Well, we finally got a pretty good week of home video releases, despite the fact that most of the brand new ones that are coming straight from the theaters aren’t so highly rated. So we’ll be starting off with a couple of new rom-coms, as well as one of the recent big-budget video game adaptations and Werner Herzog’s latest. After that, we’ve got some great choices in the Blu-Ray reissue department, including lots of Oscars, big stars, and famous directors, not to mention a couple of more modern favorites. In fact, there were so many good reissues that we had to leave a few off the list for brevity’s sake, like Jacob’s Ladder and Delicatessen in hi-def. So have a look, and hopefully we’ve found a few that will interest you.
Video game adaptations do not hold a very successful track record here on RT, where even the best-intentioned efforts often fall short of expectations (even if expectations were low to begin with). With that in mind, any filmmaker who dares to adapt a video game for the silver screen must recognize he’s swimming against the current right from the get-go. The makers of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time seemed to have recognized this, and so they hoped to beef up their picture with some star power, namely that of Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, and director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Let’s be honest: that is some quality talent. Unfortunately (you knew this was coming), Prince of Persia fails to transcend the video game movie curse, with critics crying foul over the weak script and overreliance on CGI special effects. Are there some thrills to be had? Sure, what with Gyllenhaal leaping all over the place. But it’s not quite enough to sustain an entire film, say the critics, and the acting pedigree never really comes into play. It could make for a temporary diversion for the little ones, but chances are you may be left wanting if you’re a grownup.
Part Jane Austen (Emma) and part Shakespeare (the obvious titular reference), Letters to Juliet follows its heroine, Sophie Hall (up-and-coming starlet Amanda Seyfried), as she travels to Verona, Italy with her fiancé, where she visits the purported house of Juliet Capulet and becomes engrossed in the love lives of women who have written, well, letters to Juliet. It’s an interesting if not altogether familiar premise, and Seyfried is honestly hard not to like, but critics felt that Letters just didn’t quite have what it needed to be transcendant. Instead, despite the film’s refreshingly earnest romantic charm, it unfortunately suffers from limp dialogue and an utter lack of surprises. Romantic comedies are typically critic-proof, though, so if you’re really interested in seeing Letters to Juliet, nothing you read here is going to change your mind. And that’s okay. Rent it or buy it this week, take it home, cuddle up with your significant other (or pint of Chunky Monkey), and settle in for a moderately charming garden variety rom-com.
Back in the early ’90s, a Chicago rapper who called himself Common Sense was writing songs that dealt with the emerging popularity of hip-hop in extended metaphors, and a New Jersey-based female rapper named Queen Latifah was managing both a budding music career and a role on a popular sitcom (Living Single). Who knew that almost two decades later, both of these youngsters would ultimately find a second life in film? Just Wright pairs the two veterans of hip-hop’s “golden era” in a romantic comedy about a physical therapist (Queen Latifah) who’s charged with assisting in the recovery of an injured star basketball player (Common) and ends up falling in love with him. On the negative side, critics say that the film succumbs to all the clichés we’ve come to know by heart and expect from romantic comedies, and Just Wright‘s Tomatometer reflects this at a middling 48%. On the positive side, 48% is actually not that bad in the grand scheme of the rom-com genre, and critics also largely felt that both Latifah and Common were likable leads to watch. In other words, if it’s something sweet and feelgood you want, you could do much worse than Just Wright.
When Werner Herzog wants to make a film, he just makes it. His filmography ranges from riveting documentaries like Grizzly Man and Little Dieter Needs to Fly to horror (the Nosferatu remake) to surreal crime drama (last year’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans). This year, he returned to theaters with another movie based on true events, My Son, My son, What Have Ye Done, the chronicle of a troubled young man who eventually murders his own mother with an antique sword. With David Lynch (Mulholland Drive) as executive producer and Michael Shannon, Chloe Sevigny, and Willem Dafoe rounding out the cast, this is yet another example of a movie failing to live up to the talents of its pedigree. Critics felt that the strange turns typical of both Herzog’s and Lynch’s previous work were a bit too much here, with little else to elevate the film beyond them or to compare with anything in either’s filmography. However, fans might still be able to appreciate the film, so don’t dismiss it outright if you’re a Lynch or Herzog apologist.
Based on his own experiences working as an orderly in a California mental institution, American author Ken Kesey penned his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1962. It was the author’s most famous novel, and one that resonated with the beatnik and hippie generations for its themes of rebellion and its exploration of how the human mind is influenced by society’s institutions. In 1975, Milos Forman directed a film adaptation of the book, starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, and featuring work from such notable character actors as Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, and Brad Dourif in his first credited screen role. The film earned widespread acclaim, going on to win all of the “big five” Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay). This week, we’re treated to a brand new Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray, which features many of the same extras we saw in the previous edition (commentary track, deleted scenes) but also includes new material, such as a full 87-minute documentary on the making of the film, as well as a half-hour doc examining how mental hospitals have changed since the release of the film. But wait, that’s not all! You’ll also get postcards featuring prints of alternate movie posters, a full deck of playing cards featuring the faces of the cast, a handful of glossy photos of the film’s main characters, and a book, as well as a nifty case for everything. A pretty nice collector’s item for hardcore fans of the movie.
