It’s time for another day late edition of This Week in Blu-ray. I might as well just move this column to Wednesday, as I’m so often cramming to get releases from certain studios — who will remain nameless (Fox) — that send out their review material at the absolute last minute. That said, I’m glad they decided to send their releases this week, as they earned a Pick of the Week with one of the best shows on television. Also included in this week’s rundown: we fly into the danger zone, I admit to not hating something that screams Disney Channel, Criterion drops to juicy releases and Hugh Laurie is still so dreamy. All that and more in this week’s saucy selection of high definition accoutrement.
Sons of Anarchy: Season Three
With the seemingly obvious exception of Breaking Bad, there may be no better drama on television than Kurt Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy. Conceived with a great passion for the brotherhood of biker gangs and filled with characters, both main and supporting, that are infinitely engaging, it’s one of the grittiest, gnarliest and often best-acted shows around. In their expansive third season, the boys from Charming go on the hunt for Jax’s kidnapped son, Abel, a tour that leads the crew all the way to Belfast and one hell of an emotional finale. After season two’s finish, it’s hard to believe that a repeat is possible. But when it comes to SAMCRO, anything is possible. As for the Blu-ray earning Pick of the Week status, it’s mostly about show quality here. That said, the Blu release is no slouch. There’s an extensive preview of season four, a few behind the scenes featurettes (one that focuses on the always sort of crazy Kurt Sutter) and some deleted scenes. Like the show itself, the Blu-ray feels like the total package. So get on your bike and ride, I say.
Top Gun: 25th Anniversary Edition
Here would be a nice place to put some sort of pun about riding into the high definition danger zone, but I don’t play that way. Instead, I can only say that if you’ve got the need, this Blu-ray release has the speed. (Yes, I agree that was worse than a “Danger Zone” pun.) Anyway, it’s about time Top Gun gets a really solid Blu-ray transfer, the most notable improvement of which is the sound mix. It doesn’t claim to be remastered or anything, but the 6.1 DTS-HD Master audio track will blow the doors off your house if you’ve got the right sound system to go with it. My recommendation is to get aggressive and crank it to 12, which is, after all, in the danger zone. The only downside to this release is that when compared to the previous Blu-ray edition (released in 2008), the special features are exactly the same. So unless you’re a die hard audiophile who needs to feel the rumble of an F-14 half-way down your street, there might not be any reason to pick this up. For those who missed that last release, however, this is a definite buy.
Jean Cocteau’s vision of the Orpheus myth is one for the books, following a famous poet who follows a mysterious princess from the world of the living into the land of the dead through his famous mirrored portal. Presented in stark black and white with a crisp transfer, this Criterion release presents the imaginative and poetic vision of Cocteau with incredible clarity. It’s quite a trip to behold, especially in meticulously transferred, nearly flawless high definition. Beyond that, Orpheus gets Criterion’s loving grace in the special features department. As always, they present a film history class on one of cinema’s most memorable minds, with a feature length documentary about Jean Cocteau, extensive interviews with those who worked with him, a 40-minute interview with the director himself, one of his 16mm color short films, and an interview with Cocteau specifically focused on the use of Jazz in films. It is quite a lot like taking a Jean Cocteau appreciation class, something from which any dedicated film lover would benefit.
House: Season Seven
What happens when House and Cuddy finally get together? Season seven, that’s what. Even after six long seasons of sarcasm and eccentricity, there’s still something undeniably intellectually stimulating about the world of Dr. Gregory House, MD. It’s easy to pinpoint the show’s success upon the ever-sharp performance of Hugh Laurie, but there’s more to it than that. Bravely written, well-acted on all levels and constantly fresh in its approach, House continues to find ways to be interesting from week to week, whether it’s dealing with the “Monster Disease of the Week” or pushing along its long-game narrative elements. It’s difficult not to be addicted to this show, if for no other reason than Hugh Laurie is absolutely genius. The Blu-ray release features one very cool feature that you won’t find on DVD, a U-Control driven “Beginner’s Guide to Diagnostic Medicine” track that runs interesting medical factoids in a picture-in-picture commentary mode. It’s proof of the extensive research and surprising authenticity of the show’s medical moments. There are also episode commentaries, character specific featurettes for Olivia Wilde’s “13″ and Amber Tamblyn’s Martha Masters, and one featurette that focuses on that which House fans have obsessed over most of all: Huddy (the aptly named union between House and Cuddy, six years in the making).
The shenanigans of Malcolm McDowell are pretty well documented in A Clockwork Orange. But before that, he was just a kid raging against the establishment in Lindsay Anderson’s If…, the story of a boarding school in late-sixties England that has a bit of a ruffian problem. It’s colorful, it’s black and white, it’s vicious in both delivery and situation, and most of all, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch a young Malcolm McDowell play a game of “anything you can do, I can ruin” with a stuffy group of faculty. The only downside to this Criterion Blu release is that it’s lighter than most with its special features selection. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have a few — even the worst Criterion Blu is better than most studio releases — but it leaves a bit to be desired. Alas, you should see this movie pronto, and if you’re a Criterion collector, you won’t be disappointed. Also notable is the included feature-length documentary Thursday’s Children, in which director Lindsay Anderson explores the world of a school for deaf children. For that, he won an Academy Award.
Wonders of the Universe
It’s not exactly Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, but the BBC has done a fine job of putting together their look at all the Wonders of the Universe in this new series. Presented by Professor Brian Cox — no, not that Brian Cox — it asks some big questions — why are we here? Where did we come from? — from a scientific and often philosophical standpoint. It also does so in that fast and beautiful BBC documentary way, in which everything feels perfectly condensed and universally accessible. It takes a good filmmaker to make a documentary that asks the big questions, but a great team to make one that answers them in ways that non-scientifics will easily engaged with. From the big bang to the dawn of man, Wonders of the Universe presents some unique perspective on the questions that surround us, presented vividly and efficiently. If you’ve got 232 minutes to dedicate to some scientific exploration, I say let the BBC be your guide.
The Perfect Host
As my comrade Rob Hunter pointed out in his This Week in DVD column yesterday, it’s best that you go into The Perfect Host knowing very little about the film. Which shouldn’t be hard, as this Sundance ’10 premiere has virtually disappeared sine then — I’m told that it actually had a limited release in July of this year, but I’m not buying it. The fact remains, however, that it contains one hell of a wild performance from David Hyde Pierce, who plays Warwick Wilson, a man who prides himself on being a consummate host of meticulously crafted dinner party experiences. When a bank robber (played by Clayne Crawford) shows up pretending to be a friend of a friend, Warwick welcomes him into what quickly becomes his house of horrors. It’s surprising at times, insane at most others and a delightfully sinister experience on the whole. The only knock I’ve got on the Blu-ray is that it includes one behind the scenes featurette, one of those lame-duck HDNet preview pieces that Magnolia likes to include and the trailer, which you should avoid at all cost before seeing the film. Beyond that, it’s just sinister David Hyde Pierce. And that ain’t bad.
BKO: Bangkok Knockout
From the director of Born to Fight comes an equally stupid, yet surprisingly high-flying Thai martial arts film in which the use of actors is forgone and replaced by what can only be described is personality free stunt workers. Which is fine in the last 45-minutes of the film, when the group of martial artists taken hostage by a crazy American business man trying to put together his own version of Death Race must fight their way past ax-wielding masked men, burning cars and wire-enhanced ninja-work. But for the lead up to the big mayhem parade, you might as well take a nap. Or just rent the Blu-ray and skip forward to about the mid-point of the film, where the action starts. You won’t take an interest in the characters, nor is it necessary to know anything about their terrible wedged-in backstories. All you need to know is that the Thai kids are the good guys and the absurdly stereotypical American businessman is the bad guy. Then all hell breaks loose and this one becomes a bit of fun. Not quite as fun as watching the trailer for the movie, which is included as a Blu-ray special feature, but fun nonetheless.
Good Will Hunting
“I got her number. How do you like them apples?” Chances are that you haven’t exactly been clamoring to own Good Will Hunting on Blu-ray. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good movie, 9-Academy Award nominations and the propellant for the careers of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon certainly don’t lie. But it’s not likely to be atop a list of movies you need to see in crisp HD, nor will you yearn to hear Elliot Smith’s “Miss Misery” booming around your living room in DTS-HD audio. But it doesn’t hurt the experience, either. Miramax and Lionsgate have teamed up to deliver Good Will Hunting in a Blu-ray edition that is good enough for your collection, but not a great must-have. The special features are re-hashes from older version and the only new inclusion is that of Digital Copy, so don’t go running out to buy this one. However, if you’re a fan of the film and you don’t already own it, this Blu-ray isn’t the worst thing you can put in your collection. At least the transfer on this 1997 flick is solid.
If there’s one thing Disney does right with Prom, it’s elevating it ever-so-slightly from its Disney Channel roots. In short, it’s clearly a Disney Channel offshoot film that feels like a real movie. It capitalizes on the instant nostalgia teens associate with their prom nights, from the often long lead up in planning and finding a date, to the magic of the themed dancing to the getting drunk and… well, this is Disney, after all, they don’t go that far. But hey, we all know where the story if Aimee Teegarden’s character is going to end, amiright? In the end, it’s a harmless film with a even less aggressive release. A few highly related extra features, a brand new short featuring one of the film’s funny characters (Nicholas Braun) asking girls to the prom, and a bunch of music videos. It’s like that Vitamin C song was for graduation days, just this time it’s a 104-minute Teen Disney film with all the glitz the MTV (without the M) generation desires. It’s hard to hate a movie this benign, so I’ll encourage you to ignore it unless you are a member of the aforementioned generation.
Nothing to outright avoid this week. Although, there are plenty of question marks in the “Also on Blu-ray” section below, such as The Mummy Trilogy. Really, did they only make three of those? It felt like more.