Every week (as part of our new Blu-ray HQ on Rotten Tomatoes) we’re going to share what we’re watching on Blu-ray, whether they’re classics or personal favorites, for a particular studio. This week, we’re looking at Sony Pictures, and this is what we’re watching.
United States/Iranian relations are not at a high point these days, but it’s important to remind ourselves that life in other countries — even ones with governments hostile to ours — is always more complex than what we see in the news. Thus, there’s probably never been a better time to revisit the dazzling animated film Persepolis. Co-directed by Marjane Satrapi (based upon her autobiographical graphic novel) and Vincent Paronnaud, Persepolis tells the dramatic, poignant, and often very funny tale of a young woman coming of age during a tumultuous period in world history — the Iranian Revolution. Or heroine Marjane (voiced by Chiara Mastroianni) is a bit too rebellious for her native land, but when she’s sent by her family to study in Europe, she finds herself alienated and alone there as well. With its deceptively simple black and white animation, the Certified Fresh Persepolis is both haunting and life-affirming — and its universality is especially potent in these troubled times. The Blu-ray contains both English and French-language versions of the film, plus making-of documentaries, commentaries and a press conference from the movie’s Cannes Film Festival premiere.
Steven Spielberg often recalled being woken by his father in the middle of the night to watch the skies for interstellar craft, a memory that informs Close Encounters and makes it perhaps the director’s most personal film (he also wrote the screenplay; a rare thing). This is the heady stuff of movie iconography: the mischievous UFOs dancing above desert America, the awe of the scientists that heralds the arrival of the mothership, John Williams’ otherworldly score that thrums low and eerie in the speakers. And in three-year-old Cary Guffey’s wide-eyed look of wonder as alien lights flood his house, we have what could be the definitive Spielberg moment; where childhood curiosity equals boundless possibility. Sony’s Blu-ray nicely preserves the film’s grainy, saturated look, and comes with a host of extras, including excellent retrospectives and vintage making-ofs. Best of all, you can choose from three versions of the movie: Theatrical, Special Edition and the recommended Director’s Cut.
As one of the most iconic teen movies of the 90s, the 10th Anniversary Edition of Can’t Hardly Wait is a welcome release on Blu-ray for teen movie fans. The film stars Jennifer Love Hewitt in one of her many physical primes as high school dream girl Amanda, and Ethan Embry as the mild-mannered, hopeless romantic Preston who has carried a flame for Amanda since their first almost-encounter. After graduation, all of the students of Hunnington High’s Class of 1998 end up at the biggest party of the year (that still manages not to feel too dated ten years later) before the class collectively moves on to their next steps. The party warps everyone into an alternate universe, where nerds become studs, popular kids get brought down to earth, and the impossible becomes attainable with a 90s spin on the stereotypes that have a perpetual home in the genre. For fans of Jennifer Love Hewitt, the opportunity to see her again as Amanda Beckett in 1080P glory could be worth a viewing alone. The Blu-ray features deleted scenes, a “You Know You’re 90s If…” trivia game, and commentary from the cast, and also features original commentary from the cast ten years later for this special edition of teenage debauchery.
There are some directors known for their visual flair, masters of imagery who sometimes focus so intently on the look and style of their films that some feel other aspects of those films suffer from a bit of neglect. Tarsem Singh is one such director, and though he’s only helmed two films, both have been noted for their lush, vibrant imagery. 2008’s The Fall is the most recent, and if the Dali-esque cover art fails to convey the scope and spectacle of the film, simply fast forward it to any chapter and it’ll become clear why this is one of the better choices to showcase your Blu-Ray setup. The story centers around an injured stuntman (Roy Walker, played by Lee Pace) in the days of early Hollywood who’s recuperating in a hospital and befriends a young girl named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) with a broken arm. Eventually, Roy promises to relate portions of a sweeping, epic adventure to Alexandria in exchange for stolen morphine, and the film changes settings seamlessly between the hospital and the exotic lands of Roy’s story. The film itself is a bit disjointed and episodic, managing to earn a marginally Fresh rating at 60%, but the cinematography and colorful images are gorgeous in high definition. The Blu-Ray edition features commentaries, a making-of documentary, deleted scenes, and a still gallery, and all look fantastic in hi-def.
