New Blu's On the Block - 12/7/2010


Rating: Various

Distributor: Various

Released: Dec 7, 2010


Written by Sara Michelle Fetters



New Blu's On the Block
Blu-ray and DVD Releases for Dec 7, 2010

Itís a good week for Blu-ray and DVD fans hoping to get their hands on items a bit more off-beat and cerebral. One of the yearís most acclaimed and talked about motion pictures delivered from the hands of Christopher Nolan gets its much anticipated Blu-ray release, as do a couple of creepy and unsettling early efforts from master filmmakers David Cronenberg and Guillermo del Toro thanks courtesy of the folks over at the Criterion Collection. Americaís favorite green ogre sees his final adventure gets a release, same with the countryís beloved counter-intelligence agent Jack Bauer. An Afghanistan doc currently on the Academy Awards shortlist for potential Best Documentary nominees co-directed by noted journalist and author Sebastian Junger hits shelves, while a Sofia Coppola Oscar-winner makes its hi-def debut just a few weeks before her latest effort Somewhere starts its multiplex run.


In short, if ever a week offered up something for everyone this might just be it. Read on and see for yourself.




One of the yearís most discussed, talked about and popular motion pictures, Christopher Nolanís (The Dark Knight, Memento) latest is a twisted and twisty brain teaser the less a person knows going in the better. Itís James Bond thriller where anything can happen and everything is possible, Leonardo DiCaprio and his band of renegade mental espionage agents going directly into a personís mind in order to steal their deepest, darkest and most personal secrets. I saw this one four times at the theatre, calling it in my July review (read it here) the type of ďsensational, thought-provoking, intelligent and mind-blowing piece of entertainment Hollywood just doesnít have the guts to produce anymore.Ē


Nothingís changed all these months later, and itís pretty much a given that Nolanís achievement is one of the better films Iíve seen in 2010. The Blu-ray comes positively loaded with extras, most of them coming in what is called an ďExtraction Mode,Ē an interactive feature that plays along with the film itself allowing the viewer to pause for featurettes and extras personally supervised and commissioned by the director. My guess is that this is going to be one of the holiday seasonís top sellers, and as a review will be forthcoming from Mitchell and sadly not myself (Iíd pout if itíd do me some good, but as it wonít Iíll politely refrain) itís safe to say this one was added to the top of my own personal Christmas wish list weeks ago.





Released in 1993, Cronos was the debut effort for acclaimed Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Panís Labyrinth). It is a creepy, unsettling and much of the time fascinating gothic character study masquerading as a horror movie. Like the best of the directorís latter work (most notably The Devilís Backbone), just when you think where you know this one is going del Toro transitions to someplace original and eerie. While not his best, as an introduction to this maestroís world it is downright perfection, and by all account Criterionís Blu-ray release of the film (which includes his early short film GeometrŪa) is one to be gobbled up immediately.


Iím not sure what to say about David Cronenbergís (The Fly, A History of Violence) twisted 1982 psycho-sexual science fiction meets intellectual horror freak show Videodrome. Itís truly one of a kind, itís tale of a man (a superb James Woods giving anything and everything heís got) looking for something different and new to be played on his sleazy cable television station and stumbling upon a violent underground fetish torture program thatís beyond addicting gets under your skin in ways I canít really explain. Thereís little else like it making it an unforgettable experience that sticks in your nightmares for weeks afterwards. My guess Criterionís Blu-ray will have little new as far as special features go over their original DVD release, but that said I expect upgrades in both picture and sound to be massive. Hopefully a review copy will be sent our way soon and Iíll be able to let you know. Deborah Harry of Blondie fame co-stars in a role you pretty much have to see to believe.




