Welcome to the DVD & Games Forecast.
I originally thought there was nothing worth writing about this week. A cursory glance at the release list left me thinking I’d have about four titles in total to mention. But as with most weeks, if you really dig, there are things out there that are worth the time and attention. Today is a huge one for gamers, which is nice because it’s been a sort of slow 2010 so far. Here’s my take on what might earn a place in your player this week, no matter what the make or model:
THIS WEEK’S FEATURED TITLES:
“Bioshock 2” (X360/PS3/PC)
That’s right, gamers… it’s time to return to Rapture. I’ve read some incredible reviews of this one in the last few days, and I’m cautiously excited. I thought the first game was beautifully designed and a really interesting narrative, but I wasn’t crazy about the actual mechanics of the game. It seemed like a lot of work to manage the actual controls. I hear there are some big improvements on that front, and that the narrative takes some real chances as it builds off the mythology that was established the first time around.
If you’re not familiar with the first game, I’m not sure what you’ll get from a description, but Rapture is an underwater city in an alternate version of our own timeline, a place where Ayn Rand-ian philosophy and scientific genetic manipulation are both out of control, and where Art Deco has spread like kudzu. It’s a gorgeous, weird, steampunky world of monsters and moral choices, and if there’s anyone out there who found themselves addicted to the first, go ahead and say goodbye to friends and family for a while.
“A Serious Man” (BluRay/DVD)
The latest Coen Brothers film is a grower, not a shower, a movie that has snuck up on me the more I’ve thought about it. I liked it quite a bit when I saw it, too, so that’s really saying something. It is a comic riff on the Job story, and it features one of the most enigmatic endings of their entire filmography. Michael Stuhlberg’s lead performance here is a comic marvel, controlled and uncompromised. I’m equally impressed by Fred Melamed, whose Sy Abelman is one of the year’s most impressive fictional creation. I love the mood of the film and the pace of it, and I think the BluRay release is a startling visual accomplishment, one of the very best transfers Universal’s done. Clean, dynamic, beautiful. Almost every Coen Bros. film is worth owning and revisiting, but this one in particular impresses me as a gem that will continue to reveal its secrets with each new viewing.
“The People Speak: Extended Edition” (DVD)
Is it too early to say I miss Howard Zinn? I don’t spend a lot of time talking politics, because I think our system is fairly broken in terms of any real discourse, but I have a deep love of our history and the ideas and documents and struggles that our country is built on. That’s what I like about Zinn, the way he approached history and his struggle to bring it to life for people. I think “The People Speak” is a lovely expression of that goal of his, celebrities reading real speeches and letters and songs and poems. It is simply people bringing other people’s words to life. What better way to pay tribute to the life’s work of this impressive man than to enjoy this expression of his work? I mean, other than actually reading his work? Give it a try… it’s hard not to be stirred by at least some of what you hear in this collection if you have any regard for our shared cultural heritage.
“Bad Girls of Film Noir, Vol. 1: The Killer That Stalked New York / Two of a Kind / Bad for Each Other / The Glass Wall” (DVD)
“Bad Girls of Film Noir, Vol. 2: Night Editor / One Girl’s Confession / Women’s Prison / Over-Exposed” (DVD)
First things first, not every one of these movies can be categorized as film noir. Not that it automatically disqualifies any of them, but I think studios sometimes use “film noir” as an all-purpose description for “any film in black and white that we have in our catalog and would like to find a way to market”. I’ve seen all but two of the films now, and there are a few gems in there. Overall, it’s a decent collection, and the prints are in immaculate shape. “The Killer That Stalked New York” is sort of a riff on Kazan’s “Panic In The Streets,” but it’s got a sweaty urgency I liked. “One Girl’s Confession” is my favorite of the bunch, and to my great surprise, turns out I’m a Cleo Moore fan. Who knew? Built like a proto-Joan Halloway, but gifted with a real ability to project vulnerability and intelligence, she was a B-movie bad girl who deserved better.
One of my very favorite films from last year is finally available on video, and Thomas Hardy’s performance is perfectly showcased by the visual invention of Nicolas Refn’s energetic telling of the life of “Charles Bronson,” one of the UK’s worst all-time career criminals, and man who cherished his time in prison, who seemed almost pathologically driven to make his situation worse. It’s all energy, all style, and an absolute must-see. Even if you hate it, you’ll never forget it.
