Here we are in the second week of 2010, and already things are looking better… at least in terms of home video releases. While we’ve been suffering from a lack of many great films coming to home audiences in the past several weeks, this week brings us a handful of dandies. Not only do we have one of the highest rated movies of the year, but we’ve also got a handful of impressive directorial debuts (and one not so impressive one), a horror sequel for the slasher-minded, and the latest from Tyler Perry. Not only that, we’ve got a couple of Blu-Ray reissues: one classic action flick, and one cinematic masterpiece brought to us in high definition by the good folks at Criterion. Read on to see the choices and see which ones might be worth picking up!
We all knew Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break) was more than capable of delivering a great action film, but this year may have brought us her crowning achievement. The Hurt Locker opened in just four theaters last June before critical acclaim and word of mouth helped it towards a wide release a month later. Since then, this story of a bomb technician and the perils he faces with his squad in Iraq has been touted as one of the best films of the year, finding itself nominated for several awards already and earning an impressive (and Certified Fresh) 97% Tomatometer score. It’s likely that The Hurt Locker will become one of the stronger contenders for the Best Picture Oscar, and if you missed what all the fuss was about, now’s your chance to check it out. It’s available on DVD and Blu-Ray this week.
In his directorial debut, David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones may have taken inspiration from some of the more spaced-out entries from his father’s catalogue. Moon is one heck of a sci-fi mind trip, starring Sam Rockwell in dual roles as a lone astronaut on a corporate moon base who discovers a man who looks just like himself out on the moon’s surface. We won’t spoil anything for you, but as the two Rockwells interact with each other, the mystery of their existence becomes clearer and clearer. Critics felt that this was a strong debut for Jones, with effectively crafted atmosphere and a standout performance from Rockwell. Scoring a Certified Fresh 89% on the Tomatometer, Moon may indicate a bright future for Duncan Jones, and you can nab it this week on DVD or Blu-Ray.
Rock star-turned-director Rob Zombie took on a hefty project when he assumed directorial duties for the reboot of the classic 80s slasher franchise Halloween. While critics panned the film, many figured this was par for the course for horror, and it made enough at the box office to encourage execs to greenlight a sequel. All this is to say, we probably should have known what was in store. 2009’s sequel, also helmed by Zombie, received a lower Tomatometer score than the reboot’s 29%, and it made less money, as critics again found fault with the excessive gore and violence, despite some visual flair. Still, fans looking for an old-fashioned hack-and-slash flick might find some thrills to be had here, and for those folks, Halloween II be available on DVD and Blu-Ray this week.
Another little-seen gem of the year is In the Loop, a sharp political satire based on a BBC comedy (The Thick of It) about mistakes and misunderstandings within the British and US governments that culminate in a war. Filmed in documentary style, In the Loop was praised for its wit, wryly clever at times and outright hilarious at others, and for thoughtfully and effectively illustrating some of the inherent flaws to be found in international politics. This film, like Duncan Jones’s Moon, is a promising debut from a fledgling feature director — in this case, Armando Iannucci, who is the creator and director of The Thick of It. Smart, political humor isn’t everyone’s bag, but In the Loop pulls it off so well that even if the subject matter turns you off, you might still find it to be a rollicking good time.
The original Fame opened in 1980, and it was such a hit that it spawned a television series of the same name that ran for five years. What with all the recent clamoring for music- and dance-based entertainment on both television and the big screen, it wasn’t surprising when a 2009 remake of the 80s classic emerged. Unfortunately, this is one directorial debut on today’s list that probably won’t be winning many awards. While the original garnered a couple of Oscars and multiple nominations from the BAFTAs and Golden Globes, music video director Kevin Tancharoen’s modernized interpretation of the story — centering on a number of artistically gifted students at the New York City High School of Performing Arts — only managed to garner a 27% on the Tomatometer and failed to earn repeat audiences. That said, there is the aforementioned popularity factor regarding the subject matter, so if you can’t get enough of American Idol, High School Musical, and So You Think You Can Dance, then you’ll probably enjoy Fame.
