Several films chose this week to come out on DVD for the first time, and whether you’re looking for rousing action, raunchy comedy, feelgood documentary, period romance, or icy chills, there’s something in this week’s bag that should fit the bill. In addition, we’ve got a few special releases of older films that will interest fans of Terrence Malick, Nagisa Oshima, and classic adventure flicks. So have yourself a look-see at the selection we’ve put together, and perhaps one or two of these titles will find their way onto your shelves.
When Iron Man opened in 2008, it took the world by surprise with its smart but accessible story, likable characters, and explosive action. It earned widespread acclaim from both audiences and critics en route to an astonishing 94% Tomatometer score and over $300 million in ticket sales. This is all to say that Iron Man 2 had a lot to live up to. Most of the cast returned for the sequel, with the exception of Terrence Howard, who was replaced by Don Cheadle in the role of James “Rhodey” Rhodes, and Jon Favreau took his place in the director’s chair once again. This time around, billionaire genius Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) faces new challenges as he learns to navigate his newfound fame as Iron Man as well as the government’s desire to get its hands on Stark Industries technology. There’s also some competition from another hotshot defense contractor (Sam Rockwell) who employs a Russian inventor (Mickey Rourke) with a personal vendetta against Stark, and agents from S.H.I.E.L.D. come knocking at Stark’s door as well. Critics felt that Iron Man 2 was a fairly worthy sequel to the original, with an engaging plot and just as much action as the first installment, even if there weren’t many surprises to be found. It’s Certified Fresh at 74% on the Tomatometer, and this week, you can pick it up on DVD or Blu-Ray.
Team Apatow returned this summer with a hard-rockin’, hard-partyin’ quasi-sequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The Certified Fresh Get Him to the Greek stars Jonah Hill as an ambitious record company intern. He convinces his boss (played with self-parodying glee by Diddy) that the solution to the label’s woes is a concert at the Greek Theater by down-on-his-luck rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) to commemorate the 10th anniversary of a particularly memorable show. Once our hero gets to London to retrieve the star, however, he’s treated to a level of rock star debauchery that would make Liam Gallagher blush. The two-disc collectors edition features outtakes, commentaries from the cast and crew, behind the scenes docs. It also has an episode of Blind Medicine, the fake TV series starring none other than Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) and, if you get the Blu-Ray, it’s got a feature called U-Control, which allows you to get info on the music as you watch the movie.
Back in May, French director Thomas Balmes offered audiences an unnarrated look at the early lives of four children in four very different parts of the world. Foregoing a plot structure in favor of straight-up documentation, Balmes focused his camera attentively upon babies Ponijao in Namibia, Bayarjargal in Mongolia, Mari in Tokyo, and Hattie in San Francisco, chronicling the earliest moments of their lives leading up to their first birthdays. It’s difficult to say much more about the film, as it’s something of a phenomenon you’d have to see for yourself. There is no story here, but one can surmise that there’s something to be learned in viewing the differences in child-rearing practices across the cultural divides, and that there is a universal truth to be gleaned from each of the smiling, cooing faces. Critics agree that Babies is a joyous celebration of humankind loaded with tons of adorable images, but most also felt that there was little more to it than that. For some, the “ahh”-ing and “ooh”-ing wasn’t enough to warrant a full-length feature film, so it currently stands at a respectable but modest 68% on the Tomatometer. In other words, if CuteOverload.com is one of your most visited bookmarks, you might get a toddler-sized kick out of this, but if not, this might not exactly be your cup of tea.
Michael Winterbottom is no stranger to controversy; the prolific English director has tackled some pretty heavy subjects, including the drug-and-sex culture of Factory Records (24 Hour Party People), forbidden love between cousins (Jude), and the story of three falsely accused detainees at Guantanamo Bay (The Road to Guantanamo), and his 2004 film 9 Songs raised eyebrows with its explicit scenes of unsimulated sex. The Killer Inside Me, Winterbottom’s latest film starring Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, and Jessica Alba, also caused quite a stir earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival with its extended scenes of brutal violence against women. In fact, the film is so unrelenting that several audience members – including Alba herself – excused themselves from the premiere screening, and the post-movie Q&A kicked off with an older woman demanding to know how the film was even admitted to the festival before she stormed out of the theater. Based on a novel of the same name by Jim Thompson, the film follows a seemingly well-meaning small town sheriff named Lou Ford (Affleck), his girlfriend Amy (Hudson), and his prostitute girlfriend Joyce (Alba) as a dormant sociopathic sickness begins to emerge within Lou. Though critics felt the movie was stylish and beautifully shot, most also felt that it lacked the emotional context needed to soften the blows of its brutal violence. For those of you who are curious and not faint of heart, you can pick up the film this week.
