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.
‘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.
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.
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?