Abrahams & the Zuckers Week, Day 2: Airplane!

Speaking of "uplifting activity recently," did you know that this season, among all the mess that's going on around the world, Paramount has started a new Paramount Presents label, giving new, superior blu-ray editions to some of their biggest catalog titles?  And one of the titles we've already gotten is, hey, Jim Abrahams and David & Jerry Zucker's Airplane!  They've given it a new 4k remaster, fancy new packaging and fresh special features.  So let's see just how much better it is.
You might be surprised to know that Airplane!, as we know it now, was originally intended to play as the centerpiece to another Kentucky Fried Theater-style movie, where it would essentially be a short parody film surrounded by more sketches.  But I think history has shown they made the right choice.  Even though nobody watches Airplane! to get caught up in the drama of a commercial flight in danger of crash landing, having a central narrative to hang everything on does keep the viewer engaged.  With constantly rotating sketches, any joke that falls flat feels like dead air.  Here, the ride is at least smoother until the next bit, that'll hopefully be funnier.  And of course if Airplane! is known for anything, it's known for being packed to the brim with non-stop gags, so it's never a long wait.
Part of what makes Airplane! work so well is that it really nails its target.  It's full of great character actors who were in so many of these dry 70s films as legit straight men, not comic actors.  Veterans like Robert Stack, Peter Graves, James Hong, Barbara Billingsley, Lloyd Bridges... and of course Leslie Nielsen wound up becoming a comedy icon after his pitch perfect performance here.  Then, of course, they packed the film with outrageous cameos and great comics in tiny roles all around them, including David Leisure, Jimmie Walker, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ethel Merman, plus their own Kentucky Fried people, like Stephen Stucker and, of course, themselves.  What's more, their two leads, Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty, turned out to be brilliant discoveries.  And while I can't of course vouch for the veracity of every line and sight gag in a feature film that's carrying a record number of them, the writing overall holds up surprisingly well, especially compared to the litany of similar films it inspired, even most of those by its own creators.
Paramount initially released Airplane! as a pretty nice, anamorphic widescreen DVD in 2000.  There have been plenty of repackagings and arbitrary reissues over the years, but the next version with an actually updated disc was the 2005 'Don't Call Me Shirley' special edition with additional extras.  In 2011, Paramount put it out on blu, and that's been our sole option until now.  Again, there have been reissues, double-features and alternate packaging, but it's always been the same old blu.  Until this summer, thanks to the new Paramount Presents line, which has restored the film in 4k for their new latest 40th Anniversary Edition, available in standard packaging or steelbook.  As you can see in the scan above, I chose the latter.
1) 2005 US Paramount DVD; 2) 2011 US Paramount BD; 3) 2020 US Paramount BD.
For whatever reason, Paramount perpetually insists on releasing Airplane! in 1.78:1, even though it surely should be matted to 1.85:1.  But oh well, whatever.  It's been that way since the earliest DVD... although with a smidgen of pillar-boxing in the overscan areas, the DVDs have technically been 1.77:1.  But while the framing stays virtually the same (The DVD actually shows slivers more around some of its edges, but a bit less along the top), the picture quality keeps on improving from generation to generation.  It goes without saying that the DVD is softer than the blus, but let's say it anyway, because it really looks fuzzy by comparison.  The BD is sharper and pulls out more detail (look at Graves' hair in the second set of shots, for example) that was washed out of the standard def transfer.  It looks lightly tweaked, perhaps with some kind of unsharpening tool, but honestly, by 2011 standards, it was quite good, not a blu calling for an upgrade.  But as the age of 4k rolled around, we began to see how much better blus could look, and now it's Airplane!'s turn.  Grain is much more natural and the entire experience feels more film-like, as opposed to the waxiness of the DVD and tinniness of the old blu.  Whatever digital tinkering they did in 2011 is gone, and the colors are deeper and more authentic.  Black levels, too.  It's just a more attractive, satisfying watch.