Currently sitting on the Oscar shortlist of potentials (a list that includes Waiting for ďSupermanĒ, Inside Job and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, just to name three) that could be nominated for Best Documentary at next Februaryís Academy Awards, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Jungerís Restrepo chronicles a platoon of American soldiers stationed at one of Afghanistanís most dangerous outposts. Filmed between June 2007 to July 2008, the movie is an intense, you-are-there experience that at times had me gasping for breath. The journalists make a point to not take sides and not let their own personal opinions color the narrative, going out of their way to let the soldiersí voices and actions speak for themselves. Sadly a review copy of the Blu-ray was not sent our way. However, happily the DVD version was, so expect my full thoughts in regards to it to be added to the site within the next couple of days.




Shrek Forever After
Shrek: The Whole Story

While I came close to hating Shrek the Third, the final chapter in the green ogreís saga Shrek Forever After caught me by relative surprise. In my May review (read it here) I wrote that ďthis new adventure is a surprisingly enjoyable lark, and by going back to the beginning the filmmakers are able to breathe new life into a group of characters who I was beforehand sure didnít have any left within them.Ē Thereís not all that much more to say other than to point out DreamWorks is releasing the film both individual and as part of a collectorís gift set theyíre calling, ďShrek: The Whole Story,Ē and to my mind only exists to get those that already purchased the first three films to do so a second time.



Lost in Translation

It sort of kills me where there is a movie that I like but donít absolutely love and adore that everyone else that I know seems to and I have to then spend time knocking parts of it although I have no actual wish to. For whatever reason, Sofia Coppolaís Lost in Translation has found a fervent fan base that goes absolutely gonzo when you say youíre not over the moon about it, that you have issues with certain potions and donít think it quite works all the way through. Look, I like this movie. I think Bill Murray is spectacular in it, maybe should have won the Oscar for Best Actor. I think there are moments when Coppola flirts with perfection. But I donít think it is the end all-be all, and I definitely hold the opinion that the directorís first effort The Virgin Suicides is a much more profound and captivating effort that only seems to get better as the years go by. All that said, with the directorís Somewhere (which Iím seeing Thursday morning and am very excited about) coming soon to theatres her Oscar-winning favorite now makes its Blu-ray debut, a fact which Iím sure is going to make all those who think Iím crazy for not loving it very, very happy indeed.



Mademoiselle Chambon

French filmmaker Stťphane Brizťís Mademoiselle Chambon is a movie Iím still kicking myself for missing when it played here in Seattle theatrically. Iíve heard loads of great things from many people I trust, and for that reason alone Iíve already sent it to the top of my Netflix queue hoping to get a look at it before compiling my 2010 bet-of list and recap. Casey Broadwaterís review over at Blu-ray.com is achingly positive, while Stephen Holden called the film an ďexquisitely acted romantic taleĒ and that the film has a ďcomplexity and tension that transcend words.Ē Like I said before, this is one Iím kicking myself for missing when I had the chance the first time around.



Letters to God

Letters to God is a movie that I was asked to watch by the local Seattle publicist. She was lining up phone interviews with the director and was having trouble finding interested parties. So I watched the movie and subsequently politely passed on the interview and never felt even remotely compelled to write up a full review even though the title was getting a national release. The tale of dying young boy and a disgruntled postal worker who has lost his faith only to befriend him, this movie a schmaltzy, overly-preachy disaster that rams its views down the viewers throat with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. While there will be those out there who for whatever reason enjoy it, it seems to me people of true faith will find this didactic and pretentious weeper to be every bit as awful and uninspiring as I did.



Barry Munday

Patrick Wilson plays unlucky Barry Munday, who was just attacked and wakes up to some unnerving news: heís missing his family jewels and faces a paternity lawsuit filed by a woman (Judy Greer) he canít remember having sex with. The film also stars ChloŽ Sevigny, Malcolm McDowell, Colin Hanks, Cybil Shephard, Christopher McDonald, Jean Smart, Billy Dee Williams and Mae Whitman. The Blu-ray just arrived and we will feature a review of it by next week, so look for that coming soon.


