Between this week and last, the world of Blu-ray has been rather quiet. Each week provides its own go-to titles, but it’s not quite the deluge of high definition spirit that we’re seeing at the box office this time of year, there are a few real standouts. It’s our job to sift through the buffet of choices and find said standouts, and that’s what we intend to do with This Week in Blu-ray. We begin this week with one of this author’s favorite films of 2012 thus far…
God Bless America
The Pitch: One man’s rage over the fall of reason in American pop culture turns into a killing spree with a teen girl sidekick.
This is known: Putting a quote from my theatrical review on the back of your Blu-ray packaging will not guarantee you pick of the week status, but it certainly won’t hurt. Purchasers of Bobcat Goldthwait’s excellent tale of a fed up guy (Joel Murray) and his bloodthirsty, pubescent friend (Tara Lynne Barr) will find the following quote on the back cover, accredited to this very site: “It’s a magnetic film that provides 100 minutes of subversive, blood soaked fun.” We do not print lies, friends. This one is highly political, hyper-violent to the point of being militant and above all, hilarious. Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr are a regular Butch and Sundance, if Sundance rocked an a-cup and the gang was out to kill the Kardashians. You won’t want to be the like who didn’t see this one at some point.
Extras Highlight: Bobcat Goldthwait sits down with his stars for a rousing commentary track, filled with trivia, humor and Bobcat’s real, astute voice.
21 Jump Street
The Pitch: The term “surprise comedy of the year” has never been real… until now.
Remakes, redos, reboots and rebranded tales are mere fodder these days for critics and pundits around the web. They are this generation’s great punching bag, and in many cases, rightly so. Hollywood may seemingly be out of foundational ideas for new movies, but luckily there are filmmakers out there like Phil Lord and Chris Miller, for whom it’s all in the details. Because a movie starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as two cops who go undercover in a local high school in an effort to weed out a criminal element dealing a dangerous new drug should not be quite as funny as 21 Jump Street turned out. Lord and Miller push the absurdity to the limit, completely aware of the modern conventions of remakes, all of which they decide to turn upside down, around and back until we get something unrecognizable as cheap brand-bait, but as something uniquely fun and viciously energetic. The lack of restraint they show in bringing Jump Street back into the pop culture lexicon, from which its been absent since the 1980s, is worthy of a standing ovation. Or in my case, a private dance party set to the upbeat closing credits music.
Extras Highlight: Don’t look at the extras listing until you’ve seen the movie. Trust me. Also, watch “The Rob Riggle Show,” because that’s a thing that made it onto this disc.
The Pitch: Taking bovine hormones is a bad idea, especially if you’re emotionally damaged.
Readers of this site will note the name of this film as one we’ve mentioned plenty, as it is the Academy Award nominated release from the folks at Drafthouse Films, a fledgling distribution company growing up right in our own backyard. On top of being all over our radar, Bullhead is an incredible dramatic experience. Saturated with rage and sadness, it tells the story of Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts), a man who has grown up with a terrible incident in his past and a penchant for shooting up some serious steroids in his present. This molotov cocktail of grief and drug-enhanced anger mismanagement is not helped by his criminal enterprises, which include beefing up cows with the same hormones he’s got coursing through his veins, illegally jacking up prices on the beef while himself getting jacked up. As he deals with new developments in his love life, his childhood trauma comes back to light and his world begins to spin out of control. And as any rodeo clown can tell you, there are certain places you just don’t touch a bull if you want to leave with your head. As a Blu-ray release, Bullhead is the second solid effort from Drafthouse Films. Clear, elegant packaging helps it stand out among your other Blus, special features add value to the experience and the movie itself will shake you at your core. There’s little else one can ask for without being greedy.
Extras Highlight: A 16-page included booklet shows off images, tells tales from behind the scenes and includes an introduction from someone you’ve heard of before, director Michael Mann.
Born on the Fourth of July
The Pitch: Tom Cruise can handle the truth just fine, but can he handle a country that looks down upon his Vietnam heroism?