One drawback of these new editions, I suppose, is revisionist audio.  The original 2000 DVD gave the film a new 5.1 remix, and part of the benefit of the 'Don't Call Me Shirley' DVD was they inclusion of the original stereo mix, along with the 5.1.  It also had optional English and Spanish subtitles and a French dub.  Well, for whatever reason, the blu-rays have dumped the stereo track, only giving us the 5.1.  They bumped it up to DTS-HD (on both the 2011 and 2020 editions), but that's all we get, at least for English.  The 2011 also had French, Portuguese and Spanish dubs with English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles, while the 2020 has a German dub with English, HoH, French, German and Japanese subs.
Special features complicate matters, too.  The 2000 DVD started with an excellent audio commentary by the Zuckers, Abrahams, and producer Jon Davidson.  It also had the trailer.  The 'Don't Call Me Shirley' edition added a "Long Haul" branching option, where you could watch the film with pop-up videos interviewing the cast and crew.  It was pretty fantastic, talking to nearly everybody, from the biggest stars to the non-professional bit players, as well as showing otherwise unavailable deleted scenes and outtakes.  But "Long Haul" was right, it turns the movie into a 4-hour viewing experience.  It also came in a slip cover and included an option to get your own inflatable Otto autopilot.  And the initial blu just ported all of the extras over in SD to their HD disc.

I was wondering how Paramount Presents would treat the Long Haul footage, and disappointingly but unsurprisingly, they dropped it.  And it's a shame, because it's terrific, although the "haul" was tiresome, especially if you'd just watched the film normally first.  But here's the thing I found.  You could easily just rip the disc (DVD or blu; it's all SD either way), stick the interviews files into an editor like Windows Movie Maker, and it plays wonderfully as a roughly 75-minute documentary.  Even without the context of the feature, and each clip just playing in the order they're found on the disc, it's very enjoyable and coherent.  I ripped it to a blank disc and called it "The Direct Flight."  😉
The Long Haul documentary
And I'm especially glad for that DVR now that the 40th Anniversary Edition let it go.  I've just slipped it into the left-hand side of my nifty new steelbook, because to me it's really essential.  The other extras are great, but don't include all the great material found here.  But, to be fair, I have to point out that the 2020 blu came up with some new special features.  There's a roughly 35 minute Q&A recorded at a screening with Abrahams and the Zuckers, which is good though a bit redundant.  There's also a new, retrospective featurette with Abrahams and the Zuckers, which is nice but completely redundant.  I'm happy to get them, but they don't hold a candle to the Long Haul.  Also, just a final, niggling disappointment, they dropped the trailer, which is a shame, because it had a funny Jaws bit unique to the trailer.
But none of that changes the fact that this is good news.  The new transfer is great and hey, I'm happy to take those new extras even if they're not amazing.  I'm a little disappointed we still didn't get the original audio track, but it's a sweet upgrade either way (especially since it's not like the 2011 BD had it).  I'd just say that, in addition to getting this, you should still hang onto or track down an older edition with the Long Haul.  The good news there is the market has been flooded with them, so they're easy to find and super cheap.  And this new Paramount Presents line itself is good news.  I just love to see a major studio show renewed interest in their catalog titles; I hope this is an indication of the future, not a brief blip on the radar.  But either way, I'm grabbing what I can right now in the moment.

