This is the best week of Blu-ray releases of 2011. Mark my words. No seriously, write it into your calendars. Between the breakout geek genre hit of the year, a Blu-ray set 65 million years in the making, a hero we can all believe in, creepy Finnish Santas, some Criterion confusion and Serbians doing terrible, terrible things to each other, this may be the most well-rounded, exciting week of releases we’ve seen in a long time. And it all begins with a must-have Pick of the Week…
Attack the Block
When Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright got together and decided to make a film about a group of hoodlums who face down an alien invasion, they probably didn’t think of you or me once. They didn’t know that they’d be custom-tailoring a sci-fi comedy for the nerd set that would ignite crowds and become the cult hit of this (and probably a few other years). They couldn’t have known. But they moved forward anyway, with a cast of unknowns and some killer creature designs, creating what could go down as the geek film of 2011. What’s more impressive about this release? Even though I didn’t receive a review copy, I’m making it pick of the week. Usually I’m a big whiney baby, who gets a bunch of review material, only to pick it apart week to week. But this week I’m putting my own money where my mouth is. In a week when competition comes from one of the longest awaited Blu releases ever (Jurassic Park) and my personal favorite summer movie (Captain America), I can’t help but make Attack the Block my pick of the week. I pre-ordered it myself weeks ago.
Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy
More than 15 years later, life has finally found a way. When Jurassic Park hit theaters, an 11-year old me was there with popcorn, candy and soda (this probably has something to do with why I ended up so chubby). Today, with the proper home theater setup, I can relive those moments. The beauty and majesty of the effects in Steven Spielberg’s first film, the enjoyment I found (more than many others) in the second film, and even the silly brilliance found within Joe Johnston’s third film. It’s all part of this set, one that comes after a long wait. In a twelve month period that has already given us Back to the Future and Alien box sets, JP continues the trend of bringing modern classics to the new format with brilliant detail. These three films look incredible and youthful, and are flanked by numerous special features, a few of which even the most die hard fans have never seen. But just a few, as many supplements are carry-overs from previous DVD releases. A small price to pay, however, for the brilliance of dinosaurs walking around in 1080p. If there is never another release of the Jurassic Park trilogy on any home video format — especially when the world finally embraces digital downloads — this one should suffice as the end all, be all release.
Captain America: The First Avenger
In the surprise of the summer that probably shouldn’t have been so surprising, the director of The Rocketeer gave us a Captain America we could believe in. And in turn, he allowed us to forget all about that awful Wolf Man movie he made just a year ago. Joe Johnston injected a retro cool into Captain America that pulsed around a oozingly charismatic lead performance from Chris Evans. He is heroic, unwaveringly genuine and oh-so-dreamy with those big biceps. And to top it all off, Captain America delivered us the most delicious of summer villain performances — Hugo Weaving, channeling the voice of Werner Herzog to play the practical effect wonder Red Skull. It’s a film that, in a summer of quality hero tales, was the most ambitious and easily the most fun. And on Blu-ray — even on the dreaded Blu-ray 3D format — it’s just as much fun to have at home. Marvel has included a number of features, similar to the release of Thor, that can be best described as “just enough.” A few deleted scenes, a featurette or two and another Marvel “One Shot” short film. Like the film itself, it’s an efficient ride that you’ll want to take again.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
The hits just keep on coming this week. In any other week that didn’t include dinosaurs or American originals, Rare Exports would be easy Pick of the Week material. It’s a creepy-as-hell take on the Santa Clause legend from Finland that will have you hoping that your older brother was right, and that he isn’t real. Aside from providing a terrifying vision of father Christmas, executed with maximum creativity by director Jalmari Helander, Rare Exports also finds a way to be a lot of fun. It’s the kind of bloody creepshow that I’d watch every holiday season with my family. Twisted, sure, but it feels right. And as much as I love the film, there’s something I love even more about the Blu-ray release. As with all of their previous releases, Oscilloscope Labs presents Rare Exports in gorgeous packaging. With beautiful cover art and solid packaging — and not to mention an impressive selection of on-disc extras — they’ve once again managed to make a simple release feel special. And that’s something that should be rewarded with a place in your collection.
