After two very light weeks of releases, This Week in Blu-ray is as full as she’s ever been. We’ve got new movies, movies from yesteryear, good movies, bad movies and seemingly everything in between. Not to mention the fact that we’ve got a few movies that kick some serious ass, right alongside a few movies that well, kick some ass. I don’t mean to be crass, but this week seems like fun action movie week in the world of Blu-ray, with titles like District 13: Ultimatum dropping alongside big actioners like Armageddon and The Jackal, as well as a very tight dramatic thriller like Five Minutes of Heaven. And that’s not even mentioning the insanity of Dune, which hits Blu in a big way.
But enough foreplay. Lets get into this week’s selection. My reviews are below, along with links to Amazon — click them and support your favorite local film website (us).
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
The wonderful, fantastical worlds that director Terry Gilliam has created for this film — the final film to feature the late Heath Ledger — are absolutely brilliant, and so are the performances. So few filmmakers are still playing in such an imaginative way as Gilliam. It’s a shame — looking back — that I didn’t catch this film in theaters. However, the Blu-ray is very vibrant and colorful, just as I imagine this film was on the big screen. The Blu-ray is also full of extras, including several Blu-ray only features — including one tribute to Heath Ledger, as well as a featurette about Terry Gilliam. The special features also take you inside Ledger’s wardrobe test, show you one of his final interviews and give you a look at some of the special effects behind the Imaginarium. It’s a wonderfully assembled Blu-ray for a film that looks great in HD. That, dear readers, is something worth buying.
District 13: Ultimatum
One of the most intense action movies I saw last year, hands down. And perhaps one of the better sequels, too. If District B13 was the a gritty, no-holds-barred thrill ride (it was), then Ultimatum is its high-flying, absurdly energetic brother (it is). The acrobatic Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle are back with their brand of Parkour ass-kicking to once again try to save the roughest district of Paris. Cop and criminal, working together, they take on a government that is one button-press away from blowing up their home. On Blu-ray, this film moves just as fast and feels just as electrifying as it did on the big screen. The only problem is the middling special features selection. A “making of” featurette, a few production diaries and some deleted scenes are okay for a DVD release, but the Blu-ray deserves better.
Five Minutes of Heaven
Liam Neeson stars as a man on his way to publicly confront the younger brother of a man he killed years ago during his days as an teenage IRA thug. Little does he know that the man (played by James Nesbitt) plans to end his life in a televised act of revenge. It’s a taught thriller filled with meticulously crafted, uncomfortable moments that explore the basic elements of anxiety, remorse and vengeance. Definitely a movie worth seeing. As for the Blu-ray, the special features are relatively non-existent. A lone featurette and a trailer. That’s disappointing. That said, this is easily one of the must-rent titles of the week.
Before David Lynch took a long ride off the short pier that is sanity, he made Dune. Well, perhaps he was already at the edge of said pier, considering the fact that he made Dune. It’s a dazzling film, considering its release date (1984), and a wonderfully complex work of science fiction. And after one viewing on Blu-ray, there’s no denying that it has never looked so sharp. All of the color and the imaginative landscapes look wonderful in this high definition transfer. The problem here — as it seems to be with so many of these re-releases — is that Universal isn’t bringing anything new to the Blu-ray release. It does have BD-Live, which may add some special features later, but that’s about it. Everything else has been ported from previous DVD release. And we all know that’s no good.
After the Criterion DVD release of Michael Bay’s destruction epic a few years back, I believe that I’m spoiled. That release — unlike any other from the Bay/Bruckheimer catalog — was so wonderful in its added value (tons of extras) that there is almost nothing that a Blu-ray release can do in order to live up to what that Criterion selection had to offer. Enter this new Blu-ray release. It has the video quality — Armageddon is still impressive, 12-years later. It’s still one of the loudest, most impressively scored tentpoles of the 90s, a fact that comes screaming through in crisp 5.1 DTS-HD quality. But there are only a few special features. A fraction of those that were included in the Criterion DVD release. It makes me sad. It’s still a kick-ass ride, but this Blu-ray is nothing to write home about.
I will admit, It’s Complicated gets some laughs. But it has more to do with having funny individuals than a well-crafted comedy narrative. Steve Martin is funny. Alec Baldwin is funny. And Meryl Streep is, as she always is, delightfully graceful and fearlessly funny. Together, they bring together enough funny moments to make Nancy Meyer’s latest film mostly enjoyable. People love this “old people in love” story, and who am I to say that it’s wrong? I am, however, well within my rights as a reviewer to say that this Blu-ray release is a few miles south of acceptable. One ‘making of’ featurette, a lone commentary track and a bunch of Blu-ray features with clever names like PocketBlu and socialBlu, that have no practical use for this film’s target demographic. Where are the hilarious outtakes? Where are the deleted scenes? Where are the interesting special features? I could not locate them on this disc. Perhaps they forgot to throw them in there…
Out of Africa
Speaking of Meryl Streep, here’s yet another release that is long on quality and short on special features. The seven-time Oscar winner Out of Africa features Streep alongside Robert Redford in perhaps one of the most visually brilliant films of of the 1980s. It is a majestic film. That’s the only way to describe it. And in high definition, it looks absolutely breathtaking. The transfer is very well-done, preserving the stunning vistas of Kenya just as Sidney Pollack intended for them to be seen. That said, the Blu-ray is a solid mix of special features — including Song of Africa, a full-length documentary chronicling the making of the film — but it doesn’t have much to offer that can’t be found on previous DVD release. Except for BD-Live, that is. If you’re a completist or a big fan of this film, I would recommend buying it. Otherwise give it a rent and experience the majesty first hand.
Traffic & The Jackal
I’m lumping these two releases — two very different films in their own right — together for one specific reason. Their Blu-ray releases don’t seem to be much more than direct re-releases in combo pack form. That is to say that each of these two releases comes with both the Blu-ray and DVD copies of the film. Otherwise, there is no discernible difference between these and the previously released Blu-ray editions of the films. I enjoy both films, and enjoy owning them and watching them in HD. But if I already owned both of these films on Blu-ray (as many of you might), then there would be no reason to buy them again just to score a copy of the DVD, as well. This is for consumers who are new to Blu-ray and/or planning on making the transition soon. Otherwise, these are two completely unnecessary releases.
This movie deserves better. That’s right, I’m taking a stand. I enjoy the hell out of Tombstone. As a fan of bullets flying in the wild west, this is one of the better contemporary examples of a good old fashion dust-up that I can conjure. Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer are great and the film delivers some real peril for our long coat-wearin’ heroes. It’s a movie that I am proud to own on Blu-ray. That said, I’m not so proud of the fact that this release is so light on special features that it must advertise “trailers & TV spots” on the back cover of its box. I’ve said it a thousand times, and I will say it a thousand more. A little time and effort in the re-releasing of movies that people love goes a long way. This release is rushed. Slapped together with a featurette and a few TV spots and sold to the masses, who will likely pay blindly just to see it in high definition. That’s robbery, friends. Time for a shoot-out.
Also out on Blu-ray this week, but not reviewed due to a lack of advance review material:
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