She then sets to work on a public relations campaign to win allegiance of each District and stop the plans of the evil President Snow.

Action scenes are at a premium in the two-hour-long film, but they are a visual smorgasbord for viewers when erupting in the high-definition format. The soundtrack also booms in home entertainment theaters for players hooked up to a Dolby TrueHD Atmos compatible sound system.

Extras to the Blu-ray disk make it a worthy purchase and include a fairly filling commentary track with Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson, an exhausting eight-part documentary that is over 2-hours-long on the making of the film, and a slick navigation menu to access all of the goodies.

Musicals Collection (Warner Home Video, Rated: G, $34.99) — A high-definition celebration of a sometimes forgotten movie genre gives viewers a taste of some legendary dancing and singing stars of yesteryear.

The four-disk Blu-ray set offers the musicals ” Kiss Me Kate” (1953), “Calamity Jane” (1953), “The Band Wagon” (1953) and “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952). Each features pleasing audio and digital transfers along with some nostalgic extras. Here are the specifics:

• “Kiss Me Kate” — Viewers get both a two-dimensional and newly remastered three-dimensional version of the film (in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1:75:1) starring Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson and Ann Miller in a Cole Porter, musical homage to Shakespeare’s‘ “The Taming of the Shrew.” Nostalgia buffs should pay close attention to the hoofing of legend Bob Fosse (“All That Jazz”) in the number “From This Moment On.” Those watching the 3D version will find the over-the-top, retro effects amusing, i.e. actors throwing stuff at the audience. Fans will love the smattering of extras that include a look at Cole Porter’s impact in Hollywood.

• “The Band Wagon” — Let’s call it the musical equivalent of “Birdman” as an actor attempts to revive his career by delivering a Faustian-style play on Broadway. The movie shines through Fred Astaire dancing with Cyd Charisse, songs such as “That’s Entertainment” and a couple of really bizarre dance numbers. An optional commentary track from the Liza Minnelli (her dad Vincente directed the picture) and musical revivalist Michael Feinstein complements the action thanks to Miss Minnelli’s enthusiasm. Also, an hourlong documentary on the director’s career is worth a look.

• “Calamity Jane” — The least remembered of the group, but just as fun, stars a spunky Doris Day as the famous Old West legend as she sings and gets in a feud while wooed by Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickok. By the way, “Secret Love” won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Extras include the 1953 Looney Tunes cartoon short “Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century,” a pre-movie treat for the entire family.

• “Singin’ in the Rain” — Regularly cited as one of the best musicals ever made by critics, the film finds actors Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor teaming up to take a humorous look at when talking motion pictures began to retire stars of the silent era. Numbers such as “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Make ‘Em Laugh” sound fabulous in the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Colors are especially crisp here with help from Warner’s award-winning digital transfer techniques (a 4K scan no less).

Extras include a cast commentary track featuring many a memory from individuals such as Debbie Reynolds, Cyd Charisse and screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green; a near hour-long retrospective from 2012; and an easy way to order and access just the musical numbers.

Hard-core “Singin’ in the Rain” fans might prefer to buy the 60th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (roughly $35 through online outlets) released in 2012 for a more extensive set of documentaries.

Foxcatcher (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Rated R, $34.99) — The multiple Academy Awards-nominated, true-life crime drama starred Steve Carell as wealthy heir John du Pont, a man with mommy issues and dreams of coaching the USA wrestling team in the 1988 Seoul Olympic games.

For those unaware of the actual story, His dreams come true after recruiting previous medal winners Mark and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum). However, events take a sinister turn, fueled by the paranoid schizophrenia of the millionaire during team training on his palatial estate, Foxcatcher Farms.

Extras are way too light for this great of a film. Instead of the included 16-minute making of featurette, I would have much preferred a much longer, historical look at both the Du Pont family and the ultimate, shocking breakdown of the heir.

Considering the ease of watching “Foxcatcher” through various on-demand options and the lack of extras, the movie is only a Blu-ray buy for hard-core fans of Mr. Carell of Mr. Tatum.

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