This Week in Blu-ray

This Week in Blu-ray is back with another big week of releases. This is the time of year when a lot of great fall releases, Oscar contenders new and old, and even a few summer blockbusters going for the double-dip get their more impressive debuts on the mother of all HD formats. This week we get to explore my personal favorite film of 2011, as well as some fantastic re-releases of classic films like To Kill a Mockingbird and Malcolm X. There will also be a discussion of The Thing (2011), albeit a brief one.

Blu-ray Pick of the Week

Drive

In recent interviews, director Nicolas Winding Refn has promised fans that a fully loaded edition of Drive would eventually make its way to Blu-ray, with plenty of extras, interviews and other special features. While I, like you, find that to be a nice idea, it’s also hard to overlook the urgency of getting 2011′s best film into my collection as soon as possible. And much to my surprise, this Blu-ray release is solid. Ryan Gosling is still Driver, he’s still driving fast and fighting for the girl, and he’s still punching out Christina Hendricks and stomping dudes flat in elevators in between driving scenes backed by the pulsing score of Cliff Martinez. There’s also some special treats. No, not a toothpick. Although I’d take it. This release comes complete with four featurettes, all worthy of your time, and a documentary-length interview with the film’s director. It’s an efficient package that, like the film to which it’s attached, gets the job done with great rhythm and style. To pass on this release would be a crime against men, women and children everywhere.

Blu-rays Worth Buying

To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition

The Pitch: Remember kids, it’s a sin to love a white woman. Wait, no, I got that wrong…

Why Buy? All jokes aside, To Kill a Mockingbird may be one of American modern literature’s greatest classics. Two years after the Harper Lee book was published, star Gregory Peck and director Robert Mulligan brought the story to the big screen with all the racial tension and bravado it could possibly need. Now here we are 50 years later and Universal has completely restored the film for a Blu-ray release. and it’s never looked or sounded better. On top of the restoration, there’s a full-color book included in the collector’s edition packaging (as you’ll see below, it’s hard not to be a big fan of these hard-cover book style Blu-ray covers, even if they don’t fit quite right in some DVD storage shelving) and a number of extras that dive deep into the world of this classic, including a feature-length documentary. There’s also a sweet add-on about Universal’s effort to restore their classic films in celebration of the studio’s 100th anniversary. It’s the kind of thing cinema restoration tech junkies will love.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon Limited 3D Edition

The Pitch: Remember that time I told you to wait for the super ultra mega edition release? This is that thing…

Why Buy? With his third and supposedly final Transformers movie, mega-director Michael Bay tightened up a lot of things that fans didn’t like about his second effort, Revenge of the Fallen, then he decided to go bigger, more bombastic and wildly scoped with a robot war that absolutely rips Chicago in half. For better or worse, but mostly for better, Dark of the Moon is a massive display of technical filmmaking prowess and ambitious visual spectacle. So why wouldn’t you have such a thing to test out your home theater setup? You would, in fact, because it’s exactly the kind of movie every home theater lover should have. That said, I’m hoping you took my advice from September and skipped the previous release of this title on Blu-ray. That release was a 2-disc, no extras set without the aid of Dark of the Moon‘s impressive 3D. This release, however, has everything. Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, a bunch of great special features, DVD, Digital Copy (including the option to skip the cumbersome Ultraviolet service and go right to an iTunes Digital Copy). Every moment is epic, even those where Michael Bay works hard to properly light Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s legs. The man’s got talent.

Malcolm X

The Pitch: Just in time to remind us that Black History Month starts tomorrow…

Why Buy? With their well-timed release, Warner Bros. has delivered a collector’s level edition of Spike Lee’s expansive story of one of the civil right’s movement’s most powerful icons. It doesn’t hurt that Lee is telling an incredibly interesting story about a monumentally fascinating man. It also doesn’t hurt that he gets an Oscar-caliber performance from Denzel Washington in the titular role. In aid of the film, the Blu-ray release is complete with a lively commentary track (Spike Lee is always interesting when he speaks, despite some of the things he says), deleted scenes with introductions from the director and a Making Of featurette. It’s all packaged in a Blu-ray book format that is a formidable collector’s piece, complete with vibrant red and black cover art. Oh right, and there’s a second DVD disc with the 1972 Oscar nominated documentary Malcolm X. Two movies for the price of one is never wrong, brothers and sisters.

Blu-rays Worth Renting

In Time

The Pitch: Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried bring new meaning to the phrase “sexy time.”

