It’s a good week for Watchmen fans, as the highly anticipated animated short Tales of the Black Freighter (and the faux-documentary Under the Hood) arrive on shelves. Animation fans should also check out Disney’s Certified Fresh adventure Bolt, which debuted on Blu-ray on Sunday but is available this week on DVD. Adrenaline junkies have a few titles to choose from, including the latest James Bond adventure (Quantum of Solace) and, in anticipation of the upcoming fourth film, The Fast & the Furious trilogy set. Indie audiences should look for Kristen Stewart’s second star turn in two weeks, after last Saturday’s Twilight DVD debut (The Cake Eaters), while classic movie buffs have their own delights to consider (Criterion’s The 400 Blows on Blu-ray).
Hot on the heels of the theatrical debut of Watchmen, Zack Snyder‘s epic tale about a band of former superheroes being hunted down in an alternate-1980s America, comes a supplementary DVD that will only further foment Watchmen-fever for those of you already enamored of the original Alan Moore graphic novel. Much like Snyder’s meticulously faithful big-screen adaptation, this DVD-only release (which combines an animated version of the meta-comic Tales of the Black Freighter and the faux-documentary Under the Hood) is a love song for established fans of the Watchmen world, though not so much for the uninitiated.
Tales of the Black Freighter breathes life into the meta-story of the same name, which appeared as a comic-within-a-comic throughout Moore’s graphic novel but is only alluded to in Snyder’s theatrical version (look for Black Freighter to be woven into the story in a director’s cut of Watchmen). In it, a ship captain (voiced by Gerard Butler, who played Leonidas in Snyder’s 300) loses his crew to the Black Freighter, a pirate ship headed to his home town; spurred by a desire to save his family from the Black Freighter’s dastardly crew, the mariner makes his way home but struggles to retain his sanity. With a gloomy, anime-like style and a story adaptation by Snyder and writer Alex Tse, this short runs just under 30 minutes and, if slightly unsatisfactory on its own, is a nice supplement to the world of Watchmen.
More intriguing for fans of the Watchmen film will be Under the Hood, a fake documentary posed as a “Where Are They Now?” retrospective, in which Carla Gugino (Silk Spectre), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), and Stephen McHattie (Nite Owl) reprise their all too-brief roles in Watchmen on the fictional “Culpeper Minute” show. It’s a nice way to see more of these supporting superheroes, who serve more peripheral roles in the feature film, and while some of it is lifted verbatim from the novel, much of it is improvised. Akin to Watchmen‘s great, nostalgic opening montage (Superhero History 101, from the Minute Men to the public scandals to the rise and fall of the Watchmen), Under the Hood fleshes out the great strengths of the Watchmen universe — the idea of an ironic superhero existence, extraordinary heroes who yet remain deeply, complexly flawed human beings.
Next: Disney’s Oscar-nominated Bolt races to DVD
Disney’s Oscar-nominated tale about a canine actor trying to find his way home to Hollywood won over critics and audiences alike — and kids and adults alike — thanks to its sweet “a girl and her dog” sentiments and pop culture-savvy dialogue. The Certified Fresh release arrives on DVD (after hitting Blu-ray on Sunday) as one of the more satisfying family-entertainment titles of late, and, proving that Pixar doesn’t have a complete monopoly on the genre, drew kudos as one of the best animated flicks of 2008. Tween fans will be delighted to see lots of Miley Cyrus all over the DVD and Blu-ray bonus materials, as well as insightful making-of featurettes and behind-the-scenes glimpses; a feature dedicated to Rhino (Bolt’s hammy hamster sidekick) is a nice coda for the film’s biggest scene-stealer.
Next: The Blonde Bond is back in Quantum of Solace
James Bond’s second outing after being reborn in 2006’s Casino Royale (94%) fell a few notches south of its predecessor, though critics agreed that it featured some of the most frenetic and brutal action sequences of the year. While Quantum of Solace might have better been titled “Emo James Bond” — he’s still moping over the loss of Vesper Lynd the entire time, and that happened an entire movie ago — 007 jet-sets from Italy to South America on the trail of a sinister eco-terrorist conglomerate while managing to have a martini (and a lady) along the way, in true Bond fashion. Pick up the 2-Disc DVD for supplemental materials like on location featurettes, segments on director Marc Forster and Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, and a music video for the worst Bond theme in recent memory, courtesy of Jack White and Alicia Keys.
Next: 3 Fast 3 Furious, or The Fast & The Furious Trilogy
Catch up on all three previous films in The Fast & the Furious franchise with Universal’s new trilogy pack, on Blu-ray and Limited Edition DVD sets this week. (Just in time for a refresher on where Vin Diesel and Paul Walker‘s torrid bromance will pick up in the fourth film, in theaters April 3!)