Black Cauldron came out the summer I moved to California from Biloxi, Mississippi, which was also the same summer the terms “Flux Capacitator” and “121 Gigawatts” had any bearing at all. (I could make a Huey Lewis joke, but I won’t.) It was hot and Disney was in likely the darkest spot in its cultural nadir — ironic this story couldn’t lift it from the hole as its based on Welsh Myth and what says “cultural resurrection” like under-recognized fantasy stories? So, we had lots of fake-Epcot-foreignness and Gurgi, Black Cauldron‘s “adorable” sidekick character; Gurgi’s only contribution to the world was teaching 8 year old me a vocab term. (Direct quote: “Gurgi pungent.”) It’s bizarre that the same cycle of years that saw the Dungeons and Dragons deaths and the 20/20 special on cults would feature such dark imagery. The film was reportedly the first of Disney’s to use Computer Generated Imagery but it was also early in the race to wedge a strong princess character into the mix — it’s hard to say it survived either attempt well. Still, the film’s somehow powerful and the fanbase is strong so find a Blu-Ray with some bonuses included stills, a trivia game, a riddle game, deleted scenes and a Donald Duck Cartoon from 1952 called Trick or Treat.
This isn’t the first time Carol Reed’s film noir classic The Third Man has been given the Blu-Ray treatment, but the Criterion Collection edition is now out of print, and the film is such a masterpiece that we felt this new edition deserved a mention. And, for what it’s worth, it’s not too far off from the Criterion edition anyway. You’ll still get the awesome atmospheric intrigue, the stark environments and bold camera angles, and Orson Welles’ wonderful speech on the Ferris wheel. What’s more, you’ll still get a lot of the same bonus features that were available on the Criterion, such as the 90-minute making-of documentary (“Shadowing The Third Man“), “The Third Man on the Radio” with Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten’s alternate voiceover for the opening narration, and the interactive tour of Vienna. There’s even a brand new commentary track and two audio interviews with Joseph Cotten and Graham Greene that weren’t in the Criterion version. So there’s still a lot to love about this release, and whether you’re a fan of Carol Reed, Orson Welles, or classic film noir in general, if you missed the opportunity to snatch up one of the Criterions, this is the next best thing.
In this current cinematic era of remakes and reboots, it’s rare to see such a film succeed in matching the success of its original version. Back in 1978, however, Philip Kaufman found a way to make it work when he remade the classic 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Starring Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams, the ’78 Invasion was, for all intents and purposes, quite similar to the original, which portrayed the struggle of a local doctor and his former sweetheart as they attempt to avoid assimilation into an alien plot to replace all humans with emotionless, pod-grown physical duplicates. In the remake, Sutherland plays the doctor, while Adams plays his companion. While the focus of the original was McCarthyism, the remake focuses on a similar public paranoia that pervaded the 1970s. The brand new Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack includes the 1978 film in both formats (naturally) and includes all the special features previously found on the standard definition Collector’s Edition (commentary, four featurettes, theatrical trailer). Also, this release is somewhat timely, in an unintentional way, as the star of the original 1956 version, Kevin McCarthy, passed away just this past weekend on September 11.
David Fincher’s definitive psychological thriller/police procedural Seven (or Se7en, depending on how you feel) has already gotten a Blu-Ray release, but this previous version only offered a 1080i resolution, lesser audio, no subtitles, and no extras; in other words, it was barebones. This week, New Line releases a brand new Blu-Ray that has everything the original Blu-Ray didn’t. Now you can watch in full 1080p high definition as detectives Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt) track down a ruthless serial killer (a surprise cameo we won’t ruin for anyone who hasn’t seen the film) who takes his cues from the Seven Deadly Sins in the Bible. And this time around, you’ll get all of the bonus features that were included on the standard definition Platinum Series release that came out in 2000, including four audio commentary tracks, deleted and extended scenes (which includes both alternate openings AND endings), as well as a booklet with interviews and photos from the set. Fincher is set to debut his latest film, The Social Network, so this makes a nice little lead-in for fans of the director.
Often, films that play up film references and homages are leaden and stick their tongues so firmly in cheeks the humor takes on the appearance of deformity instead of jest. Breathless is early enough in the ranks that the references look like love notes and the in-jokes float like bubbles. This is mostly because the stars, Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo, are in love in only the loosest of ways, and the crime sprees they take vague part in are haphazard. It’s like they’re playing house and doctor and cops&robbers, but they’re in their twenties. What’s even funnier is the austerity with which people refer to the film. Even the synopsis on the Criterion site describes it like it’s the Birth of Christ, which isn’t wholly unwarranted. This story of two young lovers as enamored of excitement as they are of Humphrey Bogart has a lot to offer and had inspired countless films — countless is not an exaggeration here. The weight is in the legacy; the film feels feather-light. Extras are monstrous on this Criterion Blu-Ray: A restored transfer approved by DP Raoul Coutard; interviews with director Jean-Luc Godard and stars Belmondo, Seberg, and Jean-Pierre Melville; new video interviews with Coutard, assistant director Pierre Rissient, and documentarian D. A. Pennebaker; two video essays; an eighty-minute, French, making of doc, with members of the cast and crew; Charlotte et son Jules, a 1959 short film by Godard featuring Belmondo; and a booklet with an essay by scholar Dudley Andrew, writings by Godard, François Truffaut’s original treatment, and Godard’s scenario.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Sara Vizcarrondo