This week on home video, we actually had too many good items to choose from, so we were actually forced to cut down by a few. With that in mind, we’d like to point out that, in addition to the titles mentioned below, you can also pick up the Robocop trilogy, Abel Ferrara’s original Bad Lieutenant, and Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans on Blu-Ray this week. Otherwise, you can read on to see all the new releases we have this week, as well as reissued classics of film noir, 80s horror, and 70s Ozploitation, as well as a Disney film and a Tarantino/Rodriguez collaboration. Here’s to hoping for more good weeks!
The original 1984 film The Karate Kid, directed by Oscar-winner John Avildsen (Rocky), was something of a phenomenon, earning an Oscar nom for Pat Morita (the famous Mr. Miyagi) and spawning all kinds of merchandise to go along with its animated series and three sequels. Furthermore, it was a cultural touchstone for children (and young adults) who grew up in the 1980s, with heaps of nostalgic affection still lavished upon it today. So it was with some understandable trepidation that audiences looked upon this year’s remake/reboot of the franchise, starring box office giant Will Smith’s precocious progeny, Jaden, and aging martial arts superstar Jackie Chan. How exactly does one remake so beloved a film, with all its cult trappings, and avoid complete disaster? Well, it would seem that director Harald Zwart (The Pink Panther 2) may have gotten some of it right. Aside from the change of venue (and choice of martial art), 2010’s The Karate Kid manages to hit many of the same notes the original did, thanks in part to the chemistry between its two leads and in particular to Jackie Chan’s nuanced dramatic performance. With a relatively solid 67% on the Tomatometer, the updated film surprised a lot of folks with its not-bad-ness, and though it doesn’t seem likely to become the nostalgic favorite that the original has become, you could definitely find worse inspirational flicks for the kids of the aughts to grow up with.
Speaking of trepidation for remakes of beloved 80s flicks, we come to 2010’s reboot of the A Nightmare on Elm Street horror franchise. The original Nightmare was a Wes Craven classic, a moody, atmospheric tale fraught with tension that utilized its limited budget to the best of its potential and squeezed out some effective horror. Unfortunately, this year’s retelling of the story, which centers around a suspected child murderer who is burned alive in an act of vigilante justice and returns to haunt the dreams of his killers’ children, appears to have missed the mark almost completely. First of all, in the eyes of many, recasting the role of Freddy Krueger (originally played with relish by Robert Englund) is a mistake right off the bat, even if you’re replacing him with a capable actor like Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children, Watchmen) – “No one can replace Robert Englund!” On top of that, critics agree that while the film seemed to get some of the aesthetics right, it lacked the depth and subversive twists of the original, which made it so memorable and allowed for a slew of sequels to be made. At just 13% on the Tomatometer, 2010’s Nightmare falls far short of its original (95%) and probably won’t win over any new fans, but if even out of sheer curiosity, it’s available for you this week on home video.
The creation and mutation of life are themes often explored in the realms of science fiction and horror, but one film this year took ideas born from those themes and made them just a tad more personal, earning equal parts bewilderment, repulsion, amusement, and praise from critics. That movie was Splice, the Vincenzo Natali-directed, Guillermo del Toro-produced film about a pair of wunderkind geneticists who take it upon themselves to combine human DNA with one of their otherworldly creations in spite of explicit instructions not to do so. When the creature is “born,” Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) name it Dren, adopt it as their own “child,” and surreptitiously spirit her away to a secluded farmhouse, where Dren matures rapidly and begins thinking for herself. Critics felt that the premise was novel, and that the acting and story served the premise well, earning it a Certified Fresh 74% on the Tomatometer. However, though the film is certainly a breath of fresh air for genre enthusiasts looking for something new and original, Splice probably isn’t for everyone. Without spoiling anything, we’ll just take this moment to say that some very unusual and potentially disturbing things happen in the latter half of the film, things that some may find off-putting and possibly even offensive, while others may find them alternately amusing. Nevertheless, this is one of those conversation-starters, and despite its wild climax, it certainly could be a sci-fi thriller worth your time.
Here’s a film that never should have gotten as much press as it did, but when you consider its thoroughly gagworthy premise, it’s probably not hard to imagine why it generated so much buzz. For a couple of months earlier this year, movie news sites were aflutter with anticipation over a movie whose central idea combined elements of “torture porn” with some traditional horror cliches to realize the image of three half-naked humans on their hands and knees, crawling in a sort of sordid train of death. But let’s back up and add some context: two young coeds are touring through Germany in a rental car when one of their tires blows out. Like anyone in a similar situation might, the two girls freak out and seek help at a nearby house, which happens to be the residence of a very evil surgeon whose greatest dream is to create – you guessed it – a human centipede by surgically attaching his victims, mouth-to-anus. Now, beyond the scatological grotesquerie, critics say there are some genuinely visceral thrills to be had, and The Human Centipede (First Sequence)‘s effectiveness may even be helped by some of its B-movie qualities, but in the end, most felt that the film was undone by its gross-out themes. At 48% on the Tomatometer, though, it’s still not too badly rated for its genre, so you horror heads out there who may have missed it in the theaters may now get your chance to see what all the hype was about.
Though there are certainly more and more animated films being released every year, few of them seem to master the balance between artistry, storytelling, and visuals. However, every once in a while, there comes a movie that reminds us there’s more to animation than Pixar and Dreamworks. The Secret of Kells is an Irish animated film about a young apprentice in 9th Century Ireland who ventures into the surrounding forest and experiences a fantastical world outside the monastery he’s typically not allowed to leave. This original work is the product of co-director Tomm Moore, who also came up with the story, and is produced by the same folks who brought us The Triplets of Belleville, and not only was it successful enough to garner a Certified Fresh 92% rating, but it also secured a Best Animated Feature nomination at the Oscars. In other words, you may never have heard of the film, but chances are that it’s completely worth your while to check it out, especially if you’re a fan of animation.
Before their gifted step-child Pixar took over the cartoon landscape, Disney experienced a golden period of renaissance in feature animation during the late ’80s and early ’90s, and Beauty and the Beast is arguably the jewel in their crown. Drawn from the 18th-century French tale (which also inspired Jean Cocteau’s surreal 1946 movie), the film follows a vain prince who’s been transformed into a monster that must prove himself capable of true love if the hairy curse is to be lifted. Rendered in stunning old school 2D with elements of CGI seamlessly mixed in, the unlikely romance between the Beast and provincial girl Belle was the first animation to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and it holds up as a classic nearly 20 years later. The songs, by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, are witty and heartfelt, the supporting characters funny and charming, and the fairytale visual design is among the best of Disney’s modern era. The three-disc Blu-ray (which also comes with the DVD version) is loaded with more extras than Belle’s musical dinner banquet, with two versions of the film (theatrical and extended), picture-in-picture features, commentaries, deleted scenes and a near-three-hour interactive behind the scenes doco. Definitely one to treasure.
In 1971, William Peter Blatty published a fictionalized account of a real-life exorcism that was performed by the Catholic church on a young boy in the 1940s. Two years later, director William Friedkin, who had won the Best Director Oscar for The French Connection the same year Blatty’s novel was published, released the big screen adaptation of Blatty’s book, The Exorcist. The film was a monumental success, earning the title of most profitable horror film of all time as well as a whopping ten Academy Award nominations, and today, the film is frequently listed either at or near the top of every “scariest horror movie” list. The story centers around young Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair in a career-defining role), daughter to actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), who begins exhibiting dangerous and unstable behavior. After exhaustive medical examination, Chris decides to call in a priest for an exorcism, and the rest is head-spinning, projectile-vomiting history. This week, appropriately in time for Halloween, we’re treated to a Blu-Ray booklet featuring both the theatrical cut of the film and the Extended Director’s Cut. In addition to the hi-def transfer, you’ll also get several of the previously available special features, like commentaries featuring Friedkin and Blatty and the 1998 documentary on the making of the film, as well as a brand new 3-part documentary that explores not only the movie’s production, but also its legacy, with never-before-seen footage. This is a definite must-have (or, at least, must-rent) for horror enthusiasts.
These days the word “mad” has some unfortunate connotations for Mel Gibson, what with the abusive phone calls, racial slurs and loopy worldview (to put it kindly), but back in 1979 it perfectly defined what may be his most enduring character. Police officer Max Rockatansky (irony duly noted) was one taut, angry dude, having had his life shredded when a gang runs down his wife and child in cold blood. Set in a barren post-Apocalyptic future, director George Miller’s debut feature is an exercise in extracting maximum thrills from a minimum budget — aside from Gibson’s iconic, no-nonsense turn, the movie boasts some killer car chases and a memorable gallery of hoods that could only have existed in the Australian outback. The Blu-ray/DVD pack comes with film critic commentary and a couple of documentaries, though no input from Miller himself is a little disappointing. Best of all, though, audiences can finally see the film as it was made, with this release including “the original Australian language track,” which was redubbed by American actors for the film’s US release.
Movie stars don’t come much cooler than Humphrey Bogart: suave, roguish, witty, and always calm and collected in the presence of danger, Bogey epitomizes the larger-than-life persona of the Studio era. Put him together with master director John Huston, and you’ve got a formula for cinematic perfection. If you truly love movies, you’ve got a reason to rejoice this week, as two of the most iconic Bogart/Huston collaborations — The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre — hit the shelves this week in spiffy new Blu-Ray packaging. In Falcon, Bogey stars as Sam Spade — perhaps the most iconic of movie private eyes – who’s on the trail of the titular object of desire, and along the way he encounters a number of questionable characters (played with mastery by Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet). It’s nearly perfect thriller: dark, cynical, and filled with double and triple crosses, this is where film noir begins. Bogey was far less appealing in Treasure, and the result was a box-office dud upon its release in 1948. However, time has been kind to the film, in which Bogart plays a wage worker who becomes consumed with greed when searching for a hidden stash of gold. Both discs come loaded with extras, including documentary featurettes, cartoons, and newsreels, and radio programs featuring the stars.
Quentin Tarantion and Robert Rodriguez have made clear with several of their films their undying love for the stripped down, lo-fi era of B-movie filmmaking, and if anyone ever doubted where the two maverick directors got much of their inspiration, the pair put those questions to rest when they teamed up to release the 2007 double feature Grindhouse. Rodriguez’s Planet Terror focuses on a go-go dancer named Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) who must fight off a zombie infection with the help of some friends, while Tarantino’s Death Proof chronicles the exploits of a serial killer stuntman with a deadly car who chooses to harass the wrong foursome of young women. Grindhouse was also famous for its numerous faux trailers, which played between the two features, and one of which was eventually made into a real movie (Machete). But aside from getting both Planet Terror and Death Proof on Blu-Ray in the same package, you’ll also get a ton of bonus features with this Special Edition, including several that were previously available and even more that are exclusive to the Blu-Ray. The latter includes segments dedicated to the makeup effects of Planet Terror, the hot rods of Death Proof, extended versions of some of the faux trailers, and more.
Written by Ryan Fujitani, Luke Goodsell, and Tim Ryan