This week on home video, we’ve got a couple of big new releases and a few smaller ones. Three of them serve as evidence that having a big name (or two, or three, or a dozen) isn’t going to guarantee a great movie, while a couple of this week’s selections show how even a minimalist venture can end up strikingly good. Plus, we’ve got a classic 80s TV series on tap, as well as a classic Creature Feature favorite, and a three-movie collection starring one of American cinema’s biggest icons. Read on to find out about all the selections, and hopefully one or two of them will find a new home on your shelf.
Clint Eastwood had a rousing triumph with his last film, 2008’s Gran Torino, and he looked to continue that success in 2009 with an inspirational film starring two of Hollywood’s most recognizable names. Invictus stars Morgan Freeman as South African President Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as South African rugby team captain Francois Pienaar, who meets with Mandela in hopes that they will be able to mount a campaign to unify the nation through Pienaar’s sport. Though Invictus didn’t quite measure up to Gran Torino‘s success, the film still earned a Certified Fresh 77% on the Tomatometer from critics, who felt that Damon and Freeman performed admirably within a script that may not have been exciting enough for some. If you’re a fan of Eastwood, Freeman, or Damon, and you missed Invictus when it hit theaters late last year, now’s your chance to catch it on home video. It’s available on DVD and Blu-Ray this week.
It’s difficult to argue against the assertion that Valentine’s Day was a carefully crafted marketing ploy; it was directed by perennial rom-com master Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, Frankie and Johnny, The Princess Diaries), it starred practically every actor one might assume to be in such a rom-com, and it was released just two days before the titular holiday, which, in all fairness, has fielded its own accusations of existing solely as a cheap money grab for corporate entities. As it turns out, critics didn’t much care for the film themselves, awarding it just an 18% on the Tomatometer and citing its disjointed nature and wealth of rom-com clichï¿½s as weaknesses. It’s unfortunate, too, because there was definitely potential here, especially considering the involvement of industry heavies like Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, Shirley MacLaine, Kathy Bates, and a slew of others. Then again, those who went to see the movie on Valentine’s Day weekend pretty much knew what they were in for, so if you’re looking forward to something like… er, Valentine’s Day, then this would probably be your flick.
Maybe our dearth of war films (and the dearth of audience for them) is more about a lack of good films tackling the subject than it is about films that handle the matter with purpose: we’re looking for humane works, not upstanding politics. (Is that tragic? Hard to say.) Regardless, Woody Harrelson’s Oscar nom was not for nothing; his performance as an Army casualty notifier who suffers stoically and then self-medicates with liquor is precisely the kind of so-incredible-you-can’t-figure-it-out impressiveness that Oscar noms are made of. And Ben Foster’s rookie is a fly-weight powerhouse. They’re the perfect thing to marvel at while the cast and crew commentaries roll on this Blu-Ray release. The DVD also includes behind the scenes footage, a doc about the actual Army notification process and a copy of the film’s shooting script that any New Neo-realist film student could easily make bible of.
In yet another example of star power gone wrong (or, at the very least, mediocre), Tom Vaughn’s Extraordinary Measures fails to capitalize on both its timely subject and its flashy cast (Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser, and Keri Russell), resulting instead in a fairly middle-of-the-road production. Critics weren’t very impressed by the movie, which they believed would have felt more appropriate if it had aired on television (CBS Films was, after all, behind it), and it only managed to earn a 28% on the Tomatometer. And, all things being equal, though Fraser is certainly a big Hollywood name, he’s probably best suited for movies like The Mummy and Inkheart, particularly when directed by Vaughn, who’s last big screen effort was What Happens in Vegas. In other words, Extraordinary Measures will do the trick if you’re looking for some light dramatic entertainment on a rainy day, but don’t expect anything life-changing from it. You can pick it up this week on DVD or Blu-Ray.
These days, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the career trajectories of action stars often land them, at some point, in the realm of children’s movies. Arnold Schwarzenegger eventually made Jingle All the Way, The Rock was recently spotted sporting wings and a tutu in The Tooth Fairy, and now martial arts mogul Jackie Chan finds himself babysitting three bratty kids as an international spy mystery unfolds. It’s always a little bit sad to see that a once-electrifying action star has lost a step or two, but it’s particularly poignant in Chan’s case, since his brand of kung fu typically involves incredible fight choreography and mind-boggling acrobatics. Now that we see him relying more on wire-work and silly pratfalls (which, granted, were always at least a little bit part of his shtick), we can expect to see more kid flicks starring the 56-year-old Chan. As for The Spy Next Door is concerned, well, the critics say that there’s little in the script to make the movie any fun, but who knows? It might make decent babysitting material for your kids.
