Me and You and Everyone We Know... Plus Their Short Films, Too

Alright, after the heart-rending nihilism of Time Of the Wolf, it's time for a complete change of pace. So I'm looking at the feature film debut of Miranda July, 2005's Me and You and Everyone We Know. I suppose, at it's core, it's a rom-com. A man and a woman, both struggling to find their niche in the world, eventually discover each other. But it's also got a sort of Altman-ish structure, where the film follows a diverse collection of characters whose stories wind up interconnecting at unexpected intervals. More importantly, though, it's a much more inventive, sensitive, smart film on top of all that.

Update 3/23/15 - 4/30/20: Woot!  We finally have a blu-ray now - and it's in the Criterion Collection?  Nice!
I can see this movie striking people as being too precious at a cursory, superficial glance. Like a Northern Exposure-y series of set pieces saying: isn't it cute how eccentric everybody is. But as quirky as it is, it's not oddness for oddness's sake. And this film's may not be totally innocent of that, but most of the absurdities here are built from a relatable truth, like the agent who insists Miranda mail her tape to the the address they're at, rather than just accepting the tape in person. "But I'm so close," she says to crossed arms. So she devises an impromptu moment, where she's riding down in the same elevator as the agent, and compels him to pick it up. But he still insists on handing it back to her, for her to take it home with her and mail it back to them. It's relatable, it's often clever. It's just good writing.
There are also moments of underage characters exploring their sexuality which will have many viewers facing an art film where they wanted breezy entertainment. There are bits that never quite make it off the ground, and undercooked lines of dialogue like "email wouldn't even exist if it weren't for AIDS." But there are pieces, like the goldfish segment, which is so strong, it could be a perfect, wonderful short film all on its own. There's a segment where the leads are forced to share a moment when they're gluing something together that has to be held the pieces together for 1 to 2 minutes. It's just the little kind of thing that, as a writer, makes me think, I wish I came up with that! And it's got a pretty compelling soundtrack to boot.

Well, so, this is another case where I've got the Region 1 and Region 2 versions to compare, and for the same reasons as Time: they've got unique sets of extras. But in terms of PQ, as of this week, I think we can assume both of them are a little dated, thanks to the brand new blu-ray edition from Criterion.  But you know what they say about assuming, so let's have a proper comparison.
1) 2005 MGM US DVD; 2) 2006 Optimum UK DVD; 3) 2020 US Criterion BD.
The DVD transfers are both excellent and practically identical. Same framing, same colors, no interlacing or ghosting. The cases say 1.85:1, but it's just a little more open, very slightly letterboxed to 1.82:1 on both discs. There's really nothing to complain about or even distinguish between the two discs. There's no blu-ray available of this title, but this movie looks pretty great - top notch for standard definition.
1) 2006 Optimum UK DVD; 2) 2020 US Criterion BD.
There's a blu-ray now!  And, well... it's not a fancy new transfer.  This seems to be the same master MGM used for the DVD fifteen years ago, but considering this film was apparently shot on HDCam, as opposed to film, it's not like there's a negative to go back and re-scan.  Instead of film grain, there's patchwork macro-blocking that may or may not be native to the raw footage... it's the same thing you see on a lot of old blus, so maybe the film would've benefited from going back to the original tapes and re-compressing them with modern software, or maybe not.  We'll never know.  Anyway, this is the first HD release of the film, and dated master or not, it's still heaps clearer and sharper than the old DVDs.  So while it possibly could or couldn't look even better with extensive restoration work, it certainly looks better than anything that's come before; a very welcome upgrade. Plus, one difference: they opened the mattes a bit to 1.78:1, revealing slightly more along the top and bottom of the frame.

The Optimum disc lets you choose between Stereo 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1, while the MGM and Criterion discs just have the 5.1 track.  Considering this is a 2005 film, though, I think it's safe to assume that the 5.1 mix is the original track, so I'm A-OK with that.  Plus, the blu naturally bumps it up to lossless DTS-HD.  Both the MGM and Criterion (but not the Optimum) have optional English subtitles.
 
