Another week gone by, another round of Blu-ray buying and trying, avoiding and really avoiding here at Reject HQ. The release slate is slim and for the most part, it would appear as if home video distributors are afraid of the direct to video level junk they are throwing out there this week, as many a title didn’t arrive at our doorstep. Stuff like Jonah Hex and The Lost Boys: The Thirst are probably best left unreviewed by yours truly. Similar to the way a 30-year old man dominates a toddler tee-ball league, I was looking forward to busting some heads. Sadly, we’ll stick with a more intimate collection of releases this week, including a few nice surprises as we go through This Week in Blu-ray.
The Magician (Criterion)
You hear the name Ingmar Bergman and if you’ve never studied the world of international cinema, it feels like something so far away. That’s how the work of Bergman has always felt to me — very distant. What I found in the Criterion release of The Magician however, is not just a meditation on the relationship between artist and audience, but an captivating tale of a battle of whits, between a man of art and mysticism (a hypnotist played by a young Max Von Sydow) and a man of science (a doctor played by Gunnar Björnstrand). It’s an enigmatically drawn story that is engaging on a surface level while also having deeper context, as explained in the accompanying visual essay by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie. Top it all off with some rare interviews with Bergman and his cast and the elegant, meticulous packaging that has made Criterion so highly regarded, and you’ve got a perfect addition to your collection. At the very worst, it will bring you closer to Bergman and give a healthy balance to your Blu-ray collection, especially if you are going to take my advice on the next title I’ve selected…
The Hangover: Extreme Edition
I’m not usually a proponent of buying the “extra super special bonus edition” of a movie like The Hangover. It’s not exactly The Lord of the Rings, with many versions, a great depth of story behind the production and many layers of appeal. This Todd Phillips directed comedy is a fairly straightforward romp through a world of debauchery, complete with more than a few great moments and several very fun performances from a very talented cast. But it’s not the kind of thing you need a special edition for. Unless, of course, you’re interested in a 28-page full-color wedding album with even more of those ridiculous photos shown during the closing credits. Or a picture-in-picture commentary track with Phillips and cast that is just as funny as the film itself. Maybe none of that interests you. Then again, maybe you don’t like to laugh. I suppose that all of that is possible.
Sex and Lucia
Julio Medem’s finely woven tale beauty and deceit could very well have been called Sex and Lies, as it is as much a thriller about the things each character doesn’t know as it is about Paz Vega’s alluring dramatis personae. But who am I to argue with something that works so well. On Blu-ray, Sex and Lucia is perhaps more vibrant and colorful as ever. And we’re not just talking about flesh-tones. Medem and cinematographer Kiko De La Rica are playful with lighting, not afraid to move their camera in unique ways to help us gain perspective and bring us closer to each character. And it works, perhaps on a level more perfect than when it played in theaters. The beauty and intimacy of the way the film is shot only aids the sensuality of the story and its denizens, especially with a clean HD transfer such as this. Had this release been handled with as much ambition as the film itself (meaning more interesting special features), it would be a certain buy. If you’re a fan of the film, it’s probably worth a pick-up. It looks great. But don’t get your hopes up on the extras.
Dollhouse: Season 2
So sad is the tale of Joss Whedon’s latest work of television. It was fun while it lasted, or so they seem to always say about his projects, too many of which have met their untimely end. I wouldn’t shed too many tears, though. The guy did go on to lock down the director’s chair on Marvel’s The Avengers. So it isn’t all bad. And for fans there is this Blu-ray set, which does well to go above and beyond the experience of the show with some wistful featurettes and several episodes of commentary. For the uninitiated, I am classifying this release as a rent. Dollhouse, strong on concept and complimented by a very solid cast (including a surprisingly good run by Eliza Dushku), is worth the time of anyone looking for some capably handled science fiction and action. It’s not going to blow your mind — in fact, Joss Whedon’s karma isn’t the only reason why this show didn’t get a third season — but it’s worth a look.
“Severe lack of character depth; messy voice-over narration; obvious gaps in narrative; inconsistent effects; odd CGI “smoothing” effect on Megan Fox’s face.” Our own Rob Hunter is a tough critic. Any regular reader can tell you that. But when he wrote that as his “Downside” in his review of Jonah Hex‘s theatrical release, it stuck with me. This movie — as we could have predicted based on all of the problems it had during production — is a hot mess. Sure, Josh Brolin’s mangled gunslinger racks up quite a body count and some of the humor is chuckle-worthy, but on the whole the movie isn’t worth getting excited about. If you’re curious, renting this film won’t be a complete waste of your time. But on the whole, you’ve probably got better things to do.
Here’s that (ever-growing) list of titles that I was not able to review this week due to all of them getting lost in the mail, or something like that. Buy or rent at your own risk: