Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to buy one of the best action movies of 2011 on Blu-ray. Some other stuff might be worth looking at as well.
The following new discs hit the market today:
- ‘7 Below‘ (Arc)
- ‘¡Alambrista!‘ (Criterion)
- ‘The Asphyx‘ (Kino)
- ‘Baseball’s Greatest Games: 2011 World Series Game 6‘ (A&E)
- ‘Buck Privates‘ (Universal)
- ‘The Divide‘ (Starz/Anchor Bay)
- ‘Frozen Planet‘ (BBC)
- ‘Halloween: Resurrection‘ (Echo Bridge)
- ‘High Road to China‘ (Hen’s Tooth)
- ‘IMAX: Born to Be Wild‘ (Warner Brothers)
- ‘IMAX: Born to Be Wild – 3D‘ (Warner Brothers)
- ‘Late Spring‘ (Criterion)
- ‘Legend of the Legendary Heroes – Part 1‘ (FUNimation)
- ‘The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby‘ (First Run Features)
- ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol‘ (Paramount)
- ‘Murdoch Mysteries: Season 1‘ (Acorn Media)
- ‘Operation Condor II: The Armour of God‘ (Echo Bridge)
- ‘Roadracers‘ (Echo Bridge)
- ‘Shame‘ (20th Century Fox)
- ‘Sharpe’s Battle & Sword‘ (BFS)
- ‘Sharpe’s Company & Enemy‘ (BFS)
- ‘Sharpe’s Honor & Gold‘ (BFS)
- ‘Sharpe’s Justice & Waterloo‘ (BFS)
- ‘Sharpe’s Mission & Revenge‘ (BFS)
- ‘Sharpe’s Regiment & Siege‘ (BFS)
- ‘Sharpe’s Rifles & Eagle‘ (BFS)
- ‘Treme: The Complete Second Season‘ (HBO)
- ‘Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: OVA Collection (S.A.V.E. Edition)‘ (FUNimation)
- ‘The World’s Greatest Railroads‘ (Madacy)
The week’s two major new releases couldn’t be more different than one another. On the one hand, we have the blockbuster smash ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol‘, which provided both a comeback for Tom Cruise (whose beleaguered career really needed a hit) and a very successful live-action directing debut for Pixar’s Brad Bird. This fourth franchise entry features a clever script and incredibly inventive set-pieces, and may be the best in the series so far. Our reviewer Mike Palmer says that the Blu-ray is a stunner, though some fans may be disappointed to learn that the disc doesn’t alternate aspect ratios (a la ‘The Dark Knight‘) like the IMAX theatrical run. Apparently, the decision to maintain a constant 2.40:1 aspect ratio was the director’s call.
[Note: Please direct further comments about the aspect ratio issue to our poll post. Thanks. -JZ]
Those who favor indie art films over action spectacle may head to the opposite end of the spectrum for the bleak drama ‘Shame‘. The movie reunites star Michael Fassbender with his ‘Hunger‘ director Steve McQueen (who is, obviously enough, not the late actor of the same name). Fassbender’s performance as a sex addict spiraling into depression was widely acclaimed and buzzed as a likely Oscar contender. His failure to land a nomination was later cited as one of the Academy’s biggest snubs of the year.
Catalog titles this week are an eclectic mix. The latest release from Universal’s 100th Anniversary celebration is the 1941 Abbott and Costello comedy ‘Buck Privates‘, which finds the pair joining the army to avoid jail time. As far as I’m aware, this is the first of the iconic duo’s films to hit Blu-ray.
Our reader EM will probably be pleased to see Kino release the 1972 British horror film ‘The Asphyx‘. He’s cited it as a favorite of his once or twice in the Comments section of this blog. (See, I pay attention!) In the strangely-titled movie, a scientist discovers an ancient Greek spirit that snatches a person’s soul at the moment of his or her death. He attempts to achieve immortality by capturing and imprisoning it. Given that this is a horror film, I assume that doing so will have some unintended consequences. This sounds like a neat premise. I’m interested enough to check it out.
Criterion adds two more titles to the venerable collection, one foreign and one domestic. The first is legendary Japanese director Jasujiro Ozu’s 1949 ‘Late Spring‘, about a wealthy man in post-war Japan who tries to marry off his only daughter. The other is American independent filmmaker Robert M. Young’s 1977 illegal-immigrant drama ‘¡Alambrista!‘, which won the prestigious Camera d’Or prize (the trophy for Best First Feature) at the Cannes Film Festival.
Of considerably less acclaim than either of those is ‘Roadracers‘, a quickie TV movie that Robert Rodriguez threw together in between his ultra-low-budget debut ‘El Mariachi’ and its respectably-budgeted sequel ‘Desperado’. While this may come from the period of his career where Rodriguez still seemed like an exciting talent (before he started churning out terrible kiddie flicks written by his own children), the movie stars David Arquette. Those two factors tend to balance each other out, which is probably why the picture has largely been forgotten. In any case, cheap-jack distributor Echo Bridge dumps this on Blu-ray today, no doubt with the terrible quality that the studio is so notorious for. I’m pretty sure that I saw this on the shelf at Best Buy a few weeks ago. Was it one of those unadvertised exclusives there first?
Try to follow this bit of convoluted history: In 1986, Jackie Chan starred in the Hong Kong action hit ‘Armour of God’ and then followed that up in 1991 with a sequel called ‘Armour of God II: Operation Condor’. However, when Miramax acquired the domestic distribution rights to the franchise, the studio decided to release the sequel first under the shortened title ‘Operation Condor’. After that was successful, the original movie was retitled ‘Operation Condor 2: The Armour of the Gods’. Thus, the first film in the series was turned into a sequel to its actual sequel, which now comes first. Confusing enough for you? Whatever you want to call it, ‘Armour of God’ is a breezily entertaining Indiana Jones knock-off in which Chan plays a treasure hunter searching for three parts of a valuable Middle Ages antique. Unfortunately, it’s now another dump-title from Echo Bridge. Given that the disc is called ‘Operation Condor II: The Armour of God‘, I’d have to assume that it’s also the badly dubbed and re-edited American version of the film. Sigh.
Speaking of Indiana Jones knock-offs, studio Hen’s Tooth gives us ‘High Road to China‘. As most fans know, Tom Selleck was almost cast in the iconic role in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. Realizing just how badly he missed out, the actor starred in this 1983 copycat about a 1920s biplane pilot and rough-and-tumble adventurer hired to rescue a wealthy man. While not nearly on the same level as its inspiration, this may qualify as a guilty pleasure.
On the TV front, HBO brings us a complete second season box set of the acclaimed ‘Treme‘, while a studio called BFS Entertainment rolls out seven separate discs (each with two episodes approximately 100 minutes each) of ‘Sharpe‘. The latter stars Sean Bean as a British soldier in the Napoleonic Wars. (The final two episodes, called ‘Sharpe’s Challenge’ and ‘Sharpe’s Peril’, were already released on Blu-ray back in 2010.) Considering that the series ran from 1993 to 1998, and that Sean Bean was the lead the whole time, I will have to assume that the actor has a better fate in this one than most of the projects he undertakes.
Which discs will you pick up this week?