This Week in Blu-ray is back again with a massive slate of releases. You’d think that it’s about to be Christmas time around here with the amount of quality Blu-rays spilling into stores. Everything from a beautiful edition of a Disney classic (seen below in the new Pick of the Week section) to another institutional Criterion release, combined with a chance for home video buyers to see some of last year’s more interesting indies. In column news: I’m taking your comment section silence to mean that you like the new format, so I’m sticking with it. But enough talk, lets make with the recommendations.
Alice in Wonderland: 60th Anniversary Edition
Call me a victim of nostalgia — or a man of taste — but the bitterness of seeing Tim Burton take the care of a baby rhinoceros in a chandelier shop with the story of Alice in Wonderland this year made me sad. Someday, much to the benefit of movie lovers everywhere, that guy will realize that you can’t just take Johnny Depp, some pastels and a little bit of weird and make a good film. Especially if you do it in mind-numbingly bad 3D. Which brings us to the point — Disney has released their now 60-year old Alice in Wonderland tune on Blu-ray. And like many of its animated catalog titles, the color and detail of the hand-drawn tale is brilliant in high definition. It’s supplemented with great extras, new and old. Among the new are two interactive features — one game and one companion’s guide to Wonderland — both are friendly to fans young and old. Do yourselves and the young ones around you a favor and add this to your collection. If for no other reason than to wash the memory of 2010’s Alice from your tortured minds.
Read on to see what I’m buying, renting and avoiding this week…
The Double Life of Veronique
I’ll preface this with an admission: prior to this film, I had never experienced the work of Krzysztof Kieslowski. But having done so now, I can firmly say that the filmmaker had a knack for creating what has been described (most recently on the box art for this title) as a “symphony of feeling.” The story of two women (both played by Irene Jacob), living separate but emotionally bonded lives, is told elegantly and operatically. Intimately beautiful cinematography, a haunting score and a performance from Jacob that you’ll be wrestling with for hours in the aftermath all prove the worthiness of this Criterion title. And as these things go, the Criterion treatment is wonderful. In the 5-hour study session that was the film’s supplemental feature course, I learned more than I’d ever dreamed about Krzysztof Kieslowski. Even how to pronounce the guy’s name. My Polish ancestors would be proud.
All About Eve
The next two titles, this and An Affair to Remember, are quick and easy titles to review. On one level the Blu-ray transfers are solid, both movies getting a very clean upgrade to the landscape of high definition with minimal amounts of distracting artifacts and digital noise. Translation: they look good. On another level, you don’t need me to tell you that you should really have seen All About Eve yet, do you? It is among the 5-10 best Oscar Best Picture winners of all-time, if not among the 10-25 best films of all-time, regardless of genre or era. To have it looking good on Blu-ray, with a well-positioned amount of special features and a beautifully packaged collector’s edition (full-color booklet included) is a gift to true cinema aficionados. And everyone else for that matter.
An Affair to Remember
Please recall my exact statements in the paragraph above, shuffle them around a bit, and apply them to this title. Good transfer, plenty of extras, well-packaged. These two releases go hand in hand — right into your collection.
Universal has re-re-released this contemporary biopic of Ray Charles, for which Jamie Fox received that Academy Award for Best Actor. It’s the same movie you may have purchased on DVD in the past, only this time it has a few new HD extras, including an interactive “scene companion” track that focuses on the music of Ray Charles. That, and it’s loaded with other great extras. Great for fans and collectors alike, if you’ve got room in your budget.
Let Me In
A brilliant and beloved Swedish vampire movie is run through the Hollywood machine. On the other side comes a refreshingly untethered, equally haunting tale of two kids trying to make nice. It’s better than we thought it would be, but it lacks the pop of the original only because the surprises are muted by the been-there-done-that factor. But it’s worth picking up, if only for the featurette on how Matt Reeves and crew pulled off that rolling car sequence.
The Tillman Story
If there was a must-rent subsection in my column, this title would rise to the top of it effortlessly. It’s one of those documentaries that will aid in the opening of one’s eyes, as well as rivet you to your seat with the intense drama that it follows. Amir Bar-Lev has crafted an insightful and earnest portrait of a mother — that of Pat Tillman, football star turned soldier turned face of war — trying to get the story of her son’s death out to the world. The only disappointing part about the Blu-ray release is that lack of extras. The good news is that the movie feels like extras enough. It’s one of those films you’ll be glad you saw at least once, even if it’s not the easiest to watch. It keeps a family in focus, lets a little bit of politics in, but ultimately tells a simple family story. It’s more than worth your time.
A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop
Ever wonder what things would look like if someone from China decided to remake a very good American film? Here’s your chance. Zhang Yimou takes the Coen Brothers’ concept from Blood Simple and applies it to a wronged Chinese noodle shop owner. It’s surprisingly delightful in both its similarities and its differences. To an even greater extent, the Blu-ray shows off the vibrant colors Yimou employs in telling his story, as well as plenty of his process. It’s fully-stocked menu of extras adds up to 19 featurettes, over 100-minutes of additional footage. That’s a whole lot of noodle for your dollar. See what I did there?
I’ve been told that this “special edition” contains several hours of extras, all of which explain the amazing process by which Gareth Edwards brought this movie to life. That’s worth the price of admission, if you were lucky enough to catch this in its theatrical and VOD run. I’m half-tempted to recommend a blind buy.
Never Let Me Go
My good friend Peter Hall — writer extraordinaire for the likes of Cinematical — called this the unequivocal best film of 2010. I call it the best film from 2010 that I haven’t seen yet, so far as I can tell. I’m going to check in with it on Blu-ray. You should fall in and do the same.
Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2
I’m not opposed to the notion that talking CG animal movies can be fun. I enjoyed Marmaduke, for one reason or another. But the notion that any of these trite, hyper-simplistic family fair needs to be sequelized seems more than silly to me. Especially when it begins with two dogs getting married. Oy. It follows a painfully predictable path, fails to be funny and includes more George Lopez than any movie should ever have. If you should be drawn into such a painful experience, you have my sympathies. However, if you’re in love with the original Beverly Hills Chihuahua, you will probably fins something to enjoy with this one as well. In that case, you also have my sympathies.
It’s no secret that I’m not a hound for slasher movies. And I seem to be split on Hatchet II — Robert Fure initially called the film a lot of fun when he reviewed it at Fantastic Fest. I’ve heard other reactions, most of which don’t call it a lot of fun. From what I can see, it’s not that much fun. It’s violent, but not as inventively so as some have said. As someone who has enjoyed a slasher here and there, but not loved them all, I didn’t have any warm feelings for Hatchet II. It will be worth a rent if you’ve got a passion for the genre and you enjoyed the first one, but the rest of us — those who don’t get giddy over the hack and slash — it’s not something that is going to blow your mind. On top of that, the special features on the Blu-ray match that of the DVD. So it’s not even a juicy buy in HD.
And now, everything else that was released this week. It was a very busy week for Blu-ray distributors.