There are quite a few big Blu-ray releases in the month of September, and two of them (“Braveheart” and “Gladiator”) are headlining the rollout of Paramount’s new Sapphire Series premium label. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive either one in time to review for this week’s column, which is too bad, because I’m hearing that the subpar transfer on the “Gladiator” disc is going to cause a major ruckus in the Blu-ray community. There are still a few cool releases coming out today, but nothing that absolutely demands your attention… or your money.
“Earth” (Walt Disney)
I wasn’t very fond of nature documentaries before seeing BBC’s “Planet Earth,” but now that I have, I can’t imagine seeing one even remotely as good again. The people at Disney must feel the same way, because instead of going out and trying to make their own nature doc, they decided to just reuse footage from the award-winning miniseries to create a feature-length version. Simply titled “Earth,” the 90-minute film is narrated by James Earl Jones and plays out like a Greatest Hits of the documentary’s best moments – from the more narrative-driven stories about families of polar bears, elephants and humpback whales to an amazing look at caribou migration and the birds of paradise. Fans of “Planet Earth” probably won’t be interested in the more ADD-friendly edition, but at least Disney has included some cool extras for those thinking about buying “Earth” for their kids, like a pop-up trivia track and a new Blu-ray feature (Living Menu) that offers nature facts and video clips every month.
“Heroes: Season Three” (Universal)
The third season of “Heroes” was supposed to be a return to form for the superhero drama, but despite an excellent season premiere, it turned out even worse than its harshly criticized sophomore year. The meaningless deaths of a few fan favorites certainly didn’t help the situation, but there were a few positives to be drawn from what could effectively be called a train wreck of a season. For starters, Zachary Quinto proved that he could play a good guy just as well as a baddie, while guest stars Robert Forster and Zeljko Ivanek delivered memorable performances as the show’s marquee villains. Season Three may not have lived up to its promises, but the Blu-ray release of the show continues to deliver with picture-in-picture audio commentaries, a slew of production featurettes, and more. The HD edition also includes additional behind-the-scenes footage and a sneak peek of Season Four. It doesn’t make up for the disappointing string of episodes, but if the show really does get back to its roots this year, you’ll want Season Three to complete your collection.
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It’s been awhile since I posted a proper Blu Tuesday column due to a combination of things – slow release weeks, busy work weeks, and even a sudden interest in writing up a few title-specific entries – but I plan on remedying that today. This week’s selection doesn’t contain any really major titles, nor is there anything that could be considered particularly must-buy, but you will find a couple of films that, if given the chance, might just earn a place in your collection.
If Tony Gilroy’s “Duplicity” taught us anything, it’s that moviegoers won’t see a film just because of the people involved. That, or Julia Roberts simply isn’t the A-list star she once was. Whatever the reason, it’s the perfect example of movie stars who make way too much. Case in point: Roberts was paid $15 million for her role in the film, while the movie only managed to rake in $40 million at the box office – a staggering $20 million less than its reported budget. While just about everyone can agree that inflated actor salaries need to be policed, reactions to the film itself haven’t been quite as cut and dry. Personally, I can understand why some might find “Duplicity” a little boring – it’s slow, repetitive, and the characters never seem to shut up – but we don’t get that many adult-oriented films these days, and though it isn’t perfect, Gilroy’s follow-up to the much better “Michael Clayton” is still worth a look. At the very least, it delivers some great dialogue and yet another solid performance from Clive Owen.
“Rudo Y Cursi” (Sony Classics)
Billed as the onscreen reunion of “Y Tu Mamá También” stars Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal (not to mention produced by Alfonso Cuarón and directed by his brother, Carlos), “Rudo Y Cursi” tells the story of two brothers from a small town who are recruited to play for rival teams in the Mexican Soccer League. Those expecting a straight-up soccer drama will find themselves severely disappointed, however, as it’s pretty obvious from the few times the actors are forced to play that they’re not very good. The lack of soccer action aside, “Rudo Y Cursi” is a fun little movie about two men who are practically handed the American dream, only to squander it on their respective vices. For Luna’s character, it’s compulsive gambling, and for Bernal, it’s the chance to use his newfound success to become a music superstar. The latter results in some pretty funny moments — including an accordion-led rendition of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” — but the real humor comes from the interactions between its two stars. That alone is worth the price of the ticket, although you could just as easily find some entertainment in their poor soccer skills as well.
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After last week’s fantastic selection of Blu-ray titles, you’d think that we’d have to wait another month or two before getting anything even remotely as good, but for fans of sci-fi, you really can’t do much better than today’s offering. There are no less than six geek-worthy Blu-rays this week, as well as a few other major titles definitely worthy of a spot in your collection.
“Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series” (Universal)
Okay, so I may have never actually watched “Battlestar Galactica” (save for the pilot/miniseries), but it’s one of those shows that I’ve been meaning to check out for quite awhile. And with the release of the complete series box set, what better time than now? This is the first time the show has been available on Blu-ray, and thanks to the fact that it’s actually shot in HD (though not broadcast that way, curiously enough) old and new fans alike can finally enjoy the show as it was meant to be seen. The included extras are mostly a retread of previously released bonus material, but Blu-ray owners do get a few exclusives, like picture-in-picture video and a pop-up encyclopedia. The series is housed in a sweet metallic cube that expands to reveal all four seasons and includes your very own frakkin’ toaster figurine. Even if you’re not a fan of the series, that’s pretty hard to resist.
