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 what your primary objective is, determine the difference between high priority and low priority targets, and help you decide what to leave behind.
March 2nd, 2010
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Blu-Ray)
There was a time when The 36th Chamber, aka The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, aka Shaolin Master Killer (a title which makes little sense after you see the film) was only available on really crappy DVDs that were badly dubbed and were only letterboxed if you were lucky. As such, the actual quality of this martial arts classic – considered by many to be the best ever made – was hidden behind the thick veneer of a poor presentation. Thanks to Dragon Dynasty we’re finally getting a high-definition release of this classic film, which stars Gordon Liu (whom casual martial arts fans may remember from Kill Bill) as a young man who must train for years in the 35 chambers of the Shaolin Temple in order to return home and save his people from tyranny. As for that 36th chamber… Well, that’s a mystery. Beautiful compositions and stunning choreography, bolstered by a superstar performance by Liu, finally reach your home in the style they deserve. Now if we can just get a Blu-Ray release of Executioners of Death, Dirty Ho, The One-Armed Swordsman, The Last Hurrah for Chivalry and Legendary Weapons of China we’ll be in business…
Alice in Wonderland (1933) (DVD)
Let me get this straight: In 1933 they released a feature film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland starring Cary Grant, W.C. Fields and Gary Cooper, directed by Norman “Horse Feathers, Topper and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” McLeod, and written by Joseph “All About Eve” Mankiewicz… and I was not informed?! People, we’re picking this one up on sheer principle. A lot of Alice in Wonderland adaptations are being released this week to tie in with Tim Burton’s new movie, but unless they release Jan Svankmajer’s terrifying 1988 stop-motion version on Blu-Ray this is probably the one to seek out for now.
Castle in the Sky: Special Edition (DVD)/Kiki’s Delivery Service: Special Edition (DVD)/My Neighbor Totoro: Special Edition (DVD)
Disney is using this week’s release of Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo (see below) to promote new special editions of three of his earlier classics, and make no mistake… These films are all classics. If you haven’t seen them, Castle in the Sky is a beautiful fairy tale about intrepid youngsters fighting off sky pirates to locate a floating castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service tells the story of an adorable young witch who must use her abilities to start a business in order to get by, and finally My Neighbor Totoro, perhaps the most beautiful family film I have ever seen, which I won’t even deign to summarize. If you haven’t already purchased the earlier DVD editions then these would be fine discs to pick up. If you do already own them then I see no particularly compelling special features that necessitate double-dipping… at least until they’re released on Blu-Ray. (The Good News: Nausicaa is supposedly getting a Blu-Ray release in Japan later this year, so hopefully we won’t be far behind in the States.)
If you’re anything like me, you missed Ponyo‘s theatrical release last summer when you blinked that one time. Luckily, that mistake can be rectified this week as Ponyo becomes the first Hayao Miyazaki film to appear on Blu-Ray. Though not his most universally-lauded film, I’ve yet to hear a single harsh word about the exceptional director’s take on the Little Mermaid myth, and will be picking this up immediately.
Return to the 36th Chamber (DVD)
In this bizarre yet underrated sequel to The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Gordon Liu returns to the franchise, now starring as a completely different character. Yes, now Liu plays a hapless con man who attempts to save a local dye factory from mobsters by pretending to be… Gordon Liu from the first film. When he fails, he makes his own trip to the 36 Chambers of Shaolin to try and regain his honor by learning kung fu and saving the dye factory. While there, he meets Gordon Liu’s character from the first film, now played by a different actor (which plays as weird as it sounds), who refuses to train him, instead making him build scaffolding around the temple for months. Liu uses the close-proximity to the temple to observe Shaolin training and practice on the sly, eventually developing (and I’m completely serious)… Scaffolding Kung Fu. Like the first film it’s got great characters and an epic quest of self-discovery, but the unusual sense of humor and wildly inventive fight sequences help this ridiculous film stand on its own. Don’t pick up The 36th Chamber of Shaolin on Blu-Ray this week without also grabbing a copy of Return to the 36th Chamber.
We Live in Public (DVD)
I’m not a particularly enthusiastic fan of documentaries in general, but Ondi (DiG!) Timoner’s fascinating look at internet web mogul Josh Harris’s descent from millionaire technology wunderkind to penniless sociological experiment enthusiast captivated me from beginning to end. If you don’t know who he is, Josh Harris basically came up with the idea that by monitoring the web sites and search engine queries that people use on the internet, you could make money off of that information via marketing. It’s such a ubiquitous concept now that it’s a little amazing to think that at some point there was one guy who actually had to suggest it. But then his obsession with willingly giving up one’s right to privacy took on surreal forms, like a hotel where all the inhabitants could live for free provided that they allow every aspect of their lives to be filmed (including the gross and kinky stuff) and watched at any time, and submitted to bizarre interrogation techniques (an experiment that Ondi Timoner herself was a part of). Creepy but strangely brilliant stuff.
