This week, home video enthusiasts have all kinds of new flicks — fresh and rotten — to peruse, starting with a surprising comeback by former action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD). Mainstream viewers can choose between a kiddie-canine comedy (Hotel for Dogs), a superficial chick flick (Bride Wars), and a poky horror remake (The Uninvited), though we’d recommend giving a pair of lesser-known, but better-reviewed films a chance (What Doesn’t Kill You, Nothing But the Truth). For the daring crowd, we’ve got a pair of flicks that push the boundaries of taste (the Guillermo del Toro-produced While She Was Out, Criterion’s In The Realm of The Senses) and lastly, a few throwback TV on DVD titles for anyone feeling nostalgic (X-Men: The Animated Series Vol. 1 & 2, Star Trek: The Original Series on Blu-ray).
Fans of meaty ’80s action flicks no doubt know the name Jean-Claude Van Damme from such glorious, sweaty butt-kicking films as Bloodsport (1988), Double Impact (1991), and Universal Soldier (1992) — not to mention the cheesy video game adaptation, Street Fighter (1994) — so it brings us great pleasure to report that the fallen idol’s latest film, aptly titled JCVD, is not only a (gasp!) drama, but a bona fide comeback to boot! JCVD stars the Muscles from Brussels as himself, a former action star struggling with obsolescence who stumbles into a bank robbery; what results is alternately existential and comic, a referential heist movie laden with black comedy and extraordinary revelations by Van Damme about his life and career. (Also note, JCVD is Van Damme’s first and only Fresh movie to date.) Bonus footage, trailers, and more will be included on the DVD release.
Next: This Hotel is for the Dogs
Man’s best friend gets some help from a couple of teens in this PG comedy, which earned lukewarm reviews from critics. While Emma Roberts (Nancy Drew) and Jake T. Austin put their best faces forward as a pair of orphans who turn a run-down hotel into a haven for stray pups, their adult co-stars fared worse; critics agreed that the canine performances were more entertaining (and less painful to watch) than those by the likes of Lisa Kudrow and the Oscar-nominated Don Cheadle. Stars Roberts, Austin, Ewan Leslie and director Thor Freudenthal contribute an audio commentary, and a handful of dog-centric behind-the-scenes features showcase the film’s canine stars.
Next: When it’s Anne Hathaway vs. Kate Hudson in Bride Wars, nobody wins
Some called it “mildly amusing,” while others called it a “war on intelligence.” Bride Wars, starring Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson as two BFFs-turned-Bridezillas competing to throw the perfect wedding, drew no small amount of fire from critics, who lambasted everything from its materialistic obsession with bridal goods (indeed, one of the DVD’s bonus features pays homage to “The Perfect White Dress”) to its depiction of female friendships as inherently competitive and catty. But hey, if you don’t mind a brainless, insulting romantic comedy about two educated, beautiful women so covetous and shallow that they wind up literally fighting down the aisle, then be our guest! Deleted scenes and featurettes accompany the film.
Next: The Uninvited remakes horror yet again
Another Asian horror remake, another dismal Tomatometer rating. Based on Kim Ji-woon’s 2003 Korean horror flick A Tale of Two Sisters, The Uninvited stars David Strathairn in a departure from his usual, sober fare as a widower whose two teenage daughters, Anna (Emily Browning) and Alex (Arielle Kebbel) take particular offense at his newfound romance with their mother’s former nurse, Rachel (Elizabeth Banks) — so much so that Anna begins seeing visions that suggest that Rachel is not what she seems, and must be stopped at any cost. Unfortunately, while its predecessor earned an 86 percent Tomatometer for its effective scares, The Uninvited scored much lower thanks to its plodding plot and irksome twists. Deleted scenes and an alternate ending highlight the DVD release.
Next: Kate Beckinsale in the Certified Fresh Nothing But The Truth
In Nothing But the Truth, director Rod Lurie (The Contender) focuses (and fictionalizes) his lens on the plight of Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter jailed for refusing to divulge her source. Kate Beckinsale plays Rachel Armstrong, a Washington, D.C. writer who outs a Valerie Plame-like agent (Vera Farmiga) and must face her wrath, and that of a government prosecutor (Matt Dillon), while protecting her story and her right to silence. In addition to a making-of featurette and deleted scenes, a commentary track featuring Lurie and producer Marc Frydman gives context to the complicated discussions that their film prompts.
