That’s a little better now, isn’t it? The last few weeks haven’t seen too many heavy-hitters on Blu-ray, but this week brings us two of last year’s biggest blockbusters, a couple of notable award winners, and some other good stuff. Let’s dig in!
‘Gravity‘ – I didn’t get out to the theater much in 2013, and this is probably the one movie I most regret not seeing on the big screen. Will it have the same impact at home, even in a decent home theater? The film was both a blockbuster smash and one of the best reviewed movies of the year (even scoring a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars), but it has also suffered a pretty significant backlash in recent months due to complaints about a thin story and characterization, plus some dubious science. Is there any more depth to it than just the sensation of its visual effects and 3D spectacle? I’m willing to give Alfonso Cuaron the benefit of the doubt, and have preordered the UK SteelBook edition, which includes both the 2D and 3D versions.
‘Thor: The Dark World‘ – The first ‘Thor’ was a pleasant surprise. Despite being one of Marvel’s most inherently ridiculous characters who could seemingly never be adapted to live action, the movie was light-hearted and a lot of fun. Naturally, the sequel had to go Dark, because audiences apparently need every movie now to be Dark this or Darkness that. I didn’t feel the need to rush out to see this in theaters, but I’ll grab the Blu-ray. (For this one, Best Buy has a SteelBook.) Like most Marvel movies, this was converted to 3D in post-production and probably won’t gain much from it.
‘Nebraska‘ – For the third time in a row, Alexander Payne has scored a Best Picture Oscar nomination. While this one probably won’t win either, the guy must be doing something right. In the black & white road trip, Bruce Dern stars as a deluded old man who (mistakenly) believes he’s won a sweepstakes lottery, and heads out on a trip to collect his winnings. Will Forte is his frustrated son, who tags along to try to keep him out of too much trouble. Payne’s brand of satirical humor rubs some people the wrong way, but I generally like his movies and will rent this.
The Criterion Collection
Criterion has an unusually busy week with four new Blu-ray releases. The controversial teenage lesbian drama ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color‘ won last year’s Cannes Film Festival and was expected to also score a Best Foreign Language Film nomination at the Oscars, but was surprisingly shut out from that field. Be warned that this initial Blu-ray is a movie-only release of the theatrical cut. Criterion has already announced plans for a more feature-packed double dip of an extended cut down the line. That’s uncharacteristic behavior for the label, and may affect sales.
If I’m not mistaken, Steven Soderbergh’s terrific period piece drama ‘King of the Hill‘ (no relation to the Fox animated series of the same title) was never even released on DVD prior to this. I’ve been holding onto my Laserdisc copy for years. I recall Soderbergh stating that he was never satisfied with the film and wished he could remake it, but I have no idea what his objection was. The movie is very bittersweet and affecting, nostalgic yet tough-minded. As a bonus feature, Criterion has also included Soderbergh’s underrated heist thriller ‘The Underneath’, also in true 1080p high definition. His bad experience making that one almost drove the director to quit filmmaking, but it’s a fascinatingly arty take on the genre formula.
An adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel ‘Tess of the d’Ubervilles’, the 1979 ‘Tess‘ was the first movie Roman Polanski made in the wake of his rape scandal and flight from prosecution. The fact that the story involves a rape aspect can make it particularly difficult to watch. Nevertheless, the film was highly acclaimed and was rewarded with several Oscar nominations, including a Best Director nod for Polanski.
Finally is a combo pack reissue of Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Breathless‘. If, like me, you already have the older Blu-ray copy and don’t need a spare DVD to go with it, you won’t miss much if you skip this.
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Russell Mulcahy’s movie version of ‘The Shadow‘ certainly doesn’t. This turkey was a major bomb back in 1994, but somehow developed a cult following. This is the second Blu-ray release of the picture in less than a year. The Collector’s Edition from Shout! Factory is said to have a better video transfer than the prior release from Universal and a couple of new bonus features. Still, it’s ‘The Shadow’…
Fox no doubt hopes to cash in on promotion for ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ with a catalog release of the more serious-minded version of the story, ‘The 300 Spartans‘. The 1962 sword-and-sandal epic has never really been regarded as a great movie, but at least it was made in an era where this sort of thing required filming with an actual cast of thousands, rather than just a lot of cartoony CGI bullshit.
Unless you’re an anime fan (and frankly, I don’t know enough about anime to comment on any of this week’s releases), the only interesting TV release of the week is the third season of the cult cartoon ‘Adventure Time‘.
Between ‘Gravity’, ‘Thor’, ‘Tess’ and ‘King of the Hill’, this could actually be an expensive week for me. What are you buying?