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IFC.com’s 2012 Blu-Ray Gift Guide

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In many ways, 2012 was a banner year for great high definition home entertainment releases. Film fans were treated to some of the very best box sets, long-awaited catalog titles, and new releases to ever hit Blu-ray. The only problem with so many great movies being released every week is that it’s often hard to remember the best and brightest of the Blu-ray bunch when holiday shopping season rolls around. That’s where we come in! We’ve put together a list of twenty of the most amazing Blu-ray releases of 2012. It’s certainly not a complete list of everything 2012 had to offer, but it’s a fantastic start for the cinephile on your shopping list. Happy holidays!


Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection: Limited Edition (Universal)

Fifteen of Hitchcock’s greatest films, with brand new high definition transfers, and a wealth of great bonus material – all in one big box set? Yes, please! Quite possibly the release of the year, this box set is every serious film fan’s dream come true. The films, including “Psycho,” “Rear Window,” “The Birds,” and many more, have never looked better and the care with which Universal has treated this release is apparent from the insightful extras all the way down the box design. We loved it so much, we even dedicated an entire article just to where you can find Hitchcock’s cameos in the films in this box set.


Bond 50: The Complete 22 Film Collection (Fox)

Easily one of the largest, and most comprehensive, Blu-ray box sets of 2012, Fox’s Bond 50: The Complete 22 Film Collection is a must-have for any fan of 007. This massive 23-disc set includes all 22 James Bond films from 1962’s “Dr. No” to 2008’s “Quantum of Solace,” and there’s even a placeholder for your “Skyfall” Blu-ray when you eventually purchase it. Packed with excellent bonus features that will even give you a new appreciation for the lesser Bond films, this is one of the year’s best Blu-ray boxes.


Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection (Universal)

If you’re a classic horror film fan, this is the Blu-ray box set that you’ve been waiting for. This eight-disc features all eight Universal classic monster movies from 1931’s “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” to 1954’s “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (in both 2D and 3D, no less). If you add the Spanish-language version of “Drácula” that’s also included, you actually get nine of the finest fright films of all time in one convenient and beautiful box set. Painstakingly restored in stunning high-definition, you can be sure that you’ve never seen these films look this great. For a horror junkie like me, this is actually my favorite box set release of the year.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIKKj7wLEiM


Jaws (Universal)

Arguably the greatest film of all time, “Jaws” finally gets a worthy Blu-ray upgrade with what is easily one of the greatest high definition restorations of all time. To say the transfer on Universal’s “Jaws” Blu-ray is beautiful is an enormous understatement; this visual presentation is what every single Blu-ray release of a classic film should aspire to. It not only maintains the integrity, tone, and film of the original release, but it does so with stunning clarity, unparalleled detail, and a soothingly warm color palette. It’s a revelation and, although there is also some wonderful bonus material included on the release, the restored high definition transfer is easily worth the price of admission for this disc.


Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures (Paramount)

This Blu-ray box set from Paramount includes three awesome “Indiana Jones” films and one really shiny drink coaster. Okay, we’re kidding. That fourth disc is “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” but no one is buying Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures for that film. What you will get in this set, however is a beloved franchise that’s been handled with loving care. The audio-visual presentations are top notch (“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” is particularly vibrant), the bonus features are engaging, and the film, well, they speak for themselves. Now if it only came with a fedora and bullwhip…


Rosemary’s Baby: Criterion Collection (Criterion)

One of the most important and influential horror films of all time, Roman Polanski’s 1968 classic “Rosemary’s Baby” made genre fans jump for joy when they heard the announcement that The Criterion Collection would be handling the film’s high definition release. We certainly don’t blame them as Criterion has not only lived up to their mighty expectations, but may have even exceeded them with this gorgeous Blu-ray release. Insightful new interviews, beautiful use of the original poster art on the Blu-ray cover, and a spot-on high definition transfer make this a must-have release for any serious cinephile.


The Dark Knight Trilogy: Limited Edition Giftset (Warner Bros.)

Sure, the critical reaction to Christopher Nolan’s third entry in his “Dark Knight” series “The Dark Knight Rises” might not be up to par with his previous two entries, but you can’t deny the fact that the master director has still crafted one of the finest film trilogies in a long time. What better way to pick up all three films than to grab them in this excellent Limited Edition Giftset. It includes all the bonus material from the standalone releases, plus the shortened version of “The Art and Making of The Dark Knight Trilogy” book, all for less than you’d pay if you bought the Blu-rays separately. We call that a steal.


