This week on home video, we’ve got quite a few new releases, even if they weren’t the most critically acclaimed. The biggest new release is probably one of the most disappointing of the bunch: a gritty sci-fi war movie set in the City of Angels that didn’t quite live up to its promise. Then we’ve also got Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke’s take on “Little Red Riding Hood,” the latest goofball comedy from the Farrellys, an American mob story, and a unique angle on a legendary Chinese folk hero. Then, of course, we’ve also got a couple of Criterion reissues for good measure. Check out what’s new below, and if you were hoping to see Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son on here, well, we’re sorry to disappoint you.
Before Battle: Los Angeles opened in theaters, there was a little bit of a brouhaha among the people behind the scenes, as the guys who did the special effects for the film also did the effects for another similar alien invasion film that would open months before Battle: LA (namely, Skyline). Ultimately, the conflict was moot, because Battle:LA ended up doing over $200 million in worldwide box office receipts. The film centers around a surprise invasion by multiple UFOs that summarily dispose of the world’s greatest cities. Eventually, Los Angeles becomes the site of a pivotal battle (natch) between human and alien forces, and the story hones in on one Marine platoon’s efforts to curb the invasion. Though some segments of the moviegoing population were looking to Battle: LA to be another Distric 9-esque surprise hit, critics largely found the film unnecessarily long and riddled with war movie clichés, so much so that they only saw fit to award it a 35% on the Tomatometer. If aliens and explosions are your thing, then have at it, but by most accounts, that’s really all there is to the movie.
You know that classic fairy tale about the girl who travels to visit her grandmother and finds a wolf in her place? Well, imagine if someone rewrote the story to include a young love triangle, transform the Big Bad Wolf into a werewolf, and introduce a werewolf hunter to bring down said werewolf. Then imagine someone decided to turn that into a movie and hired Catherine Twilight Hardwicke to direct it. Guess what? You’ve just conjured up Red Riding Hood, which — surprise, surprise — earned an appalling 11% Tomatometer from the critics. To be fair, most agreed that young up-and-comer Amanda Seyfried is lovely in the title role, and the visual appeal is certainly there, but Seyfried’s love interests aren’t as strong, Gary Oldman is underutilized, and the script is so full of cliché that it’s painful. The idea certainly seemed like a moneymaker: take a fantastical, familiar story with a female as the central protagonist, give it the Hot Topic treatment, and throw in a bit of the Twilight formula. Sounds like a pretty solid tween recipe, wouldn’t you think? If the box office numbers are anything to go by, no, not really.
The filmography of the Farrelly brothers is somewhat hit-or-miss, ranging from big flops like Osmosis Jones to critically and commercially successful efforts like There’s Something About Mary, as well as fan favorites like Dumb and Dumber. Unfortunately, their latest farce, Hall Pass, failed to impress many viewers. Combining veteran talent (Owen Wilson, Christina Applegate, Richard Jenkins) with rising stars (Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer), the plot revolves around a couple of BFFs whose shockingly “understanding” wives allow them a weeklong “hall pass” to do pretty much whatever they want, with no consequences, as a way to help revitalize their marriages. It’s a far-fetched premise, but not an altogether impossible one, and critics were actually a bit surprised by the film’s ultimate message, which boils down to a defense of traditional domestic values. That said, very few critics actually found the film very funny, and that’s precisely why anyone would want to see a Farrelly brothers movie in the first place. In other words, there isn’t a strong possibility you’ll get many good times out of Hall Pass unless you’re a hardcore Farrelly fan, but you never know; Kingpin only earned a 51%, and personally, I thought that movie was hilarious.
We’ve seen a number of interesting takes on the traditional gangster/organized crime film in recent years, what with titles like Mesrine, Gomorrah, A Prophet, and Animal Kingdom, and a lot of them have done fairly well, critically. The latest attempt to bring an intriguing real-life crime story to the screen is Kill the Irishman, which opened in March of this year. Unfortunately, critics weern’t as excited about the film, which depicts the late-’70s struggle in Cleveland, Ohio between the Italian mafia and the titular Irish mobster, Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson). Beginning with Greene’s rise to power, the plot chronicles his break from mafia ties and his survival through several assassination attempts, which earned him a reputation of invincibility. Overall, consensus is that the cast, which includes Vincent D’Onofrio, Christopher Walken, and Val Kilmer, are all game here, and director Jonathan Hensleigh has a stylish eye, but the script rehashes a lot of what we’ve seen in similar films and paints Danny Greene in almost too sympathetic a light. It’s just shy of Fresh at 59% on the Tomatometer, so it could very well be worth checking out; you’ll have to decide for yourself when it hits shelves this week.
Fans of martial arts films, particularly those coming out of Hong Kong, will probably already be familiar with not only the fictional character of Chen Zhen, famously portrayed by Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury and Jet Li in Fist of Legend, but also action star Donnie Yen, who has lately been showing up in some of the best modern fight flicks from Asia. Legend of the Fist marries the two, as Yen takes on the role of the fictional Chinese hero after the events of the two aforementioned films, a rather unique angle on the character. Set in the 1920s, the film chronicles Chen Zhen’s exploits fighting alongside the Allied forces in World War I and exacting post-war justice back in Shanghai as a masked vigilante. Legend of the Fist‘s bold attempt to meld martial arts, spy intrigue, and even some superhero-like themes didn’t entirely impress critics, who found the film stylish but hollow, with gaping lulls between the action set pieces. Still, for those willing to sit through some laborious exposition and familiar themes of Chinese national pride, there’s still some high-flying action to be enjoyed.
The late, great Kon Ichikawa’s filmography is fascinatingly tough to classify. He may be best known in this country for his 1965 documentary Tokyo Olympiad, the gentle (and deeply Buddhist) war drama The Burmese Harp, and the haunting, occasionally gruesome scorched earth masterpiece Fires on the Plain. However, the director was making important work well after his 1950s-1960s heyday, as evidenced by 1983’s The Makioka Sisters. Set in the pre-World War II era, the film follows four sisters — two married, two single — who have taken over their family’s kimono manufacturing business. This delicate melodrama is a remarkable portrait of both family dynamics and cultural change at a critical point in Japan’s history; a spiffy new Criterion disc features a new transfer of the film, improved subtitles, and the original theatrical trailer.
Nicolas Roeg made some of most stylistically bold movies of the 1970s ? his resume includes Walkabout, Performance, Don’t Look Now, and The Man Who Fell to Earth. His work can also be deeply unsettling. Thankfully, 1985’s Insignificance finds Roeg in an unusually playful mood — set in a hotel in 1954, the film follows four people who look like Marilyn Monroe, Joseph McCarthy, Joe DiMaggio and Albert Einstein and explores the cultural landscape of the early days of the Cold War. This strange, funny movie is now out on a Criterion Director Approved Special Edition, featuring a new interview with Roeg and a making-of featurette.