Blu-ray Highlights: Week of March 15th, 2015 – Bet Your Bottom Dollar

What exactly is a “bottom dollar,” anyway? Is that an old-timey way of saying “last dollar”? If so, why would a modern child who has no reason to have ever heard the phrase use it in a song? These are some of the questions raised by our latest batch of new Blu-ray releases.

Which Blu-rays Interest You This Week (3/17/15)?

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New Releases

Annie‘ – Let’s start things with a personal digression: Years ago, when I lived in an apartment, I had a neighbor directly on the other side of my bedroom wall who was obsessed with the Jay-Z cover of “Hard Knock Life” and would blare the song at obscene volumes over and over again all through the day and night for somewhere around six months non-stop. He could not be reasoned with and refused to turn down his volume. The building management was ineffectual at dealing with him. He eventually drove me and my wife to move just to get away from his music. So, needless to say, I absolutely cannot stand any version of that damn song or, correspondingly, anything to do with the musical ‘Annie’ from which it originates. In a perverse irony, I would much later move into a house formerly frequented by John Huston, director of the 1982 movie.

Anyway, all of that’s a roundabout way of saying that the new multicultural remake from ‘Easy A’ director Will Gluck holds no interest for me whatsoever. It didn’t hold too much interest for the critics who were forced to endure it either. Most reviews were positively savage. Our Blu-ray reviewer Luke seems to be one of the few people who actually liked the movie. He liked ‘Prometheus’ too, so keep that in mind. (Just bustin’ your chops, Luke!)

Exodus: Gods and Kings‘ – Speaking of ‘Prometheus’, avowed atheist director Ridley Scott (a man who has suggested that the plot of that movie secretly hinged on the fact that Jesus was really a space alien) now takes a crack at making a mega-budget 3D Biblical epic for reasons known only to himself. In a ridiculous promotional interview, he declared that this is the absolute best movie he’s ever made. (Even Christian Bale, who stars in it, had to roll his eyes at that.) Scott also shrugged off criticisms about his casting of entirely white actors to play Egyptian historical figures by insisting that audiences don’t want to see “Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such” in a movie like this. Oh dear.

The film was widely panned as being a case of empty visual spectacle with weak storytelling. In other words, it’s exactly like everything Ridley Scott has made since after 1982. I’m sure it’ll look pretty in 3D, though. Sadly, neither the 2D nor 3D Blu-rays include the Dolby Atmos soundtrack heard in theaters.

Penguins of Madagascar‘ – As if the regular ‘Madagascar’ movies weren’t bad enough, now we have a spin-off featuring some of their most annoying supporting characters. Great.

Top Five‘ – The third time appears to have been the charm for Chris Rock, whose first two attempts at directing feature films went nowhere. This one, in which the comedian plays a slightly fictionalized version of himself, may not have been the sleeper blockbuster that its distributor hoped, but did pretty well considering its modest budget and (more importantly) received a lot of favorable buzz and reviews that will surely help it to thrive on video.

Song of the Sea‘ – Although it was largely buried by the attention for ‘Big Hero 6’ and ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’, this delicate Irish fable about selkies (sort of a cross between a mermaid and a seal) was a surprise nominee for Best Animated Feature at the recent Oscars. It sounds pretty interesting to me.

Vice‘ – Given that the director somehow managed to wrangle Bruce Willis, an actor who’s pretty far from having a desperate need for a tiny paycheck, to appear in this low-budget sci-fi flick, I have to assume that the project must have started off with some interesting ideas and promise. From all accounts, all that got thrown out the window in the final result, which has been accused of having porno quality writing and production values. The picture currently has a perfect 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Yikes.

Son of a Gun‘ – Ewan McGregor stars in an Australian heist caper that received mixed-to-moderately-positive reaction from viewers and critics. This might be something worth Netflixing, but I have a hard time building much enthusiasm for it. Maybe that’s not fair.

Catalog Titles

The Criterion Collection is arguably at its most useful when it champions interesting works that have otherwise been overlooked through the years. This week, the label brings a little exposure to Robert Montgomery’s film noir ‘Ride the Pink Horse‘ and Francois Truffaut’s infidelity drama ‘The Soft Skin‘.