Like Hollywood and disaster epics, sometimes the European arthouse does things in twos — last year saw simultaneous biopics of Coco Chanel, as if French filmmakers had suddenly wondered why there were so few films in existence about one of their national treasures. The first starred Audrey Tautou as the fashion designer and focused on her pre-fame days, while this feature from Jan Kounen charts her famous relationship between the icon and composer Igor Stravinsky. Anna Mouglalis portrays the couture pioneer and Mads Mikkelsen, most familiar as the villainous Le Chiffre from Casino Royale, is Stravinsky. Yet where Coco Avant Chanel drew a parade of accolades, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky met with mixed scores from critics, many suggesting that although the film looks beautiful and is well inhabited by its stars, it’s as dramatically inept as a fashion spread. Still, fashion completists and 20th century history fans will want to have a look at the film, especially as it does, flaws and all, intrigue as a companion piece to the other Chanel film.
It’s always an ambitious venture to plot a movie around a singular location-based premise, but if done properly, it can be an effective way to highlight other aspects of a film, such as dialogue, acting, and mood. This typically works best with thrillers (12 Angry Men, Rear Window), but can also be an effective device for elements of horror (the recent films Devil and Buried). Early this year, writer/director Adam Green’s Frozen utilized this technique to tell the story of three snowboarders who are left stranded on a chair lift forty feet off the ground to face the elements. As night begins to fall and the trio come to terms with their situation, new dangers present themselves, and they must decide whether to brave nature or to take some risks in the name of survival. Critics say the idea is a good one, and it’s relatively well-realized, but a stronger cast and a tighter script would have done the film more justice. It’s just shy of Freshness at 57% on the Tomatometer, so you should still get some decent thrills from it, and at the very least, you’ll never hit the slopes again without a pinch of fear lingering somewhere in your subconscious.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is one weird movie. Directed by Nagisa Oshima – the master behind such violent erotic classics as Cruel Story of Youth and In the Ream of the Senses — Christmas is set in a Japanese POW camp in World War II, where a group of British officers are imprisoned. It’s a dark metaphor for East/West relations, occasionally brutal, tinged with subsumed eroticism, and often quite touching, but it’s the cast – which includes David Bowie, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Takeshi Kitano – that’s as memorable as it is unlikely. The spiffy new Criterion release is loaded with making-of featurettes and interviews with the cast and crew, as well as interviews and essays in the booklet.
The iconic screen monster that shocked audiences back in 1933 and went on to become one of Hollywood’s most famous, most influential, and most celebrated films now comes home on Blu-Ray. Granted, there’s only so much you can do to clean up film stock from the 1930s, but by all accounts, the presentation here is respectable, with most of the timeworn scratches and blotches zapped out of the picture and just enough natural film grain to keep it authentic. Everything else is kept intact, and the new disc carries over many of the bonus features previously included on a two-disc standard definition DVD that was released a few years ago. These include the requisite commentary tracks, featuring not only interview excerpts from director Merian C. Cooper and Fay Wray, but also special effects gurus Ray Harryhausen (whose own stop-motion projects were directly influenced by King Kong) and Ken Ralston (effects on the Star Wars and Back to the Future trilogies, among others). Then there’s also a 2.5-hour long documentary that focuses on the production of the film from every angle, as well as another hourlong doc about Cooper himself. You’ll also get the recreated lost “Spider Pit” sequence that was cut from the original theatrical release and some extra test footage for another similarly themed film called Creation. If you’re a fan of classic cinema, adventure movies, or historic visual effects, this is worth at least a rental.
Terrence Malick likes to take his time between pictures, but let no one say the wait isn’t worth it. The director had made just two feature films — 1973’s American classic Badlands and 1978’s much-lauded Days of Heaven — before seemingly disappearing off the face of the planet. But his 1998 return The Thin Red Line proved that, if anything, the filmmaker’s powers had grown even stronger in the interim. Malick’s adaptation of James Jones’ 1962 novel about the World War II battle for Guadalcanal restored the director to the ranks of movies’ greats, its epic meditation on conflict ranking as one of the more acclaimed war films in history. That fact hasn’t been lost on Criterion, who this week are releasing a Malick-supervised restored edition on DVD and Blu-ray, featuring an all-new commentary, interviews with the actors and 14 minutes of unseen outtakes from the film. As always with Criterion, there are fancy extras for cinephiles, including a booklet and critic’s essay and a reprint of Jones’ novel.
Written by Tim Ryan, Luke Goodsell, and Ryan Fujitani