This week brings us a few anticipated choices on home video, starting with David Fincher’s much talked about biopic of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. It’s since been revealed that many of the details in the film may have been fictionalized, but that hasn’t detracted from all of the Oscar buzz surrounding it. Then, we also have a surprisingly well-received horror remake by Alexandre Aja, and our last new release brings us a poorly received animated film. Aside from those, there are also a couple of new films getting the Criterion Blu-Ray treatment, a couple of classics getting anniversary editions, and a Sergio Leone drama in hi-def for the first time. Check out what’s new this week!
We have so many ways of creating social alienation through media that 150 years from now anthropologists will dig up our cultural artifacts and think all this forced loneliness was intentional. At least Aaron Sorkin’s whispery and biting high-IQ script poses the issue as a self-defense mechanism; the response of a smart but sensitive wallflower to his MIT brethren’s exclusive social structures. Who better than cold-as-ice David Fincher to bring the wintery Boston college campus to stingingly sharp relief? And if you don’t care about The Social Network as “cinema” you’ll likely care that everyone’s talking about it — maybe not as much as they’re talking about Black Swan but you’ll find there’s surprisingly less lesbian action on this FaceBook than you anticipated.
As blockbusters go, it seemed the biggest contribution Piranha 3D seemed destined to make to last summer was screening in an air-conditioned room — except that critics largely enjoyed the film to the tune of a Certified Fresh 75%. A remake of American International Picture’s 1978 classic took the already ludicrous prehistoric-fish-come-a-swimmin’ premise and added naked coeds and a crew making a deep discount version of Girls Gone Wild (the director of which suffers an explicit and moral punishment). The ultimate scene of annihilation manages to hold one solid tone of flawed logic for like… 20 minutes, which is pretty impressive. Our era’s answer to big-screen schlockmeisters, Eli Roth, appears momentarily as a DJ, and if you can believe that, Elisabeth Shue as a police chief, Doc Brown as a fish specialist and a mysterious army of death-dealing guppies will pose you no trouble whatsoever. Blu-Ray offers 3D capabilities.
In a year that brought us the likes of Toy Story 3, Despicable Me and How To Train Your Dragon, there was little room in the pack for this mismatched wolf adventure — as the slim box office pickings and howlingly bad critical response showed. Still, there may be enough here to please younger, more undemanding viewers, with some bright, inoffensive character design and amiable voice work from stars Justin Long and Hayden Panettiere. Maybe not the fitting epitaph for the late Dennis Hopper, sadly, but at least he has one more film in post-production to mark his final official role. Featurettes and trivia games are included in the extras.
What turned out to be the great Sergio Leone’s final film (he passed away in 1989), Once Upon a Time in America began as a script he adapted while filming Once Upon a Time in the West and finally went before the cameras — it was the director’s great labor of love — in 1982. Robert De Niro and James Woods lead the epic story of two New York youths and their rise through the world of early-20th century organized crime, with supporting performances from Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci and Jennifer Connelly (in her very first screen role). The film was notoriously slashed from its four hour original running time for its theatrical release, leaving a disordered version that Leone hated. Thankfully the Blu-ray release — which should look (and sound) magnificent, as per all the filmmaker’s work — includes the restored version, so you can sink deep into Leone’s vision (and Ennio Morricone’s impeccable music).
It was a huge hit at the box office, it solidified Kevin Costner’s status as a leading man (and a skilled director), and it won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Why, then, isn’t Dances With Wolves more respected 20 years on? For one thing, it beat out GoodFellas for the Oscar; for another, its overly reverent tone can sometimes make it seem like a quaint artifact of the Politically Correct early 1990s. Still, there’s plenty to enjoy in this sweeping, gorgeously filmed Western that features strong performances, epic scope, and painstaking attention to historical detail. Plus, if Dances With Wolves depicts Native Americans in an overly noble manner, it stands as a powerful corrective to decades of degrading images of Indians in Hollywood. The 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray comes loaded with special features, including historical docs, a making-of and retrospective featurettes, commentary from Costner and others, trailers, and much more.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars may sound like a cheap direct-to-DVD movie to those unfamiliar with it, and its genuine sci-fi plot may skew a bit that way, but in actuality, it’s a beloved classic of the genre known for its beautiful cinematography and stunning set design. The story revolves around an astronaut, Commander “Kit” Draper (Paul Mantee), who crash lands on Mars with his colleague (a pre-Batman Adam West) and a trained monkey. Draper and the monkey, named Mona, are the only ones to survive, and the pair make the best of their circumstances, discovering previously unknown properties of the planet, as well as an enslaved alien race. Though it only has a handful of reviews, the film still boasts a 92% Tomatometer rating, and Criterion has finally brought it to Blu-Ray, complete with previously released bonuses and a couple of new ones.
Perhaps better known for his stylish crime masterpieces Le Cercle Rouge and Le Samourai, Jean-Pierre Melville traded the underworld for the underground resistance in this World War II drama — among the last few films he made — and it turned out to be one of the director’s very finest. Centered around a group of French freedom fighters battling Hitler’s regime, the movie, which was a personal piece for Melville (who served in the war), went surprisingly unreleased in the US until 2006, where it belatedly topped many critics’ year-end lists. Criterion give the restored Shadows the deluxe treatment here, with historical commentary, critical essays, on-set footage and interviews with Melville — an eccentric auteur who’s always a fascinating subject on camera himself. Essential stuff for serious film fans.
What more can be said about Raging Bull? It’s been hailed as the crowning achievement of Martin Scorsese’s career, as well as the greatest boxing movie ever made. However, if you’ve never seen it, no amount of gravitas can prepare you for what a haunting, visceral experience this rich, powerful movie is. As middleweight champ Jake LaMotta, Robert DeNiro gave one of the most raw, troubling portrayals of conflicted masculinity ever captured on film, and it’s a tribute to the great actor that even at his most disreputable, he infuses LaMotta with a certain dignity and humanity. The Raging Bull 30th Anniversary Blu-Ray features multiple commentary tracks, docs about the film, footage of LaMotta’s actual fights, and a short film about DeNiro’s interaction with the legendary fighter.
Written by Luke Goodsell, Tim Ryan, Sara Vizcarrondo, and Ryan Fujitani