Blu-ray Highlights: Week of January 10th, 2016 – Mars Attacks

We have a lot of traveling to do this week. The latest batch of Blu-ray releases take us from the far reaches of space to the other side of death. Strap yourselves in. The ride might get bumpy.

Which Blu-rays Interest You This Week (1/12/16)?

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New Releases

The Martian‘ – It’s ‘Apollo 13’ meets ‘Cast Away’, as Matt Damon is a lone astronaut stranded on Mars while NASA Mission Control back home works to find a way to save him. More importantly, the film is reportedly also a much-needed return to form for director Ridley Scott, coming off a long string of total dogs. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but did read the book it’s based on. (OK, fine, I listened to the audiobook version.) It was fun, if a bit overrated. I think it could make a good movie. Damon seems perfectly cast in the lead, as if it were written for him. Some of Scott’s other casting choices seem totally bizarre to me (Chiwetel Ejiofor as an Indian scientist?), but I suppose I shouldn’t pass judgment on that without seeing the performances in context. The movie was well reviewed and a solid box office hit. The Blu-ray comes in 2D or 3D options. Be aware that this title is also scheduled for release on UltraHD Blu-ray in March, if you were inclined to wait for that format. (Note: UHD Blu-ray will not offer 3D.)

Hotel Transylvania 2‘ – If, like me, you can’t stand the sight of Adam Sandler’s smug face on camera anymore, do you still find him tolerable doing voice acting work in animation? Apparently, a lot of people do. The first one of these was a surprise hit and the sequel did even more business.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension‘ – Allegedly the final entry in the needlessly prolonged horror franchise (until the inevitable reboot in a couple years), the big conclusion promises to tie up all the loose ends and finally show viewers those dastardly ghosts that have stubbornly hidden off-camera for the past five movies. Answer me this, though: If this one’s still staged in “Found Footage” format, how can it be in 3D? Are we supposed to believe that every last one of the camcorders and nanny-cams and surveillance cameras that caught the action were all conveniently 3D models?

Sinister 2‘ – Here’s some more horror sequeling, because every horror movie that makes money must get a sequel, no matter how unnecessary. Previous star Ethan Hawke declined to return. (Was he killed off in the first one? I didn’t see it.) He’s replaced with Shannyn Sossamon, which is a considerable downgrade. How did this not go direct-to-video?

Irrational Man‘ – Woody Allen’s latest annual obligation stars Joaquin Phoenix as a depressed philosophy professor who contemplates the morality of a “just” murder. Emma Stone, foolish enough to return to the Allen stable despite how poorly ‘Magic in the Moonlight’ turned out, plays his student. The movie was roundly described as one of Allen’s weakest efforts, which is saying something considering his recent output. Still, so long as he continues to crank these things out once a year, he’s bound to hit on another good idea eventually.

The Look of Silence‘ – Documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer follows up his Oscar-nominated ‘The Act of Killing‘ by viewing the Indonesian genocide from the perspective of the victims this time. Although perhaps not as audacious or daring as the first film, it’s said to be a very worthy companion piece.

The Stanford Prison Experiment‘ – Billy Crudup stars in a docudrama about the notorious psychological study in which college students were assigned the roles of prisoners and guards, and the whole thing went terribly, terribly wrong. As with the similar ‘Experimenter‘ (about the Milgram Experiment), the film was generally well received but said to suffer from the familiarity of the story. Everybody already knows how this thing’s going to turn out; the only question is exactly what happened to get there.

Catalog Titles

Criterion expands its collection this week with ‘The American Friend‘ (Wim Wenders’ 1977 adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel ‘Ripley’s Game’) and the 1949 Italian Neo-Realist drama ‘Bitter Rice‘.

For his sole directorial outing, playwright/screenwriter Tom Stoppard adapted his own hilariously clever ‘Hamlet’ spoof ‘Rosencrantz & Guilderstern Are Dead‘.

Kino digs up a couple of Richard Lester comedies from the 1960s with ‘The Knack and How to Get It‘ and ‘How I Won the War‘. Also from Kino is Joseph Losey’s 1972 adventure thriller ‘Figures in a Landscape‘, starring Robert Shaw and Malcolm McDowell.

It’s unclear to me at the moment whether the 10th Anniversary Edition of ‘The Devil Wears Prada‘ offers anything new or is a straight-up repackaging of the old Blu-ray. The specs list a Trivia Track that I don’t believe the old disc had. Beyond that, I suspect that owners of the previous copy have little reason to upgrade.