-written by Dennis Crane










ESPN Films 30 for 30 Gift Set Collection, Volume 1

Who knew, but ESPN is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and in conjunction with that ESPN Films is releasing the first 15 films of their acclaimed series that looks at extraordinary sports stories from the last 30 years, from such filmmakers as Barry Levinson and Peter Berg, to Steve James, Brett Morgen and Ice Cube. Presented in a 6-disc collectorís set, and running a combined total of 1161 minutes, plus featuring 2 hours of bonus features, this should be an interesting pick-up for sports and film fans alike. The films include: Kings Ransom, The Band That Wouldnt Die, Small Potatoes: Who Killed The USFL?, Muhammad & Larry, Without Bias, The Legend of Jimmy The Greek, The U, Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks, Guru of Go, No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson, Silly Little Game, Run Ricky Run, The 16th Man, Straight Outta L.A. and June 17th, 1994.


-written by Dennis Crane



Fox 75th Anniversary Collection

Describing this release as a massive collection feels just about right. Whatís inside: 3 volumes. 75 films. 46 of them Academy Award winners, with 7 of them taking home the Best Picture trophy; How Green Was My Valley, All About Eve, The Sound of Music, Patton, The French Connection, Slumdog Millionaire and the DVD debut of Cavalcade. A variety of classic films are here (South Pacific, Star Wars, Alien), and films proven box office hits (Avatar, Mr. and Mrs. Smith). Nearly all of them are available separately, and on Blu-ray no less, so this collection is probably for those who like to have them all collected in one package, in this case an exclusive hard cover book.


-written by Dennis Crane



Law & Order: Season Eight

Slowly but surely making its way to DVD, the flagship series Law & Order enters the eighth year with 24 episodes presented on five discs. Starring  Jerry Orbach, Benjamin Bratt, Sam Waterston, Carey Lowell and S. Epatha Merkerson, cases range from military corruption to drive-by shootings, and from a killer infected with the AIDS virus to the District Attorneyís office abusing its power. Fans may be interested to revisit these episodes and those following the show on DVD must be pleased to see it finally being released, and very possibly hoping the ninth year not being too far behind.


-written by Dennis Crane



Big Bad Mama / Big Bad Mama II (Roger Corman's Cult Classics)

Usually Shout! Factory is great at sending these titles over to us for review, but unfortunately this time around for whatever reason this one never arrived. Pity, because I was really looking forward to viewing this release, as the Angie Dickinson, Tom Skerritt and William Shatner starring 1974 underground pulp cult favorite Big Bad Mama is one of those films you hear a heck of a lot about but rarely get the opportunity to see. As for its 1987 sequel directed by the infamous Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall, Not of This Earth), I know next to nothing about that one. Still, Iíd love to get a look at this double-feature DVD. Hopefully Netflix will make it available and Iíll be able to check it out.



Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Great documentary about the Playboy founder I first saw at this past yearís Seattle International Film Festival and than for whatever reason forgot to write a review about when it went into its limited theatrical release. Suffice it to say, director Brigitte Berman does a relatively wonderful job looking at Hefnerís life and times through a lens that constantly kept me intrigued and interested. Yes, some of this comes off a little as a puff pieces, but considering just how instrumental the notorious twentieth century pop culture icon was in fighting for Civil Rights, religious freedoms and, of course, the First Amendment to the Constitution Iím willing to cut the filmmaker a little (if only just a little) slack for not going after him with a little more vim and vinegar in regards to how heís shaped the feminine image during his lifetime.



Hunter Prey

Surprisingly decent independent science fiction effort that plays like a melding of the Arena episode from ďStar TrekĒ and the 1985 Dennis Quaid/ Louis Gossett Jr. outer space spectacle Enemy Mine. The film follows a trio of soldiers who have crash landed on a barren planet tasked with recapturing a violent and resilient fugitive who holds secrets to a plan to devastate their home world. Made on an obvious shoestring, veteran visual effects technician Sandy Colloraís debut pays homage to countless other sci-fi classics, features Erin Gray of ďBuck Rogers in the 25th CenturyĒ in an important voice role and does its best to take its relatively familiar story into unexpected directions. Itís not always successful, and some of the acting leaves a lot to be desired, but overall this a moderately strong effort that kept me watching all the way from start to finish. Collora shows some talent, and I hope enough people take the time to check this one out so heíll get the opportunity to get behind the camera for a sophomore effort. A full review of the DVD maybe forthcoming, but only if time allows for me to write one up.




