Welcome to another slow week for Home Video. There are a lot of direct-to-video releases, special interest videos, and random television collections available, but very little in the way of noteworthy movies. With that said, we’ve done our best to sift through what’s out there and bring some stuff we think you might be interested in. From screwball comedies to little-seen indies, from historical documentaries to martial arts classics, we’ve got a handful of picks that should appeal to a lot of people, so dig in and check out what’s new this week!
Steve Carell and Tina Fey built their resumes on television, but both have made relatively seamless transitions onto the big screen as of late. And when you consider the fact that both of them are known for bringing some of the best comedy to TV in recent memory, it’s not surprising that a film starring the two as a humdrum married couple innocently thrust into a seedy world of crime would generate big expectations. Luckily, critics felt that the film was pretty decent over all, awarding it a 68% on the Tomatometer and citing Carell and Fey as the glue that held the movie together. Of course, throwing in a few notable cameos from the likes of Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, and Mila Kunis doesn’t hurt either. Though some felt the film couldn’t quite decide if it wanted to be an action flick or a comedy, and it doesn’t quite utilize the talents of its leads to the fullest, it should still be an enjoyable screwball romp for anyone looking to settle down with a bowl of popcorn.
The 2007 British ensemble comedy Death at a Funeral, directed by Frank Oz, garnered relatively positive reviews, and though its plot was unabashedly farfetched, it succeeded in overcoming its faults with a healthy dose of silliness. In 2010, Neil LaBute (Nurse Betty, Lakeview Terrace) decided to remake the film for American audiences and recast the family with a string of top notch African American talent, including Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock, Keith David, Loretta Devine, Danny Glover, Tracy Morgan, and Zoe Saldana, among others. The result was, unfortunately, a poor reflection of the original, and despite an impressive lineup and a surprisingly faithful adaptation, the remake somehow lost something in translation and failed to hit its marks; currently, it sits at 38% on the Tomatometer. Still, if a wacky comedy is what you’re looking for, and you just can’t be bothered with the British accents of the original, you might find yourself picking this up at the video store this week.
If you’re planning to lampoon consumer culture, it’s a good idea to make it sexy -— this way the people game for the critique are watching something pretty, and the people who don’t know it’s a critique get to check out the new Marc Jacobs and Balenciaga. Covert lifestyle advertising is really the name of the game (we all know what viral marketing is… in that way we know what “spies” are). So it’s a good thing that The Joneses, directorial debut of ex-adman Derrick Borte, makes all the high end consumer goods flaunted by stealthy lifestyle marketeers Kate (Demi Moore, Ghost, G.I. Jane) and Steve (David Duchovny, TV’s X-Files, Californication) look so uniquely appealing. Kate and Steve live with their two kids in an upscale housing community where their bag is to enforce, by way of slight social pressure, more expensive commodity seeking in their neighbors. Steve tells his golf-mate the solution to his ailing marriage is jewelry! (Well… there is some truth in advertising.) The neighbors follow suit without a clue that the Joneses aren’t actually a family. How this makes their Prada glasses any less attractive is anyone’s guess, but no one likes to be duped. DVD extras include videos of Steve’s job interview and a clip of his life after leaving “The Joneses.”
It never hurts to be reminded every once in a while how small and insignificant we are in the scope of the entire universe, but it typically takes something like 2007’s In the Shadow of the Moon to do the trick. For the thought-provoking documentary, British directors David Sington and Christopher Riley pieced together footage from the various US space missions during the 1960s and 70s, even going so far as to dive into material that hadn’t been accessed for over 30 years. Then they inserted some modern-era commentary from some of the era’s surviving astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin. But what’s possibly most impressive about the film is the lasting imagery from space. Nothing else quite inspires the same kind of awe we experience when we gaze at images of the Earth, as seen from a spacecraft, and with that in mind, we are treated this week to a Blu-Ray version of the movie for the first time. Critics have deemed the film Certified Fresh at 94%, so you’re guaranteed to experience more than just pretty pictures; they’re utilized in perfect harmony with the historical accounts offered, and the attention to detail is spectacular. Special features include a Ron Howard intro and bonus interviews and stories.
Director Terry Zwigoff only surfaces every now and then to make a film, and when he does, it’s usually a good thing. This week, Criterion celebrates the man’s work with new releases of his first two films, both documentaries and one of which went on to amass a huge cult following. The first is 1985’s Louie Bluie, Zwigoff’s first film about obscure African American blues musician Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong. Armstrong himself is an entertaining character, and the film would be the first indication of Zwigoff’s penchant for shedding light on those subjects on the fringes of pop culture. The second film Criterion highlights this week is arguably the film that put Zwigoff on the map, so to speak: 1995’s Crumb. Crumb profiles the underground comic artist Robert Crumb and his family. Again, Zwigoff chose a topic foreign to mainstream America and focused on a subject who was, in and of himself, a fascinating person to see on screen. The film won widespread accolades, claiming the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and earning a 95% on the Tomatometer. Both films come with a great selection of extras, like commentary tracks, tons of unused footage, stills galleries (Howard Armstrong was also an artist), and accompanying booklets with essays. In addition, Crumb is also being treated to a Blu-Ray release, so if you’ve made the switch to hi-def, then this could be a great pickup.
Those of you who are martial arts nuts will have a couple of new Blu-Ray releases to look forward to. This week, Dragon Dynasty releases two of Jet Li’s classic kung fu flicks in high definition, and if you’ve followed Li’s career since before he made the leap to Hollywood, you know that these are two of his most fun. The first is 1993’s Fong Sai Yuk, the first of a franchise starring Li in which he portrays the titular Chinese folk hero. The story is part romance, part political thriller, but the real draw, as with many of Li’s films, is the action choreography, directed by Cory Yuen; this is what a blockbuster looks like overseas. Similarly, another of Li’s 1993 films, Tai Chi Master, also featured sharply directed action by Yuen Woo Ping (who choreographed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Matrix films) and a co-starring role for Michelle Yeoh (Supercop). Though the Blu-Ray transfers aren’t the crispest you’ll find, this probably has more to do with the source film stock than the actual transfers themselves, so these might just be the best quality versions available now. If only for the quality of the two films themselves, these are worth a pickup for martial arts aficionados.
1983’s Vacation doesn’t have the mainstay-attraction that the holiday staple Christmas Vacation, does, but as the comedy that kicked off the franchise, it’s the strongest of the pack. Chevy Chase is perfect as the go-getter/goofball, Clark W. Griswold, who’s so determined to have a great summer vacation with the family, he naively drives them (literally) through hell and high water to get to (of all places) Walley World, where a giant, anthropomorphic moose is meant to dissolve their stresses and re-empower the family unit. Why he chooses to drive from Chicago (this is a John Hughes script, after all) to California for the amusement park, is beyond anyone, but his hopes are high and his memory for torture is short. Scripting on this Vacation is stellar, with more one liners for scene than can be recalled. And when Clark, in service of supporting the fam, slips into an almost fling with a slippery cover-girl (then super model, Christie Brinkley) it’s finally laid down: what the Griswolds are doing isn’t unwinding, it’s unraveling. Blu-Ray includes an introduction to the film with Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, and Matty Simmons and an audio commentary with director Harold Ramis, and actors Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, and Matty Simmons.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Sara Vizcarrondo