STAR TREK! FIGHT CLUB! OMFG!
That’s how I feel, anyway. It’s a great week overall, but the BluRay nerd in me wins for sheer unbridled enthusiasm. And speaking of OMFG and enthusiasm, did you guys see “Curb” on Sunday night? Between Bob Einstein’s joke and the Michael Richards moment and the big finish with Larry, I sort of can’t believe that even exists. Hats. Off.
The Christmas season is well underway, and as is true of music, today is pretty much D-Day for a lot of the giant holiday titles hitting shelves. It’s one of those weeks where there is 100% no way I could afford to pick up everything that interests me. These titles will be trickling into my house over the next few weeks as I find them on sale or used or at discount, because it’s a flood. There are so many things, all worth my attention this week, and as a result, it’s a particularly good week of featured titles. Or at least I think so… see if you agree…
THIS WEEK’S FEATURED TITLES:
“Star Trek” (BluRay/DVD)
I’m a fan. And no matter what version of this you pick up today, you’re in for a treat.
“Fight Club” (BluRay)
It’s about time. I’m glad to see this arrive just in time for people to reflect on the film’s ten-year anniversary and offer the film some attention and respect. I remember when it was released and Roger Ebert dismissed it as a “macho wheezy porn trick.” I couldn’t disagree more strongly, and although I think David Fincher has grown as a filmmaker since he made this movie, I think it’s going to take a lot for something to replace this as my favorite film that Fincher’s ever made.
I don’t take the film’s philosophy seriously, but I think it’s a wicked hilarious dark comedy, and both Ed Norton and Brad Pitt give career-high performances. When the film came out on DVD in 2000, it was pretty much the standard for sound and picture at that point, and Fox does excellent work on their BluRay mastering, so I’ve got pretty high hopes for this one. I hear Fincher and the DVD team have played some games with the BluRay format itself, which is fitting.
“It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: It’s A Very Sunny Christmas” (BluRay/DVD)
If the cast of “Seinfeld” were basically smiling sociopaths, then the cast of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” are full-blown animals, monsters whose behavior would result in about a thousands arrests per episode of it were real-life. And I love them precisely because “bad” doesn’t begin to describe the way they act. Rob McElehenney, Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson, and Danny DeVito spend week after week getting terrible ideas and then acting on them with impunity. A comedy writer I know once described this as “the show where everyone yells at each other,” but I think it’s more than that. The show has the deranged energy of the truly mad, as the cast charges from one bit of comedy terrorism to the next, and DeVito’s been an invaluable addition to the show. I always knew he loved diseased humor, but he’s pushed it further in his work here than he ever has before, and looks like he’s loving it. I haven’t seen this new direct-to-DVD Christmas special, but I’m guessing that the freedom of a not-for-television episode will result in something nearly apocalyptic in its extremity.
“Gone With The Wind: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition” (BluRay/DVD)
I’m heartbroken. I got a box the other day, opened it, and saw the 70th anniversary packaging for this Hollywood classic, and just as I went to tear into it, I realized I’d been sent the DVD instead of the BluRay. I’ve got to fix that immediately, because if this is anywhere near the quality of the work that Warner Bros. did with the 8K scans on both “The Wizard Of Oz” and “North By Northwest” in the last few months, it’ll be worth the upgrade. I consider this one of those milestones in the studio system, one of the perfect crystallizations of how the system worked when it worked. Turning this novel into a film was an invitation for disaster, but somehow it all came together just right, and the result continues to impress, in terms of scale and style.
“Leon: The Professional” (BluRay)
The further we get into his career, the more I’m convinced that this will always be the best thing Luc Besson ever directs. And the further we get into her career, the more I’m convinced that this will always be one of the best performances Natalie Portman ever gives. This story of a young girl (Portman) who takes refuge with a childlike professional killer (Jean Reno) when her entire family is killed by a corrupt policeman (Gary Oldman) and his thugs is emotional, punctuated with slick and stylish action set pieces, and filled with great performances. This is the longer European cut, and the transfer is impressive, a near-perfect reproduction of a film print. Besson has become a prolific action producer, but pretty much fallen off the map as a director, and watching this one again last week, I am struck by what a loss that really is.
Universal has gone above and beyond in putting together the BluRay version of this film. I really like the film, and one of the key questions most viewers had after watching the film was how much of it was real, and how much was staged. Now, thanks to the outstanding on-screen picture-in-picture commentary featuring Larry Charles and Sacha Baron Cohen in a rare out-of-character appearance, those questions are answered about every scene and every character, and it’s just as entertaining to listen to them talk about the process as it is to watch the film again. There are deleted scenes as well, including the infamous LaToya Jackson scene that was cut after the press screenings because of Michael Jackson’s death. The film looks as good on BluRay as it can look, but due to the way some of the film was shot, the original elements aren’t particularly sterling. Still, what makes this disc a keeper is the peek behind the curtain, something Cohen seemed unwilling to do before now. He doesn’t seem like a diva or pretentious in the commentary, and it just underlines what a talented performer he is.
“Assassin’s Creed II” (PS3/XBXO 360)
Can’t wait. I really loved the original, which managed to be both thrilling and oddly tranquil. There were moments in the first game that were as beautiful as anything I’ve seen in a game since “Shadow Of The Colossus,” and by all accounts, this follow-up is everything that was good about the first game amplified. I wrote about the event I went to last week to celebrate the release of the three live-action episodes of a prequel film, and now you can see the whole movie right here:
Once I’ve had a chance to explore this one, I’ll make sure to bring you a review.
“Left 4 Dead 2” (XBOX360)
Because I’m a PS3 owner instead of an XBOX360 owner, I missed out on the first “Left 4 Dead,” and I’m feeling left out again over the excitement that is positively palpable among the horror and gaming fans I know. Killing zombies is pure stress relief, and this sounds like the very best zombie mayhem game so far. I find most survival horror to be a bore after a while, but it seems like Valve (creators of the amazing “Half-Life” games and “Portal”) have perfected the formula. This is one of those exclusive titles that makes me strongly consider adding another gaming machine to the house.
ALSO ON BLURAY:
If you’re picking up “Star Trek” on BluRay today, then it just goes to figure that you’d want to also pick up “Galaxy Quest” (BluRay), which I maintain is one of the very best “Trek” films ever made, even if it’s not an actual “Trek” film. This comedy shows as strong an understanding of the iconography of “Trek” as the Abrams film does. Just like with “Gone With The Wind,” I was sent the DVD version of “Rome: The Complete Series” (BluRay/DVD) instead of the BluRay version. Frustrating, since I would imagine “Rome” must be stunning in high definition. “My Sister’s Keeper” (BluRay/DVD) just showed up today, and I’m sure I’ll check it out soon. Cameron Diaz stars in this story of a family grappling with the potentially fatal illness of a child, which has to be one of the most difficult things anyone can face. Nick Cassavetes proved himself to be adroit with the tear-jerking with “The Notebook,” but reviews on this one were rough. I’m looking forward to finally catching up with “Scrubs: The Complete Eighth Season” (BluRay/DVD), and I’m curious to see how they wrapped it all up. I can’t honestly say that “Scrubs” was ever a can’t-miss favorite of mine, but it was always reliably enjoyable, and I like that they knew the show was ending, so they could write towards a conclusion. I’m hoping to pick up “Clerks” (BluRay), “Chasing Amy” (BluRay), and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” (BluRay), but I’ve owned the first two films on several formats now, and I’m not in any rush. They look like great packages, and once again, Kevin Smith has gone out of his way to make sure to add enough new extras to make it worthwhile for his fans to trade up. Like “Clerks,” Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex Lies & Videotape” (BluRay) isn’t a film that demands high-definition, but I’m still looking forward to revisiting it in this format. “Franklyn” (BluRay/DVD) is an English thriller that uses several interwoven stories to paint a surreal picture of and England of today and of tomorrow at the same time. Eva Green, Ryan Philippe, and Sam Riley star, offering up a strange but interesting film that deserved better than a direct-to-DVD dump. I’m a huge fan, and although it’s not just him playing music week after week, I trust his taste enough to pick up “Elvis Costello: Spectacle – Season One” (BluRay/DVD) to see what sort of music he feels deserves attention these days. Michael Caine fans may enjoy the gentle, simple “Is Anybody There?” (BluRay/DVD), while Jeff Bridges and Justin Timberlake fans should track down “The Open Road” (BluRay/DVD). I wouldn’t call either film essential, but they are both amiable small-scale dramas that offer some pleasures for those who dig the stars.
