Trash-pickers who take down major weapons dealers, animated villains looking to steal the moon, an angry one-eyed John Wayne and a team of tough guys who specialize in the ridiculous. This Week in Blu-ray is going to be a busy one. Then again, isn’t it always sort of busy for this column? With more and more classics being brought to the most modern format and a slew of pre-holiday releases hitting shelves, the war being waged against your pocketbook has never been more intense. Lucky for you that I’m here to help. I may not be a man with grit that’s true (and thus have never had a song sung about me by Glen Campbell), but I do have some knowledge about all things Blu-ray. I also have DVD reviewer extraordinaire Rob Hunter swooping in to help out. Now onward with this week’s release slate.
One the most visually arresting, charming and creative films of the year. Yes, it’s still true. Jean-Pierre Jeunet strikes a very similar tone to what we’ve seen from his best work in the past, taking a very serious adult topic (in this case weapons dealing and unemployment) and gives it a very playful spin. This time it’s in the form of a homeless tramp with a bullet in his brain played by Dany Boon. After his life is ripped apart by a wayward gun shot, he ends up with a family of junk collectors, hell bent on exacting his revenge on the corporations that deal arms. It’s a fun ride, one that mixes the charismatic, expressive nature of Boon into an enchanting world filled with the Jeunet style we’ve seen in the likes of Amelie and The City of Lost Children. And even though the Blu-ray is a lame-duck, with nothing but a few non-exclusive featurettes and a commentary track, it’s still worth picking up. Because there are few things that will delight you more on Blu-ray than the best of Jeunet. And this is some of the best of Jeunet.
Space: 1999 – Season 1
It’s the year 1999 and a nuclear explosion has ripped the moon out of it’s orbit around Earth and sent it hurtling through space! This is no time for your pesky scientific explanations as to how such a thing is physically impossible damnit… we have a moonbase to protect! And Martin Landau is just the man to do it. The show was never as exciting as Star Trek, but it does a solid job of mixing drama, politics, and alien lifeforms into an engaging series. Your own interest level will determine whether or not this is worth a buy, but for fans of the show it should be a no-brainer. The episodes have never looked better as the new HD transfer does a beautiful job with clarity, color, and the deep, dark blackness of space. The discs are also loaded with extras including commentaries, featurettes, and interviews with the cast and crew. - Rob Hunter
Another year goes by with another set of enjoyable animated films is overshadowed by Pixar. This year’s victims were Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon and this lovable little ‘toon from Universal Pictures. It’s the story of two evil masterminds, voiced by Steve Carell and Jason Segel, who enter into a battle of wits to become the world’s most famous villain. Their goal of stealing the moon sets a high bar, but rest assured that all sorts of shenanigans, cute children and ambiguous little beings called “minions” make it worth a watch. Normally it’d be the perfect kind of film for the rent section. Then I got a glance at the special features — and they are plentiful. Picture-in-Picture interactive commentary, featurettes, bonus music, mini-movies starring the minions, and plenty more. In a week full of decent releases with lackluster extras, I was taken aback by Universal’s all-out approach to this one. Then again, it was their flagship box office winner of 2010. Chances are that families will want to have this around, especially as kids get antsy around the holidays.
Of all the “men on a mission” movies to hit theaters this year — and there were many, including The Expendables, The Losers and Red — The A-Team was perhaps the most fun that I’ve seen. The only one I’ve missed to this point is Red, which just got nominated for a Golden Globe today, so that’s saying something. Alas, Joe Carnahan’s manic style and some charismatic performances carry this classic TV rehash from the dismissible pile to the “worth a dollar at the Redbox machine” pile. Heck, I’d even give it one of the sacred spots at the top of my Netflix queue (in a month when it becomes available). Tons of extras, the likes of commentary tracks, blooper reels and featurettes, would make it worth it if you’ve seen and enjoyed this actioner. But if you’re coming in fresh, it’s not worth the risk.
A young man (Christian Bale) returns from war in the Middle East to a world that no longer seems to fit him. He’s violent, unpredictable, and pretty much a complete and utter asshole. His goal is to join the LAPD, but they wisely pass on his application due to psychological issues. And it’s pretty much an inevitable downward spiral from there. There’s no doubt that Bale is a tremendous actor, but the movie is not one you’ll want to watch again anytime soon. It’s a bleak and frustrating descent into a personal hell, and there isn’t a single likable character in the entire film. The Bluray is actually a noticeable upgrade from the DVD with a dark image and pervasive grain that works as intended in HD. Extras include a commentary from writer/director David Ayer, a making-of featurette, and some deleted scenes. - Rob Hunter
A tough detective (Chow Yun-fat) who kills bad guys by day and plays clarinet by night takes on the Triad with two fists of semi-automatic fury.This was John Woo’s final Hong Kong film before packing his bags for Hollywood (he’s since returned), and it is a blast to watch. Massive gun battles, blood spurts and guys flying through the air, bullets that seem to explode (or at least spark) on impact… this action flick has it all. The Blu-ray is a noticeable step up from the previous DVD (and apparently from the exclusive Blu that came packaged with that terrible Stranglehold game a few years ago), but it’s not such a big leap in quality that you’ll want to rush out to buy one. The extras are all identical to the ones from the DVD as well. - Rob Hunter
True Grit (1969)
This ain’t the same film you’ll be seeing from the Coen Brothers later this year, but it sure is a good time for any fan of the wild west. Also, lets just take a moment together to bask in the glory of the cover design, where a mean-spirited, one-eyed John Wayne stands ready to bring us down with a pointed glance. That alone might be worth having this title in one’s collection. Sadly, it might be one of the only reasons. Visually, Henry Hathaway’s film hasn’t aged well. Not a great deal of clean-up appears to have been done on the Blu-ray, leaving plenty of grain and some wobbly frames. If you’re into the au naturale look on your classics, this one’s for you. The extras are there, but seemingly in spirit only. Nothing in HD, all previously released on DVD. Nothing to write home about, unless you’ve got a hankerin’ for a complete Blu-ray set of John Wayne’s greatest hits.
Another easy rental. Sure, it’s not the kind of film (or Blu-ray experience) that you absolutely must have in your collection, but Cyrus is certainly one of the more enjoyable films to hit theaters this year. John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill are in great balance with their improvised comedy, while Marisa Tomei is as sweet and charming as ever. Plus, Mark and Jay Duplass very aptly sew it all together to make for a film that has energy, laughs and plenty of awkward moments. The Blu-ray itself is light, light, light on supplements — deleted scenes are about it — so I can’t in good faith recommend that you buy it, but I’d be disappointed if you didn’t at least give it a look.
Nothing to avoid this week. However, the list of “also out” titles below is suspect. Studios didn’t think I was ready to review them, leaving me to wonder whether or not the world is ready to buy or rent them…