Abrahams & the Zuckers Week, Day 1: The Kentucky Fried Movie

The struggles physical media has been going through these days can be disheartening.  But there's been some really uplifting activity recently in the combined works of Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers, David and Jerry.  So I thought I'd make a "Week" out of their best films and their current state on home video.  And what better place to begin than at the beginning: their first film together (or separately), The Kentucky Fried Movie?
Their debut is the only film the trio didn't film themselves.  They just wrote this one, with the one and only John Landis taking over the Kentucky Fried directorial duties.  That strange title, by the way, is easily explained; it comes from the filmmakers' origins with The Kentucky Fried Theater.  So while this film plays in some ways just like their better known later work - silly parody - it's unique in that it adheres to what they used to do on stage.  It's a sketch movie.  But there's a particularly long sketch that comes up in the middle of the film, a kung-fu parody with Evan C. Kim as their version of Bruce Lee in a send up of Enter the Dragon.  It takes up about half of the running time, giving this film a very unusual structure.  It's like: a bunch of quick sketches and then forget the sketches, here's a movie, until just when you've forgotten about the sketches at the beginning, here's some more.  They do link it all together with the loose premise that we're watching all of these otherwise disconnected scenes as programming broadcast on a local cable channel.  But after this, they realized their material plays stronger in a single, coherent narrative, which is the form all of their following films would take.
Besides being Abrahams and the Zucker's first film, it's only Landis's second, after his scrappy Schlock.  There is definitely the clumsy feel of creators finding their footing throughout this movie, and it doesn't play nearly as strongly as their more accomplished works afterwards.  But there's still song good laughs and more than enough amusing bits to make Kentucky Fried worth the watch, even if it's not a masterpiece.  Like any sketch show, there at least as many clunkers as successes, but some work, and others are at least cheerful.  And the kung-fu parody is the strongest piece, so it's actually a good thing that devoted so much of their running time to it, despite how out of balance it throws the film.  There are lots of fun cameos and appearances to look out for, including Abrahams and the Zuckers themselves, George Lazenby, Donald Sutherland as the quintessential clumsy waiter, Airplane's scene stealing Stephen Stucker, voice over by Shadoe Stevens, and beloved horror icon Forrest J. Ackerman
The Kentucky Fried Movie was released twice in America.  Anchor Bay gave it its DVD debut in 2000, with a combination widescreen/ fullscreen special edition.  There have been plenty of editions in other regions since, including a noteworthy 2-disc set by Arrow in the UK.  But it's been all standard def DVDs until Shout Factory brought it to blu-ray in 2013, which is pretty much the definitive edition; although it should be noted that a barebones German blu from Koch that came out in 2015 preserves the fullscreen framing, if for some reason you've grown attached to that version.
1) 2000 AB fullscreen DVD; 2) 2000 AB widescreen DVD; 3) 2013 SF BD.
So the fullscreen edition is 1.33:1 and largely open matte, but it also seems to shifting its framing a bit.  Note how the first shot is almost the same but with extra vertical information.  But the second set of shots is clearly panned further to the left.  Curious.  Still, it's decidedly boxier and the extra along the top and bottom seems to be a lot of excess space, so I can't imagine it's actually an AR worth preserving.  The widescreen editions are matted to 1.85:1 (technically, the DVD is 1.84) and appear much more pleasing and correct.  Aside from that, well, the blu is definitely a genuine HD boost.  Colors are mostly similar, though I picked that first set of shots to highlight that it does vary at times, too - the blu's consistently warmer with stronger colors, but there it's really extreme.  Grain is patchy and inconsistent... this is a 2013 blu, not a 2020 one, but it's definitely a sharper, clearer HD boost over the fuzzy DVD.  There's also a lot of artifacting on the DVD that the blu cleans up.  The movie itself seems to be comprised of film elements of varying quality, so it's hard to lay any particular fault on this blu's feet, but I bet a fresh scan of the original negatives, if possible, could yield some big, further improvements.  But as it is, it knocks the DVD out of the park.

The DVD just gives us the basic original mono in Dolby Digital with no subtitles on both the full and widescreen versions.  The blu bumps that mono up to DTS-HD and includes optional English subtitles, so again, another satisfying step forward.
Put now we take a step backwards.  Not a huge one, but it's annoying enough.  See, the DVD had some great extras.  There's a boisterous audio commentary by Landis, both Zuckers, Abrahams and producer Robert K. Weiss.  There's also the trailer, the stills gallery and most interestingly, almost 20 minutes of "home movies" showing us the filming on location.  The blu-ray keeps the commentary and the trailer, but loses the home movies (and the gallery).  Now, it does offer us something nice in its stead: an hour-long on-camera conversation with the Zucker brothers, which repeats some info from the commentary but is still fairly illuminating and entertaining.  That interview was originally created for the Arrow DVD, but Shout brought it here, which is nice.  It's just annoying that we had to lose one good extra to gain the other.  There's probably some complicated ugly licensing business tying it up behind the scenes, but it doesn't seem like too big an ask to not have lost any of the extras.  Oh well.
So hang onto your DVDs if you've got 'em.  But if not, the home movies aren't so compelling that it's worth retroactively double-dipping.  Again, a new 4k edition would be nice, but for this movie, which isn't really as well-loved or objectively good as the later films, I wouldn't expect anyone to tackle the project anytime soon.  This is probably the best we'll get, which happily, is pretty good.  And come back tomorrow for a new 4k comparison you're probably eager to see.

