The Oscars are less than a week away. If you feel that you haven’t seen enough of this year’s nominated movies, a few more of them hit Blu-ray this week to give you time to catch up. Better get on that – assuming you care at all about the Oscars, of course.
New Releases (Blu-ray)
‘Hacksaw Ridge‘ – I guess Mel Gibson is back in Hollywood’s good graces. His WWII drama about a pacifist medic who saved dozens of American G.I.s without carrying a gun was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Andrew Garfield). It’s unlikely to win any of the non-technical awards, but Gibson will undoubtedly parlay this into more mainstream work for himself. (He’s currently rumored to possibly direct the ‘Suicide Squad’ sequel.) Although generally acclaimed, the film was also widely criticized for Gibson’s fetishistic obsession with brutal violence and martyrdom (traits that also defined his ‘Passion of the Christ’), which seems at odds with the supposed themes of the story.
‘Manchester by the Sea‘ – As I write this, Casey Affleck appears to be a lock for the Best Actor trophy this weekend. His portrayal of a troubled man forced to take care of his teenage nephew after his brother dies has steamrolled through just about every other awards ceremony this season. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan (‘You Can Count on Me’, ‘Margaret’), the movie sounds like a real misery-fest, but is said to have incredible emotional power. Our reviewer David wasn’t sold on it as thoroughly as most critics, however.
‘Nocturnal Animals‘ – Fashion designer Tom Ford follows his impeccably-stylized directorial debut ‘A Single Man‘ with a convoluted thriller that interweaves a couple of different narrative levels. In the framing story, a wealthy art gallery owner named Susan (Amy Adams) reads a novel written by her ex (Jake Gyllenhaal). This then segues into a dramatization of the plot of that novel, a violent revenge fantasy that Susan believes ties into her real past relationship. The movie received a lot of mixed reviews, many calling it a case of style over substance. (A critic friend of mine described it as overheated and ludicrous.) Nonetheless, Michael Shannon scored an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson actually won that corresponding award at the Golden Globes. If nothing else, it sounds like it’s consistently interesting to look at.
‘Bad Santa 2‘ – Thirteen years after the delightfully mean-spirited black comedy original became a cult hit, Billy Bob Thornton puts his Santa cap back on for a belated sequel that, according to almost everyone who saw it, merely replays all the same gags without adding anything new or finding a justification for its existence.
If you’re eager to watch human bodies being pulverized into hamburger by mortars and machine gun fire in the highest clarity possible, ‘Hacksaw Ridge‘ comes at you in 4k.
The advantages that UHD may have for ‘Bad Santa 2‘ seem less obvious, which may be why that disc has been relegated to a Best Buy exclusive.
The Criterion Collection dives into melodrama this week, first with Michael Curtiz’s noir-ish ‘Mildred Pierce‘ (the 1945 original, not the tepid HBO remake from a few years ago). Joan Crawford’s powerhouse performance as a headstrong businesswoman who’s just a little too devoted to her spoiled daughter won an Oscar in its day. I haven’t watched it in years, but I recall this as being just about the most exquisitely lit movie I’d ever seen, which leaves me eager to see how well Criterion has restored it.
Criterion then jumps forward four decades to 1988 for Pedro Almodóvar’s delirious, candy-colored ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown‘. This early hit brought both the director and young star Antonio Banderas to international attention.
The Warner Archive dusts off Ken Russell’s 1971 musical comedy ‘The Boy Friend‘, starring fashion model Twiggy in a send-up of Busby Berkeley dance extravaganzas.
New from the Sony Choice MOD line are Sandra Bullock’s hilariously dated cyber thriller ‘The Net‘ (which, let’s be honest, was already pretty ridiculous when it was released in 1995) and the 2001 anime feature ‘Metropolis‘. The latter, based on a manga by Osamu Tezuka, reimagines Fritz Lang’s famous silent classic as a very noisy and colorful visual spectacle. It’s not a great movie, but it has some eye candy that I wouldn’t mind seeing in high definition. However, for about $10 less than Sony’s bare-bones BD-R, fans would be better off importing Eureka’s region-free Blu-ray from the UK. That one’s a professionally pressed copy and has some bonus features (probably a better video transfer too). You can even get it in a SteelBook if you want.
Arrow Video courts horror fanatics with ‘Psychomania‘, a 1973 zombie biker epic from the UK.
Olive Films delivers plenty of ’80s cheese with ‘King Solomon’s Mines‘, a low-budget Indiana Jones knockoff starring Richard Chamberlain, and ‘No Retreat, No Surrender‘, the supernatural kickboxing crime flick (yeah, imagine that being made in any other decade) that introduced Western audiences to Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Hoping to capitalize on interest in the upcoming live-action movie, Starz/Anchor Bay offers both seasons of the ‘Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex‘ anime series. Unfortunately, early reports claim that the discs are plagued with problems. If you choose the watch the episodes with the original Japanese audio, the only subtitle options are SDH captions from the English dub script. Even if you prefer to listen to the dub, Japanese audio periodically intrudes into scenes for no reason. Also, the discs have no bonus features and only use one chapter stop per episode. This may be a case where sticking with DVD is a preferable option.
Does anyone still enjoy ‘Doctor Who‘? All of my Whovian friends tell me that the show is almost too terrible to bear these days. The plot description of the new special called ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’, in which the Doctor teams up with a costumed superhero, sounds pretty desperate to me.
Both of the Criterion titles this week are winners. I’m very excited for ‘Mildred Pierce’, and I currently have ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ on my desk for review.
I suppose I should probably give ‘Manchester by the Sea’, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ and ‘Nocturnal Animals’ a look, but I will probably wait for them to turn up on Netflix or cable.
I’d kind of like to upgrade my DVD copies of ‘Metropolis’ and the ‘Ghost in the Shell’ series to Blu-ray, but the discs available this week don’t seem worth the money.
Are you looking at anything this week?