The award for Guilty Pleasure of the week goes to Shout! Factory’s double feature of the terrible Bo Derek sex comedies ‘Bolero‘ and ‘Ghosts Can’t Do It‘, both directed by her then-husband John Derek. The latter picture, in which an elderly Anthony Quinn dies and comes back as a horny ghost to haunt his hot trophy wife, often comes up in lists of worst movies of all time. As someone who shamefully admits to having watched it a few times on Cinemax back in the day, I can’t argue with that at all.


Domo Arigato! The USA Network’s hacker drama ‘Mr. Robot‘ was one of the most intriguing new TV series of 2015. If you missed it, catch up now before the second season later this year.

Although the show is normally set in the present day, the 90-minute special ‘Sherlock: The Abominable Bride‘ sends the characters to Victorian London for an extended dream/fantasy drug trip. That sounds awful. Suddenly, I don’t feel so bad about losing interest in the series a while back.

My $.02

Obviously, ‘The Martian’ is the big title of the week. It’s also the one I’m most interested to check out. After that, ‘The American Friend’ will go on my list for the next Criterion sale. I will probably wait for ‘The Look of Silence’ and ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’ to come to cable or Netflix.

What looks good to you?


  1. Bolo

    Of this week’s releases, I’ll try to rent ‘The Look of Silence’ when I get a chance. I heard good things and liked its predecessor.

    I enjoyed ‘Irrational Man’ more than most. I wouldn’t revisit it, but I liked it while I was watching it. It’s definitely not among Allen’s worst, more of a mid-ranged Allen joint.

    I actually just caught ‘The Martian’ at a last-run cinema last week. I enjoyed it, but maybe it was a bit overhyped for me. Ridley Scott brought his ‘Thelma & Louise’ tone to it, which kept it light without completely becoming a comedy. I had not read the novel. They do say in the movie that Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character is half Indian, half black, which I guess was a line added to make sense of casting that actor while keeping the character’s last name Indian. The only actor who felt out of place was Chastain, who I normally like as an actress, but I just found she lacked authority. I also didn’t buy Chastain as this big disco duck who spends her spare moments bopping around to the BeeGees, she just wasn’t quarky enough for that.

  2. Bryan

    I already ordered Hotel Transylvania 2 for the kids (saw it in the theater with them – to be honest, it’s more amusing than it has any right to be … 🙂 )

    Holding off on the Martian, since I have the UHD on pre-order (along with the Samsung UHD player.) Will probably pick up the 3D disc on some sale later.

    Would have definitely picked up Mr. Robot if there were any substantial extras. I love commentaries (especially on shows like this). So again, might pick it up when it inevitably goes down in price in a few months.

    • Elizabeth

      I also have The Martian UHD and Samsung player pre-ordered. But I’m hoping that another company like maybe Sony will announce a player soon (hopefully that plays SACD). I hate the fact that the Samsung player is curved but the only other player announced from Panasonic doesn’t do 3D.

  3. Chris B

    Missed The Martian in theatres so I’ll be renting it in the near future. I’m a pretty big Scott fan so it’s about time he made a good movie again. The Wenders film also looks interesting and I already own both of his other entries in thecollection so I’ll prolly pick this one up in July. Honestly though I have a pile of movies to watch and feel overwhelmed. Maybe 30 unopened BD’s on my shelf, Destiny for the xbox One beckoning to me, and I’ve gor tickets to go see The Revenant tonight at 7:00. There just ain’t enough time in the day.

  4. Csm101

    The Martian 3d. I read somewhere that Fox was going to have premium sound formats for UHD and not regular blu. If this is true, then its a big bummer but nota surprise. Hotel Transylvania 2 3D. I don’t know why the asking price for the 3D version of PA Ghost Dimension is so high. What the hell is Paramount thinking!? Bitter Rice seems kind of interesting. I had no idea about the Bo Derek sex ghost movies, but now I’m interested.

  5. Chris B

    Question for you guys (actually it’s two): How many blu-rays do you buy a month on average and how many total do you own? I’m feeling lately like I have an unstoppable urge to buy more and more, like a thirst that can never be quenched! Anybody else?

        • Chris B

          Not sure how many DVDs as I’ve started giving them away once I upgrade a movie to blu. I probably buy about 10 a month. I have around 500 blus and every time I look at my shelf I think “not nearly enough, I need more, WAY MORE” lol. 1600 though eh? well done sir.

