Black Narcissus (1947)
Cats and Dogs (2001)
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)
One of Buster Keaton’s most memorable silent comedies comes to Blu-ray and gets a deluxe new DVD edition thanks to Kino. Steamboat Bill, Jr.’s classic status is largely due to the virtuoso third act, which blows away the remnants of plot with the force of a tornado — literally — throwing everything on the screen at our hapless hero in a series of increasingly audacious and eye-popping stunts.
I just re-watched it with five of our six kids, and it holds up well as entertainment for the whole family. (The one unexplained detail is that Keaton’s father hasn’t seen him since he was a baby.) As a bonus, Keaton fans may also want to check out Kino’s new DVD set Lost Keaton: 16 Comedy Shorts 1934-1937.
Timed to capitalize on The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan’s Inception (now in theaters), the similarly titled Insomnia comes to Blu-ray. The crime thriller stars Al Pacino as a seasoned L.A. detective named Will Dormer who arrives in Alaska to investigate a murder. What he finds is a world of 24-hour daylight, relentless, oppressive. Like the penetrating glare of an Internal Affairs probe into Dormer’s past. Like “the eye of God that will not blink” (Roger Ebert). A thoughtful, satisfying morality tale.
Another Blu-ray release tying into a theatrical film, Cats and Dogs hopes the new sequel will give the decade-old film new life on home video. The original is nothing special, demanding neither a sequel nor a Blu-ray release, but its 007-spoof tale of megalomaniacal cats plotting world dominion and heroic canine counterinsurgents defending mankind is passable family entertainment.
Yet another Blu-ray release, Michael Powell’s Black Narcissus is a critical favorite for its blend of stylishly composed visuals and music and its envelope-pushing tale of an order of English nuns in the Himalayas struggling to establish a school and a hospital in a former harem palace. Murky melodrama and stylistic flourishes create a sensuous pagan world where Christianity itself is seemingly irrelevant and unable to cope. Despite its classic status, I can’t recommend it.
Finally, Jon Amiel’s Creation casts Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin in a high-minded but dramatically and philosophically flawed biopic that pits faith in God against evidence for evolution as mutually exclusive explanations for life on earth. There’s no sign here of the Darwin who declared it “absurd to doubt that a man might be an ardent theist and an evolutionist,” for instance. Skip it.
Content advisory: Black Narcissus: Sexual references and innuendo. Mature viewing. Cats and Dogs: Cartoon violence; limited profanity. Passable family viewing. Creation: Stressful family situations; skeptical debate about God and the afterlife. Mature viewing. Steamboat Bill, Jr.: Slapstick violence. Fine family viewing. Insomnia: Recurring profanity and rough language; fleeting depiction of a nude female corpse; violence and deadly gunplay. Mature viewing.