New on Blu: Tom Cruise, Channing Tatum and 'Django'

"Born on the Fourth of July," "Step Up" and "Barbarella" top this week's list of high-profile HD releases.

While the 4th of July holiday demands that most Americans raise flags, grill meats and watch fireworks, some consumers will celebrate their government-mandated days off in a different way – by watching movies. While this week’s Blu-ray selections includes only a handful of tailor-made U-S-of-A titles, there are nevertheless plenty of interesting options to choose from.

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Check out this week’s new releases:

Barbarella (Paramount Home Entertainment)

The Rundown: Roger Vadim’s swinging sci-fi adventure comes to HD, reminding audiences of Jane Fonda’s comely charms in a fun, sexy, visually imaginative odyssey.

How It Looks: The transfer is pretty remarkable, offering unprecedented clarity (especially of Fonda’s naughty bits) without exacerbating the silly low-tech assembly of its special effects.

Best Extra: The film’s theatrical trailer, which only highlights how much better this version looks than previous home video iterations.

Buy, Rent or Avoid: Even without any real extras, Buy


Born on the Fourth of July (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

The Rundown: Following up his dramatic turn in Rain Man, Tom Cruise transformed himself into a disillusioned war veteran for the terrific second film in Oliver Stone’s “Vietnam Trilogy.”

How It Looks: Remarkably underwhelming. Although there seems to be little DNR (digital noise reduction) which purists argue smooths out too many real-world textures, the clarity and brightness of the images looks strictly standard-definition, making this an underwhelming upgrade for a beautifully-photographed film.

Best Extra: While all of the movie-related bonus content was ported over from previous home video versions, Stone’s commentary provides a lively and informative looks at the conceptualization and execution of the film.

Buy, Rent or Avoid: If you have the film on DVD already, Avoid


Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! (Blue Underground)

The Rundown: Generally regarded as one of the most twisted and violent spaghetti westerns in the history of the subgenre, this crazy, depraved film must be seen to be believed – if you can stomach it, that is.

How It Looks: The transfer, from a print of the uncut Italian version of the film, replicates its imagery incredibly well, protecting sharpness and clarity even as it makes the variety of locales look appropriate saturated with color.

Best Extra: Interview footage with the filmmakers and stars offers a remarkable he-said-she-said look at the production, each collaborator’s opinions of each other, and ultimately provides an overview of how this thing came into existence.

Buy, Rent or Avoid: Buy


God Bless America (Magnolia)

The Rundown: Bobcat Goldthwait assembles a laundry list of offenses to common decency and kindness and then assassinates them – literally – in this revenge fantasy-cum-social commentary starring the quietly brilliant Joel Murray.

How It Looks: The transfer is really beautiful, offering a sharp and vivid image that perfectly preserves the film’s theatrical presentation.

Best Extra: A behind-the-scenes featurette entitled “Killing With Kindness” offers an in-depth look at the origins of the project, including Goldthwait’s explanation that a deluge of horrible TV shows and bad behavior led him to conceive of its story.

Buy, Rent or Avoid: Good-looking and entertaining albeit definitely not for everyone, Rent


The Horse Whisperer (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)

The Rundown: Robert Redford’s story of a commonsense horse whisperer rescuing a bitter, frigid career woman from her buttoned-up life comes to HD.

How It Looks: Uneven, unfortunately. Although Robert Richardson’s cinematography offers some unbelievably gorgeous moments, other scenes feel too soft or unfocused to maintain any kind of visual consistency.

Best Extra: A collection of vintage featurettes explores different aspects of the production, but hardly offers any new insights into the film.

Buy, Rent or Avoid: At best, Rent

Step Up (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)

The Rundown: With Channing Tatum’s star in ascension, it seems only natural to re-release – in HD – his big-screen debut, where he coincidentally was dancing.

How It Looks: Anne Fletcher’s direction looks vivid and consistent, maintaining the glowing warmth she initially brought to the dance sequences.

Best Extra: Behind-the-scenes footage reveals how she bridged the gap between ballet and hip-hop.

Buy, Rent or Avoid: Buy

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