It’s a battle of the bombs on Blu-ray this week, as two of the most critically and audience reviled films of the year come to home video. If we take a closer look, however, we might also find a few titles actually worth buying.
M. Night Shyamalan is the king of second chances. And third chances. And fourth chances, and so on. Despite how badly received his last several movies have been with both critics and audiences, and despite how reportedly difficult the director is to work with, Shyamalan keeps convincing studios to give him money – often a lot of money. And somehow, his movies keep making money in return, even though nobody seems to like them anymore. This summer’s ‘After Earth‘ was the closest that Shyamalan has had to an actual flop, and even that did well overseas and will likely turn a profit on video. The sci-fi survivalist tale was promoted on the basis of starring Will Smith, who’s really only in the movie for a short period of time. His son Jaden Smith spends most of the time on camera, and even viewers who liked him in the ‘Karate Kid’ remake found him annoying here. Allegedly, development of the storyline was guided by the senior Smith (who’s a producer on the project) to act as a vehicle to convey the tenets of Scientology. And yet, with Will Smith’s face on the cover art and the promise of lots of visual effects, the film will probably sell pretty well on Blu-ray, mainly to people who will watch it once and then file it away on their movie shelves to collect dust forevermore.
Hollywood’s obsession with turning every hit movie into a franchise has long since gotten out of control. The first ‘Hangover’ movie from 2009 was a reasonably amusing but wildly overrated comedy. No one seemed to care much for the second entry in 2011, yet it made tons of money anyway (even more than the first), and so now we have ‘The Hangover: Part III‘, which promises to be the grand conclusion to this epic trilogy. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, director Todd Phillips forgot that alleged comedies are supposed to at least try to be funny. This one doesn’t. I’ve read at least one critic who argued that this was a deliberate and subversive attempt to make audiences question the things they liked about the first movie, but pretty much everyone else just said that the new sequel sucks.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from these two bloated wannabe blockbusters is Joss Whedon’s very small and intimate ‘Much Ado About Nothing‘, which the director filmed at his own house during downtime while ‘The Avengers’ was in the middle of post-production. Starring a lot of familiar faces from Whedon’s TV shows and movies, this new adaptation of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy transplants the setting to modern times but retains the Bard’s dialogue in its original iambic pentameter. Many of the transpositions between old and new are quite cleverly done, and Nathan Fillion is riotously funny as Constable Dogberry.
The current theatrical release of ‘Gravity’ isn’t the only movie this year with pretensions of depicting space travel with some degree of scientific accuracy. The low-budget, found-footage thriller ‘Europa Report‘ stars Sharlto Copley as a member of an expedition traveling to one of Jupiter’s moons, where they find… something waiting for them. After an intriguing trailer, word-of-mouth was generally mixed, with many complaints that the story devolves into a generic horror flick.
Speaking of horror flicks, the latest entry in the ‘Child’s Play’ franchise, ‘Curse of Chucky‘, has gone direct-to-video. While that may sound like a bad sign, our reviewer E. says that original creator Don Mancini has brought his franchise back to its roots, and the results are much better than expected.
Ethan Hawke has had a busy year. Between ruling the arthouses with ‘Before Midnight’ and crashing spectacularly in the car chase flop ‘Getaway’, the actor also starred in the high-concept thriller ‘The Purge‘, which posits that society of the near future will flourish so long as crime is allowed to run rampant unchecked for one day each year. This sounds like a completely implausible premise to me, but audiences ate it up. Budgeted at a mere $3 million, the movie grossed more than 20 times that amount, to become one of the most profitable films of the year.
Finally, Quebecois director Xavier Dolan (‘Heartbeats’) tells a complicated transgendered love story in the French-language drama ‘Laurence Anyways‘.
If just one ‘Child’s Play’ movie isn’t enough to satisfy you, Universal has boxed up the entire set of six (including the latest) in ‘Chucky: The Complete Collection‘. In addition to that, Universal has also finally ported ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life‘ to Blu-ray more than six years after its release on the now-defunct HD DVD format.
In time for Halloween, Warner Bros. takes a second stab at ‘The Exorcist‘ with a new 40th Anniversary Edition that adds a couple of featurettes to the prior Blu-ray. Whether the video has been at all remastered remains to be seen. (I would tend to doubt it.)
Also from Warner Bros. comes Billy Wilder’s classic WWII prison camp drama ‘Stalag 17‘, the not-so-classic spoof ‘Airplane II: The Sequel‘ (which had no involvement from the team that made the original), and the 1990 Richard Gere cop thriller ‘Internal Affairs‘ (not to be confused with the much-superior Hong Kong cop thriller ‘Infernal Affairs’)
MGM gives us Steve Martin’s very goofy and fun con artist comedy ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels‘, while Fox takes a trip back to the ’60s for the sci-fi duo of ‘Fantastic Voyage‘ and ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea‘.
