'Where The Wild Things Are' and Hayao Miyazaki's 'Ponyo' top this week's new releases
Plus '2012' blows up at home, and a whole fistful of 'Alice In Wonderland'
Welcome to the DVD & Games Forecast.
It's a great week for films that you can watch with the whole family. Some weeks, it's all about action movies, some weeks are great for horror films, but this week, films for the young and the young at heart are arriving in snow drifts, including my second favorite film of 2009...
THIS WEEK'S FEATURED TITLES:
"Where The Wild Things Are" (BluRay/DVD)
"Tell Them Anything You Want" (DVD)
My wife watched the gorgeous, sad, wonderful "Where The Wild Things Are" last night on BluRay, and when I asked her today what she thought of it, she told me... and I quote... "that was a total waste of time."
I understand that "Where The Wild Things Are" is not a film for everybody. Even among critics last year, reactions were wildly varied, pro and con. It's such a particular emotional experience that it does't surprise me that it works for some people and not for others. You can certainly pull the film apart and analyze the meaning, but I think it works on a far more intuitive level than that. It is a movie that you either feel, or you don't. No in-between. I think it works hand-in-hand with Maurice Sendak's original book, but I also think it's a very different experience. For more of my thoughts on the film, you can read my original review.
The BluRay is absolutely stunning as a transfer, and there are several short behind-the-scenes features by Lance Bangs that are well-done. Could there be more? Sure. I'd love to see a huge comprehensive look at just how hard it was to get this thing onscreen, from development to principal photography to the grueling post-production process. But there's good stuff here, and the real treat isn't a behind-the-scenes featurette at all. There's a short film included on the disc called "Higglety Pigglety Pop, Or There Must Be More To Life," based on another of Maurice Sendak's books. Like "Where The Wild Things Are," I'm not sure I'd say this is a film for children, but it is absolutely engrossing. Directors Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski have crafted a sumptous, surreal world, using puppets and make-up and elaborate costumes and highly stylized sets and digital mattes, and the end result is very dreamy, very strange, and at times, very scary. I watched it twice, back-to-back, amazed by all the strange little details to the thing. Meryl Streep voices Jennie, a dog who leaves the comfort of her master's home in search of a life she can call her own. She settles on the goal of becoming the leading lady of a theater troupe, but before she can do that, she has to go looking for "experience." It is hypnotic work, with other voices contributed by Forest Whitaker, Spike Jonze, and Al Tuck. As bonus features go, this is above average, and worth your attention.
Also today, Oscilloscope is putting out the documentary that Spike Jonze made about Maurice Sendak, and I have yet to see "Tell Them Anything You Want." I'm dying to check it out, though. Sendak is one of those guys who has absolutely no interest in playing the game at this point, and I think his work is intuitive and bold, and always has been. He has huge affection for Jonze, so it seems like if Sendak's going to open up to anyone, it would be him, and I would love to learn more about this artist whose work has been part of the tapestry of my inner life since I was just starting to read 37 years ago.
Hayao Miyazaki's latest film may not be the absolute best thing he's ever made, but it still stands triumphantly apart from almost everything else made last year, for young or old audiences. He has one of the great voices in cinema storytelling, and this sweet, gentle little love story got better with each viewing of it last year. One of the greatest moments of 2009 for me was when my four-year-old son got to meet Miyazaki face-to-face in San Diego and talk to him for a moment, just before I hosted a special screening of this film and held a Q&A with him. My original review of the film was very passionate, and I'm sorry more people didn't see it in theaters. Still, I'm looking forward to the first Miyazaki BluRay from Disney, and I hope there are many more on the way in the future. If you don't own Miyazaki's earlier films, Disney is re-releasing "My Neighbor Totoro," "Castle In The Sky," and "Kiki's Delivery Service" on DVD today, but they've released each of them at least once before, so they're not technically "new" releases.
