Unfortunately, with only two recent wide releases making it onto home video this week, we’ve once again had to dip into the reissues of previously released films to flesh out our list of choices. The two new releases are, of course, It’s Complicated, the Meryl Streep/Alec Baldwin/Steve Martin-powered rom-com, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the ambitious fantasy film by Terry Gilliam featuring the late Heath Ledger’s final screen performance. Aside from those, however, we’ve also got some new Blu-Ray versions of modern classics, a couple of new Criterion editions, and a beloved BBC series based on a Jane Austen novel. Continue on to read through the full list!
Even Meryl Streep makes a mediocre movie every once in a while, right? Well, in the case of It’s Complicated, at least the film made a pretty good amount of money, which means there’s a bigger market for romantic comedies aimed at the baby boomer generation than one might be inclined to think. Co-starring alongside Streep are two hefty leading men in Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, both legends in their own right, playing Streep’s remarried ex-husband Jake (Baldwin) and newly divorced admirer Adam (Martin). What ensues is a complicated love triangle when Streep’s character, Jane, and Jake find themselves reconnecting at their son’s college graduation, despite the fact that Adam is making himself available to Jane and Jake has a young wife waiting for him back home. Writer/director Nancy Meyers has a certain knack for rom-coms catering to an older audience (Something’s Gotta Give, What Women Want), but It’s Complicated failed to resonate completely with critics, who recognized the appeal of the talented cast but felt the story was somewhat predictable and broad. It only missed Freshness by a little bit, however, earning a 57% on the Tomatometer, so the film should still be satisfying for those looking for a good-natured comedy.
Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam hasn’t had as much success in the past decade as he did during the 70s and 80s, when he helmed such modern favorites as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Brazil, and 12 Monkeys, but his visionary style has remained intact. Though the film was overshadowed by the tragic passing of its star, Heath Ledger, during the middle of production, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus still managed to somehow pull itself together, and Gilliam succeeded in finding a way to work around Ledger’s partially finished role by turning to a handful of other talented stars (Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law). What resulted was a highly imaginative (would you expect anything less from Gilliam?) and visually stunning piece of fantasy bolstered by strong performances. Unfortunately, some critics were unable to look past the cracks here and there, criticizing the film for an uneven tone and somewhat disjointed story, but Parnassus still managed to earn a Fresh 65% on the Tomatometer. For anyone eager to see Heath Ledger’s final screen performance, or for anyone who is a Terry Gilliam fan, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray this week, and both come with a slew of special features that includes several items dedicated to Ledger.
You know those guys you see in commercials, running and leaping off the sides of buildings with catlike reflexes whilst in pursuit of the perfect deodorant? To quote Jim from The Office, that would be “parkour, internet sensation of 2004.” In fact, Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional, The 5th Element) wrote and produced a French movie in 2004 starring David Belle, one of the founders of parkour as we know it today, called District B13, which basically served as one action-packed infomercial for the urban sport (if one may call it that). The film resonated well with critics, earning Certified Fresh status with critics at 81%, so last year’s sequel, District 13: Ultimatum seemed only natural to make. Though it didn’t fare as well as its predecessor, Ultimatum still managed a 73% Tomatometer, successfully reuniting its two stars (Belle and stuntman/martial artist Cyril Raffaelli) in another flurry of rooftop jumping, thrilling stunts, and explosive and inventive fight sequences. Ultimatum didn’t get a wide release here in the states, so if you missed it when it opened here, now’s your chance to catch this little action gem.
Dune, directed by David Lynch (just post-Eraserhead) and scripted by Lynch and novelist Frank Herbert, is a brand of cult that meets at the intersection of psychotropic High Art and old fashioned weirdness. Set in the year 10,191, the planet is a wasteland of desert but a Petri dish of shamanism. A spice that enlightens and the ongoing threat of sandworms hangs over the story, which culminates in a hand-to-hand combat scene between stars Kyle MacLachlan and (of all available 80s villains) Sting in the sand. Their tussle calls to mind the desert love sequence from Zabriskie Point, with less playfulness but just as much “dynamic tension.” How could this not be a cult film?! It’s got something for every possible sub-culture! The cut of the film on the bluray is the 137-minute theatrical version in 2.35:1. There were between three and five versions of the film, depending on who you ask, but so far as it appears, this is the same version as can be found on the previous HD DVD release. With 11 deleted scenes and featurettes about costume, production design, models, miniatures and effects, there’s word that this isn’t quite the DVD release that Dune fans have been dreaming of, but, if nothing else, the picture quality (featuring MacLachlan’s enhanced eyes) is reportedly gorgeous!
Now here is an example of a strong Meryl Streep. Under the direction of Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, The Firm) and acting alongside Robert Redford, Streep garnered a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role in Out of Africa. Though she didn’t win, the film did snag both the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for Pollack, not to mention five more Academy Awards (out of 11 total nominations), so it’s safe to say the film was a success. Out of Africa is based on the autobiography of the same name by Karen von Blixen-Finecke, who wrote the book under the pen name Isak Dinesen, and chronicles the years Blixen (played by Streep) spent living in Kenya on a coffee plantation with her husband, a Dutch baron. Blixen meets a local hunter named Denys Finch Hatton (Redford) and develops a relationship with him after a trip home to Denmark to treat a case of syphilis she’s contracted from her philandering husband. As their lives become intertwined, Blixen realizes that she and Hatton are too different, and that he is too free at heart to be entirely hers. Though the film has, interestingly enough, only earned a 61% on the Tomatometer, there is something to be said not only about the quality of talent involved with the project, but also about the numerous awards it won. This week, a special 25th Anniversary Blu-Ray edition of the film hits store shelves, and it packs extras like a commentary by Pollack, a documentary comparing the Blixen of the film to the real woman, and deleted scenes.
