New Blu's On the Block Blu-ray and DVD Releases for Nov 23, 2010
It’s the Monday before Thanksgiving and I’m going to keep this brief as there’s not a lot hitting store shelves today. The biggies are a colossal box set of important classics from Criterion and a Fritz Lang silent masterpiece fully restored to its original glory for the very first time.
Other than that, I don’t have a lot to say other than I hope everyone enjoys there holiday and that you make sure and check out MovieFreak’s first-ever Holiday Gift Guide. We put a lot of work into it so hopefully you’ll get some great present ideas for that certain hard-to-buy-for someone.
BBS Productions were the brainchild of Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner, three men with a foothold in the entertainment industry who wanted to make films geared to young people that Hollywood would never think to produce. Between 1968 and 1972 they had a hand in creating six distinct motion pictures that defied easy categorizing and engaged audiences on levels that felt fresh and new. The Criterion Collection brings all seven of these motion pictures, some recognizable (Five Easy Pieces, The Last Picture Show, Easy Rider), other not as much (The King of Marvin Gardens, Drive He Said, Head, A Safe Place), all of immense importance to the history of independent cinema.
I’m excited to see all of these, especially the three (The King of Marvin Gardens, Drive He Said and A Safe Place) I’ve never seen. I’m also curious to see how Criterion’s treatment of Easy Rider differs from Sony’s, which for my money did a fairly solid job with their hi-def presentation back in October of 2009. No matter what, though, this is a set anyone who considers themselves a student of cinematic history has to be aching to get their hands on, and I know for my part I’ve already added it to my own personal Christmas wish list.
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is among the very few ultimate classic silent films, and Kino has now released it in high definition, which is cause for celebration, seeing a movie like this on the ever-emerging format. The Blu-ray features a restored version of the film, but since there are various edits of it are flowing around in the world, some with alternate takes and angles, this isn’t the complete version of Metropolis, mind you. Bonus material is not very packed, unfortunately, and not all DVD extras are ported over. Further, the Blu-ray is not very imaginative when it comes to the functionalities and capabilities that the format allows, but fans will be salivating over the fascinating 50-minute documentary on the making and restoration of the film, plus an interview piece and a trailer.
To paraphrase my own August review (read it here), Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables is a serious waste of time. To directly quote my review, three months ago I stated that the movie was “more The Delta Farce than it is The Delta Force” and that it was “cheap looking, juvenile, overstuffed and just plain silly.” I hold to all of this, and for the life of my I can’t understand a single action aficionado who claims this one is even slightly decent. Be that as it may, it did very well at the box office and I anticipate Blu-ray sales will be brisk, and I guess on those fronts alone I have to tip my hat to Lionsgate (if only ever-so slightly).
Editor's note: A review copy was not sent our way because demand was high (understandable enough) and supply was limited (not very much); one would think a blockbuster release like this would produce lots of copies. Too bad.
Ugh. Another August release that I could stand the first time I watched it and can’t image wanting to endure again on Blu-ray. In my review of the film (read it here) I said, “All I do know is that for 135 or so minutes the only consistent thing I wanted to do while watching this movie version was to get up and leave.” In all fairness, this Julia Roberts melodrama will probably play a heck of a lot better at home (thank you pause and fast-forward buttons) than it did in theatres, and the gentlemen costarring here (Billy Crudup, James Franco and Javier Bardem) are pretty easy on the eyes. I’m sure there will be plenty of people eager to check this one out, and even though it annoyed the heck out of me kudos to those who find something here that moves and inspires them to change their lives for the better.
First things first, because it requires a mention--the show that ended before its time, HBO and David Milch angering millions of fans by, first, cancelling the series after three seasons, and two, not giving it closure, which a proposed-but-then-scrapped plan for a one-off movie to wrap up plot and character developments. In that sense, one could argue the monikor ‘complete series’ will never be truly that. Now, the show itself is one gigantic monster of a show; simply put, 36 episodes/hours of amazing television. It features memorable performances, whip-smart and enriched characters, richly detailed production values, and, above all, great, great writing, without which, of course, there would be none of those prior things. Bonus material is ported over from the DVD sets, and includes documentaries and commentary tracks. If you don’t own the show yet, buy it, although if you’re thinking of upgrading, you must ask yourself one question; what’s your price?
To quote my recent theatrical review (read it here): “The Disappearance of Alice Creed is a relatively straightforward British thriller that despite its familiarity manages to still pack a pretty mean wallop. This an aggressive and dirty piece of cinema, a brutal descent in depravity where who are the villains and who are the heroes changes far more frequently than you’d probably expect.” Starring Gemma Arterton and the great Eddie Marsan, this is a sensational little flick that held me pleasingly mesmerized all the way through its cutthroat finale. For my part, of all the new releases of current films hitting Blu-ray today this is the one I can’t wait to watch again (as well as am eager to add to my own personal library). Click to read Mitchell’s The Disappearance of Alice Creed Blu-ray Review, which just went live.
Ah, yes, the Joaquin Phoenix documentary directed by Casey Affleck. At this point we all know that this year-in-the-life portrait is a fake, that Affleck and Phoenix teamed up to present one of the more audacious pieces of performance art in quite some time. Personally I’m sad I missed this one in theatres and can’t wait to get my hands on the Blu-ray to get a look at it for myself. I’ve been informed a review copy is on its way and I’ll make sure and have a review up as soon as it’s in my hot little hands.
