Blu-ray Highlights: Week of March 2nd, 2014 – Stay Hungry

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.

Which Blu-rays Interest You This Week (3/4/14)?

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New Releases

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’).

Catalog Titles

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?


  1. I’ve been waiting for An American Tail but I really wish they hadn’t slapped the ugly new box art on there like they did with Nimh. Why do they keep doing this? If they’re going to cheap out on it wouldn’t it be cheaper to just use the original cover? I might pick up Hairspray in the future if it warrants an upgrade, I have a really nice John Waters box set on dvd and it’s hard to believe most of those movies would benefit from blu ray.

  2. William Henley

    An American Tale and Hunger Games for sure. Possibly Doctor Who – it’s a good price, but usually I only pick up the Christmas specials (and the last one, because it was in 3D). Netflix SuperHD is pretty darn good on quality, so, yeah, I know that Blu-Ray is better quality, but usually don’t bother on television shows.

  3. Chris B

    I remember watching Garden State 10 years ago and falling in love with Natalie Portman, when I watched it again a few years ago I found her character excruciatingly annoying and clingy…time does strange things to one’s perception.

    I won’t even bother with Oldboy, what a horrible choice for a remake.

    I’ll probably rent The Grandmaster as the reviews were pretty mixed, it’s a shame they don’t include the longer cut on the North American release.

    I always thought the scene in Boiler Room where they’re all sitting there and reciting Gordon Gecko’s dialogue verbatim was so fucking stupid, it reminded me of the same sort of ridiculousness in Gone in 60 Seconds when they get all excited about listening to audio recordings of engines…give me a fucking break.

    I’ll rent 12 years a slave as I’m guessing it’s not the kind of film really geared toward repeat viewings.

    In short, don’t think I’ll be buying anything this week, sorry to everyone for all the negativity….I hate Mondays.

  4. Freakyguy666

    Catching Fire.
    Prolly rent the slave movie….

    JZ, how are you gonna watch the imax footage on your scope screen? Will you pause the movie to readjust the CIH (thereby making the IMAX footage smaller than the scope scenes–which is exactly the opposite if what the director intended) or will you let the imax image overscan onto your screen frame and the surrounding wall thereby losing important information?

    • Josh Zyber

      As you well know, Freaky, I have an anamorphic lens and video processor which can crop the excess picture off the top and bottom of the frame, exactly as the movie was seen in all theaters except IMAX.

      • Josh Zyber

        Incidentally, the director has already announced that he will not use IMAX for the third movie, and will keep it entirely 2.35:1.

        • Freakyguy666

          The reason there will not be IMAX for the next movie is that he said the story does not lend itself to a large format presentation, implying he looks at 2.35 as a “smaller format” than 16×9.

          • Freakyguy666

            Quote from the director Lawrence: “There will be more technology used in the third film, but there won’t be IMAX scenes,” he said. “We are shooting the third one digitally because there are more claustrophobic, underground scenes that won’t be suited for IMAX.”

            Again, it is clear that the majority of top directors agree that scope is intended to be projected smaller than 16×9.

          • Josh Zyber

            Enough. We’ve been though this before. You clearly do not understand what the word “majority” means.

            Have fun watching Gravity shrunken down to a small strip on your screen. I’m sure that’s exactly how Alfonso Cuaron wants it to be watched.

          • freakyguy666

            Shrunken down? My screen is several orders of magnitude bigger than yours. It seems like it is you JZ who will be watching Gravity on a relatively tiny screen.

          • Josh Zyber

            “Orders of magnitude,” huh? I guess that’s another item for the growing list of terms you try to use but don’t understand. Your screen is neither 10 times, nor 100 times, nor certainly not 1,000 times larger than mine by any calculation known to math.

          • freakyguy666

            I guess you never heard of hyperbole. If you want actual numbers my screen is 5.5x the size of your equivalent 16×9 screen–not quite 10 times but close enough for government work.

