This Week in Blu-ray, we give ample time to the Brits. God save the Queen, and all that. It’s unavoidable though, as both Doctor Who and a completely (and gloriously) reborn Sherlock Holmes come crashing in with sets that will have you using deductive reasoning to substitute buying Blu-rays for buying food for the next seven days. We also spend time with a favorite Brit filmmaker, Edgar Wright, as he brings Scott Pilgrim to the format of champions in a way that makes us feel complete. And it’s nice to feel complete. Unless, of course, you’re feeling completely surrounded by former comedic talents in an Adam Sandler-led movie about man-children. Then perhaps complete isn’t healthy. In the end, it’s another fun week of flicks and picks, all coming to you in glorious high definition…
As any of my close personal friends could tell you, I’ve been singing the praises of the “New Doctor,” as played by Matt Smith, for quite some time. Perhaps even before the Steven Moffat-led fifth season aired here in the United States (what can I say, I’ve got connections at the BBC). The fact is that Matt Smith and his fiery companion Karen Gillan delivered some incredible moments. It was a season that oozed charisma, dazzled with a scope previously unseen in Whodom, and surprisingly kept pace with the past few years that were dominated by fan favorite David Tennant. With this season, Matt Smith has arrived. With this Blu-ray set, fans of the show get exactly what they need: plenty of behind the scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, every episode of Doctor Who Confidential. The list goes on. There are even two newly taped sequences called “Meanwhile, in the TARDIS…” Plenty of fun to be had, beyond the wonderful 13-episode season itself. If you missed it, loved it, or any state in between, you should grab this set. It’s some of the best Who the modern era has offered us to date.
Forget that Guy Ritchie directed hogwash, this is how a real Sherlock Holmes story is told. (This coming from a guy who really enjoyed Ritchie’s work.) Steven Moffat, mentioned above as the man behind the recent series of Doctor Who, comes over to the world of history’s most famous (and enigmatic) detective. Set in the modern day, Holmes stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the ever-awkward, infinitely arrogant title character. And aside from having one of the most impressive names we’ve ever seen, Cumberbatch is also resonant of a young Alan Rickman. And he plays perfectly alongside Martin Freeman (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) as Watson. In three 90-minute episodes, Moffat and crew deliver a Holmes that is sharp, stylish and full of actual detective work, deductive reasoning and problem solving. It works nicely for Holmsian nerds and those of us who love a well-drawn mystery. The Blu-ray set is rather light on special features – boasting a series of audio commentary and a single making-of featurette – but all of the features make use of the limited time they have. Instead of throwing a half-ton of half-hearted features on the set, BBC opted for quality over quantity. It makes the entire experience a brisk, but satisfying affair.
Like any quality home video release from an Edgar Wright-directed movie, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is inarguably one of the most jam-packed Blu-ray sets of the year. It’s surprising to see it all fit on one Blu-ray disc. There’s enough behind the scenes shenanigans here for three discs, easy. That said, long-time fans of Mr. Wright’s work will recall that a few of his movies (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) were given less than savory first video releases, only to come back later with much more impressive “special editions.” With Pilgrim, Universal opted to jump right to the special edition. The movie, as you may have heard, is 7-levels of awesome. The Blu-ray, as you are about to hear, ads some bonus levels that will delight anyone who came even close to enjoying the film. Among the HD exclusives are several behind the scenes featurettes, a few viral videos (including the Adult Swim Scott Pilgrim vs. the Animation video), a look at some alternate edits from the film, a deep look inside the pre-production process and, of course, plenty of Edgar Wright photo-blogginess. There’s no other way to put it: this is the definitive Scott Pilgrim experience.
