After an unplanned week off, I am indeed back with another edition of This Week in Blu-ray. In this edition, we’ll take a look at great movies for the kid inside of us, of both the classic and contemporary variety. We’ll also have a go at some movies with questionable releases — films that deserved better — and at least one movie in which the world is destroyed. So bring your Wolfgang Petersons and I’ll bring my Roland Emmerichs, and we’ll have a party.
My selections for this week (and last week) are below.
Hayao Miyazaki, now there’s a filmmaker who makes truly enjoyable films. Not to spoil my next For Science article, but I recently went through an entire day of watching Miyazaki’s acid-trip of a filmography. It was a delightful experience full of color and life, and it all culminated with Ponyo. It’s a retelling of The Little Mermaid, done with imagination and grace that has become the linchpin of Miyazaki’s legacy. The Blu-ray special features didn’t exactly light up the night sky — there’s a very fascinating behind the scenes look at Studio Ghibli, which won’t fail to engage Miyazaki’s fanbase, and a quick making of featurette focused on the movie, but it’s otherwise relatively barren. A storyboard presentation rounds out the commentary-free, DVD-included Blu-ray release package.
The Damned United
From a movie that features dialog and performances that are laugh-out-loud bad to The Damned United, one of the most underrated movies of 2009. Underrated not because they (the proverbial “they” being critics, pundits and other people of influence) said it was bad, but because “they” weren’t saying enough about it. I’m sad to report that I waited for the DVD after missing it during its theatrical run. That was a mistake. The performances from both Michael Sheen (the Tony Blair guy) and Timothy Spall (Harry Potter‘s Peter Pettigrew) are top notch, the writing is sharp and the cinematography work is off-the-charts good. Director Tom Hooper takes a strong, real-life rooted script from Peter Morgan and crafts a damn fine sports movie — one of the better films I’ve seen about soccer in a while. The special features are lax, but not bad. Commentary, three featurettes and BD-Live. That’s solid enough. You should see this movie, as I’m sure too many of you missed it (as I did).
Where the Wild Things Are
First up in the category of movies for the kid inside of us is Spike Jonze’s truly lovely adapation of the classic Maurice Sendak book. I was crushed to find out that Warner Bros. was skimping on review material for this release, leaving me to take a stab at it without actually getting my hands on an advanced copy. But there’s no denying that this is one movie you should definitely have in your collection. On top of being a quality film, the Blu-ray features a solid mix of exclusive extras, including 4 webisodes, an HBO First Look and Spike Jonze’s new Higglety Pigglety Pop short film. You won’t find those on the DVD. Reason enough to pick up this Blu-ray. Don’t worry, I will be right there with you on Tuesday, in line to pick this one up.
The Neverending Story
Here’s where I shed a tear for a movie that has long been one of the cornerstones of my childhood. The video transfer on Wolfgang Peterson’s 1984 adventure to fantasia on the back of Falkor is really good. It’s a victim of its time, but it is still crisp and colorful and as good-looking as ever. When the green eyes of that creepy animatronic dog light up, it still looks terrifying on Blu-ray. It is also in glorious 5.1 surround sound for the first time, which is lovely and well-mixed. Where this movie absolutely fails — in a way that had me so furious that I almost locked it in the dungeon of ‘avoid’ — is in the special features. There are none. Zero, zilch, nada, bupkis. No commentary track, no behind the scenes footage, no BD-Live, no trailer, no nothing. I’ve never wanted so much to see a Digital Copy in my life. I cried — just like when the damn horse is overcome by the Swamp of Sadness.
If you hated Ninja Assassin — if you simply loathed the lame, uninspired effort put forth by The Wachowskis and director James McTiegue, bemoaning the use of neon red CGI blood and the lack of talent in pop star Rain — then you might like Ninja. At the very least, it accomplishes more in the first fight scene between Scott Adkins and Tsuyoshi Ihara than Assassin accomplished in its entire runtime. Adkins is a badass, and the fight scenes work — and this time, the CGI blood is the right color. It still spurts and sprays in unnatural ways (even once hitting the camera in awesome fashion), but it works. Why? Because it fits with the almost campy tone of this movie. Every line is poorly written and overacted, every storyline is a thinly-laid veil. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t have a lot of fun — and not just at the film’s expense. Zero notable special features will keep this out of the buy category, but it’s a solid rent for schlock-hunters and fans of excellent on-screen martial arts.