          • Josh Zyber

            I deal in facts, not hyperbole. Based on information about your home theater that you posted previously (assuming it can be believed), your screen has 5.35x the area of mine only for 16:9 images. For 2.35:1, it has 3.06x the area.

            That’s by measuring the square footage, which I still maintain is misleading in order to make your screen sound bigger than it really is. The diagonal measure is 2.31x larger for 16:9 and 1.75x larger for 2.35:1.

            The fact remains that your home theater is designed to maximize the experience of watching Family Feud at the hugest size possible, at the expense of movies like Gravity. I suppose an argument can be made that Steve Harvey’s ego dwarfs even the vastness of outer space. That must be the effect you’re going for. Enjoy that.

          • Freakyguy666

            You continue to ignore the fact that no one is interested in watching these crappy reality tv/game shows in a home theater but you. It’s like saying an IMAX theater is a waste because it has the POTENTIAL to screen [insert JZ’s fav crappy tv show] in a larger format than the scope screen in the adjacent auditorium.

            Very poor logic…but hardly surprising.

            Fact remains, when I watch Gravity, the images on my screen will appear OVER 3 TIMES the size of the images on your screen. And when I watch the IMAX scenes in Catching Fire they will appear nearly 5.5 TIMES the size of the same IMAX scenes on your screen.

          • Josh Zyber

            If you believe that I’m either impressed or humbled by your claims of having a larger screen than mine, you are mistaken. I know what image quality trade-offs come with projecting at those sizes using a home theater projector, and I’m not wiling to make them.

            We’ve had this argument too many times before. You are incapable of having a rational discussion about this topic. We have a fundamental and intractable difference of opinion about how movies are best displayed in a theater or a home theater. The many thousands of scope movies that have been made over the past 60 years and continue to dominate film production today are much more important to me than the tiny handful of IMAX movies made over the past few years (every one of which is also formatted to play well in scope). You feel the opposite, and want to prioritize half a dozen movies over thousands of others. So be it. That’s your opinion, and even though it will never make any sense to me, you are entitled to it.

            Enjoy what you have, and I’ll enjoy what I have.

          • Freakyguy666

            Stop fooling yourself , JZ. There are only image quality IMPROVEMENTS that come from going to a Sim2 dark chip from your JVC. Go read some unbiased reviews and comparisons or do some yourself with the machines side by side. Until then your opinions are baseless.

          • Freakyguy666

            I’m not prioritizing 16×9 over a scope. I’m prioritizing SIZE taking into account the space available. Most people don’t have a 6′ ceiling like you do so they could afford to go taller than a scope. Unfortunately you cannot and I feel sorry for you.

          • Josh Zyber

            What’s more important to you, your wall or the movie? If using your entire wall is the most important criteria to you, you would get better mileage out of painting a nice mural on it than installing a home theater.

            The concept you’re not grasping is that you’ve gotten your sizes backwards. You’re displaying movies that are meant to be bigger too small, and movies that are meant to be smaller too big.

            (Blah blah blah, IMAX…. Blah blah blah, Dark Knight… Blah blah blah, half dozen exceptions ever made in the entire history of cinema… Blah blah blah, let’s pretend that Hunger Games 2 and Dark Knight are the only important movies ever made, while movies like Gravity, Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, Lawrence of Arabia, 2001, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. don’t exist…)

          • freakyguy666

            JZ, you act as though one of the Ten Commandments was Thou Shalt Not Display 16×9 Larger than Scope!

            Let me remind you that Scope was invented as a gimmick to get people to ditch their new 4:3 TV’s in the 1950’s. There was no 16×9 at that time. 16×9 came AFTER Scope.

            And if you could display Jurassic Park or Pacific Rim or Avengers (and many many other epic films) larger than scope films you ARE NOT breaking a Commandment!

        • Josh Zyber

          I’m not doing this with you again. The movie was composed to be safe for 2.35:1 projection, as it played in the majority of theaters. There’s nothing of importance in the extra picture.

