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New on DVD & Blu-Ray: Transcendence, Heaven Is for Real, and More

The older reissues rule the week, with choices from Billy Wilder and Jacques Demy, as well as a landmark miniseries.

by | July 22, 2014 | Comments

This week on home video, all of the major releases are unfortunately Rotten, including Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, a spiritual book adaptation, Tyler Perry’s latest, and a Schwarzenegger-powered action movie. Lucky for us, there are some worthy pickups in the reissue department, including a couple of films from Billy Wilder, an iconic miniseries, and Criterion releases of an acclaimed Norwegian thriller and a Jacques Demy collection. Read on for details:

Transcendence

19%

Wally Pfister isn’t a household name, but his work as cinematographer on several of Christopher Nolan’s films (including the recent Batman trilogy) has earned him a wealth of accolades, including an Oscar win for 2010’s Inception. Back in April, Pfister debuted his first effort in the director’s chair with Transcendence, which starred Johnny Depp in a sci-fi film about an artificial intelligence specialist named Will Caster (Depp) whose consciousness is uploaded into a computer upon his death. When Caster’s digital persona begins to wield uncontrollable power, the government, anti-technology activists, and his loved ones all must make tough decisions about the future. Critics weren’t kind to Pfister’s debut, noting that the film certainly boasts the cinematographer’s keen visuals but also that the clunky narrative mostly fails to capitalize properly on the film’s far-reaching themes. Special features on the home video release include trailers and a little over 15 minutes of featurettes.

Heaven Is for Real

51%

In 2003, a young boy named Colton Burpo, son of Nebraska pastor Todd Burpo, underwent an emergency appendectomy surgery, during which he claimed — in remarkable detail — to have met dead relatives and sat on the lap of Jesus. His story was made famous in a best-selling book titled Heaven Is for Real, which — despite the controversy surrounding the validity of its claims — went on to inspire not only countless believers, but also a big screen adaptation of the same name, starring Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly as Colton’s parents. Thanks to a strong cast and solid writing, Heaven Is for Real managed to impress critics to the tune of a 46 percent Tomatometer score; those that didn’t like the film felt that it was often too heavy-handed in delivering its message — a fairly common criticism of faith-based films. At the end of the day, it’s a film made for believers, so it won’t convert many souls, but its target audience should find it a more accomplished effort than the norm. Bonus features include a making-of featurette, some deleted scenes, and a short interview with the real Burpo family.

The Single Moms Club

18%

Speaking of heavy-handed, Tyler Perry struck again this year with The Single Moms Club, which refreshingly eschewed his typical family-centric dramedy milieu in favor of a female bonding narrative, but unfortunately relied — as his films often do — on forced melodrama. The story revolves around five single mothers who are tasked with putting together a school fundraiser when their children are caught in an act of vandalism; the women decide to form a support group and eventually become friends, encouraging each other through relationship pitfalls. Critics liked this film even less than Transcendence, rewarding Perry with a 16 percent Tomatometer score due to poorly developed characters and an overreliance on tired clichés. Fans of Perry’s work — especially the female ones — will probably feel right at home here, though.

Sabotage

22%

We still have his Brad Pitt tank movie Fury to look forward to this year, but in the meantime, director David Ayer’s most recent actioner Sabotage arrives on home video this week. Arnold Schwarzenegger continues his shoot-’em-up career alongside Sam Worthington and Terrence Howard in this thriller about a team of DEA agents who rip off a cartel during a raid, only to become the targets of an unknown killer who’s dispatching the agents one by one. Unlike Ayer’s last film, the critically acclaimed End of Watch, Sabotage failed to make waves; despite an otherwise solid performance from Schwarzenegger, the film was simply too bleak and, in the eyes of most critics, pointlessly violent, with narrative turns that seldom justified its brutality. The DVD/Blu-ray release comes with a making-of featurette, a number of deleted scenes, and two alternate endings.

Shōgun

75%

If 1977’s Roots kicked off the American miniseries craze in earnest, 1980’s multiple Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning Shōgun helped usher the trend along in grand style. Filmed entirely on location in Japan, Shōgun starred Richard Chamberlain and Toshiro Mifune in a six-part adaptation of James Clavell’s eponymous novel about an English sailor named John Blackthorne (Chamberlain) whose ship wrecks on the shores of Japan. Cast into a foreign world where he is both culturally and religiously outcast, Blackthorne befriends a local warlord in the midst of a power struggle (Mifune). Today, Shōgun is hailed as a groundbreaking series, not only for the way it was filmed, but also for raising the nation’s awareness of Japanese culture and for its stark depictions (for the time, anyway) of violence and sexuality on broadcast TV. This week, the series is available for the first time on Blu-ray (presented in 1080p), and it includes a wealth of extras, including more than a dozen making-of featurettes, three historical featurettes covering aspects of Japanese culture as depicted in the series, and a handful of commentary tracks on specific scenes.

Also available this week:

  • Certified Fresh thriller Blue Ruin (96 percent), about a mysterious drifter who returns to his home town for vengeance when he learns the man who murdered his parents is about to be released from prison.
  • GMO OMG (60 percent), a documentary exploring the causes and effects of genetically modified farming.
  • Dom Hemingway (59 percent), starring Jude Law in a dark comedy about a safecracker attempting to collect the debt he’s owed for taking a 12-year prison sentence for his boss.
  • All Cheerleaders Die (48 percent), a horror comedy about a teen who must fight off a group of cheerleaders who have returned from the dead with a vengeance.
  • Justin and the Knights of Valour (8 percent), an animated film about a boy who embarks on a quest to become a knight and protect his kingdom, with voice work from Freddie Highmore and Antonio Banderas.
  • Two Billy Wilder films: the 1957 thriller Witness for the Prosecution (100 percent), starring Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich, and 1970’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (95 percent).
  • And lastly, two Criterion Collection releases: The original 1998 Norwegian thriller Insomnia (97 percent) is available for the first time on Blu-ray, and a collection of Jacques Demy’s films, including The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (98 percent), is also available in a DVD/Blu-ray box set.