The first rule of Hollywood should be “don’t bet against James Cameron.” The second rule should simply support the first rule as a redundancy and reminder that Cameron achieves his successes where others fear to tread.
Tuesday the 27th brings us plenty of new Blu-ray releases that might be worth a rental, but hardly any that demand a purchase. Some of these BD’s were already released some time ago on the HD DVD format before it was thrown under the proverbial bus and many are short-changed by lack of features. Let’s face it, 1080p transfers that look decent if not spectacular are becoming the norm… it’s the features that should make these releases distinctive and worth adding to a Blu-ray library. Let’s take a look:
A good week for Blu-ray releases, though Tuesday’s street date’s offerings are clearly overshadowed by Earth Day’s huge Blu-ray event: the release of Avatar (which HD Report will be reviewing in full before the month is out).
This week’s highlights include:
They’ve done it before, the folks at Pixar… turning a rat loose in a French restaurant to prove that anyone with gumption (and a little talent) can cook and impress a cranky food critic; allowing us to follow the near-silent escapades of two robots amidst their blossoming romance and the dawning of hope in a once decrepit and apocalyptic setting. Now, perhaps more difficult, they’ve outdone themselves by giving a broken-hearted old curmudgeon one last shot to find the spirit of adventure for both himself and a can-do, but lonely, boy scout.
The Dark Knight – Blu-Ray Review
What more can be said about Christopher Nolan’s superb sequel to his reboot of the Batman franchise: Batman Begins? The mere fact that it was already much improved over the first film, a fine comic book movie in its own right, was enough to make fans and fanboys alike eager to see it, but when word leaked of a powerhouse performance, as opposed to some new, cool special effect, from Heath Ledger as the Joker (a role previously assayed by Jack Nicholson in classic form), fan and general audience anticipation rose to a fevered pitch…
As incredibly invigorating as it was upon its initial release in 1984, the Talking Heads’ concert film Stop Making Sense is still unlike any concert film made and yet it continues to influence the genre, becoming the singular totem of 80s-era music on film. Though there are plenty of other concert films that may rank higher in historical importance (Woodstock, Gimmie Shelter, The Last Waltz, to name but a few) as cultural touchstones for a generation, the Talking Heads concert, impeccably filmed in an unobtrusive manner by Jonathan Demme (though fully conceived by the Talking Heads) ranks far above them all in terms of cinematic importance as a pure document of rock n’ roll energy that transcends itself to become performance art.
A true favorite of mine arrived on Blu-ray over the summer, and I recently took some time away from my own fly fishing excursions to sit down with Robert Redford’s meditative masterpiece, A River Runs Through It.
Neil Gaiman is often viewed as a downright genius with a knack for good, dark fantasy stories with intriguing characters … That, many of us already know. His fantastic comic book works and adult fiction rank him with the best of today’s pop-literary artists, and yet some of his best writing of all is that which is intended for children (though with a certain adult sensibility). Put him together with the right type of visual artists and you get collaborative efforts that seem absolutely inspired, utilizing the best of Gaiman’s satiric wit and surreal sensibilities. With Henry Selick’s take on Gaiman’s Coraline, the dark magic of Gaiman’s creation is given a less realistic look with a whimsical spin… but Gaiman’s own, unique vision is still evident throughout. The Blu-ray and DVD releases are astounding, but only the Blu-ray edition (in both 2-D/3-D) truly captures the visual marvel of Selick’s colorful set design and his unique stop-motion puppets.
The Sony PlayStation Store is not only a place for games (as described in Part II of my PS3 Slim review) but also for movies and television shows. Unlike Neflix’s all-you-can-watch-out-of-our-existing-streaming-library plan, which mostly offers a standard-def video experience on par with VHS playback or computer-quality streaming (lots of big fat pixels here n’ there, colors that bleed and an image that’s generally muddy), PlayStation Store patrons have a wider choice of true standard-def DVD quality or HD-quality films.
Part II… Account Setup and the PlayStation Network Experience: Games.
Took about a week, but after much playing around with the new PS3 Slim, I can say it more lives up to the hype of Sony’s marketing and has much potential to truly be an “everything” device as advertised. The PS3 also acts as a bridge between the 1080p high-density/high-definition Blu-ray format and Video-On-Demand, an intangible format that downloads a variety of media for your viewing and listening pleasure (and while not all titles are yet in 1080P HD, it won’t be long before they will be).
We recently decided to update our reference Blu-ray player to the new PlayStation 3 Slim (120 GB) model that came out over the late summer months. Ours arrived from Amazon.com and the box was almost tripped over in the hectic office we call home.
Pity Frank Miller’s second feature directorial effort: “The Spirit” pretty much sank and stank in terms of box office returns and critical/public reception, but the film isn’t nearly as bad as you might have heard… it’s not “Catwoman” bad. Though it looks as slick as “Sin City” (which Miller co-directed) and “300,” it never attempts to rise beyond the level of been-there-done-that mediocrity. Miller has essentially done a goof on the silly, scattershot style showcased in the celebrated Will Eisner comic, and yet the film isn’t nearly as fun as it could have been, barely sustaining its momentum due to wooden acting from the lead talent involved and uninteresting plot.