Dazed and Confused (Criterion)
In the category of “making a simple release feel special,” Criterion continues to reign. Even for a Criterion release, this edition of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused feels as if it has something a little extra behind it. From the enhanced packaging to the meticulous transfer — one that far exceeds Universal’s last attempt to bring this slacker classic to the format. As extras go, this one is also pretty loaded. Audio commentary with Linklater is a must, deleted scenes add some value and a 46-minute “Making Dazed” documentary featuring is as amusing as it is informative. We even get some audition footage and some very rare footage and interviews from the set of the film. Because if you’re invested enough in Dazed and Confused to pull the trigger on this kind of set, this is exactly what you’d expect to get from it. Also, Criterion has outdone themselves with the packaging. The two piece cardboard fold-out case comes in a cardboard slipcover that feels as if it pays a bit of homage to the homespun nature of the film. And the artwork, taken from the original Frank Kozik poster, is awesome.
A Serbian Film
For more than a year, you’ve read on the web — on this site in particular — that there’s some serious shock trauma to be had watching A Serbian Film, a twisted tale of a retired Serbian porn star who is drawn back into the business for “one more gig” that will set him and his family up for life. The problem is that this one last gig is being directed by a madman hell bent on capturing the art of the most demented acts you can think of. As our own Landon Palmer wrote in his review from SXSW, it’s shock value not just for its own sake. A Serbian Film actually broaches the notion of having something to say. Not much, but something nonetheless. It’s worth seeing if you’re into a sort of self-inflicted cinematic torture. Also, curious parties need apply through rental. For those truly squeamish, perhaps it’s best that about 30 seconds of the worst stuff has been cut out of the original version for American release. It’s rumored that original prints shown at SXSW were burned, but I’ve never been able to confirm. Cut or not, there’s some heinous shit in this movie. And if ye be brave enough, the Blu-ray waits to deliver it in surprisingly stark high definition.
Winnie the Pooh
On the other end of the spectrum from A Serbian Film is the insanely adorable hand-drawn world of Winnie the Pooh. You can’t fault Disney for bringing the silly ole’ bear back. What I can say is that it’s a bit disappointing for Pooh’s return to cause such an internal conflict: the story presented here is so harmless and classic — Eyeore loses his tail and Winnie and friends hold a contest to get him a new one — that it doesn’t move the material forward in any way. Then again, that feels like what they were going for. In the end, it’s still beautifully animated and charming for the little ones. And for the animation nerds in the house, there’s plenty of extras with the team behind Pooh to keep you interested. It’s an irresistible rental for those of us who’d like to remember more innocent days, and a buy for those who are bringing up a new generation of cinema lovers.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
This is a drop-in from last week, as we took the week off. By now you’ve heard the news: Johnny Depp does a good Keith Richards impression on his way to being entertaining as Captain Jack Sparrow. He’s had three films to prove that. However, if On Stranger Tides is proof of any one theory, it’s that Jack Sparrow as a central character just doesn’t have the same pop. For once, fans of energetic cinema will be missing the likes of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. That said, there are some fun one-offs and plenty of special effect goodness in this fourth Pirates movie to make it worth a single viewing. Also, any movie that includes Ian McShane deserves your attention. To the Blu-ray’s credit, it gets the usual Disney treatment, which means plenty of special features, including one that envisions Captain Jack’s journey through LEGOs (that’s a winner). Also, there’s a special note to be made on the 3D edition. Of all the live-action 3D Blu-rays I’ve inspected thus far, this one seems to be the most crisp. Which is a bit of a surprise, as I had little love for the 3D version in theaters. Perhaps the brightness of a backlit LCD TV is all that was needed to bring out a better version of the 3D.
Do not mistake the meaning of placement with this title. The Conversation is a great film. One of Francis Ford Coppola’s best works and a Gene Hackman performance for the books. That said, this Blu-ray release leaves a little bit to be desired. Sure, there are a few very interesting extras, including screen tests, script dictations and interviews not previously released on DVD editions, but the transfer is a little… for lack of a better term, crackly. A little too much on the sharpness dial over at the authoring house may have caused this one to drop from Buy to Rent. If you’ve never seen the film, see it, Blu-ray or otherwise. But if you’re waiting for a significant Blu-ray release to replace a previous DVD version, this is not that release.
Father of Invention
Kevin Spacey stars as a successful infomercial guy who is sent to prison after his products — the stupidity of which closely resemble the “Slap Chop” — begin relieving consumers of their fingers. Eight years later he leaves prison and sets off on an inspirational journey to be a better man, reconnect with his daughter and reclaim his business. The only problem is that by the time he actually does all this, we’ve forgotten why we were supposed to care in the first place. In a classic example of a paycheck gig, Kevin Spacey does his best “Kevin Spacey being interested” impression and fails to elevate truly mediocre material. Somewhere along the line, Father of Invention thought it was a sharp piece of satire. Those dreams were long gone by the final product, leaving nothing but a meandering awkwardathon. And not in a good way. Special features won’t save it, nor will HD.