Mill Creek Entertainment doesn’t exactly have a very good reputation for the quality of its Blu-rays. The distributor would like to turn that around by licensing new 4k restorations of the Orson Welles noir ‘The Lady from Shanghai‘ and the Marlon Brando biker drama ‘The Wild One‘ from Sony. Reports from those who have seen ‘Lady from Shanghai’ say that the Mill Creek disc is a notable improvement over an earlier Blu-ray from TCM. Who would have suspected that?

After a successful Indigogo campaign, UK label Arrow Video makes its entrance into the American market this week with the 1970 cult horror classic ‘Mark of the Devil‘. The disc features a director-approved restoration and a bunch of exclusive new bonus features.

Shout! Factory continues to trickle out individual releases for the titles first bundled in last year’s massive Werner Herzog Collection box set. This week brings us the director’s masterpiece ‘Aguirre: The Wrath of God‘.

Currently featured in Tina Fey’s new Netflix series ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ as well as a recurring role as The Penguin’s crazy mother in ‘Gotham’, comedienne Carol Kane is perhaps best known as the daffy Simka Gravas in ‘Taxi’. Did you realize that the actress also received an Oscar nomination for the period drama ‘Hester Street‘?

I once had an acquaintance (note that I did not say “friend”) who was an obsessive Shelley Long fan and would expound at length about the supposed brilliance of her dopey comedy ‘Troop Beverly Hills‘. Wherever he is today, I bet he’s stoked to see the movie released on Blu-ray. I can’t imagine that too many others are. (I’m certainly not.) Amusingly, the internet tells me that a young Carla Gugino was among the child actors in the film. Try watching this one and ‘Sin City’ back-to-back without feeling dirty.

Also from Sony, and a little more respectable, is the much-loved coming-of-age drama ‘My Girl‘.

Television

I lost interest in AMC’s historical Revolutionary War drama ‘Turn‘ pretty early on. I see that the network has awkwardly retitled the show ‘Turn: Washington’s Spies’ in an attempt to make it sound more exciting or something. Maybe it got better after I stopped watching? I can’t say, but if you’re a fan, the complete first season is now available on disc.

My $.02

Aside from a possible rental for ‘Song of the Sea’, my interests this week are mostly classics. ‘The Lady from Shanghai’, ‘The Wild One’, ‘Aguirre’ and maybe ‘Mark of the Devil’ will go on my wish list. Does anything grab your attention?

40 comments

  1. Exodus 3d. I’m sure it will be eye and ear candy. I’m not a big fan of the Penguins from Madagascar, but part 3 had such amazing 3d, I’m hoping this will be on par with that visually. I have the Mark of the Devil on dvd, and I’ve never ordered anything from Arrow, so maybe add it to my long list of future purchases. I’ll be renting Top Five tonight if Redbox gets it.

  2. Lord Bowler

    My only purchase looks like it will be “Turn: Washington’s Spies”.

    I enjoyed the first season and look forward to Season 2.

    • Lord Bowler

      I certainly will rent Exodus, Vice and probably Son of A Gun.

      I also enjoyed Penguins of Madagascar and may purchase later…

    • Lord Bowler

      Also, I think they decided to add “Washington’s Spies” to the title to further define what the show is about.

      I thought the add campaign was pretty clear what the title meant, but maybe they thought they’re target audience missed the ad campaign and thought Turn was about something else. I know it got pretty low ratings. They re-aired the series under the new name.

      I was unaware it was directly related to a book, now I may pick it up.

  3. William Henley

    My Girl and Troop Beverly Hills are preordered. Really looking forward to My Girl – I loved this movie growing up and had a huge crush on Anna C. I am thrilled to hear the reviews that talk about how well the transfer is.

    The review here on HDD has made me decide to give Annie a shot. I am a fan of musicals.

    Exodus was a disappointment, and I have no intentionof picking it up – unless maybe there is a version released that is like an hour longer. The movie felt disjointed, like major parts were cut at random. It is like the entire first 85% of the movie is focused on Moses’s backstory, then we are going to throw the plagues and the Exodus from Egypt into the final 10 minutes of the film. The movie didn’t flow at all. It feels like there could be a good movie there if you picked the pieces off the editing room floor, but what was released theatrically was a mess.

    • William Henley

      Just a side note – I LIKED Prometheus. I don’t think it was as good as Alien or Aliens, but the movie on its on is pretty good.