But here's where things get really interesting... the extras.  On the MGM DVD, there's six deleted scenes, and they're good. They're a bit long, so I can see how they'd mess up the pacing, and consequently why they'd be cut. But they're worth preserving and seeing as deleted scenes. Well, except one, which is just a shorter edit of another deleted scene that's already on disc. That seems excessive; but the rest are all fun and on par with the material that made it into the film. If you're a fan of the film, you'd want to see these, too. There's not much else on it, though. There's a bunch (eight!) of bonus trailers, but not even the trailer for the film itself.

Optimum's DVD, on the other hand, has a good deal more stuff, but disappointingly, is missing the deleted scenes. It's got a nice, in-depth 28 minute interview with July, where she tells the entire story of the film from its inception to changes made in script rewrites and on the set. Then there's 20 minutes of cast and crew interviews, including July again, which are good but a little more promotional and superficial (as in EPK stuff). Finally there's seven minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, again like Time Of the Wolf; but this time they're speaking English and we can hear what they're saying, which makes the footage more engaging. Finally, there's also a couple (four) bonus trailers and, this time, the actual Me and You and Everyone We Know trailer. Overall, this is fuller, richer special edition; but it's puzzling, and a bit frustrating, that they didn't include the deleted scenes.
But Criterion's is an even richer and fuller special edition.  First of all, it has the deleted scenes.  Well, the five.  That sixth alternate cut of the same scene has been dropped, which is just as well.  And it has the trailer.  And it has a whole bunch of new, exclusive stuff.  First of all, there's a substantial, nearly hour-long retrospective conversation with July and Lena Dunham.  And there's a fun short film July made about a film festival she attended.  Then there's a collection of scenes that July wrote and produced for a sort of pre-vis version of the film, made at the Sundance Director's Lab.  Like an early short version of the film, except it's just loose scenes rather than a complete film.  And those scenes also have optional commentary by July.  Criterion also offers a pretty chunky 44-page full color booklet with notes by Sara Magenheimer and Lauren Groff.  ...And that's just the stuff directly pertaining to Me and You.
1) 2005 VDB US DVD; 2) 2020 Criterion US BD.
There's also a bunch of Miranda July side projects.  There's a short documentary about a short-lived charity-themed art project she organized in the UK.  And there's an interview with her about her Joanie 4 Jackie project, where she curated short films by other female filmmakers.  And four of said shorts (The Slow Escape being a wonderful stand-out).  If that's starting to feel a little too removed for your tastes, they've also included two of July's own short films, as previously seen in her Videoworks DVD collection (for more info about these flicks, see that page).

These were presumably shot on video tape and SD digital, so Criterion's blu isn't much of an upgrade.  For 1998's The Amateurist, you can see they cropped the video noise bar at the bottom and brought down the gamma a smidgen, but it's a very minor distinction.  But 1999's Nest of Tens got cropped considerably, from 1.32:1 to 1.47:1, shaving off a decent bit of vertical picture information.  They've also gone and de-interlaced this one, which is a nice little fix (The Amateurist wasn't interlaced in the first place).
The one bummer is that Criterion didn't port over the Optimum extras.  Admittedly, with the hour+ of July talking about this film they did include, the Optimum interview got rendered a little redundant.  But that disc is the only way to hear from the other cast members, who neither MGM or Criterion sought out, not to mention the bonus behind-the-scenes footage.  But don't get the wrong impression; I'm quite happy overall.  We're finally getting this film in HD, which we've been waiting and waiting for, with a bunch of new treats and the deleted scenes.  The specs in the original announcement left them out, so that was a nice surprise.  But if you're a huge fan, I'd still suggest importing a copy of the UK DVD as an addendum for their special features, too.  I mean, as of this writing, AmazonUK is selling them for thirty cents, so it's not too extravagant an additional expense.
))<>((