Roland Emmerich is a madman. As I said in my original review of this film, I can't really call "2012" a good movie, but it's absolutely what it advertises itself as being. The BluRay is remarkable, one of the best Sony transfers I've seen of anything, new or old, and if you want to really study the jaw-dropping visual effects in the film, this is the best way to do it, bar none. I honestly think the film is worth a purchase just for the scale of what Emmerich's FX team pulled off. Even if you don't like his movies, there is some amazing work in the film, and the BluRay has a great picture-in-picture commentary track and behind-the-scenes features that explain how some of the staggering visuals were created.
"Clash Of The Titans" (BluRay)
"The Never Ending Story" (BluRay)
I'll be writing about both of these in-depth in a future edition of "Film Nerd 2.0," but so far, I've had a chance to sit down and watch only one of them, "Clash." If you are expecting a movie that looks brand-new, you'll be disappointed by this BluRay, but if what you want is the most accurate reproduction so far in any home video format of the film as it was originally released in 1981, this is it. It was made at a weird moment for visual effects, and the composites really don't hold up to the unforgiving scrutiny of high-definition. It's actually the roughest-looking of the Harryhausen movies I have on BluRay, but that doesn't diminish the enjoyment that you can get from the film. I'll say this much... it played like gangbusters when I screened it for my two little boys on Saturday night, and they didn't care if some of the film was particularly grainy or if there was a visible shift in quality between the FX and the non-FX shots. Warner included a sneak peek of the upcoming remake of the film, and I wish it was accessible from a menu, and not something that only plays as an automatic thing when you start the disc up. I haven't checked out the transfer for Wolfgang Petersen's adaptation of "The Never Ending Story" yet, but I will, and I'll absolutely have a full report on it soon.
One of my favorite ongoing actor/director collaborations of the past 20 years was the one between John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, and I've seen most of the films they made together over and over and over. The only one I've been largely unfamiliar with until now was the one that kicked it all off, the TV movie biopic event that told the life story of Elvis Presley. Finally revisiting it, 30 years after the last time I saw it, I think it's pretty great, and Russell's work is downright spooky at times. It was ballsy for them to make this so soon after Elvis died, and I think they did him justice while also doing a nice job of telling some hard truths about the man behind the icon. The DVD looks about as good as you should ever expect the film to look, and is a must for fans of Carpenter, Russell, or the King himself.
"Alice In Wonderland - 1933" (DVD)
"Alice In Wonderland - NBC" (DVD)
"Alice In Wonderland - BBC" (DVD)
Is it any wonder pretty much any company that's ever owned a version of "Alice In Wonderland" is releasing it on home video this week? This Friday, Tim Burton's much-hyped reinvention of the story shows up in theaters (you can read my review here if you haven't already),and for fans of Lewis Carroll's work, this is a perfect opportunity to see just how elastic the characters and the ideas really are. Universal's release of the 1933 version is the first chance I've ever had to see this particular one, and it's a freakshow from start to finish. Familiar movie-star faces like Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, and W.C. Fields are all but unrecognizable under heavy make-up that is pretty much a nightmare factory. NBC's version from 1999 stars Tina Majorino, Martin Short, Whoopi Goldberg, Christopher Lloyd, Miranda Richardson, and a whole lot of other familiar faces. It's handsomely produced for television, and the creatures by the Jim Henson Creature Shop are impressive, and like almost every version, it plays fast and free with the original source material. The absolute strangest version is the one that the BBC is putting out, originally aired in 1966 as part of a series called "The Wednesday Play," and it's a little disingenuous for them to advertise the film with Peter Sellers first-billed. He has a very small role, and the film is a tough sit for even the most devoted fan of Carroll's work. There's a 1903 silent version and a Dennis Potter telefilm called "Alice" included as extra features, and if you've ever seen "Dream Child," which Potter also wrote, this appears to be an early version of those ideas. I actually preferred the extras to the film. Finally, there's a 2009 Sci-Fi Channel mini-series from last year coming out today, and it's the only one of the versions listed here that I haven't seen yet. It's a reinvention along the lines of the recent "Looking Glass War" novels, and I'm certainly curious.
