Pickings are indeed slim this week for new releases on home video. While we have the requisite new releases, which include a couple of major pictures that opened earlier this year (Terminator Salvation and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian) and a couple of lesser-known flicks (Paper Heart and A Christmas Tale), the offerings were decidedly lacking in terms of special editions and newly packaged items. As such, we’ve decided to profile a handful of Blu-Ray reissues of films we already know and love (well, most of us, anyway), like Gremlins, The Mask of Zorro, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Check out our complete list and see what tickles your fancy this week!
Way back in 1984, a relatively unknown director named James Cameron introduced the world to an expectant mother named Sarah Connor and the Schwarzenegger-powered robot from the future who was sent to kill her, thereby launching both a beloved sci-fi franchise and a cinematic career known for technological innovation. After spawning two well-regarded sequels and a popular television show, the Terminator series returned for another chapter in 2009 under the direction of McG (Charlie’s Angels), this time focusing on the near future (2018, to be precise) and the grown John Connor’s efforts to unravel the mystery behind mankind’s possible annihilation. Though critics felt that Terminator Salvation‘s special effects and action sequences were impressive, they weren’t as thrilled by the film’s storytelling, which has been solid throughout the franchise. Nevertheless, for those who are fans of the series, and those who enjoy watching a bleak Christian Bale knocking the shine off a horde of evil robots, Terminator Salvation will be a an action-packed addition to the DVD or Blu-Ray library.
Ben Stiller is back as Larry Daley, a once down on his luck night guard turned successful entrepreneur, in the sequel to the hugely successful Night at the Museum. In addition to Stiller, the sequel returns director Shaun Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen), Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Robin Williams, and Ricky Gervais as their original larger than life museum icons that come to life at night. After discovering that his exhibits-turned-friends are moving into deep storage and into hostile exhibit territory at the Smithsonian, Larry goes to Washington, D.C. in order to help his friends in their new surroundings. With a new love interest in Amelia Earhart (played by Amy Adams) helping him in this fantasy-filled turf war, Larry finds inspiration again by helping his nocturnal friends. Another huge commercial success, Battle of the Smithsonian is filled with over the top special effects and slapstick comedy directed at its younger audience.
The lines between fiction and documentary are blurred and combined in Paper Heart, which stars Charlyne Yi (also screenwriter and producer) as herself — a skeptic of the fairy tale brand of love, the one subject she doesn’t understand. Charlyne travels across the country interviewing couples, strangers, lawyers, children, and anyone in between to craft a documentary about what love really is in hopes of discovering if love actually exists. Along the way, Charlyne meets Michael Cera, also playing himself and consequently wearing a hoodie, who begins to fall for her on camera, accelerating her need to understand the mysterious subject as she comes face-to-face with her own chance at love. The film was a limited release and questions around what parts of the film were documentary and what parts were fiction seemed to split critics as Paper Heart puts a different face and twist on the representation of a modern love story. You can pick it up on DVD or Blu-Ray this week.
Come Christmas time, the Family Comedy usually erodes from reputably wholesome entertainment into fodder for the critical bonfire. So when a Family Comedy meets a Holiday Film and they love each other very much, supremely rare circumstances may present themselves to allow the Holiday Film and the Family Comedy to produce many happy reviews-as was the super rare case with the ultra-gallic, Yule Tide, smarty fest that was A Christmas Carol. Starring the highest of French pedigree actors (Mattieu Almaric and Catherine Deneuve, the goddess herself), A Christmas Tale watched a family of intellectuals reunite in the interest of saving their matriarch (Deneuve) from a degenerative cancer. The Criterion DVD includes interviews with the stars, an improved English subtitle translation (because we don’t all know French), a booklet featuring an essay by Phillip Lopate (to stoke the geeky-flame) and L’aimee, the doc that director Anton Desplechin made about the selling of his family home.
Most remember The Green Mile for its gauzy and nostalgia-hued view of the depression and institutional corrections (it does take place almost exclusively in a prison). Some remember the bombastic melodrama (Michael Clark Duncan explodes the electric chair!). What we remember best was the animal stunts. Mr. Jingles was played by 15 different stuntmice – 15! Tell me that wouldn’t make a great youtube pet clip. According to reviews, the transfer to blu-ray is a tad dark, in some cases swallowing some of the visual detail, but the extras look to make up for the loss. After the director commentary by Frank Darabont, the dvd features more than 2 hours worth of making-of documentary. This almost dethrones the film’s death-row-like running time, but since the making-of footage likely features a good dose of Mr. Jingles, I think we can let this one slide.
