This week on home video, we’ve got a handful of brand new releases, but once you cycle through those, there isn’t much left to be had. Sure, there are a few Blu-Ray reissues, but not too many that folks are chomping at the bit for, so as a result, we dug deep to find a couple of interesting items that may or may not be good conversation pieces. The most prominent release this week is the latest from the Coen brothers, the Oscar-nominated A Serious Man. Then, we’ve got a few misses with titles like Couples Retreat, Serious Moonlight, and The Time Traveler’s Wife. But hopefully our classic collection and off-the-wall wild card choice will be interesting enough to merit a look. See what we’ve come up with below!
After crafting an Oscar-winning thriller in 2007’s No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers took a step back and returned in 2008 with a slightly wacky dark comedy, Burn After Reading. Though the latter didn’t wow audiences the way the former did, it seems the Coens found the proper balance in 2009 with A Serious Man, another dark comedy blending several themes into a story about a Jewish man dealing with the various failed circumstances of his life. Critics felt that this was a return to form for the Coens, and furthermore, that this could be their most mature and most personal film to date, rewarding it with a Certified Fresh 89% Tomatometer. In addition, the film has already won a handful of awards (including Best Original Screenplay wins from the National Board of Review Awards and the Critics Choice Awards) and has been nominated for a handful more, including a Best Picture Oscar. If you missed this potential Academy Award winner when it was in theaters, you’re in luck; it hits home video shelves this week.
It seems unfair to bring up A Christmas Story every time Peter Billingsley’s name is mentioned, but what can you do? He’ll always be little Ralphie with the BB Gun. Except now, he’s directing movies instead of starring in them. His debut effort was last year’s Couples Retreat, a tropical rom-com about a struggling couple who convinces three of their married friends to bring their spouses to an island resort. When they arrive, however, they all discover that the resort’s marriage therapy sessions are mandatory, and of course, hilarity ensues… or does it? The talented cast includes old pals Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, as well as Kristen Bell, Jason Bateman, Malin Akerman, and Faizon Love, but for whatever reason, critics felt that they failed to elevate the picture past its convenient premise. What could have been an insightful and biting examination of relationships and matrimonial issues unfortunately devolves into rom-com formula and less than subtle attempts at humor, but again, it may work for some, so for those interested, it comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray this week.
Time travel is a tricky proposition for any storyteller. Once you start futzing around with history, you have to take into account the consequences of your characters’ actions and how they shape the future, and things tend to get messy. Handled properly, however, the inherent loopholes in such plots may become moot, minor quibbles in otherwise compelling stories. Audrey Niffenegger’s novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, won a couple of awards and was praised for its treatment of its characters. Robert Schwentke’s film adaptation of the book, however, didn’t meet with such positive results, failing to garner much critical acclaim. The story revolves around a married couple who experiences some relationship difficulties because of the husband’s unique genetic disorder, which causes him to leap through time without warning. Unfortunately, most felt the story was too schmaltzy and illogical to elicit much emotion from its audience, but if you’re in the mood for a romantic drama with an unusual premise, this could be one to rent for V-Day.
The original 1987 film The Stepfather was a moderate success, as far as slasher thrillers go, even earning its star, Terry O’Quinn (better known as John Locke on hit TV show LOST), an Independent Spirit Award nomination. It’s too bad, therefore, that the 2009 remake failed to live up to its predecessor’s reputation. The plot revolves around a serial killer who assumes new identities and forms new families, ultimately only to end up murdering them when his secrets begin to unravel. Whereas the original cult classic was a taut thriller with ample tension and some horror elements thrown in, the remake resorts to clichés and far too demanding suspensions of disbelief. It’s one thing to remake a bad movie in hopes of making it better, but Stepfather ’87 was a good movie, so one can only wonder how the makers aimed to achieve something above it.