        • Chris B

          Lately it seems like theres a real movement online to reasses alien 3 and come to the conclusion it really isn’t that bad after all and actually is a pretty good movie. I call bullshit. I hated it then and still do. Even it’s director loathes it. Killing Newt,
          Hicks and ultimatley Ripley was a total slap in the face to the fans and all of the people who worked hard to create Aliens. *climbs down off soapbox*

          • Josh Zyber
            Author

            Alien 3 has always been a good, if flawed movie. The director only hates it because he had a miserable experience making it and simply doesn’t want to revisit that period in his life.

            Someday, you may eventually learn to set aside your emotional attachment to Newt and Hicks and realize that killing them off early was actually an incredibly savvy decision that considerably raised the stakes for Ripley.

          • Lord Bowler

            I thought Alien 3 had some good elements in it, namely Charles S. Dutton. It was a shame they decided to write out Newt and Hicks though.

            I still enjoyed it for what it was, it started off interesting enough but then became predictable. I’ve only seen it half as many times as I’ve seen Alien and Aliens which is to say, only twice.

            I thought it was going to be a franchise killer, but then we got Resurrection.

          • I always, well usually try to find the good things in movies rather than the bad. One thing I always really admired about Alien 3 is the look. I think it is the most unique looking of all the Alien films. The long tunnels that look like aqueducts and the post apocalyptic look of the movie vs the steel mesh floors and spaceship interiors of the other movies gives a very distinctive flavor that I like very much. The alien design is pretty cool although I’m not crazy with the way it moves, that was a step backward compared to how awesome the queen was in Aliens. I certainly don’t hate the movie, but I do have trouble letting go of Newt and Hicks. Especially because I’m a dad to a daughter now, it’s even harder to swallow Newt’s death.

          • Chris B

            First of all, there’s nothing wrong with having an emotional attatchment to those characters. Movies are supposed to affect the viewer on an emotional level,
            so if they don’t, then the movie is most likely not very effective at what it’s trying to do.

            Secondly, Fincher hates Alien 3 because even he agrees it’s a bad movie. He DID have a miserable time making it but who could blame him? When execs don’t let you do the job they hired you for and are constantly meddling no wonder he got frustrated. That still doesn’t redeem the final product.

            Thirdly, killing off those characters wasn’t an “incredibly saavy descision that raised the stakes for Ripley”. It was a gamble on the writers’ part becuase they were out of ideas, and it was a gamble that didn’t pay off because movie-goers and critics alike despised the film for the most part.

            Lastly, explain how it raised the stakes? After the deaths of Hicks and Newt Ripley had far less to fight for. If anything the stakes were lower and she had far leas of a reason to not commit suicide like she did in the end.

            I don’t understand how one can embrace and champion a movie even when the (supposedly) main creative voice behind it does nothing but criticize and practically disown it.

          • Josh Zyber
            Author

            David Fincher is too close to Alien 3 and his opinions of it are too entangled with his memories of the way he was treated by the studio. This makes him perhaps the least objective person in the world to judge what ultimately works or does not work in the movie, because all he can think about is what he wanted to do that he wasn’t allowed to do.

            This is a challenge that any artist faces, especially if the work was produced under difficult circumstances. Monet hated his Water Lilies paintings and destroyed dozens of them before he died. Bruce Springsteen thinks that Born to Run sucks. Woody Allen tried to block Manhattan from being released, and told United Artists that he’d make another movie for them for free if they’d burn all the prints of it.

            Even in examples less extreme than those, many filmmakers refuse to watch their old movies, because all they can see are things they want to change. Others, like George Lucas or Michael Mann, can’t stop “fixing” their old work every time they revisit it.

            Killing Kicks and Newt is supposed to be an emotional punch to the gut for viewers who liked those characters. It tells them, and more importantly tells Ripley, that there can be no happy end to this story. Every time Ripley thinks she’s safe, or that she’s strong enough to win, she gets beaten back down again. She’s trapped in a nightmare that she can’t escape. Wherever she goes, the alien will always be there waiting for her. This is what sets up her sacrifice at the end of the film, which was supposed to finally bring her an ending and peace.

          • William Henley

            So I had emotional attachments, but as Alien 3 was made several years later, at least Newt had to be killed off, or recast (they were supposed to be in suspended animation, after all).

            But my comment was mainly to tweek Josh’s nose. But you know what, the board has been kind of quiet lately, so yeah, let’s have a discussion!

