This week on home video, we’ve got an interesting assortment of titles to present. First off, we’ve got the requisite new releases, which are comprised of one sequel to a popular novel-based franchise, one poorly reviewed sequel to another popular franchise, and an original indie film that received high marks from critics. Beyond that, we’ve got some amazing choices in the reissue department; we hope you won’t mind a little bit of ’80s nostalgia, because we’ve got one of the most beloved adventure sagas and one of the most beloved sci-fi horror franchises both in complete Blu-Ray sets. Then we have an icon of late night television making his mark, and a couple of Criterion editions that will be popular with relatively specific audiences. Have yourself a gander; I dare you not to like at least one thing on this week’s list…
Last year, the film adaptation to Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s bestselling crime novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, found its way to American audiences and kicked up a lot of buzz. Larsson, who had passed away even before his first novel had been published, had completed writing an entire trilogy (as well as some manuscripts for a few more books), and the books became wildly popular all over the world. Despite the popularity of the books and the widespread acclaim the first film received, The Girl Who Played with Fire failed to generate much heat at the box office when it opened back in July, and critics weren’t quite as impressed with the second installment as they were with the first. Noomi Rapace here reprises her role as the titular heroine, Lisbeth Salander, who begins the film settling personal finances in the Caribbean. Michael Nyqvist also returns as Mikael Blomkvist, the investigative journalist who, since the events of the first film, has begun research on an expose of sex trafficking that involves some important public figures. Lisbeth takes an interest in Mikael’s case, but when she’s accused of three murders, Mikael works not only to crack the trafficking case, but also to clear Lisbeth’s name. Critics felt that the second installment ultimately lacked the same punch that the first did, even though both Rapace and Nyqvist are again perfectly cast for their roles. If you’re a fan of the books and missed The Girl Who Played with Fire, you can pick it up this week on home video.
After HBO’s hit show Sex and the City ended, fans called for more of the fab foursome’s adventures, and Hollywood responded with an epilogue of sorts with the first SATC film, which took place four years after the last episode of the series. When that film grossed over $150 million despite mediocre reviews, planning began for a sequel, and the result was 2008’s Sex and the City 2. For their second big screen outing, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) have progressed two years past the end of the first film, and all four are now experiencing their own individual woes associated with middle age (children, menopause, marital issues, etc). When Samantha is asked to come with a PR campaign for an Arab sheikh, the four friends take an all-expenses paid vacation to Abu Dhabi, where cultures clash and the girls fall prey to one mishap after another. While SATC 2 was destined to be somewhat critic-proof, given its target audience of built-in fans, the film failed to do as well as its predecessor, and crtics nevertheless gave it a thorough drubbing, often citing the thin plot and sometimes offensive cultural jokes as weaknesses. Overall the film netted just a 15% on the Tomatometer, so it won’t be winning any awards (save for maybe a Razzie or two), but if you were a longtime fan of the TV series, you might just not care anyway.
Every week in RT on DVD, we seem to be able to find at least one indie film that largely flew under the mainstream radar but managed to earn some praise from those who saw it (i.e. critics). This week, it’s Winter’s Bone, a stark look at life in rural middle America directed by Debra Granik (Down to the Bone) and featuring a gripping lead performance by young actress Jennifer Lawrence. The film focuses on Lawrence’s character, a teenager named Ree Dolly, who lives in the Ozark mountains with her poor family, which consists of two younger siblings and incapacitated mother. Ree’s father, a producer of crystal meth and a fugitive, has put up the family house as his bail bond, so Ree sets out into the criminal underworld to track down her father and keep her family intact. The film was a rousing success; it won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Best Screenplay Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and it managed to earn an impressive Certified Fresh 94% on the Tomatometer. In other words, this is another small movie that, by most accounts, should have been seen by more people. Since it only opened in very limited release, you may have missed it when it hit theaters, but it’s available on home video this week, so if you find yourself at a loss while browsing for your next rental, it might not be a bad idea to take a chance on this one.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 anti-war masterpiece is exemplary in many ways. It depicts a gritty view of World War I trench warfare; it’s a tense courtroom drama; it’s a scathing political statement; and it may contain the greatest closing scene in the history of cinema. High praise, to be sure, but Paths of Glory offers early proof of Kubrick’s genius, and its power hasn’t aged one iota. Kirk Douglas stars as an officer tasked with plotting an almost suicidal mission across enemy lines. When the mission fails, the military brings court martials on three of his soldiers on charges of cowardice. What follows is an absurdist trial that plays like a Kafka nightmare, but Kubrick’s rage at the dehumanization of war hardly obscures his ability to tell a haunting tale. And the final scene – in which a nervous young woman sings a song to a tavern full of soldiers – is sure to bring even the toughest of men to tears. The swanky new Criterion set contains a new transfer of the film, plus tons of interviews with Kubrick, Douglas, and members of the crew, and a French documentary about the real-life incident that inspired the events in the movie.
