New Blu's On the Block Blu-ray and DVD Releases for Feb 1, 2011
It’s a packed week filled with classics from Disney, Fox and the folks over at the Criterion Collection. Also releasing is my favorite documentary of 2010, an awesome horror remake that gets better every time I see it, a pair of Fox Searchlight dramas worthy of a look (or maybe even two or three or them) and a new thriller from Zhang Yimou that has him channeling his inner Coen Brother. What’s more, all of that is only the tip of the new release Blu-ray iceberg. Read on to see what I mean.
I love Disney's animated chestnut Alice in Wonderland, and the older I get the more wonderful it seems to become. In my review of this stupendous release (read it here) I said that, “Disney has once again delivered up one of their hand-drawn animated classics to Blu-ray with virtuoso brilliance,” and that people should, “buy it and add it to [their] collection immediately.” In a week filled with new releases worthy of screaming from the rooftops about, this one might just be the best of the gosh darn bunch.
I only just received review copies of both of these titles (in their handsome Digibook packaging) and I’ve barely had the opportunity to rip of the plastic and slip them into the Blu-ray player in order to give them a cursory glance. While both the 1957 perennial romantic classic starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr and the phenomenal 1950 Best Picture-winning backstage drama with Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and George Sanders do not come with any new special features differing from the original DVD releases, both come with upgraded picture and sound transfers that do them stupendous justice. Without question, this is the best both films have looked since their original theatrical releases, and I have a feeling each of them (especially All About Eve, one of my personal all-time favs) is going to get a heck of lot of use.
The first time I watched Matt Reeves’ remake of Let the Right One In I admitted upfront I was having difficulty distancing his version of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s from director Tomas Alfredson’s. They both have inherent similarities difficult to dismiss, and because of their close proximity in regards to domestic release (just over a year apart) it was hard for me to separate one from the other as fully as I otherwise would have preferred. In my October theatrical review (read it here) I said that Reeves take was a, “deeply visceral, highly unsettling drama, and had the memory of Alfredson’s original not still been sitting so close to the forefront of my brainpan I’d almost proclaim this character-driven exercise in delicate horror as one of 2010’s best.”
Having watched it two more times since writing that review (once in the theatre, once on Blu-ray) I regret to say I should have done a better job in my initial estimations of Reeves’ version. While I still have slight issues with the some of the subpar CGI, overall this is a deeply unsettling yet also highly mature (and even somewhat romantic) thriller that gets under your skin like few other motion pictures. It is a dynamic step upwards for the Cloverfield auteur, immediately cementing him as a talent to keep an eye on in the future. You can read Mitchell’s take on the Blu-ray here, while I had the pleasure of conducting a recent telephone interview with the filmmaker himself last week. Expect that column to be uploaded to the site in the next day or so.
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s astonishing 1991 Cannes Film Festival prize-winner (including Best Actress, Irène Jacob) The Double Life of Veronique gets the Criterion Blu-ray upgrade, and while all features are duplicated from the 2006 DVD they’ve all been upgraded to hi-def. As for the film itself, it remains a totally immersive stunner, anchored by a performance by the luminous Jacob that is a complete and total delight. I’ll have more to say in my full Blu-ray review of the title (I just received this yesterday and have only scratched the surface of what it has to offer), but for now just let me say this is a title fans of the late Polish master should be going out of their way to gobble up right this very instant.
Reprinted from my October theatrical review (read it here): “Conviction doesn’t do anything new. Even for those completely unfamiliar with the Waters’ story the place that it ultimately gets to isn’t exactly unexpected. But thanks to Swank, thanks to Goldwyn’s directorial restraint, thanks to the inherent power lying at the center of Gray’s screenplay, the movie comes alive in a way that hit me right in the heart. I was moved by Betty’s journey and felt privileged that I was allowed to sit in the theatre and experience it.” We’ll hopefully have a full review of this Blu-ray for you to take a look at soon. Additionally, you can find my interview with costar Juliette Lewis by clicking here.
I’m curious to get a second look at director Mark Romanek’s take on author Kazuo Ishiguro’s glorious novel Never Let Me Go, because the first one left me more a wee bit cold and even more disappointed. As I said in my original September theatrical review (read it here), “There is almost too much hinting going on, too much minimalism, the characters never quite achieving a three dimensional status which would make their plights, and their subdued reactions to them, fully resonate.” Part of me thinks I was being unfair, letting my affinity for the novel cloud my judgment. Who knows? Like I said, I need to watch it again to know for sure. Mitchell will have a full review of the Blu-ray up for everyone to read in the next few days.