Before you see Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, you’d do well to revisit this. Both are tales of ageing fantasists withering in an era where science and bureaucracy have suffocated the imagination, and both are as close to the experience of “unfiltered” Gilliam as you can get – rich with dazzling visuals, exaggerated theatricality, and the sense that the film itself is unfurling as its protagonist’s stream of consciousness. Munchausen has John Neville as the Baron who sets sail in a balloon to disprove his detractors, with Eric Idle and a pint-sized Sarah Polley tagging along in his trip to the moon, the sea, and an underworld where they find Uma Thurman as the Venus de Milo. Though a notorious flop on its release, this is essential for any fan of the director, representing the “old age” part of his loose trilogy with Time Bandits (childhood) and Brazil (middle-age). The Blu-ray boasts a commentary from a typically humorous Gilliam and a comprehensive documentary The Madness and Misadventure of Munchausen, which goes into depth about the production difficulties that plagued the film.
Anna Faris takes on one of her most charismatic roles as Shelley, the lovable and carefree Playboy Playmate turned sorority house mom in The House Bunny. After being removed from the Playboy Mansion by a scheming rival on her 27th birthday, a broken down station wagon and fate lead Shelley to the misfit sorority house of Zeta Alpha Zeta, the lowest house on the Greek hierarchy, filled with girls lacking the knowhow and confidence to make other friends, let alone meet guys on campus. After seeing that Shelley can raise the house’s standing, the girls accept Shelley as their house mom and she begins transforming the girls that nobody saw into the girls that everyone wants to know. For fans of Faris, the special features are largely focused on her. However, there are also other cast shorts, including features with American Idol runner-up turned actress Katharine McPhee, and everywhere girls Emma Stone and Kat Dennings, along with ten deleted scenes filled with Shelly’s unique brand of comedy that unfortunately are only included in standard definition. While The House Bunny is far from being a cinematic classic, its lighthearted humor brought to life through Faris’ comedic timing make it a harmless, fun escape.
It’s hard to imagine a movie like Air Force One being made these days and making it to theaters. Not that the movie’s violent or its concept too sensationalistic (the President of the United States of America taking his plane back from Russian radicals is more ridiculous than controversial). The movie was the last of a kind: an unfussy action flick, free of any deep context, hyperkinetic camerawork, or reflexive nods to its own simplicity. Movies like these have been going straight to DVD because audiences are probably too sophisticated now to let them make any money in theaters, which is too bad because we might be losing our ability to appreciate when genre movies (such as Air Force One) become elevated by uncommonly good acting, editing, and plotting.
The biopic — and especially the pop star biopic — was certainly ripe for parody when Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story hit theaters. Let’s face it: despite their considerable strengths, recent rock biopics like Ray and Walk the Line still adhered closely to the Hollywood playbook. Walk Hard skews those conventions with a deft combination of gleeful abandon and undeniable affection. John C. Reilly is Dewey Cox, whose wild career takes him from rockabilly stardom to folk rock belligerence to inane psychedelic experimentation. Along the way, he meets suck rock luminaries as Elvis (played by Jack White), Paul McCartney (played by Jack Black), and the Ghostface Killa (played by himself). The Blu-ray comes loaded with special features, including several mockumentaries, deleted scenes, commentaries, recording sessions, and a fake sausage commercial.
For a movie about smoking marijuana, there’s surprisingly little of the dirty deed in the Pineapple Express (most of it is frontloaded in the movie’s first act). The movie is more a comedy about marijuana that gradually turns into an action movie, and the jarring, unrepentant shift in tone gives Pineapple Express its “random” quality virtually requisite for stoner movies. Pineapple is a gangly beast, alternately breezy and intense that is surprisingly quite fetching on Blu-ray; director David Gordon Green’s longtime cinematographer Tim Orr gives the movie a piercing, dreamy look. On Blu-ray, it gives new meaning to “high” definition.
Stateside audiences may not be familiar with the work of accomplished Japanese animation director Satoshi Kon (Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress), but his films are striking in their visual presentation as well as the content and themes he explores in them. 2007’s Paprika, a surreal, mindbending sci-fi murder mystery in which the worlds of dreams and reality blend into each other, is no exception. The title character is the alter ego of Dr. Atsuko Chiba, a psychotherapist who counsels patients subconsciously by inserting herself, as Paprika, into their dreams via a revolutionary piece of technology known as the DC Mini. When Atsuko discovers that one of the DC MINI developers DC Mini has gone missing along with his prototype model, and when the images from people’s dreams suddenly begin manifesting in the real world, she (with Paprika) sets out to discover the truth behind it all. The film is a stunning piece of animation, utilizing exquisite artwork and a beautiful palette of colors, and the Blu-Ray transfer offers a more sharpened look at Paprika‘s world. There are a slew of great special features here, so you’ll be ensured of hours of immersion. Be forewarned, though: Paprika is like an animated acid trip; this is nothing like your Saturday morning cartoons.