Back in the early ’80s, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, who had just finished writing Used Cars (also directed by Zemeckis) and 1941 (Steven Spielberg), began shopping around a new idea for a movie about a kid who travels back in time, attends high school with his parents, and attracts the unwanted advances of his teenaged mother. The script was largely ignored until Zemeckis had a hit with Romancing the Stone, at which point studios were open to any other projects he had in mind. The rest is pop culture history, and a quarter century after Back to the Future became a worldwide phenomenon in 1985, we have the 25th Anniversary Trilogy set to help us relive some of that nostalgia. Back to the Future was a global hit, one of the great blockbusters of the ’80s that will, in all likelihood, stand the test of time and entertain audiences for years to come, and the new set comes packed with special features – both old and new – that will offer an intimate look at how the film was made, how it was received, and how it will be remembered. Not only does the set include all three films, but it also includes a wealth of extras from previous editions, as well as brand new interview segments that feature Gale, Zemeckis, Spielberg, Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, and several other members of the cast and crew. These segments break the film down to its many elements, from casting to set design to the music to the actual design of the DeLorean itself. There are hours upon hours of bonus material that will even further engross fans in the universe of the film, and you can pick it all up on DVD or Blu-Ray this week.
Earlier this year, Conan O’Brien’s battles with NBC and Jay Leno were the talk of the entertainment industry – and viewers eagerly tuned in to see what the late night talk show hosts would say about the situation. Back in the day, though, people didn’t need controversy to turn on the tube at 11:30 – after all, Johnny Carson was on. The venerable Tonight Show host was virtually synonymous with late night talk, and if some of his comedy routines don’t pack the same punch as when they aired, Carson’s easy affability and sharp wit are still infectious. Tonight – 4 Decades of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson is a massive 15-disc anthology of Carson’s work, plus odds-and-sods from the vaults and extended interviews with Tonight Show regulars. In short, that’s a whole lotta “HEEEERRREEE’S JOHNNY”s, and it’s also a heaping helping of Ed McMahon.
Janus Films, the parent company of the Criterion Collection, has done wonders in bringing foreign films to the American market for the discriminating cinephile, and last year the company did its part to resurrect an old Japanese cult classic, 1977’s Hausu (House). Rereleased in just a handful of theaters last year, the film sparked new interest in midnight moviegoers across the country, with its psychedelic imagery, vibrant color, and surreal characters (maneating piano, anyone?). Making use of techniques like collage and animation, Hausu tells the story of a teenaged girl name Oshare who takes a handful of her friends to fix up the old home in the country where her aunt lives. When the girls arrive at their destination, they find that the house in question is haunted by evil spirits who begin taking the lives of the girls one by one. Even if you’re quite familiar with Japanese horror – and the gory violence of a subset of Japanese film during Hausu‘s era – chances are you’ve never seen anything quite like this. This week, the Criterion Collection makes Hausu available on home video for the first time in the US, and they’ve packed it with special features like interviews with the director (Nobuhiko Obayashi), one of his early experimental films, and a video appreciation by Ti West (director of House of the Devil).
Not many other film franchises can boast the kind of pedigree behind them that the Alien movies do. The first film, of course, was famously directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator); the second by James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar); the third by David Fincher (Zodiac, The Social Network); and the last by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, Amelie). Okay, sure, most people don’t feel that the latter two quite match up to the first two, and even David Fincher himself has sort of distanced himself from Alien 3, but that is an impressive lineup nonetheless, even if you take away the fact that Alien and Aliens are two of the most beloved sci-fi/horror flicks of all time. This week, Fox releases a brand new Blu-Ray boxset of the franchise that not only includes all four movies in their theatrical cuts, but also “special editions” of each, as well as pretty much every bonus feature ever produced. This includes everything from the Alien Quadrilogy set and even the early ’90s laserdisc releases! There is so much bonus content in this set that there’s even an optional “MU-TH-UR Mode” for the menu screen that requires its own tutorial to help you navigate through all the goodies (see the video below). This is an Alien-lover’s dream, and if you’ve never owned it before, this would be the time to get it.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Tim Ryan