RT on DVD

RT on DVD & Blu-Ray: Unstoppable Barrels onto Home Video

Plus, the latest from Woody Allen, visually striking anime, and some reissues.

by | February 16, 2011 | Comments

This week, we are faced once again with a limited selection of worthy choices on home video. Of the four new releases, only one received a wide theatrical run; at least it was a well-reviewed movie. Outside of those four, which also include a Japanese animated film, a documentary, and the latest Woody Allen feature, we have just three others to mention, all with varying degrees of “classic” written all over them. One features a standout Robert Downey Jr. performance, one is a famously controversial Marlon Brando vehicle, and one is a bona fide award-winner from Sidney Lumet. So have a look and see if there’s anything worth picking up!

Unstoppable

87%

One supposes an action film about a runaway train could have depth and nuance — but if it did it probably couldn’t keep all those swish pans and quick edits, and Tony Scott’s not to do that. It hardly matters. Between Chris Pine’s hot-headed husband and Denzel Washington’s long-suffering senior conductor, there are as many sparks in the cabin as there are coming off the tracks. Blu-Ray promises to make those sparks come clear and loud with Dolby Surround sound and a digital transfer. Extras include a script development feature, an “anatomy of a scene,” director commentary, “Hanging off the Rails” about the stunts, and “The Fastest Track,” a making-of featurette.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

46%

Woody Allen continues to churn out movies like there’s no tomorrow, but in the past ten years or so, his directorial efforts have been mostly hit-or-miss; only three of his eleven films since 2000 have been rated Fresh, and unfortunately, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is not one of them. Despite featuring an all-star cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, and Freida Pinto, Tall Dark Stranger struck most critics as formulaic, a paint-by-numbers effort by Allen that fails to break any new ground for the auteur. For what it’s worth, the cast does what it can with the script, but the interweaving storylines about one family’s romantic adventures largely left critics feeling like Allen had run out of ideas. Still, for those who are looking for a trademark Woody Allen film, this might do the trick, even if these sorts of situations have been better explored in many of his earlier works.

Waiting for Superman

90%

Sending your kids to school is a watershed moment for any parent, but the fear of your kid not making friends or suffering under a Dickensian kindergarten teacher can’t match the stress of choosing a school in our socio-economic climate. Budgets take their toll on libraries, teachers are trapped in a corner to get supplies, monies are sent to one neighborhood over another — the public school/private school divide seems impossible to straddle. Not that Davis Guggenheim’s doc fixes the matter (it’s a doc, not public policy) but it’s the biggest primer to hit theaters, and since it’s from the guy that made An Inconvenient Truth (and It Might Get Loud, but who’s counting) we’re likely to think his doc is sovereign. Do your research, parents, but revel and relax with this high quality rendering of the doc of the summer. Extras include an interview with the director, a “making of” for the title track by John Legend (that also features commentary by Guggenheim and producer Leslie Chilcott), and featurettes about the changes that have happened in public education since the making of the film.

Summer Wars

78%

Unless you’re specifically into Japanese animation, you may not have known about this small release produced by Madhouse Inc. last year. Founded in 1972, Madhouse is the company that, once upon a time, brought us cult favorite Ninja Scroll, and more recently, the works of the late Satoshi Kon (Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika). Directed by Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time), Summer Wars centers around a high school-aged math genius who is falsely accused of hacking into a virtual reality computer world called Oz, which he helps moderate part-time. As the real culprit, Oz’s artificial intelligence program called “Love Machine,” continues to hack into other systems outside of Oz, Kenji and his friends must stop it from spreading real-world harm. As with many recent animated films coming out of Japan, Summer Wars is packed with fantastic visuals, particularly during the Oz-centric sequences, but it’s also plagued by storytelling that is sometimes clunky and difficult to follow. However, most critics who saw it felt it was a rewarding experience, and if you’re into anime, chances are you’ll find it appropriately engaging.

Network – Blu-Ray

92%

Sidney Lumet’s satirical look at the world of television is, by now, well-known and oft-quoted (“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”), so there’s not much we could say about the Oscar-winning film that hasn’t already been said. With that in mind, we’d simply like to point you to the Blu-Ray re-release of the film and, if you haven’t seen it before, to encourage you to give a look at some top-notch performances (Peter Finch won the Best Actor Oscar, Faye Dunaway won Best Actress, and Beatrice Straight won Best Supporting Actress) and a first rate script (Paddy Chayefsky won the Oscar for his screenplay). For those unfamiliar with the story, it revolves around the ratings-driven exploits at the fictional UBS network, whose Evening News anchorman, Howard Beale (Finch), becomes something of a celebrity mouthpiece when news of his imminent firing leads him to rant on-air and to threaten committing suicide during his last broadcast. Needless to say, the film was a critical darling, even during its initial 1976 release, and now that much of the story seems eerily prophetic, Network feels that much more relevant to contemporary times. At a Certified Fresh 90% on the Tomatometer, this is one of those classics that’s worth a rewatch – even more so in high definition.

Last Tango in Paris – Blu-Ray

85%

Bernardo Bertolucci’s steamy art film garnered much international controversy upon its initial release, with its overt sexual themes offending the delicate sensibilities of moviegoers around the world. Government crackdowns and censorship ensued, outraged crowds appeared at screenings to boo those attending the film, and legendary critic Pauline Kael’s positive review of the film became the most famous and arguably the most influential of her career. Last Tango in Paris was a cultural phenomenon, simultaneously redefining the scope of and reinforcing the power of cinema. This week, the film, which stars Marlon Brando as a depressed hotel owner and recent widower who engages in an anonymous affair with a Parisian woman, gets the hi-def treatment, as it arrives for the first time on Blu-Ray. Brando’s mesmerizing performance and the film’s poignant albeit sexually charged themes earned it an 81% on the Tomatometer, so it’s worth watching for more than just Brando’s hi-def buttocks. Side note: Maria Schneider, who plays opposite Brando as Jeanne, died of cancer just a week and a half ago (2/3/2011) at the age of 58.

Chaplin – 15th Anniversary Blu-Ray

60%

Time has done little to diminish the genius of Charlie Chaplin. Four decades after his death, his films are as funny and touching as ever, and his Little Tramp character – with the signature bowler hat, moustache, spinning cane, and duck walk — is as iconic today as in his 1920s heyday. That said, he remains an elusive figure, and Sir Richard Attenborough’s 1992 biopic Chaplin added little light to the man’s genius – much less his scandalous affairs and leftist politics. It wasn’t for a lack of trying – Robert Downey Jr. received an Oscar nomination for his eerie impersonation of the Little Tramp, and its period décor is exquisite. But critics found the film lacking in depth, as it attempted to pack in the details of Chaplin’s life without illuminating them, or getting into the head of its subject. Still, it’s more entertaining than a Wikipedia entry, and Downey is magnificent. The 15th anniversary Blu-ray release features several documentaries on the making of the film and Chaplin himself, but the juiciest special feature is a short home movie featuring Chaplin and his wife (and Modern Times co-star) Paulette Goddard.

Written by Ryan Fujitani, Sara Vizcarrondo, and Tim Ryan.

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