That Australian DVD of The Keep Everyone's Buzzing About

There haven't been many more frustrating cases of films on home video than Michael Mann's The Keep (though I can think of a few).  There has been no DVD release in the US and no blu-ray release anywhere in the world.  It wasn't until 2017 that we got any kind of non-bootleg release, only in Australia, in 2017.  But it was an old fullscreen rip, and even the legitimacy of that disc is highly questionable (it has a UPC and is listed in the usual catalogs, but doesn't credit a distributor anywhere on its packaging).  Only now in 2020 do we at least have something in proper widescreen thanks to Via Vision finally taking hand of Paramount's unreleased catalog titles down in Australia.
And it's worth caring about, because The Keep is pretty neat.  It reminds me a lot of Michele Soavi's The Church and The Sect, from its "dreamlike" logic to its vibrant score (in this case, famously by Tangerine Dream).  It's a wildly ambitious tale, based on a novel by F. Paul Wilson, about Nazis who set up base in an ancient Romanian keep inhabited by an ancient evil.  The oppressed locals start see the being in the castle as "a hammer" to eradicate the Nazis, although they have no way to control it once it's set free.  And to further complicate matters, Scott Glenn plays a sort space alien who lives to battle the being in the keep and he's got a laser staff.  Yeah, it's an odd story, in that it attempts to deal with very heavy, deadly serious content like the holocaust and the morality of war, but does it with space vampires and Ghostbusters-style special effects.  Meanwhile, Mann's shooting the thing like a music video with lots of dry ice and slow motion.  Photographically, it's a weird dark fantasy... again, very much like Soavi's work.  The advantages Mann has, though, are major studio production values and a terrific cast including Das Boot's Jorgen Prochnow, Gabriel Byrne, Ian McKellan.  You can feel the ideal blend of high and low-brow that Mann is shooting for, but it just gets so damn silly.
A lot of the blame for that is typically laid at the feet of Paramount, who forced Mann to heavily cut down the theatrical cut.  Fans have spent decades crying for a decade, fueled by photos and low quality footage of deleted scenes from alternate TV edits, the trailer, and a supposed director's assembly cut.  Another blow was that, even before these cuts, visual effects artist Wally Veevers died during production, so a number of effects sequences are compromised and a final dramatic showdown couldn't be completed.  Plus, anyone who's read the book knows there's a lot left out.  But honestly, I'm not so sure a director's cut would help all that much.  Much of what I've seen described online seems to be mostly additional exposition explaining what's already evident in the film if you're paying attention, and a couple more fights that would've done more to hurt the pacing than anything.
For one thing, I've seen the extended ending, and while I understand it's closer to the book, it doesn't fit as well with the alternate version of the story that is Mann's film.  In the movie, Glenn's character is just an unrelatable third party who detracts from the more meaningful climax between McKellan and the monster.  As it is, he interacts so little with the plot so little that when he does, it feels like an arbitrary deus ex machina breaking up the drama.  And the idea of all the additional scenes, which fans hope would flesh his character out and make the film gel more, and feel more coherent, I feel would really just take the film further off the rails.  The fact that Glenn's giving a detached, robotic performance in order to seem alien saps the life out of all his scenes anyway.  Honestly, they should've cut his character out right from the scripting stage, but I guess they didn't have the nerve to veer that far from the novel, which was much better suited for sustaining a character like his.

Oh well.  Ultimately, I think this cut, flawed as it is, is pretty much the best cut (or at least, an ideal director's cut would only make minor changes, and still leave a lot of the famously missing sequences as "deleted scenes"), which may somewhat explain Mann's continued reluctance to go back and re-edit the film all these years.  Plus there's the question of which film elements still exist, if any, and apparent difficulties licensing Tangerine Dream's music.  All together, it leads to this weird little Australian DVD being the best we've managed to get in 2020.
2020 AU Via Vision DVD.
A quick glance at the screenshots and you can immediately see why Via Vision couldn't, in good conscience, release this on blu.  But it is nice to have this on an anamorphic DVD, at least, after all these years.  The Keep had a couple of laserdisc releases; a fullscreen one in the 80s and a widescreen one in the 90s.  I suspect this is taken from the same master as that second master (also the one I believe Netflix once streamed), which isn't thrilling, but still the best release going to date.  The picture is presented in 2.36:1, and looks good in motion.  Colors (when there are any) are bright and attractive.  You mostly notice the restricted resolution when you struggle to read the on-screen captions, but even before clicking through these screenshots to view size, you can see the soft edges around everyone and everything.  Looking up close, then, is when the compression artifacts, digital noise and haloing really jump out at you.  Even for a DVD, this feels like an old master.  But honestly. we'd all be thrilled if this came out in 2001.
The trailer.
Audio is just the one basic stereo mix, which is mostly clean, but you'll notice a little hiss if you pump up the volume.  The sound mix itself can be a little rough, with lines of dialogue not quite matching, or volume dipping a bit low, but I suspect that's more to do with the film's rough cut nature than an issue with the disc... although if the blu-ray we all hope for ever happens, I wouldn't flag anyone for revision if they fixed it up a bit.  Anyway, it's clear enough for DVD.

