It’s always a special week for This Week in Blu-ray when I can say that I’m on time. Last week was a mess, but this week we come roaring back with some great titles. It’s made even more special with the release of one of the best movies I saw in 2010, Legend of the Fist. My Donnie Yen addiction kicks into high gear while my lack of interest in big, studio-funded comedy and alien invasion films becomes readily apparent. Plenty to rent this week, a few precious titles to buy and that Red Riding Hood movie from Catherine Hardwicke right where it belongs: bringing up the rear.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen
As you are undoubtedly aware, the movie theater is no place for hooting and hollering. Audiences should be present, but unheard. I know this as well as anyone out there, having sat through hundreds, if not thousands of movie with some of the stuffiest people on the planet (other film critics). But there was something about Legend of the Fist. When it screened for the audiences of Fantastic Fest last year, it jumped into our laps and demanded that we cheer. So there I was, alongside fellow critics Drew McWeeney and Brian Salisbury, reduced to cinema fandom’s equivalent of a “woo girl” by the first 20-minutes of this Donnie Yen action opus. It played like Saving Private Ryan, but with a little Asian dude running around killing Germans in the most creative of ways. It’s a scene not lost on Blu-ray — the score pounds and the action is crisp in HD, and Yen might as well be jumping into your living room. The Blu-ray won’t woo you with dazzling extras, even though there are a few, but the film is more than worthy of being pick of the week. Yen delivers a war hero, a masked hero and one of his greatest final battles as he takes on a dojo full of Japanese warriors. He is a martial arts man above all other martial arts men, and he demands a spot in your Blu-ray collection.
It’s not common to see a Criterion release — outside of Michael Bay or Wes Anderson’s work — described as fun, but there’s something delightfully twisted about Nicholas Roeg’s Insignificance. In it, he adapts Terry Johnson’s play, which imagines a scene where four people of high cultural status interact in a New York City hotel, ruminating on the nature of celebrity and the frightening effects of the Cold War. Gary Busey is his Joe DiMaggio, the ballplayer. Tony Curtis is his Joseph McCarthy, the senator. Theresa Russell is his Marylin Monroe and Michael Emil is his professor, with more than a shade of Albert Einstein. With splendid performances and a bit of playfulness, Insignificance becomes a drama that is fun to watch. A rare feat. The Criterion Blu release is also a bit of fun, with plenty of updated video interviews, behind the scenes documentaries and as always, a book of essays to fully illuminate the cultural significance of Roeg’s film. If recent Criterion releases have given you a sense of dread based on their weighty themes, you can rest assured that the weight of Insignificance is only felt by its characters, not its audience.
Battle: Los Angeles
Taken as Blu-ray release only, Battle: Los Angeles might be one of the most impressive releases of the week. It has a number of BD-exclusive special features that show an attention to detail beyond your average release. This is a film envisioned for the Blu-ray generation, with its sleek special effects, it’s faux Black Hawk Down military mayhem story and Aaron Eckhart’s chiseled, dirty chin. Fans of the movie will have their opportunity to bask in it, soaking in all the details with the Blu’s Command Central feature, a picture-in-picture virtual trivia and storyboard comparison interactive mode that runs with the movie (should you decide to turn it on.) The problem on my end was that I never quite got that far. A single viewing of Battle: LA was enough. It’s a capably-constructed alien invasion conceit, with special effects that walk up to the line of being dazzling, only to back away slowly later. And Aaron Eckhart is a subdued, but still commanding action lead. Its problem is that 116 minutes, in this world created by director Jonathan Liebesman, feels like four hours. Cool as ice special effects-driven battle vignettes within an otherwise boring film do not a great action film make. So rent this one, if you’re willing to take my word. Or buy it if you’ve already passed the Battle: LA infinite patience test.
For me, the conceit of Hall Pass is stupid. Two guys get the week off from marriage because their wives, as played by Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate, are tired of them checking out other women or masturbating in their minivans. I understand the old adages about sexless marriages, but lets be frank: no one married to Pam from The Office needs to look elsewhere for the nookie. Needless to say, it left the Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis led comedy off on the wrong foot. Then it used said foot to kick a Korean child in a massage parlor, and I was back on board. Call me easy to please, but it’s the most juvenile stuff that allows me to enjoy the work of Peter and Bobby Farrelly. In what I would contend is their most tame R-rated effort, they lead their two men through a host of predictable, sometimes gross-out gags that eventual lead us to a painfully obvious conclusion. They aren’t even trying to do anything original, they just want to get a few laughs. And they do get them. But just a few. The Blu-ray comes in an “Extended Edition” that only serves to extend the sigh you’ll likely expel when the film is over. And it’s got a gag reel! Look out, world.
Kill the Irishman
In walks a movie that speaks to me on so many deeply personal levels. It’s got Christopher Walken. Point. It is a “based on true events” gangster story that takes place in 1976 Cleveland, Ohio, my own home town. And did I mention that it’s got Christopher Walken. From it, I walked away feeling connected to the roots of some gangsters that came long before I was around, but also with the enjoyment of sitting through a brazen crime thriller that takes time to do some solid character work. It’s not reinventing a genre, but Kill the Irishman is a far better film than its almost invisible theatrical release and under-the-radar Blu-ray release would suggest. The Blu-ray’s main disability is a lack of extras, as is so often the case. It includes a documentary about the real Irish mobster Danny Greene, but that’s about it. It’s a picture perfect example of a movie worth renting — a solid watch, with a few great performances. And did I mention Christopher Walken? As a gangster?
Red Riding Hood
Of this latest Catherine Hardwicke joint’s preview screenings, which had the unfortunate honor of premiering during Fantastic Fest in Austin with rabid horror fans salivating for blood all around it, I can remember but one thing: a sense of dread as the film’s director entered the Alamo Drafthouse to do some Q&A. I was standing outside, waiting on another film when I saw her. She appeared to know what was about to happen — the standards-laced audience was about to heartily reject her MTV-era period piece, which was more Gossip Girl than American Werewolf, even though it had been marketed the other way around. As she entered the building, it was like someone called out “dead director walking.” It would be an easy thing to question — it can’t be that bad, right? Nope. After inspecting it on Blu-ray, I can confirm that Red Riding Hood is a right piece of garbage. Over-stylized, insipid and lazily choreographed. Not to mention the performances, filed from long distance by the likes of Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried. As a Blu-ray package, it earns points for an alternative ending that is just a little less stupid, picture-in-picture commentary and a gag reel that is lightly entertaining. But as I explored the crown jewels of the extras, the music videos, I can’t help but think that Hardwicke would have rather just made a 20-minute version of this classic story set to some Arcade Fire, instead.