21 Jump Street (Sony)

There were a lot of really good comedies released in 2012, but none were as genuinely laugh-out-loud funny as the Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum television-series reboot “21 Jump Street.” The film had all the makings of a complete disaster, but it beat the odds and became a hilarious update of a not-so-great TV show. In addition to the film itself, you also get a lively audio commentary, nearly thirty minutes of deleted scenes, a hilarious gag reel, and much more. If you’re looking for a good laugh, “21 Jump Street” has got you covered.


Little Shop of Horrors: The Director’s Cut (Warner Bros.)

Finally fans of Frank Oz’s modern musical classic “Little Shop of Horrors” get a chance to see the director’s original apocalyptic ending for the film with this beautifully restored Blu-ray release of the film’s Director’s Cut. Previously only available in grainy black and white on a DVD that was promptly pulled from release (only to make it an eBay cash cow for years), the original vision of Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, and Frank Oz has been given the full high definition treatment with new effects, a bright and colorful transfer, and a lavish overall presentation. Go out and grab this Blu-ray, but be warned: You’ll be singing “Suddenly, Seymour” on repeat for about two weeks after you watch it.


Tarantino XX: 8-Film Collection (Lionsgate)

With Quentin Tarantino’s latest epic film, “Django Unchained,” hitting theaters on Christmas Day here in the US, it’s a real treat to get this eight-film Blu-ray collection that traces the director’s filmmaking career from 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs” to 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds,” and even includes the 1993 film “True Romance,” which Tarantino wrote but the late Tony Scott directed. While most of the films included in Tarantino XX are simply re-packaged versions of their standalone Blu-ray releases, the real treat in this set is both the Mondo box art created by artist Ken Taylor and the two bonus discs that feature some very lengthy extra material. You get nearly five-hour “Critic’s Corner” featurette one disc and a two-hour retrospective feature on Tarantino on the other disc, along with a few other items including an assortment of trailers for “Django Unchained.” Put it all together and it’s better than a five-dollar shake!

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Rocky IV Paulie Robot

Mr. Roboto

5 Reasons Rocky IV Is Too Rotten to Miss

Catch Rocky IV Friday at 8P during IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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Photo Credit: MGM/UA/YouTube

When Rocky IV was released in 1985, the critics were not kind. (While it wasn’t around back then, the film’s 39% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes speaks for itself.) Less of a movie than a jingoistic music video starring a robot and a steroid-addled, monosyllabic Russian baddie, Rocky IV is a far cry from the Italian Stallion’s humble origins.

Still, more than any movie ever made, it exemplifies the whole “so bad its good” genre. This movie was made for us, the great-unwashed masses of the 1980s, who loved the band Survivor and hated those Commie bastards. Before you catch Rocky IV on IFC’s Rotten Fridays, let’s take a look at some moments that make this flick a “too rotten to miss” classic.

5. That Opening Shot

Rocky IV
United Artists

It takes all of 30 seconds for the audience to know they’re in for one ridiculous rollercoaster ride through a Cold War conniption fit of good vs. evil. Gone is the subtle tone and grounded reality of the first Rocky. In its place we see two gloves, one emblazoned with the American flag, the other with the Soviets’, hurtling toward each other. When they collide, sparks fly, and we witness an explosion decades in the making.

In case the symbolism is too subtle for you, director/writer/star Sylvester Stallone is trying to hint that this movie will be the clash of civilizations we’d all been waiting for, but instead of nuclear bombs, a humble palooka from the streets would be duking it out in the ring with the ultimate representation of coldhearted Communism. If it were up to us, this opening shot would’ve won Best Picture all by itself.


4. So Many Montages

Rocky IV has a running time of 91 minutes and 20 seconds. Its eight montages (yes, EIGHT) run a total of 29 minutes and 10 seconds. That is one third of the movie solely dedicated to montages. (Considering Stallone’s contempt for all things Soviet, we have to wonder if he knows it was a dirty Ruskie who invented the montage.)

During one of the many, many montages, director Stallone actually flashes back to a scene that had happened a minute and half prior, creating the impression that he might actually flashback to the montage we were just watching in the same montage. Stallone clearly loves a good montage set to an inspirational ’80s song, and so do we. Which brings us to…


3. A Soundtrack Full of Pumped Up ’80s Jams

Speaking of montages, they are set to the score of some of the cheesiest hits from the mid-’80s. For once, we’re spared tracks from Frank Stallone, with Stallone replacing his rocker brother with synth-y singles from Survivor, John Cafferty and Kenny Loggins. And of course, Robert Tepper, possessor of an ’80s mullet that could topple empires, crooning “No Easy Way Out.” The music in this movie is one step away from being a parody of the music in this movie. If you ever want to know what cocaine can do to the human mind, just listen to this soundtrack.