M.I.A.: Ken Russell's Mind Bender, The Craziest Film You've Never Seen

1996's Mind Bender is easily one of Ken Russell's most wacked out, batshit films, which, if you're familiar with Russell's complete body of work, is really saying something.  I mean, this movie offers The First Ever Interactive Psychic Experience.  The poster invites viewers to "bring your broken clocks and watches to the theater."  I haven't got any broken clocks or watches to test it, but I'm sure it works.  Or, if it doesn't, that's just because I'm stuck with an ancient, low quality web-rip burned to DVDR because, on home video, I'm afraid it's still quite M.I.A..
And the psychic experience isn't even the looniest part.  This is a very freely adapted biopic about mystifier and paranormalist Uri Geller.  Just to give you a taste of how freely, there's a scene where Geller is driving a stolen army jeep blind, because he's wearing a sensory-deprivation helmet.  His manager and girlfriend help him steer from home by playing with a toy jeep on a map and sending him directions via ESP.  If that's not enough, he's using telekinesis to take out the CIA agents who are chasing him with machine guns.  Everything's going smoothly until his agent is distracted by the family dog, causing Geller to crash and be flown through his front windshield.  Fortunately, he just happened to have been right outside his own home, so he comes crashing through his own picture windows and lands on his couch, next to his childhood friend, who coolly hands him a cigar.  Just like I'm sure it must've happened in real life.
Through all the insanity, Russell does still manage to depict Geller true rise from a small time stage magician in Cyprus to the celebrity illusionist he still is today.  If you've seen Lisztomania, you know just how far Russell has taken his biographical films from his humbly dry BBC documentaries, and to be fair, a lot of what seems to crazy to be true is at least based in actual events.  For example, the CIA really did run tests on Geller in the 70s in attempts to verify and possibly weaponize any mental powers he might actually have.  Read this article in the Washington Post about it.   Sure it says more about our government's gullibility and willingness to burn taxpayers' money than anything about Geller, but it means all the craziness isn't purely spun from Russell's imagination.  And I suspect the over-the-top portrayal Russell gives this material, including his depiction of Geller's abilities as 100% real and very practically effective (at one point he uses his mind to rip somebody out of his limousine and flips him around in the air like a scene from an X-Men movie), is really Russell taking the piss out of what the we've been asked to believe and what many people seemed more than willing to accept.
Or perhaps he's just as happy to buy in as anybody, and this is the natural result of such an outrageous story combined with Russell's unleashed sensibilities.  Geller himself appears in the film at the end, so it's not like the filmmakers were in any kind of adversarial relationship with their subject.  It's also a little tricky to get a read on the film's intentions, because much of the acting is pretty stiff and unnatural.  The guy playing Geller (Ishai Golan) is a relative unknown, and he and his young co-stars often seem to be struggling to get out their lines.  On the other hand, the older end of the cast is considerably more assured, including the one and only Terrance Stamp and Hetty Baynes, who you may remember from Russell's Tales Of Erotica and Lady Chatterley, as well as the 1981 version of Sense and Sensibility.  All together, I'm not saying this is a good film by any traditional standards.  Anyone not wholly prepared for Russell's highly theatrical, cartoonishly camp irreverence, coupled with stiff performances and a ludicrous "true story" are going to be extremely put off.  And even if you're coming in prepared and fully on board, there are still a host of problems that don't tend to plague most of Russell's other works.  But the surrealism and fast paced, good natured spirit of it all leaves a lot for experienced Russell fans to appreciate, if not normies.
Mind Bender has been issued, more than once in fact, on DVD in Germany.  But unfortunately, they only feature the German dub of the film.  All we English-reliant viewers have by way of access to the original, English-language version are US (Republic Pictures) and UK (Buena Vista) VHS releases.  Today, that translates to these bland, fullframe video rips we've been looking at.  But this film did play theatrically in some parts of the world, and it was shot on 35mm, so theoretically there's room for this to look fantastically improved with a proper HD restoration. 
my tired old web-rip.
There's obviously not much reason for delving into the PQ of these screenshots, since they're not from any kind of official release.  But I think it is worth pointing out that this is a 1.33:1 (the German DVDs seem to be 4:3 as well), and look very open matte.  Some shots have miles of empty headroom.  So this film was clearly composed for widescreen.  If anyone were to someday give this film the proper release it deserves [hint, hint], this film would surely look much better in its proper OAR, which would allow viewers to better appreciate this film's qualities and be less distracted by its awkward staginess.  We've missed our chance for a Russell commentary, but an interview with Geller would be just as fascinating; and he might be willing, since he still seems supportive of the film.  He promotes it for streaming on his official site (I checked... it's the same trash transfer) and in his own words, "it's a crazy film but pay attention to the ending!"