ALSO ON BLURAY:
I thought “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (BluRay/DVD) was creepy and sort of time-travel rapey and about as far from romantic as a movie can be. Both Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, actors I really like a lot, are saddled with roles that force them to do things that seem beyond the realm of normal actual human behavior. I don’t get the film at all, and my wife, normally the one who mainlines these types of films, was even more put off by it than I was. A bad sign. I haven’t gotten around to watching “Couple’s Retreat” (BluRay/DVD) yet, but I’ll give anything that reunites Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau a lot, no matter what context. I am deeply amused by everything I’ve seen so far of “Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic” (BluRay/DVD), perhaps the most outrageous attempt to spin classic literature into something EXTREEEEEEEME! for the gamer crowd. I’m not offended… more entertained. Like the video game, also coming out today, this is very “BOOBIES! BOOBIES! KILL! KILL”, which is the name of my new band, by the way. We’re available for bar mizvahs and quinceñeras. Some catalog action movie ludicrousness is out on BluRay today in the form of “The Running Man” (BluRay), “The Phantom” (BluRay), “Hard Rain” (BluRay), and “Drop Zone” (BluRay), not one of which I would call a good movie, but each of which has a certain cheesy charm. Of the bunch, I find “The Phantom” the most compelling in a “wow, someone actually filmed that” sort of way, and I think “The Running Man” is probably the one that is least defensible in any way. I was surprised that the recent remake of “The Stepfather” (BluRay/DVD) actually works pretty well for most of its running time, really only going off the rails in the last 20 minutes or so, when it proves that it does know how to pay off the slow tension that it spends so much time building. Dylan Walsh has exactly the right sort of bland charisma to pull off the role, and Amber Heard fans should check it out because she spends so much of the film so close to naked. I’m impressed by how avid the fans of the various “Stargate” properties have been, and although I’ve never tuned in for the shows, I know that there are many avid admirers who have followed each incarnation. They must be excited about today’s release of “Stargate Universe (SG-U): 1.0” (BluRay/DVD), and it sounds to me like “SG-U” is a show that is still picking up steam, which can be the best time for fans, as a show figures out its full potential. “Dare” (BluRay/DVD) may look like a typical teen romance film, but it’s actually an attempt to twist that genre and expectation in interesting ways, and the holy-crap-gorgeous Emmy Rossum just make it even easier to digest. And although I haven’t seen it, my wife’s love of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding” guarantees that at some point, I’ll send up seeing Nia Vardalos and John Corbett in “I Hate Valentine’s Day” (BluRay/DVD), their big reunion that failed to recapture even a hint of the box-office magic of their first film together.
ALSO ON DVD:
I’m a firm believer that books need time to breathe if you’re adaptating them, so something like “Emma” benefits from the four hour treatment via the BBC, and this recent version stars Romola Garai, Johnny Lee Miller, and Michael Gambon. Dreamworks has never been shy about spinning off popular characters, and their TV series has been a big hit, so it’s no surprise “The Penguins of Madagascar: Operation DVD Premiere” now exists. Somewhere, Vern is very happy that “A Dangerous Man” gives Steven Seagal work, and I’m very happy it gives me a new Vern review to look forward to. Dan Fienberg, HitFix’s TV editor, is a big fan of “The Life and Times Of Tim: The Complete First Season,” so I’m absolutely going to give it a chance. I wish I liked “The Sarah Silverman Program: Season 2, Vol. 2” more, but I think it’s a fairly uneven comedy overall. And I hate shows that break up seasons for sale. It seems like a real ripoff to me. If you don’t have the individual films yet, ten you can’t go wrong with “The Charlie Chaplin Collection (The Kid, A Woman Of Paris, The Gold Rush, The Circus, City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, Monsieur Verdoux, Limelight, A King In New York)”, which is a whole lot of good in one box. Same is true of the all-regions import “David Lean DVD Collection Box Set (Oliver Twist / Great Expectations / Blithe Spirit / This Happy Breed / Brief Encounter / Madeleine / The Sound Barrier / Hobson’s Choice)”, featuring some of the great films of British cinema all in one place. The Weinstein Company finally decided to release Forrest Whitaker’s “Hurricane Season” from prison, direct-to-video, and I’m curious to see if there’s anything to the football drama. I have not read the book that led to the production of “Stephen Romano Presents Shock Festival”, but I think I’m going to have to change that in a hurry. The book was a “reference book’ about 100 grindhouse films, with comprehensive details about their production and lots of marketing materials like posters and stills, with the hook being that none of the films were real. The DVD today collects hundreds of real grindhouse trailers along with 30 news ones that were produced to tie in to the work from Romano’s book, as well as radio spots and all sorts of other ephemera. I’m sure there is a market for a film starring Gary Coleman that is called “Midgets Vs. Mascots,” and I am equally sure that I am not that market. Anyone who is a fan of “Twilight Zone” should check out today’s release of “Rod Serling: Studio One Dramas” as a way of seeing what else Serling was capable of. He was a great writer of live drama, and he had a voice that is still being imitated by younger writers today. “Bushido: The Cruel Code of the Samurai” is a Tidashi Imai film that was a critical sensation in the early ’60s, a sprawling family drama about life in service of violence and honor. Finally, the wee li’l character drama “The Pleasure Of Being Robbed” showcases Eleonore Hendricks in a film that got strong reviews when it played at Cannes, the story of a girl whose tase for petty theft leads to some interesting developments in her social life.
ALSO IN GAMES:
The aforementioned “Dante’s Inferno” (X360/PS3/PSP) is out today, and you play a dude with a giant scythe who heads into Hell to rescue his beloved Beatrice amidst Quick TIme Events and bare boobs a-plenty. It is preposterous, and the demo made me laugh out loud and roll my eyes at the same time. “Star Ocean: The Last Hope” (PS3) is an internationally popular RPG that makes its latest console appearance today, while “Shiren The Wanderer” (Wii) is an adventure game that has a very old-school RPG charm in the early previews I’ve seen.
NEXT WEEK: “Black Dynamite” takes us on a high-def trip to Kung-Fu Island, “Lola Montes,” gets the Criterion BluRay treatment, a new videogame puts us smack dab in the middle of “Aliens Vs. Predator” again, and there’s a whooooole lotta Clint Eastwood in a brand-new box. See you then.
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