This week’s new Blu-ray releases offer the choice between one of last year’s best-reviewed franchise blockbusters or the movie that (probably – I’m writing this in advance) won the Best Picture Oscar over the weekend. All things considered, that’s not a bad dilemma to face.
‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire‘ – This Jennifer Lawrence girl, she’s really got somethin’, huh? Once people start noticing her, she’s gonna be a big star. I liked but didn’t quite love the first ‘Hunger Games’ movie. Most accounts say that the sequel does everything the previous one did right, and refines the things that didn’t work. The movie was partially shot with IMAX film stock, and the Blu-ray features a variable aspect ratio, a la ‘The Dark Knight’. The disc streets on Friday, and Best Buy will have SteelBook editions for both this one and the first movie.
‘12 Years a Slave‘ – Did I guess right, or did the Academy vote for ‘Gravity’ or ‘American Hustle’ over the harrowing slavery drama? After ‘Hunger’, ‘Shame’ and now this, it’s pretty clear that British director Steve McQueen (no, not the actor; he’s long dead) has a pretty bleak outlook on life. Why doesn’t he call himself Steven McQueen or Steven R. McQueen? He’s just trying to confuse people. Anyway, the movie’s supposed to be good. Hence the Best Picture hoopla.
‘Oldboy‘ – When it was announced that an American studio planned to remake the famous Korean revenge thriller, fanboys were outraged at the audacity that anyone would do such a thing. When it was announced that Spike Lee would direct, pretty much everyone was left perplexed at the decision. Why would the outspoken filmmaker want to make this movie (other than to cash a paycheck), and in what way is he at all a good fit for the material? Apparently, he wasn’t. Sony lost confidence in the project and dumped it into only a small handful of theaters last year. Reviews were scathing. Is it really that bad, or is it at least a fascinating failure? I’m almost intrigued enough to want to find out for myself.
‘The Grandmaster‘ – Chinese art house favorite Wong Kar Wai (‘Chunking Express’, ‘In the Mood for Love’) hasn’t made a martial arts drama since his 1994 ‘Ashes of Time’. He returned to the genre last year with a bio-pic about Ip Man, the famed master whose story was just recently told in a couple of popular films starring Donnie Yen. The director reportedly spent nearly a decade putting the movie together, upon which the Weinstein Company hacked out half an hour and jumbled the other footage around for the North American release. I’m fairly certain that this Blu-ray is the Weinstein cut. Wong’s original longer cut was previously released on Blu-ray overseas. Reviews for both versions were pretty mixed, with complaints that it’s lovely to look at but lethargic and ponderous.
‘The Last Days on Mars‘ – Liev Schreiber stars in this mini-budget sci-fi indie that wants to be the next ‘Moon’. It did not succeed at that. The film grossed $24,084 at the domestic box office. That’s right, thousand, not million. Whether this is really a reflection on the quality of the movie or not, I can’t say, but the image of an unshaven Schreiber in a space helmet looks kind of silly, and the plot description sounds like a mish-mash of dozens of movies you’ve probably already seen, half of which weren’t very good the first time around (including ‘Mission to Mars’, ‘Red Planet’ and ‘Prometheus’).
As part of the studio’s ongoing strategy of pinning a list of random catalog titles to a wall and letting a monkey throw darts at them, this week Universal dumps a very eclectic selection of movies on Blu-ray. Among these are the Coen brothers’ (arguably underrated, but generally considered a disappointment) ‘Intolerable Cruelty‘, the time travel romance ‘Somewhere in Time‘, the goofy ‘Harry and the Hendersons‘, the Oscar bait ‘Fried Green Tomatoes‘, Ron Howard’s failed historical epic ‘Far and Away‘ and Don Bluth’s animated classic ‘An American Tail‘. If there’s a connective tissue between these choices, I’ll be damned if I can figure it out. Per the studio’s modus operandi, you can expect all of these to be sourced from dated DVD video masters of dubious quality.
Warner Bros. hopes to cash in on the success of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ by reminding people that ‘Boiler Room‘ was kinda-sorta a similar thing, if nowhere near as good.
A contingent of fans will be very happy to finally get a Blu-ray edition of ‘Garden State‘, Zach Braff’s artily-photographed retread of ‘The Graduate’ and early purveyor of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope. The movie was overrated when it was released and hasn’t aged very well, in my opinion.
Also from Fox comes ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy‘, Carol Reed’s historical drama about the painting of the Sistine Chapel, featuring the bizarre casting of Charlton Heston as Michelangelo. This is not regarded as one of the director’s better movies.
Sad to say, but John Waters’ ‘Hairspray‘ is probably best known these days for the Broadway musical and the atrocious movie remake based on that musical. That’s a real shame, because the original movie is a delightfully campy, crude and big-hearted paean to the early days of rock ‘n roll.
I know nothing at all about the 1979 cult sci-fi flick ‘The Visitor‘, but listen to this plot description: “Legendary Hollywood director/actor John Huston (‘The Maltese Falcon’; ‘Treasure Of The Sierra Madre’) stars as an intergalactic warrior battling alongside a cosmic Christ figure against a demonic eight-year-old girl and her pet hawk, as the fate of the universe hangs in the balance.” WTF? The 1970s were a very strange era.
Matt Smith ends his run as the iconic Time Lord in the special ‘Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor‘, paving the way for new star Peter Capaldi. My friends who are fans of the series have mostly bemoaned the fact that erratic show-runner Steven Moffat isn’t exiting with Smith.
Animation fans can look forward to the fifth season of ‘The Venture Bros.‘, as well as a complete series collection of Studio Gainax’s classic steampunk anime ‘Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water‘. The latter is (very) loosely based on Jules Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’, and marks an early creative effort for director Hideaki Anno, who would later produce the landmark series ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’.
I will definitely pick up the SteelBook copy of ‘The Hunger Games’. As for ’12 Years a Slave’, I’m sure it’s a great movie that I should watch, but does it have enough repeat viewing potential to justify buying it? I’m not sure about that.
What catches your fancy this week?