Bitch Slap (DVD)
A Grindhouse-y throwback to Russ Meyer and Roger Corman sexploitation flicks, Bitch Slap is a silly little movie that’s very violent and sometimes pretty sexy, but is so mind-boggingly stupid that it should only be enjoyed during an intense intoxication process. The plot is something about missing diamonds and a mysterious arms dealer, but it’s all just window dressing. Bitch Slap is the kind of film where a slow-motion water fight can (and will) happen at any time just because three attractive women are on screen at once. You either want to see a film like that or you don’t.
Clash of the Titans (DVD/Blu-Ray)
Healthily in advance of Louis Leterrier’s highly-anticipated remake (but then I highly-anticipate anything Louis Leterrier does) comes the Blu-Ray release of Desmond Davis’s Clash of the Titans, starring Harry Hamlin as Perseus. The film has its share of admirers, mainly those who were young when it was released, but the general consensus is that it “hasn’t aged well.” Still, this fantasy film with appearances by Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith and Burgess Meredith is an entertaining romp which also features the last on-screen special effects work by Ray Harryhausen, so it’s a worthy candidate for a Blu-Ray release anyway… it’s just up to you to decide whether you liked the film enough to buy it.
Gentlemen Broncos (DVD/Blu-Ray)
Writer/director Jared Hess hit the big time with the cult-favorite Napoleon Dynamite, but his follow-up films Nacho Libre and Gentlemen Broncos failed to make much of an impression on audiences anywhere. The trailer for this film about a teenaged writer (Sky High‘s Michael Angarano) whose ideas are stolen by famous fantasy writer (“Flight of the Conchords'” Jermaine Clement) looked pretty funny, but frankly this DVD only makes the list based on the fervent recommendation of another film critic friend of mine. If I’m going to rent it, I suppose it’s only fair to suggest that others might want to as well.
King Arthur and the Knights of Justice: The Complete Animated Series (DVD)
“King Arthur and the Knights of Justice” was an animated series about a football team – called The Knights – who travel back in time to take the place of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table when they go missing. I haven’t seen this series in years – basically since I was old enough to be in the target demographic – but one thing that always struck me is that the characters had a genuine melancholy about them, and all wanted to either go home or have their loved ones returned to them. But those may be rose-colored glasses I’m wearing. If you’re like me and nostalgic, this may be worth picking up, but frankly it may also turn out to be a piece of crap that we simply associate with more innocent times. “KNIGHTS! KNIGHTS! KNIGHTS! KNIGHTS!”
The Neverending Story (Blu-Ray)
This outright beloved kids movie about the powers of metafiction and the joy of riding dog-dragons finally makes its way to Blu-Ray… Frankly, the only reason this isn’t a “High Priority” is because there’s a chance it may be taken from the same transfer as the European release, which was reportedly just dreadful. There are lots of wonderful scenes and the creature designs still stand up, but did it bother anyone else that in a land populated entirely by people’s fantasies there wasn’t a single superhero, alien or robot to be found…?
Where the Wild Things Are (DVD/Blu-Ray)
One of the great dividers of 2009, everyone who saw Where the Wild Things Are declared it a brilliant film which perfectly encapsulated the experience of being a kid… or thought it was a boring piece of crap. I missed it in theaters but look forward to finding out whether or not I hate it on Blu-Ray. Certainly any film this polarizing is at least worth a rental. See for yourself.
LEAVE IT BEHIND:
Cold Souls (DVD)
Cold Souls plays like a three-quarters-assed attempt to make a Charlie Kaufman film without Charlie Kaufman. It’s not awful, but writer/director Sophie Barthes doesn’t seem to have any interesting ideas beyond the central conceit that the human soul exists, and can be both removed and replaced for a nominal fee. That’s all well and good, but what does it mean? Paul Giamatti, playing himself, gives a fine performance that almost saves the film, but without a genuine “take” on the material it ultimately feels like an unsuccessful exercise. For hardcore Paul Giamatti fans only (you know who you are).
2012 is not a good movie. I don’t think you’ll find too many individuals around the world who will claim that it deserved a Best Picture nomination this year. Certainly things blew up real good and it probably looks super-special-awesomesauce in High Definition, but frankly a lot of movies look great in high definition now. The time of purchasing a crappy movie just to show off your new home theater setup is over. There’s all kinds of eye candy out there that are actually worth owning instead. Leave this behind.