Next: Mark Ruffalo earns kudos in What Doesn’t Kill You
If you haven’t heard much about this Boston-set drama, it’s probably because its distributor, Yari Film Group, folded pretty much right before it was set for release; a shame, too, because the crime drama features a powerful central performance by Mark Ruffalo, who all too rarely scores leading man roles. Ruffalo stars as Brian, a small-time crook who with his best friend (Ethan Hawke) struggles to leave behind a life of crime in order to save his own family. Director Brian Goodman reportedly based the story on his own experiences, having fallen into acting after serving time in prison, and brought co-writer Donnie Wahlberg on board after the two worked together on 1998’s Southie. Both Goodman and Wahlberg discuss the film in a commentary track.
Next: Kim Basinger + a screwdriver to the head = exploitation thrills!
The female vengeance genre has resurged of late (The Brave One, P2), so perhaps modern audiences are now primed to enjoy the sight of a woman turning the tables on her would-be attackers. In While She Was Out (produced by Guillermo del Toro), Kim Basinger is that woman, a put-upon and abused housewife who crosses a gang of thugs one Christmas Eve. Armed with only a toolbox, she dispatches her stalkers — led by Lukas Haas, who has somehow become Hollywood’s go-to Gen X miscreant — while you look on with glee and ponder, is killing an attacker with a screwdriver the ultimate expression of feminist empowerment, or just exploitation cinema reborn? Perhaps both. A making-of featurette and commentary by producer Don Murphy and writer-director Susan Montford (who produced Shoot ‘Em Up and makes her directorial debut here) also appear on the disc.
Next: Nagisa Oshima’s controversial In the Realm of the Senses hits Criterion
Japanese auteur Nagisa Oshima delivered the most controversial film of his career — and arguably, one of the most controversial films of all of Japanese cinema — with his fictionalized take on the case of Sada Abe, a former prostitute who infamously killed her lover in 1936. Notoriously banned and recut in multiple countries upon its release, In the Realm of the Senses employs extreme sexual and sadomasochistic content but is more an examination of gender dynamics, eroticism, and power than it is purely sensual. Criterion is releasing ITROTS on DVD and Blu-ray this week in a newly remastered transfer; additional materials include a new interview with actor Tatsuya Fuji, a commentary by scholar Tony Rayns, archival cast and crew interviews, deleted scenes, essays, and more.
Next: X-Men The Animated Series Vol. 1 and 2
Children of the ’90s, rejoice! X-Men: The Animated Series comes to DVD this week in two volumes which span two-and-a-half seasons of the long-running Saturday morning cartoon. (Volume 1 begins with the two-part “Night of the Sentinels” story, while Volume 2 picks up with “Red Dawn” and ends with the Phoenix Saga episodes.) Unfortunately, the set (both volumes sold separately) balances its wealth of episodes with a total lack of bonus features, so only Marvel and X-Men die-hards will likely find the duo worth their money. But if you still remember those Saturday mornings spent watching the X-Men saga unfold…
Next: Star Trek: The Original Series comes to Blu-ray
Speaking of reliving the glory of television series past, the folks at CBS and Paramount Home Entertainment have put a lot of work into presenting Season One of Star Trek: The Original Series for Blu-ray. Although Trekkies most likely already own TOS on DVD and/or HD-DVD, the Blu-ray-owning Trek faithful will be intrigued at the prospect of owning the first season set in its fully-remastered splendor. Experts have done considerable frame-by-frame image cleanup, resulting in a truly remarkable viewing experience; however, have they gone too far by inserting 21st century CG graphics into the 1960s-era show? Purists might quibble over the intrusion (we want our cheesy original effects, darn it!) but thankfully, you can choose between both versions. A huge amount of bonus materials, featurettes, expert interviews, and more also appear on the 7-disc set.
Until next week, happy renting!