This week on home video, we’ve got a few more new releases for you to peruse, and, as always, the requisite re-releases of older films in high definition. Among the new releases is a Denzel Washington-powered post-apocalyptic road movie, a standard rom-com starring Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel, Michael Cera’s latest awkward-boy effort, and a powerful docu-drama on the freedom of speech. Then, we’ve got a couple of made-for-TV movies starring everyone’s favorite mulleted secret agent (no, not MacGruber), a controversial film from Paul Verhoeven, one of Sam Raimi’s early movies, and a classic from Jim Jarmusch. In other words, there’s something for everyone. Read on and see for yourself!
The last feature film the Hughes Brothers tackled was 2001’s From Hell, so they’ve been absent from the big screen for quite some time. This year, they returned with the post-apocalyptic action thriller, The Book of Eli. Starring Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, and Gary Oldman, The Book of Eli focuses on its titular hero Eli (Washington), a lone wolf roaming the United States en route to the west coast. Oldman plays Carnegie, the self-made leader of a broken down town who is in search of the last remaining copy of the King James Bible, which, as fate would have it, Eli possesses. The two cross paths, and a struggle ensues that changes both men’s lives forever. Critics weren’t entirely sold on the film, some calling it a relatively fresh take on the “end-of-the-world” scenario, and others calling it too disjointed and uneven. There certainly hasn’t been a dearth of post-apocalyptic films as of late (particularly of the zombie ilk), but most critics at least seemed to agree that The Book of Eli struck an effective tone with its dark atmosphere and gritty action. In other words, it might be worth checking out if you need something to entertain you on a rainy night.
Rom-coms are formulaic in general; reliability is part of their package. Since they can’t sell surprises their big draw comes from aesthetics. The smarter ones try to give the film a look and feel that pleases a certain audience, the ones looking for a faster fix turn the show into a parade of clothes and shoes. Frankly, neither is a bad bargain — again, reliability is the package, and When in Rome is reliable. It’s like a checklist: Kristen Bell plays a career obsessed woman (check) who’s given up on love (check) and does something drunken (check) at a wedding (check) that sends the man of her dreams (check) running to change her mind (check) about the opposite (check) sex (check). But boy is it cute, and it’s gratefully absent of all the accidental offenses that show up in so many comedies of its ilk — the main character’s sanity isn’t called into question (All About Steve), she isn’t intolerable (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) and her personal problems aren’t solvable by any random under-aged boy wielding remote controls (The Ugly Truth). What you’re left with is nice scenery and some pleasant comic chemistry between stars Bell and Josh Duhamel. The DVD includes Alternate Opening and Ending, a “Mischief From the Set” Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Bloopers and never before seen music videos: “Starstruckk” and “Stupid Love Letter.”
Later this summer, Michael Cera will square off with 7 evil exes to win the heart of his dream girl in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, based on the graphic novel of the same name. But just about six months ago, Michael Cera squared off against an ex-boyfriend and a slew of oddball adults in order to win the heart of his dream girl in Youth in Revolt, based on a six-part story in novel form. Alright, so maybe we’re stretching the parallels just a bit here, but we thought it was worth mentioning. In Youth in Revolt, Cera plays Nick Twisp, a not-so-impressive teen who wants to impress Sheeni (Portia Doubleday) and resorts to creating an alter-ego of himself to do so. When the slick, mustachioed “Francois” (Nick’s alter-ego) gets Nick into trouble, his life encounters complications he never expected to face. Critics felt that Youth in Revolt didn’t quite do its source material justice, but also that it was still fun and funny enough to be highly enjoyable. They also cited Portia Doubleday as a new face to watch and believed it was an effective vehicle for Cera’s typically self-deprecating eccentricities. It didn’t do so well at the box office, but it’s on home video this week for those of you who missed it.
In 2007, the ruling military government of Burma (formally the Union of Myanmar) announced its decision to discontinue fuel subsidies, which led to massive increases in the cost of gasoline. This was sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back, and in response, the people rose up in protest. Soon, reports began to trickle out of the country about brutal encounters between Buddhist monks and the government. Burma VJ captures these events as we’ve never seen them before: from the cameras of first-hand witnesses. Because foreign TV crews are not allowed to enter the country, these accounts are the most accurate the outside world have seen, and the video journalists (or VJs) who documented the footage risked penalties as severe as prison time and even torture to ensure their voices were heard. Nominated for an Academy Award in the Documentary category, Burma VJ is powerfully visceral stuff, and critics everywhere praised it for its unflinching portrayal of censorship within a military regime. It stands Certified Fresh at a whopping 96% on the Tomatometer, so if gripping docs are your bag, this is one not to miss.