Personally, we loved the original Fast & the Furious (53%), in which undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Walker) befriends the street-racing criminal, Dominic Toretto (Diesel) — a saga of lies, friendship and brotherly love that could aptly be called “Point Break on Wheels.” The magic faded a bit when Brian relocated to Miami for John Singleton‘s Diesel-less sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious (35% – Best. Title. Ever.), despite a hilarious turn by model-turned-singer-turned-actor Tyrese Gibson. But the franchise picked up again with the Justin Lin-helmed Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift (34%), in which troubled newcomer Sean Boswell (Lucas Black, AKA the kid from Sling Blade) moves to Japan only to become tangled up…with drifting yakuza!
Tons of bonus materials accompany each film, for everyone from gear heads (“Tricking Out a Hot Import Car,” vehicle spotlights) to movie fans (storyboard comparisons and special effects features) to the conscientious (“Paul Walker Public Service Announcement”), and each film includes two new features apiece. Picture-in-Picture is enabled for Blu-ray viewers, although visually not all three films benefit from their High Def treatments.
Next: Kristen Stewart stars in Mary Stuart Masterson’s The Cake Eaters
Despite starring in the biggest teen movie event of last year — Summit Entertainment’s Twilight — Kristen Stewart has always been more of an indie actor than a mainstream starlet. (Take that, Vanessa Hudgens!) She shows her remarkable acting chops again in The Cake Eaters, an independent dramedy filmed two years ago that also marks the directorial debut of actress Mary Stuart Masterson (Fried Green Tomatoes). Stewart stars as Georgia, a teenager who suffers from a degenerative neurological disease and wants to live life as fully as she can — by falling in love with Beagle (Aaron Stanford), a local kid whose family and hers are intertwined. A director’s commentary, cast interviews, behind-the-scenes featurettes and deleted scenes accompany the disc (The Cake Eaters is still in limited release in select cities).
Next: Did someone say, “Rob Schneider’s directorial debut?”
When the phrases “Rob Schneider’s directorial debut,” “David Carradine as martial arts mentor,” and “prison comedy” are bandied about in the same sentence, is there any question that a direct-to-video film is a must-see? Such is the case of Big Stan, a prison comedy featuring David Carradine as a martial arts mentor that also happens to be Rob Schneider‘s directorial debut. Schneider also stars (a double treat!) as Stan, a two-bit criminal who prepares for prison by learning from a martial arts master, only to find himself the big dog behind bars, torn between breaking out and leading his fellow inmates against an evil warden. M. Emmet Walsh, Randy Couture, and G4’s Olivia Munn also star in this direct-to-video pick of the week!
Next: Anne Hathaway’s throwaway thriller, Passengers
Anne Hathaway notched a minor blip on her career radar with this tepid thriller, which — in case you missed it, and you’re not alone — did actually come out in theaters last fall. (Her other October release, Rachel Getting Married, made a somewhat bigger splash.) Hathaway plays a psychologist counseling the five survivors of a terrible plane crash, one of whom (Watchmen‘s Patrick Wilson) she takes a romantic interest in. When her patients start disappearing, Hathaway starts suspecting something’s a little off…and that she might be better off in a Jonathan Demme character study.
Next: Casting against type — Tom Arnold as a pedophile in the devastating Gardens of the Night
Hitting DVD shelves directly from the indie film circuit, Gardens of the Night explores extremely sensitive ground: the consequences of child kidnapping and sexual abuse, as seen through the eyes of two victimized teenagers. The difficult material is made compelling thanks to brave performances by young actors Gillian Jacobs and Evan Ross (the son of Diana Ross, who cut his showbiz teeth in ATL and Pride); a supporting cast led by, of all people, Tom Arnold (as a middle-aged pedophile), John Malkovich (as a case worker), and Harold Perrineau (of ABC’s Lost) makes for a compelling, if hard to watch, drama.
Next: Criterion brings Truffaut’s The 400 Blows to Blu-ray
Film critic-turned-director Francois Truffaut (who coined the phrase “auteur theory” before becoming one of its best examples) made his directorial debut with Les Quatre Cents Coup (The 400 Blows), a semi-autobiographical tale of a working-class Parisian boy with a problem with authority and a severe case of wanderlust. The tragicomic escapades of Antoine Doinel, played by the astounding Jean-Pierre Leaud, were modeled on Truffaut’s own childhood, which lent the picture an air of authenticity and rebellion — two markers of the French New wave to which it belongs. Criterion has released The 400 Blows before, but for this High Def re-issue they’ve given Truffaut’s film its best transfer yet; the black and white picture is alternately crisp and lush, exactly as good as you hope it will be. While there are unfortunately no new extras, the bonus menu (highlighted by archival interviews with Truffaut discussing the film, original trailers, and two audio commentaries, one of which is by Truffaut’s lifelong friend Robert Lachenay, upon whom Antoine’s best friend is modeled) offer a thorough experience nonetheless.
Until next week, happy renting!