Blu-ray reviews: Big Eyes, The Gambler and Last Days in Vietnam (The Washington Times)


April 28, 2015



By Joseph Szadkowski  

Here are my picks in Blu-ray home entertainment this week.

Big Eyes (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Rated PG-13, $34.99) – Director Tim Burton delivered a biographical drama last year about the bizarre relationship of famous artisans Margaret and Walter Keane, a couple that helped bring pop art to the masses in the late 1950s and 1960s through paintings featuring children with large, doe-like eyes.

Now Blu-ray viewers can appreciate Amy Adams’ Golden Globe-winning performance as Margaret, a painter literally overshadowed by her affable but oppressive husband who took credit for her work.

Equally potent is Christoph Waltz’ portrayal of Walter, a habitual liar displaying an unsettling devilish charm that gets reinforced every time he plasters a wry smile on his mug.

The digital transfer, presented in 1:85:1 aspect ratio (beautifully filling home theater screens), is a delight throughout while highlighting Mr. Burton’s and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel’s bold, vibrant color choices.

Be it Miss Adam’s striking blue eyes exploding on screen, the fine detail of Mrs. Keane’s work or the dazzling day and night views of San Francisco, the transfer makes many a moment look like a digital painting. Just hit pause at any colorful point on the playback to see what I mean.

Extras are just enough to cement the purchasing deal. First a 22-minute making of the featurette covers the background on the real story as well as Mr. Burton’s vision relayed via interviews with cast and crew.

Better yet, the 33-minute “Q&A Highlights” offers a chance to hear from the real Margaret Keane as well as writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Miss Adams and Mr. Burton.

The Gambler  (Paramount Home Entertainment, Rated R, $39.99) – Mark Wahlberg starred late last year in a remake of a 1974 film about college professor spiraling out of control due to a dangerous gambling addiction and looking for a way to pay back an enormous debt.

The intense, nearly 2-hour-long crime drama, directed by Rupert Wyatt, now offers Blu-ray viewers a visually stark, seamier side of Los Angeles with muted colors throughout and presented in the 1080p transfer.

Mr. Wahlberg’s indifferent performance shines but is greatly supplemented by the work of John Goodman and Michael K. Williams as vicious loan sharks and Jessica Lange as his worried mother.

The extras informatively explore the movie’s final vision with 40 minutes worth of featurettes.

Specifically, they look at how the original film was adapted to modern day (with plenty of scenes from the 1974 effort) with a candid interview with screenwriter William Monahan.

Also, we learn bout Mr. Walhberg’s choices on creating the character (he lost 60 pounds for the role), and the production staff as well as Mr. Wyatt discuss in detail such topics as color palletes for each gangster, lighting, locations and the casino sets.

Last Days in Vietnam  (PBS Distribution, not rated, $29.99) – Rory Kennedy’s Academy Award-nominated documentary covering the fall of Saigon debuts in the Blu-ray format but, unfortunately, offers nothing extra to take advantage of the disk technology.

What viewers get is a well-documented, emotional chronicling of what happened in April of 1975 when the North Vietnamese military ignored the Paris Peace Accords and began an assault to finally take over the entire country.

In a state of denial, U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin, who lost his son during combat operation in Vietnam, refused to set concrete plans in motion early on to help evacuate the key cities in South Vietnam, leading to the near chaos in the final days.

Only the foresight of key officers – who took charge of many unsanctioned operations to extract the roughly 5,000 Americans remaining and as many South Vietnamese citizens as possible – would lessen the burgeoning humanitarian crisis.

Interviews with handful of the key personal on the ground including Master Sgt. John Valdez (the last American to leave Saigon), Marine Gerald Berry (who piloted a heavy-lift copter 18 hours straight to airlift civilians) and even former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger shed light on the desperate and stress-filled days.

Viewers get two disks, one containing the nominated theatrical cut (98 minutes) and one with the expanded version (114 minutes) of the documentary seen recently shown on PBS American Experience television series.

That’s it.

Considering the impact of the controversial war and its ramifications, PBS should have offered many a historical featurette, an interactive timeline or extended scholarly discussion to deliver a context to the events leading to the eventual evacuation of Saigon and the subsequent suffering of the Vietnamese people at the hands of a communist regime for decades to come.