This week on home video, our choices range from the most innocent kids’ fare to some bleak foreign cinema, with plenty of choices in between, so hopefully there will be something for everyone here. There’s outrageous comedy and macho ’80s action, a martial arts epic starring Jet Li and a fantasy epic starring, well, the byproduct of a human/Greek god coupling. Not your cup of tea? How about a classic spy thriller from Carol Reed, the man who would bring us The Third Man just a few years later? Does that seem like a healthy enough variety of choices? We hope so, because it’s the best of what home video had to offer this week.
In Spanish speaking nations, Hot Tub Time Machine goes by the name “Jacuzzi to the Past” (in Spanish, of course). While limiting, this title is more accurate. This long anticipated 80’s nostalgia porn bangs together a longing for the “good old days” of high school and the “good old days” of raucous comedy, with a ton of pithy meta casting to keep you engaged. Four friends on a ski-weekend getaway drink too heavily in a hot tub and wake up in their heavy-metal-hair heydays, where they get to live out all the Risky Business they’ve been missing since they signed up for “adulthood.” The Blu-Ray promises to offer an uncensored version of Lane Myers Day Off, complete with deleted scenes, theatrical trailer, promo spots, and a couple shorts: “Acting like Idiots,” “Chevy Chase: The Nicest Guy in Hollywood,” “Totally Radical Outfits: Dayna Pink,” and “Crispin Glover: One Armed Bellhop Digital copy.”
It seems like everyone is trying to establish the next Harry Potter-esque box office behemoth, and Hollywood is turning to all sorts of young adult fantasy novels to do it. One of the most recent adaptations is this year’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, based on a series of books by Rick Riordan. The Percy Jackson saga begins here, when an average high-schooler learns he’s the love child of Greek god Poseidon and a human woman, which means he possesses powers beyond any normal teen. It comes to light that Zeus’s lightning bolt, a powerfully destructive weapon, has been stolen, and Percy is the chief suspect; accordingly, it’s up to Percy to retrieve the weapon and return it to its rightful owner before a war of the gods breaks out. Despite a stunning cast that included Sean Bean, Catherine Keener, Uma Thurman, Pierce Brosnan, and Steve Coogan, among others, as well as the Harry Potter franchise’s own Chris Columbus in the director’s chair, The Lightning Thief failed to garner high praise from critics, effectively splitting them right down the middle at 50% on the Tomatometer. Still, many felt it was a fun take on ancient mythology, and its speedy plot helped to move it along at a nice pace. It’s available on DVD and Blu-Ray this week.
Horror remakes haven’t fared so well in recent times, with films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween drawing jeers from critics and fans alike. So it came as quite a shock when the 2010 remake of zombie god George Romero’s The Crazies elicited mostly positive reviews, earning a 72% on the Tomatometer. Similarly to the 1973 original, The Crazies focuses on a group of small town neighbors attempting to survive in the wake of a plane crash that spills a biochemical toxin into the water supply and subsequently begins turning the townspeople on each other. Though Romero himself has struggled a bit with his most recent projects, it shouldn’t be forgotten that his films were once as much poignant social commentaries as they were chilling fright flicks, and this remake retains that spirit, according to the critics. On top of that, The Crazies maintains tension effectively and employs some artful cinematography to enhance the film, so the final word is that this is one horror remake worth checking out.
Michael Haneke, like his Austrian brethren, is known for making pretty films with painful implications, but usually his troublesome antics happen to moneyed or otherwise envy-inspiring people. In The White Ribbon, the principle characters are the farmers and workers under the custody of a basically kindly landlord at the turn of the century. What’s beautiful in this film isn’t the people (who are either monsters or innocents slowly changing into monsters) or the pageantry of the place that’s half agrarian and half contemporary, it’s the craftsmanship. The black and white cinematography is as evocative as it is austere-the whole production looks like something that would have swept the Oscars in 1987, when “Oscar Bait” looked timeless and touched on obviously highbrow ideas like “the root of evil.” While it’s swoon-worthy and one to study it wasn’t the biggest success in the theaters, which is part of why the DVD will matter; fans didn’t have a chance to repeat view with the prints breezing out of theaters like it did. Previews, a theatrical trailer, a short biopic by Haneke (keeper!) and a making-of featurette adorn the Blu-Ray, along with interviews and footage of the film’s Cannes Premiere.
Remember when Jet Li somewhat ambiguously declared in 2006 that Fearless would be his last martial arts film? Remember when he later clarified that he was simply retiring from the very specific genre of the Chinese wushu epic? A lot of his fans outside of China had some trouble deciphering exactly what he meant, but for better or for worse, it hasn’t slowed down his output. In 2007, Li starred in another historical epic, The Warlords, in which he plays one of three warrior “blood” brothers who find themselves at odds over political and romantic interests during the Qing Dynasty. The film made its rounds before finally hitting US theaters in limited release at the beginning of April, and it’s now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Though critics generally looked favorably upon the film (63% on the Tomatometer), some felt that the impressively rendered battle sequences failed to make up for heavy-handed melodrama and a sense of self-importance. Nevertheless, most agreed that watching Li alongside two other international superstars (Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro) was enough to get them from one grand battle to the next.