Why Rent? Irony is defined as a movie called In Time that has pacing issues. Sadly, this film doesn’t present such irony, and it’s sort of a disappointment. The life of a Blu-ray critic is oft-made by the ability to bring in zingers like that. On the plus side, Andrew Niccol’s futuristic Robin Hood meets Bonnie and Clyde story set in a world where the only currency we have is the time left on digital arm clocks moves well, delivers some action and even brings a bit of sexy back. But enough about Amanda Seyfried. This slick thriller stands tall on a rather rocky narrative foundation, skipping exposition and going straight into its fast-paced on-the-run story. There’s nothing wrong with that, as it leaves less chance for big giant plot holes. Not so many holes here. Just Justin Timberlake solidly taking on an action lead role and the aforementioned Seyfried making doe-eyes at him while he does it. Beyond being a surprisingly entertaining film, the Blu-ray also adds a few worthwhile supplements. Not enough to kick it into Buy territory, but enough to say that it makes good use of what little time it has left. Get it?

Outrage: The Way of the Yakuza

The Pitch: Several families worth of Yakuza get really angry with each other. Violence ensues.

Why Rent? Have you ever had the urge to watch a bunch of Japanese men scream at each other, cut their own fingers off and then start shooting up the place? If so, then Takeshi Kitano has directed a movie for you. Outrage is the simple story of a major crime syndicate just trying to keep their territory under control. The only problem is that the job has been handed on down to a long-suffering subordinate officer who isn’t exactly towing the clan line anymore. Someone double crosses someone else. Someone gets shot. Another person gets stabbed. And you can see where this is going. The point is that when the film explodes with violence, don’t be surprised if pieces of brain tissue come flying out of your television and land on your plate of nachos. Because clearly you’d be eating nachos while watching such a ridiculously violent film, right? The Blu-ray is well stocked with supplements, so those brave souls who dig this kind of mayhem should probably just pay the money and own the Blu-ray. Everyone else should rent. And watch it with your grandmother, then report back.

Shakespeare in Love, Frida, The English Patient and The Piano

The Pitch: Lionsgate wants to sell you Miramax’s Oscar catalog all over again.

Why Rent? This one might go well for the completists among you, because that’s who a catalog blow-out like this is for. It makes sense, actually, for Lionsgate and Miramax to bring out some of their big Oscar guns in the weeks leading up to the golden guy’s big night. We know this because each of these releases comes with a large gold sticker on the front proclaiming the film to be an ‘Academy Award Winner.’ It also makes a bit of sense that these releases don’t add anything to previous releases. They’ve got the same extras with a bump in picture and sound quality. At least Shakespeare in Love comes packaged in an outer sleeve. At least it looks fancy. All pot-shots aside, these are decent releases and each of them look good during the film. Once the film is over, however, there isn’t much else to do with any of these Blus. Therefore, get yourself a bunch of them for a weekend rental, catch up on some Miramax Oscar history with Salma Hayek’s unibrow and then move on with your lives.

Blu-rays to Avoid

Dream House

The Pitch: Everything you saw in the Dream House trailer and nothing more.

Why Avoid? Quick, go watch the trailer for Dream House, then come right back. Alright, now that you’re back I have some great news: you just saved yourself 89 minutes of your movie-viewing life, because you no longer need to see Dream House in its full form. There’s nothing in the film beyond what is in the trailer that is either interesting, frightening or otherwise notable. My gut instinct is to say that during the process of deciding to to this movie, someone put Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts into a dream-like state and convinced them that it would be a good idea. For those who are still intent on picking this one up, the Blu-ray includes a scant four featurette selection that combine to form the amount of information you’re likely to get in an HBO First Look segment. You know, the ones you’d always see in between movies instead of commercials. And if you’re really dangerous, there is also PocketBlu and some other Universal release trailers via BD-Live.

The Thing (2011)

The Pitch: It’s one of those prequel/sequel/nonquel things, caught in the wild with unfinished CGI.

Why Avoid? Despite Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton giving their very best efforts under harsh circumstances, this film fails on so many levels it’s hard to keep count through the second act. There’s thematic flatness, narrative logic gaps and most importantly, there’s a big problem with the CGI monster. Not to mention the fact that we know what’s coming at every turn. So even though the Blu-ray shows off The Thing‘s aggressive sound mix perfectly, that can’t be counted as a good thing. Additional visual clarity also shows the effects to be less visually interesting than the practical wonders John Carpenter was working with when he made this movie in 1982. What ever happened to craftsmanship, anyway?

Also on Blu-ray this week


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