This week on home video, we’ve got Matt Damon doing action and uncovering a conspiracy under the guiding hand of director Paul Greengrass, and no, we’re not talking about a certain spy who lost his memory. Then, we’ve got a dumpy-guy-gets-hot-girl rom-com starring Jay Baruchel, a tearjerker featuring Edward Cullen himself (Robert Pattinson, that is), and an indie flick about a famous Russian author. If older stuff is what you’re looking for, maybe a cult classic on Blu-Ray, or a popular animated TV series waiting on its first big-screen adaptation? Whatever your bag is, maybe you’ll find something to put in it from this week’s list. Check it out!
Director Paul Greengrass and actor Matt Damon proved twice over that they made a formidable team when the two Bourne sequels solidified the franchise as a smash success, even prompting a fourth installment to come in 2012. So when the two were paired again for another actioner — this time a more overtly political thriller — audiences were split into two camps: those who believed the duo would create another hit, and those who more or less sighed, “This again?” Unfortunately, critics were equally split on Green Zone, in which Damon plays a warrant officer charged with investigating a post-9/11 Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, only to encounter a massive cover-up. The good bit is that the frenetic action and visceral editing of the Bourne films can be found here, moving the story forward at a brisk pace, but the bad bit is that the story itself was considered by many to be a bit clichéd and the characters too typical. It still registers a 55% on the Tomatometer, however, and those looking for a standard thriller with plenty of action will still enjoy the film. It’s available on DVD and Blu-Ray this week.
It’s hard to argue against the claim that Judd Apatow changed Hollywood comedy with films like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, with their combination of raunchy humor, sweet sentimentality, and bromance-centric themes. Many have attempted to duplicate the effort, to varying results, and many of the actors in his films have gone on to do similar fare elsewhere. One such actor in one such effort is Jay Baruchel (Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder) in She’s Out of My League, the story of an unremarkable TSA officer (Baruchel) who embarks on an unlikely romance with a knockout (played by Alice Eve), despite the protests of — and to the bewilderment of — pretty much everyone. League fell just short of Fresh at 58%, with critics largely calling the film pleasant, innocuous, and, at times, funny enough, but predictable and ultimately forgettable. It’s available this week on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Banking on the hope that Robert Pattinson’s sullen allure can survive outside the confines of Washington, waking death and the love of Bella Swan, Summit cast him in this three-hankie drama for the tween set. Here, Pattinson plays Tyler, a young man suffering from a family tragedy who encounters a woman named Ally (Emilie de Ravin of TV’s LOST) and, of course, falls in love. As their romance blossoms and Tyler begins to find healing in his relationship with Ally, long-kept secrets unfold and tragedy again presents a new threat. A Blu-Ray to be released the week before Twilight Eclipse emerges in all its soggy, moody, almost-glory, this romantic tragedy is nearly written for TV. As a result, the Blu-Ray presents this dialogue-heavy melodrama to some well-scrubbed audio. Extras include a 15-minutes making of featurette and audio commentary by Director and Cast.
At first glance, one might not be inclined to think that a biopic about legendary Russian author Leo Tolstoy would be something to get excited about. However, if nothing else, the star-studded cast, which includes James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti, Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy, and Helen Mirren as Tolstoy’s wife Sofya, forces one to take notice. Focusing on the twilight years of the celebrated count’s life, The Last Station centers on a conflict between Tolstoy’s devoted followers and the Countess. According to his principles, Tolstoy wishes to relinquish his copyrights to the public domain, but his more practical wife opposes, as doing so would leave the family without the financial support those copyrights would provide. The drama plays out as a new secretary (McAvoy) is hired for the author and finds that he must play mediator between the two opposing viewpoints. Critics all around felt that the acting — particularly that of Hellen Mirren — was exceptional, even if the script, adapted by director Michael Hoffman from a biography of the same name, left a little to be desired. Blending drama with bits of comedy and romance, The Last Station succeeds as a period piece and a look at the author’s life that many are unfamiliar with.
What with the recent popularity of zombie flicks and films like The Road and The Book of Eli, it’s easy to forget that visions of a less-than-perfect future have existed in film for many decades. Produced by B-movie king Roger Corman, 1975’s Death Race 2000 may not be the most distinguished example of the genre, but it still stands as a beloved cult classic, distinguished by its camp and violence, and it even spawned a recent remake. In other words, it’s just plain, old, dirty fun. The film is set in the year 2000 (natch), when a distinctly sinister new US government (really more like a military junta) sponsors an Annual Transcontinental Road Race for the entertainment of the people. But it’s not just any old Cannonball Run; cars are outfitted with weapons, and drivers get points for speeding and hitting pedestrians. Ultimately, the story focuses on one particular racer named Frankenstein (David Carradine), the most famous driver, and his plans for overthrowing the tyrannical government, but the real thrill is all in the action on the streets. Currently sitting at a solid 82% on the Tomatometer, Death Race 2000 is available this week for the first time on Blu-Ray, and it’s got tons of bonus features, including an interview with David Carradine, a retrospective on the film, and even a detailed look at the design of the cars.
The first A Star is Born, starred Janet Gaynor, (aka the actress to win the first ever Best Actress Oscar), as the small town girl who goes to Hollywood to follow her dream. The original screenplay by Dorothy Parker was full of success, failure and skeezy coat-tail skating–but the smarm was remarkably understated, perhaps to compensate for the muted, Technicolor which, in its earlier days was sometimes called “garish.” All that restraint flew out the window for Judy, the singing, dancing, Technicolor marvel herself, impeccably able to croon, cry and cavort without rumpling a pleat on her pencil skirt. Sure, there’s romance, and of course her bigger-than-marquis-sized man loses his foothold in the industry and wreaks emotional havoc. Sure. I mean, she’s gotta cry and wear navy and show all the guts and glory that Battlefield Hollywood has wrought. It’s what we’re paying for after all. And if the George Cukor directed spectacle isn’t enough for you, this Blu-Ray’s a 2-disc collector’s edition with four hours of extras including newsreel of the premier telecast, exhibitor reel, expanded post-party footage (maybe see the stars drunk!), trailers, deleted scenes and alternate filmings of four musical numbers and one dramatic sequence! A radio show and a rare music recording session are included as well. The Judy fan will be placated!
In the early 1960s, Michelangelo Antonioni was one of international cinema’s most acclaimed directors. In classics like L’Avventura and Blowup, he cast a harsh light on the lonely, ennui-filled lives of the rich and beautiful, and became one of the most discussed (and hotly debated) figures in the emerging arthouse world. Antonioni’s first color film, 1964’s Red Desert, is the spare, haunting story of a disaffected woman (played by Antonioni’s muse, the staggeringly beautiful Monica Vitti) initiates a tentative affair with her oft-absent husband’s colleague (Richard Harris). Set against a grim industrial backdrop, Red Desert dramatizes the toll of theological advances on the human soul. Now, it’s getting the deluxe treatment from Criterion, with a brand-new digital transfer, interviews with Antonioni and Vitti, outtakes, essays, and much more. Red Desert isn’t the most accessible of foreign classics, but it has a haunting power that remains prescient.
With M. Night Shyamalan’s (The Sixth Sense, Signs) latest film, The Last Airbender, hitting theaters next weekend, perhaps it’s about time to acquaint yourself with the source material. The movie is a big-screen adaptation of a wildly popular animated TV series on Nickelodeon called Avatar: The Last Airbender (the film dropped the first part of the title because of its similarity to a certain sci-fi movie you probably saw three times), focusing on the storyline of the first season of the show, which ran for three seasons. Based heavily upon Asian influences and set in a world where people have the ability to control the elements, the story revolves around a child named Aang, who is the last surviving “airbender” and the only one who can control all four elements, the Avatar. The series has amassed a worldwide fanbase, winning Annie Awards as well as an Emmy (among others) and establishing an impressive merchandising line. In other words, there are droves of fans just waiting to see what the live-action feature will be like when it opens, but in the meantime, this Collector’s Edition of the first season (“Book 1,” as it were), with all its special features, should tide them over.
Written by Ryan Fujitani, Sara Maria Vizcarrondo, and Tim Ryan