In our continuing efforts to shed some light on notable films that you may not have seen or possibly even heard of, we bring you the Criterion release of a 2009 Swedish film called Everlasting Moments. Directed by Jan Troell, a Swedish writer-director-cinematographer best known for his work during the 1970s (The Emigrants, The New Land), Everlasting Moments focuses on the true story of Maria Larsson (played here by Maria Heiskanen), an abused working class woman in early 20th Century Sweden who takes up photography as a hobby and finds personal enlightenment in the midst of her bleak existence. Larsson’s newfound confidence inspires her to defy her husband, even at the threat of death, and pursue her passion alongside the pawn shop owner who first convinced her not to sell the camera that would become her greatest asset. Troell brilliantly recreates the aesthetic of the period, and critics felt the film succeeded as an elegant and intimate look at European life during the early 1900s, rewarding it with a Certified Fresh 90% on the Tomatometer. Though it opened in limited release back in March of ’09, hardly anyone saw it, so now’s your chance to check out this gem from an established European auteur.
With the Robert Rodriguez-produced, Nimrod Antal-directed Predators set to hit theaters next week, what better way to get psyched for it than to revisit the original that spawned the franchise? Back in ’87, during the height of the Governator’s action stardom, Arnold Schwarzenegger stood center stage as the leader of a group of commandos commissioned with rescuing a presidential cabinet member from guerillas occupying a fictional South American country. The plot thickens when it turns out the soldiers themselves are being hunted by an alien with wicked dreads and an even more wicked penchant for ripping the spines out of its human prey. Though the film is already available in Blu-Ray, that release featured hardly any bonus material; what we’re looking at here is much more robust, collecting the special content found on the 2-disc DVD plus a couple of new items tailored to the release of the new film. These include a piece titled “Evolution of a Species — Hunters of Extreme Perfection,” in which Rodriguez and Antal talk about their first impressions of the original film, and a sneak peek at their new film. Predator has amassed a cult following, thanks in large part to Schwarzenegger’s presence, as well as the over-the-top violence and genuine thrills, and it’s earned a 77% on the Tomatometer. If you’re a fan, like many others, this is one worth picking up.
After an era of playing bad-asses with gentle tendencies, Burt Lancaster stars in this opulent look into the world of the threatened bourgeois in Sicily during the 1800s. Lancaster plays an aging aristocrat who longs for the more secure times before the Risorgimento (Italy’s transitions into democratic nationhood), just as his hot nephew and soon to be niece (Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale) demonstrate their reckless flirtation and the new middle classes erect a revolution outside his estate. Directed by one of the heavy-weights of Italian neo-realism, Luchino Visconti, The Leopard is a Technirama spectacle, and the 185-minutes drama is presented in both the original Italian and the dubbed English. Word has it, this HD transfer is more beautiful but not terribly different from the Criterion edition put out in 2004. The DVD includes a the hour long doc “A Dying Breed: The Making of The Leopard,” a number of worthy interviews with cast, crew and scholars, and a 16-page, full-color booklet features an astute essay on by film historian Michael Wood.
Before he helmed his masterpiece The Third Man, Carol Reed paired up with screenwriters Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder (the writing team behind Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes just two years prior) for the 1940 espionage thriller Night Train to Munich. Set during contemporary times, the story revolves around a scientist (James Harcourt) and his attempts to escape Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia with his daughter (Margaret Lockwood). After an unsuccessful first attempt, after which both are captured and sent back to Germany, the pair manages to deceive their captors with the help of a couple of outside agents, just in time for a thrilling climax involving a cable car and dozens of bullets. Though not one of Reed’s most famous or most celebrated films, Night Train to Munich displayed his skill with a suspenseful plot and foreshadowed the success he would find with The Third Man. Though many believed this to be an unofficial sequel to The Lady Vanishes, what with the same lead actress (Lockwood), the train setting, and the return of two characters from Hitchcock’s film, Night Train was really meant to be taken as a separate film, and operates as an entertaining piece of cinema on its own. The Criterion Collection releases their enhanced edition of the film tomorrow.
Though it’s fallen off a bit in popularity during recent years, Leave It to Beaver was an iconic US television sitcom that first aired from the late 1950s to the early 1960s and continued to be popular via reruns and syndication well through the 1980s and ’90s. The show centered around the title character, young Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, who was apt to get into all kinds of trouble and usually learned a lesson or two from his misadventures. The show was notable for portraying life from the child’s perspective, as opposed to that of the parents, and depicted a wholesome, domestic middle-class America. It was so popular that it ultimately prompted a reunion show in 1983, followed by The New Leave It to Beaver series in the mid-’80s, as well as a feature film adaptation (with different actors) as late as 1997. This week, the entire series is available in one collection spanning 37 (yes, 37) discs, with over 100 hours of material for you to check out. The special features are also quite nice, ranging from a fold-out replica of the Beaver board game to a 74-minute-long featurette titled “Forever the Beaver: The Cleavers Look Back,” featuring the cast members reminiscing about the show and offering interesting tidbits about its history. For anyone who ever gleaned childhood wisdom from The Beav, this is a must-have collector’s piece.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo