The lovely woman above is Michelle Van Schaik, a Dutch model who makes her movie debut in “Death Race 3: Inferno.” The Death Race franchise is based in large part on action, violence and explosions. With the third installment, there’s more room for beautiful actresses, and this should help drive success for this film being released directly to Blu-ray/DVD. Van Schaik has a great look and as you can see from this video interview she has a great presence about her as well. It will be interesting to see if she gets opportunities outside of South Africa.
The thing about people who are naturally good at making people laugh is that they often lose sight of when it’s time to drop the mic and walk away. Now take a movie like “Horrible Bosses,” which is 96 of the funniest minutes you’ll spend this year or any other. For a movie so packed with humor and wit, there is surely something just as awesome that didn’t make the cut, right?
Well, maybe. The truth is, we have yet to watch the extended version of the film (it’s eight minutes longer, and if we knew where those eight minutes were, we’d go straight to them), but if the deleted scenes in the Special Features section on the Blu-ray are any indication, the makers of “Horrible Bosses” left nothing in the bag, as it were. There are a couple of alternate openings, neither of which is as good as the one in the final film, and we get to hear the full recording of Kurt’s tryst with Nick’s boss’ wife (hint: it doesn’t take long). The only other scene worth the film it’s printed on is Colin Farrell at the supermarket, accosting the pharmacist (a snippet of which you can see in the closing credits of the movie). There are featurettes on working for horrible people and how much fun it is to play mean, but the general tone of the featurettes is pretty dry. This is a movie worth owning, no question, but don’t expect the bonus features to serve as the motivation for the purchase. They’re really just a pleasant addition.
Of course, we may change our minds on that once we’ve seen the Totally Inappropriate Edition of the movie, but we’re betting against it. ‘Unrated’ tends to mean ‘overrated’ when it comes to these things.
The DVDs and Blu-Rays have been piling up. So, it’s time to go through a bunch of them, with a bit of extra attention paid to movies that might appeal to dads, though I suppose moms might like some of these as well.
* Playwright George Kaufmann famously defined satire as “what closes on Saturday night” and these days you might as well define political thrillers as “what doesn’t get greenlit unless a bunch of big stars really want to do it, and then bombs.” “The Manchurian Candidate” is both political thriller and a satire and it didn’t fail at the box office, though it was kept out of circulation for nearly twenty years after its initial release for reasons that remain somewhat mysterious to this day.
I’m hardly alone in feeling this is probably the best political thriller ever made and possibly the second best political satire after “Dr. Strangelove.” Long after the end of the Cold War which spawned it, it’s continues to resonate with our political culture and it’s title still gives peoples the willies. Just ask John McCain.
Directed by John Frankenheimer and based on a novel by the mordantly comic suspense novelist Richard Condon of “Prizzi’s Honor” and “Winter Kills,”, you might know that it’s the story of what happens when a Soviet/Red Chinese brainwashing unit gets its hands on a group of captured soldiers, including Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey, who makes aloof bitterness very cool), the highly estranged step-son of a Joe McCarthy-like senator. Frank Sinatra does maybe his best acting work as a traumatized fellow soldier who realizes something might be up because of some very strange and very bad dreams he’s having — and the fact that he keeps calling the unpleasant Shaw “the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”
It’s a brave blend of politics, off-the-wall black comedy (what was called “sick humor” back then), suspense, and borderline Jacobean classical tragedy. Frankenheimer had a knack for making political material work dramatically, and also for drawing out strong performances. Janet Leigh (“Psycho“) was perfect as the female love interest, who was written so oddly by Richard Condon and screenwriter/playwright George Axelrod that many have theorized she’s actually an operative of some sort — an idea capitalized on in Jonathan Demmes’ disappointingly morose 2004 remake. The greatest casting coup here, however, is Angela Lansbury’s absolutely chilling turn as Raymond Shaw’s hated extremist Washington-hostess mother. She wasn’t the only less-than-pleasant character Lansbury ever played, but there’s something about what happens when actors who make a career largely playing nice people play extremely not-nice people that can be electrifying.
I also can’t resist mentioning the fight scene between Sinatra and Henry Silva as a North Korean spy, which Frankenheimer was often proud to mention was the first use of martial arts fighting styles in an American film. Seeing it again, it’s not only more brutally effective than I remembered as Sinatra and Silva all but destroy Laurence Harvey’s Washington apartment, but — especially in the initial moments when Sinatra instinctively begins fighting the Silva character without even knowing who he is — it’s pretty obvious to me now that it had to be one of the main inspirations for the terrific first fight scene in “Kill Bill, Volume I,” in which Uma Thurman and Vivica A. Fox lay waste to a Pasadena living room.
The Blu-Ray is, by the way, not a deluxe restoration, but it includes all of the excellent features that earlier DVDs have included and the print has been kept in excellent enough shape that a new restoration isn’t really necessary. It looks great. Super highly recommended, though pricey.
Tags: 87th Precinct, Angela Lansbury, Anthony Quinn, Blu-ray, Carl Foreman, Casablanca, Cop Hater, Ed McBain, Estes Kefauver, Evan Hunter, Fantasy Island, Fort Apache, Fred Zinneman, Gary Cooper, George Axelrod, Henry Silva, High and Low, High Noon, Ina Balin, J. Edgar Hoover, Jake Cutter, Janet Leigh, Jerry Orbach, Joe McCarthy, John Ford, John Forsythe, John Frankenheimer, John Wayne, Jonathan Demme, Katy Jurado, Laurence Harvey, Lee Marvin, Man from Del Rio, Michael Curtiz, Prizzi's Honor, Ranger Jake Cutter, Raymond Shaw, Richard Condon, Rio Grande, Robert Loggia, Stuart Whitman, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Captive City, The Comancheros, The Horse Soldiers, The Manchurian Candidate, Uma Thurman, Vincent Gardenia, Vivica A. Fox, William Holden, Winter Kills
Those who basked in the wonders of “Planet Earth” and its follow-up “Life” would do well to delve into this frequently mind-blowing five hour series from the Beeb, hosted by physicist (and ex-rock star) Professor Brian Cox. “Wonders of the Solar System” is a triumph of both education and entertainment. On solar eclipses, Cox explains: “The sun is 400 times the diameter of the moon. And by sheer coincidence, it’s 400 times further away from the Earth. There’s something like between 145 and 167 moons in the solar system, depending on how you’re counting, but none of them produces such perfect eclipses as the Earth’s moon.” He then goes to India to partake in a breathtaking total solar eclipse in the presence of a massive, fervent crowd. Cox marvels, “That’s the solar system comin’ down and grabbin’ you by the throat!”
The youthful professor trots all over the globe, using locations and incidents on Earth such as volcanoes, the Grand Canyon, tornadoes and the Northern Lights to practically explain what the rest of the planets in our solar system are actually like. The series also mixes satellite photography and gorgeous CGI that give plenty of insight into our neighboring worlds. When it really comes down to it, though, it’s Cox’s enthusiasm, intelligence, and unexpected bursts of humor that give “Wonders of the Solar System” an edge over other, similar documentary series. It’s a pleasure to have this man as a living, breathing guide as opposed to an unseen narrator. The only area where the series comes up a little short is in the aforementioned CGI department, as a fair amount of it manages to be recycled perhaps a few too many times. There are two extra programs (presented in SD) entitled “What on Earth is Wrong with Gravity?” and “Do You Know What Time It Is?,” which brings the total running time of the set up to almost seven hours. While watching this material, I kept thinking, “If I’d been able to see this kind of stuff in high school, I probably wouldn’t have fallen asleep in science class.”
This week’s major releases are a couple of real downers, so instead, I decided to choose a few other titles that might not seem like obvious choices, but surely have their share of diehard fans. And when it comes to the first Blu-ray on my list, I just so happen to be one of those fans.
Who said nothing good ever came of the writers’ strike? While most of Hollywood was forced to sit on their asses (or stand around in a picket line) waiting for the studios to strike a deal with the WGA, Joss Whedon decided to take advantage of his newly earned free time by producing a free-to-the-public internet short that just so happened to be a musical. It was pretty ambitious stuff, but nothing out of the ordinary for Whedon. Still, even with a fanbase as loyal (and some might even say cultish) as his, no one could have anticipated that “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” would turn into the pop culture phenomenon it is today. From the casting of Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day, to the smart writing and memorable music, “Dr. Horrible” is certainly a one-of-a-kind experience. It might seem strange that a show originally conceived to be viewed on a computer screen would be released on Blu-ray, but it looks good in high definition, and its 42-minute runtime makes for brisk and enjoyable viewing. The inclusion of a making-of featurette and cast and crew commentary beefs up the single-disc release, but it’s “Commentary! The Musical” – a secondary track where the cast and crew sing about everything from the writers’ strike to an iPhone game called Ninja Ropes that they played during production – that is the real gem. It’s all very meta, and of course, very Whedon.
