Another brief and confusing week for the Blu-ray Report, my friends. Once again I’ve been stuck waiting on review material, sifting through useless extras and pounding away at the eggnog. Alright, so the eggnog issue is fully within my control and totally seasonal, but still. Please accept my lame excuses for being late in the spirit of holiday cheer. Hopefully you weren’t counting on my weekly column to fill out the rest of your Christmas shopping list. If so, rest assured that I have some recommendations for the post-Christmas gift card season — recommendations for the action junkie and comedy lover alike. So lets get down to it…
If you are like me, then you probably have all kinds of trouble keeping the filmography of Jason Statham straight. Is this the one where he beats a bunch of ass? Oh wait, this is the one where he beats a bunch of ass and drives a tricked out armored Mustang. It also has Tyrese in it, who has left behind his underwear modeling days to become an action star, of sorts. On the whole, Paul W.S. Anderson’s remake of Roger Corman’s 1975 post-apocalyptic racing movie is by no means a good movie, though it does provide a few hours of what I like to call “stupid fun.” The same sort of fun that I have with Michael Bay’s films (Pearl Harbor excluded). There are big breasted ladies, tons of explosions and some creative kills along the way. Though, I will point out that even the “unrated” cut on the BD release isn’t very edgy — no nudity and a quantity of blood similar to the theatrical cut just isn’t cutting it. However, lets not nitpick, this movie wouldn’t survive that. Time to sit back, drop this bitch into 5th gear and enjoy.
Sensory Experiences: Plenty of fast action and big explosions do make for one hell of a ride in HD. Of that, I am sure. And Death Race does deliver the goods when it comes to gritty landscapes littered with fireballs and loud American muscle cars. For all its faults, this is a movie that looks and sounds very cool. It is one of those films that will never win an award (aside from a Razzie), but I might be inclined to name it “Made for HD.”
Suplemental Material: Death Race does hit us with a fair amount of extras, including two solid behind the scenes featurettes, both featured in 1080p. One is the more generic “Behind the Scenes” featurette focused on the casting, the story, playing lip-service to the original, etc. The other is a relatively neat feature breaking down some of the stunts, the film’s only major highlight. They say it takes a village to raise a child, or whatever, but it only takes one Paul W.S. Anderson to put in the tender love and care necessary to excrete an action movie that is so bad it’s fun. And if that isn’t your takeaway from the two featurettes in this release, well then I can’t help you.
Added Value: A while back, Universal Studios caught the nasty end of my Blu-ray related rage when they released movies like Baby Mama with no special features. Furthermore, it has taken them a while to come around on the BD-exclusive features but it appears that they got the message. Death Race’s BD-only features are generic, but impressive nonetheless. There is my favorite feature, the picture-in-picture commentary via U-Control, which shows interview clips with Statham and the gang as the movie is playing. Also with U-Control are the tech specs for each of the cars featured in the film — a cool little additive for any greasemonkey or car lover. There is also a gimmicky feature called “My Movie Commentary,” which allows you to create your own sportscast of the film. Mine went something like this, “Statham steers left, he steers right and… OOOHHH… That guy’s not getting up.” It was fun, but shortlived.
Final Verdict: I know there are a lot of you out there who enjoy some “stupid fun,” pedal to the floor, gut-busting, decapitation-heavy action movies, and for you this is the buy of the year. For the rest of us, Death Race presents an opportunity to enjoy some explosions and watch some people get waxed off the face of a dystopian future. If that is what you’re looking for, look no further than this. And once you’ve sold yourself on buying the film, you might as well pick it up on Blu-ray. Because this is one of those films that actually is more fun in HD.
Burn After Reading
This week brings one of my favorite comedies of the year, The Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading, to the shelves of your local retail store. It is a cornucopia of laughs, delivered through the intersecting stories of several idiots residing in the greater Washington D.C. area. And with a fun and paranoid performance from George Clooney, the cold-hearted delivery of Tilda Swinton and the ridiculous antics of Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand, Burn After Reading delivers the other side of the Coen Brothers legacy, the one that is always good for a few laughs. It is definitely a movie that you should see, or rather have seen already, so thankfully it is out on DVD in time for your holiday relaxathon. You guys do the holiday relaxathon too, right? Sit around, watch movies all day and veg out? I thought so.
Sensory Experience: It isn’t a complicated movie by any means. No big action, no big explosions — as the Coens explained, it is their Tony Scott film without all of the explosions. So while there isn’t anything showy about it, Burn After Reading does have a very vibrant look and feel to it. This is illuminated perfectly in HD. As well, it is not without a very unique and subtle score from frequent Coen collaborator Carter Burwell.
Supplemental Material: There are three, count ‘em, three behind the scenes featurettes. This wouldn’t be a problem so much if they didn’t feel like recycled versions of each other. Even worse, one of the special features focuses solely on costume designer Mary Zophres’ task of making George Clooney look like an average joe. It is incredibly disappointing. As well, the Coens aren’t known for doing commentary tracks, so that is another thing you won’t find here.
Added Value: The reason this section is called “Added Value” is because there are certain features that can make a Blu-ray worth the extra money. Unfortunately, absolutely none of those features exist on this release. There is a BD-Live section that allows you to bookmark scenes (a standard Blu-ray feature) and “additional content” that was nowhere to be found at time of print. Talk about a letdown.
Final Verdict: As a movie, Burn After Reading is one of the must see comedies of the year. As a Blu-ray release it is just sad.
Along with the two releases above, there are a few other new Blu-ray releases this week that I did not have the opportunity to review.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Terry Gilliam’s roller coaster trip ride through the mind of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Not a ton of new special features here, but if you don’t have Fear and Loathing on DVD (and if not, what is wrong with you?) it might be worth a pickup.
Death Sentence - The six degrees of Kevin Bacon extend to a bunch of people who end up getting shot. And though this film was a little bit better than it got credit for, it certainly isn’t something I would run out and spend money on.
Be sure to check back in on Friday, December 26th for a special post-holiday edition of the Blu-ray Report, in which I will give you the lowdown on The Duchess, Eagle Eye, Ghost Town and Resident Evil: Degeneration, all of which drop on Blu-ray Saturday, December 27th.
The Blu-ray Report is the weekly column in which FSR’s HD-addicted Executive Editor Neil Miller rants and raves about the upcoming week’s Blu-ray releases. To buy or not to buy, that is always the question. Check back ever Monday to find the answers.