June was a rough month for This Week in Blu-ray. Only a few of you actively missed it, judging by the emails, but I’m sure that even more of you felt a hole in your very souls due to the lack of weekly Blu-ray buying advice. By my count I am four weeks behind as of today, four weeks that each had worthy releases — some of which you may have purchased already. So in an effort to be brief, I’ve selected the most prominent releases and mixed them in with the Blu-rays hitting shelves this week. It’s my way of smashing four weeks of release together and wiping away the blood. In the end, it should give you a good road map for what you should have been doing all along.
Jason and the Argonauts
Here is one of those releases that you buy not because you need to own the movie — there’s a good chance that every true film geek among you already owns a copy of Ray Harryhausen’s wondrous tale — but for the new extras. There are tons of extras on this Blu-ray release not previously seen on DVD. Including a brand new commentary track with Peter Jackson and LOTR effects guru Randall William Cook. It’s very technical, but also very fascinating. A second track features Harryhausen himself with film historian Tony Dalton. Mark my words: listening to Ray Harryhausen talk is good for your health, even if you’re also eating Cheetos while listening. Beyond that we’ve got a 25-minute tribute to Harryhausen featuring countless names you’ll recognize — real viz effects greats like Dennis Muren and Phil Tippet. And there’s an hour long documentary called “The Harryhausen Chronicles” that tells the origin story behind the man that made it all possible, narrated by Leonard Nimoy. Yeah, that’s how this Blu-ray rolls. It’s hours of geeked out fun for the whole family. Or just you, if you live alone.
The Book of Eli
One of several early-2010 releases that got away from me, The Book of Eli is one of the few that makes me regret seeing it in theaters. Visually, the Hughes brothers are off the charts with some of the action sequences in this film. They move efficiently from simplicity to elegance, knowing exactly when to hold their camera still and exactly when to do something fast and fantastic with it. The story is workable, at least until the end. Denzel Washington is a great lone traveler through a wonderfully constructed post-apocalyptic landscape. Gary Oldman shows up as a villain who is easy to hate, but also easy to understand. And Mila Kunis is there for something, I’m just not sure what. On the whole the movie is worthy of a recommend, and the Blu-ray fails to disappoint. Several Blu-ray only featurettes and Warner Bros’ still-impressive maximum movie mode make it worth adding to you collection, if you’re a fan of a good ole western-style action flick set in a post-apocalyptic future where everyone wants to get their hands on The Book. It’s good, trust me.
A Single Man
In this meticulously drawn tale — the first feature from Tom Ford — everything is beautiful and scarred at the same time. It is perhaps one of the most stylish and stiff movies that I’ve ever seen without losing the fluidity of a smart, emotionally charged narrative. Colin Firth, playing a college professor dealing with the loss of his partner (Matthew Goode) in a 1960s America not tuned into the concept of sexual equality, delivers a fine performance. Resist all you want, but you will not be able to help but to feel his pain. The film’s visual beauty is enhanced on Blu-ray with a clean, smooth transfer that draws out the film’s many tones. Like a film from a major fashion designer should be, everything matches perfectly. And in the end, it celebrates the little moments that are worth living for. It’s light on special features, but in this case we should all be willing to forgive.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
One of the most sensational movies you’ll watch all year, there is no denying it. So great that David Fincher has decided to remake it. This is your chance to get in while the getting is good, to be on the forefront of the “I liked the original” bus. The fact is: it’s a fantastic movie with several great performances at its heart. A truly engrossing crime thriller that doesn’t think twice about punching you in the gut. One thing that sticks out is the performance of Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth, the researcher with a dark and violent past. Hers is as brave and intense a performance as you’re going to see in a while, perhaps even after David Fincher remakes this story. Like A Single Man, this Blu-ray is lacking in extras, but it’s worth looking past based on the film’s quality.
