So I've been thinking about how to handle this column, and I'm starting to seriously think that after I get back from SXSW, you're going to see this evolve into my first-ever weekly podcast. It's one of those things that can take a lot of time on a busy week, and I think I could actually do a better job in a more conversational way with an audio version of this column. So stay tuned... big changes are coming...
For now, it feels like all of Hollywood has a hangover in the wake of the Oscars. Everything's quiet, and that includes this week's fairly modest release schedule. There's a huge title for gamers, a few of this year's Oscar contenders, and a couple of the worst films in recent memory. All in all, an interesting week, so let's get right to it.
THIS WEEK'S FEATURED TITLES:
I've never been a big fan of this particular type of game, but there's no denying that "Final Fantasy" is one of the biggest franchise titles in the world, and the release of this particular chapter in that franchise comes with enormous expectations both from the audience and from the developers. New approaches to combat, more overt SF influences than ever before, and the first time one of these has been released multi-platform in the US means we're looking at one of the biggest launch days of the year. I hope this one lives up to all the hopes that fans have for it, because it's been a long time trying to get this on shelves.
Probably the most surprising moment for Oscar-freaks on Sunday was when "Precious" took Best Adapted Screenplay instead of "Up In The Air," which won pretty much everything all season long. I'm not surprised, though, based on Academy history. "Up In The Air," adapted by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner from the novel by Walter Krim, is a subtle piece of adult writing that dares to dabble in ambiguity. "Precious," on the other hand, doesn't have a subtle bone in its body, hammering the human horror to make its points. I like the performances in "Precious" more than I like the film itself, and I was surprised that Lee Daniels seemed to reign in his worst instincts as a director which made his previous film "Shadowboxer" into a genuinely unwatchable experience. I really like "Up In The Air," which says a lot about a certain kind of modern man and the disconnect that is built into their lifestyle. It's a film I look forward to revisiting, and both films should benefit from the high-def treatment, visually speaking.
"The Who: The Kids Are Alright" (BluRay)
"Jimi Hendrix: Live At Woodstock" (BluRay)
Although typically when I write about BluRay releases I focus on the picture quality that is one of the highlights of the format, the discs also represent a major step forward in audio quality, which is why I'm looking forward to checking out these classic rock releases. The Hendrix title is his full Woodstock set as opposed to the short look at his performance featured in Michael Wadleigh's classic documentary, and The Who title is one of the best known concert films of the '70s, which has always been fairly poorly treated on home video. I'm looking forward to checking out how both of these have been handled.
I am still seeing a therapist to work through my feelings about "Old Dogs," a truly rancid "family" comedy starring Robin Williams and John Travolta, and I wanted to make sure to warn you specifically about its release, just in case you were debating catching up with it on video. Don't. It's not just a mediocre mainstream comedy... it is actively offensive and hateful and horrifying. I will say this in regards to Troy Duffy, the auteur behind both of the "Boondock Saints" movies... he's gotten slightly less godawful with his second film. But only slightly. I confess that I'm baffled by why anyone would be a member of the bizarre cult that's risen around the first movie, which I've always thought of as regurgitated post-Tarantino faux-machismo garbage. Sure enough, though, the first movie has a following, and those fans should be absolutely enraptured by this sequel, which features most of the cast of the original movie as well as new cast members Clifton Collins Jr. and Julie Benz, who are onhand to help the Saints shoot lots of people and make homophobic jokes.
ALSO ON BLURAY:
Sony releases the SF animated film "Planet 51" (BluRay/DVD) today, which is about an astronaut from Earth making first contact, with him as the invader, and it suffers from a split personality. It wants to be Hollywood cute and family friendly, but it also wants to make some big points about perspective. It never quite gels, but it made the preschool SF nerd in my house happy. Also for animation fans, "Evangelion 1.11 You Are Not Alone" (BluRay/DVD) is out today, a revamp of the long-running brain-bending anime series that seems to have disppointed the hardcore followers. If nothing else, it's beautiful. I'm sorry that the film "Hachi A Dog's Tale" (BluRay/DVD) ended up getting dumped direct to video, because it's a gentle, charming movie that will make dog lovers cry their eyes out, and Lasse Halstrom's career seems to be seriously adrift at the moment, which is sad to witness. Michael Moore's latest film, "Capitalism: A Love Story" (BluRay/DVD), is a welcome return to form for the documentarian/shit-stirrer, and it makes some difficult points about how the economy crumbled, and how hard it's going to be to fix the situation. Cedric Klapisch is a strong filmmaker with a real voice, and even though I missed it theatrically, I'm excited to catch up with "Paris" (BluRay/DVD), his latest, which features Juliette Binoche. Since so much of what makes his work special is the discovery of what he's got on his mind, I've avoided all descriptions, but come on... Juliette Binoche and Paris and the director of "When The Cat's Away"... do you really need to know more than that? Finally, "The Stoning Of Soraya M." (BluRay/DVD) is a bitter pill to swallow, a film about a young man in Iran in the late '60s whose car breaks down, leading him to a deeper understanding of some of the worst parts of his culture. It's rough stuff, and well worth seeing.
ALSO ON DVD:
I first became a Jeff Goldblum fan as a kid when I watched him religiously on TV in "Tenspeed & Brown Shoe" (DVD), and I'm curious to see if the chemistry between him and Ben Vereen still seems as fresh now. It's a mismatched detective show from Stephen J. Cannell that only ran for part of a season, so this box has every episode on it. Also from the Cannell camp, although much later, was "Wiseguy: The Collector's Edition" (DVD), and the show was never a huge hit, although it did inspire a fairly rabid fanbase. If for nothing else, you should check it out to see some of Ray Sharkey's most inspired work as Sonny Steelgrave, a world-class creep. "Fix" (DVD) and "Service" (DVD) are both micro-budget indies that could easily get lost in the shuffle, but both are worth a look. In "Fix," a couple tries to raise $5000 in a day to keep his brother out of jail and get him into rehab, with writer/director Tao Ruspoli also co-starring alongside "Tron Legacy" star Olivia Wilde. "Service" is a Filipino family drama set in and around the business they run together, a dilapidated movie palace that only shows porn these days, and it's impressive if not totally successful. If you're a fan already, then you know why I'm recommending "Maria Bamford: Plan B" (DVD), and if you're not, then check out one of the most unique and deranged voices in the world of stand-up comedy today. Mike Nesmith's cult oddity "Tapeheads" (DVD) stars John Cusack and Tim Robbins and makes fun of a home video landscape that no longer exists. Even when released, it didn't really work, but time has made it interesting as a relic and as a fascinating miss. I love the whole idea of Film Movement's "movie-a-month" club, and their picks are almost always movies that deserve the attention but that were on no one's radar. "Gigante" (DVD), their latest offering, sounds like a dark cross between "One Hour Photo" and "Heavy," and consider me intrigued. Finally, "Iron King: The Complete Series" (DVD) is going to be an immediate purchase for my son considering his profound love of all things "Ultraman." Japanese dudes dressed in crazy suits fighting giant monsters? Total home run.
ALSO IN GAMES:
I played the recent demo for "Yakuza 3" (PS3), and it seemed to combine all the walking around of "Grand Theft Auto" with all the slow-motion annoyance of a Japanese RPG. Not for me, but if that chemistry sounds like your cup of tea, then it should be a home run for you. I have a feeling that you already know if you're interested in "Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition" (X360/PS3) and "Warhammer 40,000: Dawn Of War II - Chaos Rising" (PC), since they're both big franchise titles with a huge fanbase, and I expect they'll continue to rack up impressive sales figures with today's release.
NEXT WEEK: "God Of War III" finally arrives, "The Princess And The Frog" comes home, Shout! Factory releases more MST3K, and a little indie movie called "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" struggles to find an audience.
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