‘Flight,’ ‘Alex Cross,’ ‘Peter Pan’ among new DVD titles

By Rich Heldenfels Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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(From left) Bruce Greenwood is Charlie Anderson, Don Cheadle is Hugh Lang and Denzel Washington is Whip Whitaker in in Flight from Paramount Pictures. (Robert Zuckerman/Paramount Pictures)

Tuesday’s new DVD and Blu-ray releases include one of Denzel Washington’s best performances, a provocative look at the craft of film, a sparkling high-definition rendition of an animated classic and Tyler Perry stepping out of his comfort zone.

The Washington performance is in Flight (Paramount, $29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo pack), a gripping drama starring Washington as an airline pilot whose heroic action begins forcing him to confront the many demons in his life. Washington catches both the arrogance and the desperation of his character, and is deservedly nominated for a best-actor Oscar.

John Gatins’ script, nominated for best original screenplay, is merciless about showing Washington’s troubled side, with the movie’s R rating granted in large part “for drug and alcohol abuse, language [and] sexuality/nudity”; we know Washington’s life is falling apart even before he becomes a hero.

The cast also includes John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood and Melissa Leo. Among the extras on video are a piece about the making of the film and one about the exciting plane crash that sets the movie’s deeper drama in motion.

The animated classic is the 1952 Walt Disney version of Peter Pan (Disney, $39.99 in a DVD/Blu-ray combo, $44.99 in a combo of the DVD, Blu-ray and digital copy). It’s tuneful and clever, and both the picture and sound are marvelous in the Blu-ray version. In addition to elements from previous DVD releases, the new set adds a 41-minute piece, Growing Up with Nine Old Men, about the Disney animators Walt gave that nickname — as seen by their children.

One side note: Some DVD and Blu-ray buyers, including commenters at online retailer Amazon.com, have complained about classic films not being available in widescreen. And there’s a reason for that. Like many vintage productions, Peter Pan was not shot in wide­screen but with the so-called full frame, like that you see with older TV productions, so there are black bars on the side of the screen if you are watching on a widescreen set. On Peter Pan, as on some previous releases, the Blu-ray adds artwork on each side of the screen to fill the black-bar space.

Since we’re now talking about technical issues with film, let’s turn to Side by Side (Tribeca/New Video, $29.99 on either DVD or Blu-ray). Written and directed by Chris Kenneally, it features movie makers talking about the increasing use of digital technology, and how that is contrasted with the use of film. It contains a good primer on the two forms and how they work. But it also looks at how that changes the way a movie is made.

In one respect, for example, digital is much more time-efficient, since a director can see on the set how a scene has been shot, instead of seeing rushes a day a later, after the film has been developed. But that also reduces the power a cinematographer has, since the director can immediately demand a reshoot or changes in lighting — rather than having to trust the cinematographer to have gotten it right.

Then there is the even bigger issue of how digital movies can look compared with ones shot on film; is there an esthetic sacrifice being made, much the way some audiophiles believe digital music is lacking compared with vinyl? Through sometimes vigorous conversations with actor Keanu Reeves (also a producer on the documentary), people like George Lucas, James Cameron, David Fincher and Martin Scorsese weigh in. So do the cinematographers themselves. And the answers are not simple. Scorsese, for one, likes the immediacy of seeing digital images on the movie set — but also wants to see film rushes. Extras include deleted scenes and additional interviews with movie makers.

As for Perry, he is seen in the title role in Alex Cross (Summit, $29.95 for DVD/digital copy, $39.99 for Blu-ray/DVD/digital). The latest screen adaptation of a James Patterson character — previously played by Morgan Freeman in two movies — Alex Cross was clearly meant to inspire a new series of movies with Perry as a brilliant crime-solver. And Perry took a chance in appearing in a film he did not write or direct, not to mention an action picture.

Unfortunately the movie, which was shot partly in Akron and Cleveland, proved a bad deal for everyone. Perry’s usual fans did not attend in great numbers, and reviews — including mine — were not positive. In fact, I called it not only bad but ugly, especially in its violence against women.

If you decide to see it anyway, extras include audio commentary by director Rob Cohen, deleted scenes and a making-of piece.

Other items of note this week include Testimony of Two Men (Acorn, $59.99), the ’70s miniseries based on Taylor Caldwell’s novel, and starring former Clevelander David Birney; it’s quite the time capsule in its inexpensive look, slow pace and cast — including Barbara Parkins, William Shatner, Tom Bosley, Steve Forrest and enough others that the opening credits go on and on. Then there’s Celeste and Jesse Forever (Sony, $30.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray), a generally well-received comedy starring Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones — and co-written by Jones.

Down video road: This Is 40 will be on DVD and Blu-ray on March 22. The final season of Fox’s Fringe will be on DVD and Blu-ray on May 7, the same date that a complete-series box will be released. Down the Shore, a long-on-the-shelf film starring James Gandolfini and including Stow’s John Magaro, will be on DVD and Blu-ray on April 9.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.

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