This week on home video, we’ve finally got a few releases worth cheering about. The headliner is none other than James Cameron’s record-breaking mega-blockbuster, Avatar, which probably won’t fare quite as well on home video as it did in the theaters, but will probably do gangbusters in DVD sales anyway. Then we’ve got another couple of Oscar-nominated films in Crazy Heart and The Young Victoria. Follow that up with Peter Jackson’s latest effort and a couple of niche items, as well as a handful of classic films in new Criterion Collection editions and on Blu-Ray, and we’ve got a pretty decent week! Check out the list and see which ones will make it into your library!
What more really needs to be said about James Cameron’s latest sci-fi epic? More than a decade after he broke box office records with the ill-fated romance of Titanic, Cameron burst back onto the screen with his next “game-changer,” a 3D spectacle that utilized state-of-the-art computer technology and promised to be unlike anything we’d ever seen before. What he ended up with was a hugely popular, hugely successful blockbuster that broke all of Titanic‘s North American and worldwide box office records to become the highest grossing film of all time and earned nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Though Avatar only took home three trophies on Oscar night (Cinematography, Visual Effects, and Art Direction), many felt that it deserved to have won more. Finally, after a theatrical run that lasted longer than most do these days, the film is coming to DVD and Blu-Ray this week on the 22nd (Earth Day, natch), but buyers should be aware of a couple things: first, this initial home video offering will not feature any 3D capability; second, there don’t seem to be any special features on either the DVD or Blu-Ray. Chances are that a newer, shinier, more robust edition will hit shelves possibly later this year, but for those who just can’t wait to get their hands on Avatar, you can snag it this Thursday.
Jeff Bridges has been on the Academy’s radar since his Oscar-nominated big screen debut in 1971’s The Last Picture Show, but it wasn’t until last year’s turn in the small, independent film Crazy Heart that he won his first trophy. Playing the role of fictional former country music star Otis “Bad” Blake, Bridges impressed critics so much that he quickly became the frontrunner in several Best Actor races even before the film opened in December of 2009. Crazy Heart focuses on Blake’s life as a struggling singer-songwriter who enters into a relationship with a young journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and attempts to revive his career with a onetime protege of his (Colin Farrell). Though the film managed to garner three Oscar nominations (Best Original Song, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Actor, which Bridges won), many felt that Bridges’ performance in the film was what made it such a success. As the film only opened in limited release, here’s your chance to see it if it never made it to your neck of the woods.
Another small film that came out in December of last year and won widespread critical acclaim was The Young Victoria, a period drama centered on the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign in the United Kingdom. Starring Emily Blunt in the title role and featuring a star-studded supporting cast that includes Jim Broadbent, Rupert Friend, Mark Strong, Paul Bettany, and Miranda Richardson, The Young Victoria impressed critics with its eye for historical detail, its splendid art direction, and its acting, particularly on the part of Blunt herself. Though many felt the story was somewhat standard, as far as royal biopics are concerned, the film still managed to earn a Certified Fresh 75% on the Tomatometer. You can pick it up this week on DVD or Blu-Ray.
After he helmed the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, which culminated in a record 11-award sweep at the Oscars (including Best Picture and Director), it seemed like Peter Jackson could do no wrong, and the critical and commercial success of 2005’s King Kong seemed to validate the fact. However, last year’s The Lovely Bones, an adaptation of an Alice Sebold novel, failed to meet with the same sort of success for the director. Despite some trademark visual flourishes and a couple of notably strong performances (Stanley Tucci earned an Oscar nod for his supporting role), The Lovely Bones only managed a 32% on the Tomatometer and endured some criticism for its shifts in tone and for neglecting some of the more heady themes found in its source material. For better or for worse, however, Jackson’s latest comes to home video this week, and if only for Tucci’s performance and the dazzling dream sequences, The Lovely Bones might be worth checking out for fans of the director.
Gritty British crime films can be hit or miss, but as long as movie audiences continue to eat them up, they will continue to be made. One of the latest entries into the genre is the feature directorial debut of commercial director Malcolm Venville, 44 Inch Chest, the story of a scorned man who conspires with his mates to kidnap and torture his wife’s new lover. The film stars Ray Winstone as the wronged husband and Ian McShane, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, and Stephen Dillane as his motley crew; throw in a soundtrack scored by Angelo Badalamenti and Massive Attack, as well as a script written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto, who together wrote the critically acclaimed Sexy Beast, and one would think this was a surefire bet. Unfortunately, while the film drew some comparisons to David Mamet, and the acting earned praises from many, 44 Inch Chest only managed a 40% Tomatometer, as most felt that there was little dramatic heft to keep the story chugging along. Still, this could be worth a watch just to see the impressive cast chewing up the scenery like actors competing for the spotlight in a stage production. Look for it this week on DVD and Blu-Ray.