Clash of the Titans (1981)
I’ll admit that I had never seen the original Clash of the Titans when it showed up on my doorstep in this Blu-ray packaging, so it’s hard for me to assess the quality of the transfer on this early-80s mythology mind-melt. To my young eyes, the film looks about as good as any other movie I’ve seen from the early 1980s. Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation melds very well with live-action elements, just as it probably did when this film was in theaters. It is certainly more crisp than the DVD release that I dug up for comparison. As for special features, things are a bit light. There’s a very interesting conversation with Ray Harryhausen, a map of monsters (which isn’t so exciting) and trailers for the original film and the upcoming remake. A 30-some page color booklet adds some interesting value to the package, making it worth a buy for collectors. For everyone else, I say give it a rent and see it in HD before you go see the new one in *gulp* 3D.
The latest attempt by Roland Emmerich to destroy the world and all the damned, dirty humans in it is perhaps the most fascinating Blu-ray release of the week. And not in a good way. For the first time (in recent memory), a studio has decided to release both a standard and “special edition” Blu-ray. Yes, that wonderfully wasteful trend from the early days of DVD is back. So what’s the difference? A metric ton of special features, actually. The Blu-ray extras on the special edition are great, including PIP commentary, interactive featurettes and a making-of music video. It also includes movieIQ, BD-Live and digital copy. The standard edition has almost none of that, save for the PIP commentary, an alternate ending, movieIQ and BD-Live. It lacks all of the featurettes. That’s lame. Why not just release one “special edition” version? It’s bad enough that folks still are having to choose between Blu-ray and DVD. Now we have two Blu-ray options. If I were reviewing just the special edition, it would be a buy. But based on the two-version shenanigans and the fact that the film wasn’t that good (though it does look solid in HD), I’m saying rent. Take that, Sony.
Another one of last week’s releases, this one features Matt Damon as a chubby, mustachioed corporate spy who’s perception of reality is quite far from what’s actually going on. The truly sad thing about this movie — and perhaps the most funny thing about it as well — is the fact that it’s based on the life of a real man. Oh, to be that stupid and then have a movie made about you. And to have Matt Damon play you. Lucky, schmuck. The Blu-ray release is less than stellar, falling below expectations right along the movie that’s been burned into it. The only BD-exclusive extras are an audio commentary and digital copy. It shares a set of deleted scenes with the DVD, but that’s all. Perhaps if they threw in some free corn oil, or whatever the company in the movie made such a mammoth profit off of, then it would be worth more than a spot in your Netflix queue. Sadly, that’s not the case.
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant
I can’t help but say that this little slice of tween fantasy wasn’t at least one of the more enjoyable vampire movies I’ve seen in recent years. That’s not saying much, I know, but it has to be worth something. John C. Reilly and Willem Dafoe give fun performances and two young actors — Chris Massoglia and Josh Hutcherson — don’t get in the film’s way too much. It’s light in the right spots, dark in others and wins with a furious energy that keeps the film moving. On Blu-ray, it is the benefactor of a very good HD video and audio quality and solid buffet of extras. Picture-in-Picture, deleted scenes, a featurette and that fancy (but completely useless, as of yet) PocketBlu feature are a good value for anyone who enjoyed the film. I’d say it’s worth a look, especially if you missed it. If you’ve already seen it and liked it, the Blu-ray release won’t disappoint.
The evil version of myself that sits atop both of my shoulders wanted me to put this release in the ‘buy’ section, just to mess with the inattentive among you. If you’re not paying close attention, you may see the likes of Sam Rockwell and Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) making a movie together and think that it should be good. Should being the operative term there. It’s absolutely not good, or as my world-renowned partner in crime Dr. Abaius would say, very ungood. Beyond aggressively mediocre and straight to the realm of pain-staking, Gentlemen Broncos is a scatter-shot comedy in which Jared Hess takes everything that’s been wrong with his previous movies and cranks them up to 11. On Blu-ray, it features all 16 of the short ‘making of’ featurettes that were posted by unassuming blogs such as this one leading up to the film’s Fantastic Fest opening night debut (that still hurts, by the way). That’s the only thing it doesn’t share with the DVD. Sadly, they both have the movie.
Just as bad in my mind is Richard Kelly’s supernatural, science fiction celluloid sleep-aid The Box. This one comes complete with an awful performance from Cameron Diaz, a completely convoluted plot and a deeply saddening performance from the great Frank Langella. Directors commentary, a spotlight feature on Richard Matheson, music video prequels and several featurettes can’t help this movie escape from the simple fact that it, like Kelly’s Southland Tales, is dead and continuing to die. In fact, if someone gave me a box with a button and told me that if I pushed the button this movie would cease to exist, I wouldn’t even let them finish their spiel. That button would be pushed.
Also on Blu-ray this week: