Welcome to the first edition of This Week in Blu-ray for 2011. Want to know what my New Year’s Resolution was? 52 consecutive Tuesdays with Blu-ray advising for my adoring fans. Needless to say, we’re off to a good start. That is if we consider timing and completion to be the pinnacle of success with this column. This week’s releases won’t exactly blow you away, as we’ve got some very middling movies to talk about (I’m looking at you, Dinner for Schmucks, Catfish and Machete). However, there are some winners in one back-breaking horror film and a back-catalog release that will likely cause a backdraft of fireballs aimed right at your pocketbook. Does anyone else see a theme here? And why does my back hurt all of the sudden? Quick, you read the column while I go stretch.
The Last Exorcism
As regular readers know by now, I’m no horror guy. I don’t dig on the scary, the freaky or the bloody so much as those I’ve hired do. And that’s essentially why we have some of the best horror guys around on staff here at FSR — I’m overcompensating. It also allows me to very easily separate the best from the worst. And when Brian Salisbury called The Last Exorcism an “effective horror film that elevates an already played-out gimmick and uses it to create something unique,” he was absolutely right. And when I tell you that the Blu-ray release for said film from StudioCanal is deeply rich with extras that will have you bending over backwards with excitement, you’re aloud to giggle at the obvious joke. You should also take heed in the words of one horror guy and one non-horror guy — The Last Exorcism is worth picking up.
Backdraft: Anniversary Edition
It’s hard to say that 2011 is starting out with those catalog releases you’ve always wanted, but it is starting out with movies that have aged well into the era of high definition. Plus, don’t get greedy — last year brought Alien and Back to the Future. And while Backdraft is neither of those films, it’s still a damn fine film. And it looks great on Blu-ray. The 1080p transfer suits it well, especially for a flick from the bermuda triangle of years known as the early 90s (so few early 90s films have transfered well to Blu). And the extras are fine, including all of the featurettes, deleted scenes and Ron Howard intros that existed on previous DVD incarnations. They’ve also added the Scene Companion feature, which is your picture-in-picture function, delivering behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and various other data points as you watch the film. Overall, it’s an upgrade worthy of the “anniversary edition” moniker.
Years down the line when we look back on the great career of James Franco, one that will clearly be one of the defining careers of a generation (I’m calling it), his performance as Allen Ginsberg in Howl will be cited as one of his best. It is one of the most rich, dynamic and sadly overlooked performances of last year. Worth the rent just for that, Oscope’s presentation of Howl on Blu-ray is also great. It includes a commentary track with Franco and the film’s two directors, several featurettes about the making of the film, never-before-seen footage of Allen Ginsberg reading his infamous poem. For the beatniks and literati among us, this release is a buffet of brilliance, rich with the history surrounding Ginsberg’s obscenity trial. It’s a film I myself called a wonderful “meditation on interpretation of art in any form.” Something that I’m sure has tickled the interest of many a reader around here.
If the quality of the extras on this Blu-ray were there, I would be recommending it this week to those who liked the movie. Setting aside my own feelings about it (I found it to be surprisingly boring and light on the charm that made the original trailer such a delight), it did slice its way into enough hearts to be worth a look. It is over-the-top, messy and at times brutal and fun. But it’s also clunky, which didn’t sit well with me. However, I’d encourage you to rent it, because I’ve been known to be wrong in the past. Just don’t go spending too much money on this one, as the special features are barely there. The highlight is an audience reaction track from a premiere screening held in Austin. That’s sort of fun.
Real or fake, I couldn’t tell you. What I know is that there is no shock and awe campaign within the 88 minute runtime of Catfish, a documentary that explores the world of the internet. More importantly, it explores the phenomenon of people’s personas on the internet, and how they can be modified to appeal to the interests of others. It’s something we all learned back in ’01 when MySpace was all the rage. I’m sure some even learned these lessons on Friendster back in the day. It’s the kind of movie that will take disconnected critics and turn them into evangelists, while the more digitally tuned among us will see right through it. I say rent because I’d like you to make up your own decision on Catfish, because it’s the kind of story that speaks to each of us in different ways. It told me nothing. It’s lone “tell all” exclusive featurette interview with the filmmakers (the disc’s only extra) said even less.
Dinner for Schmucks
Oh, director Jay Roach. You really are by definition a hit-or-miss director. Sometimes, as was the case with Meet the Parents. And sometimes you miss, as was the case with at least two of those Austin Powers movies (all three of which are also out on Blu-ray this week). But congratulations are in order, as Dinner for Schmucks may be your first completely middling movie. It’s got its moments, many of which made me laugh quite hard, but its also missing the pacing and energy of far greater comedies. It’s funny, but it lingers too long where it shouldn’t. For those growing weary of Steve Carell’s brand of dumb, this could be a nightmare. But for those who still enjoy the various offshoots of Anchorman’s Brick Tamblin, this movie is worth 114 minutes of your time, assuming you didn’t pay too much for it.
“I was pleasantly surprised with Case 39.” That’s where I should have ended my relationship with this movie, when I read those words in Kevin Carr’s review from its (supposed) theatrical release. As much as I adore my long-time Fat Guys at the Movies co-host, sometimes he just gets it wrong. In the case of this painfully predictable , paint-by-numbers thriller with an above-average cast, he got it a little wrong. There’s a reason why Paramount Pictures almost intentionally let the world forget that this film ever existed, quietly putting it into and pulling it out of theaters, and now throwing it on to Blu-ray with little fan fare (or extras, for that matter). Unless you’ve really got some time to kill or you get a kick out of the mundane, this one should be an easy skip.
And now the gargantuan list of releases that didn’t cross my desk this week, for one reason or another: