After recently revisiting Freaks and Geeks on DVD — a set that I’ve watched now three times in its entirety — I’m reminded that so much effort went into that release. Twenty nine commentary tracks from Judd Apatow, Paul Feig and their cast and crew. For eighteen episodes. That’s almost two commentary tracks for each episode. Incredible, by any standard. The amount of time and care that went into bringing that show to home video was immense, and the fans were ultimately rewarded with a set that was more collectible than anything else. It’s an important thing to remember this week, as we dive into some of the releases that will make a play for our hard-earned money. If you don’t deliver a quality product, you don’t deserve the sales. This Week in Blu-ray, quality products are a scarce commodity. So for those of you who don’t own Freaks and Geeks on DVD, I suggest picking that up instead.
For those who already own it, here are a few other, less lovable options.
The Messenger (2009)
Even though it produced two Oscar nominations — one for original screenplay and another for Woody Harrelson’s supporting performance — The Messenger isn’t exactly the kind of movie you’ll want to own. It’s first strike comes with its white bread set of extras. A commentary track, a behind the scenes featurette and a cast and crew Q&A aren’t much, especially when they’re also shared with the DVD release. However, there is one mini-documentary about the military’s death notification protocol. It is just as gut-wrenching to watch as the actual film, which chronicles the work of a returned soldier (Ben Foster) who is asked to serve on the notification squad. Make no bones about it, this is a tough movie to watch. Especially if you have someone close to you who’s in the war. However, if you can stomach it, The Messenger is definitely one of the best films of last year. And more than worth your time and rental money.
Sure, Brian De Palma’s story of crime and redemption is a celebrated one. As much as any film from the early 1990s can be celebrated, that is. And it’s hard to resist the wiles of Penelope Ann Miller. But lets face it, if you love this movie, you probably already own it on DVD. And as Blu-ray re-releases go, this one doesn’t offer us anything that we don’t already have. Sure, the transfer is solid. But the movie isn’t visually captivating. It’s a story told on the streets, in bad clothes. Beyond that, the special features on this disc are less than impressive. Deleted scenes and a ‘making of’ featurette are the recycled extras, with D-Box compatibility and BD-Live interactivity serving as the new frontier. Sadly, neither of those are of much use to the average Blu-ray user. So while most retailers will probably have this one in their dump-bins quickly, selling for less than $20, I’m still recommending that you pass. If you haven’t seen it, rent it. It’s as simple as that.
As our own Cole Abaius detailed in his open letter to director Garry Marshall, this movie is as “cheap, commercial, insincere, mandatory, mass-produced, smirking, lazy, and perverse” as the holiday for which it’s named. For me to say anything different would be both ill-advised and detrimental to my credibility. It matters not that the DVD is loaded — loaded, I say — with Blu-ray exclusive special features. Absolutely loaded with several featurettes, a gag reel, a music video, cast “Valentine’s Day Confessions,” a commentary track and an entire featurette dedicated to how great Garry Marshall is. It matters not, I say. The movie is an annoyance wrapped in a shell of forced emotional manipulation. Not even the always-lovely Jessica Biel and her ever tight-fitting wardrobe could save it. If you’re a self-respecting person, man or woman, you will keep yourself and your loved ones as far away from this film as possible.
With this release, Warner Bros. is two for two this week. Two releases that are exemplary sets, filled with all sorts of high definition goodies that can only be found on the Blu-ray. With Invictus, it’s a picture-in-picture commentary track, a featurette about Morgan Freeman and Nelson Mandela, and a series of excerpts from the upcoming Clint Eastwood documentary The Eastwood Factor. It’s really quite impressive. That said, they’ve also gone two-for-two in the realm of making such a great release out of an awful movie. Perhaps one of Eastwood’s worst as a filmmaker. It’s schmaltzy, forced and excruciatingly paced. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemies. Though, if you do happen to pick it up, please join me in respectfully laughing at the song “Color Blind,” which appears at the most ill-advised time in the film. Rent it and watch. You’ll see what I mean.
The Spy Next Door
I hate to be Captain Obvious, but even Jackie Chan might admit to you that The Spy Next Door is nothing more than weak family fare. It’s action comedy at its most mundane, as if giving our children a good laugh requires them to first be lobotomized. It’s just the sort of flat material that reminds us that Jackie Chan has seen better days. Moreover, it reminds us that he’s a peaks and valleys kind of star. This film resides in the lowest of valleys, right next to The Tuxedo, which only inches up said valley walls with the presence of Jennifer Love Hewitt (though even she surely felt some shame with that one). That said, your lobotomized kids might get a laugh out of this one if you choose to give it a rent. Though don’t say that I didn’t warn you. The good news is that there aren’t a lot of special features. Which in this case is a positive sign, as it shortens the period of torture.
Also on Blu-ray this week, but not reviewed due to review material being unavailable:
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