This week on home video, our biggest notable release isn’t a new one at all. In celebration of the film’s 60th anniversary, Disney is releasing the Blu-Ray version of one of its most famous animated classics. Then we’ve got plenty of new releases, both highly rated and not, to fill out the bill. These range from a probing documentary about the truth behind a celebrated war hero to an alien invasion flick to a few small dramas that might have flown under the mainstream radar. Check the full list to see if anything is worth picking up for you this week!
When Disney’s Alice in Wonderland debuted in 1951, it famously suffered a harsh reception, most notably from British critics who thought the film a gross bastardization of a Lewis Carroll’s classic novels. Attitudes have changed since then, of course; these days, it’s considered one of the most classic of the studio’s animated films, and one seemingly cannot divorce the cartoon image of the blonde-haired, blue-dressed Alice of Disney’s making from the source material itself. With the live-action “sequel” opening (with great box office success, by the way) last year, it’s not surprising to see that the studio has selected the original as its next Blu-Ray release, in a 60th Anniversary Special Edition. By all accounts, the high definition video quality is outstanding, which is a plus for a film that relies so heavily on visuals over story. As for the extras, there are all the features found on the standard DVD, including the Cheshire Cat song and the “One Hour in Wonderland” program, but the Blu-Ray also offers some hi-def bonuses as well, from the Alice-themed Mickey Mouse short “Through the Mirror” to a picture-in-picture pop-up track that feeds you tons of interesting information about the movie as it plays. In other words, this Is pretty much a great pickup for anyone who’s a fan of the film or of classic Disney animation in general.
Fans of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In were justifiably incensed at the decision to remake the Swedish horror for American audiences presumably unwilling to read subtitles or take their vampire stories with any measure of subtlety; after all, the corpse of the 2008 film was barely cold, and to some it seemed like a cynical ploy to capitalize on the regrettable bloodsucker genre lead by Twilight. Imagine the collective surprise, then, when Cloverfield director Matt Reeves’ version emerged not just excusable, but pretty damned impressive in its own right. Sure, liberties are taken with the more understated tones of Alfredson’s movie — there’s a little more shock, and a lot more melodrama — but Let Me In more than respectfully relocates the coming-of-age tale to the suburbia of early ’80s America, with performances by Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass) that lovingly recreate the dynamic of the original. Perhaps the greatest testament to the movie’s artistic success was that it flopped commercially — the tender tale of a bullied adolescent and his transgender vampire girlfriend arguably a touch too off-color for mainstream audiences weaned on heavy-handed horror and teen movies. The DVD and Blu-ray release has audio commentary from Reeves, making-of features and deleted scenes.
Sci-Fi has long been the genre of choice when it comes to allegorical references to real-life events; District 9‘s thinly veiled metaphor for Apartheid came as recently as 2009. That said, one may choose not to view 2010’s British alien invasion film Monsters as a subversive portrait of the U.S.’s border policy with Mexico, despite the fact that the film feels a bit like “District 9 for Americans.” There are, after all, alien lifeforms that crash land in Central America, who then begin to populate and “infect” half of Mexico, which is then quarantined and monitored by human military forces. Oh, and there’s also that wall along the U.S./Mexico border that keeps the aliens at bay. The two protagonists, Andrew and Samantha (real life couple Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able), are along for the ride, attempting to secure safe passage back to the States through the infected zone after their passports are stolen. With that said, critics did enjoy the film to the tune of a 71% Tomatometer, calling Monsters a surprisingly effective blend of alien invasion tropes, political themes, and relationship drama, even if it doesn’t quite live up to its intriguing premise. It’s a small film that only opened in limited release here, so if you missed it, you can check it out this week on DVD or Blu-Ray.