When Toho Studios released Gojira (Godzilla) in 1954, they had a monster hit (sorry, couldn’t resist). Eager to follow suit and capitalize on Godzilla‘s popularity, Daiei Studios came forth with their own monster in 1965, namely Gamera. Sure enough, audiences soon found themselves rooting for the flying, fire-breathing giant turtle, and Gamera earned a bit of a following himself, continuing his exploits in eleven more movies, the last of which premiered in 2006 (Gamera the Brave). Like any good franchise, Gamera has seen his backstory rewritten, but this week on home video, the original 1965 black-and-white version is being released, and its bonus features include A Retrospective Look at the Gamera Franchise. One thing to note here, however: the 1966 film titled Gamera the Invincible is actually the same as the original, except that it was recut and reedited for an international audience; what’s being released this week is the full Japanese original. So if you’re a Creature Feature enthusiast, plan on picking this up for your collection.
Frank Sinatra is a modern movie icon, though we don’t hear his named mentioned as often these days as we once did. Establishing successful careers in both music and film, Ol’ Blue Eyes charmed his way into the American consciousness despite his reputation for moodiness and rumors about affiliations with organized crime. This week, a new three-piece collection of Sinatra films is available in a single package that features Guys and Dolls, A Hole in the Head, and the original version of The Manchurian Candidate. The collection offers a look into three sides of Sinatra’s persona, from his singing talent to his comedic timing to his dramatic chops, and could serve as a worthy introduction to his body of work in Hollywood.
1971’s Walkabout was the directorial debut of cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, who had lensed films like Fahrenheit 451 and The Masque of the Red Death. Roeg’s keen eye was on full display in this film, the only one on which he served as both director and cinematographer. Starring Jenny Agutter, David Gulpilil, and Roeg’s own son Luc Roeg, and loosely based on the novel of the same name by James Vance Marshall, Walkabout chronicles the story of a brother and sister (Roeg and Agutter) who are stranded in the Australian outback and must rely on their new friendship with an Aboriginal boy (Gulpilil) to survive the desert extremes. The film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but it didn’t perform all that well in Australia. Though the film was previously available in a Criterion edition, this new one features a brand new restored high-definition transfer (director-approved) for Blu-Ray, audio commentary with Agutter and Roeg, video interviews, and a documentary on the life of Gulpilil. You can pick it up on DVD or Blu-Ray this week.
We have more evidence to support the idea we like taboos than reason to believe we don’t, and the work of Japanese New Wave filmmaker Nagisa Oshima is one big bundle of terse and trembling proof. Most famous for his period drama In the Realm of the Senses, which was so hot they had the film processed in France (a smokescreen for censors) and optically obscured the scenes of unsimulated sex (this means the actors actually did it–the term is confusing to me, too). Before Oshima made In the Realm he worked his way up to it with a gaggle of films that inched towards gaudy display but never quite got there. Criterion’s Eclipse 21: Oshima’s Outlaw Sixties might be Japan’s answer to the sexual revolution on film. Featuring titles as sexy-outre as Violence at Noon, as angsty-intense as Japanese Summer: Double Suicide and as in-your-face as Sing a Song of Sex and Pleasures of the Flesh, the collection’s jewel-in-crown is The Resurrected Drunkards. A slapsticky premise featuring three drunk yunguns who skinnydip and lose their clothes practical-joke-style, it becomes a semi-salacious romp into themes like xenophobia and racism when the trio are confused for Koreans. Audio remastered and image quality spiffed up for this Eclipse edition.
Superhero flicks are all the rage these days, and most of them have either attempted to capture the comic book feel of their sources (the Spider-Man movies) or taken steps to present their stories in a more serious manner (The Dark Knight). But back in the early 80s, at least one television show already had most of these beat in the department of superhero-themed comedy. The Greatest American Hero ran for three seasons, ending in 1983, and chronicled the adventures of a schoolteacher, Ralph Hinkley (William Katt), who is chosen by aliens to don a superpowered suit (complete with cape) and save the world with the help of a new FBI agent friend (Robert Culp). Unfortunately, Ralph loses the instruction manual for the suit, so he must learn all of its capabilities through trial and error, which sets up a lot of the physical comedy of the show. The show developed a cult following, and its theme song in particular (“Believe It or Not”) even went on to be a Top 40 hit. This week, the entire series is available in one DVD set, so if you have fond memories of the show, you can own it for yourself.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo