Looks like home video releases might be picking up again, what with big remakes and sequels coming up and with some of the better films from earlier in the year finally making it on video. This week, we’ve got a fanboy favorite, a well-received indie film from a controversial director, a highly acclaimed foreign movie, and a children’s fiction adaptation that could have been better. Then we’ve got Blu-Ray reissues of a Brat Pack movie, a sci-fi classic, some Roald Dahl animation, and a B-movie classic. Lots of Certified Fresh going on this week, so hopefully these will be well worth your time. Read on to see the full list!
Superhero flicks have come a long way in their attempts to set their stories within some version of “the real world,” and it’s paid off for several different franchises, most recently those of Iron Man and Batman. But what about taking it a step further and exploring what it would be like if someone were really to try and be a hero in the real world? It’s an idea that’s been explored before, but Kick-Ass is probably the most famous of them yet. Aaron Johnson plays Dave Lizewski, a normal teenager who decides the world is ready for a real superhero and dons a costume to fight crime. The only problem is, he’s got no superpowers. When others begin to learn of Dave’s exploits as Kick-Ass, they join him in his vigilante efforts and wind up facing a dangerous criminal in the process. While the film relishes in its profanity and over-the-top violence, critics felt it was stylish and all in good fun, awarding the film a Certified Fresh 75% Tomatometer score. The hype behind Kick-Ass was strong, particularly due to the presence of a certain foulmouthed pre-teen assassin (Hit-Girl, played by Chloe Moretz), but it opened to less than superpowered box office numbers and left theaters quickly. If you were sad you missed your chance to see it in theaters, now you can take it home and indulge in some good old fashioned teen-angst fantasy from the comfort of your couch.
Based on a bestselling series of children’s fiction, Diary of a Wimpy Kid stars Zachary Gordon as the titular “kid,” Greg Heffley, who struggles desperately to become the most popular kid at his new middle school. Though he at first suspects that his connection to “uncool” Rowley (Robert Capron) will be his downfall, events slowly transpire that further alienate Greg from the in crowd and inexplicably make Crowley more popular. While the source material was a hit with the tween crowd, critics felt that the film failed to do the series justice by making its central protagonist, Greg, a generally unlikable character. The film thus loses a bit of the charm that made the books so appealing, and the overall story suffers for it. However, critics also felt that had some moments that children might enjoy and some concepts that might be relatable for middle schoolers, so it might be worth a rental if you know of anyone fitting the age demographic and struggling with the same kinds of issues. Then again, you could also just buy the books.
Say what you will about Roman Polanski’s personal life — the guy can still make a solid thriller. The Certified Fresh The Ghost Writer is a fine example — it’s topical, evocatively shot, and filled with sinister twists and turns. Ewan McGregor stars as a writer brought on board to help Clinton-esque former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) with his memoirs. But the gig turns out to be deadly — the ghost’s predecessor was killed in an accident, and as he untangles the truth about his subject, ominous geopolitical maneuvers come into focus. The DVD features an interview with Polanski and making-of featurettes.
Last year at the Cannes Film Festival, this French film took audiences by storm, eventually going on to win the festival’s Grand Prix award. A Prophet also earned accolades at the London Film Festival and won the BAFTA for Best Film Not in the English Language, continuing on to earn a nomination for Best Foreign Film at the 82nd Academy Awards. So it’s unfortunate that when it was finally released Stateside, the film failed to gain much momentum, earning a meager $1.5 million at the box office. A Prophet is a French gangster flick focusing on the character of Malik El Djebena (played by newcomer Tahar Rahim), an illiterate loner who becomes part of the Corsican mafia while serving a six-year sentence in prison. As he continues to earn the trust of his leader, Malik also learns to read and begins developing his own network. Critics bestowed great praise on the film, in no small part due to Rahim’s breakout performance, and it earned a Certified Fresh 97%. If you’re searching for an overlooked foreign gem, this week is your chance to check out A Prophet, which hits home video shelves on Tuesday.
