RT on DVD & Blu-Ray: Super 8 and Conan the Barbarian

Plus, the latest Spy Kids, a solid Holocaust film, and a couple of notable classics.

by | November 21, 2011 | Comments

This week on home video, we’ve got an interesting mix of choices, and at least a couple of them may be a bit controversial. As for items we won’t be discussing at length: there are new Blu-rays for films like The Three Amigos, Rushmore (the existing Criterion edition), and ESPN’s 30 for 30 series (which we covered when it first arrived on DVD). The big titles this week are J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi treat, an update on a classic fantasy hero, and the latest of Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids films. Then we’ve got a French drama centered on the Holocaust experience, a unique look at the Hussein family, a controversial silent film, and a bona fide courtroom classic. See below for the full list!

Super 8


J.J. Abrams has been known to keep his projects super secret, whether it was a major plot point in his hit television show LOST or the unveiling of the monster in Cloverfield, which he produced. It was no different with his latest directorial effort, Super 8; the first trailer released thrillingly depicted a collision between a pickup truck and a freight train carrying something ominously powerful, but not much else. As it turned out, the film follows a group of kids making a home movie with a super 8 camera who happen to be present when the aforementioned collision takes place, and their camera inadvertently captures something they never expected to film. When strange things begin occurring in town, the children take it upon themselves to solve the mystery. Many agree that Super 8 is an earnest throwback to the kid-friendly sci-fi adventures of the 1980s, and with Steven Spielberg producing, it’s no wonder. With plenty of thrills, visual dazzle, and emotional depth, Super 8 is Certified Fresh at 82% and a pretty good choice if you’re looking for some good, old-fashioned, nostalgic fun.

Conan the Barbarian


It’s been almost three decades since the last big screen portrayal of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, and most will remember that he was famously played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. How, then, would a remake fare, with a new story and a new Conan? Not very well, actually. This time around, Jason Momoa (of recent Game of Thrones fame) plays the titular warrior, who is born in the heat of battle and trained as a warrior until his entire family is slaughtered by an evil warlord named Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) in search of pieces to a mystical mask. Conan escapes the onslaught and lives on as a pirate until a chance meeting provides him with a new lead to seek vengeance for his clan’s extermination. Co-starring Rose Mcgowan, Rachel Nichols, and Ron Perlman in small role as Conan’s father, Conan the Barbarian failed to impress critics, who felt the film lacked any good characterization, worthy dialogue, or competent acting. It’s gory and over the top, so if you’re looking for a mindless action flick with those credentials, have at it; if you’re looking for anything more, search elsewhere.

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World 4D


As with plenty of franchises before it, the Spy Kids movies may be running low on creative juice, but that doesn’t mean they know when to pack it in. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D, the latest entry in Robert Rodriguez’s venerable kiddie adventure series, wasn’t exactly greeted fondly by critics, who haven’t enjoyed a Spy Kids movie en masse since Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams. Jessica Alba stars as a retired spy who’s lured back into action when a maniacal supervillain threatens the free world. She’s joined in her mission by some newly recruited spy kids. The pundits said the movie will probably appeal to the little ones, and there are moments of visual inventiveness, but for the most part adults may be less than charmed this time out. For all you Spy-hards out there, the new Blu-ray has plenty of cool extras, including an interview with Rodriguez by an intrepid kid reporter, behind-the-scenes footage, and deleted scenes.

Sarah’s Key


The first thing one might be inclined to say about Sarah’s Key after hearing its premise is, “Oh, another Holocaust movie?” While this is true, most critics will tell you that this one is certainly worth watching. Somewhat of a two-part film, the first half of Sarah’s Key focuses on the titular Sarah (Melusine Mayance), a young Jewish girl living in France who falls victim to the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in 1942, wherein French police in German-occupied Paris rounded up Jewish families to be shipped off to Auschwitz; Sarah is able to escape, but not in time to save her little brother, and this haunts her until her death as an adult. In the present day, an American journalist (Kristin Scott-Thomas) learns that her French husband has inherited the same apartment where young Sarah once lived, and she begins an investigation into the apartment’s past that uncovers Sarah’s history. Critics found the film absorbing and impeccably acted all around, even if it had a few minor plot issues. Certified Fresh at 75%, Sarah’s Key may not be the definitive Holocaust film, but it’s one that will engage you until the credits roll.

The Devil’s Double


Much has been made of Saddam Hussein’s multiple doppelgangers, who the notorious dictator used to stay one step ahead of those who might capture — or kill — him. Based on factual events, The Devil’s Double focuses on the same phenomenon as it applied to one of Hussein’s sons, Uday Hussein. Dominic Cooper here plays dual roles as both Latif Yahia, the Iraqi lieutenant chosen as Uday’s double, and Uday himself; as Latif discovers the depths of Uday’s dark and psychotic behavior, he must come to terms with what he’s been asked to do in Uday’s name. Critics were fairly split about The Devil’s Double, thought most praised Cooper’s dedication to the role. Directed by Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) and co-starring Ludivine Sagnier, Philip Quast, and (surprise!) Latif Yahia himself in a supporting role, The Devil’s Double earned a 53% on the Tomatometer, with many critics balking at the graphic portrayal of Uday Hussein’s cruel and sadistic nature, but willing to recognize the strength of Cooper’s performance.

The Birth of a Nation – Special Edition Blu-Ray


We’re stuck with The Birth of a Nation. Few would deny its profound influence on movie history, but fewer still can watch its loathsome treatment of African Americans with anything less than disgust. For as much as D.W. Griffith’s epic helped codify the modern language of filmmaking (utilizing the most sophisticated editing techniques and camerawork that cinema had yet seen), its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan as heroes of the Reconstruction era was pretty controversial even upon its release in 1915. Griffith was a man of his time, and a not particularly ideological one at that (he was surprised at the negative backlash the movie generated) and yet his masterwork was so skillfully made that it remains a flashpoint of film scholarship — is it possible to admire, or even enjoy, a film with such an odious message? Kino’s lavish three-disc The Birth of a Nation – Special Edition will certainly add to the conversation; in addition to a new transfer of the film, the set features a number of Griffith’s short films and plenty of bonus featurettes and documents about the making of the movie and the controversy it caused.

12 Angry Men – Criterion Collection


Cinema history is loaded with courtroom dramas, but 12 Angry Men remains the most influential — and one of the most perpetually watchable — of the bunch. Directed with verve and urgency by Sidney Lumet, 12 Angry Men is the tale of a jury tasked with deciding the fate of an impoverished murder suspect; as the jurors examine the evidence, they come to realize that perhaps the case wasn’t as open-and-shut as it first appeared. Sure, it’s a “message movie,” but with electric performances from the likes of Henry Fonda, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, and Jack Klugman, it never feels preachy. A new Criterion edition of the film features a fresh transfer of the movie, new and archival interviews with Lumet and other crew members, and an earlier, made-for-television version of 12 Angry Men.

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