There are no subtitle options, and the only extra is a fullscreen trailer, which you may want to check out if only for the glimpses at alternate takes and scenes.  One pleasant little surprise is that Via Vision included reversible cover art that hides the ugly blue ratings logos slapped all over the outside.
So it's a bummer that a director's cut, or even just a proper HD transfer of the theatrical version, seem to be as out of reach as ever.  But I do have a more optimistic outlook for the documentary A World War II Fairytale: The Making of Michael Mann's The Keep.  It was started independently way back in February 2011 and put up for crowd-funding support on IndieGoGo in late 2015.  Well, after all these years you may've assumed it withered on the vine, but I've looked into it and it's still kicking.  They've posted on Facebook as recently as last month that they're now in post production and working through Covid lock-down to finally finish their film.  So we'll probably get to see it after all, and at least in 2015, they said they'd be releasing it on BD.  So hopefully by 2021, we'll be able to combine that with this and we'll finally have the compelling Keep special edition we should've had twenty years ago... if not the boutique blu-ray we deserve today.

Werner Herzog's Invincible, Only On Blu In France

In 2001's Invincible, Werner Herzog tells the more or less true story of "the strongest man in the world," Zishe Breitbart (no relation to Andrew Breitbart or his conservative news oped site), whom Superman was actually inspired by, and his time with the infamous Nazi occultist Erik Jan Hanussen.  Body builder Jouko Ahola plays Breitbart... he's since gone on to appear in a number of films, but this was his acting debut.  Herzog recreates the most famous moments of Breitbart's life, including the tragic way he passed.  Tim Roth has the much more dramatic role of Hanussen, who yes, is the same man depicted in Istvan Szabo's Academy Award nominated Hanussen from 1988.  Naturally, Herzog extrapolates historical details and conversations we'd have no way validating today, but his biggest liberty is bumping Breitbart's experience forward in time about a decade, and amplifying his conflict with the Nazi party as Hitler was seizing power in the 1930s.  In real life, Breitbart died in 1925, and Hanussen's fall came many years after, rather than due to the strongman's noble influence.
So yes, this is the story of a Jewish folk hero, and they're pumping up the heroism.  Breitbart has a little brother who looks up to him with wide-eyed idealism, as much for his I-cannot-tell-a-lie purity of character as his physical strength.  He naively wanders into the employ of the most unambiguously evil Nazi ever to twirl a mustache and his incorruptible topples a corrupt institution.  But Herzog's artistic flourishes (yes, there are abstract dream sequences with hordes of crabs, and Roth's secret chamber is surrounded by angelic jellyfish that go well beyond the fish tanks the real Hanussen surrounded himself with) break this film out of Hollywood's typical trappings, and there's enough fascinating truth to the these men's stories to keep things touching and fascinating beyond conventional expectations.  Udo Kier has a perfectly nasty supporting role and Hans Zimmer provides the score.  This definitely isn't a film to casually write off.
New Line first put it out as a widescreen but barebones DVD in 2003.  Warner Brothers reissued it in their Archives line as a DV-R more recently, 2017, but of course still barebones.  In the meantime, there was a 2014 DVD with an audio commentary by Werner Herzog, which I'd be fascinated by, but I don't believe it's English friendly.  If any boutique labels are reading this, that sure would be an ideal thing to license and subtitle for a new blu-ray edition.  We know there's already a respectable HD master available, as it's already been released in France by Rimini Editions.
2003 US New Line DVD top; 2013 FR Rimini BD bottom.
Both aspect ratios are a little off, with the DVD at a slightly windowboxed 1.81:1 and the BD in a lazy 1.78:1.  The DVD's mattes would've basically been hidden by older televisions' overscan area, but the blu lifts them away revealing more picture mostly along the top and bottom.  It also removes some murky color casting and cleans up New Line's unfortunate compression smudging, giving us a distinctly sharper and cleaner HD image.  Grain's a little light; I won't say a fresh 4k scan wouldn't yield an even better picture, but this is an attractive blu and a substantial improvement over the DVD.