British author Roald Dahl has penned some of the 20th Century’s most beloved children’s fiction, and this is nothing to speak of his work in more mature literature as well. As such, his work has been fodder for some well-received film adaptations, the most recent of which was last year’s stop-motion film by Wes Anderson, Fantastic Mr. Fox. In 1996, director Henry Selick (who, with the help of Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, had managed a modern classic of his own in The Nightmare Before Christmas in 1993) took on the project of a stop-motion adaptation of Dahl’s 1961 novel James and the Giant Peach. What resulted was an engaging and visually dynamic film with plenty of quirks and breezy storytelling, which ended up earning a Certified Fresh 96% on the Tomatometer. The story revolves around a young orphaned boy name James (voiced by Paul Terry) who lives with his abusive aunts and dreams of moving to New York. When a stranger shows up and offers James a bag of magical crocodile tongues, James accidentally drops them into the root of a peach tree, and the one peach that sprouts as a result grows to enormous size; upon entering the peach, James discovers a gang of insect friends who help him to travel with the peach to the big city. There’s something about Roald Dahl’s material that makes for great children’s films, what with their bizarre humor and interesting characters, and James and the Giant Peach is no exception. You can pick up this gem on Blu-Ray this week for the first time, and it’s sure to please.
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been almost a year already since John Hughes died; one of the quintessential directors of the ’80s, Hughes crafted some of the decade’s most memorable and relatable films about young adults and their lives. It’s tough to say which of them is his best known or most beloved, but The Breakfast Club has to be near the top. The story here focuses on a handful of high schoolers from vastly different backgrounds (Emilio Estevez plays the jock, Judd Nelson plays the troubled rebel, Molly Ringwald is the prudish princess) attending a weekend session of detention together. Largely left to their own devices by Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason), the teens begin to bond with each other, realizing they have more in common than they ever thought. Set to what might now be considered a “period” soundtrack, The Breakfast Club has become a modern classic and a poignant reflection of 1980s teen angst. Critics have likewise rated the film as a Certified Fresh 90%, and this week, you can treat yourself to the 25th Anniversary Edition on Blu-Ray for the first time. Special features for this one include a commentary track featuring Judd Nelson and Anthony Michael Hall, as well as featurettes looking back on the film and exploring the origins of the “Brat Pack.”
Roger Corman was a master at ripping off successful movies for quickie cash-ins. What remains impressive is how inspired and influential so many of those rip-offs turned out to be. In 1979, Piranha must have looked like just another Jaws knockoff. Now, Joe Dante’s evil fish movie looks better than ever, and it spawned some sequels — Piranha 2 marked James Cameron’s feature debut, and Piranha 3D will be swimming to a theater near you in a couple weeks. So now’s a fine time to check out the original, which is hitting stores this week with a fine Blu-Ray transfer. It’s also loaded with outtakes, bloopers, behind-the-scenes footage, making-of docs, and audio commentary. If you want to see why this has become a cult classic in its own right, check it out this week.
We’ve written about legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa enough times on RT and in this column that, if you didn’t know who he was before, you certainly should now. His films have inspired countless modern directors, who reference him directly, and several of his works have been considered some of the finest films ever to be made. This week, Criterion makes use of its Eclipse series to shed light on four of Kurosawa’s earliest films: Sanshiro Sugata (1943), The Most Beautiful (1944), Sanshiro Sugata, Part 2 (1945), and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail. Since Criterion is great at distilling these films down to their very essence, we’re going to be lazy here and quote the site directly: “a two-part martial arts saga, a portrait of female volunteers helping the war effort, and a kabuki-derived tale of deception.” These films predate Kurosawa’s most famous and influential works, but they demonstrate the director’s versatility and his early mastery of the craft. Though all of these films have been available in the past, new prints (and certainly prints of Criterion’s quality) are difficult to find these days, so Kurosawa completists will want to pick up this addition to their collection. Side note: keep in mind that the Eclipse series features the films themselves only; there are no extras to be found on these discs.
Kurt Russell made quite a name for himself during the ’80s and ’90s with roles in several high profile films, some of them iconic (The Thing, Tombstone), some cult favorites (Big Trouble in Little China), and some of them bombs (Captain Ron, anyone?). But perhaps one of his most recognizable and easily one of his most famous roles was as Snake Plissken, the World War III vet who was imprisoned on the post-apocalyptic prison island of Manhattan in 1981’s Escape from New York. Of course, it didn’t hurt that John Carpenter was at the helm, with his B-movie sensibilities and knack for knowing what would resonate with audiences at the time, and that Snake was one of his favorite characters. In any case, though Russell reprised his role for the 1992 sequel Escape from LA, this was the film that most fans return to again and again. This week, Escape from New York gets the Blu-Ray re-issue treatment, and this time it comes in a nifty combo-pack that includes a standard DVD version of the film as well. If you’ve always wondered what all the hype surrounding this movie was about, now’s your chance to see for yourself.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Tim Ryan