On The Shelf (3.30.09) 'Slumdog,' 'Marley,' and classic musical BluRays
Plus exploitation trash, live comedy, and Riddick in high-def
Have you seen the new image gallery we're putting together each week to showcase some of the week's biggest DVD and BluRay titles?
The first one's right here.
And it's a good week, definitely. There are some big mainstream titles like Best Picture Academy Award winner "Slumdog Millionaire," which I'm guessing looks great on BluRay in particular, as well as the tearjerker "Marley & Me," which I'm glad someone warned me about because my wife would have been very, very unhappy seeing this one without prior warning. And I'm willing to bet a lot of people missed "Seven Pounds" in the theater, and I know it got some truly venomous reviews, but I'd still say give it a chance. Yes, it's a melodrama. Yes, it makes some big stretches at a few points. But I still found it affecting, maybe because it's Rosario Awesome playing the Sick Girl, and I'm sorry... my protective male chromosome kicks into overdrive when it's Rosario Awesome in distress. Will Smith plays the most nearly-unhinged saint in recent memory, and if you're willing to go with the film in its crazier moments, you might find yourself as taken with it as I was.
I'm a Leonard Cohen fan from my teenage years on, and I think he puts on ridiculously cool live shows. I'll probably read a few reviews to see what people's general impressions are of the set list and the performance, but it's a safe bet I'll be adding "Leonard Cohen: Live In London" to the collection very soon.
[more after the jump]
I haven't upgraded any of the films in the series to high-definition yet, but I think I'm going to break down and get "The Matrix: 10th Anniversary BluRay" this week. I've had the itch to watch the first film again, and this is one of those movies that I know I'll return to often enough that I should upgrade to the best version available. My one question: is this single-film release a different and better mastering than the one in the trilogy box set, or is it the exact same transfer, but just with different packaging?
If there are any films this week that I absolutely recommend you pick up and check out, "Tell No One" and "Timecrimes" would be the two that I named as top priority. Guillaume Canet's adaptation of the Harlan Coben suspense novel is a dense, smart piece of thriller filmmaking, and Francois Cluzet (or, as I like to call him, Dustin Hoffman's creepy French twin) makes a great everyman lead. When a man's wife dies, it kicks off an eight-year-game that will see him accused of murder, on the run from the cops, and embroiled in a dark and dangerous conspiracy. Great stuff. And I love smart, low-budget science-fiction that depends on good scripting instead of empty spectacle, so "Timecrimes" is my cup of tea in a big way. Nacho Vigalondo wrote and directed this brain-bending movie, and he plays a key supporting role opposite Karra Elejalde, a put-upon shlub whose natural curiosity leads him into a clusterfuck of paradox. You should definitely see the Spanish-language original before it gets remade, supposedly for 2011.
I love "Pitch Black" as a low-budget SF action film, and I love the lunatic ambition of "The Chronicles Of Riddick" as a sequel. And both of these are films that have great clever FX work and groovy visual design, perfect candidates for the BluRay treatment. I would imagine these are getting a release this week to tie in to the "Fast And Furious" release in theaters, but whatever the reason, it's good news for fans, and I can always hope that home video sales will eventually convince someone to bankroll a sequel to "Riddick" that picks up where that film leaves off.
One of my particular cinema fetishes is cinematography and the evolution of the image over the years. I love the gorgeous original Technicolor process, and I'm almost ridiculously excited to finally get my hands on "South Pacific" and "Gigi" and (especially) "An American In Paris," all of which are making their high-definition debut today on BluRay. I think Gene Kelly is, simply put, the greatest dancer in film history, and "An American In Paris" may be the greatest dance film he ever made, so it's on a short list of absolutely essential musicals. The other two titles are a little cornier, a little more classic-Hollywood-cheese, but they're both visually ravishing movies, and I'm dying to see the transfers. I think it's essential for older catalog classics to get the right treatment on BluRay if the format's going to really take hold with consumers, and I want that to happen for the purely selfish reason that I love BluRays, and I want more titles available ASAP.
Last year, as Paramount was gearing up the publicity push for "Ghost Town," they invited a handful of journalists to go to the Kodak Theater in Hollywood and see Ricky Gervais perform live as part of the run-up to the taping of "Ricky Gervais: Out Of England," his first American stand-up special. It was a great evening, and Gervais is more conversationalist than conventional comic. No matter. He is blisteringly funny, and I loved watching which joke it was that triggered people around me to walk out. Everyone seemed to have their own threshhold, and it was like he was running down a checklist, determined to drive as many of them from the theater as possible. I haven't seen the "Dennis Miller: The HBO Specials" box set yet, but I saw most of those specials when they originally aired, before Miller became a cranky old pundit and back when he was actually a comedian first and foremost. Finally, there's "Jim Gaffigan: King Baby" also hitting shelves today, and it's a great record of what it is that Gaffigan does that makes him unique among stand-ups right now. He manages to do TV-safe material that doesn't feel like it's been intentionally sanitized, and he's always funny. It's a really solid set, and well worth your time if you like him at all.
Two major works of international cinema are getting the deluxe Criterion treatment today. "Il Generale Della Rovere" is a Rossellini film that actually stars Vittorio De Sica, best known as the director of "The Bicycle Thief," as a war profiteer in Genoa who ends up compromised by collaboration with the Nazis. It's a fairly important picture for Rossellini, and this looks like a great edition of it. "Danton" is Andrzej Wajda's take on the French Revolution as a way of looking at Polish politics at the time. Gerard Depardieu and Wojciech Pszoniak co-star as Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre, locked in a battle of ideologies that could destroy their country.
I'm not sure I have the stomach for "Ichi The Killer" on BluRay, but I'm still compelled to go out and get it as soon as possible. I'm a shameless addict for Asian cinema, and I'm also dying to get my hands on the Shaw Brother Collection release of "Martial Club" this week sometime.
I love how the early days of any home video format (and I'd definitely say this is still the early days for BluRay) is normally made up of either major classics or absolute catalog title crap, and this week, Sony dumps the wretched Jet Li vehicle "The One" and the painful John Carpenter misfire "Ghosts Of Mars" onto BluRay. Do I have both? Yes. Yes, I do.
Don't blame me, though. I'm hardwired to seek out exploitation junk just in case I find a gem. I can't help myself. How many people do you know who are just as excited by titles this week like "Cat In The Brain" and "Christina Lindberg: Exposed" and "The Sinful Dwarf" and "The Hercules Collection" as they are about any mainstream title being released? "Cat In The Brain" is the ultimate Fulci picture, in which Fulci appears as a version of Fulci in a film by Fulci about a director being driven mad by his own films. Christina Lindberg is a cult icon because of her role in "Thriller: A Cruel Picture," aka "They Call Me One-Eye," one of the many films that helped inspire characters or situations in "Kill Bill," and this film was made when she was at the height of what little exploition notoriety she ever enjoyed. It's the story of a girl who is photographed nude, and in order to get those photos back, she has to degrade herself with the repulsive photographer who took them. "The Sinful Dwarf," which I like to call "The Jeff Mahler Story," is one of the single most degenerate things I have ever laid eyes on. You can watch a video where some sleaze fans talk about being marked for life by the film, or you can simply know that it is a favorite movie of Harry Knowles, a sure sign that it will scar you. And come on... a box set of "Hercules" movies? Sure, you'll miss the robots and Joel, but these films are plenty fun on their own.
Finally, Lionsgate releases "8 Movies To Die For, Vol. 3" this week, and I have to give them real credit for pursuing this idea year to year. There are a lot of very small horror films that are made each year that get no significant release at all, and even if they do make it to video store shelves, they don't have any money for marketing. So it's a pretty great thing to see Lionsgate use this brand name to help generate some attention for what must be very low cost acquisitions. This year's batch includes "Autopsy," "The Broken," "The Butterfly Effect 3," "The Dying Breed," "From Within," "Perkins 14," "Slaughter," and the South Korean "Voices." Even if not all of the films are great or even good, it's still an ongoing label that I really like, and I hope they keep it going for years to come.
Make sure you're here next week when we'll be looking at titles like "Doubt," "The Tale Of Despereaux," the remake of "The Day The Earth Stood Still," and the latest comedies from Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey.
On The Shelf appears here every Monday. Except when it doesn't.
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