ALSO ON BLURAY:
If you like martial arts films, you can't do much better than "The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin" (DVD), and the idea of finally owning this Gordon Liu classic on BluRay is too sweet to resist, even though I already own the DVD version of this particular Dragon Dynasty release. Double-dip me, guys. I don't mind at all. I reeeeeally didn't like the latest Jared Hess film, "Gentlemen Broncos" (BluRay/DVD), when I saw it last year as the opening night movie of Fantastic Fest, but your own mileage may vary. I just don't think Jared Hess is growing at all as a filmmaker, and I think there's a definite sense of diminishing returns to his fascination with the American Grotesque. I'm very much looking forward to "The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee" (BluRay/DVD), and I think Rebecca Miller has been slowly, quietly developing quite a voice as a filmmaker. Little surprise, since her father was Arthur Miller. She is a keen observer of human nature and behavior, and I'm curious to see what sort of role she created for Robin Wright Penn as the title character, whose husband is significantly older than she is, meaning when he moves them to a retirement community in the suburbs, she finds herself struggling to retain her sense of self.
ALSO ON DVD:
There are a lot of odd, smaller titles exclusive to DVD this week, both new and old. There's a new documentary called "Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story," an exploitation homage called "Bitch Slap: Unrated," and a Charlie Kaufman-esque starring vehicle for Paul Giamatti called "Cold Souls". If you're not familiar with the work of Agnes Varda, then her latest documentary, "The Beaches Of Agnes," is the perfect place to start, since it's a look back at her life and her work, and it makes a hell of a case for why she's a significant artist more people should know. I don't think '80s haunted car movie "The Wraith" works as a ghost story, but Charlie Sheen and Clint Howard's hair are both pretty scary in their own right. To tie in with their BluRay release of the first film, Dragon Dynasty is putting out "Return To The 36th Chamber" today as well, which means I'll finally get a chance to see it. There are two big female performances from the '80s out today, both absolutely worth catching up with if you're not already familiar with them. First is Meryl Streep in "Plenty," which David Hare adapted from his own play about an Englishwoman who spends WWII as part of the French Resistance, and then spends the next 20 years trying to build some sort of life for herself. Then there's Jessica Lange, whose work in the Hollywood biopic "Frances" is harrowing and unflinching. Frances Farmer's descent into mental illness gives Lange a license to go big, and she makes it painful and authentic. Finally, there's Ondi Timoner's documentary "We Live In Public," an absorbing look back at the rise and fall of Internet millionaire Josh Harris, whose experiments in online voyeurism went horribly, horribly wrong.
ALSO IN GAMES:
A new contender for the market share that was cornered so effectively by last year's "Modern Warfare 2" arrives today as "Battlefield: Bad Company 2" (X360/PC/PS3) hits stores. I get worn out by the sameness of most war games, so I'm not sure this one's for me, but since I just signed up for GameFly, I may well give it a try at some point. Baseball fans have to choose between "MLB 10: The Show" (PS3/PSP/PS2) and "Major League Baseball 2K10" (PS3/PC/Wii/PS2/PSP/DS) today, although I would imagine some might opt for both. And finally, at the junket for Tim Burton's "Alice In Wonderland" last week, they handed out a gift bag that included both soundtrack albums, a giant Mad Hatter top hat, some goth fingernail polish and the tie-in game "Alice In Wonderland" (DS/Wii). It was the DS version in my bag, which was a nice coincidence, since I don't own a Wii. I didn't care much for the game in the hour or so I played of it, but it's been a big hit with Toshi. It's inspired by Burton's film, but only loosely. Its visual style is totally different than the film, and it may please fans of text-driven adventure games.
NEXT WEEK: The long-awaited "Final Fantasy XVIII" arrives for gamers, "Precious" and "Up In The Air" arrive for Oscar-watchers, and "Old Dogs" and "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" arrive for people who hate movies and themselves.
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