It’s been awhile since my last Blu-ray column (two weeks ago, I attended a brand retreat in Walt Disney World with Hanes and returned with a non-swine flu), but luckily, I didn’t miss too much. In fact, with the exception of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (which you should definitely pick up, by the way), there were no other major releases last week. This week is a different story, however, with a few A-list titles, a slew of movies from the Paramount and MGM vaults, and an awesome collection that sci-fi fans are going to want to check out.
“Taken” (20th Century Fox)
By far the biggest surprise of the year, Pierre Morel’s “Taken” is a good old fashioned action thriller that doesn’t waste a single minute on pointless exposition or silly subplots. Liam Neeson is excellent as the Jack Bauer-type who jets off to Paris when his teenage daughter is kidnapped by human traffickers, and then proceeds to kick the ass of each and every person involved until there’s no one else left to punish. Though I’ve yet to actually check out the extras on the Blu-ray release, the U.K. edition sported some pretty cool bonus material including a picture-in-picture geographical locator, a making-of featurette, and side-by-side comparisons for six of the film’s key sequences. I’d expect the U.S. version to feature the same, but here’s hoping we get a few exclusives as well.
“Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection” (Paramount)
With J.J. Abrams’ big screen reboot of the sci-fi classic tearing up the box office in its first week in theaters, it’s really no surprise that Paramount would want to take advantage of the hype train by releasing all six of the original “Star Trek” films on Blu-ray for the first time. As we’ve already seen from the Season One release, however, Paramount’s HD reissues are more than quick cash grabs, but rather serious undertakings meant to please the most loyal of fans. The same appears to be true of the “Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection,” a seven-disc box set that includes remastered editions of all six movies (sorry, no director cuts this time around) and an additional disc of bonus material entitled The Captain’s Summit. Suffice it to say, this is a no-brainer Day One purchase for any real “Trek” fan, but at such a great price ($79.99 on Amazon), I’d even say it’s worth it for the casual fan as well.
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The Blu-ray community is positively obsessed with the technical specs of every high-def release, but that doesn’t mean you should only invest in movies that make the most of that technology. While there are some titles this week that look and sound great because of it, there are a few others that still belong in your collection – even if they don’t exactly benefit from the enhanced audio and video that Blu-ray delivers.
“The Wrestler” (Fox Searchlight)
With each passing year, the Academy Awards become easier and easier to predict. There are so many awards given out by different organizations before the big night that by the time it finally arrives, the race has already been won. This year was a little different – Sean Penn stole the Best Actor prize when the Academy decided to make a political statement following the passing of Proposition 8, even if that meant denying comeback kid and frontrunner Mickey Rourke from completing the collection – but that shouldn’t take anything away from Rourke’s touching performance as an aging professional wrestler. Though the movie is pretty simple in terms of story and filmmaking (especially considering Darren Aronofsky is the one behind the camera), “The Wrestler” is a must-have for anyone searching for a good American drama. The included bonus features aren’t particularly enticing (the lack of a commentary is the biggest offense), but for a movie as gritty as this, it sure looks good in HD.
Another film that’s dependent almost entirely on the strength of its performances, “Frost/Nixon” was one of the 2008’s best movies, but you wouldn’t know it from the little attention it did receive during awards season. Ron Howard is the kind of director who isn’t as talented as the material he’s working with, but he sure knows how to pick a good story. Based on the Tony Award-winning play of the same name (which was in turn based on David Frost’s famous series of interviews with then former president Richard Nixon), “Frost/Nixon” blazes through its tension-filled 122-minute runtime so fast that you almost forget to breathe. Constructed like a boxing match where the opponents take jabs at each other with words instead of punches, Peter Morgan’s script is filled with the kind of dialogue-heavy scenes that you’d expect to find in a stage play, but wouldn’t expect to work as well on film. Remarkably, it does, but without Frank Langella and Martin Sheen in the lead roles, “Frost/Nixon” wouldn’t be quite as captivating. Add to that some pretty cool extras, and you’re looking at one of the unlikeliest films to prosper on Blu-ray.
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While most of this week’s Blu-ray releases aren’t exactly demo material (or really great movies, to be completely honest), it’s still a solid collection of films – most of which at least deserve a rental. There’s also nothing great being released next week, so if you’re on the fence about one or more of the below titles, it might be worth taking the risk.
“The Day the Earth Stood Still” (Fox)
Scott Derrickson’s update of the sci-fi classic isn’t going to win over fans of the 1951 original any time soon, but while the movie itself is mediocre itself, it also isn’t as band as many would lead you to believe. Keanu Reeves is perfectly cast as the alien diplomat Klaatu, the special effects are fantastic, and GORT’s re-design is about as spot-on as you could get. Additionally, the decision to change the point of view of the story from Klaatu to Helen was a smart one, as it makes more sense to view the end of the world from the eyes of one of its endangered humans. Sadly, the ending isn’t as great as it could be, but disaster flick enthusiasts will probably eat it up. The same goes for the bonus material, with only a few (including a making-of featurette and an in-depth look at the arduous task of designing GORT) truly worth checking out. Still, you have to commend the inclusion of the 1951 version, even if most fans probably already own the latest edition.
“Yes Man” (Warner Bros.)
Jim Carrey can no longer carry a movie like he used to, but in the case of “Yes Man,” the film’s success was completely deserved. Many have suggested that the movie is exactly like his 1999 hit “Liar, Liar,” and while they’re certainly similar in tone, “Yes Man” gives us a Carrey like we’ve never seen before: a more mature comic who isn’t afraid to go over the top, but can also land a joke without all the hyperactivity. The film’s Blu-ray release focuses more on the former, with behind-the-scenes features on the actor’s on-set antics and willingness to do his own stunts. The real highlight of the disc, however, has nothing to do with Carrey at all, but rather his co-star Zooey Deschanel. Along with a faux rockumentary on her character’s band, Munchausen by Proxy, all five musical performances have also been included in their entirety. The songs are a bit strange, but Deschanel’s voice is so intoxicating that you won’t even notice.
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