Welcome to the DVD & Games Forecast.
For what seems like a slow week, it’s gonna get pretty expensive for me when I make it to the store. There aren’t a ton of titles, but the ones worth picking up are REALLY worth picking up, so let’s get right to it, eh?
THIS WEEK’S FEATURED TITLES:
“GoodFellas – 20th Anniversary Edition” (BluRay)
As we prepare for the release of “Shutter Island” this weekend, it’s a good time to look back at the work of Martin Scorsese, and it’s nice of Warner Bros. to put out this BluRay edition of one of his best films just in time. I was impressed by the picture quality right off the bat because the Michael Balhaus photography has always been particularly tricky to reproduce at home. As the film progresses through time, there are subtle shifts in the image that pay off thematically, and for the first time, I feel like this version of the film gets it all right. The sound quality is just as impressive. The extra features are primarily recycled, including a very good documentary on Warner Bros. gangster films that I swear I own five different times, but no matter. If you’re a fan of the film, there’s no reason to hesitate. This is absolutely worth the price.
“Lola Montes” (BluRay/DVD)
Okay, Criterion, do you really want to hear a grown man cry?
I am flat out amazed by the pace that Criterion keeps these days, both for their DVD releases and their BluRay releases, and all three of today’s films are going to end up with a place on my shelf as soon as possible. The first one I’ll get, no matter what, is “Lola Montes,” a gorgeous Technicolor melodrama about a courtesan and her life’s journey. Max Ophuls is a master with the camera, and the way he uses sound and picture in this film is a master class from beginning to end. I saw this restoration in theaters, and it really is amazing how much juice they squeezed out of the image, and I would imagine that in high-definition, it’s going to end up being one of those discs I use to convince other people to buy a BluRay player. I haven’t seen Gotz Spielmann’s “Revenche,” but based on the reviews I’ve read and Criterion’s pick-up, I’m willing to give the movie a blind buy. It’s the story of a man who works at a brothel and falls in love with one of the women there, eventually deciding that he’s going to get her out. I don’t want to know any more than that before I see it, because it sounds like the sort of film where you want to have the experience as fresh as possible. Finally, there’s Steve McQueen’s “Hunger,” a beautiful film about terrible things, a look at the life of Irish hunger strikers in prison starring Michael Fassbender in a searing performance. It’s a very hard sit, but a worthwhile one, and if there’s any film from the last few years that deserves the high-def treatment for the painterly qualities of its image, it’s this one.
“Clint Eastwood: 35 Years 35 Films At Warner Bros.” (DVD)
“The Dirty Harry Collection” (BluRay/DVD)
There’s a whole lot of Clint on shelves this week, and that’s okay by me. The Dirty Harry set was first released last year, and it appears that this is just a repackaging of the entire series. They look amazing on BluRay, particularly the first film and “Sudden Impact.” I wish the giant “35 Years” set was being released on BluRay, because if it was, I would sell a kidney this week to make sure I picked this one up. Check out the titles that are included here: “Where Eagles Dare,” “Kelly’s Heroes,” “Dirty Harry,” “Magnum Force,” “The Enforcer,” “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” “The Gauntlet,” “Every Which Way but Loose,” “Bronco Billy,” “Any Which Way You Can,” “Honkytonk Man,” “Firefox,” “Sudden Impact,” “City Heat,” “Tightrope,” “Pale Rider,” “Heartbreak Ridge,” “Bird,” “The Dead Pool,” “Pink Cadillac,” “White Hunter, Black Heart,” “The Rookie,” “Unforgiven,” “A Perfect World,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” “Absolute Power,” “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” “True Crime,” “Space Cowboys,” “Blood Work,” “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Gran Torino,” and the new documentary “The Eastwood Factor.” Sure, there’s some junk in there (have you seen “The Rookie” lately?), but it’s an intriguing walk through his career, and the high points in that box are as high as anyone gets. If you want to truly understand him as an icon and a filmmaker, this is where the conversation begins.
“The Ladykillers” (BluRay)
I know some home video fans get offended when other companies try to play the Criterion game, but I’m all for it. If a company like Lionsgate looks at its massive library of titles that they own the home video rights to already and decide they want to put out top-quality BluRay editions of the best of those titles, then we all win, right? The question, of course, is about that quality, and I’m not able to judge that yet. I don’t have these new Lionsgate releases, all of which have previously been released overseas on BluRay. But I will. “Ran” is Akira Kurosawa’s take on “King Lear,” returning to the samurai Shakespeare notion of his earlier triumph “Throne Of Blood.” Unlike many people who return to the well after years away from an idea, Kurosawa delivered another in a long career of truly great movies. I’m thrilled to add this one to my collection, and the same is true of Godard’s “Contempt.” Contempt of what? Contempt of marriage? Of love? Of Hollywood? Of Godard himself? All options are left open by his self-referential look at the uneasy truce between art and commerce in cinema. And it’s got both Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance. What more does any film truly need? “The Ladykillers” was remade into one of the few Coen Bros. films I actively dislike, and part of that is because of my love for this original, starring Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness. I repeat… Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness. In the same film. As someone who thinks both men are among the most versatile and clever character actors to ever work in film, them together in a wicked black comedy about a caper, a little old lady, and some very funny bad men is pretty much Heaven.
