Is this yet another duff week for new Blu-rays? As part of our weekly service to you, we’ll strain through the release list to find some titles of interest. Some weeks, this is a bigger project than others.
‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘ – In the weirdest possible sequel to ‘The King’s Speech’, Colin Firth ditches the stutter and picks up some automatic weapons. At least, that’s how I like to envision this in my head. In reality, director Matthew Vaughn adapts another comic from ‘Kick-Ass’ author Mark Millar, which plays as a hyper-violent spoof of the Roger Moore era of the James Bond franchise. In principle, I like the idea of that. When it played in theaters earlier this year, the movie was a decent box office hit, but drew hugely divisive reactions. Either it’s hilariously subversive or repulsively violent and misogynistic. Vaughn is a hit-or-miss director for me. I love his ‘Layer Cake’ and ‘Kick-Ass’, but found ‘X-Men: First Class’ a big disappointment and outright hated ‘Stardust’.
‘Project Almanac‘ – Just about anything will get the Found Footage treatment these days. The format is so cheap to produce and reliably profitable that we may never see the end of it. In what amounts to ‘Chronicle‘ with time travel instead of superpowers, a group of obnoxious teens build a time machine and screw around with the past to make themselves popular and successful. Naturally, the Butterfly Effect kicks in and messes up the present as a result. It’s not a bad pitch for a Found Footage movie, but this one is said to be highly derivative of other time travel flicks and filled with plot holes.
‘The DUFF‘ – Will Mae Whitman from ‘Arrested Development’ ever get out of high school? The girl is 27-years-old and still making teen comedies. Here, she’s the Designated Ugly Fat Friend (who is in no way either ugly or fat) that the more popular kids in school pity. Of course, as soon as she takes off her glasses and lets down her hair, she’ll discover that she’s really all that.
‘Serena‘ – The third pairing for Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence proved to be nowhere near as successful as ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ or ‘American Hustle’. Perhaps they need director David O. Russell to make their chemistry work? Instead, this time they get Susanne Bier (‘Things We Lost in the Fire’), whose period drama about a couple trying to run a timber company during the Great Depression was shelved for two years while the director tried to rework it, after which it was panned at various festivals and vanished without note during its brief theatrical release.
‘Red Army‘ – A documentary about the Soviet-era national hockey team ought to be the sort of thing that only appeals to hardcore fans of the sport. Yet director Gabe Polsky crafted a human interest story out of the subject that has been widely praised even by those who’ve never cared to watch men in skates knock a puck around.
Twilight Time has some pretty interesting limited editions in its latest batch, especially the terrific Sean Penn crime drama ‘State of Grace‘ and Julien Temple’s cult musical ‘Absolute Beginners‘. Others include two WWII dramas (‘The Night of the Generals‘ and ‘The Young Lions‘) and Francois Truffaut’s noir-ish thriller ‘Mississippi Mermaid‘.
Warner Bros. celebrates one of the greatest periods in its history with ‘The Golden Year Collection – 1939‘, which bundles new-to-Blu editions of the Ernst Lubitsch classic romance ‘Ninotchka‘, the Bette Davis weepie ‘Dark Victory‘, the Erroll Flynn Western ‘Dodge City‘, and the Charles Laughton remake of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame‘, along with a copy of the previously-available ‘Gone with the Wind’.
Olive Films gets its Blaxploitation groove on with the Pam Grier trio of ‘Coffy‘, ‘Foxy Brown‘ and ‘Friday Foster‘, plus Fred Williamson as ‘Hammer‘.
Bizarrely, Olive’s only other release this week is the notorious Roseanne Barr bomb ‘She-Devil‘. I’ll be damned if I can figure out how that fits the theme (or who would ever want to buy it).
Lionsgate released the Rankin-Bass animated fairy tale ‘The Last Unicorn‘ back in 2011 on a Blu-ray that was well reviewed at the time. Nevertheless, Shout! Factory now has the rights and has remastered the film anyway for a new Enchanted Edition that also includes some different supplements.
Horror fans should take note that Scream Factory has the second and third ‘Sleepaway Camp‘ sequels, while Arrow has the ’80s gross-out cheesefest ‘Society‘ and the blackly comic Lon Chaney, Jr. inbred-maniac thriller ‘Spider Baby‘.
Bryan Brown plays a movie special effects wiz who gets wrapped up in a murder conspiracy over his head in the clever 1986 thriller ‘F/X‘. Wisely, Kino has (at least thus far) not bothered with the pointless and inferior sequel.
Despite the casting of Ewan McGregor, who had just broken out as a star with ‘Trainspotting’, Peter Greenaway’s ‘The Pillow Book‘ was not very successful during its brief theatrical run. That’s a shame, because it’s actually one of the director’s least alienating and most accessible films. Sadly, it has never had a satisfying release on home video. The DVD editions were incorrectly formatted to “full-screen” 4:3, and even an overseas Blu-ray was pillarboxed in the center of the screen. (It should be 1.85:1 with some scenes letterboxed to 2.35:1.) I haven’t been able to find any specs for the new domestic Blu-ray from Film Movement, a label I’d never heard of before. I’d like to hope that this will finally be the first time the movie is presented in its correct aspect ratio, but I’m not holding my breath until I find some confirmation.
The biggest TV release of the week is a Complete Series set of Gerry Anderson’s famed “Supermarionation” show ‘Thunderbirds‘, which is no doubt intended to drum up interest for the recent CG-animated reboot currently airing on British television. As charming as its puppetry is, the old show is hampered by the hour length of its episodes, which are considerably padded and repetitive. I bought the series on DVD but never managed to get all the way through it. Some day, I will have to try again, because I really want to like the show.
Also available are the first season of Michael Bay’s corny naval drama ‘The Last Ship‘ and a pointless Collectors Edition double-dip (now with ugly statue) for Guillermo del Toro’s underwhelming vampire apocalypse thriller ‘The Strain‘.
This actually looks like a pretty good week to me. Desirable titles that jump out at me include ‘Ninotchka’, ‘Dark Victory’, ‘State of Grace’, ‘Absolute Beginners’, ‘Mississippi Mermaid’, ‘The Pillow Book’ and possibly that ‘Thunderbirds’ set. I will also definitely rent ‘Kingsman’.
Do you agree, or are you sitting out another week?