Israeli import Jaffa is downright fantastic. The story of a family-run business in the seaside titular town, the movie is a searing familial love story that had me captivated from the very start. Filled with wonderful performances and emotional moments, this timely tale is one I canít really believe never got an art house release here in the United States. A triumph in every sense of the word, for fans of intelligent, thought-provoking world cinema Jaffa is certainly a title worthy of seeking out.



Lady in Red / Crazy Mama (Roger Corman's Cult Classics)

Another Roger Corman double feature DVD courtesy of the folks over at Shout! Factory, like the Big Bad Mama / Big Bad Mama II sadly this one wasnít sent our way for a review. Again Iím kind of sad about this because Iíd have loved to have checked out the both of these. Lady in Red is a John Dillenger biopic featuring an early script by the always awesome John Sayles (Lone Star, Eight Men Out) and stars Pamela Sue Martin, Robert Conrad and Louise Fletcher, while Crazy Mama is director Jonathan Demmeís (The Silence of the Lambs, Something Wild) second effort behind the camera and stars Cloris Leachman and Ann Sothern in a tale of 1950ís Americana gone wild.



Man Zou: Beijing to Shanghai

From the director of the truly awesome Sonicsgate (read my review here), Jason Reidís Man Zou: Beijing to Shanghai is a poetically entrancing journey across China that I found very close to being hypnotic. Traveling more than a thousand miles on a bicycle, Reid and his team (who go on this trek sans support vehicles) get a birdís-eye view of a country in deep transition. They find beauty, sacrifice, triumph, sorrow and a whole heck of a lot else along their path, getting an unfiltered look the likes of which the majority of will never get the chance to see for ourselves. This wonderful little documentary is currently only available at the Channel 9 Store (the online portal for our local Seattle public television station, KCTS 9), and at $19.95 I actually think it is an incredible bargain, this sublime and transformational documentary one viewers looking for something of substance and depth are sure to treasure. Depending on if I have the time I might have a full review of the DVD up within the next few days.



The Milk of Sorrow

A young girl named Fausta lives in constant fear and confusion due to a disease called the Milk of Sorrow Ė which is transmitted through the breast milk of pregnant women who were abused or raped during or soon after pregnancy Ė and when she must face the sudden death of her mother she chooses to take drastic measures to not follow in her footsteps.


-written by Dennis Crane



Only When I Dance

So I totally forgot to request this one from the distributor, so I sadly know little about this independent documentary chronicling two children from a Brazilian Favela both of whom dream of becoming professional ballet dancers. Iím a sucker for docs about dance, and considering how many positive notices this one received Iíll definitely be adding it to my Netflix queue and hopefully checking it out sometime in the near future.



Patrik Age 1.5

So, I watched this Swedish import twice, once during last summerís Seattle International Film Festival and once via a screener just before its limited domestic theatrical run. Even with that being so, I never felt compelled to write a review. While this story of a gay couple inadvertently adopting a 15-year-old boy instead of a 15-month-old infant certainly has its charms, and while it is definitely never difficult to watch and at some points enjoy, it also isnít remotely memorable, most of its best bits dissipating from memory almost immediately. Still, itís probably worthy of a rental, I did watch it twice myself, after all; Iím just not positive itís worth any more than that.



The Stranger in Us

Strong, if not entirely successful, debut feature for San Francisco filmmaker Scott Boswell about an aspiring poet who follows his partner cross-country all the way from Virginia to the City by the Bay dealing with issues of neglect, abuse and love most of which hit home with startlingly visceral impact. Movie is sometimes too cute for its own good, Boswell overplaying his hand and slathering on his message with all the subtlety of a slap to the face. Still, itís filled with a plethora of effective moments, the final scenes easily making up for many of the narrative shortcomings occurring throughout.




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