          • Freakyguy666

            “Safe”?!? That’s your argument for why losing a large part of the image in scope is okay? By that logic one could say a pan&scan is “safe”, too.

            Here is what the director himself says: “Not every theater is IMAX, but that format is the real way to see the movie,” Lawrence said. “If you watch it in a standard theater, you won’t see it the way it was truly intended to be seen.”

          • William Henley

            In all truth, pan and scan is usually okay. Most things are shot (or at least were up until the last few years) with the thought that it would be formatted to 4×3 during home video release. Some television shows (I am thinking Friends and Star Trek The Next Generation) while they had 16×9 framing, were shot with the idea that they would only be shown 4×3. Them opening up the mattes in Friends in a few episodes reveals edges of sets and stuff, and they had a similar issue with STTNG which is why it is presented in its originally intended 4×3

            I really don’t want to get into this either, but just because the information exists doesn’t mean that it was meant to be seen.

    • The increased fidelity of IMAX shots is a much important concern than the aspect ratio. Not that Catching Fire is worth worrying over. If you want something debatable and interesting, look at aspect ratios and mattes for movies like ‘Transformers: The Movie’ and ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.’ So much “important information” hand-drawn and animated only to be matted away.

      • William Henley

        Are they still actually shooting on Imax FILM anymore, though? With a RED camera, you can shoot in Imax Ratio, at pretty much the same resolution you would see at a LieMax theater.

        Decided to answer my own quesiton –

        That is strange, I thought Kodak discontinued their film line.

        Problem is, the Digital Intermediary is only 4k. Why go through the trouble and expense of shooting on 65mm over 35 if you are going to scan it at 4k, and then DMR it back to Imax? Maybe for future preservation and scanning to 8k from the original camera negatives (or higher) in the future as technology allows, but it just seems that you would save a TON of money shooting with RED instead of film.

        In any case, digital or film, the point is moot – you have a 4k intermediary, 35mm is already higher fidelity than 4k, so what are you gaining by shooting with IMAX Film cameras?

        • Josh Zyber

          Transformers: Age of Extiction is the first movie to be shot with IMAX’s new digital cameras. All previous movies that incorporate IMAX scenes shot those scenes on the traditional 15/70 film stock.

          I’m fairly certain that the IMAX scenes in Star Trek into Darkness were rendered down to 2k resolution for the DI. There is no visible difference between the quality of the IMAX and 35mm scenes on the Blu-ray. That, combined with the fact that Abrams didn’t care about the aspect ratio changes and instructed the Blu-ray to be transferred at a constant 2.35:1, makes the decision to use IMAX for that movie at all completely pointless. Abrams only did it because he heard that IMAX was “cool” and wanted to do something people would think is “cool,” even though he apparently didn’t understand what makes it cool.

          • William Henley

            I just really wish the studios would incorporate seamless branching on all movies that have opened IMAX scenes. Most of us CAN’T mask the extra image, and I find it a major annoyance. Keep the shifting aspect ratios for people like Freaky who want it.

            Seamless branching is a feature that is seriously underused in Blu-Rays, although I am sure it is probably very time-consuming to get it down to the frame in sync. Probably easier to just press a second disc.

          • EM

            I’m not sure what the correct title of that Transformers movie is, but I read it as Transformers: Age of Excretion, which I suspect is more truthful than whatever the official title is.

  5. Drew


    You won’t find it a major annoyance, with ‘Catching Fire’. The aspect ratio doesn’t alternate, throughout the entire film. It remains a constant 2.40:1, all the way up until the actual Hunger Games start, switches to IMAX 1.44:1 (1.78:1 for home viewing) as she rises up into the arena, and remains that way, until she is being lifted up out of the arena.

  6. freakyguy666

    Correct, Drew.

    And it should be noted that the frame actually “grows” as she rises thru the tube into the Arena. It is a cool effect and it is thankfully maintained for the bluray. Unfortunately, people with set-ups like JZ will miss it…