Blu-ray Picks of the Week for July 13th

This week there’s not a heck of a lot to recommend as must-own Blu-ray discs, though for dramedy you may wanna check out Ben Stiller in Greenberg as well as the newest Atom Egoyan film for rental. Let’s take a quick gander at what we’ve got for Blu-ray releases:

There’s a poignant heart that beats all the way through In Bruges (Universal, 2008), once you get past the bloodshed and situational humor, and that makes for a very well-rounded film that only resorts to cliché in its final chase, but redeems itself in its final moments.  An underrated film that really oughta get some attention on Blu-ray, it concerns rookie hit-may, Ray (Colin Farrell), who’s botched a routine assignment in London overseen by the more veteran assassin, Ken (the always wonderful Brendan Gleeson).  According to their boss, the surly n’ strict, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), a punishment has to fit the crime, especially since it involves a major policy violation to the hit man employee handbook (to wit: Killing a child will not be tolerated.  Failure to comply with this policy will result in disciplinary action up to and including execution). So, while things get sorted out, Harry tells the boys to hid out in the old city of Bruges, Belgium, or in his words: “Get the fuck out of London, you dumb fucks. Get to Bruges.”

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Yeah, there’s a lot of typically Brit salty language in this one, the first feature directed by Irish playwright, Martin McDonagh, as well as Taratinoesque short, sharp, shocks of violence, but it’s all done in a light, black comedic style that allows the film to breathe a bit.  This is especially true during character driven sequences where the running dialogue is the focus… it has plenty of zing and is endlessly quotable with discussions about dwarfism, inanimate objects, ways of making a living and the shifting morality of the hitman’s lot showcasing McDonagh’s gift for vulgar observational language.  The film also features a nicely done romantic sub-plot tightly tied to the main narrative of hit men on the run.  This allows Colin Farrell to expand what would otherwise be a rather familiar role, and he turns in a Golden Globe-winning performance that balances humor and pathos (though not too much pathos, this is a comedy after all).

Remarkably, it’s a re-watchable film for both the performances and the writing… the only real flaw being a rather clunky chase through Bruges’ cobblestone alleyways and fairytale streets.  McDonagh even manages to sneak in some cinematic in-jokes honoring Nicholas Roeg, and there are many times when McDonagh’s Bruges resembles the spooky, moody Venice featured in Roeg’s elegiac Don’t Look Now.

Definitely worth renting to see at least once, I consider this one a worthy addition to your home video library, but the Blu-ray release by Universal, the first time on HD in North America (previously available on a BD Nordic import), is rather lackluster in terms of extras.  Where the DVD version offered a few, fun extras including a making-of featurette, a montage of the film’s best restricted language moments, and other tidbits, the Blu-ray only features a short gag reel, some deleted/extended scenes, one longer feature (A Boat Trip Around Bruges) and a smattering of BD-Live features not really worth mentioning (unless you still think bookmarking is groovy).  Got D-Box enabled furniture?  Oh, you don’t?  Well, then that feature won’t matter much in your purchasing decision.  While not many reviewers have seen the Blu-ray to test video and audio quality, those that have like what they see and hear thus far though a few deem the disc an unspectacular transfer for the HD format.

The VC-1 encoded, 1080p/2.35:1 widescreen image is sharp enough without much digital cleanup to make the image look soft, but it lacks depth and color saturation according to some and seems muted in presentation.  The audio, a typical DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that captures most of the nuances you would expect from a studio catalog title… it’s nothing special, nothing worth demonstrating for friends, but it acquits itself with clear dialogue and moderate use of surround channels for ambient sounds and forceful moments… Carter Burwell’s chilly score, veering between the ominous and melancholic, perfectly balancing the character’s chatty playfulness amidst the carnage,  also gets a pretty fair play via the mix.  You takes your chances with this one… Universal apparently isn’t giving it the kind of release it deserves, but that’s probably because it’s not cult enough for a big release with loads of features, nor was it a big hit while in theaters or on video.  Eventually, this one will find the audience it deserves.

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While I’m generally no fan of remakes, and often think they’re unnecessary, there’s a lot to be said for Christopher Nolan’s U.S. version of Insomnia (Warner Brothers, 2002).  First off, it’s a strong showing by the nascent talent that is Nolan himself… showcasing the type of stylistic tendencies already found in his first feature, the little seen Following (1998), and further explored in the cult, indie-hit, Memento (2000).

[HTML1]Though Insomnia hardly stretches narrative flexibility as breathtakingly as his first two films did (and next week’s theatrical release of Inception almost surely will), and it doesn’t come close to the operatic thrills and dual-nature conundrums of Batman Begins (2005) or 2008’s The Dark Knight (or even 2006’s The Prestige) it does show that the director is on an arc to expand his techniques including his visual composition and mastery of lighting.  Just check out the fog-bound cat-and-mouse chase sequence with its disorienting camera work amidst a veil of shadows and muted light… superbly done.

