A Tuesday without a hi-def release (in either format) is a like a Monday all over again… the anticipation is there, but the releases aren’t. Nevertheless, the next few weeks promise some hot releases, some home theater essentials and some third-rate offerings that offer marginal entertainment value no matter how the studio chooses to release it. Let’s review:
March 6th offers a Blu-plate special of Daniel “Women Love Him, Men Wanna Be Him” Craig with the release of Casino Royale (Sony) and Layer Cake (Sony). Both Blu-ray releases are highly charged action films and both offer a different version of Craig’s action persona… but in both, he’s the anti-hero, a rough cocaine dealer in one; a hard-edged secret agent in the other. His Bond is a much-needed update that retains everything we dig about 007, while ditching the self-knowing jokes and stale sexual attitudes. March 6th also bring us a little classic in Hoosiers (MGM). The Blu-ray release offers a classic, latter-day Dennis Hopper role that garnered him a Best Supporting Actor nomination as a complicated town-drunk. The movie is considered a classic by the Library of Congress and has been preserved as part of the National Film Registry… a pretty good indication that it ought to be part of your hi-def library, too. Mr. & Mrs. Smith (Fox) has not been considered for the Registry, nor the Library of Congress and quite frankly, found it an entertaining little time-waster, and not much more. Once you get over the real-life/real-set intrigue behind Pitt and Jolie’s on-screen romance, the film offers nothing but an evening of having your intelligence insulted at every turn. Too-hip-for-the-room movies have a knack for turning me off and being turned off… but you might dig the do-or-die rom-com-action flick for the very reasons I don’t. It hits the street on March 6th as well.
You’ll find not a single HD DVD release scheduled for this week… yet another indication that Blu-ray might be the stronger format, but here’s an even more glaring absence of the HD DVD format: In a strong street date Tuesday we have a full slate of Blu-ray releases for March 20th but not one HD DVD release… that’s three weeks without a major HD DVD release! March 20th gives us a possible showcase release in
“Big Fish” (Sony), Tim Burton’s minor-masterpiece of storytelling and tall tales as big as… well, a really big fish! With note-perfect performances from Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor and Jessica Lang (and a weird, wondrous and creepy turn from Helena Bonham Carter in a multiple role), this is a trippy little tour-de-force.
From a story standpoint, Disney’s Chicken Little (Buena Vista) is hardly Pixar quality, though the CGI animation comes awfully close. The weak story line, in addition to too-hip-for-the-room pop culture references that won’t age well, make this a likely library addition for the wee ones only. Also offered up for a March 20th release are Eragon (Fox) a post-LOTR attempt at fantasy that, in light of Peter Jackson’s way of doing things, left many fans of the book (written by teenaged Christopher Paolini) wishing the New Zealander had taken on the director’s chair. Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet give top-notch performances in Finding Neverland (Buena Vista), a very well made fantasy on how the story of Peter Pan came about. Winslet also stars with Jack Black and Cameron Diaz in The Holiday (Sony) a rom-com with a Christmas touch from director Nancy Meyers… last but certainly not least is writer/director/actor Sylvester Stallone’s return to form (okay, somewhat flabby form) as the pugnacious dope from Philly, Rocky Balboa (Sony). With a 76% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it was the surprise of 2006. With the end of March (March 27th to be exact) we have a few more Blu-ray releases… Incubus: Alive at Red Rocks (Sony Music) should really come alive on the hi-def format. The Pursuit of Happyness (Sony) with Oscar®-nominated Will Smith isn’t quite the sugar-coated piece of sentimentality you’d think it is, though it comes plenty close, and that rounds out the March releases on Blu-ray DVD.
…Meanwhile, in the dark realm of HD DVD, only a spate of March releases, unceremoniously dumped on the same date, conspire to keep a competitive format down.
However, March 27th does bring us one single bright shining spot on the HD DVD horizon, and that’s Children of Men (Universal), Alfonso Cuaron’s gritty, speculative view of a future where humanity’s survival depends on a single birth. Other than that there’s a tech disc for home video purists: Joe Kane’s Digital Video Essentials (DVD International) is a hi-def, A/V calibration system for your home theater.
I saved these releases last for the HD DVD section so Children of Men doesn’t feel so alone… but all three of these discs will be released concurrently on both HD DVD and Blu-ray on March 27th: Happy Feet (Warner), George “Mad Max” Miller’s ode to environmentalism and tap-dancing penguins; March of the Penguins (Warner), Luc Jacquet’s ode to penguin love and marchin’… boy it certainly is a March of the Penguins (who times these releases??)… Last but not least, sans penguins, is National Geographic: Relentless Enemies (Warner) a look at the predator/prey relationship that’s developed in the Okavango River Delta between lions and buffalo… guess who wins.