Two-time Best Actress Oscar-winner Hilary Swank has amassed an interesting, if hit-or-miss, filmography that includes genre fare like The Black Dahlia and The Reaping, as well as some films that smell more than a little like attempts at a third Oscar (Freedom Writers, Amelia). The latest to fit in the latter category is last year’s Conviction, a based-on-true-events tale of one woman’s 18-year quest to prove the innocence of her convicted brother (Sam Rockwell). When Kenny Waters (Rockwell) is arrested for murder and thrown in prison in 1983, his younger sister Betty Anne (Swank) buckles down and puts herself through high school, college, and law school, then tackles a heap of questionable evidence in an effort to uncover the truth and free her brother. Critics felt that the performances were solid, but that the script and direction lent itself more to a TV-movie-of-the-week feel than a major motion picture. With a 69% on the Tomatometer, Conviction is far from a bad movie, but it’s also not quite the homerun it very well could have been.
Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro has earned numerous accolades for his work, but he isn’t really known for science fiction. His novel Never Let Me Go, however, about a love triangle that develops between laboratory-created human clones, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award after its publication. In other words, it wasn’t difficult to imagine a film adaptation would be in the works. Unfortunately, critics felt that the big screen version, which starred Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, and Andrew “Spider-Man” Garfield as the aforementioned love trio, was hampered by adhering too closely to the book’s subdued, melancholic themes. While they cited the cinematography and acting as strengths of the film, they also found it a bit uneven and a little too understated to drive home the profound points it attempts to make. Still, a 66% on the Tomatometer is nothing to sneeze at, and it’s certainly a fresh, interesting take on the genre.
Pat Tillman was a true American hero. He turned down a lucrative NFL contract to enlist in the Army, and gave his life serving his country in Afghanistan. But in death, he made for a perfect PR opportunity for the architects of war; Tillman’s tragic death in a friendly fire accident was spun into a more heroic end at the hands of the Taliban. The Tillman Story tells the tale of his family’s search for the truth, and paints a compelling portrait of a complex man whose death was used to shore up support for an increasingly unpopular conflict. It’s the kind of straightforward filmmaking that requires little embellishment to make its points, and thus, the DVD contains few special features beyond a sober commentary track from director Amir Bar-Lev.
With the Twilight franchise set to close next year, Kristen Stewart has been busy beefing up her resume with a variety of roles in preparation for her post-vampire career. Granted, most of these roles still require her to exude varying degrees of anger and/or apathy (Adventureland, The Runaways), but she’s getting out there. Her latest effort comes in Welcome to the Rileys, an indie drama about a couple (James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo) who begin drifting apart after the death of their daughter. During a particularly troublesome time in New Orleans, away from home, Doug Riley (Gandolfini) decides to turn his life around by offering a teenage stripper (Stewart) $100 a day to stay with her while he gets his mind right. She agrees, and the two form a relationship that ultimately helps bring Doug and his wife back together. Critics were split on this one, some calling Welcome to the Rileys surprisingly touching with fine performances all around, while others feel the melodrama is forced and the story too unrealistic. It’s up to you to decide, if you’re into melancholy family drams.
Much has already been made in the media about the lack of minorities up for Academy honors this year, and one of the films that some have pointed to as a reference for quality cinema in this discussion is the Certified Fresh Night Catches Us, written and directed by newcomer Tanya Hamilton and starring Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) and Kerry Washington (For Colored Girls). Set in 1976, Mackie plays Marcus, a former member of the Black Panthers who returns to his old neighborhood after years spent away. Quickly fingered by old associates as the man who brought about the death of another member, Marcus finds solace in an old friendship with Patricia (Washington) and attempts to clear his name and bring peace back to the neighborhood. Buoyed primarily by the strong performances from Mackie and Washington, Night Catches Us earned favorable reviews from critics who felt the film was a bold and original debut for Hamilton, despite the fact that it offers no easy answers for the questions it raises and might be slower than some might hope for. For the curious, it’s out this week on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Written by Ryan Fujitani, Tim Ryan, and Luke Goodsell