Nolan’s success with Memento got him a choice gig to direct a mid-budget, studio-backed, no-risk filck and he turned out a helluva nerve-wracking chiller that’s as good as, and in some cases better than, the original Norwegian film directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg.  Of course we know that Nolan does great work with effects, sure, but in this film the effects are his actors, and he enables performances are all rock solid, with Al Pacino turning in one of his best latter-day roles as a man wracked with guilt, evidenced by his inability to sleep.  While this certainly isn’t helped by being in the land of the midnight sun– Nightmute, Alaska– Pacino sells the feeling of irritability and discombobulation brought on by lack of sleep.  With his haggard, drowsy look (has anyone noticed that the older he gets the more he looks like a cross between Droopy the dog and a 70s Norfin troll with crazy hair?), Pacino nails the role and adds a world-weary, don’t-give-a-shit edge to his character that makes his circumstances, being investigated by Internal Affairs for planting bogus evidence to make a case, seem all the more believable.

Also outstanding is Robin Williams.  Yeah, that guy… and take note that this isn’t the Robin Williams of treacle and saccharine, nor the man who often takes a paycheck job at the Mouse House.  No, this is the guy who actually acts his ass off when the role and director demand it, and he rises above the noteworthy tripe he’s often known for in a role that mines areas Williams would fully explore as creepy Sy Parrish in One Hour Photo.  Williams downplays his usual ADD/hyperkinetic style and is intelligent and diabolical as crime-writer (and newly minted killer), Walter Finch.  Hilary Swank does an admirable turn as Ellie Burr, someone generally in awe of Pacino’s Det. Will Dormer, but who also has enough sense to know when she’s being played, but Insomnia is more a battle of wills between Dormer and Finch than Dormer and Burr… Swank’s performance in Insomnia is crucial, and she makes sure that her Ellie is never outclassed by Pacino or Williams, who are both good enough here to steal the show from lesser actors.

Though without input from writer/brother/collaborator Jonathan Nolan (but with the continued support of wife/producer/collaborator, Emma Thomas) you get the feeling that Christopher Nolan is fully embracing his talents here as he takes on Hilary Seitz’s script and makes a superbly tense and involving character drama that is also a gripping crime story… well, make that crime stories.  Nolan often gets compared to Kubrick, but in Insomnia you get a sense of his affinity for the type of disorienting mind-games frequently found in Polanski’s oeuvre (though it may not be currently in vogue to mention his cinematic accomplishments).

The sunny nights shine bright on guilty men and on Blu-ray expect it to look incredible… as many reviewers are already pointing out, this is a great addition to any HD library.  Mostly reviewers are pleased with the transfer, and it’s clear that Warner Bros and Nolan share a tight bond with this transfer looking better than most catalog offerings, even from Warners.  Nolan’s ace cinematographer, Wally Pfister, has a perfect HD showcase for his work with this VC-1 encoded, 1080p/2.40:1 widescreen image is nearly flawless.  Though it preserves the fine grain you’d expect from 35mm film while being digitally cleaned, there are some that have noticed some minor edge enhancement (the crisp, clean location shooting probably lends itself to this).  What critics really seem to love is the excellent, steady contrast of the transfer with deep, lifelike color saturation and inky black levels that will make your HDTV set look worth every penny you paid.  Mid-way through the year, and we may have a contender for the best looking disc of 2010.

Audio specs feature a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 (with French, German DD 5.1 and Spanish DD 2.0) and is also getting very high marks for the excellent use of surround channels, though the mix is often light on rear-channel oomph with room only for foley and ambient effects.  Still, the word on the street is that the audio mix won’t disappoint and, while the video is absolutely reference quality and probably the reason to treat this release as a showcase disc, it’s as close to theatrical quality for this film as you can get.

Extras are swiped from the prior DVD release with no real HD extras of note.  But you do get an excellent director’s commentary with Christopher Nolan going over the production aspects in detail (great detail actually, Nolan clearly loves his work) along with a scene specific mini-commentaries featuring (individually) Hilary Swank, cinematographer Wally Pfister, editor Dody Dorn, production designer Nathan Crowley and screenwriter Hilary Seitz.  These can be played together to form a longer scene specific commentary track.

Other extras include:

  • Day for Night: making of (EPK) documentary
  • 180 Degrees: A Conversation with Christopher Nolan and Al Pacino
  • In the Fog: Cinematography and production design
  • Eyes Wide Open: A look into the realities of insomnia and those afflicted
  • Stills GalleryWHITE SPACE

As for the rest, here’s what’s coming your way for Tuesday, July 13, 2010… again, check out Chloe and Greenberg via rental, avoid Assault on Precinct 13 (but make sure to educated yourself about John Carpenter’s original, as well as Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo).  I can’t vouch for the rest, but you may certainly give ’em a try.

  • Assault on Precinct 13 (Universal, 2005 remake)
  • The Bounty Hunter (Sony)
  • Caught in the Crossfire (Lionsgate)
  • Chloe (Sony)
  • Gabriel Iglesias: Hot & Fluffy (Image)
  • The Greatest (National Media)
  • Greenberg (Universal)
  • Middle of Nowhere (Image)
  • Our Family Wedding (20th Century Fox)
  • Parasomnia (Koch)
  • White Collar: The Complete First Season (20th Century Fox)

Check out all the Blu-ray Disc releases for July 13, 2010.

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Christian Hokenson

Christian Hokenson

Christian Hokenson enjoys knife throwing, growing exotic mosses, and that warm spot where the sun shines through the corrugated box. Christian also writes for Gadget Review. You can also find Christian on Google+, and Twitter.

One Reply to “Blu-ray Picks of the Week for July 13th”

  1. Patricia says:

    I love your style of writing..it’s as though you are actually having a face-to-face conversation and your comments, pro and con, I find are spot on. Keep up the good work!

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