Every week, dozens of DVDs and Blu-Rays are released unto the world, and in this economy it gets harder and harder to decide what to spend your money on. The Weekly DVD Heist is here to tell you the difference between high priority and low priority targets, and help you decide what to leave behind.
February 23rd, 201o
Eclipse Series 20 – George Bernard Shaw On Film (Major Barbara / Caesar and Cleopatra / Androcles and the Lion) (Criterion Collection) (DVD)
Criterion’s kissing cousin The Eclipse Series, which distributes no-frills releases of quality movies that otherwise would probably never have one, always produces DVDs you should keep your eyes on, like this box set of films based on the work of one of the 20th Century’s wittiest writers, Mr. George Bernard Shaw. It’s a little sad that Shaw is best known today for inspiring My Fair Lady, instead of for the many wonderful works he produced on his own. (Pygmalion, also available from Criterion, is better than My Fair Lady anyway.) Pick this up for your philistine friends and teach them a thing or two.
The Informant! (DVD/Blu-Ray)
Steven Soderbergh’s first movie of 2009, The Girlfriend Experience, was a boring and pretentious mess that made my “Worst Films of 2009” list. His second movie of 2009 was this critically-acclaimed corporate espionage comedy that many believed deserved Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography and Matt Damon, who did that thing where attractive movie stars gain weight for a role, so naturally everyone was impressed. I haven’t seen it yet, but supposedly it was a recent high point in Soderbergh’s increasingly bizarre career trajectory.
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (DVD/Blu-Ray)
The recent spate of Straight-to-DVD animated films from DC has set a remarkable standard of quality, and although all of them are impressive achievements and gorgeously presented, the results are often choppy and feel like 90-120 minute movies that were liberally cut down to 70 minutes by overzealous 1940’s Hollywood producers (see the Orson Welles box set below). Still, one of the most eagerly anticipated adaptations from this series has always been Crisis on Infinite Earths, and although the “infinite” aspect of the original story has clearly been pared down to a more manageable “two,” hopefully this change will make this film’s storyline more focused rather than less coherent. These movies are always a “Must See.”
Legend Collection – (MacBeth/Citizen Kane/Chimes at Midnight/The Trial/The Magnificent Ambersons/Mr. Arkadin) (DVD)
Okay, it’s another set of Orson Welles movies. That’s pretty neat. Oh hey, look! Chimes at Midnight is finally available in an all-region disc! That’s cool, I think we can all get behind tha… WHAT THE HELL?! The Magnificent Ambersons has been released on DVD!
Let me just reiterate that: THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS HAS BEEN RELEASED ON DVD.
Ambersons was one of the last great films that had yet to be released in the format and has been on critics’ and aficionados’ wish lists for years, but nobody is talking about this set. Granted, it’s an all-region box set with potentially questionable transfers, and it’s unlikely that these releases of Citizen Kane or Mr. Arkadin are going to replace any Orson Welles fan’s special features-laden Region 1 special editions, but this is a great day to be a film geek.
Make Way for Tomorrow (DVD)
For every Days of Heaven or Yojimbo that Criterion releases, they also find unexpected treasures like Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow, an all-but-forgotten Depression era story of an elderly couple who lose their home, but neither of their two children can afford to take them both in, so they end up separated and living in separate households where neither of them belong. Leo McCarey also directed An Affair to Remember, one of the finest tearjerkers of all time (actually, he directed the original Love Affair too), so you can probably rely on this release for some classic melodrama in the old Hollywood tradition.
Superjail!: Season One (DVD)
“Superjail!” may not be the most popular Adult Swim series, and certainly hasn’t broken into the public conscious in the same manner as “Robot Chicken” or “The Venture Bros.,” but this bizarre and ultra-violent series about a Willy Wonka-esque dreamer with unlimited funds who builds a fantastical jail to house and torture the world’s most violent criminals is always a treat, assuming you can handle the overwhelming body count and “quaint” animation style.
The Box (DVD/Blu-Ray)
Richard Kelly’s clever and ambitious debut feature Donnie Darko did not pave the way for a particularly lucrative career for the young writer/director, who followed his critical (but not financial) success with the overwrought Southland Tales and the screenplay for Tony Scott’s outlandishly awful Domino. In 2009 he tried to tone things down a bit and play it straight by adapting a Richard Matheson story about a married couple presented with a box containing… a button. If they press the button, they will receive a large sum of money, but someone they don’t know will die, and thus the debate begins. It sounds more like an Outer Limits episode than a movie, and breezed its way through theaters almost completely unnoticed. The Box does have a small cadre of appreciating fans, so it may be worth a rental.
British Noir Double Feature: (The Slasher/Twilight Women) (DVD)
I have never seen either film in this double-feature DVD set, but I’m forced to include it in my recommendations for the completely incongruous and unnecessary This is Spinal Tap reference on the cover. Go ahead. See if you can find it.
The Damned United (DVD/Blu-Ray)
From the director of the critically-acclaimed mini-series John Adams and the writer and star of The Queen comes a sports movie in which Michael Sheen plays the new coach of England’s top football club Leed’s United in the mid-1970’s. This is a well-respected film with a great pedigree, but all I can think about is this creepy and ill-advised DVD cover in which Michael Sheen looks like a wax sculpture that just started to melt.
Dead Snow (DVD/Blu-Ray)
I reviewed this foreign splatterhouse Nazi zombie film for Geekscape last year and stand by my first assessment: Dead Snow is of interest only to hardcore fans of gory horror comedies. It takes too long to get going, and it’s not quite as clever as it thinks it is, but once the fit officially hits the shan this is a non-stop bloodbath with a lot of fun ideas for set pieces, nothing more (and often quite a bit less).
Ichi: The Killer (Blu-Ray)
You either want to own Ichi: The Killer on Blu-Ray, or you don’t understand why ANYBODY would EVER want to see the atrocities that occur in this particular film in high-definition. You know which one you are better than I do.
UPDATE: Tokyo Shock has reportedly not released Ichi: The Killer on Blu-Ray as scheduled, although some online retailers are still allowing consumers to buy the disc, with the caveat that it won’t be shipped for 1-2 months. The Fourth Wall recommends waiting to buy this disc when it has been officially released, and we will let you know when that is.
Nurse Jackie: Season One (DVD/Blu-Ray)
I haven’t seen this recent Showtime series starring “Sopranos” veteran Edie Falco as a medical practitioner with an attitude because, quite frankly, I am sick to death of shows about medical practitioners of any kind. Every advertisement for this series made it look like a “House” rip-off without the repetitive procedural crap. That said, Showtime has a very good track record lately for original series, so it probably has something going for it. I’m just not interested in finding out what that might be at the present.
Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (DVD/Blu-Ray)
Like Ichi: The Killer, Troma movies are a love-it-or-hate-it kind of affair, and while my enthusiasm for their productions has waned of late, there’s something almost wholesomely reliable about their innocent blend of naïve sexuality and low-budget gore that keeps even their most disgusting original productions from ever really feeling offensive. Poultrygeist tells the story of a fried chicken fast food restaurant built on an ancient Indian burial ground. You can probably guess where it goes from there, except maybe for the singing and dancing parts. You might not have seen those coming.
Sorority Row (DVD/Blu-Ray)
An almost immediately forgotten 2009 horror remake of The House on Sorority Row, this movie stars such attractive young ladies as Step Up 2: The Street‘s Briana Evigan, The House Bunny‘s Rumer Willis and “The Hill’s” Audrina Partridge. Presumably most of them are killed. Also, they probably don’t get as naked as the target audience for this film would like. For most of us, this is a rental at best.
Leave It Behind:
Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (DVD/Blu-Ray)
I don’t think kids dream of running away to join the circus much these days. And I certainly don’t think they dream of running away to join the circus just to get stuck in middle-management. This latest Hollywood attempt to make blood-sucking monsters into wholesome family entertainment made no impression on the box office, despite being adapted from a reasonably popular children’s book series and a pretty solid cast that included great character actors like John C. Reilly, Ray Stevenson, Jane Krakowski and Willem Dafoe.
The Crazies (Blu-Ray)
In honor of this weekend’s release of Breck Eisner’s remake of The Crazies, Blue Underground – one of the most reliable purveyors of B-Movie and Grindhouse entertainment – presents the first Blu-Ray release of George Romero’s original film… which sucks. It’s got a neat idea and occasionally cool moments, but by-and-large this is a dramatically inert film that looks ridiculously cheap on standard-definition DVD, so I’ll be very surprised if high-definition will do any favors for what was for decades arguably George Romero’s worst movie (which is now inarguably Diary of the Dead). Thanks, but no thanks, Blue Underground. Just keep those Dario Argento Blu-Rays coming.