ALSO ON BLURAY:
The less I say about “Law Abiding Citizen,” (BluRay/DVD) the less I risk offending some genuinely talented people who are all somehow complicit in one of the most head-scratchingly wretched films I’ve seen in a while. It’s a “Saw” movie starring Gerard Butler as a supergenius Wile E. Coyote of revenge, and in scene after scene, it’s sort of astonishingly wrong-headed. Gross and slick and morally retarded. And see? I start, and it’s hard to stop. I haven’t seen “Coco Before Chanel” (BluRay/DVD) yet, but I will. I love Audrey Tautou, and I’m interested enough in the life of the fashion icon that I’ll give this a fair shot and my full attention soon. “Women In Trouble” (BluRay/DVD) sounds like an exploitation movie, and in a way, that’s part of the point of the title, a bit of bait and switch that disguises a solid ensemble drama of inter-related character vignettes featuring some great work by Carla Gugino, Emmanuelle Chiqiri, Adrianne Palicki, Connie Britton and Marley Shelton, just to name a few. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Simon Baker and Josh Brolin fill out the male side of the ledger in the film, but it’s obvious that writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez is all about the ladies, and with ladies like these, who could blame him? I have yet to see a video-game tie-in film I can genuinely call good, particularly in the direct-to-video animated market, but that’s not to say it will never happen. Certainly the makers of “Halo Legends” (BluRay/DVD) have to be happy knowing that the enormous popularity of all things even remotely related to the game guarantees they’ll have an audience. I’m just curious to see if that audience’s loyalty is rewarded with something worth their time with this film. It seems like people either love or hate “Black Dynamite” (BluRay/DVD), but I’m somewhere in the middle. I think Michael Jai White is pretty amazing in the lead role. Any time anyone wants to make him a legitimate movie star, I’m down with that. He’s great at both the action and the comedy, and I think he works well with director Scott Sanders. What I don’t like about the film is the easy stuff, the boom-mic-in-the-Afro nonsense that mocks blacksploitation for being made on the cheap. Considering how much of the film understands the counterculture kick of the best of the genre, stooping for the low blows makes the film seem less smart. If the movie ended on Kung-Fu Island (as all movies should), it would be easier to defend, but the second ending back at the White House turns out to be like a serving of gravy on top of a plate of candy covered with chocolate. Way too much, and it just ends up turning to shit. I’m not a big of fan of Eli Roth’s “Cabin Fever” (BluRay), but I like enough about it that I understand the urge to play with the same ideas in a sequel, and hiring Ti West to direct it is step in the right direction. “Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever” (BluRay/DVD) was a notoriously troubled post-production, with the director essentially disowning the film. Now that people are seeing it, I’m surprised how many people seem to like most of the movie. Maybe more of West’s work survived than he wanted to believe. Whatever the case, if you like nasty virus horror, you’re loving your options this week.
ALSO ON DVD:
Chris Rock’s documentary about attitudes in blackness, “Good Hair,” proves to be more incisive than one might expect, and it’s entertainingly told. I’d love to see him tackle other cultural notions of what it is to be African-American, maybe as a series of documentaries. And speaking of series, I need to back up and get the first film before I pick up “20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope”, the second chapter in the ambitious SF/superhero trilogy by Yukihiko Tsutsumi, based on the manga by Naoki Urasawa. Having only read a little bit about it, it sounds to me like a combination of “Stephen King’s It” and “Watchmen.” Color me curious. Brant Sersen’s indie romantic comedy “Splinterheads” is a low-key charmer, a “nerd-gets-girl” film that plays well if you’re just looking for a nice example of that sort of thing. Right now, California is one of the strangest states in the nation, socially speaking, because we are in the middle of one of the great American legal battlegrounds in the war on drugs. I haven’t seen “How Weed Won The West,” but if it’s even a decent look at how strange things are out here, it’ll be worth a look. And finally, I’m not remotely surprised that “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” is out this week. It’s not a very good version of the story, but it’s intriguing that John Barry wrote all the music. The Barry Black lyrics are insipid, though, and even having Michael Crawford, Peter Sellers, Ralph Richardson, Dudley Moore, and Spike Milligan plays the classic Lewis Carroll characters doesn’t really pay off in any magic.
ALSO IN GAMES:
I wish I could say I’d heard good things about “Aliens Vs. Predator” (X360/PS3/PC), but by most accounts it’s a disappointment. I haven’t even been able to find anyone online to play the demo with, since it’s only a demo for the online mode of the game. You play three separate single-player campaigns, as a Marine, a Predator, and an Alien, but it sounds like the only real reason you’d want this would be for multi-player. A couple of popular series make portable platform debuts today, including “Ragnarok DS” (DS) and “SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3” (PSP). And fighter fans are no doubt looking forward to “Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce” (360/PSP/PS3), with a number of options for how they can play it.
NEXT WEEK: A “Heavy Rain” hits the PS3, Matt Damon IS “The Informant!,” Cameron Diaz IS “The Box,” and Warner Bros. releases another animated superhero film designed to make you wonder what the hell is wrong with their live-action division, “Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths.” See you then.
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