Black Snake Moan
Featuring: Samuel L. Jackson, Christina “Exploit Me” Ricci, Justin Timberlake and Kim Richards
This lurid title, redolent of the old miscegenation fallacies of the old American South is actually a morality tale whose title is taken from a blues song written in 1927 by Blind Lemon Jefferson. Other than that, this tale of a sex-addicted young woman named Rae (Ricci, in an shockingly immersive performance) and the religious ol’ bluesman who helps her find herself and overcome her mean demons, is a familiar yet off-beat redemption story told with originality and dramatic heft by the seasoned performers. Director Craig Brewer, of Hustle & Flow fame, continues to fuse his Southern Gothic influenced storytelling sensibilities with gritty, contemporary plotting to come up with engrossing stories that often had me rooting for folks that normally I wouldn’t give an iota of care about.
Imagine being a visitor from another planet (go ahead, imagine it!)… your approach to Planet Earth would be breathtaking in its scope as the small fuzzy blue dot becomes a blue-green and white sphere where obvious weather activity is taking place, but on closer inspection… wait! there seems to be spectacular changes taking place right before your eyes.
Pure entertainment of the first order! The Untouchables (Special Collector’s Edition), Brian DePlama and David Mamet’s film version of the old early 60’s TV show (and based on the real-life exploits of Bureau of Prohibition Agent Eliot Ness), is a completely re-watchable movie from start to finish. Well written by Mamet, it features lots of quotable dialog and memorable sequences staged so brilliantly by Brian DePlama as to overshadow much of his earlier, Hitchcock-style, suspense films. Two of the most well-known sequences, the meeting where Al Capone plays baseball with the noggin of one of his mob “employees,” and DePalma’s tension-filled Union Station homage to Sergei Eisenstein’s “Odessa Steps” sequence from the 1925 epic Battleship Potemkin are amazing in the way they play with audience expectations and the utter audacity with which they’re staged.
The Patriot: The Extended Cut (Sony)
Features: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Chris Cooper, Tom Wilkinson and Jason Isaacs
Based, extremely loosely, on the exploits of the Revolutionary War veteran Francis Marion (aka “The Swamp Fox”), this tale of a father’s love for his sons and his country plays with history the way a child plays with Legos… building whatever comes to mind regardless of what the factual directions say must be built. As historical action movies go, this Roland Emmerich film (his follow-up to the fairly awful Godzilla) is a fairly slick affair on par with the best of Edward Zwick’s historical film output. Centering on the father/son relationship between Benjamin Martin (Gibson), a musket-to-plowshares veteran of the French and Indian Wars, and his headstrong coming-of-age son, Gabriel (Ledger), The Patriot takes very little time in establishing the characters in the period of the American Revolution before plunging Martin’s large family into despair as the violence of war comes to their town in South Carolina. While his father knows of the brutality and misery of war, Gabriel feels it’s his duty to join the Continental Army and fight for freedom against the British… of course, things go awry as the prodigal son returns home bringing trouble with him.
Bridge to Terebithia (Buena Vista)
Featuring: Josh Hutcherson, Robert Patrick, AnnaSophia Robb, and Zooey Deschanel
Fantasy and reality collide in this second, bigger-budgeted film adaptation of the classic Katherine Paterson children’s novel. The story, updated to the 21st century’s pop-culture aesthetic hardly takes any real liberties with the book and instead stays faithful to it— not only in essence, but throughout scene after detailed scene. The child performers (Hutcherson and Robb) are wonderful, and miraculously the film doesn’t pretend all adults are insipid villains ready to make children’s lives miserable, rather each character comes across as genuine, especially when tragedy occurs and must be faced and dealt with. In his first live-action film, Gabor Csupo (of Klasky-Csupo animation studios), acquits himself well… making the film a fantasy with a firm footing in everyday reality, making the characters rounded and sympathetic, while creating a believable child’s world view of conflict resolution and grief. It’s a wonderful family film that doesn’t rely as heavily on CGI elements to tell its tale.
Blood Diamond (Warner)
Featuring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, Arnold Vosloo and Michael Sheen
The movie that the De Beers company loves to hate, Blood Diamond actually received less mainstream press than I thought it would upon its premier last year. I figure most of the outrage against “blood” or conflict diamonds has already been generated from years of media reports covering the West African conflicts and South African profiteering that occurred during the 1990’s and eventually ended up in a process for ferreting out illegal diamonds mined out of war zones in order to illegally finance insurgent forces and their respective warlords. This process, called the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (with “Scheme” sounding kinda sketchy, don’tcha think?) is supposed to create transparencies in the diamond trade and make those declaring their effusive love each other feel good about putting a high-grade, 4-C rock on the ol’ ring-finger. And that, with the development of character archtypes we care about, is basically the plot for this earnest film that offers plenty of bloody action for the gung-ho and grim reminders for the socially conscious.
Features: Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin “to the ‘nth degree!” Bacon, and William Baldwin
I’ve never been a huge fan of director Joel Schumacher’s films, but I’m not one of those who slams the fella for either his overly slick visual style, which is so easily marketed by the studios, nor his homosexuality (casually linked and often attacked by those that don’t like his films… see comments via the web for that cinematic debacle known as Batman & Robin bunch, a director of note. Those so-called “… nipples on the Batsuit notwithstanding, the Batman/Boy Wonder partnership was always kinda gay to begin with).