This Week in Blu-rayEven in the midst of the madness that is Fantastic Fest, I’m here to bring you the best high-definition disc buys, rents and well… avoids in This Week in Blu-ray. I wouldn’t miss another opportunity to write about my own favorite super hero, Iron Man, or the chance to talk about the feel-good movie of the year (Babies). And perhaps throw in a few titles from last week’s selection, including that big mess of a film that Ridley Scott put out earlier this year and something about a family, modern or otherwise. It’s a big week in Blu-ray, so lets get started…

…right after the jump, that is.

Iron Man 2

Sure, it isn’t the first Iron Man. The second go-around for Tony Stark as personified by Robert Downey Jr. is far more bloated, convoluted and gaudy than its stellar predecessor, but it’s still a lot of fun. It also looks brilliant in high definition and the sound design, score and soundtrack are a perfect 1-2-3 punch to the gut of that very expensive home theater system you bought. So it’s worth having in your collection. For the comic nerds among us, there appear to be some ready-to-be-unleashed easter eggs all over this release, including a feature (on the movie disc) called the SHIELD Data Vault. It has case files on Project Iron Man, the Super Soldier Initiative, Bruce Banner’s Missing Person Report, and The Avengers Initiative. It also has various classified placeholders for Project New Mexico and Steve Rogers. No word yet on how these will be unlocked, but it is neat. And the Data Vault has a feature that runs along with the movie, pointing out all of the SHIELD easter eggs within Iron Man 2. On disc two we find a four part “Making Of” documentary and six featurettes , two of which reveal the origins of Black Widow and War Machine. On the whole, this box of tin is full of surprises.

King Kong (1933)

Some classics deserve great care and consideration when bringing them from the world of VHS and DVD to the world of Blu-ray. RKO’s King Kong, released originally in 1933, is one of those classics. And to their credit, Warner Bros. has given the big monkey a very nice place to live in your collection. The Blu-ray is dressed with awesome 30′s marketing inspired cover art and comes with a 32-page companion book full of stories and stunning images. The movie itself looks, for the most part, splendid. The shots that involve only one kind of film stock look cleaner than ever. Some of the shots that involve two or more layers include a bit of grain, but that seems due to the original film more than the transfer. It’s not something that’s easily cleared up 70-years removed from the original release of the film. It’s not a perfect transfer, but a nice median between keeping all of the grain and digitally scrubbing it out. The result is a movie that is noticeably improved, but without the doctored feeling. In the world of extras, Kong gets the royal treatment, as he’s done in previous DVD incarnations. A seven-part making of doc here, a doc about Merian C. Cooper there, and a commentary track with tons of archival audio from the film’s stars. Nothing shy of a thoroughly enjoyable experience, thanks to a carefully crafted presentation.

Modern Family: The Complete First Season

“I don’t get it,” I’d sigh time and time again during the first season of Modern Family‘s run on ABC. I wasn’t watching the show, but I chose to sit idly by on the sidelines and question whether or not something so simple (and full of Ed O’Neill) could deserve such a phenomenal response from critics, fans and Nielsen box owners alike. I was wrong to question this show, created by former Frasier scribes Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd. A few episodes into my tour through season one and I was bringing my own laugh-track. It’s very funny, from end to end. The Blu-ray release isn’t particularly note-worthy, at least not for its pedestrian special features selection, but the show does look good (it’s shot in HD). And it has plenty of extras (all shared with the DVD) that extend the experience for a few hours more. Worth it, no matter how you slice it.

Click through to the next page to see the list of titles that I’d rent and avoid…

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Get Him to the Greek

What happens when you take a scene-stealing character from one funny movie (Russell Brand’s Aldous Snow from Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and put him in his own movie? Nine times out of ten that’s a recipe for under-performance and fan disappointment. Luckily, director Nick Stoller was able to bring enough freshness to the equation (most of which is courtesy of Jonah Hill and P. Diddy) to make Get Him to the Greek a worthy successor to Sarah Marshall. Meaning that if you liked the first one, you’ll dig this one. It’s easily enjoyable, gag-riddled and even has some scene-stealing of its own — by the aforementioned music mogul Diddy and Mad Men star Elizabeth Moss, who gets caught up in perhaps one of the most awkward scenes caught on film this year. You’ll have to rent it to see what I’m talking about. And you shant be disappointed, as the Blu-ray release is jammed with content. So much so that I’ll let you discover it all for yourself. Just know that it’s there, and it’s worth checking out — at least once.

Frozen

“Support Unrated Horror” is the slogan being passed around with Adam Green’s latest film, Hatchet II, due in theaters this month. It’s a worthwhile sentiment, I suppose, if you’re into blood splatter and breast jiggling (or any combination of the two). That’s what old school, unrated horror is all about — at least this is what they tell me. Frozen doesn’t exactly fit with that message, as it isn’t exactly about the blood or the bare chests of nubile coeds. However, it does deliver a bit of brutality, moronic plot or not. Not exactly the “Hitchcock with teeth” thriller that Ain’t It Cool claimed it to be, but worth a single viewing nonetheless. The Blu-ray is pretty well loaded with extras — two commentary tracks, deleted scenes, a few featurettes and the like — delivering a release that is a solid rent if you’re looking to scare yourself on a Tuesday night. I would recommend watching it prior to a big skiing vacation. But I’m sort of a masochist like that.

Babies

I don’t like to curse in my reviews, but this sort of thing is just too fucking adorable to be good for any of us. The story of four babies from different corners of the Earth, shot and assembled into an extraordinarily lovely documentary by Waiting for Jesus director Thomas Balmes. Seriously, this guy can go screw himself for making such a film that presents the very definition of a “feel good” story. Feel good? I feel fantastic after watching this movie. And when combined with the viewing of the next title on this list, it leaves me in the perfect mood to go out and make my own bundle of joy… Ladies… On the whole, the Blu-ray is light on features, but it does have a featurette that shows the babies three years later. That’s cute. Unpretentiously, objectively cute. I hate it.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand – The Complete First Season

It goes without saying that on concept alone, Spartacus isn’t for everyone. Cut from the same cloth of shows like Rome and HBO’s Real Sex, Starz has delivered a sword and sandals series that brings a new meaning to the subgenre (swords being a major double entendre, as the show is also full of male genitalia). It’s bloody, sexy and yes, there’s also some sand. And even while the show’s first few episodes may send you running for the high ground (they’re almost unbearably hyper-stylized), it’s a show that grows on you over time. Given a chance (read: one full season), Spartacus may earn a place in your heart. Enough to at the very least disappoint you with the fact that season two isn’t coming any time soon. Thus, I declare that you should give it a spot in your Netflix queue. The show itself, along with a healthy supply of special features, work extremely hard to earn such a distinction.

Robin Hood: The Director’s Cut

I had to dig all the way into last week’s releases to find some titles for the “avoid” section. And rightfully so, as this week seems destined to be one of the better weeks for Blu-ray buyers that we’ve seen in months. As I mentioned in my review published in May, Ridley Scott’s attempt to bring the hero of Sherwood Forrest back to life substitutes scale for substance and does nothing more than feel like a watered down version of Gladiator, set in the woods. It’s incredibly bland. The Blu-ray release matches said blandness, offering up a director’s cut of the film (not an improved version, sadly) as well as a portfolio of art from the film. There are some deleted scenes and a Director’s Notebook complete with Ridley Scott’s notes from the production — all of which would be interesting if attached to a more interesting film. Sadly, they are not.

The Peacemaker

There’s nothing to be had against this “breathless thriller” (as one cover blurb calls it), save for the fact that it is pretty light on special features. It’s the scourge of the Blu-ray buying world, releases like this one. A decent movie, presented handily in HD, thrown together with special features that are re-used from previous DVD releases. They don’t offer us anything new or interesting, therefore they don’t offer us any reason to spend more money to update to BD. That is, unless you are a completist. But if that’s the case, I’m not sure why you need advice at all — you’re probably buying everything that comes out, anyway.

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