I think at this point I’ve said all I need to about Amir Bar-Lev’s fantastic documentary The Tillman Story. To my mind, it was the best doc 2010 had to offer, and other than Exit Through the Gift Shop the only one I’ve watched multiple times. You can read my thoughts both here (theatrical review) and here (Blu-ray review), and the only thing I have to add at this point is that I hope everyone reading this gives it a look ASAP.
Visual effects whiz-kid Gareth Edwards’ much talked about directorial debut Monsters struck a chord with audiences during its limited release last October, picking up its share of unabashedly positive accolades and ferociously vicious pans in almost equal measure (more of the former than the latter, but not by a large margin). For my part, I feel someplace in the middle in regards to this one, some of Edward’s character-driven creature-feature striking my fancy while other portions left me sadly cold. I’ll have a full review of the Blu-ray soon (it just arrived this morning), until then feel free to check out my own theatrical review by clicking right here.
For whatever reason, all the buzz that Welcome to the Rileys managed to generate at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival did not translate when it was ultimately released to theatres towards the end of last year. At its widest point it hit a whopping 11 theatres, racking up an anemic $158,898 according to the folks over at Box Office Mojo. Needless to say, this drama starring James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo and Kristin Stewart never made its way to Seattle, and although I’d heard plenty of very good things about it sadly I never got the opportunity to give it a look. Granted, if Mitchell’s Blu-ray review (read it here) is any indication maybe that’s not a bad thing after all writing that the film offer up “almost no genuine human emotion” and that on the whole everything is “contrived, cliché and improbable.” I’m still putting it in the Netflix queue, but my excitement in regards to giving it a look has certainly been diluted to say the least.
Chinese master Zhang Yimou tackles maybe his most ambitious project yet, a remake of the Coen Brother’s classic 1985 noir Blood Simple. Transposing the action to a secluded noodle shop out in the middle of a lonely desert near the Jiayu Pass sometime around the turn of the twentieth century, the movie is a visual marvel up their with the director’s Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Raise the Red Lantern. Dramatically, however, it’s a bit all over the place, and while everything is expertly staged and acted (especially by Yan Ni, the noodle shop’s owner’s conniving wife) it doesn’t hit with near the same punch as Joel and Ethan’s magnificent debut did. You can read all I have to say about this Blu-ray by clicking here.
Entertaining if not entirely memorable drama featuring strong performances by Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington, the former portraying a one-time Black Power activist who returns to his Philadelphia home under mysterious circumstances, Night Catches Us is an almost perfect rental. Writer and director Tanya Hamilton does a great job of creating a believable milieu, and while where everything is ultimately headed isn’t too much of a surprise getting there is a relatively smooth and emotionally effective ride. You can read my full review of the DVD by clicking here (Magnolia sadly ran out of Blu-ray review copies).
This 2009 effort from the folks over at The Weinstein Company appears to have been a victim of the company’s financial upheaval, Harvey and his gang ultimately declining to give it a theatrical release even though it starred Oscar-winner Forrest Whitaker and featured an inspirational sports story concerning rival High School basketball players forced to come together as a team in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Thankfully, we did receive a copy of the Blu-ray for review, and I expect Mitchell will have his full thoughts of the picture posted for everyone to take a look at within the next couple of days.
I have no idea what to say about this one. It’s a direct-to-DVD sequel to the surprise 2008 box office hit and comes with an almost entirely new vocal and physical cast (save for George Lopez), Drew Barrymore, Andy Garcia, Jamie Lee Curtis and Piper Perabo all declining to return.
Adam Green’s Hatchet II opened on October 3 to much in the way of fanfare and hype thanks mostly to its refusal to bow to MPAA conventions and go into theatres completely unrated. It closed two days later, making a whopping $52,604 before being shuffled away to the dustbin. In comparison, Green’s Hatchet managed $175,281 back in 2007 (after only a scant 14 days), while his 2010 Sundance favorite follow-up Frozen took in $246,176 even though it only played in a tiny 106 theatres (all numbers courtesy Box Office Mojo) before Anchor Bay pulled it for its Blu-ray debut where it has apparently done extremely well. What does any of these mean? Absolutely nothing other than I have an affinity for numbers. Also, maybe it means in the future Green should stay away from the slasher film well and make more inventive and original fare like Frozen.