The latest addition to the Criterion Collection is René Clair’s classic screwball comedy ‘I Married a Witch‘.
Twilight Time unearths the 1992 post-apocalyptic sci-fi tale ‘Mindwarp‘, starring Bruce Campbell, and the 1972 horror chiller ‘The Other‘.
Just in time to gear up for each show’s return, Fox delivers the second season of ‘American Horror Story‘ (subtitled ‘Asylum’) and the eighth season of ‘Bones‘.
On the animation side of things, Warner has the sixth season of ‘Robot Chicken‘ and Shout! Factory gives us the unwieldy-titled ‘Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters – Predacons Rising‘.
Getting past the duds, there are actually some interesting titles in this week’s batch of discs. I’m definitely down for ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Stalag 17’, and will put ‘I Married a Witch’ on my wish list for the next big Criterion sale. Having reviewed the previous Blu-ray of ‘The Exorcist’, I’m scheduled to take a look at the reissue of that as well.
Will you buy anything this week?
I’m glad to see ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ getting a release. I’m pretty interested in ‘Europa Report’, but unless I see if for $10 or less, it won’t be a blind buy (just a rental).
I’m from NJ and Europa Report, plus Stalag 17 are really the only things of interest this week for me.
I chose “Nothing” this week. I got HDX version of Airplane 2 on Vudu, I have Meaning of Life on HD-DVD (and my player still works fine, so unless its a new transfer, I see no reason to upgrade), Star Wars I have, and Fantastic Voyage and Journey to the Bottom of the Sea are movies that I may watch once.
Glad to see “The Other” making it to Blu-Ray.
tomb raider cradle of life for me. It finally gets it’s domestic release tomorrow.
Josh, I was quite curious about ‘MAAN’, but missed it, in the theater. Can we expect anything great out of the blu-ray?
How was it shot? Any chance of a good looking blu-ray, or would I be better off just streaming it through VUDU?
Whedon’s Much Ado was shot digitally with a 2k DI and graded for black & white. By its nature, the movie has a simple, understated visual design. It should look pretty nice on Blu-ray, but will probably look pretty good on VUDU too. It’s not an eye candy movie.
Thank you. That’s good and useful information. Was the movie good enough, that you would consider it a “must own”?
How do you feel about Shakespeare?
I was a pretty avid Shakespeare follower, once upon a time.
When Shakespeare is well done, I’m a pretty big fan. When Shakespeare is poorly done, it makes me feel like everyone is wasting their time. Shakespeare alone is not enough to overcome poor quality.
I wouldn’t say that it’s the greatest Shakespeare adaptation of all time, but it’s very good and enjoyable.
I’m on a waiting list to see Europa Report, which I was disappointed not to find in theaters. We’ll see whether I’m disappointed again upon watching the film. 😉
I wasn’t on a waiting list for I Married a Witch until this blog entry reminded me I should get on. Thank goodness for the Bonus View!
I had no idea that The Other was even slated for Blu-ray. I really enjoy this 1972 film, which initially looks like a nostalgia piece (young brothers spending an idyllic summer playing childhood games on their bucolic 1930s family farm) but is really the suspensefully twisted tale of eerily close identical twins in a web of murder and madness. My enjoyment of it notwithstanding, I’m not sure I really need an upgrade to Blu.
It appears I enjoy and respect Airplane II: The Sequel more than Josh does. Or maybe not—I suppose he’s right that it is “not-so-classic”, at least on its own terms. This sequel doesn’t rise above the original like Bride of Frankenstein or The Empire Strikes Back; nor, despite the infusion of the sci-fi element, does it find its own voice or direction like Aliens. But it is successful in giving audiences more of what they liked the first time around. (Is it stale at times? Maybe, but a lot of Airplane’s jokes were not fresh either!) And The Sequel does have a tour de force performance by William Shatner that steals the show (I often wish I could open doors the way he does in this film). However, as with The Other, I’m not convinced an upgrade to Blu is necessary. Surely I can stick with my DVD.
I find it humorous that the Star Wars releases don’t even rate a mention in Josh’s discussion. Not that he’s wrong: these are apparently been-there-done-that repackings. C’mon, Fox and Disney—it’s time to give us the high-def editions of the original trilogy that we really want!
I rarely highlight simple reissues unless they bring something new that previous releases didn’t have.
No blinking Death Stars that scream, “NOOOOO!!!!!”? They’re slippin’!
“I’m definitely down for ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Stalag 17′, and will put ‘I Married a Witch’ on my wish list for the next big Criterion sale.”
Hey Josh, don’t forget to pick up the Dark Knight Returns Deluxe Parts 1 & 2 Steelbook at Target.
My review for ‘Europa Report’ should be posted soon. I was completely taken by the story. The best found footage movie I’ve ever seen. I know that isn’t saying a lot given the state of that genre of filmmaking, but it really is a good sci-fi tale.