Lars von Trier's Europa Trilogy, Still an Essential Import

Okay, Crime Week was fun, but I did dip into a lot of common, mainstream DVD and blu-ray releases.  And while I do think there's a place for that here, and I'll surely do it more in the future, I also don't want to neglect, yaknow, the DVD exotica: cult, rare and off-the-beaten-path stuff, including lesser known imports that are actually far superior to their common, domestic counterparts.  DVDs that are still essential in the age of blu-rays and UHDs.  And to that end, I have this sweet German boxset of three of Lars von Trier's earliest films, collectively known as his Europa Trilogy.  It beat the pants off everything else that had ever been released in the states or anywhere else in the world at the time.  And despite being DVD-only, it still does.  Well, mostly.
The Element of Crime is Trier's first feature film, from 1984, that really put him on the map as a celebrated filmmaker to watch.  It won awards at Cannes and various other festivals, but I'll be honest, I'm not its hugest fan.  It's a very visually stylish presentation of what I would call a very soulless police procedural, where a world weary flashes back to the time he was on the hunt for a serial killer who goes after young girls.  His only allies are a prostitute and his grizzled chief who suggests that in order to catch the criminal, he must think like the criminal, and really, it's like Trier took the screenplay out of a dusty old box of used Hollywood scripts just to have something to hang his imagery on.  He shot the film with sodium lights, which gives it an overbearing sepia look, and designs his vague European setting like a dark, industrial fantasy.  I've always gotten the sense that he never had any interest in the story; this is just something he created as a calling card to show he can craft a stylish looking film and find future work.
And while the look is technically impressive, even that starts to feel arbitrary pretty fast.  For me, this is a real throwback to the days when people were excited to see all the wild and kooky foreign films by directors like Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Pitof.  Then they came to Hollywood and applied their stylings to films like Alien 4 and Catwoman and we started to realize that maybe the emperors were wearing some pretty dumb clothes.  Thankfully, Trier went in a different direction, and created intriguing works of psychological substance.  But this one, in both the good and the bad senses, is like his City of Lost Children or Vidoq - interesting to look at in small doses, evincing some actual talent and a lot of care invested by the filmmakers, but still probably best left in the 90s.  A quick taste, like watching the trailer, is promising, but ultimately sitting through the entire feature is just a chore.
Element debuted on DVD right here in the US (with the possible exception of an obscure Spanish DVD, which may or may not've come out first) through the Criterion Collection in 2000.  It's the edition many of you probably still own, since this film has yet to be released on blu anywhere in the world.  But I've happily given it up for the fancy, special edition boxed set released by Zentropa Entertainment itself.  Essentially identical copies of this set were released in various European regions, like Denmark and Finland... I opted for the 2005 German set distributed by Legend Home Entertainment just because it came out first.
2000 US Criterion DVD top; 2005 DE Zentropa DVD bottom.
Both discs present the film in roughly 1.85:1.  Criterion's is more like 1.81:1 and trims a little along the edges, but it's close.  And they're both dark and murky DVDs.  That's clearly a stylish choice by the filmmakers, but this film was shot on 35mm, and I suspect the boost in clarity an HD remaster would naturally bring might make things a little less muddy.  Criterion's a little darker and it's colors are a little deeper, but that often just makes it harder to make out what we're supposed to be looking at.  I will give Criterion one thing: it hangs onto more information in the bright areas.  Zentropa's edition is generally brighter and more contrasty, which flares out the brightest areas, losing information in the headlights and electric lamps above.  I generally appreciate Zentropa's boost in gamma just because it adds a little extra definition.  But flaring is just the indelicate-type of consequence one usually praises UHDs for, so I have to say, in those select areas of the screen, I do actually prefer Criterion's results.  In the shadowy parts, I prefer Zentropa.  In the end, it's more or less an underwhelming tie.  I give Zentropa the slight edge, if only for the AR, but it's nothing to warrant running out and replacing one edition with another.

