Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - September, 2013


Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Thrillers (DVD) - Reviewed by Jim Milton


Throughout this year, Warner Home Video has been releasing new DVD box sets as part of their 90th Anniversary. This set has some of their greatest thrillers that have earned a combined 12 Academy Awards and stars such leading men as Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Mel Gibson and more. Other releases this year have been 20 "essential" movie classics in 5 major genres: Best Pictures, Musicals, Romance, Comedies, and with this release; Thrillers.

The films included in this set are:
The Public Enemy (1931)
The Maltese falcon (1941)
The Big Sleep (1946)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
North by Northwest (1959)
Dirty Harry (1971)
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Lethal Weapon: Director's cut (1987)
Batman (1989)
Goodfellas (1990)
The Fugitive (1993)
Natural Born Killers: Director's cut (1994)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Seven (1995)
Heat (1995)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
American History X (1998)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Inception (2010)
The Town (2010)

Total run time: 42 hours and 3 minutes

MSRP: $98 (much less on Amazon)

The DVDs are split into 2 inner cases with 10 DVDs per case. A booklet with a synopsis of each film is also included. Most of the films included the extras that were in their individual releases and few even include some movie trailers and commentaries. Needless to say, there is a lot to watch here!

Most of these movies I have already seen or even own, and some have subsequently been released in the Blu-Ray format. The quality of the transfers varies from good to excellent and it is obvious from viewing some of the older films that none of these DVDs were given the Criterion Collection treatment. If you have a DVD/BD player that upconverts well, you should be quite pleased with the overall look of these discs. Minor scratches and blemishes aside, most of these films will look very good on your big screen at home.

It really is quite amazing to see how films have developed (pun?) from 1931-2011 and this set starts with James Cagney as a gangster and ends with Ben Affleck as bank robber. Some movies have the theme of an innocent person and mistaken identity (Cary Grant in Hitchcock's North by Northwest and Harrison Ford in The Fugitive). The Batman films offer a sharp contrast in the portrayal of the Dark Knight. They all share one main attribute, though… a good guy vs. a bad guy. The old protagonist vs. the antagonist. The only thing that changes over the years is the fact that the line between these two becomes more blurred.

In summary, there isn't a bad film in the bunch. Sure, some people might have picked a different one to add/subtract from this collection, but there are enough thrills and chills to keep the most ardent movie buff happy for a long time. These films represent, not only Warner Bros. best, but some of the best film in this genre of all time. If you have some holes in your movies collection, this box set is a great way round out your collection.

The Public Enemy (1931): James Cagney made his breakthrough as the streetwise Tom Powers in this classic that defined the "gangster" movie. It also serves as a time capsule to the Prohibition Era. Watch out for that grapefruit!

The Maltese Falcon (1941): Bogart plays det. Sam Spade in this noir film about a jewel encrusted bird…and the sinister low-life villains that will stop at nothing to acquire it.

The Big Sleep (1946): Bogart is back on the case as Phillip Marlow, private eye. Following the trail of murderers, pornographers and nightclub rogues, Bogart teams up with the sultry Lauren Bacall.

Strangers on a Train (1951): Two strangers strike up a conversation on a train and devise the perfect crime. What if each murders each others victims? Without a motive, who could tie them to their crime? No problem…until one takes it seriously with deadly consequences!

North By Northwest (1959): A tanned Cary Grant gets mixed into an espionage case with more twists and turns than anyone, except Alfred Hitchcock, could devise. Chased by a crop duster airplane and sliding down the face of a president on Mt. Rushmore, this film is non-stop suspense at its best.

Dirty Harry (1971): Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) will stop at nothing to get a sniper named Scorpio, even if he has to buck "the system" to do it. With San Francisco as a back drop, this story may be one of the best police thrillers ever made. It put Eastwood on the map.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975): Sonny (Al Pacino) and his pal decide to rob a bank. All goes well until disaster strikes with the arrival of the police, crowds, cameras and even a pizza delivery man. This comedy/thriller was based on a true incident and was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Lethal Weapon: Directors cut (1987/2000): Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are two cops that have one thing in common: they hate working with a partner. However, they must work as a take-no-prisoners, machine gunning, martial arts head crackers in order to stay alive when an international heroin ring declares war on them. Great action sprinkled liberally with wit and humor.

Batman (1989): Tim Burton's take on the Dark Knight mixes some funny moments with dark styling. Jack Nicholson's Joker is delightfully insane and Michael Keaton's attention is divided by his love interest, played by Kim Basinger. Check out that crazy looking Batmobile!

Goodfellas (1990): Joe Pesci still gives me nightmares! This story about wiseguys was named one of the best 100 films of all time by the American Film Institute. Wonderful performances by Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta and Paul Sorvino. Bad guys never looked so good while doing wrong.

The Fugitive (1993): Harrison Ford plays a wrongfully accused wife murder in this action packed film shot in the Windy City. Can he find the one-armed killer in time to avoid the manhunt lead by Tommy Lee Jones?

Natural Born Killers: Directors cut (1994): A visually stunning and wickedly fun poke at media obsession with infamy and violence by director Oliver Stone, this film has married killers (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) portraying notorious killers in the lime light. Also starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Downey Jr. and Rodney Dangerfield.

Shawshank Redemption (1994): Based on a Steven King story, this movie captures the triumph of the human spirit like no other movie before. Tim Robbins is sent to Shawshank prison for life, for a crime he did not commit. The story is full of surprises, but the best one is saved for the ending. Morgan Freeman plays a "lifer" that knows the ropes around the prison.

Seven (1995): Yes, it should be spelled with an upside-down 7…Two cops (Brad Pitt and Freeman) must stop an ingenious killer that is using the 7 Deadly Sins to dispatch his victims. David Fincher provides the film with a visually creepy feel to it. By the stunning ending, the suspense almost leaves you suffocated. This is a genuinely terrifying flick.

Heat (1995): Pacino and De Niro square off as cop vs. criminal in this fast paced thriller. Val Kilmer and Jon Voight round out this cat and mouse tale of a bank heist that pits a master criminal with a master cop. Trust me, things heat up!

L.A. Confidential (1997): Three cops (Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey and Guy Pearce) in a 1940's setting must wend their way through a labyrinthine plot rife with politics, ambition, drugs and vice…with a bit of romance and humor. This is one of my all time favorite cop movies. I can watch this movie again and again.

American History X (1998): Before he played the HULK, Ed Norton portrayed a charismatic white supremacist that lands in prison for a hate crime murder. After serving his time, he must try to stop his younger brother from a similar fate. This film really shows the tragic consequences of racism. Norton is powerful in his presentation.

The Dark Knight (2008): Nolan's brilliant re-boot of the Batman story. With a masterful performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker, Batman may have met his match. This film is a delightful contrast to the early work in this collection. Boy have times changed…for the better!

Inception (2010): Nolan's take on stealing secrets from another persons dreams, this film mixes sci-fi with gun play and action. Stealing from dreams is easy, compared to planting an idea in a dream. I had to watch this film twice, just to wrap my mind around the plot. This film is worth multiple viewings, anyway.

The Town (2010): Ben Affleck's homage to his roots in Charlestown, this is a story of a gang of bank robbers that must dodge the FBI while planning on robbing Fenway Park. Great action and performances abound as Affleck produces and directs this film on familiar streets for me, a New Englander.