The legendary shootout at the O.K. Corral in 1881 has transcended historical fact and firmly planted itself into the greater mythology of the US’s old “Wild West,” its principle figures etched into the American consciousness like characters in a tall tale. As such, it’s no surprise that there have been numerous portrayals of the gunfight and the events leading up to it in all forms of art and modern media, but the 1993 film Tombstone may be the best known today. The all-star cast includes Kurt Russell as retired lawman Wyatt Earp, Val Kilmer as Earp’s friend Doc Holliday, Sam Elliott as Wyatt’s older brother brother Virgil, and Bill Paxton as the youngest Earp brother Morgan, as well as Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Thomas Haden Church, and Billy Zane in supporting roles. Tombstone is, of course, a dramatized version of real events that took place in 1881, when the titular Arizona town was besieged by a gang of outlaws calling themselves the Cowboys, and Earp and Co. took it upon themselves to bring the Cowboys to justice. Kilmer’s performance in particular drew praise from critics all around — this may be his best role — and the film earned a 79% on the Tomatometer. If you’re looking for a good western, one with memorable characters and a compelling story, you could do much worse than to pick up Tombstone this week.
Director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) might not have been the first name to come to mind when looking for someone to helm a film on the American Civil War, but he made it happen. Starring Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich as brothers Jake and Jack Bull, Ride with the Devil focuses on the brothers as they join the Confederate cause and befriend a former slave (Jeffrey Wright) fighting for the South. The film is a meditation on loyalty, exploring the emotional and psychological struggles of the brothers, sons of German immigrants, and a freed slave as they fight alongside those who would just as easily cast them aside in more normal times. Critics unfortunately didn’t fall head over heels for Devil, however, citing some uneven acting and flat storytelling, but when the film does succeed, it becomes a beautifully shot and thought-provoking look at one of the bloodiest times of this nation’s history. This director-approved special edition, released by the Criterion Collection on both DVD and Blu-Ray, comes with two commentaries, a new interview with Jeffrey Wright, and a booklet of essays, and it’s available this week.
Steven Soderbergh is one of those directors who continues to move seamlessly between the mainstream (the Ocean’s films) and the arthouse(Che, The Girlfriend Experience), and he’s also been particularly prolific in the past few years, whether you realized it or not. One instance his work in both arenas seemed to merge was 2000’s Traffic, a bleak and sobering look at how the drug trade affects several connected lives, as filtered through different colored lenses to differentiate between the storylines. The star-studded cast, which includes Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Toro, Don Cheadle, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Luis Guzman, and more, was a major success in Traffic, according to critics, who felt the acting was strong all around, and the film’s portrayal of moral relativity helped to add to its heft. Though it is still available in a superbly fleshed out Criterion Collection edition, Universal is re-releasing Traffic on a combo DVD/Blu-Ray disc (one format on either side) with a handful of extras this week for those who may not want to spring for the more expensive Criterion.
One can never be sure how a film adaptation of a stage play will turn out when all is said and done, but in the case of Sidney Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind, based on the Tennessee Williams (who also helped write the film’s script) play Orpheus Descending, what more can you ask for than Marlon Brando in a snakeskin jacket? Alright, we don’t mean to be glib about it, but this was Brando in his heyday, when he could make ladies swoon just by breathing in their direction, which is sort of what he does here. The Fugitive Kind centers on Brando’s character, Val Xavier, a drifter who wanders into a small town and catches the eyes of three very different women: Carol Cutrere (Joanne Woodward), the resident “bad girl” in town; Vee Talbott (Maureen Stapleton), wife of the local sherriff; and Lady Torrence (Anna Magnani), his new boss’s wife, who will do anything to prevent Val from choosing either of the other two. The film has just a 50% Tomatometer, currently based on only 6 reviews, and critics seem fairly split on the film, with some calling it a triumph of superb acting, while others criticize it as a poor translation from stage to film. In any case, Criterion has seen fit to release a new transfer of The Fugitive Kind this week, and it includes special features like an interview with Lumet, a documentary featuring Tennessee Williams talking about his work’s various film adaptations, and an hourlong presentation of three one-act plays written by Williams and directed by Lumet. Definitely worth a pickup for any fan of Brando, Williams, or Lumet.
Likely the most popular Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice has been adapted ad nauseum to theater, TV and film and usually not to the taste of the book’s rather diehard following (and this is one of few works of chicklit that can be said to have a “diehard” following). The beauty of this version, a mini-series by the BBC, is that it went to great lengths to be as completist about the events of the novel as possible-in short it’s trying to be the diehard fan’s answer to adaptations. Mr. Darcy (a then lesser-known Colin Firth) has plenty of room to seem icy and removed and the idealistic and driven Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle) flaunts her high self-esteem so it doesn’t seem like blind arrogance. As this was initially set up for television, the quality of the previous DVD images were reportedly quite dim and dark, but this Blu-Ray features a restored version and a handful of featurettes on the subject. A featurette with stars Adrian Lukis & Lucy Briers is also included.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Sara Schieron