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 23rd, 2010
PRIMARY OBJECTIVE (tie):
The African Queen (DVD/Blu-Ray)
Can you believe that The African Queen has never been on DVD before? (At least not officially?) Paramount finally rights this ridiculous wrong with a new high-definition transfer of John Huston’s classic adventure that the studio has been touting as a revelation. Given how long we’ve had to wait, we probably would have settled for a little above average. For classic film fans, this is a great week to own a Blu-Ray player.
Yojimbo & Sanjuro (Blu-Ray)
And here are two more reasons why it’s a great week to own a Blu-Ray player: Yojimbo and Sanjuro, two of Akira Kurosawa’s best movies (which says something) finally arrive in high definition. They’re not the first of the master’s films in the format (both Kagemusha and Ran have been released already, with less-than-acclaimed presentations), but next to Seven Samurai these were easily the most eagerly anticipated, and come complete with the incredible assortment of special features included in the previous Criterion DVD releases. Yojimbo may be more famous, but if you haven’t seen Sanjuro – the second of four Yojimbo movies (all of them great) – you’re missing out on a breathless samurai film with an incredible climactic duel between Japanese superstars Toshiro Mifune and Tatsuya Nakadai.
They’re also available individually, but for the life of me I can’t imagine why anyone would want one and not the other.
Bigger Than Life (DVD/Blu-Ray)
“The story of a handful of hope that became a fistful of hell!” Nicholas Ray, who directed a little film you may have heard of called Rebel Without A Cause, also caught a fistful of hell for his depiction of a Nuclear family that explodes when father figure Ed Avery (James Mason, who also contributed to the screenplay) becomes addicted to a mood-altering drug that he can’t stop taking, because he needs it to survive. The film was critically-acclaimed upon its release (Godard considers it one of his Ten Favorite Films), but eventually fell into obscurity. Now this Criterion release aims to rectify the situation.
Days of Heaven (Blu-Ray)
Terrence Malick’s masterpiece Days of Heaven arrives on Blu-Ray with all the same special features as the previous Criterion Edition (which is to say, not as many as we’d like). It’s still one of the most beautiful films ever shot. Malick’s film tells the story of a pair of lovers (Richard Gere and Brooke Adams) masquerading as siblings because it’s the turn of the (last) century and they’re living in sin. Gere convinces Adams to marry a dying farmer (Sam Shepard) with the understanding that Shepard will die of natural causes soon, leaving them his estate, but when true love cures the patsy, who then begins to suspect an inappropriate relationship between his wife and her “brother,” an epic tragedy ensues. The swarm of locusts is a sight to behold even in standard definition. Man, am I looking forward to it in high def.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox (DVD/Blu-Ray)
The Fantastic Mr. Fox is already a serious contender for the title of “Wes Anderson’s Best Film.” It’s an incredible stop-motion animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s anthropomorphic heist story, infused with surprisingly complex themes of personal sacrifice, paternal responsibility and, of course, the deeper meaning of Whackbat. In a year of great animated films, The Fantastic Mr. Fox was the cussing greatest.
“Mad Men: Season 3” (DVD/Blu-Ray)
Hey, have any of you guys heard about this show Mad Men? I’m a little behind in this series, having not yet completed Season 2, but Mad Men more than earns its distinction as one of the finest dramas on television today (and maybe, just maybe… ever). The handsome production always looks great in high-definition, to boot.
Red Cliff: Theatrical Version and Red Cliff: International Version – Part I and Part II (DVD/Blu-Ray)
After almost a decade of directing one stinkburger after another, John Woo returned to China to make one of the most impressive films of his career. Red Cliff tells the story of an epic war in ancient China and finally reunites the great director with one of his most charismatic stars, Tony Leung (still one of the world’s finest actors). The action sequences are stunningly choreographed and filmed, ranking among the master’s best. The slightly choppy American theatrical cut is on Blu-Ray (it’s good, but the pacing is sometimes off and the narrator is atrocious) along with the four-hour international cut (which I haven’t seen but have heard good things about). Either version should be worth your time, but you may want to see both before you decide which one you want to buy. (And I assure you, you will want to buy this.)
Toy Story & Toy Story 2 (Blu-Ray)
If it wasn’t already freakishly good week for DVD releases then the arrival of Toy Story 1 &2 on Blu-Ray would have been our Primary Objective, no problem. Don’t let that stand in your way though. You need to buy these Blu-Rays too, and you need to buy them right now. They’re still two of the finest animated films ever produced. It’s just a shame that they’re making us buy DVDs (which we already have) and Digital Copies (which nobody wants) when all we really care about are high-definition presentations of two of Pixar’s very best films.
Brothers shared many of the same qualities as most Iraq war movies: Great cast (Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman), great director (Jim Sheridan, who also directed In America and In the Name of the Father), and most importantly… no audience interest whatsoever. The trailer looked like an overwrought mess but word of mouth has been surprisingly good, particularly for Tobey Maguire’s performance as a soldier returning from the Middle East to a broken home, who then proceeds to go Section 8 all over his family. If you’re in the mood for melodrama, this looks like a decent rental, but it doesn’t look like much more.
The Men Who Stare at Goats (DVD/Blu-Ray)
The Men Who Stare at Goats was quickly forgotten in theaters despite a strong cast consisting of George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and newfound Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges and a bemusing story idea, focusing on the army’s ill-fated attempts to build a psychic army during the Cold War. The trailer had a couple of laidback laughs, but never inspired enough confidence to justify buying a ticket. A rental will do just fine.
“The Prisoner” (Mini-Series) (DVD)
Ian McKellan stars as Number Two in this heavily-promoted but critically-panned remake of Patrick McGoohan’s original series of “The Prisoner,” which still holds up as one of the most interesting and impressive artistic accomplishments in television history. Honestly, the presence of Ian McKellan alone makes this worth a rental even if the rest of mini-series is as much of a train wreck it looks like.
LEAVE IT BEHIND:
The Blind Side (DVD/Blu-Ray)
The Blind Side was a breakout Hollywood success and earned Sandra Bullock an Academy Award for Best Actress off of her very first nomination. It’s also… not particularly good. I didn’t have as much animosity towards this simplistic and really rather racist depiction of the life of football star Michael Oher as my colleague Julia Rhodes – perhaps because I didn’t expect anything better – but it’s nothing particularly special and pales in comparison to practically any other middle-of-the-road inspirational sports/family film you can think of. Bullock’s good in The Blind Side, but she can’t quite make it worth recommending.
Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove (DVD/Blu-Ray)
The adventures of Earth’s most imperiled orca continue in this straight-to-dvd flight of fancy… if you really fancy this sort of thing, that is. Frankly, after three Free Willy movies I can’t help but wonder if maybe the universe is trying to tell us that this whale is supposed to die. Maybe the Free Willy franchise has evolved into a condemnation of man’s efforts to control nature, which even with the best intentions is the height of hubris. That’s actually pretty heavy stuff. Maybe you shouldn’t leave it behind after all…
“Krod Mandoon & The Flaming Sword of Fire” (DVD)
If you haven’t seen “Krod Mandoon & The Flaming Sword of Fire” then there’s… really no reason to start now. It seemed like a good idea – a broad parody of the fantasy genre on Comedy Central – but the result wasn’t nearly as clever or as funny as the creators hoped it was, and couldn’t hold a candle to the already self-deprecating and satirical series it tried to lampoon, like the superior “Xena: Warrior Princess” and the even more superior “Jack of All Trades.” The threat of “Extended & Uncensored Episodes” only makes me want to watch this less.