Supernatural: The Complete First Season
I blame most of the failings of this column on the Supernatural season one Blu-ray. In fact, I’ll have you all know that watching season one in high definition and being introduced to the brothers Winchester, Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki), and their demon-hunting ways caused me to become addicted. It resulted not just in the exploring of season one (and the impressive assortment of special features included on the release) but the watching of seasons two, three, four and five almost non-stop for two weeks. I slept very little (though I didn’t miss a meal) and lapsed in my responsibilities as editor of this site and almost lost my mind when it all ended, but it was worth it. Supernatural is one of those great slices of television that provide rich characters and strong narratives, even when it’s in “monster of the week” mode. Seeing the first season in glorious high definition proved that to me, and it will do the same to you. So beware. While I recommend purchasing this set, I’m also warning you — it’s very addictive.
Predator: The Ultimate Hunter Edition
I know that I’m coming in late on this discussion, but after watching Predator on Blu-ray I’m not seeing what others have said to be one of the worst Blu-ray transfers of the year. The movie looks good. It’s as colorful and clean as it’s ever looked. And I would know, having owned just about every home video incarnation of this movie dating back to its original VHS release. I was a fan and I’m not going to apologize for that. With that in mind, I went in expecting to be engorged with rage brought on by a poor transfer. But aside from a few little spots of digital noise reduction artifacting and a few grainy edges that are almost invisible to the average consumer, I’m left with nothing but a fondness. There’s a very cool, thorough featurette on this disc that’s new and a first look featurette for the upcoming Predators release, making this a worthy addition to my collection. Calling it the “ultimate” edition is a bit of a stretch, but it’s still worth picking up.
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Youth in Revolt
Michael Cera takes quite a bit of guff for constantly recycling the same character. And for good reason. He’s successfully carved out a niche for himself by playing extensions of Arrested Development‘s George Michael alongside other up and coming funnymen, the likes of Jonah Hill. In Youth in Revolt, it’s his show. And he makes the best of it playing that same character, but also playing his evil alter-ego. Bolstered by incredible source material (a book by C.D. Payne) and great on-screen chemistry with young Portia Doubleday, Cera pulls off one of his most charming and most impressive performances to date. It’s a shame that this film has been so overlooked. It really did play in theaters, I assure you. On Blu-ray its a near-bust, sporting some deleted scenes, some audition footage and a commentary track with Cera and director Miguel Arteta. Nothing but movieIQ (worthless) on the Blu-ray exclusive side. Do yourself a favor and at least give this one a rent. You can thank me later.
The White Ribbon
Like all of Michael Haneke’s good movies (just about everything except for the American remake of Funny Games), The White Ribbon is a challenging film to watch. The narrative lives in a state that many mainstream flicks do not, in the land of show instead of tell. What it shows is some absolutely breathtaking cinematography and a town full of characters that are simply interesting to watch. It’s not about answering questions — or even asking them — it’s about observing what is happening and drawing your own conclusions. Challenging, but certainly worth the risk. You may not want to sit down and watch this film more than once, but you certainly should give it at least one viewing. You’ll be a more well-rounded movie fan for it, for sure.
The Crazies (2010)
Like most of the internet, you might not be a fan of remakes. But you can trust in a remake done for the right reasons. And when director Breck Eisner set out to remake George Romero’s non-zombie paranoia film The Crazies, he did so with a few things in mind. One is that he wanted to say something new. He did so with a bit of social commentary wrapped into this tightly wound thriller. He also wanted to improve upon the original’s ability to build tension and deliver scares. And is it ever scary, this new version. Timothy Olyphant plays a small town sheriff whose jurisdiction is overrun by a mysterious outbreak, causing the town’s folk to start slaughtering each other. It’s an intense ride and one filled with innovated scenes, solid performances (especially from Olyphant and his deputy, played by Joe Anderson) and a few neat little twists thrown in for good measure. It honors Romero, but also brings with it a contemporary shine that should be much appreciated by audiences grown weary of Hollywood’s recycling bin. The Blu-ray is filled with extras, most of which can also be found on the DVD. If you’ve seen it and know that you dig it, buy the Blu-ray. Otherwise rent away.