“Fast & Furious” (Universal)
I don’t care how you may feel about the fourth installment of the popular car porn franchise, or even the series as a whole, because Universal has delivered yet another fine Blu-ray packed with just about everything you could hope for. Personally, I thought the movie was good mindless fund, but I know that a lot of people found it silly and contrived. Fair enough, but for those of you who did enjoy it, the double-disc effort includes a director commentary, stunt featurettes and even a cool Vin Diesel-directed short film that acts as a prequel to the movie. Of course, the real highlight is the Take Control feature, which offers an in-depth look at the film hosted by Justin Lin and Paul Walker. Though it’s only activated for the bigger sequences, it enables the filmmakers to go into further detail than the typical commentary track. Lin pauses, rewinds and fast-forwards his way through key moments, highlighting things with the help of storyboards and behind-the-scenes footage. Zack Snyder may have technically beaten everyone to the punch with a similar feature on the “Watchmen” Blu-ray, but it’s just good to see that Warner Bros. isn’t the only studio looking ahead. This is the future of the HD format.
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Due to the lack of options that Blu-ray enthusiasts were presented with over the last few weeks, it’s been a while since I’ve written a proper column. Though I had originally planned to combine two weeks’ worth of HD titles into one write-up, I ultimately decided against it because, well, even that selection wasn’t very inspiring. It’s a different story today, however, with three must-buy titles and several more worth checking out.
“Watchmen” (Warner Bros.)
The Blu-ray release of “Watchmen” has been the subject of attention since before the movie even arrived in theaters, but that’s what happens when you adapt something as popular as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ groundbreaking graphic novel. The good news is that after all the legal issues with 20th Century Fox and the film’s less-than-stellar box office performance, Warner Bros. has still come through with one of the coolest Blu-rays of the year. Not only does it feature a director’s cut with over 20 minutes of additional footage, but the three-disc set also introduces the much-publicized Maximum Movie Mode, which is kind of like Universal’s U-Control feature on steroids. Quite simply, this is the future of Blu-ray, with Zack Snyder hosting an in-depth look at key sequences (often pausing the movie to discuss certain details), while other extras — like a timeline comparing historical events from Our World to Their World, picture-in-picture interviews with the cast and crew, and storyboards and comic book comparisons — supplement the experience. Also included are a series of video diaries that you can hop over to while watching the film, as well as a second disc packed with featurettes on the graphic novel, the psychology of vigilantes, and the science of “Watchmen.” If there’s one release that should help convince consumers why Blu-ray is better than DVD, this is it.
“The Nightmare Before Christmas” might have the bigger fanbase, but Henry Selick’s latest stop-motion adventure, “Coraline,” is by far the better of the two films. Then again, when you consider that the source material was written by Neil Gaiman, it isn’t at all surprising that the movie would turn out as good as it did. Though it’s debatable whether or not “Coraline” will scare the younger crowds, the film is unequivocally a must-see for any fan of Selick’s past work. The Blu-ray release makes the experience even better, too, with the option to watch the film in 2-D or 3-D (glasses included), as well as a host of awesome extras ranging from a director commentary to an in-depth making-of featurette that might as well have been called Stop-Motion 101. The two-disc set also includes Universal’s standard U-Control feature with a picture-in-picture video track filled with behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and the ability to watch the full-length animatic alongside the movie. Were it not for the fact that Warner Bros. was releasing “Watchmen” on the same day, this easily would have been the best release of the week, and possibly the month.
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In lieu of my weekly Blu-ray column, I wanted to take the opportunity to take a closer look at one of this week’s higher profile releases. Fans of Ang Lee’s martial arts epic, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” have been waiting for an HD version of the film for quite some time now, but no one could have imagined it would happen like this. Instead of being given the update it deserves – complete with new bonus material and a silly subtitle like The Green Dynasty Edition – the film limps onto Blu-ray as part of a three-pack with two other movies it has nothing in common with other than falling under the wuxia subgenre. That’s not a slight against the included Zhang Yimou films (both “House of Flying Daggers” and “The Curse of the Golden Flower” are quite good in their own right), but rather the studio for thinking they could get away with such a heartless scam.
While most fans of “Crouching Tiger” will likely enjoy the other two movies (no doubt Sony’s big selling point), what the studio has failed to consider is that those same people probably bought them on Blu-ray the first time around. An unfortunate oversight or a crafty scheme to force consumers to pay for an added value they don’t want? I’m going to lean towards the latter, especially when the “Crouching Tiger” disc has been treated so poorly. True, the movie looks absolutely stunning in high definition, but there isn’t a single new thing about the release other than the upgraded video and audio. The same three special features have been imported from the DVD, while the addition of access to BD-Live means very little in terms of ever seeing new extras. If you don’t own any of the films, you could certainly spend your money on worse things, but just know that by doing so, you’re only encouraging Sony to do more of the same in the future.