No one knows how to punish their stars and, subsequently their audience like Lars von Trier. And no one knows how to release such a significant accomplishment on Blu-ray quite like Criterion. Logically, this is a match made in whatever level of hell von Trier visited to collect the impetus for this particular story. Here are the Cliff’s Notes: Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg play a couple who have lost a child. After finding that they can’t effectively deal with it at home, they retreat to a secluded cabin in the woods. There, they explore the depths of their fears, anxieties and in the end, the very nature of evil itself. Body parts are mutilated, words are spoken (mostly by animals) and Chaos Reigns supreme, delivering one of the most punishing cinematic journeys of the modern era. And it’s all the more vivid on Blu-ray. All the more complete with Criterion’s diverse assortment of extras. All the more chaotic with plenty of behind the scenes footage from the film. So grab your loved ones, find the darkest corner of your soul, and settle in for a truly unique experience – and finally get acquainted with that movie everyone warned you about.
Two things come into play when considering whether a film like Charlie St. Cloud is worth your time and money on Blu-ray. One being your tolerance for films that play shallowly and emotionally dense, as if they should have been played on the Hallmark channel. And two being your interest in seeing that one performance from Zac Efron that has folks around Hollywood putting his name in the same paragraph with the words “good actor.” Efron acts his little heart out, and delivers a performance riddled with potential. But the film itself is a big ole sap-fest. Combine that with the fact that the Blu-ray is nothing more than the movie and a standard set of bland extras – deleted scenes, an on location featurette, commentary track, etc. – and we’ve got ourselves this week’s most emphatic rent recommendation. Worth seeing? Sure, if you’ve got the time. Worth owning? Not unless you are building a religion around the Cult of Efron.
After a big showing last week, yet another old ass movie comes to life on Blu-ray. But unlike the wonderful experience of rebirth we saw with The Sound of Music, White Christmas and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang last week, the original Ocean’s 11 gets a treatment that is slightly less impressive. The film looks good on Blu-ray, but there is still enough grain and digital noise to make it feel unnatural. The goal should really be to make us (and by us, I’m referring to those of us who weren’t around in 1960 for the theatrical run) see the film as it may have been seen by audiences in theaters. Not to make us feel as if we’re watching something that’s been converted for our beautiful small screens. This transfer feels the latter, and even though the sight of Frank, Dino and Sammy Davis Jr. in HD is nice, it’s lacking. The special features don’t feel very “50th Anniversary” level either, with the exception of a very neat Las Vegas Then and Now interactive map. Overall, Ocean’s gets to the point of being worth a look, but never quite gets all the way into the depths of your pocketbook. It’s sad really, considering the quality of the film itself. One of the greats, reduced to relative mediocrity with a Blu-ray release that’s just okay.
You know what makes me laugh? A movie that makes a joke – in this case, lets say a joke about Rob Schneider being shot in the foot with an arrow – then later having its characters spend five minutes of dialogue reminiscing about the joke. That’s funny territory, friends. Also fun: counting the number of times the formerly-star-studded Grown Ups gains momentum, then inexplicably cuts away from the momentum to a seemingly irrelevant next scene (the count is more than 4, if you make it that far). Needless to say, this gathering of people who were funniest when you were a freshman in college is not, in the traditional sense, funny. The dialogue (they let Chris Rock write his own on cocktail napkins, I’m sure) is laughable, but not funny. The gags hit at a ratio of 1 in 3, but overall it’s sad. Even Steve Buscemi shows up and finds away to be aggressively unfunny. In reviewing, I failed to even get to all of the special features. Why? Because like the stars of this film, my heart just wasn’t in it.
Here are the titles that might also interest you. However, buy and rent at your own risk, as I wasn’t able to review them this week due to a lack of review material:
- Big Daddy (Sony)
- A Christmas Carol (1984) (20th Century Fox)
- Damned by Dawn: The Dead Will Rise (Image)
- DC Showcase: Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam (Warner Brothers)
- Depeche Mode: Tour of the Universe – Live in Barcelona (EMI America)
- The Dry Land (Maya)
- Hunt to Kill (Starz/Anchor Bay)
- Locked Down (Lionsgate)
- Love Ranch (National Media)
- Metalocalypse: Season III – The Dead Man (Warner Brothers)
- Ramona and Beezus (20th Century Fox)
- Robin-B-Hood (Vivendi)
- Scooby-Doo/Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (Warner Brothers)
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes (Geffen)
- Tremors (Universal)