Blu-ray Highlights: Weeks of Jan. 5-18, 2014 – New Year Catch-Up Edition

Generally, January is a slow time for movie releases, both in theaters and on home video. Uncharacteristically, the first two weeks of 2014 have been surprisingly active on the Blu-ray front. Because I missed doing one of these updates last Monday, this post will consolidate two weeks of disc releases. We’ve got a lot to go through, so let’s dig in.

Please note that I’ve created two separate polls below, one for each week. It was just easier for me to prepare the post that way. Be sure to hit the “Vote” button after each section to record all of your choices.

Which Blu-rays from the Week of 1/5/14 Interest You?

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Which Blu-rays from the Week of 1/12/14 Interest You?

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New Releases

Riddick‘ – I’m a big fan of ‘Pitch Black’ but, like most viewers, I didn’t think too much of the first overblown sequel, ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’. (The Director’s Cut is somewhat of an improvement, but even that version is still pretty mediocre.) Because star Vin Diesel and writer/director David Twohy remain convinced that the character is franchise-worthy, now we have a third, stripped-down entry that appears to be a blatant carbon copy of ‘Pitch Black’. From what I hear, the movie’s also disturbingly misogynistic and rapey. Word-of-mouth was mixed as to whether this was a return-to-form or a stale retread. I will probably rent it, but I don’t feel the need to be a completist for this series.

Carrie‘ – Hollywood’s latest pointless remake. I like Chloe Moretz, and if somebody has to star in a remake of Stephen King’s telekinesis thriller, it might as well be her. Still, why did this need to be made? The original is an excellent movie. Just watch that.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler‘ – Hooray for branding! Lee Daniels made one overrated movie that got an Oscar nomination, and now his name takes top billing on this ‘Forrest Gump’-ian tale of an average man who happens to be in the right place to bear witness to many important moments in American history. The studio claims that the director’s name had to be added to the title to avoid a copyright issue over the phrase ‘The Butler’. Horseshit. Call it ‘The President’s Butler’ or ‘The White House Butler’ and you’ll have a much more descriptive title that easily avoids any alleged copyright claim. Everything about this film strikes me as cynical awards bait. I’m told that the parade of famous guest stars who play the various American Presidents are uniformly and distractingly miscast. (Robin Williams as Eisenhower and John Cusack as Nixon? WTF is that about?) Given how much I disliked ‘Precious’, this is a clear pass for me.

Runner Runner‘ – Having cemented his status as an A-List director, Ben Affeck threw away some of that good will with his return to acting in this lame gambling thriller that looks like the kind of crap he used to star in before his first career meltdown. Bad title, awful trailers, scathing reviews… Nothing about this is appealing on any level.

Enough Said‘ – The latest intimate, carefully-observed character drama from Nicole Holofcener (‘Please Give’, ‘Friends with Money’). Its merits as a movie were perhaps a little overshadowed by the fact that it’s also one of the final performances by James Gandolfini. Nevertheless, reviews were strong. Some acting nominations may be forthcoming in awards season.

The Spectacular Now‘ – One of the big indie hits of the year, this coming-of-age drama continues the bizarre conundrum that is Shailene Woodley, a young actress who is utterly horrible in the inane TV drama ‘The Secret Life of the American Teenager’ and yet has given credible performances in movies like ‘The Descendants’ and this. I guess she needs a good director to get the best out of her.

Fruitvale Station‘ – Based on a true story of a hot-tempered black man who was beaten to death by police for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong skin color and an unfortunate inability to hold his tongue, the indie drama is said to be very emotionally powerful, if a little simplistic and perhaps one-sided in its depiction of real-life events. Expect this to score a bunch of Independent Spirit awards and be completely ignored at the Oscars.

Thanks for Sharing‘ – A rom-com about addiction and 12-step programs starring Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow and P!nk. Reviews were mixed-to-negative. Doesn’t look too interesting to me.

Closed Circuit‘ – Terrorism thriller starring Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall. Said to be very dull and predictable.

You’re Next‘ – Sadistic home invasion horror thrillers seem to be a dime a dozen these days. This one puts a darkly comic spin on the formula and received surprisingly good notices for this type of thing.

Big Ass Spider!‘ – The title kind of says it all. Amazingly, this homage/spoof of 1950s creature features is a little more ambitious than the Syfy Channel schlock that it may look like.

Catalog Titles

The coming of a new awards season often brings out new video editions of past Oscar winners and nominees. Some of the prestige pictures making their high-def debuts include F.W. Murnau’s ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans‘ (Best Picture winner 1929, often regailed as the greatest silent film ever made), Norman Jewison’s ‘In the Heat of the Night‘ (Best Picture winner 1968) and ‘Fiddler on the Roof‘ (Best Picture nominee 1972), ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter‘ (Best Actress winner 1981), ‘The Killing Fields‘ (Best Picture nominee 1985), ‘A Chorus Line‘ (Best Original Song nominee 1986), ‘Gorillas in the Mist‘ (Best Actress nominee 1989), and ‘The Hurricane‘ (Best Actor nominee 2000).

Continuing its commitment to celebrating and preserving as much of Akira Kurosawa’s filmography as possible, the Criterion Collection finally upgrades the master’s ‘Throne of Blood‘ (a samurai spin on Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’) to Blu-ray. Meanwhile, Criterion also takes us on a crime spree with Michael Mann’s ‘Thief‘ and Jules Dassin’s ‘Rififi‘. All of these are must-owns.

Determined to give Criterion a run for its money in the art house arena, the Cohen film Collection brings us Jean-Luc Godard’s 1985 virgin birth allegory ‘Hail Mary‘.

Other notable titles: Bruce Willis in the ’80s screwball comedy ‘Blind Date‘, Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell in Robert Towne’s noirish thriller ‘Tequila Sunrise‘, Christopher Lee in the original 1973 British horror classic ‘The Wicker Man‘ (as opposed to the laughable Nicolas Cage remake), and Vincent Gallo in his own directorial debut (the one people like) ‘Buffalo ’66‘.

Television

Things are also busy in TV Land with the first season of Fox’s ludicrous how-did-this-get-renewed? serial killer drama ‘The Following‘, the first season of the I-watch-tons-of-shows-on-FX-yet-I-have-no-idea-what-this-is comedy ‘Legit‘, the second season of BBC’s ‘Copper‘, the third season of ‘Being Human‘ (I believe it’s the American version, if I’m not mistaken), the third season of ‘Star Trek: Enterprise‘ and the fourth season of the hilarious ‘Archer‘.

I’m not sure whether A&E’s decision to drop four seasons of ‘Duck Dynasty‘ on the market this month amounts to really regrettable timing or really great timing. The asinine scandal about that show may actually drum up some sales.

I’ll take all the Criterions, thank you, as well as ‘Sunrise’, ‘In the Heat of the Night’ and ‘The Killing Fields’. I also already imported the UK SteelBook edition of ‘The Wicker Man’. How about you?