ALL ABOUT EVE (1950). Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's enduring masterpiece — and, incidentally, my all-time favorite film — is a biting look at the theater world and the machinations of those individuals who inhabit it. Bette Davis stars as Margo Channing, the established (and aging) diva who comes to realize that her fresh-faced understudy Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is actually a scheming vixen who's attempting to infiltrate and usurp both her professional and personal lives. Landing in the #16 spot (right under Star Wars) on the American Film Institute's 1997 list of the 100 greatest American movies, this sports a monumental number of attributes, including Davis' career-best performance ("Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night!"), a knockout script packed with astounding (and often hilarious) dialogue, an early role for Marilyn Monroe (as Miss Caswell, a "graduate of the Copacabana School of the Dramatic Arts"), and George Sanders' indelible turn as cynical critic Addison DeWitt. Nominated for a still-record 14 Academy Awards (since tied by Titanic), this nabbed six statues, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Sanders, and Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Mankiewicz. It also holds the Oscar record for the most women to be nominated from one film: Davis and Baxter for Best Actress and Celeste Holm (as Margo's sympathetic best friend) and Thelma Ritter (as her acid-tongued personal assistant) for Best Supporting Actress.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Holm, Mankiewicz biographer Ken Geist and Mankiewicz's son Christopher; separate audio commentary by author Sam Staggs (All About All About Eve); two featurettes (26 minutes apiece) on Mankiewicz; an 18-minute discussion of the real-life woman who inspired the fictional character of Eve Harrington; the 24-minute AMC Backstory episode on All About Eve; and vintage interviews with Davis and Baxter.
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976). All the President's Men depicts the American media during arguably its finest hour of glory, when two of its brash reporters, Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), stuck to their guns despite testy opposition and eventually blew open the Watergate scandal that toppled the presidency of Richard Nixon. This superb motion picture, expertly mounted by director Alan J. Pakula, has long been acknowledged as a classic political thriller, but watching it in today's climate, at a point when a timid and ineffectual media is par for the course, reveals its newfound value as a time capsule piece as well. (In short, there's no way the Watergate scandal would have gone as far as it did had it occurred in more modern times, as at least one participant in the extra features notes; witness the various Bush Administration crimes as proof.) In a strong year for cinema, this managed to capture four Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Jason Robards as Post editor Ben Bradlee), Best Adapted Screenplay (William Goldman), Best Art Direction & Set Decoration and Best Sound.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Redford; a 28-minute making-of featurette; an 18-minute discussion of the influence of Woodward and Bernstein on journalism; a 16-minute piece on the real Deep Throat; and Robards' appearance on a 1976 episode of Dinah!
BROADCAST NEWS (1987). Director James L. Brooks' last two pictures — 2004's Spanglish and last year's How Do You Know — were such critical and commercial busts that it's time to pause and remember the invaluable television and film legacy he had already left us. One of the driving forces behind such TV milestones as Mary Tyler Moore, Taxi and The Simpsons, Brooks successfully turned to the cinema in 1983 with Terms of Endearment, earning countless awards for his first theatrical at-bat. He clearly suffered no sophomore slump with Broadcast News, which remains one of the brightest (in both senses of the word) and best pictures of the past quarter-century. Perceptive on several levels — particularly in its study of romantic entanglements, its take on the role of the media, and its commentary on style versus substance — this finds Holly Hunter delivering the best female performance of the 1980s as Jane Craig, a feisty TV news producer working at a Washington, DC bureau. Her best friend is Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), an insecure news reporter whose simmering love for Jane is threatened by the arrival of Tom Grunick (William Hurt), a novice anchorman whose charm and good looks help disguise the fact that he's not especially bright. With its look at how the world of hard news (and the serious journalists who inhabited it) was slowly giving way to sensationalism and infotainment, the film has proven to be remarkably prescient. Sweeping the New York Film Critics Circle awards, this also earned seven Academy Award nominations (including ones for Best Picture and all three stars) but went home empty-handed, bested in most categories by The Last Emperor and Moonstruck (Cher over Hunter? Come on ...).
DVD extras include audio commentary by James L. Brooks and editor Richard Marks; a 36-minute look at Brooks' career; the infamous alternate ending (with an introduction by Brooks); 20 minutes of deleted scenes; and vintage behind-the-scenes footage and interviews.
IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (2010). Art (or entertainment) doesn't exist in a vacuum, which makes It's Kind of a Funny Story appear even more puny upon continuous reflection. Arriving just before last year's spate of teen suicides, the film (based on Ned Vizzini's novel) seems even more trivial and pretentious in their wake, a fuzzy drama about a privileged New York teen (inert Keir Gilchrist) who checks himself into a mental health ward. Why, you ask? Because he thinks about jumping off a bridge due to — well, there's this cute girl, you see, and, oh, yeah, the world situation is pretty bad, and, uh, homework sucks. But all it takes to set him right is a grotesque fantasy sequence set to "Under Pressure" (David Bowie should sue), a dour mentor (The Hangover's Zach Galifianakis) dealing with his own issues, and all the sitcom-ready patients parading around the hospital corridors. Where's Nurse Ratched when you really need her?
Blu-ray extras include five deleted scenes; 12 minutes of outtakes; a 3-minute making-of piece; and three minutes of footage from the film's NYC premiere.
MY SOUL TO TAKE (2010). The best thing about this dud is that it may force folks to revisit Wes Craven's past works and finally realize that he's always been nothing more than a hack in the horror field, a Uwe Boll with a better sense of where to place the camera. (Forget Scream and Freddy Krueger; Red Eye and The Hills Have Eyes, neither great but both certainly watchable, represent his apex of aptitude.) In this head-smackingly stupid film, seven children are born on the same night that a serial killer known as the Ripper is brought down. Sixteen years later, the kids are being picked off one by one, begging the question: Is the Ripper still out there somewhere, or did his soul enter one of the babies on that fateful night long ago? To his credit, Craven keeps his rampant misogyny in check — in most of his films, it's the victimized women who receive the fetishistic close-ups and elongated death scenes, but here, each slaying (male and female) is as dully and incompetently presented as the next. His screenplay is so haphazard that one wonders if he was writing pages minutes before each day's shooting commenced; additionally, there are no horror set-pieces worth mentioning, and Craven's stock high school characters would have made John Hughes cringe. It all adds up to a soul-crushing waste of time.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Craven and various cast members; an alternate opening; two alternate endings; and five deleted/extended scenes.
NETWORK (1976). One generation's satire is another's reality, meaning that the outrageous antics on view in Network would hardly be out of place in a TV landscape that in the modern era has housed Bill Reilly, Howard Stern and Fear Factor. This blistering black comedy about the ruthlessness of network TV casts Peter Finch as a broken-down news anchor whose revelation that he will kill himself on the air lifts his station from fourth to first place in the ratings. Faye Dunaway has one of her last great roles as an all-work-and-no-play programmer, while William Holden is excellent as Finch's boss and the only person with a modicum of decency. Like All the President's Men, this earned four Oscars in the '76 race: Best Actor (Finch, winning posthumously), Best Actress (Dunaway), Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight in a tiny role as Holden's wife) and Best Original Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky). For the record, Rocky was the film that beat both President's Men and Network for the Best Picture Oscar — the boxing flick still holds up, though not as well as this pair.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Lumet; a 6-part making-of documentary totalling 85 minutes; the 54-minute TCM Private Screening episode on Lumet; and Chayefsky's appearance on a 1977 episode of Dinah!
YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER (2010). Woody Allen's 1972 gem Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) features such outrageous — and outrageously original — gags as a gigantic, Kafka-by-way-of-Roth breast terrorizing the countryside and a sperm (played by Allen) afraid that his host body's masturbatory ways might result in his ending up on the ceiling. In this latest film, what passes for Allen's idea of an innovative sex gag? Anthony Hopkins' doddering character Alfie counting down the minutes until the Viagra tablet takes effect. Alfie isn't the only one who has trouble getting it up: One of Allen's worst films, this is a flaccid piece centering on a group of insufferable people making each other miserable in London. Alfie has left his grating wife (Gemma Jones) to marry a young prostitute (Lucy Punch), while their daughter (Naomi Watts) contemplates an affair with her boss (Antonio Banderas) at the art gallery even as her novelist hubby (Josh Brolin) eyes the neighborhood cutie (Freida Pinto). Allen used to display enormous amounts of warmth toward his characters, but in this dour, ugly movie, he holds them all in contempt. As a result, the humor tastes like curdled milk, while all notions of romance have been replaced with aggravating heartburn.
There are no extras on the Blu-ray except for theatrical trailers.