Every week (as part of our new Blu-ray HQ on Rotten Tomatoes) we’re going to share what we’re watching on Blu-ray, whether they’re classics or personal favorites, for a particular studio. This week, we’re looking at Paramount Pictures, and this is what we’re watching!
To call Zodiac David Fincher’s masterpiece might rankle with Fight Club fanboys, but there’s a case for it; certainly we’d never seen the director working with such incredible restraint, slowly teasing out suspense and twisting the story’s tension with the poise of Hitchcock while cultivating his signature atmosphere of dread. At nearly three hours, Fincher’s director’s cut feels neither indulgent nor superfluous; if anything, it allows his hunt for San Francisco’s most notorious serial killer to sink deeper into our psyches, building toward an unresolved mystery that may be his bleakest kiss off yet. Shot on hi-def, Zodiac looks nothing short of amazing on Blu-ray, evoking an uneasy nostalgia for ’70s crime thrillers infused with the suffocating helplessness of a bad dream. Performances, too, are first rate – especially Downey Jr. as a boozy journalist and John Carroll Lynch as a most likely suspect. The Blu-ray is worth the investment as, unlike the first-gen DVD, this boasts two commentary tracks (a killer tech one from Fincher and a lively cast track), plus a second disc with an exhaustive documentary on the film.
It’s a fine line between stupid and stoopid, and fortunately, Blades of Glory is on the right side of this perilous divide. This goofy figure skating comedy features another gonzo turn from Will Farrell (as the bad boy of the skating circuit) as well as Jon Heder’s finest post-Napoleon Dynamite performance. Blades of Glory has it all: it’s an underdog story, it’s a tender romance (thanks, Jenna Fischer!), and it’s got the greatest decapitation scene outside the slasher genre. The Blu-ray features deleted scenes, a gag real, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a skin-tight bodysuit (just kidding on the last one).
“You know it’s hard out here for a pimp/When he tryin’ to get his money for the rent/” so goes the Oscar-winning theme song and anthem to 2005’s Hustle & Flow, famously performed by Three-Six Mafia at the Oscars. Co-produced by John Singleton (writer/director of Boyz N the Hood), Hustle & Flow stars Terrence Howard, Ludacris, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, DJ Qualls, and Taraji P. Henson in a story about a stalled Memphis-based pimp (DJay, played by Terrence Howard) looking for direction and passion in his life, like all of us fellow pimps! DJay runs into a friend from his past, reigniting his musical ambitions and the two put together a makeshift crew to bootstrap DJay’s demo as he tries to navigate his way through the winding roads of the music industry, while still staying “in charge.” Hustle & Flow may not have been a blockbuster success, but critics warmed to its gritty take on a rags to riches story, securing a Certified Fresh Tomatometer of 82%. The Blu-ray features an in-depth commentary from director Craig Brewer, behind the scenes videos (including rehearsal footage of Ludacris and Terrence Howard), and extended scenes. Rounding out a feature heavy disc, the disc also contains two special features around how the film’s music was created and the challenges the filmmakers encountered trying to get the film on the big screen.
Black Snake Moan has an absurdly lurid premise: a promiscuous woman is chained to a radiator by a troubled bluesman intent on saving her soul. So it comes a quite a shock to discover that the film, directed by Craig Brewer of Hustle & Flow fame, is actually… kinda sweet. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Lazarus, an aging blues singer who sounds a little like John Lee Hooker, and Christina Ricci plays Rae, the town tart who gets in over her head. The Dirty South doesn’t get much dirtier than this, but beyond its exploitation film-trappings, Black Snake Moan is oddly redemptive, and the music is killer. The Blu-ray features commentary from Brewer, a making-of doc, and two featurettes about blues music and how it relates to the movie.
Writer-director Ben Stiller conceived the idea for this movie about egotistical actors while working on Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun – a film starring the future king of on-set tirades, Christian Bale. Coincidence? Probably, but it’s just another bit of anecdotal comedy that fuels the meta-madness of Tropic Thunder, Stiller’s gung-ho satire of war movies, Hollywood and the fabulous delusions of stardom. He stars as action man Tugg Speedman, a franchise tool looking to revive his career by headlining a gritty war epic alongside super serious Oscar darling Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) and fart-movie comic behemoth Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black). The film they’re making takes an unexpected turn when the battle in the jungle becomes real, forcing these pampered A-listers to wage war. While the action and war jokes are spot on, it’s the skewering of acting, agents, and producers that takes this into the surreal, with an unforgettable Downey Jr. parodying the Ultimate Method Man by donning blackface to get into character, and Tom Cruise gamely spoofing nefarious producers with his bald and blustery turn. The film is shot with the lavishness of an epic and it shows in Blu-ray, while the extras here are plentiful. Among the multiple featurettes and behind-the-scenes stuff, the best inclusions are the cast commentary track – with Downey Jr. keeping his promise to not break character – and mock-doc Rain of Madness, narrated by co-writer Justin Theroux in a gravelly Werner Herzog style.
