Experience the horror all over again with “Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure” on Blu-ray

Call it fate or just sheer coincidence, but the same week that Bullz-Eye announced the newest class of its Directors Hall of Fame, Lionsgate is releasing “Apocalypse Now” for the first time on Blu-ray. So what’s the connection? Well, the film’s director, Francis Ford Coppola, was one of our five inductees, and his work on “Apocalypse Now” played a huge role in him making the final cut. Obviously, the first two “Godfather” films are what Coppola is best known for, but his 1979 Vietnam War epic isn’t far behind. I’ve never really been a fan of the director apart from these three films, but while his career has certainly had more flops than successes, there’s a lot more to the man than his formative years behind the camera.

Although I have a deep respect for “Apocalypse Now,” if I had to sum up my feelings about the film in just one sentence, it would probably go something like this: It’s a great film, but it’s a flawed film. That might sound a bit harsh considering my four-star review of the movie, but it’s true. Of course, even for as good as it is, the story about the making of it is even better, and that’s where the new Blu-ray comes into play. Despite a 2006 special edition DVD called The Complete Dossier, the new three-disc Full Disclosure edition is a lot closer to the ultimate “Apocalypse Now” collection. For starters, it includes the 1991 documentary about the making of the film, “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” which Bob Westal calls “both a cautionary tale and an inspiration.” Much like “Lost in La Mancha” – the 2000 documentary about the act-of-god collapse of Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” – this first-person account (captured by Coppola’s wife, Eleanor) of the trouble-plagued production is one the most interesting films about the moviemaking process ever released, and it’s a must-have for any diehard fan or student of cinema.

In addition, both versions of the film – the original theatrical cut and the 2001 director’s cut, “Apocalypse Now Redux” – have been digitally restored in high definition with excellent results, delivering a sharper picture without making it look glossy like some of the other classic movies recently released on Blu-ray. There are also hours of bonus material to enjoy, including a pair of new interviews with actor Martin Sheen and writer John Milius that are loaded with anecdotes about their experiences working on the film, as well as a casting featurexte on the supporting actors that made up the PBR Street Gang. But while it contains some never-before-seen footage of Nick Nolte’s audition (who was ultimately never cast in the film), there’s no video or photographic evidence of Harvey Keitel’s two-week stint as Willard before he was replaced by Martin Sheen.

The recasting situation is mentioned briefly, but after last week’s Internet-fueled brouhaha over the Eric Stoltz footage that was released on the new “Back to the Future” Blu-rays, they could have at least included a few shots of Keitel in costume. I’m not sure if any even exist, but I have to imagine they do, so there’s always a chance that something from Keitel’s work on the film will pop up in the future. Of course, that means that “Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure” isn’t as complete as it could be, but it’s still one of the best releases of the year, and worth upgrading to Blu-ray for if you haven’t already.

  

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Load up on guns and bring your friends: Twenty great action movie ensemble casts

When we saw the cast that Sylvester Stallone assembled for war machine throwback that is the upcoming “The Expendables,” well, we were just giddy. It didn’t matter that Stallone’s recent writing projects (“Rocky Balboa,” “Rambo”) were as predictable as a sunrise and safe as houses – he has put together the single biggest cast of ass-kicking movie stars we’ve seen in decades, possibly ever. Indeed, as we looked back at great action ensembles from the past, we discovered just how infrequently the big stars worked together for an action movie. It happens all the time for dramas (two words: Oscar bait), but one quick look at the ‘80s in particular will tell you that action movies, by and large, are a single man’s game.

However, there are times when movie stars have forsaken the lion’s share of the spotlight in order to deliver something special, and so we salute the great guy movie ensembles of years past. In the interest of full disclosure, once we discovered that the list was going to consist almost entirely of war movies, westerns and sequels, we decided to play around a little bit with the definition of “action movie.” To the point where it included Tim Burton and Steven Soderbergh. Don’t judge.

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Cast: Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Brad Dexter
The Plot: A village of farmers, frequently raided by a group of bandits, recruits a group of gunslingers to defend their town.
The Back Story: In the 1950s, it wasn’t exactly the easiest task to get the average American to go see a Japanese film, no matter how great it may have been. Fortunately, director John Sturges was up to the task of seeing Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai,” and upon doing so, he saw elements in the story and characters which would translate well to the Western genre. Boy, was he right…and if his instinct for hot properties was good, then his gift for casting was downright remarkable, given that the only truly top-shelf actor in the cast at the time was Brynner, who was riding high on the Academy Award winning success of “The King and I.” Combining these upstanding gentlemen, the inspiration of the original source material, and the classic score by Elmer Bernstein, and you’ve got yourself one of the greatest Westerns of all time.
The Money Shot: There are a lot of great small moments leading up to the big showdown between the Magnificent Seven and the despicable Calvera (Wallach), including the classic knife-throwing sequence that introduces Coburn’s character, and, indeed, the grand finale offers several immortal death sequences. None, however, match the power of Calvera’s final seconds onscreen, specifically his stunned reaction to the fact that Chris (Brynner), despite his earlier retreat, has not only returned but, indeed, successfully taken him down.

The Great Escape (1963)

Cast: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn, James Donald
The Plot: A group of Allied prisoners plan a daring escape from a supposedly escape-proof German prison.
The Back Story: Remember what we said about Sturges’s gift for casting? It wasn’t a one-off, as this ensemble clearly demonstrates. Based on a true story, utilizing Paul Brickhill’s book of the same title as its inspiration, “The Great Escape” was adapted somewhat from its source material, pumping up the importance of the Americans in the story and adding a bit more motorcycle action. The latter was reportedly done at McQueen’s request, but whoever came up with the idea deserves a round of applause, as it makes for some of the film’s most exciting moments. Ironically, “The Great Escape” got more shrugs than kudos upon its original release, but it has since gone on to become recognized as a classic.
The Money Shot: When Hilts’s mad motorcycle ride through Germany ends abruptly when he attempts to jump the fence into Switzerland, only to get caught in the barbed wire. That’s got to hurt…

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