Geeks of all stripes will find something to watch this week as a variety of titles make their way to DVD and Blu-ray, from a Battlestar Galactica prequel (Caprica, which debuts on television next year) to a pair of Oscar contenders (The Wrestler, Frost/Nixon) to fodder for horror hounds of all ages (Hellraiser on Blu-ray; the new slasher Laid to Rest). Also check out two different sorts of musical bio-pics (Notorious; Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts), a pair of auteurs, revisited (Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear — Criterion Collection; Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City on Blu-ray), and, well, your next guilty pleasure (Into the Blue 2: The Reef).
Battlestar Galactica fans get a treat this week as the SyFy Channel (formerly Sci Fi) and NBC Universal release Caprica, the pilot episode premiering on DVD that will kick start a whole new Battlestar prequel series. Set 58 years prior to the events in the reimaged series, Caprica introduces audiences to two significant figures heretofore only mentioned in passing: Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), a computer scientist with a military contract and a knack for robotics, and Joseph Adama (Esai Morales), a civil liberties lawyer. When tragedy strikes at the hands of religious fanatics, Graystone and Adama come together under mutual grief, but end up at odds when Graystone attempts to resurrect his daughter Zoe (Alessandra Toressani)… in the form of a prototypical Cybernetic Lifeform Node, or Cylon for short.
Caprica, which won’t actually begin airing until early next year, promises to enrich the themes of the Battlestar universe and show how the events leading to the end of humanity all began, in a planet-set society much like our own, where races and religions intersect and technology brings humans ever closer to enhancing (or replacing) life.
Caprica comes to DVD with an uncut, extended version of the pilot (which contains sexual content), a commentary by Ronald D. Moore, David Eick, and director Jeffrey Reiner, deleted scenes, video blogs on the making of Caprica, and more. Watch an exclusive scene below, in which Zoe Graystone talks to her identical virtual reality avatar.
Next: Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
If Slumdog Millionaire was last year’s little engine that could, then The Wrestler was the biggest comeback story of 2008; that the quiet triumphs of Randy “The Ram” Robinson seemed to mirror that of his portrayer, actor back to acclaim after the disappointing reception of his previous film, The Fountain. Witness the brutality suffered by professional wrestler Randy “The Ram,” whose in-ring injuries (bruises, cuts, and in an excruciating late scene, staples and barbed wire wounds) are nothing compared to the humiliation of working a minimum wage supermarket job. Tragic figures like Randy are born for superhuman feats, heroes who would rather die doing what they love than live in the shadow of former glory; Rourke injects his Oscar-nominated performance with an authentic realization of this sentiment, making for one of the most raw, moving, and intimate films of 2008. A making-of documentary and a music video for Bruce Springsteen‘s titular theme song accompany the release.
In his acclaimed film Frost/Nixon (adapted by Peter Morgan from his own play), director Ron Howard mined palpable drama from the real-life event in which British TV personality David Frost (Michael Sheen) scored an exclusive interview with former President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella). The result: a cat-and-mouse exchange in which Frost eventually turned the tables on Tricky Dick and earned a mea culpa for his part in the notorious Watergate scandal. Critics compared the drama of watching the Frost-Nixon debate unfold to that of a boxing match fought with words, a battle made all the more eloquent by Peter Morgan‘s (The Queen) Oscar-nominated screenplay. Frost/Nixon also earned Academy Award nods for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Editing, and Best Actor (Langella); find a smattering of behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes, a comparison between the film and the actual Frost/Nixon interview, and a Ron Howard commentary.
When it comes to hip-hop, no beef was as well-known as that between East Coast rapper Christopher Wallace (AKA The Notorious B.I.G. AKA Biggie Smalls) and West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur; sadly, the well-documented rivalry ended with both musicians slain, neither murder solved. Director George Tillman (Soul Food) pays homage to the remarkable life of the talented Wallace in Notorious, which depicts the rapper’s rise from Brooklyn drug dealer to iconic, Platinum-selling recording artist to his death at the age of 25. Critics thought Notorious sentimentalized its subject a bit too much, though its softening of Biggie’s hard-edged life doesn’t surprise given that close friend Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and mother Voletta Wallace were producers on the project. Commentary tracks, deleted scenes, making-of footage and unreleased footage of the real Notorious B.I.G. are also included.
Next: Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts
Minimalist composer Philip Glass takes center stage in this home video-styled documentary from feature filmmaker Scott Hicks (Shine, No Reservations), who captured the renowned art musician with intimate access, following him along his daily meditations and many projects. Among them: Glass writes his Eighth Symphony, preps his Barbarians at the Gate opera, and scores Woody Allen’s film, Cassandra’s Dream (he also famously composed scores for films like Koyaanisqatsi, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Candyman, and more). Hours of bonus features include performance footage, interviews, and a director’s commentary.
Next: Into the Blue 2: The Reef
The 2005 bikini thriller Into the Blue scored a 22 percent Tomatometer largely thanks to its gorgeous Bahamian locations and its even prettier cast (Jessica Alba, Paul Walker, Ashley Scott, Tyson Beckford, and Josh Brolin), so what were the odds its direct-to-video sequel — set in Hawaii, with a cast of television actors for goodness sake — would improve upon the original? Pretty slim, if you ask us. Nevertheless, TV junkies might find Into the Blue 2: The Reef a worthy rental simply to spot their favorite primetime stars (The O.C.‘s Chris Carmack; The Hills‘ Audrina Patridge; LOST‘s Marsha Thomason; Heroes‘ David Anders) snorkeling, treasure-hunting, and stumbling onto dastardly shenanigans. And did we mention the beach volleyball competitions?
Next: Laid to Rest
The slasher genre gets a next-gen facelift with Laid To Rest, which aims to introduce a new single-monikered baddie into the horror lexicon: ChromeSkull (Nick Principe), a masked, looming killer who slashes and hacks his way through the requisite body count while wearing a video camera mounted on his shoulder, recording all the fun. Make-up effects specialist-turned-director Robert Hall loads his flick with plenty of good old fashioned gore, gathering a cast of familiar faces (Thomas Dekker and Lena Headey of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Johnathon Schaech in a cameo role, and character actor Sean Whalen) to help his heroine (Bobbi Sue Luther) navigate the slings and arrows (and knives) of his outrageous horror flick.
Next: The Wages of Fear (Blu-ray, Criterion)
Desperation leads a handful of men stuck in a South American town to risk their lives to transport cans of nitroglycerin across rough terrain in Henri-Georges Clouzot‘s The Wages of Fear, which gets the Criterion treatment this week. The 1953 classic thriller won top honors at the Berlin and Cannes Film Festivals and was remade by American director William Friedkin as 1977’s Sorcerer. In typical Criterion fashion, the print has been dutifully remastered for Blu-ray and includes a score of making-of features previously released on the standard DVD. A new essay by writer Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) is the only new content, though there’s certainly enough bonus material to satisfy most cinephiles.
Next: Sin City Blu-ray
Robert Rodriguez and co-director Frank Miller achieved a milestone in CG filmmaking with 2005’s glossy, spare adaptation of Miller’s Sin City graphic novels; this week, the Certified Fresh pic hits Blu-ray in a “Recut, Extended, and Unrated” High Def version sure to please fans of the franchise. The two-disc set includes a wealth of Sin City bonus features, including loads of options for enhanced viewing of the film; watch it with Rodriguez and Miller’s commentary (or, on a second track, Rodriguez and pal Quentin Tarantino), explore screen and comic book comparisons via picture-in-picture, and even listen to the audience reaction from a feisty Austin screening while you watch at home. Most features from the previous DVD release are ported over, joined by the new interactive feature “Kill Em Good,” a motion comic in which you can control Marv’s actions. Watch an official Sin City character mash-up video below!
Next: Hellraiser Blu-ray
Celebrated horror and fantasy writer Clive Barker made his feature-length directorial debut by writing and directing this adaptation of his own novel, The Hellbound Heart; the tale of a mysterious puzzle box that brings hell’s door to unlucky humans notably unleashed upon the world the terrifying horror icon Pinhead (played by Barker’s childhood friend, Doug Bradley), and spawned seven sequels, though Barker would no longer be directly involved with any of them. Anchor Bay has given Hellraiser a Blu-ray release with a decent (if not glorious) transfer that, in the least, serves to prove that the sadomasochistic Barker classic still holds up today, even 22 years later. Features on the film’s main players (Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley, Andrew Robinson, and composer Chris Young) provide added retrospective insight into the intimate production that gave way to obvious friendships among its principals, and plenty of added materials (galleries, trailers, and trivia) make for an immersive watch. Hardcore Hellraiser nerds can geek out by getting the Hellraiser Blu-ray set shaped like a puzzle box; Cenobites not included.
Until next week, happy renting!