Critics didn’t know what to make of Cheryl Hines’ directorial debut. Onetime American sweetheart Meg Ryan plays a jilted wife who takes her husband (Timothy Hutton) hostage when she discovers him preparing a rose petal welcome for his young girlfriend (Kristen Bell). Unfortunately, the mix of comedy and tragic circumstances fails to blend very well, and the whole film comes across muddled and confused. Adding to the sadder elements is the fact that the film’s writer, Adrienne Shelley, who wrote, directed, and co-starred with Hines in 2007’s indie darling Waitress, was killed in her home shortly after Waitress was accepted at Sundance. Hines therefore felt very close to this project, so it’s unfortunate it wasn’t a stronger picture. If only to see what could have been, however, you can pick this up this week as well.
If you guessed that this film was a biopic, you’d be right. If you guessed that it was a biopic about the American actor arguably best known for his Death Wish movies, then you’d be wrong… mostly. In fact, this small British film chronicles the life and times of Michael Gordon Peterson, a notorious criminal who spent most of his time in prison and established a name for himself as a dangerously volatile inmate and a bare-knuckled boxer nicknamed “Charles Bronson” (yes, in reference to the actor). Though the film only opened in limited release on this side of the pond, it received widely positive reviews, earning a Certified Fresh 78% on the Tomatometer for its compelling and inventive retelling of Peterson’s story. Tom Hardy, who plays the titular anti-hero, is particularly notable for his portrayal, and most felt the film successfully delved into comedy, horror, and drama all at once. You can pick this one up on DVD or Blu-Ray this week.
During another week when quality home video choices are relatively few and far between, we’re happy that there are still some favorites being reissued on Blu-Ray. One such classic is 1987’s The Running Man, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and based on a novel by Stephen King. Let’s be honest here: there are few combinations theoretically more awesome than Schwarzenegger and Stephen King. The film itself, about a not-so-distant-any-more future in which criminals engage in death games on live television, is not universally loved by critics (63% ain’t all that bad either), but Arnie fans won’t even let you tell them that. As long as the Governator is spouting his one-liners and clearing out baddies (like Predator co-star Jesse Ventura) in tricked out roller derby uniforms, I think everyone’s happy. Pick this one up and you’ll also get two commentary tracks, two featurettes, and one of the original theatrical trailers.
When it comes to epic filmmaking, David Lean is a force that towers over most in cinema history. The man made Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Doctor Zhivago, for cryin’ out loud. Still, Lean’s work is by no means compromised when he works on a more intimate scale, which is why a brand new South Korean-imported box which contains several Lean pictures that have long been unavailable on DVD is such a treasure. The David Lean DVD Collection has several well-known classics, including the heartbreaking Brief Encounter and the moody, gothic Great Expectations — but it also sports some lesser known Lean works, including This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit, and Madeleine. In all, the box gives a fascinating overview of a great director in his nascent years.
Howard Zinn was not everyone’s hero, but his influence on the American political psyche is undeniable. The People Speak is particularly timely, considering Zinn only passed away a couple of weeks ago, but this is no low-budget, small-scale production. Based on Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States book series, The People Speak is a collection of speeches, songs, letters, and other pieces written by various figures from America’s past but performed by a star-studded cast of musicians and actors. Some of the celebs acting and performing in the film include Matt Damon, Bob Dylan, Don Cheadle, John Legend, Morgan Freeman, David Strathairn, and Eddie Vedder, just to name a select few. As this is more a representation of historical documents than it is an examination of Zinn or his philosophy, even those who disagree with his politics may find this of interest.
If there’s no other indication that this week was a paltry one for new home video releases, let this entry be the proof. We found this one hidden waaaay down the list of new DVDs, and in all honesty, that’s probably where it belonged, but it was so bizarre that we figured it’d make a good discussion piece. There’s no mystery to the concept here; a title like Midgets vs. Mascots leaves very little to the imagination, and if you thought this was anything besides an inane combination of Jackass and Road Rules, then this is probably not for you. However, if the prospect of seeing Gary Coleman beating the snot out of everyone he can get his hands on, then yeah, this is right up your alley.