Stanley Kubrick’s historical epic celebrates its 50th anniversary with a digitally restored edition of the film available for the first time on Blu-ray. Though I’m not exactly a fan of the movie (it’s incredibly cheesy at times, about an hour too long, and Kirk Douglas just rubs me the wrong way), there’s no denying that it played a major part in Kubrick’s evolution as a director. In fact, you can even spot some of his trademarks if you look hard enough. “Spartacus” is also terribly uneconomic with its use of time – from the overture and intermission to the numerous montages – but it’s still worth seeing at least once. It isn’t exactly the best restoration on the market, but it is a much-improved print that should please fans who’ve become accustomed to watching the film on cable.
Tags: Blu Tuesday, Blu-ray, Blu-ray new releases, Blu-ray reviews, Dear John Blu-ray, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Blu-ray, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Blu-ray, Spartacus Blu-ray, Stagecoach Blu-ray, The Road Blu-ray, True Blood Blu-ray
Conveniently timed Blu-ray reissues bring out the cynic in us, especially when it comes to a title that has already received the Special Edition treatment in the previous format of choice. But we must give credit where credit is due: the Blu-ray releases of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2″ are so well worth the upgrade that we kind of hate them for it. Fine, damn it, take our money. Again.
The best thing about these Blu-ray/DVD combo sets is a small thing, but an important one: All of the new bonus features appear on both types of media. Some studios only give the goods to the Blu-ray converts, but Disney clearly realizes that for many families, buying the latest technology is not their top priority, so good for them for making all of the new extras available on both formats.
And man, are those extras fun. There are two new features created for these sets. “Paths to Pixar” highlights the efforts of people on the technical side and what it was that led them to doing what they do for a living, but the “Studio Stories” bits are the crown jewels. Various Pixar staffers tell stories about the studio’s early days (our favorite is the one involving the scooter races), put to simple but highly amusing black & white animation. Each movie also has its own sneak peek into the upcoming “Toy Story 3,” though the feature on the “Toy Story 2″ set which highlights the new characters is the superior of the two.
Both sets feature newly recorded audio commentaries. The commentary for “Toy Story” features the Pixar All-Stars, namely John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter (Oscar winners all). The commentary for “Toy Story 2″ includes Lasseter, Stanton and Lee Unkrich, who makes his directorial debut with “Toy Story 3.” There is a heartbreaking piece dedicated to Joe Ranft, who passed away during the production of “Cars” in 2005, but the one extra that will have people buzzing is the Black Friday piece, where Lasseter introduces the rough version of “Toy Story” that nearly killed Pixar. It’s fascinating to watch because, well, there’s no other way of saying it: it’s mean.
Lastly, the Blu-ray editions include all of the DVD extras from the 2005 reissue of the “Toy Story” movies, so anyone who bought those versions does not need to keep them. These sets were thoughtfully considered and well done, but that’s what one would expect from the best movie studio in Hollywood.
A busy day in tinseltown, but I’ve got to keep things brief tonight.
* Nikki Finke is breaking the story that “Spiderman 4″ is on hold due to script problems. In other words, Sam Raimi supposedly “hates” the screenplay a large of number of screenwriting cooks have been preparing. The latest to get his hands on the script is screenwriting standby Alvin Sargent, who worked at the past two Spidey movies and is, at 82, probably by far the most senior fellow writing comic book movies these days. And, oh yeah, it might be in 3-D.
* In another scoop for the Finkster, she reports that underage It-boy Taylor Lautner is Hollywood best compensated teen and now being paid “per ab,” though he apparently has half an ab. I wonder if I get figure out a way to get paid per nose hair.
* Anne Thompson reports that Sam Mendes is “in talks” to direct the next James Bond movie. This would be a major change of pace for the director best known for the Oscar-winning, cinephile-derided, “American Beauty” and “Road to Perdition,” whose attempt at an indie dramedy, “Away We Go,” failed to set the world on fire last year.
* T-Bone Burnett, a superb musician and record producer who has found his greatest fame working on “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” and pretty much every major film with a country music/Americana aspect to it, tells Kim Masters a moving story about how the late musician Stephen Brutan influenced the filming of “Crazy Heart” with Jeff Bridges.
* And how can we get through a day without mentioning “Avatar“? If you’ve been wondering how the Na’vi nasty is done, you’ll get some “soft R” clues, I’m guessing, on the special edition DVD. That’s the word from Huffington Post. I guess we’ll have to wait longer to have 3-D big screen alien-sex.
* On a vastly more serious “Avatar” related note, the Washington Post reports that James Cameron is openly considering making a hard-hitting film about nuclear weapons and traveled to Japan — the only country to ever be attacked with nuclear weapons — to start researching it last month. This is the kind of film you can make with a major studio after you have the kind of monster hit Cameron appears to have on his hands.
As for the research, not all of us are able to talk to survivors of the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki — I actually have, in another life, and consider myself lucky for having done so. If you’ve never read John Hersey’s Hiroshima, however, you should. The world might not be under constant threat of annihilation as it was up from the fifities to the late eighties, but nuclear weapons remain a serious threat. ‘Still, I’m sure Fox would be just as happy if Cameron decided to make “True Lies II.”
* It’s a big day for octogenarians breaking stereotypes just a bit. Christopher Lee is continuing his exploration of “orchestral metal.” I hope you enjoy his new direction.
* The Premium Hollywood/Bullz-Eye gang is quickly dividing into Blu-Ray “haves” and “have nots.” For the benefit of the “haves,” (a group that does not include me) Glenn Kenny recounts his favorite BR discs of 2009.
Tags: Alvin Sargent, American Beauty, Avatar, Avatar sex scene, Away We Go, Blu-ray, Christopher Lee, Crazy Heart, Glenn Kenny, Headlines, Hiroshima, James Bond, James Cameron, Jeff Bridges, John Hersey, Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, Road to Perdition, Sam Mendes, Spiderman 4, Stephen Brutan, T-Bone Burnett, Taylor Lautner, True Lies
It’s a typical, hazy late morning in Southern California and, as I start this, some folks in Hollywood are still rolling into work, Don Draper style, but there is already some news.
* If you’re curious about what’s been going on the set of the motion-capture Tintin movie being co-directed by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, and you’re a fan of Nick Frost, Screencrave has an absolute must read interview where he candidly discusses the working methods and how incredibly nervous he was having to do “real” acting. Mr. Frost seems like an easy guy to like.
* I never got into this particular geek thing, but it appears that the new “Monster Squad” remake is not a “Monster Squad” remake.
* Blu-Ray sales are good. I guess I’m eventually going to have to get that player and high-def TV to go with it. Maybe I should start a new charity, akin to Toys for Tots. “High End Home Electronics for Underpaid Critics in Need”?
* Dan Glickman, successor to the late Jack Valenti at the lobbying arm of the movie industry, the MPAA, will be leaving the gig at the end of his contract next September. As described by Variety‘s Ted Johnson, names in the running to replace Glickman include San Fernando Valley Democratic congressman Howard Berman, Disney lobbyist Richard Bates, former Tennessee rep. Harold Ford, and this guy who’s our state’s governor right now.
Not to speak ill of the dead (which is the kind of thing you say just before you do just that), but the late Mr. Valenti was an avuncular but oily character who you instinctively knew you couldn’t trust. He also drove me batty with his inane defenses of the obviously corrupt and unfair rating system. In any case, Arnold would in some ways be a step up if they want someone super high-profile, much as I would never vote for the guy for any public office and not only because he’s a Republican. Ford, who has become a frequent TV talking head since losing his state’s senate race after some arguably racist ads is someone I trust even less than Valenti or the S man and not just because he’s an outspoken conservadem…well, mostly. He’s perhaps too obviously a slick character, even for Hollywood.