Hot Tub Time Machine
It might not of made a splash like The Hangover did last year, but Hot Tub Time Machine sure did come out of nowhere to smack audiences in the face with hilarity. The combined talents of John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke and the always funny Craig Robinson make for a delightfully debauched humor cocktail. Combine them with a mostly smart script and a lack of the usual studio comedy pacing issues and you’ve got yourself a movie worth seeing. Other talented actors, including Chevy Chase, Lizzy Caplan and Crispin Glover add some flavor to the mix, but in the end it’s the chemistry of the four men on the DVD box that make it work. They are funny, some of the gags are deranged and Craig Robinson pulls off one of the best on-stage performances since Marty McFly rocked out to “Johnny Be Good” at Hill Valley High in ’55. The Blu-ray release (sadly) gets a rent because it’s loose on the special features. And by loose, I of course mean “strongly lacking.” Despite that, I think you should rent and see this movie. Especially if you’re in need of a good laugh at the expense of the 1980s.
Things that are usually not that good: movies about the Iraq war. Things I learned while watching Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone, starring Matt Damon: Iraq war movies can be solid if they are treated as action movies and they avoid being heavy with the politics. That’s exactly what we have here, a decent action movie that gives a roundness to Matt Damon’s body of work under the helm of Paul Greengrass. At its heart, Green Zone is a detective story in combat boots. Most impressive is its pace and the almost inexplicable stillness of Paul Greengrass’ camera through most of it. I didn’t get motion sickness, I didn’t get politics sickness and I got to see some wicked urban gun warfare. It was a nice experience, overall. On Blu-ray it flattens out a bit with the standard issue supplements: commentary track with Greengrass and Damon, featurette about the troops, generic “making of” featurette and some deleted scenes. Nothing special, just a good movie and some other stuff.
The Last Station
If you’re into really long movies about the guy who wrote “War and Peace,” have I got a treat for you. This is the movie you’ve been waiting for. Alright fine, that’s not exactly the case. The movie is about Leo Tolstoy, but it isn’t very long, it just feels like it. In reality, it’s a nice character piece that explores the human condition and our need for love. It tells to concurrent love stories: one involving Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) and Countess Sofya (Helen Mirren) and another that involves Tolstoy’s assistant, played by James McAvoy. Like a day spent at The Actor’s Studio, it’s full of performances that leave a lasting impression. The only problem is that the movie itself is so plodding that it makes its own impression, one of overwhelming boredom. It makes the Blu-ray’s two commentary tracks seem like a monumental climb up a mountain twice the size of Mt. Everest and all of the other featurettes (three, to be exact) feel like the piling on of slowness. That said, there is a very wonderful tribute to Christopher Plummer on this disc that I enjoyed very much. The man’s a great actor, what can I say? Worth seeing, but certainly not worth owning.
Mary and Max
Since seeing this stop-motion animated tale at Sundance two years ago, I’ve been waiting for a chance to share it with fellow movie-lovers here in the States. It’s a darkly dramatic story about a lonely man in New York City (voiced by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and an 8-year old girl in Australia (voiced by Toni Collette) who develop a strong friendship as pen pals. Their 20-year long relationship explores autism, taxidermy, alcoholism, where babies come from, kleptomania, sexual differences, trust, copulating dogs, religious differences, agoraphobia and more of life s big and little surprises. It’s a bit dark, but director Adam Elliot loads it with charm and creates a truly unique experience. Throw in some lovely stop-motion animation and you’ve got yourself one of the most creative films I’ve seen in a long time. A genuine one-of-a-kind tale. The Blu-ray is short on extras (very short), but the movie is too good to pass up. Rent and be rewarded.