ALSO ON DVD:
A&E spent time and money tracking down the rights to release “Farscape: The Complete Series,” and fans are excited about this new edition of the series, which features all-new extras that weren’t available on earlier releases from other companies. Chan Wook Park’s “Thirst” is a strange and sexy film that further establishes the director as one of the most unusual voices in international cinema, able to subvert any genre to his particular sensibilities. I couldn’t care less about Robert Pattinson, but his legion of adoring fans will no doubt pick up “How To Be” so they can watch him play guitar and… well… whatever else it is that he does. I wish I loved Jim Jarmusch’s “The Limits Of Control” so I could tell all they naysayers how wrong they are, but I thought it was a mild effort from this arthouse giant. It’s not a bad film… it’s just not one I’ll be rushing to rewatch any time soon, and that’s rare for this director. Emma Roberts, niece to Julia and daughter to Eric, is one of those younger actors that Hollywood has a fair amount of hope pinned on, and they seem to be testing her in smaller films to see how well she can carry them and also to see what sort of audience she attracts. I haven’t seen “Wild Child,” but I’ll check it out because I’m curious how much we’ll be seeing of Emma Roberts in the future. Michael Ritchie did some interesting work in “Downhill Racer (Criterion)”, a Robert Redford vehicle from the ’70s, but it’s not a cohesive whole as a film. I’m surprised that Criterion picked it up, but it worked, because I’m willing to give the film another try just to see what they’ve done with it. I’m sorry “Andy Barker P.I.: The Complete Series” failed, but the one good thing about it tanking is that Andy Richter has ended up back with Conan O’Brien, and that’s never a bad thing for audiences. I’m almost 100% sure I’m not the target audience for “Margaret Cho: Beautiful,” but I respect the way Cho has redefined herself over the years, and the way she knows exactly who she’s speaking to these days. Anyone who bought a ticket for “This Is It” is probably going to end up buying the “Michael Jackson: Mega Box,” a collection of interviews and TV special appearances from over the years, and it looks like a really comprehensive way of looking back at Jackson’s legacy. If you don’t already own it, HBO has just repackaged “The Sopranos: The Complete Series” on DVD one last time, and at a much more reasonable price than before. If there’s a competition this week for the most annoying punctuated or capitalized titles, then “Evangelion 1.01: You Are (Not) Alone – Movie” and “Dane Cook: ISolated INcident” are running neck in neck. Finally, fans of the obscure should be excited about Kino’s “Avant-Garde 3: Experimental Cinema 1922 – 1954” box set and the Oscilloscope Laboratories release of “The Exiles,” a long unreleased film that’s been rediscovered and presented here by Sherman Alexie (“Smoke Signals”) and Charles Burnett (“Killer Of Sheep”).
ALSO IN GAMES:
The single biggest cross-platform launch today has got to be “Lego Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues” (DS, PC, PS3, PSP, Wii, XBOX360). Maybe not the biggest title in terms of hype, but it’s amazing how many different versions are hitting shelves today. I’m growing a little weary of all the Lego-themed licensed titles, but the audience for them is huge, so expect this one to be a popular gift this season. I know a lot of people who are flipping out about “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” (Wii), and I think at this point, Mario games are comfort food for a generation, each new one a welcome return. In addition to the main game, Ubisoft is also releasing “Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery” (DS) and “Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines” (PSP), games that tie into the larger mythology they’re building without just repeating game play from the main titles. If you’re like me, you’re probably eager to see what Playstation has cooked up next year, but in the meantime, the “God of War Collection” (PS3) should be a welcome reintroduction to Kratos and his take on Greek mythology. Sony’s also releasing another new version of a previous big ticket title with “LittleBigPlanet” (PSP), and I’ll admit… the idea of a portable version of that game is very appealing. It would be a lovely time-killer on an airplane. “NCAA Basketball 10” (PS3, 360) and “Tony Hawk Ride” (PS3, Wii, 360) are both out this week for sports freaks, while younger gamers with parents who only buy familiar titles may well end up playing “Planet 51” (DS, PS3, Wii, 360) or “The Princess And The Frog” (DS, PC, Wii). The Wii is getting a real workout this week, and if you don’t own an XBOX360 but you want to kill some undead, then maybe “Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles” (Wii) will scratch that itch for you.
NEXT WEEK: “Funny People,” “Angels & Demons,” and “The Sopranos” goes Blu.
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