New Line's DVD gave us choices between the original English audio in stereo and DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, with optional English subtitles.  Rimini's blu isn't quite so replete, but thankfully, besides two French dubs (stereo and 5.1), it features the original English 5.1 audio; and its French subtitles are removable.  Those French dubs are lossy, but the original English mix is in DTS-HD, so unless you need English subs, this is pretty ideal.
Again, the DVD is barren apart from the trailer and some bonus ones.  Rimini's blu, however, isn't actually barebones; it has two interesting-sounding featurettes where three experts discuss the film and its historical roots.  I say "interesting-sounding," though, because disappointingly they're spoken in French with no subtitles.  D'oh!  Woulda been nice.  As far as English-friendly extras, all we get is the trailer, looking worse than the old DVD's, and with burnt in French subs.
So we've gone from no extras to no extras, but upgrading to this blu also takes us from a funky old SD transfer to a nice HD print with lossless audio.  You can't shake a stick at that.  I would've loved to see this in Shout or Arrow's Herzog boxed sets, with that German commentary translated.  But as things stand, I feel lucky we at least have this option.  Importers won't be disappointed.

Desperate Times Call For Your Consideration Discs

You know times are getting grim for home video collectors when even brand new, high profile films are getting any kind of retail release anywhere in the world.  I specify "retail," though, because in some cases, there's one last, narrow option for the desperate: FYC discs.  For Your Consideration discs, or Emmy discs, are screener releases of films and TV shows sent out for free to industry people.  Not necessarily just for the Emmys, though those seem to be the most common, but the Academy Awards and others.  Usually, you don't particularly want 'em.  They tend to be barebones, SD DVDs, and when it comes to television seasons, only select episodes.  The retail release is almost certainly bound to be better... except when there isn't one.

Those are a couple of HBO Studio Production tapes of Larry Sanders I scored on the internet in the 90s up top, many years before the series was officially released on DVD.  Now they've been invalidated and are essentially worthless, but at the time I was excited to get my hands on them.  The story's the same in 2020.  FYC DVD's of I Love You Daddy go for big bucks in the unlikely event you can even spot one in the wild ever since Louie CK's film and career got pulled in 2018.  Meanwhile people can't give away This Is Us screeners.

Is this even legal?  There was a time when studios pressured sites (mostly EBay) not to allow sales of FYC discs, and for a little while they complied.  But that hasn't been the case in a long time.  Look, I'm no lawyer and I'm not definitely not claiming to offer proper legal advice, but I'm pretty sure First Sale laws protect us in passing old screener discs around.  The people who originally received them from the studios are probably breaking an agreement when they sell them, and risk getting taken off the lists for upcoming years.  But it's all pretty academic now in 2020 anyway, as a handful of rare physical media releases is not the kind of piracy that's shaking the industry; they've all moved to streaming, the same thing which is even strangling this last ditch option... FYC discs are being replaced by Screener Links.  Plus, anyone who would pay for a screener disc of Movie X would happily forgo it in favor of a proper release if we could.  I'm begging for the studios to sell us official discs of the films I'm about to cover.  I hope this post doesn't tick anybody off, but I don't think my obligation is to sit on the information I've been discovering.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is the first film to really make me shit a brick and realize, oh no!  After a year or two of being a streaming exclusive, this movie still wasn't getting any kind of release in any region, and I was going to have to start looking further outside the box.  I didn't even really know what a modern FYC disc was like... do they have "PROPERTY OF NETFLIX" banners running across the screen the whole time, or weird watermarks?  Were they pressed or burned?  Would they signal my player to self destruct?  I had no idea, which is why I'm making this post now, to let people know.  Because this was a film I just had to have.
If you haven't noticed, I tend to swear by the work of Noah Baumbach, and this is right up there with his best.  It's one of those rare projects Adam Sandler takes to prove he can actually act, but it's a lot more than that.  It's some of Noah's best character writing, again exploring the relationship of siblings dealing with their divorced haut monde parents.  And with Netflix bucks behind him, he's flexing possibly his best cast yet, including Dustin Hoffman (right before he followed Louis CK into the bin), Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, Adam Driver, Candice Bergen, Judd Hirsch, Sigourney Weaver, Josh Hamilton and even a cameo by old Baumbach favorite Carlos Jacott.  But then lesser known Elizabeth Marvel comes along and just about steals the show from all of them.
2017 Netflix DVD.
So let me answer the critical questions first.  There are no banners, watermarks or other funny business; the whole movie plays perfectly just like any commercial DVD.  It's a pressed disc, not a DV-R, and no, it doesn't self-destruct.  It starts with a pre-menu screen asking you to accept their terms.  Clicking "Yes" takes you to the proper menu and clicking "No" takes you back to your player's menu.  The film itself is presented in 1.83:1, and looks to be the exact same transfer Netflix broadcasts, except as a DVD, it's compressed to standard definition.  It's quite fine by DVD standards, though; it's not interlaced or anything.  Audio is a strong 5.1 mix, and I was pleasantly surprised to find most of these discs, including this particular one, have optional English subtitles, too.