          • Chris B

            Agree to disagree on Alien 3 but, where’d you hear Springsteen thinks Born to Run sucks? I think it’s got some good songs but is a bit overrated…sucks is kind of a harsh description of it though…

          • cardpetree

            Agreed. Alien 3 is completely boring. I don’t acknowledge that any Alien movies exist after Aliens.

          • Chris B

            I see what you’re saying with the Springsteen example but I feel like it’s not really the same thing. Springsteen was unhappy with Born to Run immediately after he finished recording it, but grew to recognize it as a classic along with the majority of critics and fans.

            Fincher hated Alien 3 while he made it, after it was released,
            and hates it just as much (if not more) today. Along with most other people. It’s kind of apples and oranges.

  4. Chris B

    Not to be a dick but, Hard Knock Life isn’t a cover of Annie. The chorus contains a sample from the musical, but the verses were newly written for the song.

    Ride the Pink Horse and The Wild One are going on my wishlist, may rent Song of the Sea, and Top Five.

    No interest whatsoever in Exodus. I’m a Scott fan but his last few movies have been pretty bad. The Counselor was so awful it was infuriating. I think Ridley’s work has completely jumped the shark. I’m just thankful he’s no longer set to direct the Blade Runner sequel, maybe it’ll actually turn out half-decent…

    • Chapz Kilud

      I’m a Scott fan and my favorite was the Kingdom of Heaven. I thought Exodus might be of similar quality but it was very disappointing. You’re right. He hasn’t had anything good for a long time. Prometheus was not very good either.

  5. Josh, I enjoy getting my chops busted. Just you wait for my ‘Vanilla Sky’ review (given the Blu-ray ever sees the light of day). I’m going to give you endless ammo with that one.

  6. This will be a somewhat expensive week. Normally I have a decent “wishlist” but this week it will be a “buylist.”

    Buying: Annie, Exodus 3D, Penguins of Madagascar 3D, Song of the Sea.
    Wantlist: Muck, Vice.
    Looks like the best prices are at Best Buy, some have a FB coupon gimmick, but retailers like Walmart will ad-match store coupons as long as the price is clearly stated, in which the ad is. Annie is $17.99 w/coupon, the other 3 titles are $22.99 each.

    • William Henley

      $17.99 ALMOST convinces me to blind-buy Annie. I will most likely Redbox the movie first. I’m interested, especially after Luke’s review, but with so many negative reviews, I am going to rent it first and see if I like it.

      Kind of surprised Disney didn’t take the release of this movie to do a Blu-Ray release of their version of Annie – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0207972/ It has been years since I’ve seen it, but I remember not being impressed with the video quality of the DVD release even way back then. The movie was shot on 35mm, but I guess they would have to go back to the original negatives, as it was a direct-to-video release, so I doubt there is a film-print of the final product.

      Actually, along that topic, I would just like to see Disney give a bit more love to their live-action movies. I can’t believe we still haven’t seen Blu-Ray releases of Parent Trap or Summer Magic or Honey, I Shrunk The Kids or Absent Minded Professor, and the format is 9 years old. We got a lackluster Blu-Ray release of Flight of the Navigator that was a Best Buy exclusive (you cannot even get the Blu-Ray on Disney Movie Club), and I actually bought mine from Europe, released under a different studio label.

    • Timcharger

      “coupon gimmick”?!

      The coupon is a real thing. It equals real savings. Less money is paid out of my pocket.
      Pls retailers, keep giving us coupons “gimmicks”.

  7. Timcharger

    It’s a close vote:

    A)
    Every changing aspect ratio or even the possibility of one or
    if there was one in the past which a sequel has or doesn’t
    have it… and the bickering that goes on.

    B)
    Every Ridley Scott release or film related to space aliens or
    Greek reference to mythological Prometheus… and the
    bickering that goes on.

    Which do we hate more?

  8. Timcharger

    Josh: “my interests this week are mostly classics… ‘Aguirre’… will go on my wish list.”

    Just noticed & ordered from Zavvi the Aguirre Steelbook. It’s part of a 2 for £12 sale.
    http://www.zavvi.com/blu-ray/aguirre-wrath-of-god-limited-edition-steelbook/10912771.html

    Regular price is currently £10 or $15.
    If you paired up in the promo, Aguirre is only $9.

    Now hopefully I’m NOT going to learn why this Aguirre import is a bad choice…

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