But here's where Zentropa begins to take a more definite lead.  Audio-wise, Criterion offers us the original English 2.0 track, with optional English subtitles.  Zentropa offers us the 2.0 and a 5.1 mix, with optional English, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Norwegian, Romanian and Swedish subs.
Nocturne
And now here's where Zentropa really peels away and leaves Criterion coughing in their dust.  Criterion has one extra besides the trailer: a roughly 50 minute documentary on Trier called Tranceformer.  If that sounds familiar, that's because it's been around the block.  I already wrote about it being included as an extra on The Kingdom, and it's been included as an extra elsewhere, like Umbrella's 3-disc Trier collection.  If you don't already have it, it's a good doc and definitely one you'll want to have in your collection.  But for most of us Trier fans, by then it was likely a duplicate feature.  Still, it's a welcome inclusion, and what's more, the Zentropa set hasn't got it.

But oh boy, what it does have.  How about two audio commentaries, for starters?  One by Trier along with cinematographer Tom Elling and editor Tomas Gislason, and another with two critics.  Then it's got its own, exclusive half-hour doc on Trier, and a nice, 20-minute retrospective on Element itself.

4/18/20 Updated to add: The one problem, the English subtitles are messed up on this featurette (and they're not speaking English), playing German subs even when you select English.  Everything else in this set is English friendly; it's just a glitch on this one featurette.

Anyway, it's also got Nocturne, an early (1980) short film by Trier with optional commentary and commentary outtakes.  Plus the trailer and a 16-page booklet.  And that's just this disc.  Besides discs 2 and 3 for the other two films that are also packed with features, there's a fourth disc full of documentaries and interviews.  I'll be delving into it all below, but I'll just briefly state here that this is a packed special edition, and the only proper special edition Element's ever gotten.
Next up is 1987's Epidemic.  If you've already spent the last couple weeks in lockdown working your way through Contagion, Outbreak, Cassandra's Crossing and every other pandemic-related film, you'll want to be sure you didn't miss this one.  I still wouldn't rank it among Trier's best work, but at least now I care about his characters and the unfolding plot in addition to the director's superficial stylizations.  Here Trier essentially plays himself as a screenwriter, who writes with a partner to make a tight deadline.  The film they write is about a doctor struggling against a modern plague, and we quickly enter that story within a story, where Trier also plays the doctor and Udo Kier appears.  The two "worlds" blend into each other, becoming one bleak overall reality and it's all a heck of a lot more engrossing than Element.

Home Vision released Epidemic on DVD in the states first in 2004.  In fact, Nocturne was also included on this release as a bonus.  And this time around, it really is more of a proper special edition.  Still, Zentropa's edition has even more stuff.  But does it top it in terms of picture quality?
2004 US HVE DVD top; 2005 DE Zentropa DVD bottom.
Epidemic was shot partly in 16mm and partly in 35mm, so the picture quality jumps around.  That would probably be even more noticeable in HD, but on DVD, it gets softened down to a bit more of an even playing field.  Both discs present the film in a pillarboxed 1.63:1 ratio with mostly very similar framing, except in the case of the 16mm stuff.  You can see in the second set of shots for that stuff, the Zentropa is zoomed in losing information around all four edges.  Does the fact that Zentropa released this version mean that's how Trier prefers the film to look?  I don't know, but it's an interesting distinction at any rate.  Another distinction: the film is entirely in black and white except for a large, red watermark that appears through almost the entire film.  But as you can see above, the hue differs between the two discs, at some times looking cooler on the HVE disc, and other times looking warmer.  Again, we could maybe assume Zentropa's disc is more accurate to Trier's preferences, but that's definitely a guess, not anything I can say with any certainty or even confidence.

In terms of audio, it's almost the same story all over again, except in this case, HVE doesn't offer any subtitles at all, while Zentropa has the nine language options.  And again, Zentropa adds the additional 5.1 mix in addition to the 2.0.
Images Of a Relief
Like I said, though, this time HVE's disc is more of a proper special edition.  Besides Nocturne, it includes an Epidemic commentary by Trier and his co-writer and co-star Niels Vørsel.  Oh and they have the Nocturne commentary, too.  And it also includes the 2000 documentary about Trier, FreeDogme.  As you can guess from the title, it's about his dogme project(s) rather than Epidemic, and while this Zentropa set doesn't include it, it can be found on their Dogme '95 boxed set where it's a little more fitting.  Zentropa has the same commentary, plus another exclusive retrospective featurette about Epidemic, where they interview the cast and crew.  And this time it has another early Trier film as a bonus: 1982's Images Of a Relief.  Oh, and both discs have the trailer.  So while HVE's release is a little more competitive in the features department than Criterion's, once again, Zentropa is the one to own.  Especially considering the whole fourth disc we haven't gotten to yet.
The final film is 1991's Europa, a.k.a. Zentropa.  Yes, Trier's company was named after this film, which I'll keep referring to as strictly Europa, just so things don't get confusing.  With it's fascinating use of rear projection blending color and black & white footage, it's as stylish and experimental as any of the films in this trilogy.  But it's also the most conventional, in the sense that its tense thriller plotting means it's the only one of the three that can even win over general audiences who don't typically care for "art" films.   An American soldier versus evil Nazis on a train!  What more can you want?  An all-star cast?  Okay, this time around, Trier's brought in Eddie Constantine, narrator Max von Sydow, The Kingdom's Ernst-Hugo Järegård and another perfect turn by Udo Kier.

Now, it used to be that the only way to own Europa was a barebones Tartan disc from the UK.  I no longer have it for this review since I got rid of it long ago, because it's been easily bettered both by Zentropa's boxed set and a 2008 Criterion 2-DVD set.
2005 DE Zentropa DVD top; 2009 US Criterion DVD bottom.
In terms of PQ, again, there are differences, but overall, it's a pretty close call.  Zentropa mattes the picture a little tighter at 2.38:1, as opposed to Criterion's 2.33, which also has more on the left.  And as you can see, there are clear differences in the colors... during the portions where there are colors.  Zentropa's a little more contrast heavy in the black and white sections.  It's another no-strong-preference situation where I'd love to hear Trier himself weigh in and make a call.  But until then, we're left with only our personal preferences to follow.

Audio?  Yeah, you know the story by know, with Zentropa adding the extra 5.1 and all the subtitles, though Criterion does have English subs again.  And while the original audio track has a mix of languages spoken in it, and it's the same on both discs, Zentropa also has an additional all-German dub if you want to give that a whirl.
The Making of Europa
There's no bonus film from Trier's early works this time around, but both releases include more about Europa itself.  Zentropa has an audio commentary by Trier and producer Peter Aalbaek Jensen, plus a second, partial (one of those ones where it's only over select scenes) by Trier with actor Jean-Marc Barr and Udo Kier.  There's another retrospective featurette and a longer 'making of' documentary.  Plus there's the trailer.

