This week on home video, we’ve got a bunch of ’09 films hitting DVD shelves (Monsters vs. Aliens, Away We Go, The Brothers Bloom, and more), as well as a couple of fantasy classics for those who grew up in the 80s (Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal) that are getting the high definition treatment for the first time. Then we’ve got one iconic film receiving a brand new anniversary edition (The Wizard of Oz) and a first-time complete collection of a movie-based cartoon series (The Real Ghostbusters). As usual, we’ve tried to bring a good variety to the list while still highlighting the brand new releases, so have a look and see if anything tickles your fancy.
Dreamworks Animation may not have the consistency of Pixar, but they’re doing well nonetheless, with a couple of high profile franchises (Shrek and Madagascar) and last year’s hit Kung-Fu Panda. Monsters vs. Aliens was its next big winner, making over $350 million worldwide at the box office and garnering enough critical praise to earn a 72% Tomatometer — not too shabby. Starring the voice talents of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, and Hugh Laurie among others, Monsters vs. Aliens centers around Susan Murphy (Witherspoon), who is transformed into a giant by a meteorite on her wedding day. Taken into custody by the government, she meets other quarantined “monsters,” and when an invading alien threatens the planet, Susan and her new friends are called upon to defend the Earth. Monsters vs. Aliens was noted for its particularly effective use of 3D, and if you pick up either the Blu-Ray version or the DVD “Ginormous Double Pack,” you’ll get four pairs of 3D glasses and a bonus adventure starring B.O.B. the blob (Rogen), in addition to all the special features. FYI, if you grab the standalone DVD of the movie, you won’t get the glasses or B.O.B.’s bonus adventure.
After his powerful suburban melodrama Revolutionary Road, director Sam Mendes decided to lighten the mood a bit with road trip comedy starring John Krasinski (The Office) and Maya Rudolph (Saturday Night Live), who play young couple Burt Farlander and Verona De Tessant. Just a few months away from having their first child, Burt and Verona decide to leave their home in Colorado in search of a better place to settle down, crossing paths with family and friends along the way. The film earned a 66% on the Tomatometer, with most critics willing to dismiss some of its familiar indie comedy elements for its sweetness and the likeability of its main characters. Special features include a couple of featurettes, including one on environmentally friendly “green” filmmaking, and a feature commentary with Mendes and writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. You can pick it up on DVD and Blu-Ray this week.
Another film that opened earlier this year and flew under the radar of most moviegoers is The Brothers Bloom, a quirky, darkly comedic take on the caper movie. It stars Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel Weisz in a story about two brothers (Brody and Ruffalo) in the con business who plan a final job to swindle an heiress (Weisz) out of her fortune. When the heiress expresses interest in joining the brothers in their business, their plan meanders into unpredictable territory; emotions develop, people are arrested, and the trio soon find themselves struggling for their lives. The film earned marginally Fresh status at 62%, with critics noting that the actors delivered fine performances, but the story left something to be desired. It drops this week on DVD and Blu-Ray, with special features such as a commentary track and deleted scenes. *Note – This title is only being made available for rental on 9/29; you’ll have to wait a bit longer to buy it for your own collection.
Say what you will about Steven Soderbergh: he certainly doesn’t play things safe. Sandwiched between his epic Che Guevara biopic and The Informant! was the lo-fi drama The Girlfriend Experience. Adult film star Sasha Grey stars as a high-priced call girl who provides a unique service: for a price, she’ll pretend to be your significant other. The reviews were mixed, but more than a few critics found The Girlfriend Experience to be an interesting experiment, as well as an unconventional metaphor for the current economic crisis. The DVD features an unrated cut of the film, as well as a making-of documentary.
Steve Zahn has played dozens of supporting roles in films, regularly stealing scenes with his goofy, offbeat humor, but in Management, he gets the opportunity to play the lead opposite Jennifer Aniston. What’s more, the movie is an attempt to paint stalkers in a sympathetic light, and if anyone can make stalking lovable, it’s probably Steve Zahn. Zahn plays Mike, the manager of a motel his parents own in Arizona. When Sue (Aniston), a traveling saleswoman, ends up at the motel, the two share a few nights together, and Mike becomes instantly obsessed, following Sue home across the country in hopes of winning her heart for good. Unfortunately for Zahn, the film failed to perform very well with audiences or critics, some of whom nevertheless thought both actors played their parts endearingly. Still, for those looking for an unconventional rom-com, you could certainly do worse.