If you didn’t know who Angus (yes, that was his first name) MacGyver was a year ago, chances are you probably do now. Thanks to a certain SNL sketch-turned-feature film called MacGruber, which lampooned the popular 1980s action TV show, MacGyver fans have come out of retirement to sing the praises of the campy secret agent who famously finagled his way out of tight situations with the most rudimentary tools available. Following on the heels of the recent release of MacGruber, almost as if to say, “Now, THIS is how it’s done,” we get both of MacGyver‘s made-for-tv movies in one package. Created two years after the end of the show, these two features were filmed in Europe, and both aired in 1994. Thought they were previously available in the collector’s box set that featured the entire series, the two movies, MacGyver: Lost Treasure of Atlantis and MacGyver: Trail to Doomsday, are now available in a standalone disc in a keep case. If you’re a fan of the original show, I’m sure you’ll MacGyver a way to find it and snag it for your home library.
Audiences expected Showgirls to be Elizabeth Berkeley’s breakout. The willowy dancer known for her part on the oddly popular Saved by the Bell seemed poised for a big moment. But this film, which is principally a modern sexploitation film, was made by the Dutch master of the (anti)classic, Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instict, RoboCop) and penned by camp phenom and repeat offender Joe Eszterhaz, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. A sincere “breakout,” it wouldn’t be. Plus, since sexploitation was just far enough in the half-buried past when this came out, crowds were often not sure how to receive the film; still, even the confused crowds had something to talk about. Eerily tarted up to resemble a real life Jessica Rabbit, Berkeley managed a sturdy strain of… well, strain, in her performance (hot tub scene, anyone?). Intermittently laughable and titillating, the whole thing decamps and camps simultaneously — and in the ways of the cult classic, it’s the director who’s star also rises. The 15th Anniversary Blu-Ray features the NC-17 131 minute uncut version with commentary by David Schmader and (better still) two tutorial featurettes: “Pole Dancing: Finding Your Inner Stripper” and a lap dance tutorial featuring the world-famous girls of Scores.
After producing a couple of the modern era’s most beloved cult classic films (The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II), Sam Raimi set his sights on Hollywood. Though he initially wanted to do a film adaptation of The Shadow or Batman, he was unable to secure the rights to either, so instead he fabricated an original superhero story and Darkman was born. Starring Liam Neeson as the titular hero and Frances McDormand as his lawyer girlfriend, Darkman centers around Peyton Westlake (Neeson), a scientist who is attacked and left for dead by mobsters. When Westlake is administered an experimental treatment that kills his nerves but enhances his strength, he assumes the identity of Darkman and sets out to exact his revenge. By all accounts, Darkman was a sign of things to come for Raimi, whose wish to direct an official superhero film was granted when he was eventually given the reigns to the Spider-Man franchise. Featuring his trademark flair for visuals and a dark, brooding atmosphere, Darkman is Certified Fresh at 77% on the Tomatometer and stands as an early success story for the fan-favorite director. It’s available on Blu-Ray for the first time this week.
Though his films have flown beneath the mainstream radar for most of his career, Jim Jarmusch remains a critical darling, with his only real feature misfire being his most recent, 2009’s The Limits of Control. Early on in his career, however, Jarmusch was knocking them out of the park, and his fourth film, 1989’s Mystery Train, was no exception. Adhering to his “travelogue” style, Jarmusch utilizes Mystery Train to paint a specific portrait of Memphis, Tennessee through three slightly interrelated vignettes, connected by one hotel. The first story, “Far From Yokohama,” centers on a Japanese tourist couple who have come to Memphis specifically for its connection to Elvis Presley; the second, “A Ghost,” tells the story of an Italian woman stranded in the States for an extra day before returning to Rome; and the third, “Lost in Space,” focuses on a down-and-out ex-boyfriend who encounters some troubles with a couple of friends. Mystery Train enjoys an 80% Fresh Tomatometer, with critics praising Jarmusch’s keen eye for local color and his knack for peculiar characters, and this week, it’s not only available in a Criterion edition, but in Blu-Ray, no less. This director-approved special edition includes features like a fan Q&A with Jarmusch, an original documentary on the film’s locations and musical history of Memphis, and more. A must for fans of the auteur.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo