Last week, we thought things might be looking better for home video releases, what with a few of the highest rated films coming out (the Golden Tomato winners for both Best Limited Release and Best Comedy, in fact). Unfortunately, it looks like it might just be business as usual again this week, as we’ve got a handful of releases that failed to gain much momentum with critics. Having said that, there are still a few noteworthy choices, so let’s look ahead with a positive attitude and take a look at what’s new on DVD and Blu-Ray. After all, it’s only the third week of January!
Ricky Gervais is, in the immortal words of Zoolander‘s Mugatu, “so hot right now.” It’s thanks in large part to him that we have such instant classics as The Office and Extras, and he’s fresh off his stint as the host of the Golden Globes just last night. Unfortunately, he hasn’t fared as well in the realm of film, and this latest effort, The Invention of Lying had critics wishing for more of his dry, unpredictable wit. Starring alongside Jennifer Garner, Gervais plays Mark, a man living in an alternate reality where everyone tells the truth who discovers that lying can produce dramatic results… both bad and good. Though critics felt the film relied a bit too much on romantic comedy formula, they still felt it was, overall, witty and enjoyable. You can pick it up on DVD or Blu-Ray this week.
Speaking of hot leading men of the moment, it seems King Leonidas himself, Gerard Butler, is poised to become one of the next big things. At least, that’s where all indications were pointing until he released a string of somewhat poorly received movies, including P.S. I Love You, Law Abiding Citizen, and The Ugly Truth. Unfortunately, Gamer didn’t fare much better, earning just a 29% on the Tomatometer. The story is set in a world where humans control other humans in live-action video games; a human avatar (non-blue) by the name of Kable (Butler) achieves notoriety with his player counterpart by winning repeatedly, but he must ultimately escape the “game” in order to return to his family. Not an entirely new concept here, but Butler has proven himself in action pieces before, so it might be worth a Friday night rental.
It’s apparent where a lot of Pandorum‘s ideas come from. This isn’t the first psychological sci-fi thriller we’ve seen about a seemingly abandoned spacecraft that holds terrifying secrets. In Pandorum, two men (Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster) awake from hypersleep to find the 60,000 other passengers of their ship have vanished, and together they must uncover the mystery behind the disappearance. While some critics felt the movie could be effective for hardcore sci-fi fans, most believed the story to be a tad too derivative and strained. If you fall into the former category, this could be a decent pickup for you this week.
What can we say about one of the runners-up to the Moldy Tomato Award this year? Earning just a 7% on the Tomatometer, Whiteout even managed to make it onto our Worst of the Worst: 2000-2009 list. But this Antarctic thriller about a killer roaming loose at an isolated research facility isn’t poorly crafted from a technical standpoint, per se; critics mostly blamed the uninspired plot and the excruciatingly slow pace. Kate Beckinsale does her best to save the material, but many felt it just wasn’t enough. But who knows? Maybe you’ll check it out, disagree completely, and come back to tell us why the critics were absolutely dead wrong on this one.
Thankfully, we have at least one brand new release that happens to be Certified Fresh, and that would be Outrage, a documentary exploring homosexuality in politics. Kirby Dick, who previously turned his camera on the MPAA in This Film Is Not Yet Rated, this time focuses on the American government and what he perceives to be the rampant homophobia prevalent within it. And though many critics felt the film at times falters in objectivity (Dick calls out several politicians as closet homosexuals), most thought it was a fascinating look into the topic worth checking out.
Director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Traffic) has been cranking out films over the past few years, and this year, he took on an independent project with the help of many of his friends. Che is a biopic about the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, starring Benicio Del Toro in the title role and focusing on the years after Guevara had already met and begun working for Fidel Castro. Over four hours long, the film was released in two parts and never gathered much steam. It did, however, earn a 63% on the Tomatometer and a Criterion edition in both DVD and Blu-Ray. You can pick up the film in its entirety this way, and it’s available this week.
Paul Thomas Anderson is an arthouse darling, crafting deep, affecting dramas often with dark undertones. Most recently, Anderson’s There Will Be Blood was the top contender for the best picture Oscar alongside No Country For Old Men, and lead actor Daniel Day Lewis did, in fact, take home a statue. But these two films, now being released on Blu-Ray, are considered two of Anderson’s finest, and while Boogie Nights may be better known overall, simply for one particular iconic moment, both are Certified Fresh and widely praised. High definition should do wonders for all the flying frogs and prosthetic… Well, never mind about that.
At just 27% on the Tomatometer, 2007’s Smokin’ Aces probably didn’t need a sequel, as most critics felt it was a bit of a mess, part Quentin Tarantino, part Guy Ritchie, but with none of the wit and cleverness found in either. As a result, there aren’t many returning for this Assassins’ Ball, and the film itself is heading straight to DVD. If we’re being honest here, the plotline for a movie like this is negligible, but for the sake of information, it goes something like this: an FBI man with a price on his head finds himself pursued by a rogue’s gallery of psychotic assassins, and it leads to an hilarious, action-packed chase to be the first to make the kill. Whether or not this actually works, you’ll have to see for yourself.
This was such a unique item that we just had to include it. Red Cartoons is a collection of 16 short animated films from the days of East Germany, when the DEFA Studio for Animation Film churned out more than 800 of them. Utilizing animation as a medium by which certain aspects of political satire not normally allowed in live action films could be explored, various directors took advantage of the chance to push boundaries. The 16 works gathered here are by 8 different directors, and they represent a wide variety of influences and styles. It’s a bit of a niche item, but for those who are interested, it could be a fascinating look not only into film, but history as well.
Speaking of history, let’s travel back to 1977, when the man who once played the captain of a very popular starship suddenly found himself up to his armpits in tarantulas. We are referring, of course, to Kingdom of the Spiders, a cheesy creature feature starring William “Captain Kirk” Shatner as Dr. Robert “Rack” Hansen, a veterinarian who discovers the cause of a number of farm animal deaths is an aggressive new species of spider, which has overtaken Rack’s small town with an army of millions. Sure, it might have some cheesy dialogue, but there’s something charming about seeing Shatner covered in creepy-crawlies and reeling off lines like “Why would… spiders… suddenly turn aggressive?” with no hint of irony in his voice. This Special Edition even contains a recent interview with Shatner, wherein he discusses the unfortunate lack of CGI when the film was made. In any case, if campy old fright-flicks are your thing, you might get a kick out of this one.