What more is there to say about The Wizard of Oz? It remains of the crowning achievements of Hollywood’s Golden Age, with its combination of visual splendor, enduring musical numbers, and its strange, fantastical story of equal parts wide-eyed wonder and dark melancholy. Obviously, a movie of this magnitude requires some bells and whistles for its 70th anniversary, and that’s what you get with the four-disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition, which features a new transfer of the film, commentary tracks, earlier cinematic versions of Frank L. Baum’s tale, and a number of documentaries about the making of the film, its principle cast and crew. It’s available on both standard DVD and Blu-Ray this week.
Back in the 80s, a slew of imaginative and sometimes creepy fantasy films for children (The Neverending Story, Legend, Return to Oz, etc.) showed up in cinemas everywhere, and many of them seemed to strive for the same aesthetic. This meant lots of creative set decoration and advanced puppetry (this was before the age of mass CGI). Arguably two of the best known of these are Labyrinth, starring Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie, and The Dark Crystal, and this week, both films are blessed with the hi-def treatment. In doing so, both films come with a few new HD-exclusive goodies: for Labyrinth, you’ll get a picture-in-picture function with interesting tidbits about the movie, and for The Dark Crystal, there’s an interactive function to learn fun facts as the movies playing, as well as a trivia game and a picture-in-picture storyboard that displays concept art as the movie plays. If you passed on these two films before, this might be the time to pick them up.
Recent direct-to-video productions based on comic franchises have met with mixed results, and we have yet to gather enough reviews for Superman/Batman: Public Enemies to generate a Tomatometer score. But a few details might be telling enough to convince fans to pick up this latest from the DC universe. First, it’s based on the opening six-part storyline of the Superman/Batman series, in which the two heroes must work together to thwart newly elected President Lex Luthor’s plans to utilize an approaching Kryptonite meteor for his own purposes. Second, the voice cast from both respective television shows has been brought on board to bring life to the characters. Third, the special features include a couple of new items that will be of interest to fans, like an examination of the two heroes from a psychological standpoint and an interview piece featuring Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman. You can pick it up on DVD or Blu-Ray.
Brutal straightforwardness in advertising is a novel concept that sometimes works, but the same approach typically denotes farce or satire when applied to movie titles (e.g. Scary Movie). So when people began to realize that Snakes on a Plane was not, in fact, simply the working title for the film, audiences had to wonder, “What exactly is this movie? A thriller? A comedy?” In the end, most were content to watch Samuel L. Jackson battle legless reptiles and exclaim things like, “I’ve had it with these mother****ing snakes on this mother****ing plane!” over the course of an hour and forty minutes, and before we knew it, we had something of a cult phenomenon on our hands. This week, the over-the-top actioner comes out on Blu-Ray, and while there aren’t any brand new special features to speak of, at least you know you’ll get a crystal clear view of a snake swallowing a bald man’s head.
Continuing with the 80s childhood theme, we end with another gem hitting stores this week. Ivan Reitman scored comedy gold when Ghostbusters proved to be a legitimate blockbuster hit in 1984, and it wasn’t long after that an animated daytime TV show soon followed. The Real Ghostbusters debuted in ’86 and ran successfully for 5 seasons, featuring cartoon versions of Egon, Ray, Peter, and Winston, as well as a more friendly, endearing incarnation of Slimer. Starting Tuesday, you can pick up the Complete Collection, which is being released by Time Life Records. The hefty box set arrives in nifty packaging that resembles their firehouse headquarters, includes all 147 episodes of the series, and comes with a truckload of goodies, such as show introductions, episode commentaries, a detailed and informative booklet, and a handful of featurettes, all totaling twelve hours of extra material. It’s also got a relatively hefty price tag, but with this much goodness, we dare say it’s worth it for any fan of the show.