New to Blu-ray this week are a bunch more Oscar movies, including the most popular Disney musical in quite some time. What will you buy?
‘Frozen‘ – Winner of the Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song, ‘Frozen’ is both a revival and subversion of the Disney princess musical. After ‘The Lion King’, it’s also only the second Disney animated film to crack $1 billion at the worldwide box office (third if you count Pixar’s ‘Toy Story 3’). It’s still in the box office Top 10 even as it hits home video this week. So, yeah, people really liked the movie, and a whole lot of them paid to see it in 3D. Yet Disney has decided to only release a standard 2D Blu-ray in the United States. 3D fans will either have to settle for lower-quality digital streaming or will have to import from another country. The UK Blu-ray release will include 3D, is region-free, and can be easily imported from Amazon UK. I’ve opted to preorder the 3D SteelBook edition from Zavvi.
‘Saving Mr. Banks‘ – No, it’s not a sequel to ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Ever fond of mythologizing fairy tale characters, the Disney studio mythologizes itself with this sugar-coated, whitewashed account of the making of ‘Mary Poppins’. Tom Hanks plays Uncle Walt and Emma Thompson plays curmudgeonly author P.L. Travers. Despite its blatant attempt to pander for awards, Oscar took little notice, nominating only Thomas Newman for Best Original Score.
‘American Hustle‘ – David O. Russell’s con artist caper is the only of last year’s Oscar nominees that I actually managed to see in the theater, so of course it was completely shut out from winning any awards. Although I wasn’t too fond of either of Russell’s prior two films (‘The Fighter’ and ‘Silver Linings Playbook’), I found this one to be a big improvement that reminded me more of his earlier work. Even so, most of the Oscar hype was undeserved, in my opinion. It’s a fun little distraction with hilarious 1970s costumes and hairstyles (the opening scene is a riot), as well as plenty of appealing side-boob from stars Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, but it’s also very unstructured, over-long and unfocused, and is basically a pastiche of ‘Boogie Nights’, ‘The Sting’ and a lot of other, better movies. Christian Bale spends most of the movie doing such an obvious Robert De Niro impersonation, that when the real Robert De Niro actually shows up in the second half, it feels like the universe is folding in on itself.
‘Kill Your Darlings‘ – Still desperate to break away from being typecast as Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe plays famous Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in this recounting of his college years, during which Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs became wrapped up in the murder investigation of hanger-on and stalker David Kammerer. The plot summary almost sounds like it must be fictionalized, but this is a true story. Reviews were generally favorable, especially for Radcliffe’s performance.
‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom‘ – The second bio-pic about Nelson Mandela in recent years (the other being Clint Eastwood’s ‘Invictus’), this one focuses on the man’s early life. The film was completed and had its first screenings just as Mandela passed away in December. Not to be too cynical, but that should have made it surefire awards bait. Reviews, however, were mixed, many calling the movie by-the-numbers and dull.
The Criterion Collection has a very strong week, bringing to high definition both Akira Kurosawa’s samurai adventure tale ‘The Hidden Fortress‘ (the plot of which was famously one of the inspirations for ‘Star Wars’) and Errol Morris’ superb adaptation of Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time‘. These are both must-own titles.
The 1923 silent version of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame‘ was at least the fourth film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel. More would follow, but Lon Chaney’s performance in the title role remains the most famous and iconic. Unfortunately, the film’s original camera negative and 35mm elements are long since lost, leaving only 16mm reduction prints from which to base restoration attempts.
Also notable this week is Carroll Ballard’s visually-arresting childrens’ film ‘The Black Stallion‘.
As I mentioned above, I’ve preorded the UK SteelBook for ‘Frozen’. I’m also on board for both of the Criterions and ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’. Where will your dollars go this week?