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Flash Gordon (1980)
I am stunned by this release of Flash Gordon on Blu-ray. The movie itself is by very definition a cult classic. It’s bad, but deliciously bad. It’s campy in all the right ways and memorable in ways that still boggle the mind today. And yet, Universal chooses to release it in the most plain manner possible. All of the special features are shared by the previously released special edition DVD. The picture quality is improved for high definition, but it’s by no means a revelation. Sure, the film is getting up there in years and it was made in a period of time when movies didn’t look cheap on purpose for kitsch-effect. But something more could have been done here. It’s all in the presentation, and this presentation fails. The movie is as vibrant and colorful as ever, only to be flanked by a lack of extras. It’s a big disappointment for a movie so perfectly made for the DVD collector crowd. Sadly, this release isn’t saving anyone, let alone the universe.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
“Terrible dialogue, dull characters, overly simplified story lacking nuance and character, unintentionally laughable at times, uninspired action.” That’s our own Rob Hunter being nice about it. I’m equally disappointed, mostly because I thought 2010 would bring about the resurgence of mythology. Greek gods and whatnot. But after seeing Clash of the Titans in mind-melting (in a bad way) 3D and then seeing Percy Jackson, I’m sold on the notion that some genres should be put to pasture. Sadly, this is one of them. The good news is that the work of Ray Harryhausen is not lost. Scrolling up to the Buy section reveals my strong recommendation on the Jason and the Argonauts Blu-ray, a more than apt substitute should you feel yourself even remotely interested in testing these waters. It doesn’t matter what I think of the special features (there are a few), the movie is undeniably bad. Avoid, avoid, avoid or face the wrath of the gods (not in a good way).
Showgirls: 15th Anniversary Sinsational Edition
Showgirls wasn’t a good movie 15 years ago, and it certainly hasn’t aged well. It’s one of those few “guilty pleasure” movies that I would really urge people to feel guilty about, despite my strong stance on the issue (read: there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, as you should never feel guilty about liking a film). That said, it does look much better than it did on DVD and the soundtrack is as clean and poundy as ever. The special features do try to turn up the naughty a bit. They are also clearly in on the joke. The studio let a superfan named David Schmader do a commentary track about how Showgirls is one of the great trash masterpieces of all time. The track is called “The Greatest Movie Ever,” and it’s easily more entertaining than the movie itself. There’s also a learn-to-strip featurette that falls short of some of the Carmen Electra strip-aerobics DVDs I have in my collection, as well as about 20-30 minutes of behind the scenes material. If you really buy into the concept of Showgirls being a movie you must own, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you from buying this Blu-ray. In the end, someone at the studio did put a lot of work into giving it a treatment better than most other good movies (see Flash Gordon, above) get. So if you’re like David Schmader, you’re going to want to pick this up. Otherwise please avoid in a similar fashion to the way you avoid that stripper with the lazy eye.
There’s nothing Hollywood does — yes, even more than remakes — that it loves more than making movies about itself. It’s the ultimate show of vanity from the world’s epicenter of self-love. Incredibly masterbatory and overly stupid is Jimmy Hollywood, featuring Joe Pesci, a ridiculous blonde wig and a young Christian Slater channeling the lost years of Matthew McConaughey. To accuse this movie, and by proxy its hair-brained plot, of being disconnected from reality would be a crime. It isn’t even loosely connected to realities estranged, touchy-feely uncle fantasy. In fact, it’s so ill-concocted that it belongs in the same trash bin where you’d find Showgirls. Only this time it’s minus all of the things that made Showgirls NC-17 (read: the things that make it watchable). Why anyone would want to own this movie is beyond me. If you have a deep-seated love for this flick and are willing to admit that’s not okay, let me know — I’ve got a spare copy of Jimmy Hollywood on Blu-ray with your name on it.
Don’t get me wrong — I really like Ladybugs. In a way that is probably a little much for a self-respecting man my age. Jonathan Brandis and Rodney Dangerfield infiltrate a girl’s soccer league to lead a rag-tag team of losers to victory and find love along the way? What’s not to love? It’s schlock of the highest order and it was nothing more than a character vehicle for Dangerfield, a comedian who always worked better in the background (see: Caddyshack), but I have fond memories of watching this movie on Tuesday afternoons in the summer when it was on relentless repeat on Cinemax. So you can imagine my distaste for a Blu-ray release that is completely void of extras, sporting a video transfer that looks like a copied VHS tape. Some movies deserve better. This one might not, but I think it does. And that’s what this column is all about — what I think. Right?… guys?… right?
Also out this week, but not available for review:
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