Once my Meyerowitz experiment paid off, and I knew these discs were definitely worth pursuing, it was time to see what other streaming exclusives were sorely absent.  Not that I didn't immediately know off the top of my head.  There were two more I just had to have right away, the first of which was Errol Morris's Wormwood.  This has been touted as a drama/ documentary hybrid.  What that ultimately winds up meaning is that it's a traditional documentary, but the typical recreation scenes go further, with proper dialogue and high quality actors, including Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Blake Nelson and Bob Balaban.
Wormwood is the strange story of Frank Olson, an army scientist from the 1950s who was involved in mysterious experiments with LSD.  He died under dubious circumstances - he "fell" out of a hotel window - and now his son is obsessed with the notion that the CIA actually had him killed as a cover-up.  So this film, really a six-episode miniseries, cuts back and forth between first-person interviews with the real people telling their story, and Sarsgaard playing his father in dramatizations of how everything may've gone down.  You'll probably recognize son Eric Olson and this whole crazy tale from the infamous 2004 British television documentary, Crazy Rulers Of the World.  Well, thirteen years later, the Olson's are still demanding answers.
2017 Netflix DVD.
Wormwood is mix of new documentary footage, the stylized dramatizations and vintage footage, the last of which, naturally, is often of dodgier quality than the rest.  That's the nature of the film, though, not an issue with the DVD, which presents it all in very wide 2.37:1.  It's clean, clear and as good as a DVD could look.  All six episodes are included over 2-discs.  Each episode has a 5.1 mix, though this time there are no subtitles.  Based on all the Netflix screeners I've seen, it looks like they put them on movies, but not series?  Anyway, they're not here.

The third title I absolutely had to have was Nicole Holofcener's The Land of Steady Habits.  It's the only film of hers I haven't already covered on this site, and the first time she's filmed a script not based on her original writing.  The Land of Steady Habits is an adaptation of the Ted Thompson novel of the same name, about an older man who drops out of comfortable society in search of a more substantive meaning.  It stars Ben Mendelsohn, Edie Falco and hey, Elizabeth Marvel's back!  Some of the characterizations feel a little less authentic than I'd expect from a Holofcener original; but it's still a smart, funny and touching look at the isolation and disappointment that can develop even when you seem to be achieving the American dream.
2018 Netflix DVD.
So, as you can see, I was in for a disappointment this time.  Every two frames out of four are interlaced!  A 2018 disc interlaced?  Why?  None of the other Netflix discs I've seen are, and the movie isn't interlaced on their site.  I guess it's just a mistake?  QC on screeners may not be as tight as they are on commercial releases.  Apart from that, it looks fine.  It's a fine, SD image presented in the unusual aspect ratio of 2.01:1, but that is composition the film's supposed to have.  It's another 5.1 mix, and on the plus side, the subtitles are back.  The interlacing is a bummer, though, and very noticeable in motion.

Feeling empowered, now I'm on a hunt for any other FYC titles that have been neglected on video.  And what could be more fun than Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp?  In some ways, this prequel is more fun than the original film (the subsequent Last Day of Camp not so much), though of course it wouldn't work at all without the movie to build it all from.  The entire cast is back, which is saying something considering how many comics and stars were in it; and it's packed with more big names, too, including Jason Schwartzman, Kristin Wiig, Chris Pine, Jordan Peele, Bruce Greenwood and so many more.  It's an eight-episode series, which gives it more room to go to even more crazy places, but it's so grounded, managing to perfectly land every single character into the places we find in them in the film.
2015 Netflix DVD.
All eight episodes are spread across two discs and look great, slightly matted to 1.88:1.  It does feel like Netflix just makes up their ARs by throwing darts at a board, but that's how it airs online too.  Meanwhile, colors and details look great; no more interlacing.  The audio is in 5.1 again, and no subtitles, which again makes me think that, for whatever reason, they save the subs for the films.  Actually, there are a few hard subs for a handful of scenes, which you can remove if you really want to, but they don't subtitle the show as a whole.  It's also worth pointing out that this one came in fancier packaging, like a hardcover mediabook, which is fun.

