Welcome to another week in home video. Many of the films that made big impacts before the winter movie season of 2009 have already found their way to DVD, so there isn’t as much out there as one might hope. Nevertheless, we’ve been able to comb through the list of new releases to find some interesting choices for the discriminating consumer, and we’re happy to report that only one of this week’s choices has been reviewed as a Rotten film! The biggest (at least, probably best known) release this week is Law Abiding Citizen, starring Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx, but films like Black Dynamite, Good Hair, and Revanche were all highly regarded films that also hit shelves this week. Have a look at our full list and decide for yourself which might be worth checking out.
It seems like Gerard Butler is everywhere these days, starring in everything from romantic comedies to action thrillers. In director F. Gary Gray’s (Friday, Set It Off) latest film, Law Abiding Citizen, Butler squares off against Jamie Foxx in a film that combines elements of horror like Saw and psychological terror like The Silence of the Lambs. Unfortunately, most critics felt that Citizen was riddled with problems, from the believability of its story to its gratuitous violence. But hey, if you’re a fan of the up-and-coming former King Leonidas, then you might still get a kick out of it. There are lots of explosions.
Quentin Tarantino seems to have cornered the market on well-made homage films that pay tribute to genres and cinematic eras of the past, but last October, a certain retro comedy opened in limited release and received a lot of attention. The film was Black Dynamite, a loving celebration of Blaxploitation cinema starring Michael Jai White as the title character, a martial arts do-gooder out to rid the streets of “The Man.” Certified Fresh at 83%, Black Dynamite manages to pack enough laughs and clever winks to satisfy both those looking for a fun comedy and those looking to relive the days of Shaft and Coffy. You can pick it up on DVD and Blu-Ray this week.
One of the highest-rated films on this week’s list, Chris Rock’s examination of the concept of “good hair,” aptly titled Good Hair, is a documentary focusing on the relationships between African-Americans and their, well, hair. Speaking to a number of notable black personalities and attending various hair-centric events, Rock succeeds in combining humor (naturally) with thoughtful speculation to help shed light on the topic. Critics felt the film was eye-opening, funny, and sometimes sad, but always poignant, and awarded it Certified Fresh status with an impressive 94%. In other words, this is one documentary definitely worth checking out, even if you’re not a fan of Chris Rock.
Next up, we’ve got a French biopic about one of fashion’s enduring and most timeless icons, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. Biopics are typically great fodder for films, as the general public is always curious how the celebrities they see on television got to be where they are. Chanel’s story is no different, and Coco Before Chanel sheds light on her formative years, beginning from the time she was an orphan. Directed by Anne Fontaine (My Father and I, The Girl from Monaco), the film stars Audrey Tatou (Amelie) and sits at a decent 65% on the Tomatometer. You can pick it up on DVD or Blu-Ray this week.
Now comes the first of three new Criterion Collection films releasing this week. Though Criterion is known for restoring and rereleasing older classic films, every once in a while they do also tackle brand new releases, and Hunger is one of those rare cases. Based on true events, Hunger recounts the details of the hunger strike undertaken by imprisoned IRA members, led by Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), in the early 80s. It’s the feature debut of British video artist Steve McQueen (no relation to the legendary American actor), and critics say it’s a gripping triumph with some innovative and experimental filmmaking techniques that make for an even more visceral experience. Criterion is releasing the Certified Fresh film in both DVD and Blu-Ray this week.
This is the second of Criterion’s brand new releases this week, another small film that came to us from Austrian filmmaker Götz Spielmann. The story centers around an ex-con, Alex, who falls in love with one of the prostitutes in the brothel where he works and devises a criminal plan for escape. When a bank robbery goes tragically awry, Alex’s life becomes intricately entwined with the lives of a neighboring couple. Critics felt that Revanche was a powerful display of suspense and drama, rewarding it with a whopping 95% on the Tomatometer, and the film has been selected as one of the nominees for the Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Oscar ceremony. If Revanche‘s limited release passed you by, now’s your chance to catch it.
Criterion’s last new release of the week is, unlike the previous two, not a contemporary film. Instead, it’s a reissue of a German classic, legendary director Max Ophüls’ period piece Lola Montes, a historical biopic about the life and times of the title character. For those unfamiliar, Lola Montes was a 19th Century Irish-born actress-turned-dancer probably best known for her affairs with composer Franz Liszt and King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Told in flashback style, the story covers various experiences from Montes’ past as she recounts them to her current employer, a circus ringmaster played by Peter Ustinov. As expected, Criterion has put together a newly restored HD transfer of the film, as well as a slew of special features featuring Max Ophuls, many of his collaborators, and the actress who played Montes, Martine Carol.
It wasn’t too long ago that we began our Great Directors series here on RT by profiling Clint Eastwood, taking a look back at the important films of his career. Now, a new collection from Warner Brothers covers 35 of Eastwood’s films over just as many years spent with the studio. Beginning with 1968’s Where Eagles Dare and culminating in 2008’s Gran Torino, the collection also features such classics as Dirty Harry, Pale Rider, Unforgiven, Letters From Iwo Jima, and the rest of the perennial Eastwood favorites. Also included are special features like a short film about Eastwood by critic Richard Schickel and tons of commentaries and featurettes. It’s a must have for any Eastwood fan.
It’s clear that people are divided when it comes to the work of Eli Roth (the Hostel films), but it remains that his debut feature, 2002’s Cabin Fever was well received and has gone on to earn somewhat of a cult following. The new Unrated Director’s Cut includes about 6 minutes of new footage, as well as a brand new commentary track recorded specifically for the release. The other extras are, for the most part, the same as the previous DVD release, with the addition of two more episodes of the “Rotten Fruit” stop-motion animated series. If you’re a fan of the film, or of Eli Roth, this might be worth checking out on video.
Since Shutter Island is opening this week, and since there are really only a few other video releases worth mentioning this week, we thought we’d go ahead and talk about the new 20th Anniversary Edition (wow, has it really been that long?) of Martin Scorsese’s gangster classic, Goodfellas. For the uninitiated, Goodfellas is the story of native Brooklynite Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and his rise to power within the ranks of the organized crime family in his neighborhood. When things go awry for him, he testifies against the mob and ends up in the witness protection program. But the film is more than its story, with iconic performances from Scorsese regulars Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, among others; suffice it to say, if you haven’t seen it, you probably should. And if you’re going to get it on Blu-Ray, you might as well pick up this special edition, as it contains a combination of special features found on various previous releases of the film. These include commentary tracks as well as featurettes on the making of the film, the cinematic legacy of Goodfellas, a lengthy documentary on early Hollywood gangster films, and even a collection of classic WB cartoons featuring depictions of famous actor-gangsters (myeah, myeah, see?). All in all, not a bad pickup for fans.