Criterion has most of the same stuff, including the main commentary, the featurette, the trailer, and the 'making of' doc.  It doesn't have the second partial commentary with Barr and Kier, though.  But it has some more stuff, specifically a 45-minute documentary called Trier’s Element, a featurette on Trier as observed by his friends and collaborators, and a unique one on Europa's locations.  Then there are on-camera interviews with cinematographer Henning Bendtsen, composer Joachim Holbek and a lengthy one (43 minutes!) with Trier himself.
Emily Watson in Im Laboratorium Deas Doktors Von Trier
But if that sounds like Criterion has scored a bunch of exclusives, we must remember that fourth disc!  That Trier's Element documentary?  That's on there, as are both featurettes and the Bendtsen, Holbek  and Trier interviews.  In short, everything.  And the Zentropa disc has still more!  There;s another half hour doc called Portrait of Lars Von Trier, which seems to have been made for Danish television and the short One Day with Peter, about producer Peter Jensen, which is actually from the Filmbyen DVD, and a hour+ doc titled Im Laboratorium Deas Doktors Von Trier, which takes us from his early short films through The Idiots.  And finally there's an on-camera interview with Tom Elling about Element of Crime.  Oh, and there's a trailer reel for every Trier film that had been made up to that point.
 
So yeah, the Zentropa set is downright overloaded with exclusives, plus all the extras featured on any other edition.  The only exceptions are the Tranceformer and FreeDogme documentaries, which are otherwise available on other Trier releases.  Admittedly, in 2020, one wonders why there aren't blu-ray alternatives that've come to take this set's crown... these films were all shot on film, so they should all be able to look substantially better than they do on DVD.  Although perhaps some of the post-production techniques Trier used on these films prohibits going back to the film elements... I read that was the case with his Medea.  So it could be a long, indefinite wait for that.  Plus, even if they do come out with BD editions, I'd be surprised if they included the full volume of features Zentropa rounded up here, so even in that hypothetical future, you'd still want this set.  So for any serious Trier fan, this one's a must.

Crime Week, Day 7: Alpha Dog

We bid adieu to Crime Week not with a particularly rare or celebrated crime film, but an underappreciated one: 2006's Alpha Dog.  Plus, during these rough times, I wanted to cover a truly worthy film that you can currently add to your collection for next to nothing.  As of this writing, the average used price of this blu on Amazon and other sites is $3.  You know, just in case you want to give yourself a break from the wallet-gouging collector's editions packed with tchotchkes and hardcover books you're never going to read.  There are quality releases of just as great films out there that won't sap your bank account.
I remember Alpha Dog kind of flopping when it came out, although looking it up on boxofficemojo, I guess it actually did reasonably well for a low budget crime flick.  I just remember people, both critically and in my real life, being very dismissive of it, treating it as a dumb, juvenile piece of trashy exploitation.  It took extra lumps because, while it wasn't quite his first role, this was pre-Social Network and people were still dubious of Justin Timberlake as a potentially credible actor.  And he was surrounded by talented up and comers who were collectively easily written off as MTV bait.  It doesn't help that writer/ director Nick Cassavetes has a shaky track record either.