One of the top teen movies of the decade, Mean Girls may have surprised some when it achieved a Certified Fresh rating of 84% back in 2004. Starring Lindsay Lohan, Tina Fey, Rachel McAdams, and fellow SNL alums Tim Meadows and Tina Fey’s Baby Mama Amy Poehler, Mean Girls boasts one of the strongest teen comedy casts in recent memory. The film centers around the challenges of high school hierarchies, as new girl Cady (Lindsay Lohan) struggles to figure out the social caste system that makes up her suburban high school, a far cry from her previous simple life in Africa. While trying to take down the school’s resident “Mean Girl” Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Cady begins to embrace the opportunity to become the school’s latest Queen Bee. With her identity lost in a power hungry moment of weakness, the question remains if the gossip-heavy province of girl world will continue to operate within its cliquey confines or if the social hierarchies can be broken. The Blu-ray version of Mean Girls features a commentary track with Director Mark Waters, Tina Fey, and producer Lorne Michaels, character features, a guide the movie’s fashion choices, deleted scenes, and outtakes. No doubt one of the most quotable movies by girls in their 20s today, Mean Girls on Blu-ray brings the all too difficult to decode world of Girl World into high definition.
Though some might argue that his return to the mainstream began with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Good Night and Good Luck, or even Zodiac, Iron Man is the movie that shot Robert Downey Jr. ferociously back into the public consciousness. With his combination of slick confidence (arrogance, maybe?), dashing charm, and biting sarcasm, RDJ fully inhabits the character of Tony Stark, billionaire defense mogul and boy genius-turned-superhero whose alter ego, Iron Man, will stop at nothing to curb the rampant spread of terrorism. If you’re one of the 12 people who didn’t see Iron Man, I have this to say: you won’t find any plot summaries here; you really should just watch the movie. Even better, watch it on Blu-Ray and marvel (no pun intended) at the crispness of the already impressive special effects. Iron Man is an all-around crowd pleaser, featuring likable and well-acted characters, a fun yet not entirely superficial storyline, dazzling visuals, and explosive action, and it delivers a pretty satisfying experience at home in high definition.
A bunch of slightly dimwitted American tourists (are there any other kind?) catch wind of some exotic ruins in central America. They make their way over, finding hostile natives and carnivorous plants that make short work of any tourists who make the unfortunate misstep into their respective paths. Not necessarily a cult movie in the making, but The Ruins is a tad underrated. Beautiful cinematography, jolting violence, and unflinching, literally bone breaking gore add up for a thrilling trip. Outside of the plant-brand of horror presented in the film, the Blu-ray features a solid number of extras. Featuring a lengthy in-depth commentary track with director Carter Smith and editor Jeff Betancourt on various aspects of the film, three deleted scenes, and two endings (well, one additional one), and the theatrical trailer, The Ruins on Blu-ray has plenty of extras to keep the plant brand of horror going long after the movie is finished.
Try wrapping your head around this one: a summer movie starring one of the biggest stars in the world is delivered to cinemas, only to reveal itself as a tense, quiet movie big on dialogue, murky narrative, and nasty plot twists (killing the hero of the original series only to have him come back…and be revealed as a bad guy!). Mission Impossible easily remains one of the most slippery blockbusters ever. Director Brian De Palma continues with his tradition of not recording audio commentaries for the home video version of his films, but the Blu-ray includes an hour’s worth of “Making Of” footage to keep fans entertained, including interviews with Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Jon Voight, and other members of the cast and crew. The Blu-ray also features the film’s theatrical teaser and trailer in full 1080P, along with a photo gallery with production and publicity stills.
Fresh from his swashbuckling, co-starring role as Mutt in the latest Indiana Jones movie, Shia LaBeouf further tested his mettle as a leading man in the sci-fi action thriller Eagle Eye. The film utilizes technology to create a paranoid world for its main characters, Jerry Shaw (LaBeouf) and Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), who are led on a wild goose chase by an unknown female voice on the other end of a telephone. The various plot elements themselves are quite preposterous, even for those willing and able to suspend their disbelief, and the movie seems to pull from several prior sources of science fiction, from The Matrix to 2001: A Space Odyssey, in what feels more like theft than homage. But if you’re willing to leave your brains at the door, you might just be susceptible to the breakneck pace of the story and the familiar theme of an everyman (LaBeouf, in the sort of role he’s come to inhabit so well) being swept up into an unfamiliar world of intrigue.