But maybe you're just done with DVDs in 2020.  It is especially frustrating to be eyeing SD discs when the same films are streaming in HD; some of you guys probably think it's a joke to even want a DVD of these.  It's too bad they don't make FYC blu-rays, right?  Oh, but they do!  They tend to be even harder to find, especially for the exclusive titles, but they're out there.

I bought Marriage Story right away.  Possibly the year's greatest film (nominated for six academy awards and won one) on blu when I was sure it would never get a retail release?  How could I not?  Well, who could anticipate Netflix would make a deal with Criterion?  But that just goes to show you how the value can rise and fall like the Dow Jones with these discs, because I immediately sold it off and am counting down the days for Criterion's special edition.  In the meantime, though, I had this to tide me over.
We're back with Noah Baumbach in his latest story, where this time we're dealing with the younger generation's failing marriage.  I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone that Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as our avatars in this devastatingly authentic look at an embattled relationship.  They're amazing, but the supporting cast is the icing on the cake, making their heavy drama so much more charming and entertaining.  I mean, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Haggerty and Wallace Shawn?  We don't deserve that much talent!  Plus there are fun cameos by Robert Smigel and Carlos Jacott again.  Baumbach may've even topped The Squid and the Whale with this one.
2019 Netflix BD.
Yes, this is a genuine HD image; the blu is even a dual-layered disc.  It looks fabulous.  It's pillar-boxed to 1.67:1.  Grain is very fine... I suppose it could be a little less blocky, but hey, this isn't a UHD.  I'm assuming this is the exact same image we'll see on the Criterion, though we'll see for sure soon enough.  Unfortunately, the 5.1 mix is lossy, which is something - besides the obvious complete lack of special features - I'm looking forward to Criterion fixing.  Optional English subtitles are on hand, though.  Honestly, if no Criterion was pending, I'd be pretty satisfied with this in my bunker.

But if you want a blu-ray that hasn't been scooped by a legit release, despite having several more years of opportunity to do so (I really thought a DVD would pop up in Germany, at least... but nope), let me show you the crown jewel of my FYC collection: Werner Herzog's Into the Inferno.  It took me a long time to find a copy of this one.  And I didn't even know blu-ray was an option with this one; I was just trying to find a DVD copy.  So boy, oh boy, am I happy to have this on my shelf.
Into the Inferno is Herzog's second volcano documentary, following La Soufrière, but this is really more of a sequel to Encounters At the End of the World.  He hooks back up with Clive Oppenheimer, the scientist he stood atop a volcanic ridge in the South Pole, to take a fuller, global look at volcanoes in general.  But if reading this has you expecting some kind of dry National Geographic geological TV special, you've forgotten who directed this.  Into the Inferno is a wild, globe-trotting ride that explores as much about religions and myths that have developed around volcanoes as much as the science itself (though there's plenty of nerdy gadgetry and dusty fossils, too).  They travel from Ethiopia to Iceland, including a particularly fascinating visit behind the curtain of North Korea.
2016 Netflix BD.
Into the Inferno was shot digitally, so we don't really have film grain to judge with.  In fact, this was shot with different cameras in different countries by different people - not even including the vintage documentary footage, which includes clips from some of Herzog's past works.  But this is a bright and sharp HD image.  It's a single-layer disc, unlike Marriage Story, but for a 107 minute film with exactly zero additional features, I don't think space is an issue.  Especially if they're not going to use the space for lossless audio, anyway.  Once again, this is a lossy 5.1 mix with optional English subtitles, including one track for just the foreign language, and another that subtitles both the foreign and English audio.
The screeners we've just examined are all, of course, Netflix discs.  That's a coincidence; all the films I was most interested in just happened to be Netflix flicks.  But there are screeners to be had from Amazon, Hulu, Warner Bros, ABC, NBC, A&E, Starz, Focus Features, Lifetime, FX, TBS... pretty much all of the major networks, film studios and streaming services.  So if there's something you need, and the market isn't servicing you; there's a whole other jungle to try hunting in.