Berman I don’t really know well though looking at his Wikipedia page I’m reminded of why he’s not a particular favorite of California progressives, even while claiming to be one, but he’s probably a good choice if they want to fly under the radar. Being a fairly political guy and living in Southern California for almost my entire life, I still know next to nothing about the guy except he looks to be a direct descendent of the 3 Stooges’ Larry Fine. Not many guys over sixty still sporting the Jewfro.
* As reported by the L.A. Times (via Anne Thompson), veteran producer, high flying studio executive, and long-time UCLA Film School fixture Peter Guber — noted in the 1980s as the more sane half of Guber/Peters — is getting together with digital media entrepreneur Peter Levin and Wizard magazine owner Gareb Shamus to create GeekChic Daily, an e-newsletter whose title pretty much says it all. I just signed up here and was informed that I “rock.”
Tags: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Blu-ray, Dan Glickman, Disney, Don Draper, Gareb Shamus, Geekchic Daily, Guber/Peters, Harold Ford, Headlines, Howard Berman, Jack Valenti, Larry Fine, Monster Squad, MPAA, Nick Frost, Peter Guber, Peter Jackson, Peter Levin, Richard Bates, Steven Spielberg, the 3 Stooges, Tintin, Wizard
As at least a large chunk of America mourns the passing of Ted Kennedy, today is a day when we honor William Faulkner’s phrase: “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”
* Did you know that the late Walter Cronkite stumbled into a den of Colombian narco-terrorists? The result was that a few years later the most trusted man in America gave testimony before a Florida jury. No surprise, a major conviction resulted. Now, as Michael Fleming tells it, international thrillmeister Luc Besson wants to turn Uncle Walter into a movie action hero, or something close. Interesting.
* Great news for those of us who are involved with cinema’s past here in Southern California. The endangered film program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has been given a $150,000 reprieve.
* Something tells me that maybe Vin Diesel is taking that Faulkner quote a bit too seriously. Does anyone want XXX III?
* Martin Anderson of Den of Geek wonders about the future of Blu-Ray in general and a newer superduper 3-D compatible version being tied to “Avatar.” He’s right about the still-problematic nature of at least some of the glasses and the fact that we quickly forget we’re even watching 3-D after the first few minutes, so there’s a point of diminishing returns for the viewer which might prevent folks from making the large initial investment in the technology. For me, I love 3-D as a novelty for certain kinds of movies, but I really don’t think we need it to become standard. Having 3-D available to me at home would almost defeat the purpose and ruin the fun.
Things may be somewhat winding down as the con’s final day unspools, but there was plenty of big movie stuff yesterday.
* I attended part of a live event that was basically the equivalent of a nifty Blu-Ray disc feature for the “Watchmen” director’s cut Blu-Ray disc, in which director Zack Snyder (“300“) performed a live commentary that was really more of an Q&A with users of the “BD Live” feature for the disc and audience members. What I saw didn’t quite rock my world in terms of the level of discussion. When asked whether the Comedian is a good guy or a bad guy, his answer was words to the effect of “I don’t know. That’s kind of the point.” Things were also light in terms of techno-geekery, slightly to my disappointment and slightly to my relief.
Here’s what bugs me, rightly or wrongly: Snyder has basically finished making two huge comic-book adaptations from opposite sides of the political spectrum — not necessarily overtly, but very clearly in their background — and he hasn’t seemed to notice. I’m a political animal by nature, so that kind of baffles me. Not everybody has to be super-political, but morality and politics is very much at the heart of “Watchmen” at least, and I don’t know how you can make the film without having more of a position on it. Also, Snyder says he hasn’t decided whether or not Veidt/Ozymandias is gay or whether Rorschach might have issues there as well. I’m not saying he had to publicly out any fictional characters, but it’s sort of conventional wisdom (and wise wisdom, I think) that a writer or a director should know that kind of detail for himself about major characters in his film, much as the actors also need to , though sometimes they can make differing calls on those matters. It has to do with committing.
There was also some mention, and free XL polyester t-shirts, for Snyder’s new project, “Sucker Punch.”
Tags: BD Live, Blu-ray, Byron Mins, Elvis Mitchell, Iron Man 2, James Cameron, LOTR, Michael Jai White, Mickey Rourke, Ozymandias, Peter Jackson, Randy's Donuts, Robert Downey Jr., Rorschach, Salli Richardson, Samuel L. Jackson, Scott Sanders, Terminator, Watchmen, Zack Snyer