On the job, Detective Chief Inspector Janine Lewis deals with the ugly side of human nature, investigating Manchester’s most gruesome crimes. At home, she’s a harried but devoted single mother of four, struggling to balance her challenging career with the stresses and rewards of family life. Award-winning actress Caroline Quentin (“Men Behaving Badly,” “Life of Riley”) perfectly captures Lewis’s strength and vulnerability as she balances work and family, aided by her handsome, dedicated partner (Ian Kelsey, “Casualty”). This complete collection follows the gritty realities of Lewis’s career from her initial promotion through personal and professional ups and downs--always presented with a touch of wry humor and keen observations about modern motherhood. (Product description reprinted from Amazon.com)
A passionate young barrister leads a legal revolution in this superb new courtroom drama set in 18th-century England. Appalled by the corruption of London’s Old Bailey, William Garrow (Andrew Buchan, “Cranford,” “The Fixer”) advocates for the accused and pioneers the art of cross-examination, paving the way for our modern legal system. Aided by his mentor (Alun Armstrong, “Little Dorrit,” “New Tricks”) and the beautiful Lady Sarah Hill (“Lyndsey Marshal,” “Being Human,” The Hours), he faces down ruthless bounty hunters; callous judges; smug solicitors; and MP Sir Arthur Hill (Rupert Graves, “The Forsyte Saga”), who sees Garrow as a threat to the law—and his marriage. Based on a true story and drawing on actual Old Bailey court records, this award-winning series follows Garrow as he argues his first cases, rails against outdated legal practices, and shows that one man can indeed change everything. (Product description reprinted from Amazon.com)
When Garda Sergeant Jack Driscoll (Owen McDonnell) returns home to the windswept west coast of Ireland, his father—and predecessor at his new post--warns: "Out here, it’s a team of one." As chief law-enforcement officer in this insular community, Jack soon learns the hard truth in those words. Small-town life presents challenges he never faced in Dublin--among them, winning the respect of the villagers and escaping the shadow of his father (Ian McElhinney), whose methods relied more on pragmatism than principle. In these three feature-length crime dramas, Jack investigates a beautiful immigrant’s murder, a child’s abduction, and a teenager’s baffling drowning. Complex characters rife with moral ambiguity and internal conflict populate this gritty series set against a landscape of epic beauty and isolation. (Product description reprinted from Amazon.com)
I’ve always had a fondness for the 1981 suspense backwoods chase chiller Death Hunt with Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin (the pair re-teaming for the first time since they starred together in The Dirty Dozen). It’s an efficient little thriller, director Peter Hunt keeping things moving at a relatively sturdy pace offering up some wonderful bits of action worth crowing about.
As for Butch & Sundance: The Early Days, I know very little about this Richard Lester effort other than it stars Tom Berenger and William Katt and that it earned an Oscar nomination for its costumes. I haven’t heard great things but I’ve also not heard anything dreadful, either, and I’d be willing to give it a look if I ever get the opportunity.
What should be a tired and contrived storyline proves to be anything bun in Clair of the Moon writer/director Nicole Conn’s latest lesbian romantic melodrama Elena Undone. The film revolves around the relationship between a pastor’s wife (nicely underplayed by Necar Zadegan) and a jaded novelist (the lovely Traci Dinwiddie), but instead of following the usual routine goes off an intriguing and sensual directions uniquely its own. While not completely rising above cliché, Conn’s delightful effort is just engaging and original enough to make it to the romantic finish line relatively unscathed.
Making its DVD debut, this 1975 effort from director Stanley Donen (Charade, Funny Face) brings together Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds and Liza Minnelli in a Prohibition era comedy full of bullets, booze and broads. Roger Ebert gave the movie two-stars in his original review, calling it a “big, expensive, good-looking flop of a movie” following that up by saying “rarely is so much effort expended on a movie so inconsequential.”
Even years after-the-fact made-for-TV sequel that has about as much to do with the delightful (bordering on classic) 2004 original as Spam does to Filet Mignon. Well, maybe that’s not quite fair as Tim Meadows for whatever reason does return as Principal Duvall, and I imagine he was paid quite well for the indignity of doing so.
Solid based-on-fact melodrama about Sandra Laing, a black girl who was born to two white Afrikaner parents in South Africa during the height of apartheid, this 2008 independent effort finally makes it debut on DVD. Sophie Okonedo is stunning as the title character, while Sam Neill is equally so as her self-destructive and tragically vindictive father Abraham. Movie goes on a bit too long and director Anthony Fabian tends to beat the audience over the head at times, but overall this a solid and emotionally stirring effort worthy of a rental.