2. Rocky Ends the Cold War

Rocky IV speech
United Artists

In one of the most misguided, self-congratulatory, and immediately dated moments in cinema history, good ol’ galoot Rocky Balboa single-handedly ended the Cold War four years before the Berlin Wall came down.

To quote the Italian Stallion himself: “In here…there were two guys… killing each other. But I guess that’s better than millions. What I’m trying to say is… if I can change… and you can change…everybody can change!” And just like that the Soviet public, generals and even the Premier himself rose to their feet in applause, realizing what fools they’d been. This guy beat Mr. T for Heaven’s sake. He knows what he’s talking about!


1. Paulie’s Robot

Okay, let’s all take a deep breath and really consider this for a moment. Rocky IV has a robot butler in it. A movie franchise that began back in 1976 exploring the gritty reality of a bum fighter trying to prove himself somehow limped along long enough to turn into a weak Short Circuit rip-off in which an alcoholic mooch with a history of domestic abuse now gets his coffee served to him by a robot. A robot that he has programmed with a “sultry” lady voice!

Stallone was inspired to include the real life robot Sico in Rocky IV because of the work it did to help autistic children like his son Seargeoh. That’s all very moving, but doesn’t explain why he decided to write a scene where Paulie dubs poor Sico “the love of my life.” It’s a testament to Rocky IV‘s “too rotten to miss” status that Paulie’s robot girlfriend/personal servant isn’t even the craziest thing that happens to Rock and the gang.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

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Gray's Anatomy

Everything You Need to Know About the Movie That Inspired “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”

Brand new Documentary Now! airs Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom Pictures

This week Documentary Now! spotlights a master monologist with “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything.” Before you tune in at 10P this Wednesday on IFC, check out our guide to Swimming to Cambodia, the 1987 film that captured writer/performer Spalding Gray’s acclaimed one-person show.

Spalding Gray 101

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures

Actor and renowned monologist Spalding Gray spent two years on stage perfecting his Obie Award-winning “Swimming to Cambodia” monologue. In it, Gray tells the story of his eight weeks in Southeast Asia while shooting the 1984 Academy Award-winning movie The Killing Fields. He had a small role, but the experience gave him several anecdotes about hanging out with the film crew and experiencing the local culture, all while searching for “the perfect moment.”

Directed by the Silence of the Lambs Guy

Hannibal Lecter
Orion Pictures/Everett Collection

Acclaimed filmmaker Jonathan Demme took Gray’s two-night, four hour performance and crafted it down to 85 minutes. His use of dramatic lighting, stylish camerawork and a score by performance artist Laurie Anderson was praised by critics and earned the film a cult following. No stranger to groundbreaking docs, Demme also directed the 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which Documentary Now! pays tribute to in this season’s episode “Final Transmission.”

All about the Voices

While it may have been a one-man show, Gray created a repertoire of characters all with distinctive accents. (He portrayed conversations between himself and others just by turning his head.) Our favorite impressions are of his demanding girlfriend Renee and Ivan Strasberg, the South African director of photography on The Killing Fields who, as depicted by Gray, sounds a bit like a Jamaican surfer.

The Original Cranky New Yorker

In one memorable scene, Gray rants about how his noisy upstairs artist neighbors are driving him and Renee crazy. Even in the mid-’80s, there were New Yorkers complaining that the city wasn’t what it used to be.

Show and Tell

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures/YouTube

A big fan of visual aids, Gray used pull-down maps to illustrate his travels. This helped to bring Swimming to Cambodia to life, since he’s basically sitting at a desk the entire time.

Inspired One-Person Shows

Gray’s groundbreaking performances in Swimming and other documentaries like Monster in a Box and the Steven Soderbergh-directed Gray’s Anatomy (about Gray’s struggle with a rare eye condition) paved the way for future one-person shows. (We wouldn’t have everything from Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” to Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me” without him.) Even Doc Now! star Fred Armisen got into the one-person show act for his recent SNL monologue.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Spalding Gray when “Parker Gail: Location Is Everything” premieres Wednesday, September 28th at 10P on IFC. 

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Burning Heart

10 Reasons Why Rocky IV Is the Ultimate Rocky Movie

Catch an all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC.

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Photo Credit: United Artists/Everett Collection

Sure, most people love the first Rocky for its heart, gripping boxing scenes and the classic training montage. Or, you might love Creed for being both a return-to-form and a new exploration of the Rocky mythology. Maybe the thrill of seeing Mr. T and Hulk Hogan in the same movie makes Rocky III your top pick. Well, sorry, you’re wrong: Rocky IV is the greatest of all the “Italian Stallion”‘s movies.

Before you watch the all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC (with Rocky IV airing at 8P as part of Rotten Fridays), check out a few reasons to appreciate the fourth installment as the king of the series.

1. The Greatest Opening Ever

How many openings are able to sum up the entire conflict of the film in less than a minute and without a single line of dialogue? And how many of those movies have exploding boxing gloves? Just try to watch the opening sequence above and not be completely psyched for the pumped-up flick to come.


2. Montages!

We all know that the best part of any sports movie is the montage, and Rocky IV doesn’t give you one measly montage. There’s a recap of the previous films montage, a getting to Russia Montage, two training montages and an ending fight montage. That’s five montages! There’s probably a montage of montages snuck in there, too.


3. There’s a Full James Brown Musical Number

This movie is so packed with memorable moments, it’s easy to forget one of the first things that happens in the film: Apollo comes out to fight Drago dressed as a shirtless Uncle Sam, while James Brown and a full band play “Living in America.” To drive home the number’s patriotism, there are dancers in tuxedos and top hats, weird unitards and bowler caps, and bedazzled showgirls with headpieces for miles. Oh, and don’t forget the giant tentacled dragon statue on the stage. This is how every boxing match should start. Heck, this is how we always want to enter a room.


4. The Soundtrack

The Rocky IV soundtrack doesn’t just feature James Brown — it has rock anthems galore, all of which make you immediately want to hit the gym. From “Heart’s on Fire” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band to “Sweetest Victory” by Touch to multiple Survivor jams, you’ll get pumped and stay pumped. Even the instrumental score rocks! Sure, sometimes it sounds like it was made on a kids Casio, but this soundtrack never quits and — to quote Robert Tepper — never takes the easy way out.


5. Abs!

Rocky IV weights

Every Rocky movie shows off Stallone’s incredible physique, but Rocky IV really ups the game. Not only do we get Dolph Lundgren mostly shirtless looking like a man machine, but we get a wide variety of scenes of Stallone doing impossible tasks. Stallone’s crazy dragon fly crunches, aka a thing no human should be able to do, automatically take this movie to the top.


6. Two words: Ivan Drago

Ivan Drago
United Artists

Not only does Rocky IV explore the global conflict between the US and the Soviet Union, but it encapsulates all of our fears of the Cold War in one perfect villain. Ivan Drago only trains with machines and science and looks like he stepped out of an Aryan Nations recruitment poster. He also only responds in short, cold phrases like “If he dies, he dies,” or “I must break you.” There’s never been a villain who we so clearly want to get the crap beat out of than Ivan Drago.


7. Rocky Makes Chores Look Badass

Rocky saw
United Artists

Rocky doesn’t need to be hooked up to machines to become the perfect fighter. All he needs are huge tires and some outdoor chores to do. No one’s ever looked cooler chopping wood and using tractor parts. Half of his training is lifting an old wagon, probably to fix a broken axle. If anything, this film inspires us to take care of that gardening work we’ve been neglecting.


8. Rocky’s Beard

Rocky IV Beard

Stallone’s beard game is truly on point in Rocky IV. And this isn’t some “I forgot to shave, here’s a little stubble” look. No, we get full out, lumberjack-style beard action. Does any other Rocky movie have our hero looking like an old Russian aristocrat? Another point for Rocky IV.


9. There’s a robot!

Again, there’s so much to Rocky IV, you probably forgot about the robot. Well, Rocky has some money now and he’s not going to spend it on frivolous things for himself. He’s going to buy Paulie a robot! The best part of this scene is how truly disturbed Paulie is by this new technology until he gives it a sexy lady voice.


10. Rocky Ends the Cold War

If you’re still not convinced that Rocky IV is the greatest, answer this question: Does any other Rocky movie bring peace between the US and Russia?

By the end of the film, Rocky rises up to beat the seemingly undefeatable Drago. He fights so well, that even the Russians begin to appreciate his skills. Then, instead of using his victory to prove America’s superiority, he gives a rousing speech of “If I can change and you can change, everybody can change!” The whole crowd goes wild, including all of the Russian government, who we assume give up Communism immediately based solely on Rocky’s words. Stallone’s call for international reconciliation through brutal fighting and a variety of montages makes this if not one of the greatest films of all time, certainly the greatest Rocky of them all.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

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