During the 70s and 80s, Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong formed the comedy duo now known simply as “Cheech & Chong,” recording several albums and starring in a string of movies together. The pair were probably best known as the proponents of pot culture that they were, with not so subtle references to recreational drug use splattered all over their material. Though the two parted ways sometime during the 80s and focused on solo careers, Cheech and Chong reunited for a comedy tour in 2008, recording what would become Cheech and Chong’s Hey, Watch this! at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio, Texas on March 14th of last year. The DVD covers the entire show, including backstage and behind-the-scenes footage, and features the duo covering classic material as well as more recent stuff. Fans of the stoner icons will enjoy seeing them together again after so many years absent from the big screen, and it should be noted that the DVD’s release date is appropriately 4/20.
Criterion Collection is determined to make more permanent a film thats all about enjoying things (family and art among them) while you can. Juliette Binoche (blonde for some reason) plays a successful designer living in NY, Jeremie Renier is a businessman in China, and Charles Berling is an academic in Paris. Siblings from a well to do French family, they converge with their respective families for a summer at their mother’s estate. The house is covered with legacy: art from generations of collection adorn the walls and live with the family when they care to visit. When the family matriarch becomes unable to maintain the home the siblings have to decide what to do with the house that’s as much a family museum as it is a money pit. With pieces of art that are meant to last for posterity (ahem, like what criterion hopes for its pictures) the siblings are themselves responsible for the art’s duration and protection. It’s a burden were not all familiar with but each of us engages with somehow. Criterion’s Blu-Ray includes a master audio track, interviews with stars and director, a booklet with an essay by Kent Jones, and, perhaps most usefully, a doc called Inventory that deals with the films philosophy on art.
Jet Li has become somewhat of a household name in the US, thanks to his breakout roles in American films (Lethal Weapon 4) that allowed for some of his bigger Chinese epics to find an audience here. Once he displayed his acrobatic abilities, fans began digging through his earlier filmography to catch Li at his prime, and there are few greater examples of his star power than 1994’s Fist of Legend, a remake of Bruce Lee’s 1972 classic, Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection). Set in the 1930s during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, Fist of Legend stars Li as Chen Zhen, a Chinese student in Japan who returns home when he learns his master has died in a match against a Japanese opponent. Chen discovers some foul play was involved in the match and sets out on a path of revenge against the duplicitous Japanese general in charge of the occupation. The film utilized political and social themes to underscore its otherwise typical kung-fu plot, but the action sequences, orchestrated by renowned fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Matrix), are the real highlights of Fist of Legend. Now it’s available on Blu-Ray for the first time, so if you haven’t seen this Jet Li gem, there’s no better time to check it out.
Cinema, Pop Culture and Anna Karina might be the trinity, according to Jean-Luc Godard. Well, until he and Karina split and then he replaced his fascination for her with Socialism. Judging by the title of his upcoming Cannes premier, Film Socialisme, he’s still in with the left-wing, but when he loved Karina, it showed. Vivre sa vie represents a high point in his love for her, the muse of the Nouvelle Vague (and femme-counterpart to Truffaut’s surrogate, Jean-Pierre Leud). You’ve seen the fim’s iconic images, even if you didn’t know what they were from: Karina crying in the movie theater as she watches Dreyer’s Jeanne D’Arc, or Karina tightly framed and backlit, an interrogation in action; it’s all tidy black and white, graphically simple and emotionally memorable. Karina plays Nana, an aspiring actress who succumbs to prostitution. You see her go from protectiveness to permissiveness in a matter of reticent, Gitane-smoking minutes, and all the while dressed like a schoolgirl. DVD features include a commentary by scholar Adrian Martin, interview with scholar Jean Narboni conducted with historian Noël Simsolo, an illustrated essay on La prostitution, the book that served as inspiration for the film, a TV interview with Karina from 1962, and a booklet featuring Godard’s original scenario, an essay by critic Michael Atkinson, interviews with Godard and a reprint by Jean Collet on the film’s soundtrack. Yes, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth on this one.
Chances are you’ve heard of Battleship Potemkin, even if you haven’t seen it or don’t know exactly what it’s about. And chances are, even if you’ve never heard of Battleship Potemkin, you’ve probably seen its influence all throughout the history of cinema since its 1925 release. Potemkin was a silent propaganda film by Russian legend Sergei Eisenstein, a pioneer of the (now common) film technique known as “montage.” When Eisenstein crafted Potemkin, he played with film editing in such a way as to associate images with each other for the maximum emotional resonance, thereby both creating a more effective propaganda film and influencing how films in general were made from then on. The film itself is an account of the 1905 mutiny aboard the titular Russian vessel against its Tsarist officers, told in five separate chapters, and features the iconic scene in which a baby carriage slowly makes its way down the Odessa Steps amid a sea of dead bodies — a scene which would later be referenced in several films, from The Godfather to The Naked Gun 33 1/3. Now, for the first time, Battleship Potemkin is available in a beautiful Blu-Ray transfer, and though the disc’s only extras are a documentary on the censoring of the original film and a photo gallery, it’s definitely worth a pick-up for any fans of Eisenstein or important cinema in general.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Sara Schieron