Countdown to Zero is a well-meaning, well-made and reasonably entertaining documentary that for the life of my I’m not sure if there’s an actual valid reason to watch. This anti-nuclear feature basically tells us what we already know and adds very little of substance to the conversation. That said, director Lucy Walker has done a fine job crafting a picture that is easy on the eyes and full of talking heads (like Jimmy Carter, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Pervez Musharraf, James Baker III, Valerie Plame and Robert McNamara) who are all actually worth listening to. But the film is preaching to the choir, and in my theatrical review (read it here) I stated: “I get it, nuclear weapons are bad, and if I were a High School social studies teacher I’d show this film to my class without reservation, I just wouldn’t want to buy a ticket to see it in a movie theatre.”
Based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen, Rob Reiner’s Flipped was supposed to be a return to character-driven basics for the director. But this coming-of-age story set in the 1950’s did not receive great reviews from critics, Warner Bros severely limiting is platform release in response to their reactions. While the movie did ultimately play Seattle, early reports were that it wasn’t going to so I shirked my critical responsibilities and skipped a press screening. Low and behold, the movie was suddenly rescheduled and was released on a single screen here in the Emerald City, making my decision look like an incredibly bad one. Now I’ll have to Netflix the thing (Warner didn’t send over a review copy) just to make myself feel better about missing it the first time around.
Ken Follett’s best-selling novel is adapted into eight episodes for this sprawling miniseries starring the likes of Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Donald Sutherland, Tony Curran, Alison Pill, and Matthew Macfadyen. Mitchell has reviewed the set, and you can now read his The Pillars of the Earth Blu-ray Reviewnow. In the review he writes, “The Pillars of the Earth is the sort of old-fashioned 'event' entertainment you could have found on any of the major networks twenty-five or thirty years, albeit spiced-up with a bit of nudity, some graphic violence, and a few dirty words.”
This History channel original series makes its way to high-def with all 16 episodes as it follows mixed martial artist Jason Chambers and former football pro Bill Duff putting their bodies on the line training in the most lethal forms of combat. The show’s conceit of using CGI blow-by-blow simulations and offering factual details is a major highlight, and fun to watch.
I’m always on the lookout for new British drama/detective shows, and Luther is one of the latest ones hitting home video shortly after airing on BBC America, and it’s worth sharing with our readers. Idris Elba (The Wire, American Gangster) plays Detective John Luther, a self-destructive near-genius who might just be as dangerous as the depraved criminals he pursues. Case in point, Luther enters into a dangerous battle of wits with beautiful and highly intelligent mass murderer Alice (Ruth Wilson, Jane Eyre), causing his decision-making ability to become rather murky. As he descends into a deeper, shadowy state, the questions becomes, is Luther a force for good or a man hell bent on self-destruction? The DVD presents all 6 episodes on two discs, and the featurette “Luther: The World of a True Maverick”.
Admittedly, this is something I’d like to get myself, because I have only seen the show’s first few episodes and they were great, so to be able to continue until the end is tempting, but then again this is the DVD edition, and I’m certain a Blu-ray collection will hit shelves eventually, so I will hold off for now. In fact, you can get each season in hi-def from Canada’s Amazon page. Now, here’s the kicker, though: this set includes 14 never-before-seen bonus features! Yes, I can believe that, because the individual DVD sets were crappy on extras. Unbelievable? It is. I’m actually both surprised and delighted at Showtime’s ability to produce value-added material that’s actually worthwhile, if only for The Tudors, in the complete series set. Oh, and I should also mention that this is a 15-disc set and features all 38 episodes from all four seasons. So, if you really care for behind-the-scenes material on The Tudors, you might be tempted enough to pick up this collection.
Previously available in season sets, this Limited Edition complete series box set comes with a bonus disc that includes 95 minutes of new special features, specifically a Secret Origin documentary and three featurettes, so there is at least some incentive for fans of Batman Beyond to want to upgrade. If you’re new to the show, you’ll find all 52 episodes here along with extras like creator commentaries on key episodes, season retrospectives and a booklet featuring artwork from the DC archives.
Sam Rockwell and Emma Roberts in this smallish independent release about an adult misfit with a knack for basketball who is inexplicably hired to coach an inept High School girl’s team even though he has no teaching experience. Melissa Anderson at The Village Voice liked the film saying that it, “respects its misfits (and its audience) by not stripping away their foibles in the service of sports-movie clichés.” On the other hand, Stephen Holden of The New York Times was in the opposite camp saying that the film, “collapses into a sentimental farce that even Mr. Rockwell, now playing the clown, cannot redeem from cringe-inducing hokum.”
Awaiting release for over seven years, it’s hard to understand why the Sam Neill starring The Zookeeper has been kept off of screens for so long. Making its DVD debut, this simple, straight-forward and emotionally stirring drama concerns itself with a city zookeeper (Neill) in an unnamed Eastern European city who tries to look after the animals in his care after the city is abandoned due to violent civil war. Heartbreaking and inspiring, this is the best performance Neill has given in ages, and by the time it was over I was more than a bit taken aback by how much it had struck a nerve. Some of it is a little heavy-handed, and director Ralph Ziman can layer on the melodrama a bit thickly at times, but suffice it to say this based-on-fact story is a strong, thought-provoking effort I thoroughly enjoyed. Definitely worth checking out and adding to the Netflix queue.