But if you get past all the overreactions and preconceptions, you find a really great story, expertly told.  I believe it's actually Cassavetes' greatest work - a poignant tragedy about the under-supervised youths of Hollywood getting in over the heads playing at being gangsters.  When they kidnap someone's younger brother over a drug debt, they realize there's no turning back and the only way out they see is to kill the kid, played with real soul by Anton Yelchin.  It's heart-breaking as he doesn't even try to escape, feeling like he's just hanging out and partying with his older brother's friends, when the viewer knows right from the beginning where this is all headed.  This is a very different role for Bruce Willis and an impressive performance from Sharon Stone, although the filmmakers make an unfortunate choice for her at the very end of the film, which I won't spoil here, but I'll just say it takes you out of the picture in a way they couldn't have wanted.
And admittedly, that's not the only mistake.  This film gets it right 98% of the time, really nailing its portrayal of young adults too immature to see how they're misdirecting their lives trying to emulate pop culture portrayals of glorified crime.  They're young, they're rich, they're dumb and their parents are complicit.  It's an embarrassing phase of wasted privilege they would've all grown out of eventually, but unfortunately for them, it was suddenly too late.  Every once in a while, however, the filmmakers themselves seem to fall under the same spell their characters do, and the movie occasionally lapses into trite genre fare.  Like, at one point an exasperated character exclaims "fuck me," and then it hard cuts to two of the characters having a very porno-like sex scene, and you say to yourself, har har, I get it; that transition gag was written by a thirteen year-old boy.  Or for another example, there's a fight scene between some drunken teens in a house-party, where they're suddenly doing grossly over-choreographed flying kicks and crap, allowing the stunt guys to indulge their Jackie Chan fantasies.  And Harry Dean Stanton, who we all love, feels like he's acting in a different movie than everybody else.  So yeah, there are imperfections, but luckily they're not too overwhelming and you get past them relatively early in the film.  You might be looking askance at the screen with your arms crossed at the beginning of this picture, but once you get into the second act, the film really finds its groove and you'll be pulled into some genuinely moving drama.
In 2007, Universal issued Alpha Dog as a new release on DVD in both Full Screen and Widescreen versions.  Remember when that was common, or have you already blocked those dark times out?  Anyway, it didn't come out on blu right away, because Universal bet on HD DVD.  So that was its only HD release for a while.  But eventually 2010 rolled around and the format wars ended with a definitive victor, so they finally gave Alpha Dog a proper blu-ray release, as a 2-disc combo pack with the Widescreen DVD.  Later, the same blu-ray disc was also included in a 2011 double-disc set with the remake of Assault On Precinct 13, which seems like a pretty arbitrary pairing, but okay.
1) 2007 Universal widescreen DVD; 2) 2007 Universal full screen DVD;
3) 2010 Universal widescreen DVD; 4) 2010 Universal BD.
2010 Universal widescreen DVD left; 2010 Universal BD right.
To start with, all the widescreen editions are in 2.35:1, although the blu-ray zooms out to reveal a couple extra pixels worth around the edges.  The Full screen version, meanwhile, bears a shocking comparison to the anamorphic versions in 1.33:1, chopping off the sides so much, entire characters are dropped out of frame.  It is a full pan and scan job, though, so you'll eventually get to see everybody important on screen.  And in terms of clarity, it's a surprisingly strong difference, and detail that was lost in a soft haze on the DVD comes alive on the blu.  Looking at the grain (which is completely washed away on the DVD), this is no UHD, but it's much more authentically captured and filmic than I expected.  This is not another Monster situation with an old transfer screaming for another scan; it holds up quite well.

All of the above versions include the same 5.1 mix, plus a French dub, also in 5.1, with English, Spanish and French subs.  The only difference is that the English track is in DTS-HD on the blu, though the French track is the same lossy mix as the DVDs.
Extras are the same across the board: a single eleven minute featurette with behind-the-scenes footage and soundbites from Cassavetes and the cast.  It's a little better than your average promo featurette, but just barely.  At eleven minutes, you just can't go in-depth.  It's better than nothing, and it's worth watching if you own the disc (which, again, is more than you can say for some of those promo pieces), but it's disappointing in terms of exploring the film and especially in terms of information about the real crime.  Every time I've watched this with someone, we've immediately googled the real crime to find out what happened to the last character - something the DVD would've been ideally suited to have the answer to.  Strictly speaking, there is an in-menu text thing with brief quotes from the real-life witnesses, but it's not even a video extra at all.
So yeah, extras are the weak point here.  The current blu's a fine edition of the film itself; it's just not the special edition one would hope for.  At this point, though, I don't think we're going to do any better than that tacked-on Precinct 13 remake.  On the other hand, Alpha Dog is real cheap and easily found anywhere; you can't say it isn't a fine deal for the price.  And most importantly, it's a great movie.