This Week in Blu-ray is all about the unexpected. I expected to put Christopher Nolan’s breakout drama Memento on page one as my pick of the week, but was swayed instantly and heavily by the latest contemporary classic being added to the Criterion Collection. I’ve also found comfort in another season of Weeds, even though it’s not the best work of the Botwin clan. We also dig deep into some intentional schlock-and-awe, pull the rug out from under the latest Galifianakis joint, explore the crisis in America’s public schools and without warning, I sing to you. Yes, dear readers of the high definition affliction, I bet you didn’t expect me to break out into song, did you?
Most people know The Criterion Collection for their work in the realm of classic films — restorations, remasterings and the cataloging of cinema history’s most important works. So when they take a contemporary film and add it to their collection, you know that’s something special. Take Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, a tough-as-nails portrait of a girl on the cusp of womanhood, dealing with life in the housing projects of Essex, forced to live in close quarters with Michael Fassbender. In all honesty, I would probably try to sleep with that man if given the chance. Alas, that’s not part of the equation here, so I’ll tell you what is. A quality film, a meticulously crafted presentation (as only Criterion can deliver) and plenty of extras, including three short films from director Andrea Arnold (including her Oscar winning short Wasp). The film itself would be worth owning, but the Criterion treatment makes it come alive as the definitive, indisputable pick of the week — and perhaps the pick of the month.
Oh, this is a delicious little treat, is it not? Had it not been for the stunner Fish Tank swooping in from Criterion, Christopher Nolan’s breakout film would have been the Pick of the Week. In fact, I’d reach far enough to say that it’s the co-Pick of the Week in a week that is full of great stuff to buy and watch. In this 10th anniversary special edition, we not only get Memento in beautiful HD glory, we also get a brand new featurette with Chris Nolan talking about the legacy of the film, an audio commentary track from one of Hollywood’s most intelligent and calculated filmmakers and the original short story, Anatomy of a Scene. Did I mention the fact that the movie is also included, in beautifully mastered high definition? I think we’re done here. Write yourself a note on your arm if you need, but buying Memento this week is mandatory for admission to next week’s column.
Even at her most mediocre (read: this past season) I cannot get enough of one Nancy Botwin. Even as she takes her family on the run, gives them a new name (Hello, Newmans) and falls into a similar pattern of drug-related shenanigans, there’s something about the way Mary-Louise Parker plays Nancy — she’s the most effortlessly lovable, terrible person on television. And as usual, she gets a solid treatment on Blu-ray. Call me a completist (I am, most of the time), but I can’t imagine a world in which I’m not able to watch a Justin Kirk/Kevin Nealon-led featurette and listen to a few episodes of Jenji Kohan commentary tracks while I watch the Botwin family continue their destructive ways in glorious high definition. But as the world of TV on DVD (and Blu) goes, you will already know if you are going to pick this one up. If you’re invested in the show, season six is worth the money. If not, why haven’t you started with season one yet?
Talk about a blast from the past. So far past that it’s beyond the date of my birth, but not forgotten is The Last Unicorn with its colorful animation and that America soundtrack — oh that America soundtrack. Somewhere in the waning days of the 1970s, a team of people on a great many drugs put this one together. It’s a touching story, worthy of being seen by a new generation — so here’s your chance. The Blu-ray transfer is the result of a good ole’ college try, but its roughness wreaks of the VHS era. For some that will add an element of nostalgia, for others it will be an annoyance of the “why doesn’t this look like a Pixar movie?!” variety. To the latter, I have no help for you. To the former, I say pick this up and store it away for a rainy day spent with the kids you don’t yet have. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack has a motherload of extras that add ever-important value and it’s all wrapped in a package that will deliver the nostalgia bomb you didn’t even know you needed. In the distance, here the laughter… of the last unicorn!
There’s some sort of old adage out there that says putting two funny people in a movie doesn’t a funny movie make. There has to be something extra in the mix — perhaps a director with an eye for comedic energy, an unflinching dedication for the unexpected and an undying desire to be strange. Enter Due Date, Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis and their ever-weird consort, director Todd Phillips. It’s not the ruckus storm that was The Hangover, but when this movie works, it works. The only problem is that sometimes it doesn’t, leaving it wallowing in what should be funny, but isn’t. That said, it’s worth at least one viewing. And like any good comedy release, the Blu-ray has a few nice add-ons — in this case that means a full scene from Two and a Half Men starring Zach Galifianakis (remember the strange comment from earlier?) Physical comedy, wit and a digital copy — what more does your Saturday night really need, anyway?
A sub-culture that celebrates that which is terrible continues to shine for the likes of Birdemic. In fact, I would venture as far as saying that this movie was born of the same sub-culture that has elevated grindhouse back to the podium and put Troll 2 watch parties on countless calendars. Living in Austin, TX sometimes has me feeling as if I’m at the epicenter of said sub-culture. Which is fine, because I love a really awful movie just as much as the next guy. I won’t be planning any pilgrimages to Nilbog anytime soon, but I’ll sit and watch the bad right along with the good. Which brings us to Birdemic, a laughably inane exercise in nonsensical storytelling that plays for laughs and gets ’em. As if he were Alfred Hitchcock’s mentally handicapped third cousin, director James Nguyen delivers a story filled with terror, romance and attack-birds. It also has a guest appearance by Tippi Hendren, lending credibility to the farce of this “cult sensation.” The Blu-ray looks bad, is authored worse and includes special features that reach new lows. Sometimes in a good way, other times not so much. On the whole, it’s worth gathering your friends together and using it as an excuse to drink heavily and celebrate cinema crapité. If you’re into that sort of thing, of course.
You should see this movie. No matter where your politics fall, you should see this movie. Move past the fact that it’s the latest film from the guy who made An Inconvenient Truth if you must, and see this movie. Why? Because it’s an engaged, insightful and in many ways frightening portrait of the state of America’s public school system. It has its heavy-handed moments, but it seems to own them in the spirit of passion — it’s a film that knows that it stands on the right side of the issue: the side where America’s kids are being let down by a system that hasn’t been anything but broken for a while. You should see this movie. I’m not saying that you have to buy this movie on Blu-ray — the special features are slim and I don’t know if you’ll want to rewatch it over and over — but you should definitely see this movie. At least once. Seriously.
Upon reviewing this title, I’ve discovered once again that I am not yet immune to studio laziness. In this case, I’m looking at you Paramount Home Video. You know I love you — you’ve done great things in the past with your Sapphire Series and current releases, but when you don’t care about a movie, it’s painfully obvious. Case in point is the Blu-ray release of the Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy led crime thromedy 48 Hours. I’m not saying that you should care about it as much as say, Saving Private Ryan, but the flick was Eddie Murphy’s debut performance. You could at least include a 4-minute retrospective with the star talking about his big break. He can’t be that busy. But did you do it? No. You included a trailer. Hooray for trailers.
“When one watches Get Low it’s hard to get the sense that it is good or bad as much as it is simply a non-event.” Not exactly a glowing endorsement from Landon Palmer’s SXSW 2010 review. I don’t have anything to add that would change your mind, either.
- All-Star Superman (Warner Brothers))
- Daughters of Darkness (Blue Underground)
- How the Earth Was Made: Complete Season 2 (A&E)
- Killshot (Weinstein)
- Les Miserables: The 25th Anniversary Concert (Universal)
- Nurse Jackie: Season Two (Lionsgate)
- Psych:9 (Lionsgate)
- Senso (Criterion)
- Sweet Smell of Success (Criterion)