Say what you will about Oliver Stone — and chances are that you’ve got something to say — but the man has made some powerful films in an oft brave manner. He’s softened in his later years, but Born on the Fourth of July came during his heyday, right around the time he was skewering the great war of his generation, calling the government into question at every turn and showing us the nature of born killers. With this film, led by a young Tom Cruise unburdened by stardom and free to give a dynamic, emotional performance, Stone earned every bit of the Best Director Oscar he’d ultimately get for his work. It’s an intimate story, a gut-wrenching look at the experience of a soldier returning to a country now just as foreign as the place where he fought. Critics still call this one Stone’s masterpiece, and for good reason. It’s an exercise in complete filmmaking control. It looks and sounds great on Blu-ray, even if the Blu-ray extras are slim.
Extras Highlight: Oliver Stone delivers a commentary track that is anything but dull. He loves the ideas he’s brought to the foreground with this movie, and has no problem talking through them at great lengths.
The Pitch: Willem Dafoe wants to kill a Tasi Tigah.
For a relative newcomer — his first film, Angst, never made it out of Australia — filmmaker Daniel Nettheim comes out guns a-blazing with his adaptation of Julia Leigh’s story of The Hunter. A solitary, ruthless mercenary named Martin David (Willem Dafoe) travels to the Tasmanian wilderness in search of tiger thought to be long extinct, only to find himself caught up in a vicious cat-and-mouse game with locals who have a distaste for environmental types and a corporation that wants to use him as a pawn to unlock the tiger’s secrets. He also gets himself wrapped up in a domestic situation with a couple of meddlesome children, only to find his intense focus on the job at hand broken and his world in a constant state of unravel. It’s a sweet, slow burn that gets the breath of life from a fierce performance from Dafoe, who continues to elevate every single frame that captures his image. Ruminating on man’s great battle waged with nature and himself, The Hunter finds grace in the cinematography of Robert Humphreys and a moody score from Andrew Lancaster, wrapping it all up in a neatly packaged, satisfying 100-minute experience. It loses steam with perfunctory elements in its third act, but is satisfying all the same.
Extras Highlight: There’s a lone making of featurette that revisits the beauty of Tasmania and delivers plenty more Dafoe. I could watch that man watch paint dry and it would be fascinating.
The Pitch: I don’t remember the Bollywood-esque dance number from the Disney version…
With his own otherworldly telling of the story of Snow White, director Tarsem Singh provides plenty of flash and dash, without ever really saying anything. This technicolor atrocity may bear the names — Snow White, the Queen, the Dwarfs — but it’s not exactly what you might expect. For one, even a Tarsem movie sometimes dashes substance in with its bombardment of style (see The Fall). In this case, it all comes out vibrant, but dwarf-short on narrative juice. Twenty minutes too long for its own good (a dangerous proposition for a 106-minute movie) and flat in the performances of Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer and even a phoned in number from the usually brilliant Nathan Lane, Mirror Mirror is far from the fairest one of all. It’s more like the queen trying far too hard to make everyone love her. Tarsem is a smart filmmaker, but his need to make the story of Snow White hipper or cooler than thou really throws a wrench in his otherwise effortless execution of style. It doesn’t help when Sean Bean shows up and looks like he’s being held captive, in the most literal sense.
Extras Highlight: The potentially fun element of this film involves a closing credits dance number. There’s an 11 min. behind the scenes featurette about said number, if you catch the fever.
Wrath of the Titans
The Pitch: Yeah, they really did make another one…
If Clash of the Titans (the recent remake, not the original) had never existed, we might actually be singing the praises of Wrath. Returning Sam Worthington to the role of the demigod Perseus, director Jonathan Liebsman (Battle: Los Angeles) shows glints of inspired ambition, reaching deep into the mythologies of the Greeks to pull out a few interesting pieces of spectacle (most notably, a giant fiery appearance by Kronos, the father of Zeus, Hades and Poseidon). He almost gets us to the point where we can forget about the stale dialogue, senseless narrative threads and constantly evolving accent of our hero. Hell, he also throws a crazy fallen god played by Bill Nighy in there for good measure. On pure spectacle alone, Wrath is a step up from Clash. The rest of it is, well, not so great. Gapping holes of logic that lead down to the underworld won’t exactly have you wanting to own and cherish this one for all time, but it’d be worth a rent if you’re bored, have nothing better to do and say, have a free rental coupon from your local video rental establishment (they still use coupons, right?)
Extras Highlight: Warner Bros. lays down their Maximum Movie Mode, of which I’m a great fan, allowing users to choose between the Path of Men or the Path of the Gods. Always choose Gods. They throw better parties.