Before RocknRolla, before Revolver, and certainly before his marriage to Madonna got him Swept Away, Guy Ritchie made quite a name for himself with a couple of highly stylized capers that put British gangster films back on the map. 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the director’s feature debut, and its 2001 follow-up, Snatch, were intricately plotted action-comedies with large casts of colorful characters, oodles of witty banter, and plot twists galore, and critics responded positively to both (71% and 72% on the Tomatometer, respectively). It’s just too bad that the formula didn’t quite work the third or fourth time. With Ritchie’s vision of Sherlock Holmes set to hit theaters later this year, this seems like the appropriate time to release his two best efforts on Blu-Ray, and while there are only a few new special features to be found for either film, the hi-def transfer may be enough to sway fans into picking them up. They both become available this week.
Some films hold up quite well over time, while others end up feeling dated and obsolete. Joe Dante’s 1984 horror-comedy classic Gremlins tends to fall into the former category for most, even if only for its nostalgic value, and you’d be hard pressed to find many other winter holiday-themed movies that are this… bizarre. For those who are unfamiliar, Gremlins tells the story of an inventor who happens upon a mystical creature in a Chinese curiosity shop, brings the creature home as a pet, and discovers that breaking the three rules of rearing the creature yields disastrous results. This week, Billy, Gizmo, and Stripe get the hi-def treatment, and the Blu-Ray disc contains many of the same special features seen on previous editions, including director and cast commentaries and a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette.
Gimme Shelter is the Maysles brothers’ documentary chronicling the events surrounding a free Rolling Stones concert at California’s Altamont Speedway in 1969. Who could have guessed that hiring the Hell’s Angels for security duties at a concert where alcohol, drugs, and public nudity ran rampant would be a bad idea? Oh, wait… Right. While the ensuing chaos (which included an on-screen stabbing) is well known now amongst those familiar with the event and the film, Gimme Shelter loses none of its poignancy upon repeat viewings. This week, the Criterion Collection edition of the film finds its way onto Blu-Ray, and while there are no new special features, the hi-def transfer itself is cleaned up for a tidy picture quality that should make for a more engaging viewing experience.
With a cast that included Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, and a relatively unknown Catherine Zeta-Jones, as well as an entertaining story and loads of action, 1998’s The Mask of Zorro was a critical and commercial success, achieving Certified Fresh status with an impressive 85% Tomatometer. Unfortunately, its sequel, The Legend of Zorro, failed to earn the same respect, despite the return of Banderas and Zeta-Jones. The first was everything a moviegoer could ask for in a period action film, but the shift in tone of the second film (largely to a much more tame, kid-friendly movie) proved to be too much (or too little) for most. Still, the pairing may prove to be a fortuitous one for families; after the kids get their kicks out of Legend, the grownups can put them to bed and find something a little more age-appropriate in Mask. Both are available this week on Blu-Ray, either individually or as a two-pack, and they include special features found on previous editions.
For those of us unsatisfied by the drama-club theatrics present in our run-of-the-mill B-pictures, we always have an extra outlet for it via the commentators of Mystery Science Theater 3000, who see the snarkly, half-sincere, histrionics of schlock films and raise them tenfold. More than just a collection of obscure and low-rent anti-classics, MST3K makes faux-critical non-art out of our inferior genus of native film. It’s half pop-up video and half (non) director commentary slathered liberally on top of films none of us has any legitimate reason to know exist. In the XVI Limited Edition Box Set alone we have: Santa Klaws (and you thought Mom’s plum pudding was dry), Night of the Blood Beast (a good rehydrating agent after Santa Klaws), The Corpse Vanishes (absolutely no relation to Hitchcock) and Warrior of the Lost World (because if Turkey, Brazil, and India have Star Wars remakes, dadgum it, so will America). A blindingly shiny Tom Servo figurine goes along with the kit, like MST3K‘s own little Cracker Jack prize.