The last couple weeks had a bit of a slowdown on the Blu-ray front. This week comes roaring back with a major blockbuster, a very respected Oscar nominee, and at least one double-dip reissue worth considering.
‘Interstellar‘ – Christopher Nolan shoots for the stars with a massive sci-fi epic about humanity’s quest to find another habitable planet. I’m a little wary of this, to be honest. I didn’t have a chance to see it in theaters. Reactions to it seem to be all over the map, from “Greatest masterpiece in the history of everything!” to “Only a moron could possibly like this steaming pile of horse manure!” I have been decreasingly impressed by Nolan’s movies the more of them he makes, and after ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, I don’t know how much lower my estimation of him can fall. With that said, I’m sure the Blu-ray will make stunning home theater eye candy – though I’m personally irritated by the director’s decisions to shoot the movie in alternating aspect-ratio format and to drown out much of the dialogue with deafening bass. I’ve read at least one report where a viewer claims that the movie’s soundtrack destroyed his expensive subwoofer.
‘The Imitation Game‘ – Benedict Cumberbatch stars in a bio-pic about Alan Turing, the famed scientist who was instrumental in winning World War II by cracking the Nazis’ supposedly-impregnable Enigma encryption code. He later set the foundation for much of modern computer science, only to be rewarded for all his troubles by being chemically castrated for the crime of being gay. For a good portion of 2014, the movie was an Oscar front-runner for Best Picture and Best Actor, though it eventually lost both and only walked away with Best Adapted Screenplay.
‘Wild‘ – One Oscar is apparently not enough for Reese Witherspoon. The actress made two blatant plays for Academy attention in 2014 (this movie and ‘The Good Lie‘). This one actually scored her the nomination, but she ultimately couldn’t overcome Julianne Moore. Based on a memoir from internet advice columnist Cheryl Strayed and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (‘Dallas Buyers Club’), the movie sounds like a female version of ‘Into the Wild’, minus the fatal starvation.
‘Wild Card‘ – The trailers for the latest Jason Statham vehicle made it look exactly like every other Jason Statham vehicle, which is a shame because the origins of this project are actually kind of fascinating. It started as a script that William Goldman wrote for Robert Altman to direct in the mid-1980s. Altman stormed away from the production after feuding with star Burt Reynolds, upon which the studio brought in a couple of no-name ringers to rework it and cobble something useful together. The eventual film, 1986’s ‘Heat’, was a sloppy mess and a notorious flop. For the remake, new director Simon West (hardly an auteur on Altman’s level) went back to the original William Goldman screenplay. That’s not to say that it’s a good movie now, but it sounds more interesting than the usual Statham fare.
‘Outcast‘ – Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen play Andrew 3000 and Big Baybi in a musical drama about a white hip-hop group catapulted to stardom after their single “Hey There” hits the charts. Shockingly, this did not receive very good reviews from critics.
‘Meet the Mormons‘ – The latest entry in the increasingly inane ‘Meet the Parents’/’Meet the Fockers’ franchise sees Ben Stiller swapping religions under the mistaken belief that he’ll be able to add new sister-wives (Stiller’s former co-stars Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston, one slumming more than the other, though I’ll let you decide which is which) to his family. You probably missed this in theaters. That’s because it was pulled from release after just one day due to the offensive nature of the scene where Stiller and Robert De Niro do a drunken strip-tease down to their Mormon underwear while singing “Anaconda.” The Blu-ray omits that scene as required by the terms of a lawsuit from Nicki Minaj, who had not authorized use of the song and described the sequence as “reprehensible and demeaning to my personal integrity as an artist as well as a human being.”
Alfonso Cuaron’s blockbuster hit ‘Gravity‘ debuted on Blu-ray just over a year ago. This may seem far too early for a double-dip, but Warner’s new Diamond Luxe Edition tempts fans with a swanky NEO Pack case, some new supplements, and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that many are calling the best use of that sound format to date. Unfortunately, this cannot be considered a definitive release because it’s missing the 3D version of the movie, and 3D was a pretty crucial element to this film. While I’m sure that some intrepid fans will figure out how to rip the contents of both the old Blu-ray and the new one to merge the 3D video with the Atmos audio, the studio has neglected to provide such a thing in official form. This is a big missed opportunity. (And no, there are no technical reasons why a Blu-ray couldn’t have both 3D and Atmos simultaneously. The discs for ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction‘ and ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ already do that, and those are both longer movies than ‘Gravity’.)
‘Hoop Dreams‘ is widely regarded as one of the greatest documentaries ever made – except of course by the 1995 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences documentary branch, who notoriously turned it off after just 15 minutes and refused to give a movie about black kids playing basketball any further consideration. For the purposes of the Blu-ray edition, be aware that the movie was originally shot on standard-definition Betacam video, so there’s a limit to how good it can look. However, the Criterion Collection claims to have put in some work to make it more presentable than the former DVD version.
If there’s some thematic link to Criterion’s other big release this week, I can’t suss it out. The label returns to the Ingmar Bergman well with the Swedish master of despair’s ‘Cries and Whispers‘. The title alone is enough to make a person suicidal.
Blue Underground is all about classic Italian horror this week. ‘The Dario Argento Collection‘ bundles ‘The Cat o’ Nine Tales’, ‘Deep Red’ and ‘Inferno’, while ‘The Lucio Fulci Collection‘ compiles ‘City of the Living Dead’, ‘The House by the Cemetery’ and ‘The New York Ripper’ into one handy package.
Meanwhile, Arrow Video gives us Lee van Cleef in the Spaghetti Western ‘Day of Anger‘.
Among the latest eclectic assortment of titles that Olive Films has licensed can be found Arlo Guthrie’s 1960s counter-culture comedy ‘Alice’s Restaurant‘, the cheesefest Indiana Jones knock-off ‘Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold‘ (featuring a Razzie-nominated performance by a young starlet named Sharon Stone), and the Sherlock Holmes spoof ‘Without a Clue‘.
HBO dominates TV offerings this week with the third season of the hilarious political satire ‘Veep‘ and the first season of Mike Judge’s ‘Silicon Valley‘. I probably need to give the latter another shot, but I couldn’t get into what little I’ve seen of it.
Despite my hesitation, I will probably break down and buy ‘Interstellar’. (The Walmart-exclusive NEO Pack edition looks mighty fancy.) ‘Hoop Dreams’ is certainly also worth a purchase, and I will put ‘Cries and Whispers’ on my wish list for later. I would be all over the Diamond Luxe version of ‘Gravity’ if only it had 3D.
How much money will you spend this week?