The new year is here, everyone, and with it comes another week of new releases on home video. Many of the most anticipated films have already come out on DVD and/or Blu-Ray, and the few remaining films in that category will be released in the coming weeks. For this week, however, this means our choices are somewhat tame again. For starters, we’ve got a surprisingly well-received animated children’s book adaptation and the last installment (so they say) in a horror franchise, as well as a few indie films that flew beneath the mainstream radar. Then we’ve got a few Blu-Ray reissues of some beloved older films, and one oddball choice profiling the martial arts antics of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Read on for full details!
Sony Pictures Animation has had a couple of big screen successes with its 2006 debut, Monster House, and 2007’s Surf’s Up. Earlier this year, they proved they had what it takes to stand out in the growing field of computer animated films when their most recent offering, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, became their highest rated release yet, earning an 85% on the Tomatometer on the way to Certified Fresh status. The story focuses on an aspiring inventor, Flint Lockwood (voiced by SNL’s Bill Hader), who succeeds in manipulating the weather so that food falls from the sky. Things go awry, of course, and it’s up to Flint and his weather girl love interest, Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), to figure out what’s really going on and put a stop to it. Critics largely felt the film was fun, quirky, and humorous enough to appeal to a wide variety of ages, as well as visually impressive. You can pick it up on DVD or Blu-Ray this week.
Do you like grisly, gruesome, ironic movie deaths? Yeah? Well, do you think you’d like them more…… if they were in three dimensions? That’s right, kiddies: critics say The Final Destination offers all the gore of the previous three installments, with the same amount of character development (zero) and quotable dialogue (again, zero). But this time around, all the deadly fatalities are comin’ atcha! (Oh, wait… the 3-D stuff only works on Blu-ray = which also includes a making of featurette and two alternate endings.)
Another smallish film that went largely unnoticed this year was Fifty Dead Men Walking, which neither stars Sean Penn as a death row inmate nor features any zombies, as some might mistakenly assume the title to imply. This indie thriller centers around the civil conflict in Ireland during the late 80s and one man, Martin McGartland (21‘s Jim Sturgess), who was an undercover informant within the IRA. The film benefited from strong performances both from its lead and from supporting turns by Ben Kingsley and Rose McGowan, and it managed to earn Certified Fresh status with an 86% Tomatometer rating. For a crime drama on the road less traveled, you could do much worse.
Plenty of actors and actresses pick out tiny independent films with quirky or rough hewn characters to make a mark they can’t really make in the soft and fluffy romcoms that pad their resumes (and bank accounts). After Michelle Monaghan was handpicked for her role in Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang she seemed destined for big things-and she did have some classically Oscar-built supporting stints in North County and Gone Baby Gone thereafter. Technically those parts did get her bigger roles but in softer genre flix like Made of Honor. Crammed into the middle of this tennis match of a resume is Trucker, a low profile prestige item that hangs its drama on multiple standout performances, and though critics were mixed on it as a whole — many felt it was an overwrought collection of indie clichés — Monaghan herself won almost universal praise for her role. The DVD features a behind-the-scenes slideshow and footage of Monaghan in preparation for her role.
With a likely bit of support from rap mogul Russell Simmons and an unlikely hand from actor Bruce Willis, The Hip Hop Project charts the growth of two talented singer/songwriters: Cannon and Princess. Their obstacles are harrowing but their support system is determined. Critics said that, while the story is touching, the film isn’t particularly inventive and the music is fairly middle-of-the-road too, but for fans of the live-the-dream doc or fans of hip hop, it’s uplifting. DVD is pretty spare, boasting a few sound options and subtitles.
By now, most are familiar with this reboot of the classic television series; it garnered widespread critical acclaim for its portrayal of real-life issues set in a distant future… in space. After recently ending its run last March and releasing its companion piece, The Plan, on home video in October, the series is now finally releasing its first season on Blu-Ray. For those of you who missed out on all the hoopla the first time around, now’s your chance to catch up on the hottest sci-fi series to hit television in recent memory. The Blu-Ray is a four-disc set that includes all episodes from the first season, as well as lots of bonus features like episode commentaries, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, and an extra titled Battlestar Galactica Series Lowdown, featuring interviews with cast members.
Saddened fans everywhere more than likely revisited this teen movie gem sometime around two years ago when up-and-coming Australian actor Heath Ledger tragically passed away. Ledger played the romantic lead, Patrick Verona, in a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, starring alongside Julia Stiles and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Many saw early potential in Ledger, who was dashing and charming here in his star-making role. Overall, critics were somewhat lukewarm on the film, but for many, this represented some of the most entertaining teen cinema to come out of the 90s. This week, it’s available in a new two-disc special edition and, for the first time, on Blu-Ray.
Alright, my fellow beach bums and California natives, these are the Blu-Rays you’ve been waiting for. Skateboard mogul-cum-documentary filmmaker Stacy Peralta made a couple of rousing documentaries in the early 2000s that clearly demonstrated his passion for surfing and skating. 2002’s Dogtown and Z-Boys and 2004’s Riding Giants were two of the most lovingly crafted pics about skating and surfing culture, respectively, and his affection for the subject matter shone through each production, earning Dogtown a Certified Fresh 91% and Giants a Certified Fresh 92%. Profiling the history of each sport, moving through their early development and culminating in modern times, Peralta focuses on famous figures and dramatic stories to inspire the same sort of awe that bystanders likely felt when witnessing them for the first time. Now that they’re both available on Blu-Ray this week, you can experience all the glory again in high definition.
Capitalizing on what was fast becoming a rebirth of interest in the zombie flick, Zack Snyder (that’s “visionary director Zack Snyder” to you Watchmen fans out there) took a stab at remaking a horror classic, namely George Romero’s original 1978 Dawn of the Dead. Did it succeed? Most would argue that it had a lot to live up to, what with the original currently rated at 95% on the Tomatometer, but Snyder’s vision for the film seemed to work for most audiences, and it managed to secure a healthy, Certified Fresh 76% Tomatometer score of its own. Critics felt that the reimagining of the film was fun in most of the right ways, sufficiently suspenseful, and gory when it needed to be (and sometimes more). Now available on Blu-Ray, you’ll get to pick the flaws out of the zombies’ makeup in high definition, so that’s always a plus.
Here’s a little item that might come in handy at your next trivia game. Back in the late 50s, Elvis joined the Army, and he was then introduced to the martial arts discipline of Karate. The King went on to study karate for several years, and even got into an onstage tussle with concertgoers. This documentary film seeks to chronicle those little known days of Presley’s life, and the DVD comes with lots of interesting little features, like some raw footage of Elvis, an interview with Wayne Carmen, who worked with Elvis for three years, a photo gallery, and 6 postcards of Elvis decked out in karate gear.
Written by Tim Ryan, Sara Schieron, and Ryan Fujitani