Tyler Perry has made himself into a bona fide franchise, making his presence known on stage, on television, and on cinema screens. As he has done with many of his other plays, Perry brought the stage production of 1999’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself to the big screen this year, and true to form, his fans flocked to the theaters to see it. Taraji P. Henson stars as April, the aunt of three delinquents who Perry’s famous Madea catches trying to loot her home. When Madea delivers the kids to April, she is unwilling to take responsibility, but a Mexican immigrant who’s moved into April’s basement convinces her to open her heart, both to the children and to the opportunity to find love. It’s somewhat typical Tyler Perry fare, and the critics pointed out its predictability, but overall, most felt that Perry did a fairly effective job, helping it earn 62% on the Tomatometer. Fan of Madea? You can pick it up this week.
In keeping with this theme of smaller, lesser known, indie darlings, here’s Departures, a contemplative and uplifting movie from Japan that won a little something known as the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film last year. Departures focuses on an unemployed concert cellist named Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) who takes on a new job as a funeral professional without realizing what he’s gotten into. Though his occupation is generally looked down upon, Daigo takes pride in his work, and the many encounters he has with the families and friends of the deceased allow him to discover some profound truths. Despite the somewhat schmaltzy premise, Departures was noted for its inspirational story and the beauty found in its quiet moments, earning a Certified Fresh 81% on the Tomatometer. Oh, and there’s also that Oscar it won, so yeah, it’s probably worth checking out.
With the NFL playoffs heating up, it’s a good time to reflect on the people who’ve made pro football America’s number one sport: the fans. One can only hope, however, that most tailgaters lead happier and better-adjusted lives than Big Fan‘s protagonist, obsessive New York Giants fan and frequent sports talk radio caller Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt). The Certified Fresh Big Fan follows Aufiero’s downward spiral after he has a chance encounter with one of the Giants’ stars — a meeting that ends very badly. What follows is a bleakly comic portrait of a Travis Bickle-esque loner who is torn between his loyalty to the G-men and the pressures of his family, the media, and even the police. The DVD features outtakes, trailers, and interviews with Oswalt, director Robert Siegel, and co-star Kevin Corrigan.
Sly Stallone might best be known for his two iconic roles in the Rambo and Rocky franchises of the 80s, but he was still going strong well into the 90s, with hits like Demolition Man (1993), The Specialist (1994), and Judge Dredd (1995). But the film that kicked off his mid-90s action explosion was 1993’s Cliffhanger, wherein Stallone plays Gabe Walker, a troubled mountain climbing expert who is unexpectedly implored to aid in a rescue effort. The only catch is that the rescue is a decoy intended to provide a thief (John Lithgow’s Eric Qualen) with the mountaineering expertise needed to recover three suitcases full of money lost in the mountains… and it’s up to Gabe to stop him. Featuring thrilling action sequences and some beautiful shots of the Alps and the Rocky Mountains, Cliffhanger proved to be a crowdpleaser for audiences and critics alike. This week, you can pick it up on Blu-Ray and relive the action in hi-def.
Earning well-deserved superlatives over several decades, 8 1/2 is a cultural touchstone and became an inspiration for other work (particularly a certain lingerie strewn musical that put the vomitorium back into the faux-coliseum). Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2, the self-aware dramedy about a disastrous film production flaccidly helmed by an overstuffed, lothario artiste, has long been regarded as the apex of films about films. For this grand piece of cinema, Criterion is presenting a pageant of extras on their Blu-Ray DVD. After the potentially voluptuous HD transfer there are multiple featurettes including: The Last Sequence on the film’s alternate ending; a doc about Fellini’s composer and collaborator, Nino Rota; and a new transfer of Fellini’s Director’s Notebook. That’s nothing to say about the commentary by Fellini friend Gideon Bachmann and NYU film professor Antonio Monda, or the interviews with director Lina Wertmuller and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, or the introduction by Terry Gilliam. Its a DVD as audacious and star studded as the film, and worth a place on your shelf, even if that lady that plays Saraghina scares you.