As we gather for our first post-Black Friday, post-Cyber Monday, post-Turkducken day edition of This Week in Blu-ray, it isn’t very hard to see that most studios decided to take a bye week. Universal saw fit to release two Ben Stiller comedies, and not very well. Disney is bringing Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel to the party, as willy wizards surrounded by some of the more interesting effects work we’ve seen all year. They also took time to bring a truly beautiful animated musical (or two) to Blu-ray for the first time. Also, Rob Hunter stops by to recommend a movie with “kill” in the title, which is never a bad thing. All things considered, it may not be the most robust week of Blu-ray releases, but there are certainly some interesting twists and turns.
No matter how you slice it, it is hard to turn down a two-movie set like this. Between Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, we get two beautifully animated, delightfully designed masterpieces of sight and sound. And we get them at the height of their games — in mind-altering 1080p. Like many of the recent Disney animated releases — such as Beauty and the Beast — both films look almost too crisp and vibrant, but I’m yet to hear many complaints about that. Some folks yearn for the imperfect presentation they got with VHS and DVD, and that’s all well and good. But I’d say that the way these movies look on Blu-ray is at, or beyond the level that was originally intended. Along with the 200 minutes of movie that are included in this set, there are plenty of extras. Including the 2003 Best Animated Short Oscar nominee Destino and several behind the scenes documentaries for each film. There are a few tidbits inside these extras that are touted as never before seen, which should satiate the thirst of the enthusiast, just as the films themselves are a perfect fit for both enthusiast and family. This is one of those release you’ll want to own, for the kids and whatnot.
There are a handful of truly spectacular action films to come out of Hong Kong in recent years, and one of the common threads shared by most of them is the presence of Donny Yen. His acting abilities and charisma may fluctuate a bit from film to film, but his kick ass martial arts skills and the brilliant fight choreography never fail to entertain and amaze. One of his best is Wilson Yip’s SPL (aka Kill Zone) which is the rare contemporary action film in his sea of period flicks. The film is about bad cops and worse villains with Yen playing a newcomer to a squad of corrupt detectives led by Simon Yam trying to take down fatty baddie Sammo Hung. Characters are well developed, the story is engaging and twisty, and the fight scenes are fantastic. Yen’s alley fight with Wu Jing is a classic, and his brawl with Hung in the finale is equally brutal and impressive. The region-free Blu-ray released in the UK under the CineAsia label is preferred for a couple additional special features, but if you don’t have the ability to play PAL extras then this Dragon Dynasty release is well worth the purchase. Hell, the movie alone makes this a must own Blu-ray. – Rob Hunter
“Great comedic performances, characters that feel real, and a satisfying return to the romantic comedy formula with its own twists.” Our own Cole Abaius said this about Going the Distance when he reviewed it theatrically. At the time, it was refreshing to know that a romantic comedy that wasn’t prone to all of the traps and cliches of recent years even existed. To see it go mostly overlooked at the box office was a disappointment. So here’s your second chance. It’s out on Blu-ray today and it’s a good watch. The Blu-ray is also not without plenty of HD-exclusive extras that will leave you glad that you pay that extra $1-2 a month to Netflix to get the more advanced format. Though I must warn you that this release is so good — our top rental of the week — that you may end up wanting to buy it. So if you’re up for a calculated, completely unrisky risk, go out and just buy it. You won’t be sorry.
Yet another movie that won’t be much of a risk if you decided to buck my recommendation and simply buy a copy. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a very cool movie — including, but not limited to the cool factor of Nic Cage’s hair style — and it has some of the more impressive special effects work we’ve seen on screen all year (at least from a live-action film). And the fact that it’s another love-child of Jerry Bruckheimer and Jon Turtletaub tells us one thing: it will have a brisk pace and be a family-friendly adventure. You can’t go wrong with something like that, especially with the holidays coming up. So if you need a movie that will calm your entire family gathering and keep everyone from bickering about Uncle Ron’s dubious financial issues, this might just be the ticket. There are also several hours of special features, if you’re into that sort of thing. And as always, Disney includes a copy of the DVD as well as the Blu-ray so that anyone who’s expecting their first Blu-ray player from Santa can be aptly prepared.
Finally, we make it to one movie that is a solid rent. Both of the films above are on that magical line in between buy and rent, meaning that you can’t go wrong either way. But there’s something about this Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz-led spy thriller. It has the action, the romance and the exotic locales that make it feel right at home in the genre, but it sputters around with a convoluted and often distractingly complicated plot. That, and watching this movie creates the overwhelming suspicion that we aren’t getting the best of either Cruise or Diaz, as both actors’ performances are uneven to say the least. The Blu-ray release doesn’t offer us anything more, either. The 1080p shows off some of the film’s effects, which are (as Cole Abaius once said famously) the best of 1999. The extras are there, but you won’t need them once the credits roll. This movie is of the one-and-done variety, a perfect rental if I’ve ever seen one.
Diana Ross and Michael Jackson (RIP) recreate The Wizard of Oz with the musical stylings of Quincy Jones. It’s a hip and modern take — or at least as hip and modern as 1978 could get — on the classic tale of Dorothy and the yellow brick road. And I will be the first to admit that the transfer on this Blu is impressive — the movie looks very vibrant and the music is delivered in a clean 5.1 DTS-HD track. The film itself isn’t exactly one of those must-own all-time greats, but it is a bit of fun. The only sad part of this story is that for all the hard work Universal must have put into making this movie look and sound fresh on Blu-ray, they missed the boat completely on special features. Even with a film like The Wiz, it’s hard to imagine that there wasn’t anything more than a theatrical trailer and a lone behind the scenes clip reel to put on the latest release. Heck, the 30th Anniversary Edition DVD released in 2008 at least came with a copy of the soundtrack. Is that too much to ask?
It stands to reason that since the great war between HD-DVD and Blu-ray (on which Universal and its support of HD-DVD were clear losers), you haven’t exactly been clamoring for a copy of Meet the Parents on Blu to replace the one you bought for $35 on HD-DVD. If by some odd coincidence you have been clamoring for it, please disregard the rest of this entry, there’s nothing that I can do to help you. Uni has released the very enjoyable Ben Stiller-led cat-milking comedy on Blu-ray for the first time. And they’ve done so while expending the least amount of effort possible. The transfer appears to be identical to the HD-DVD, the special features are the pedestrian lot that can be found on the DVD release, and the BD-Live and Pocket Blu features are still underused and mostly irrelevant. Unless you are a completist by nature and living off of a trust fund that allows you to buy everything that comes out, there’s no reason to pick up this release if you’ve already got a copy of the movie somewhere in your collection.
See above where I denounce the existence of Meet the Parents on Blu. It’s the same story here, with the tune remaining unchanged with the sequel.
Here’s everything I didn’t get a chance to review this week, including a few re-releases with DVD/Blu-ray combo packs and that vampire parody (that I was mildly curious about):