This is another big week for bombs on Blu-ray. September closes with one of the year’s worst summer tentpole flops, John Cusack’s latest DTV disaster, and an arthouse dud. Some comedy, horror and cult movies might brighten our outlook, fortunately.
New Releases (Blu-ray)
‘Warcraft‘ – Duncan Jones is having a pretty crappy year. His dad died back in January, and then his gargantuan videogame adaptation tanked at the box office, making back less than a third of its bloated $160 million budget domestically. It did better in China, but probably not enough to launch the franchise of sequels that Blizzard Entertainment was counting on. Even at their best, the ‘World of Warcraft’ games are a third-rate ‘Lord of the Rings’ knockoff, and the movie looks like just a bunch of ugly CGI monsters fighting another bunch of ugly CGI monsters while a handful of confused actors wearing silly makeup and tusks stand around in front of green-screens pretending to have some idea what the hell is going on. The film’s failure is the latest proof, as if we needed it, that making movies exclusively for fanboys is not a profitable business model. The studio hopes to recoup some of that loss by issuing it on video in 2D, 3D, UHD, and a Walmart-exclusive SteelBook.
‘Central Intelligence‘ – Credit where it’s due, the movie’s tagline about needing “a little Hart and a big Johnson” was pretty clever. I’ll give the studio marketing people props for that. Beyond that, the action-comedy from ‘Dodgeball’ director Rawson Marshall Thurber looks like pretty standard cop/buddy fare, relying largely on the visual mismatch of tiny Kevin Hart standing next to hulking Dwayne Johnson for laughs. Our theatrical reviewer Phil thought this was “a generic and calculated studio product with very little personality.” Other viewers were more forgiving and praised the actors’ chemistry, making this a surprise hit.
‘The Shallows‘ – Another movie that did unexpectedly well this summer finds surfer Blake Lively trapped on a small outcrop of rock and terrorized by a very spiteful and determined shark. Director Jaume Collet-Sera (‘Orphan’, ‘Non-Stop’) has experience making a ridiculous concept somehow work. Selling the movie with the image of Lively in a bikini probably didn’t hurt.
‘Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates‘ – Anna Kendrick seems to be slumming in this raunchy comedy about a pair of goofball party bros (Zac Efron and Adam Divine) who put an ad on Craigslist looking for wedding dates (it’s right there in the title, folks) and wind up attracting two crazy cocktail waitresses (Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza). Hijinks ensue, and all that. I mean, I don’t have anything against the other three performers, but isn’t Kendrick’s career in an entirely different orbit from the rest of them? Apparently she’s close friends with Plaza, who I assume must have dragged her into this. Anyway, the movie is reportedly at least modestly funny and it did decent business, so I guess it wasn’t the worst career move.
‘The Neon Demon‘ – For his latest game of cinematic copycatting, pretentious wannabe auteur Nicolas Winding Refn apes the famous giallo thrillers of Italian filmmakers such as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Elle Fanning plays a young ingénue navigating the (literally) cutthroat world of high-end fashion modeling, where murder, necrophilia and cannibalism are the order of the day. Per the director’s M.O., expect loads of hyper-stylized imagery and endless scenes of dead-eyed characters staring blankly into the distance, punctuated by brief bursts of repulsive violence. That formula worked for a lot of people (not me) with ‘Drive’, but just about everybody seems to be over Refn now. The movie was booed at Cannes, panned by critics, and made a tiny pittance in ticket sales.
‘Cell‘ – John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, who once starred together in the moderately successful Stephen King adaptation ‘1408’, reunite with another King story, this one about a mysterious cell phone signal that turns people into zombies. Like most of Cusack’s recent work, the movie went straight to VOD and was panned by critics. What happened to this actor’s career? Does he have a gambling problem or something, that has forced him to accept so many lousy projects? At this point, even Nicolas Cage must feel sorry for him.
In addition to day-and-date Ultra HD editions of ‘Warcraft‘, ‘Central Intelligence‘, ‘The Shallows‘ and ‘Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates‘, the survival thriller ‘Everest‘ (which was released on standard Blu-ray in January) also gets a 4k upgrade.
The Criterion Collection is in a perverse mood this week, simultaneously releasing the very campy 1960s show biz melodrama ‘Valley of the Dolls‘ (more than once named among the worst movies of all time) and the gonzo musical parody ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls‘. The latter was directed by Russ Meyer and scripted by none other than famed critic Roger Ebert, and it’s… well, it’s something. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s certainly something.
As if in penance for indulging in such lowbrow entertainment, Criterion also offers Krzysztof Kieślowski’s very high-minded ‘Dekalog‘, a ten-part meditation on the theme of the Ten Commandments.
The Cohen Film Collection further tempts the Criterion audience with ‘Two Films from Director Douglas Sirk‘, a double feature of the filmmaker’s early black-and-white projects ‘A Scandal in Paris’ and ‘Lured’.
Clint Eastwood is back at the top of the box office these days, which is excuse enough for the Warner Archive to pull out one of his lesser directorial efforts, 1997’s ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil‘.
Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K. Shout! Factory has bundled a double feature of the most righteous ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure‘, one of the smartest “dumb” movies ever made, with its less-beloved sequel ‘Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey’.
‘Highlander‘ makes its third appearance on Blu-ray (fourth if you count a SteelBook repackage) with a new 30th Anniversary Edition. How this differs, if at all, from the 25th Anniversary Edition is something a fan of the film will need to fill me in on.
I would hope that Universal’s so-called “Restored Edition” of ‘An American Werewolf in London‘ would have to be an improvement over the prior Blu-ray, which suffered from a very aged and over-processed video transfer.
1980s horror is a big theme this week. Aficionados will be delighted that Lionsgate is rolling out its new Vestron Series collection with high-def versions of the VHS staples ‘Chopping Mall‘ and ‘Blood Diner ‘. Arrow Video has the gross-out monster flick ‘Slugs‘, while Scream Factory goes for something a little classier with the atmospheric ghost story ‘Lady in White‘.
Blue Underground celebrates a different flavor of cheese with ‘The Shape of Things to Come‘, a hilariously corny 1979 sci-fi flop that looks like it was made about fifteen years earlier with a TV budget.
The only major TV title this week is the fifth season of ‘Grimm‘. I’d never even heard of PBS’ ‘Indian Summers‘ or BBC’s ‘Ripper Street‘, which are up to their second and fourth seasons respectively.
I watched ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ many years ago and don’t recall liking it very much, but it’s such a thoroughly bizarre movie that I feel compelled to give it another look.
I’m a little torn about the highly-regarded ‘Dekalog’. As a film snob, I know that I’m supposed to adore Krzysztof Kieślowski, but I really haven’t cared for anything of his I’ve seen. (Yes, that includes the much-beloved ‘Three Colors Trilogy’, which I frankly loathed.)
Assuming it’s really an improvement over the old version, I’d love to upgrade ‘American Werewolf in London’ to a better copy.
What are your plans for this week?