Here’s a look at a pair of recently released films to the Blu-ray format.
Stillwater (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, rated R, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 139 minutes, $34.98) — Matt Damon stars as Bill Baker, an unemployed Oklahoma oil worker desperately trying to prove his daughter innocent of murder in director Tom McCarthy’s crime drama very loosely based on the Amanda Knox case.
Mr. Baker’s mission is near insurmountable with Alison (Abigail Breslin) convicted of killing her college roommate in France and serving up to nine years in the country’s prison.
Traveling back and forth to France and eventually befriending and living with a mother (Camille Cottin) and her young daughter (Lilou Siauvaud), he battles language and cultural barriers in an investigation that slowly uncovers a possible suspect and the actual murderer.
Mr. Damon working man’s performance exhibits a stoic but sometimes out-of-character, irrational determination as he fights to fix a broken relationship with his daughter as well as free her.
The film revels in a character study of the bond between a broken father and an equally broken daughter.
With the majority of the action set in Marseille, the high definition presentation offers a panoramic travelogue of the city and surrounding areas, including the breathtaking coastal channels within the Calanques National Park.
Best extras: Three featurettes, roughly 10 minutes in total, offer a very superficial view of the production focused on the set, the location and the brilliance of the director.
A Night at the Opera (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, not rated, 1.37:1 aspect ratio, 92 minutes, $21.99) — The legendary Marx Brothers were let loose on an ocean liner and then New York City to cause a premium amount of comedic mayhem in director Sam Woods’ 1935 musical comedy that makes its debut on the Blu-ray format.
In the story, Groucho plays Otis B. Driftwood, business manager for the wealthy widower Mrs. Claypool (Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont).
While in Milan, Italy, he convinces her to invest in the New York Opera Company to help pompous owner Herman Gottlieb (Sig Ruman) hire the great tenor Rodolfo Lassparri (Walter Woolf King) and help Mrs. Claypool become part of high society.
Driftwood meets Fiorello (Chico), a manager of a struggling opera singer Ricardo Baroni (Allan Jones), who happens to be in love with star singer Rosa Castaldi (Kitty Carlisle). Driftwood signs a contract with Fiorello to hire Baroni (thinking he is Lassparri).
As Driftwood, Claypool, Gottlieb and Lassparri leave for America on an ocean liner, Baroni, Fiorello and disgruntled costume assistant Tomasso (Harpo) sneak aboard the ship as they search for Castaldi.
Driftwood eventually works together with the stowaways to embarrass Gottlieb and Lassparri and reunite the young lovers on the Big Apple’s opera stage.
This odd celebration of opera (with 10 musical numbers, no less) also comes packed with plenty of mocking of the upper class.
Of course, the laughs, slapstick and one-liners are fast and furious but really culminate in a gut-busting scene taking place in a stateroom as Groucho jampacks humans into the sparse space.
As part of the Warner archive collection, this new high definition transfer built from a 4K digital scan delivers an excellent, mostly crisp, black-and-white experience to appreciate the brothers’ manic comedic style.
Best extras: First watch a preshow before the main event with three shorts that were actually shown during the original theatrical release.
Specifically, the 10-minute comedy “How to Sleep,” the 20-minute star-powered showcase “Sunday Night at the Trocadero” and the eight-minute travelogue “Los Angeles: Wonder City of the West.”
Next, go back and watch the film with an optional commentary track by one of the premier film historians Leonard Maltin. Mr. Maltin is never at a loss for words as he offers a loving tribute to one of his favorite movies in a track packed with trivia about the film and the Marx Brothers, production facts and why “A Night at the Opera” has such an abrupt beginning.
Finally, enjoy a six-minute, 1961 interview with Groucho by Hy Gardner as he talks about working with Irving Thalberg as well as a 34-minute primer on the Marx Brothers’ history (released in 2004) with featured words from comedy writer Anne Beatts, comic actor extraordinaire Dom DeLuise and the venerable master humorist Carl Reiner.
Suffice it to report, fans of the Marx Brothers and anyone who enjoys laughing will relish this release.