          • Deaditelord

            I have about 200 DVDs (mostly TV or anime that has not been released on blu-ray) and about 300 blu-rays. My collection is to the point where there isn’t a whole lot I want to buy these days unless one of the DVDs I own gets converted to blu-ray. Last year I bought a handful of DVDs (all anime) and anywhere between 0 – 3 blu-rays each month.

  6. CC

    Stanford Prison Experiment suffers from familiarity because the same story was told (better) TWO times before in the last 15 YEARS!! (Das Experiment? Hello?)
    And I think it is kinda of dubious to review The Martin by giving an AUDIOBOOK REVIEW.
    Do your job for f**ks sake.

      • timcharger

        Hi Chris B, I’m not speaking in generalities
        about past week(s). Just calling it like I see it. “Po-face”
        observation: funny. F-bombing because Josh was candid
        about an audiobook: not funny. If there is more history
        than that, I don’t know about it.

        • Chris B

          It didn’t really matter to me if you were speaking in generalities or not. I just found it kind of ironic how I called someone out last week and my point was further proven today…

    • Josh Zyber

      Umm, I didn’t review The Martian. I mentioned that I had listened to the Audiobook (which was an unabridged copy, by the way) and thought it could make a good movie, which I am still interested to see. In no way could that be considered a review.

  7. CD

    I would like to see UHD packaging include the 3D FHD edition of the movie. It appears DVD is being dropped from the packaging, but they should include 3D. It also appears UHD early adopters are also enthusiasts for 3D. I say this from browsing and reading forums. Pacific Rim anyone?

  8. timcharger

    Josh, tells us, were you not tempted to use a Matt Damon in
    Interstellar shot as this blog’s pic.

    No comment of sciencing the sh*t out of the UHD disc to
    make it play in 3D? That’s the Josh wit, we’ve come to expect.

  9. Deaditelord

    Will buy the new Sherlock special once it goes on sale. I also plan to check out The Martian in 3D at some point although my interest level in the movie is low since the trailer appears to spoil the entire movie. I’ve also heard a couple positive things being said about Howl and will give it try once it shows up on streaming.

    Quick question: Are all UHD discs not going to support 3D or just The Martian?

      • Deaditelord

        Just one more reason to avoid UHD then until HDR HDTVs become available at a reasonable price. I don’t see any reason to upgrade to 4K when the benefits of 4K are practically nonexistent without the purchase of a large, 70+ inch HDTV.

        • Deaditelord

          Just to be clear, I didn’t ask the original question just to bash UHD. While I’ve never really understood the need for 4K when watching 2D films since most people don’t have that large of a HDTV, I was interested in hearing what 3D movies would like when viewed in 4K. (From what I’ve read, 3D films supposedly would benefit from the increased resolution.) It was the one thing that could have made me consider a possible upgrade to 4K now instead of waiting for HDR.

  10. Justin

    Regarding Paranormal Activity Ghost Dimension (since you asked): the 3D in the movie was done in a rather interesting way. There is only one camera in the movie capable of 3D. The other cameras are all 2D. Anyone expecting a typical 3D experience will probably be disappointed. Those who love 3D will definitely enjoy the effects that the movie does deliver. Mostly the “ghostly” happenings are in 3D, and those have a nice pop out and depth. Just go in with expectations that the majority of the movie is not in 3D. And they do try to justify, in standard movie logic ways, how the one camera is capable of filming in 3D. From a fan, I enjoyed the movie and the way they handled the 3D in an inventive way. If you’ve hated the series there is no way this movie will change your mind.

  11. I know Josh has already indicated to us that many movies are not going to be real 4K, but as far as The Martian is concerned, i am torn between getting the 3D version this week or waiting for the 4K UHD combo pack? You’ve got to figure they’re not going to do simple upconversions, but I guess one cannot assume.

    • Josh Zyber

      The Martian was graded for High Dynamic Range in theaters. One would hope that the UHD copy will have that feature, which would distinguish it from the standard Blu-ray. I’d also hope that it will have Atmos (or DTS:X) sound, which Fox is withholding from standard Blu-ray to make a UHD exclusive feature.

      • We all know that the first batch of titles on any format is going to outright suck when it is looked back upon after a couple of years. So, The Martian will have HDR but not be true 4K, a few years from now they may change that.

  12. Does anybody have any idea why Criterion’s release of The American Friend is so much more expensive than normal? It’s almost 50 bucks on and at HMV. As far as I can tell it’s a pretty standard release from the company, what gives?

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